Writing in Community is a book of inspiration and encouragement for writers who want to reach deep within themselves and write to their fullest potential. There is magic in a successful writing group. This book helps writers tap into that magic, and with gentle wisdom and humor, experience unprecedented breakthroughs in creativity.
Sometimes we feel broken, and tired. We wonder what we have to give. But, then and yes, it is during those times if we let it the light get in, the real stuff bubbles up. We're amazed because we're in touch with what's authentic. It's life blooming in its most palpable ways. We FEEL strongly - our senses are all keyed up - and what spills from our pens is nothing short of miraculous.
It happens to all of us - even to those who have been writing for a long time. The ebb and flow of writing. The more I can accept that this is a natural part of the creativity process, the less time I've found myself worrying about it. Worry stops imagination. It harnesses creativity and puts new doubts in the writer's mind. So what do we do? My friend who has been writing for thirty years says she breathes into it, and then takes a walk. Another puts her writing aside for awhile, and picks up a good book. We all need to find our ways to see a period of non-writing as a time of incubation. Our minds need to rest, cogitate, and put things in order to produce. What are you going to do the next time it happens to you?
How do we find words to write our stories and poems? Solitude takes us places, letting us draw up something beyond our reach. The power of silence can open our heart in new ways and we pay attention to the voice of wisdom inside us. It asks us to pay attention and we go deeper and deeper into unknown territory. We can experience the deepest part of ourselves. And what flows on our papers is often profound.
We cannot comprehend the enormity of the universe. There are countless stars, insects, animals, trees, specks of dust, and people of every race, color and talent. And yet there is only one of you. One of you with your special gifts and talents. The power that creates wants to work through you. We are not alone in this creativity game. Tell your stories. There is no limit to what will flow from your pens.
There's nothing like the memory of fear that keeps the creativity flowing. The details from the experience are etched in our minds - forever it seems. The place, the smell, the torn shape of the mouth. Even when we want to shut the door on fear, it still haunts us.
How do we transform our lives into something meaningful? Of course we can go alone as writers. We do it all the time. But what happens when we feel that the well is dry and that everywhere we turn nothing inspires us. That's where a writing group comes in. Where the encounter itself offers freshness. The only way we can live into a larger existence is, I believe, by taking chances. We ourselves need to reach out. A writing group and that may mean only one other person may be the creative aphrodisiac we need.
These are big steps - challenging some of the mixed expectations that we face, and finding the courage to do so. I've learned I don't always have to say Yes to things that don't serve me. Even if I say No on just a few things, my sense of empowerment and confidence rises. Saying No puts me back in the driver's seat and I know I'm meeting the world on my terms. I'm clearer on those things that matter, and realize that I can't always be a people-pleaser.
Sometimes writing is like that - we don't feel like writing, or maybe doing anything when the skies outside are grey and snow is on the ground. But you pick up your pen any way and decide you are just going to give it ten minutes. You think about how you used to like snow when you were a kid. How your mother stood over the stove and made hot cocoa for you when you came in from the cold. How her cheeks were red as apples and she sang that song that made you giggle. Suddenly your pen is flying across the page and words - and lines - are tumbling out. To find inspiration, you have to begin and you do. This isn't just about writing well but living well. Aren't we lucky?
The more we recognize that life doesn't play out in a linear fashion - no matter how hard we try - the more we can see its inevitable changes as part of living. The more adept we are at improvising the less impact changes have on us. And as writers, as artists, we can learn to anticipate new possibilities, even perhaps, look forward to them. Because that's what story is all about. That's what makes our characters rich and diverse. That's what's authentic.
When we are experiencing a struggle writing and nothing falls on our paper, we can change all of that by paying attention. To write, we must continue to pay attention to our world with all its wild sights and smells and sounds. We must care about our world, even love it, and through emotion and feeling, we start seeing things, sensing the electric current that runs through everything. We become passionate, maybe consumed, and suddenly there's not any separation - our words flow easily from our pens.
Sometimes, as women we think we need to look outside ourselves to find what we need. The truth is that we have everything we need inside us. Maybe our power is hidden away - and it's still there - but it's up to us to find it. Being a writer is part talent, part effort, and part believing in yourself. Only listen to the voices in your head that are positive and affirming. They will help you on the road to writing.
