writing abundance

It Always Comes Down to Writing

This morning I was making soup to take to a celebration (which turned into a wake) to watch the Ducks Soup play in the Rose Bowl, and I thought, Maybe I'll become a cook." You know, it's a new year, why not go for a whole new career?  I could totally do it, especially if I turned out more delicious soup like this, for which I used the ham hock left over from Christmas dinner, a conglomeration of beans, and all kinds of vegies, including my current favorite, parsnips. 

But then I remembered how many days I throw together a wretched, last-minute meal because I'm so engrossed in writing that I don't want to stop and cooking is just a bother.  I recalled how often I resented having to stop writing and run to the grocery store for food.  And I decided that perhaps a new career in cooking was not the best idea.

Usually these kinds of thoughts come to me when I'm discouraged about my writing, which I'm not at the moment. I'm actually quite excited about all the things I have on the horizon.  It is just that sometimes writing seems so hard, and it takes such sustained effort to make anything of it.  And because of this, sometimes I think it would just be easier to be a cook.  Or a retail clerk.  No, never mind, I've done that and it is way harder–being nice to the public is wearing at best.  But knitting is fun, and lots of people sell their stuff on Etsy….or I could start a business creating gift baskets, or….oh never mind, you get the idea.

But the truth is after I knit for a few minutes or so, ideas for my novel generally start percolating.  And every time I think about the types of things I might arrange in a gift basket, I end up wanting to write about them.  Because nothing has every captured and held my attention like writing.  The craft is endlessly interesting, because there is always something to learn, another level of skill to master, a new layer of depth to uncover. 

(Brief aside: I have to tell my favorite story about learning to write here.  I'm pretty sure I've told it before on this blog, but too bad, it is good enough to tell again.  A few years ago, when I was in the middle of earning my MFA, I had dinner with the family of a friend of my daughter.  The mother, a former high-ranking executive of a Fortune 500 company, asked me how long the MFA program lasted.  When I said it was two years, she replied, "Oh, I thought you would be able to learn everything there was to know about writing in six months."  To my credit, I didn't kill her, and it was one of the few times in my life when I had the perfect reply on the tip of my tongue.  I said, "Most people think that it takes a lifetime to master the craft of writing."  Thanks, you can stop applauding now–can you even believe how ignorant that comment was?)

I like to think of myself as a person with many interests.  When I was younger, I was torn between two possible career paths–something to do with design (I designed and sewed and sold children's clothing when my kids were little) or writing.  But gradually, writing took over.  And while I maintained my interest in design (I wrote about art as a free-lancer in my early career), I slowly quit sewing.

There was a brief flirtation with gardening, which I came by somewhat naturally, seeing as how I grew up with a father who composted before anybody knew what it was and everyone thought we were nuts for separating the garbage.  But these days I'm lucky to throw a few annuals in the garden bed.  While others labor to grow vegetables, I am hard at work on my computer.  Once, a few years ago, I was walking through a Portland neighborhood with my fellow writer and wonderful friend Sue.  Portland is a huge gardening town and every block has at least a couple gardens bursting with flowers.  Sue asked me if I was into gardening and I replied that I had been, once upon a time, before writing completely took over my life.  She allowed as how she had had the exact same experience–that slowly, bit by bit, everything sloughed away, leaving only the obsession with words.

So it always come down to writing.  And I am reminded of this on this New Year's Day, as the Christmas BareTree tree is being stripped of its ornaments and lights, and the angels and snowmen are being put away, because the first day of the new year is a good day for introspection.  So I'm pleased that my fleeting thoughts of starting a new career as a cook were quickly supplanted by the memory of how much writing means to me and how, no matter how hard I try, I can never get away from it.

And I think of what happened yesterday, when a new friend on Twitter challenged me to write for an hour.  I thought and thought about it and realized that I really had no excuse not to write for an hour.  Sure, I could work on my office, or sweep the kitchen floor, or do a load of laundry, but none of those things were as important as writing. 

