Inspired by my book "The Writing Spiral: Learning as a Writer" this is a series of posts about creative self-discovery through metaphor.
In the midst of a global pandemic, we all have an opportunity to nurture our solitude and self-awareness. When the news of school closures and the importance of physical distancing broke two weeks ago, I was shocked.
Our lives changed quickly. Our worlds turned upside down. Routines dismantled. I wonder at times if I’ve watched so much Netflix that I’m seeing the world through the lens of a dramatic thriller. I wonder if I’ll wake up and this will have been an elaborate dream. I pray for good health every morning and every night–sometimes in the middle of the day too. I pray for peace.
In the midst of the worry and the discomfort, I know it’s important to find the blessings. I am lucky to have many blessings. A time of great change is a time of great learning.
This lesson is about how we can develop self-awareness about how we learn on our own or with others. How can we make the most of our solitude (without adding to our stress)?
It’s a weekend in early March and I thought it would be easier to find solitude here. I’m away at a conference in Muskoka. Snow and ice stretches across Lake Rosseau. After the workshops I have time in the evenings to write. My room is quiet. The fireplace settles me from a full day of learning. I want to write. I sit with my notebook ready to write. Then I fall asleep.
To write in my best state of flow I need to be well rested. I need time in a quiet space just to be quiet before I am able to fill the space with words. Sometimes it looks like falling asleep. When I wake up, still in that dreamy space, the words will rise from the stillness deep within me. Transitions are important. When I allow time to transition from a busy day I can create space for writing.
I’ve learned that this transition needs to be a time for nothing. No electronics. No new adventures. I can walk a familiar route. I can sit in my favourite chair. My goal is to decrease the stimulus around me so I can clearly hear the voice within me. Once I enter into the stillness then I am ready to create.
The goal this week is to pay attention to transitions. How are you moving from your everyday routines to your creative work? What do you need to make this transition go smoothly? How long does it take?
I continue to explore these questions in the video below.
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What does it mean to write with honesty and courage? What is the relationship between the writer and her work? Do you sometimes step back and look at what you are writing as an opportunity to gain self-awareness or as a practice of self-development?
Here are five ways I try to write with honesty and courage:
- I practice the art of noticing. Not only seeing, but trying to understand the significance of what I am seeing (or experiencing). Then, I use this information to capture the essence of what I’ve learned on the page.
- I let go of control when I am writing and let the words lead me somewhere. I release my expectations and trust that whatever forms on the page was meant to form on the page (for now). I can regain my sense of control during the revision phase of the process.
- If I enter into writing something that is difficult, I light a candle. When I’m done writing, I blow out the candle. Using ritual can help to establish boundaries and safety.
- If I don’t want to share a piece of writing because it is too personal, then I don’t share it. Writing with honesty and courage is separate from the act of sharing the work with readers.
- I often close my eyes when I am writing, pausing only when the inner voice fades. Closing my eyes helps me to listen. I’m doing it now as I write this post. I allow my inner voice to lead me through the piece.
“The truth about stories is, that’s all we are.”Thomas King
I love this quotation about story. I think about the stories we tell ourselves. The stories other people tell about us. The stories we tell others. The stories we hear from others. Story is a universal human experience. There are elements of story in how we live our lives and in every form of writing.
If I had a writing mantra, it would be to write the truth. It’s borrowed from Robert McKee, inspired by an inscription he put in my book years ago when he signed it.
What does it mean to write the truth?
I’ve learned that this doesn’t mean I need to write “my” truth or bare my soul, sharing things that leave me feeling too open to the world. Since the summer I’ve been working on a poetry manuscript. Through the speaker of a poem I can explore “a” truth. It may be mine or it may be a truth I’ve observed in someone else.
Intuition and trust are essential elements of my writing process. I often close my eyes while I’m writing, open to the direction my hands want to take, and let the poem determine its own focus and shape. The same thing happens for me in fiction and playwriting. I close my eyes and listen, allowing my intuition to guide me. It’s about capturing the essence of what is true.
During the revision process I ask: What is this about? What do I want to say with this piece? And then I work back through it to strengthen the themes, clarify the truths, and sculpt the work into a finished product. Sometimes a poem looks very different when I finish, maybe even unrecognizable from the original notes.
What is your truth?
How do you write the truth?
The process of creating often begins with inspiration. What inspires you?
What do you create? How do you bring your creation into being? Creativity is all about action. When we create anything we take something from inside us and turn it into something else. What we create and how we create share a close relationship.
This week I’ve been reading Stephen Nachmanovitch’s new book, The Art of Is: Improvising as a Way of Life. Click here to read a short excerpt from the book. Yesterday I read about notes and tones, my jaw dropping when he highlighted that both words share the same letters. We think music is about notes, but is it more about tones?
In my voice lessons we have been working on tones, focusing on creating resonance. When I shift from paying attention to the notes to paying attention to the tones, the sound and feeling intensify in their depth. He talks about the importance of listening with the whole body, not just through the ears, listen is touch. Think through the eyes.
It’s About Noticing
Finding inspiration is about noticing, being present and paying attention to what is happening now, listening with your whole body. When I can go through a day empty of expectation and open to surprise, the creative energy vibrates at the most exciting levels and ideas pop up everywhere.
What does your creativity look like? Can you see its face? Do you hear its voice? One way to strengthen your relationship with creativity is to bring it to life through personification and metaphor.
Give your creativity a form and a personality.
Begin talking to it during the day and listen for what it says back. I encourage you to take your time with this post and return to it throughout the week. I’ve included some options for you to play with. Pick one each day.