Getting high on writing? It has probably happened to every one of us. When time is suspended and our words flow effortlessly on the paper. Whatever the trigger, a word or phrase or maybe something we can't explain, we feel an exhilaration which takes us out of space and time.
Sometimes we're told if we set aside time for ourselves we're being selfish or self-centered. The world needs people who want to make sense of it, doing what they can to unravel some of the confusions, the mysteries. Writers realize they have an obligation to do their art. Rainer Marie Rilke believed that "Everything is gestation, then bringing forth." Your voice is waiting to be heard. The world sorely needs you.
A generative prompt can sometimes unlock a reluctant door. All of us have needs, some not recognized until we are given a writing exercise that takes us to a new place. And then, we're asked to reflect on what we need, what really counts in our lives. The process of reflection can be mind boggling. Our deepest needs are often buried and what bubbles up leaves us at times, surprised. Writers are lucky to be on this journey of life. We get to do the real work of what matters.
Writers must see themselves at the center of the creative process and identify with a larger world than meets the eye. For this writer, it wasn't five hours of boredom and idleness at the airport. Her time spent was abundant and rich providing inspiration for her poetry. We must allow the little things in the world to inspire us. The muse will come no matter where we are if we are open to it.
Sometimes when the words don't flow, we get frustrated, mad, even give up. Thinking that this is it...I'm finished as a writer. The good news is that our creative wells are bottomless. We have to learn to recognize that a bit of a writer's block is part of the natural cycle of writing. Our ideas are just incubating. Once we learn to accept the "downs" and relax into it, momentum changes and we soon have something flowing on our paper or onto the screen.
Inside us is everything we need. At times, this statement doesn't seem to be on target. As writers we sometimes look to other places and things for something to hang to. There's no question we need community and friends - we thrive on it. But the only anchor you can depend on again and again is what's inside you and that's enough.
People experience a deep and profound awareness when they tap into their subconscious. Sometimes, our dreams will give us a new insight as to what is bubbling below the surface. More often for writers, it's the very process of putting pen to paper when we find something is stirred and released. We write in a flurry not knowing where our words will take us - and then a memory, a trigger, that opens the dam and we pour ourselves out on the page.
E.L. Doctorow, a great American novelist, said, "The historian will tell you what happened. The novelist will tell you what it felt like." Writing our stories links us to each other because we all share the same journey. We all suffer insults and disappointments, and, when we can, celebrate the triumphs won. These are all part of the human story. Our storytelling builds a bridge for others to cross, engaging them in what it feels like to be part of the human race. And when our stories are shared, we feel a sense of connection that we are not alone on this big world.
One of my favorite lines in our book is "Relent, submit, surrender to the potential that is in us, the dream the Divine has for us." We are granted a wonderful writing and artistic life from the gift of the creative. Remember - there is only one of you, if we don't use our unique gifts, they will be lost forever.
We know as writers that when we're in the Flow, all time is suspended and everything drops away. These are magic moments of writing and we are momentarily transported to another time and place. Writers everywhere know what this feels like. Some may call it hard work, but I call it, too, a blessing.
Paying deep attention is a way to love the world. Waking up to the "Ten Thousand Things" around us is reason to pause and pause again. When we stop to admire the architecture of a dandelion puff, time suspends for us, and everything momentarily drops away. Holding the pen in our hand or tapping away on the computer do the same thing. When writers are in the moment scribbling words on a page, we are taken, too, out of time and place. And in the process, come in contact with the inner workings of life.
Participating in a generative writing group offers new possibilities and insights into people's lives. When individuals share their writing, it feels like the front door of your house has been blown open, and you're witnessing how others live holding the spinning world in their hands. Time and time again, words have a way of bringing us home. And when we're in a group sharing and listening to the journeys of others, we are cracked open in ways we can't imagine, and somehow, some way, our words, too, find their way home spilling out on our blank pages.
How do we increase our creative powers? We can seek new adventures, do things that pull us out of our comfort range. Like taking a trip to someplace we've never been, attending a Reggae concert, or eating at an Ethiopian restaurant. Recognize that feeding your adventure life is like feeding your creative life. Love the world, experience it unequivocally. This is what nurtures the magic of creating!