And so I wrote.  I worked on my new novel, which I can actually admit is going to happen because finally it feels like it is going to turn into something.  I wrote for an hour, and then I wrote for a few minutes more.  It was glorious, absolutely wonderful.  And so today, I am pleased to remember that there's really only one thing that is important in this world and it is this:

It always comes down to writing.

If we all just remember that this year, we'll be fine.

When Is A Food Journal Not For Your Diet?

Journal_80101_l  Well, after a brief break for Christmas and sloth, it is time, finally, to resume my series on journal writing with a final flourish. It is a flourish because what I'm going to discuss is my current favorite type of journal writing, though I reserve the right to have a different favorite next month, because, well, that is what happens with journal writing.  And maybe even regular writing, too, if there is such a thing as regular writing.

So here goes.  My current favorite type of journal writing is the Chronology.  This is my name for actually writing about the things that happen in your life, the people you run into, the day to day events that make up your existence. 

The desire to write a chronology of our days is why may of us are drawn to journal writing.  It is the urge to make meaning of our lives, or perhaps the desire to leave something for posterity.  The chronology records history in the making if we're lucky–witness the diaries of pioneer women that have been such wonderful records of that era. 

The chronology is also fertile ground for practicing the writer's craft.  In noting the details of your best friend's outfit and how she never seems to wear things that match yet she always looks great, that you start to understand how to create characters that come alive on the page.  In writing a description of the coffee shop you visited the day before, the seeds of description and setting are created.  And so on, through all the aspects of observing a day to day life.

The chronology is what fills our journals with rich detail and interesting tidbits.  And yet, this kind of writing is what is often sorely lacking in my own diary.  Why?  Because when writing a journal on a regular basis, I tend to get lazy.  (Um, this seems to be a theme for me this week.) It is far easier to indulge in a whiny emotional outburst or write quick morning pages that are really more about the day's to-do list than to really write about the what happened the day before: how the sun looked on the river as you crossed the bridge, or the way your son's face lit up when he took a bite of chocolate.  

I realized how the quality of my journaling had deteriorated when I read My Life in France, by Julia Child this summer, after seeing the movie, Julie and Julia.  If you saw the movie, there were several scenes where Paul, Julia's husband, is seen sitting at a desk writing letters to his twin brother back home.  Those letters were apparently so filled with detail and wonderful tidbits that they were used heavily by Julia and her nephew in writing her memoir (which is, by the way, delightful, and well worth reading).  Upon reading this I was struck by what a rich vein of gold letter writing results in, and then I realized that journal writing could be the same thing.  My journal writing could be a rich vein of gold, if only I weren't so indulgent about all those whiny outbursts.  Or obsessed with to-do lists.

So I resolved to actually write something of worth in my diary and began to sit every morning and write an account of the day before.  Yet this chronology meandered and lacked cohesion.  (I know, I know, its a journal, it is not supposed to be perfect.  But, as with all writing, I need to feel comfortable inside the form before it takes off for me.)  And then I read a charming article in O magazine.  I'm sorry I can't point you to the exact month because I tore it out and gave it to my daughter, but it was sometime this past fall.  The article was written by a woman who had recently had a baby.  During her pregnancy, she wrote down every single item she had eaten and with whom, the idea being that her baby was the sum total of all of this food and company.

And from this I got my brilliant idea–keeping a Food Journal.  No, not the kind that nutritionists and diet experts tell you to keep, though that can easily be incorporated.  This kind of food journal notes not only what you ate, but where you ate it, who you ate it with and what they were wearing, what song was on the radio as you drove down the freeway with a McDonald's breakfast sandwich in hand, whatever.  And then that leads to a paragraph about how, you guessed it, the sun shone on the river as you crossed the bridge over it and so forth and so on and before you know it you've written a chronology of your entire morning, full of lush detail and interesting anecdotes and now you're onto lunch, which is a whole other story in itself, because your numbskull co-worker told that stupid joke and then your boss yelled at all of you while she had a piece of toilet paper stuck to her shoe.

So what the Food Journal really does is give you an excuse.  It gives you an excuse to write about everything that happened in your day, and in giving you a structure, it makes it so much easier than to meander about in your brain and try to remember what you did.  Food is life, as we know, and it turns out that writing about food makes remembering life easier.

