Among all the amazing artifacts that Da Vinci left behind, his notebooks are fascinating. We can see his process unfold on the pages, look for patterns in his discoveries, identify experiences that informed his reasoning and creativity. Da Vinci’s learning was intentional. He had an exceptional understanding of how he learned best and how to explore any topic using the characteristics of inquiry. He not only took the time to explore the world around him, but he explored the world within him.
Much of the writing in his notebooks was done backwards or in codes. Da Vinci hadn’t transferred all his learning in the notebooks into forms suitable for an audience. The notebooks represented his private work.
My notebooks look nothing like DaVinci’s. Sometimes when I write, I choose superficial topics. I write about a trip to the grocery store or a memory of writing an exam in high school. Sometimes when I write, I linger in the comfortable stories of my childhood, of my adolescence, of my every day.
Sometimes it’s easy to share. Sometimes I find it so hard! I have never stood naked in front of a crowd, but some days when I share my writing I feel exposed. I feel like everyone stares at my work with x-ray vision that pierces through the page to me and my clothes, my skin and blood and bones, into my spirit. I wish I knew how to write backwards or in codes. Have you ever had that feeling?
Lately, nearly every day I walk along Lake Ontario. I sit by the water and watch the waves roll in and out. The sun warms my face. I feel connected to God and country and family and life in general. One Saturday morning I realized that being near open water, feeling the sunshine and the breeze and the peace, that I was wholly myself. Expectation and ego, gone. Past and future, irrelevant. This is me, I thought. Right here, right now, I am me. This feels good. I close my eyes and slip into the moment. Vulnerability does not exist here. I feel safe. This is the feeling I want to carry into my writing process. But how?
In solitude we connect to our true selves. We write who we are, but we also choose what we write.
If my duty is to write the truth, then I should let it rise from deep within me and arrive on the page without censor. Let go of ego and the need for attention and acceptance. Write because I must and then decide what’s safe to share and when it’s the best time is to share it.
Extending the Ideas of Da Vinci and Creativity
This video explores how performance anxiety can impact our process and a path for getting to a place of peace when it comes to sharing our talents and our creative work.
Spend twenty minutes free-writing about your creative shadow, describing how it looks and moves and speaks. Write about all the dark places creativity has taken you—in the things you write about and in the ways writing changes your habits and self. Be open to filling the page with fear and pain and sadness. Take a break. Later that day, return to the page and see where you can offer light.
See your dragon
Search for a picture to represent your writing dragon. Putting it up near your desk, watch it for a couple of days, asking why it has such power. Then, write an intimate scene that features a conversation between your dragon and you in a setting that repels all your senses. Alternating the power in the dialogue, write until you reach agreement. Choose one empowering line from the scene and clip it to your dragon picture.
Make a list of ideas you may have overlooked because you were worried about taking the risk.
Make a list of things you’d rather be doing than reading your work in public. Then make a list of how you could change the world if your words had magical powers.
If your writing life had a soundtrack what songs would it include? Put together a playlist. Some days might be Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” some days might feel like Johnny Cash’s “Hurt,” and other days like Pharrell Williams’ “Happy.”
Write like nobody’s reading, turning off the censor and filling the page with what it feels like to be in this moment.
Some writing gurus suggest to picture the audience sitting at home in their pajamas reading my book. Imagine every detail of your audience.
Read children’s books to remember that sometimes when we get nutty and embrace the nature of the ego, great things can happen on the page.