Our way home is through silence. Whenever we listen to our inner voices, we find wisdom. Wisdom of the ages, and a new-found wisdom that can guide us and lead us to new discoveries. Inside everyone there are mysteries to be unravelled. It's our gift - and our responsibility - as writers to uncover all of these.
Sometimes we limit our power because we think we're not enough. Does it matter what we think and write - who really cares? BUT it does matter. Writing down our stories and thoughts helps us to open to what's bubbling inside. Julia Alarez, recipient of the National Medal of Arts for her storytelling, said, "I write to find out what I'm thinking. I write to find out who I am. I write to understand things."
Seeking solitude? How can we turn off the noise, the fascinating attractions and lingering questions of who is behind that ding? We know the social medias have a dual existence - to broaden and deepen our communities AND to capture us in a colorful swirl of addictive patterns. Writers know that the space we create through silence helps us get in touch with our most authentic selves. When we do, our writing speaks to us in new ways.
It's what happens when we overhear someone talking. A phrase or a word sticks with us and we are taken down another path opening to a world underneath or one that is high out of reach. Writing with others is a powerful way to explore the edges of existence, gently pushing us past our known universe. We are containers of living things, and when we listen to one another, something that has hibernated within us awakens and BABOOM - we connect and our hearts break open.
Finding our place in the world is a challenging endeavor. We are pulled off track by work, by friends and family, and by our own distractions that are self-imposed. We all have thoughts which we think are real that dominate our mind and we lose that connection with what is our true center, our home. Writing helps us weave through the clutter and discover that what is most essential to our being. A sense of place.
It's all about attitude, how we approach our daily lives, and live out the passions we have as writers. Setting an intention each day is an invitation to explore, to open, to touch our most authentic selves. We can turn the ordinary into the extraordinary when we focus our attention on what is in front of us and be present with all that is around us.
The best gift we can give ourselves - and others - is to be present. When we allow ourselves to fully open to the sacred inside, we become co-creators with the divine. We are made to be creative, and we have an opportunity as writers to use our one-of-a-kind talents to create our love stories when we pick up our pen. Find your own rhythms and rejoice or shout or laugh. We should be shouting from the mountain tops!
When we can face the hard realities of our lives, we gain access to a new kind of power because we are always more than we think. Reaching below the surface we find Our Own Personal Power that gives us hope in the face of hardship and struggle. We take charge of our lives, and in the process of claiming, we find new places of strength and courage. Our beings are transformed and, suddenly, we find we are capable of so much more.
How can we find those moments of magic that lead to great moments of creativity? We must be fully - wildly - in the world, using all of our senses, lapping up each moment like its our last. And that means to love the world, every bit of it, and experience lives that see and feel and listen and touch!
Sometimes, when people ask now that I'm retired from my day job, what do I do with all my time? I'm a little shy about saying I'm a writer. Rather, I say I write... Acknowledging my passion as a writer has been part of my journey. Now, when people ask, I say that I love to create, to string words together. I am a writer!
We get to re-live our passions again and again when we write firsthand about our experiences. No matter what has happened or how much time has passed when we evoke the experience and put those words on paper, the quickening is still there, we can feel the tingle in our feet. A feeling, perhaps, that the world has dropped out from under us. By allowing ourselves to be fully immersed in the writing, we can feel the passion, the emotion. And at that moment, we are transported to another time and place.
Sometimes, I get too comfortable with my life, enjoying the same habits and routines. Not venturing out but staying inside the rut of my life. And my writing shows it - all milquetoast and Wonder bread variety. When I push myself past my comfort zone, opening up to the margins of possibility, the world cracks open and life - and my writing - purrs, yelps, hollers with new energy.
We all have the ability to create, to generate something new and different in this big universe of ours. Sometimes, we forget that it's not only our offering, but it's our responsibility to use our gifts. So when a blue-striped story wells up from deep inside - and you're red - pay attention. It's all part of you you are.
In our writing group, I don't know how many times it has happened when after hearing a single word or phrase, I am "startled" into writing. Whether it's my own mental confinement that has kept me penning "in the box," or the rut of thinking small and everyday, when a word is offered during the generative process pre-step, something inside me is cracked open and my writing takes off like crazy!