This kind of journaling takes a long time.  Writing about your entire day could easily take your entire morning.  So you might want to limit yourself to one aspect of it.  Or not.  What I find is that this kind of writing, the loving attention to the detail of reality, leads me back into the writing that I truly love doing–writing novels.  And then the hell part is that I get so engrossed in writing novels that I don't have time to keep a food journal or really any kind of diary.

But that is okay, because my journal will be there waiting for me, as it always is, when I feel the need to write morning pages to get myself back on track again.  Or to do some writing exercises because I've lost my way and feel blocked.  Or because something happened to me of such import that I feel the urge to write about it.  That's the great thing about journals–they are always there for you.

Here are the links to the other posts in this series:

Journaling: One Path to Writing Abundance

Practical Considerations for Journal Writing

All the Wonderful Forms of Journal Writing

Journaling, Part Four: Morning Pages

Journaling, Part Five: Whiny Emotional Outbursts

Photo used under Creative Commons 2.5 license.

On Sloth and Laziness

Feet-lasvegas-poolside-385439-lThis could be me today, minus the sunshine and the hairy legs. 

Because I am a lazin' fool.  It is two days after Christmas and I am lazing about.  Or you could call it lolling if you prefer.

My two new kitties don't care what you, or I, call it.  They have raised the art of lazing to an art form, and especially like to practice it in front of the fire.

I have new books to read, including Under the Dome by Stephen King, which is, oh, almost 1,000 pages long and thus should assure me lots of lazin' time.  For Christmas, I also got art supplies and crafting books, which should assure me time away from the computer, which I sorely need.

I resist both time away from the computer and lazin' time and I suspect I just figured out the reason why.  It is because I enjoy it so much I'm afraid I'll never stop.  I'll just sit here next to the fire, reading away, for all of eternity.  And never write another word.  Never earn another penny.  Never do another useful thing, ever. 

That is how my brain starts running when I relax.  So you can see why I generally chain myself to my computer.  Because otherwise, life as I know it will end.  There will be this glorious blaze of sloth and laziness and that will be it.

It is for this reason, also, that I rarely watch TV.  Because I am afraid I will enjoy it too much and I will become one with the chair and never, ever get up again.  I'll be able to recite details of every single episode of Law and Order and I will be one of the few people who understands anything about Lost.  So thus it is better simply not to turn the TV on in the first place, because if I did, I'd have to write a blog about TV instead of writing one about writing.

But for some reason, after Christmas, I allow myself to be slothful and lazy.  Maybe it is because the run-up to the big day is always such a last-minute rush for me (again, because I've generally chained myself to the computer) and the Christmas itself is a mad dash of cooking breakfast, opening presents, cleaning up, and then cooking dinner.  And after all of that, I actually have to admit I am tired instead of pretending that I'm not.

Or perhaps it is because Christmas gives me the bounty of choice–all those wonderful presents to peruse and play with!  Shiny new books and toys!  I'd be doing the givers a disservice if I didn't take a couple days to enjoy my presents, right?

Then, too, it could be because it is cold and wintry out (though no snow yet, boo) and we are still experiencing the shortest days of the year, even though they are already getting longer.  It is winter, the days are dark and cold, the blood runs slower and it is time to relax.

And so I'm doing my best to be lazy and slothful for as long as I possibly can.  I plan to return to my writing in a couple days, refreshed and renewed and full of new enthusiasm for things to write in the new year.  Because even the most prolific of writers needs a fallow time in which to rejuvenate and regenerate.  It is an integral part of the creative cycle, and by not allowing ourselves time to laze about, we do our muses a disservice.

So join me in being slothful and lazy this week.  You'll be glad you did.  And if you should feel energetic enough to write something, what is your favorite way to be slothful?

Photo used under terms of a Creative Commons 2.5 license.

New Writing Companions: Captain and Lieutenant

 
  Captain Lieutenant

I have two new writing companions: Captain (above) and Lieutenant.  Yesterday I was seized by the notion that I absolutely, positively had to get me a cat for Christmas.  After delicately breaking the news to some family members who were, um, shall we say, a bit resistant (a glass of wine helped)we headed out to the Oregon Humane Society first thing this morning.

We walked into a mob scene, a line at the info desk and all kinds of people sitting and standing in the lobby, waiting, I later found out, for their adoption counseling sessions.

My daughter and I had well and thoroughly scoped out the online listings from the Humane Society and had fallen in love with these two bruisers, brothers who had been brought in together, a "bonded pair."  I, however, was willing to be open-minded, on the off chance we didn't like these guys in person, or that another cat captured our attention first.  But when I told the volunteer which cats we were interested in and she said, "Wonderful!" I knew I was a goner.  And I was.  We sat in a little meeting room and waited for the brothers to be brought out to us. 

Let me just say, these meet-ups are every bit as awkward between cats and humans as they are between people, but still and all we could tell that they were great cats.  Handsome, big, strapping boys who are 1 year, 7 months old, in great health and well cared for in their previous home.  After we said we wanted to adopt them both, there was such a crowd there that we waited for an hour for our exit counseling.  Conveniently, there's a retail store there, so that one can stock up on supplies while waiting.

I tell ya, I've already had my Christmas.  It was so wonderful to be at the Humane Society and see so many happy, excited people taking home dogs and cats.  I was so excited to be getting pets again that I was nearly in tears.  This house has been without pets for too long, ever since the beloved pug died in August.

The cats' true personalities surfaced on the way home, with Captain so desperate to get out of his cardboard cat carrier that he headbutted a hole in its side.  He has since declared himself King of the house, lolling about on the couch, rolling back and forth on the floor, sitting on laps, imperiously staring at all who enter.  Lieutenant, however, is in hiding.  First we found him in the closet, then beneath a chair in my office.  I hear this is much more common behavior for the first days at home.

So that's the story of my new writing companions–because writing is always better with a cat or dog at your side.  What kind of writing companions do you guys have? 

Journaling, Part Four: Morning Pages

 
Yesterday, in Part Three* of my series on journaling, I wrote about four types of journal writing that I findGlasses_sheet_paper_260712_l useful.  There are an infinite number of techniques you can use for effective journaling, and I may well write about others in the future.  But for now, I've chosen to discuss the ones I use most often and find most beneficial.

Morning Pages.  First off, we have Morning Pages, developed and popularized by Julia Cameron in her seminal book, The Artist's Way.  You've probably read about or heard of Morning Pages, or MPs, as I like to call them, one way or another.  Morning Pages are simple–you get up, head to your journal, and write three pages, no more, no less.

Your first reaction to this idea may be similar to mine–horror at the idea that you're supposed to get up and write first thing.  I think this springs from the notion that writing is hard, and it takes thought, and if your brain is not yet awake you won't be able to think and thus write. 

But that is also the point–that you bypass the conscious, critical brain and just let the words flow onto the page. This is good for a number of reasons:

1.  Because it gets you used to just letting the words rip.  Getting into the flow of putting words on the page is excellent training for writers.  And, like any other profession, writers need to train.  The way the writing process works is this: first you glump all the words out onto the page in one glorious brain dump.  Then you rewrite.  And rewrite again.  And rewrite again.  And…well, you get the idea.  But if you are hesitant and shy with your words, you'll never get the wonder of rough draft onto the page and thus never have anything to work with.  So, you can consider Morning Pages to be part of your training.

2.  Because it familiarizes you with your subconscious.  And what a trip that is.  By writing Morning Pages, you will learn all kinds of things about yourself, perhaps that what you really want to do is study classical music or kayak around the world.  Or whatever.  Why is this important?  Because, here's the deal: the number one, most important thing for a writer is to be yourself on the page.  That's what voice is about, people.  But being yourself on the page is nearly impossible is you don't know yourself.  So write MPs.  You may astound yourself with your brilliance.  And even if you don't, you are engaging in a valuable activity, in and of itself.

3.  Because fascinating trends emerge when you aren't looking.  You know how John Lennon said, "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans?" So too with MPs.  It may never have occurred to you that kayaking was something you wanted to do, until you find yourself writing about being on water–again.  You may never have thought you wanted to write poetry–until it begins to emerge in your MPs.  And so on and so forth. 

4.  Because MPs allow ideas to pop like crazy.  I've written outlines for whole novels while scribbling MPs and groggily reaching for my coffee cup.  I've had ideas for blog posts, characters, scenes in projects I'm working on, you name it.  Things emerge when you are half asleep and your conscious mind is not yet engaged.

So give them a try.  The rules for MPs are very similar to the rules for free writing.  Just write, don't worry about sentence structure, grammar, or whether you are making sense.  Just write, write, write.  Three pages, no more, no less.  Go for it.  And let me know how they work out for you.

Anybody have any experiences with Morning Pages they would like to share?

  1. *FYI, you can read Part One here, and Part Two here.  And please, please, please also go here and sign up for the free coaching sessions I'm offering.  I've added new times for the first week in January.

All The Wonderful Forms of Journal Writing

The day has gotten away from me. 

First there was the small matter of waking up just the tiniest bit hungover, thanks to an evening out with Mayanna at Bernie's Southern Bistro.  Everyone who lives in the city of Portland and many who don't have been to Bernie's, but I had never been until last night.  The food was grand, and so was the barfly company.  Fun night.  But not conducive to being at my sharpest this morning.

Then I had to run to the grocery store for ingredients to make gooey banana bread with chocolate chips and coconut in it for my writing group's Christmas party tonight.  Then I had to have lunch with my son at Cadillac Cafe.  Then I had to come home and actually make the banana bread. And now it is after four, getting dark enough to turn the outside Christmas lights on, and I've not written my promised blog post.

So, here's the deal: today I'm going to write briefly about the four kinds of journal writing I like to practice, as a sort of preview and then go into them more throughly in the next couple of posts.  Okay?  Okay.  Here we go:

  • Morning Pages.  Popularized by Julia Cameron in The Artist's Way, morning pages are just that–3 pages of writing, done first thing in the morning. 
  • Whiny Emotional Outbursts.  Often occurring in morning pages, whiny emotional outbursts are why I don't have therapy bills–because it all goes on the page.
  • Day Planning.  Obsessing on paper about all the things I need to get done, and figuring out a plan to accomplish them.
  • Chronology.  My current favorite, the chronology is actually writing about what happened in my life the day before.  The kind of things that people used to write letters about, when we wrote letters.

So there you have it, a wee preview of what I'm going to be writing about again soon.  Maybe even tomorrow, but I'm not promising anything, as I do have another social event at which wine will be served tonight.

If you want to read the first two posts on journal writing, here they are:

Part One, Journaling: One Path to Writing Abundance

Part Two, Practical Considerations for Journal Writing

And, if you haven't yet signed up for the free coaching sessions, what are you waiting for?  Go here to learn more.

Practical Considerations for Journal Writing, Second in Series

Yesterday, in a post titled, Journaling, One Path to Writing Abundance, I began a series about, you Notebook_agenda_schedule_260757_l guessed it, journaling.  I wrote a bit about why I think journaling is valuable for a writing practice and how indispensable my journal is to me.

Today, before we go any further in this series, I want to talk about some journaling practicalities.

Don't let that word, "practicality," scare you, because this is actually the fun stuff, all about choosing the correct journal and pen with which to write.   You might, at this point, be balking just as much over the word, "correct," as you did over the word, "practicality." All of us creative types hate concepts like correct, and structure, and organization.

But in this case, I mean the correct journal for you.  The correct journal is the one that you fall in love with on the shelves of the store.  It is the one that makes you feel good every time you pick it up.  The journal it makes you happy to open.  The one that you love so much you will actually fill it with words.  

What works for me might not work for you at all.  What I love in a journal may be what you hate, or vice versa.  So take some time and try some different options out and see what you like best.  If you've tried journaling in the past and not taken to it, there's a chance that you weren't using the correct journal.  Honestly, it is that important.  Besides, whiling away the afternoon in an office supply store is almost as good as whiling away the afternoon at a bookstore.  Or, you could do both and pretend you are Christmas shopping.**

Here are my guidelines, the qualities that work for me:

  1. Lined paper.  I don't know, maybe I like structure more than I think.  The unlined pages are almost overwhelming to me.  Plus, they make me feel like I should be adding delicate sketches or artful doodles and I'm just not good at that.  So my journals are lined.
  2.  Spiral or soft binding.  I carry my journal with me everywhere and could as easily be perched by a stream (okay I made that up, because I'm not generally that outdoorsy) writing as near a table.  I need a journal I can balance on my knee and still write on easily.  Up until recently, I was an adamant defender of the cause that all journals should be spiral bound.  But then I became the last person on the planet to discover the Moleskine journal.  Its soft cover doubles back on itself easily and works fine to write on in various situations.  Another type of notebook that falls into this category is the good old composition book you can buy cheaply at any office supply store or stationery department.  They'll have lots of good spirals, too.  I still love me those spirals.
  3.  Size does matter.  I prefer the 5 by 8ish size, which is easy to stash in my purse or carry along.  Some of you may prefer a pocket size, which I find a bit confining, or the big desk size.  It is all about what works for you.
  4.  Um, I guess I don't have a fourth guideline.  Except to repeat what I said earlier: find what works best for you.  Experiment, play with the process.  Find a journal that makes you long to stop everything, open it up, and write!

Besides the journal itself, there is the matter of the pen, which is nearly as important.  Again, while some may prefer a bold tip, others may always go for the fine.  I went through a long phase of preferring a medium point but am not back to an obsession with the fine point.  Then there's color…while I have a long-standing preference for blue, it is harder to find than black.  Plus these days there are all those great sets of multi-colored pens you can buy.  When you find a pen you fall in love with, stock up on it immediately because, A. manufacturers stop making them for no reason I can tell, and B. pens are like socks and Legos, they disappear.

So that's it for journaling practicality.  Feel free to share what your favorite journal and pen are in the comments.  And stay tuned for the next installment (which, with luck, will be tomorrow) on journaling.

**Speaking of Christmas shopping, don't forget my free holiday gift to you this season–I'm giving away coaching sessions!  Totally and completely free, they are, with no strings of any kind attached.  Head on over here and check out the details.

Journaling: One Path to Writing Abundance

 Open_diary_blank_264120_l
I'm an inveterate journaler.  As a matter of fact, I'm certain the reason I'm a writer today is because of the fake red leather diary, complete with lock and key, that I got for Christmas when I was 8 or 9.  Unlatching it was so enticing–all those lined pages to be filled with words!  I've been journaling off and on ever since.

When, as a young adult I decided I wanted to be a writer, it was to my journal that I turned.  There, I scribbled notes for stories I didn't have time to write, accounts of the events and activities of my life, and entries about the joys and frustrations of being a mother.  Gradually, the time I spent writing lengthened out, and the journal expanded to personal essays and short stories.  Eventually, I returned to school to get my MFA, and now I make my living as a writer.   I'm fairly sure none of this would have happened without my trusty journal always at my side. 

So as you might guess, I'm a big fan of using journaling as part of a regular writing routine.  I've been thinking a lot about journaling the past few days, maybe because on these cold late-autumn days, curling up by a fire and writing away in my Moleskine feels like just the right thing to do.  I've also been thinking about it because journaling is an important aspect of the practice of creating, one of the seven practices of the prolific and prosperous writer. I'm writing about these practices for the Writing Abundance E-book I'm working on, and I also talk about them in my live workshops (the next one of which I'll be presenting in Nashville in January.  Go here for more info.)  So I decided I'd share some of my thoughts on journaling here.  And then I realized that I had way more material than would fit in one blog post.  So stay tuned for an ongoing series, which I'll post over the next few days.  (Um, that is, with a little bit of luck.  It is Christmas, after all, and I've barely begun my shopping.)

Let me start by listing  a few reasons why I think journaling is good for your writing:

  • Flow.  First and foremost, because committing to writing in a journal regularly keeps your flow going.  It teaches you to let loose and just write about your day, your dreams, or anything at all.
  • Momentum.  Writing in a journal regularly gives you a sense of momentum, and the realization that yes, you can do this thing called writing.
  • Ease.  Journaling teaches you to be facile with words.  The knowledge that you can put one word after another boosts your confidence.  And this skill is transferable to other projects.

I use my journal in many different ways and you'll literally always find me with it open by my side.  I use it for:

  • Lists
  • Notes on Projects
  • First Drafts
  • To-Do Lists
  • As a life chronology
  • Notes
  • Ideas
  • Things I've Overheard

As you can see, my journal is pretty much a mish-mash of collected words and uses, which is why its so valuable to me.  It contains my life in one location.  But nearly every day I also find time to write some sort of journal entry in it, and it is this practice that I find so valuable and what I want to talk about further.

In tomorrow's post I'll talk about the various kinds of journal entries I've identified: Morning Pages, The Whiney Emotional Outburst, Day Planning, and my favorite, all the variations on the Chronology.  See you then.

Free Coaching Sessions!

Oh, and don't forget that I'm offering free coaching sessions for writers.  Yes, free!  Honest!  Why not start 2010 right and get clear on your most important writing goals and what might be holding you back from them?  Step right up and claim your writing life.  Hop on over here and read all about it.  And email me for an appointment!

The Writing Life: Walking the Labyrinth

Writers are always looking for ways to boost their creative practice.  I know I am.  I collect writing exercises and creativity activities nearly as obsessively as I collect books.  Today I want to write about another excellent practice I've recently discovered: walking the labyrinth.

In a recent post, I mentioned my stint as the "book doctor" at Room to Write, a writing retreat held in Nashville. The retreat was held at the Scarritt-Bennett center.800px-Labyrinth_at_Chartres_Cathedral Rabbi Rami Shapiro, the organizer and guiding light of the retreat, talked to us about the history of the labyrinth one very cold morning, and afterward guided us on a labyrinth walk.  I'd like to share a bit of that experience with you here. 

Most people hear the word labyrinth and think maze.  But a maze is a very different beast from a labyrinth.  Navigating a maze, your left brain is activated.  At each puzzling juncture, you are forced to make a choice or a decision as to which path to take to reach the center.  It is a problem-solving activity.

Conversely, there's only one choice to be made with the labyrinth: whether to enter or not.  (Isn't this a great metaphor for writing already?)  Because once you do make the choice to enter the labyrinth, there is only one way to go and your only job is to follow it.  Once you are on the writing path, you’ll need to trust that you are
exactly where you need to be.  You need to allow yourself to succumb
to the process of writing.

Once you set foot on the labyrinth, the way in is the way out.  Walking
the labyrinth is a metaphor for the journey to your deepest self and
returning again to the world with a more profound understanding of
yourself—and the words to share it.  This is the very process that the
writer repeats day by day, one word at a time onto the page.  The
labyrinth encourages a deep trust in the process, that surrendering to
it is not only okay, but desirable—something we often forget in our
organized, logical world.

A labyrinth is also a symbolic form of pilgrimage, and as writers we make pilgrimages to our deepest selves every day.  The labyrinth is an ancient form, with the first labyrinths being mentioned in Pliny's Natural History as being located in Crete, Egypt, and Italy.  Later adopted by Christians, they fell out of favor for many centuries but have recently been resurrected as a tool for spiritual, contemplative, transformational and creative paths.  Not surprisingly, they are incredibly useful for solving writing problems.

On that cold morning last week, as we walked the labyrinth at Scarritt-Bennett, Rami encouraged us to repeat a problem with our writing (or life) on the way in, pause in the center, and then ponder a possible answer on the way out.  Or, he said, you can just repeat a word such as peace or love or home.  I was quite taken with labyrinth walking and how useful it was to shaking free ideas.

One of the most famous labyrinths is at Chartres Cathedral in France, and many labyrinths are modeled in this style, including the one at Scarritt-Bennett.   Because of a recent surge in popularity, you’ll find labyrinths in many public places, including parks and churches, most of which are open to the public.  A quick internet search will find you a labyrinth in your area.    If you absolutely can’t find a labyrinth to walk, you can find finger labyrinths for sale on the internet, or perhaps at your new age bookstore.

I highly recommend it as a creative tool, to say nothing of a profound spiritual experience.  I've already scoped out a few labyrinths here in Portland, and plan to visit them as soon as possible.   Do any of you have experience walking the labyrinth?  Feel free to share.

PS.  Don't forget to sign up for my free coaching sessions for writers!  You can find out more about this offer here.  Please sign up!  I really want to talk to you!

Free It’s Time To Get Off Your Duff and Write Sessions

Yes, you read that headline correctly.  Organizer_notepad_object_266796_l

I am offering a limited number of free It's Time You Got Off Your Duff and Write sessions, otherwise known as life coaching for writers. 

Because, honestly?  It is time.

  • Time for you to write that novel you've always dreamed about…
  • Time for you to write the book that will promote your career and get you speaking engagements…
  • Time to start journaling for self-improvement, time to begin that memoir, time to write the articles for your job or copy for your website.

These days, we all have writing to do.  And lots of us are not getting it done.  I know, because I read about the struggle to find time to write in the comments, and I hear about how difficult it is from students and clients.

The thing is, writing echoes life and life echoes writing.  And a funny thing happens when you decide to really commit to your writing and get to it.  As you begin putting words to the page, over and over again, your life suddenly looks brighter.  All of a sudden you are in love with the world, experiencing that glorious feeling that delving deeply into your creativity gives you.  And when you are in love with the world, magical things happen.  Your diet and exercise resolutions are easier to stick to.  Your relationships improve (after all, once you're in an intimate conversation with yourself, it is easier to be intimate with another).  Your life opens up in a million new directions.

Do I promise that all these things will happen if you commit (or recommit) to your writing?  No, of course not.  But I can promise that all these things have happened to me as a result of writing and I've seen it occur for countless others, too.   So let's find out what might happen for you.

What might you want to discuss in one of these sessions?  Here's a few suggestions:

  • Your new year's resolution for writing.
  • Fitting time for writing into your life.
  • Getting unblocked.
  • Establishing a connection to the universe to help the words flow.
  • Ways to generate ideas.
  • How a book benefits your business.
  • The writing process.
  • And anything else you can think of having to do with writing and life…

And now you might be wondering why I am doing this?  Besides the fact that I'm a nice person and my favorite thing to do besides write is to help other writers,the main reason I'm doing this is that I want to coach more writers next year.  I want to do less manuscript reading and more coaching and this is one way I can introduce you to my coaching practice.

In case you were wondering, I've got me some credentials for this coaching, yes, I do.  Here ya go:

  • MFA, creative writing, Spalding University
  • Certified Action Coach, American Seminar Leader's Association
  • Reference Point Therapy, through Level Two workshop
  • Theta Healing, through Advanced workshop
  • Director, Writer's Loft at MTSU
  • Years of writing and mentoring others

So now that you've come this far with me, you are no doubt asking what the specifics of the free sessions are.  I'm offering them on certain upcoming dates over the next few weeks, which I'll list below.  Choose a first and second choice for date and time and email me at wordstrumpet@gmail.com.  (Please put "Free Coaching Session" in the subject line.)  I'll email you back with the time, a wee little homework assignment,  and the number to call.  Remember, I'm on the west coast, so all times will be Pacific time.  Each session is 15 minutes.

Tuesday, December 15th, morning

Wednesday, December 16th, evening

Thursday, December 17th, afternoon

Monday, December 28th, afternoon

Tuesday, December 29th, evening

Wednesday, December 30th, morning

***Update: I'm Adding Timeslots!

Several of you have suggested that adding session the first week of January would be helpful, so here you go:

Tuesday, January 5th, morning

Wednesday, January 6th, evening

Thursday, January 7th, afternoon

I can't wait to talk to you!