Bringing a new piece of writing into the world is bringing in a new creation. We mold and form our creations, they are of our doing - our own stories, our unique perspectives and talents, our ways to channel the creative spirit. And in doing so, we re-create ourselves, extending our own boundaries of how we tell story, of the role of our imagination, and the new edges of truth we learn and offer. We begin to see with different eyes because we are different, transformed by the doing of our own art.
Oh, how we wish we could explain that electrical charge, that lightning bolt moment, when our writing takes off - and we're writing like mad. We don't know if it's a higher power working in tandem with us, or we're allowing our greatest creative spirit to spill out into the world. Whatever it is, we are grateful for it.
We know that writing has its own rhythms. Sometimes we're climbing that mountain - slowly, painfully; sometimes we are running down without enough time, it seems, to catch all the words coming out of the tips of our pens. That's the way it is. Feast or famine. But we keep going, don't we? Because we know the writing life is the best life there is even with all of its moods and temper tantrums.
This morning when just waking up I had a vision of a piano, a lost girl, and a boat sailing across the ocean. "Aha" - they were the missing pieces to the story I was writing! Some may call this phenomenon inspiration - and believe me I was grateful for their arrival - but earlier that day I had sat in my favorite writing chair for five hours trying to piece the arc of a story together. For me, writing is work, work that is loved, and the more I apply myself, the greater the possibilities that descend from the sky, on in this case, color my dreaming world.
How do we cultivate creativity amidst the busy-ness and chaos? We must examine how we spend the important resource of time. If we see challenges as ways to thrive, and look for new experiences - different people to meet - and other ways to pinch out time to write and create, you'll find the gift of creativity waiting for you on your doorstep.
Sometimes we think life just happens to us, and we become victims in our thinking. When we write authentically, we are taking charge, taking responsibility, directing our lives to what we write and share. Writing authentically empowers us and we become more confident and engaged with ourselves and our world.
We wrote this segment of the book because we know it matters how men and women live out their lives. For those who find meaning and purpose, there's a sense of authenticity and truth in how they meet the world. It takes great courage and a willingness to listen in the deepest ways to the quiet voices inside.
To live passionately and authentically, men must look at those things that bring fire to their creative lives. Sometimes that means putting aside the social and cultural traditions of the world that try to define them, and turning instead to what animates and brings meaning and purpose.
Many times in my writing I go where I didn't plan for. When my father was sick, I wanted to write about how he helped me feed a baby calf. How gentle and kind he was! But what I ended up writing about was how he was suffering and disappearing in front of me: "Bleached covers flattened, the shape of a man slowly erodes. Storms he suffered, finally sweeping him away." I needed to write about my grief in losing him and I did.
It's true! A generative writing group helps individuals write more and write more easily, taking everyone to new heights of creativity. Members leave session after session with new pieces of writing. It's also true that members become travelers of the world, pushing off from their common shores together and seeing the beautiful world with tri-colored glasses.
The act of writing is a creating and also, a following: of the wisdom, insight and courage of others who have struggled to lead a full existence and have never been recognized. As writers, it is our responsibility to share their stories, to ask questions and to have no peace until the questions are answered.
Writers embody their stories because the narrative of hope and sorrow is part of everyone's journey. We cannot escape it. When we feel a tug, a resonance, our bodies are being summoned to speak, to write. And write we must, writers always want to experience more than they do.
Taking chances means risking - a bit, or a lot. For many of us, whether we risk or not may depend upon our mindset. If we ask ourselves, why bother we won't be successful anyway, we may have a fixed mindset and it's keeping us stuck. If we carry within us a growth mindset - we never stop trying, we can get better and better - we will have the perseverance to work hard and tackle those writing projects we want to achieve. It doesn't matter what kind of mindset you've had in the past. Today, you can change how you look at your opportunities to grow and your ability to improve. It takes effort but only you can make it happen.
When we invite silence into our lives, we leave behind our struggles and frustrations, and open to life's greatest mysteries. We learn to accept that the universe is working on our behalf, and that we are co-creators with the divine. A certain kind of knowing is waiting for us, and all we have to do is trust.
Have you ever seen yourself as being part of a writing group and responding to writing exercises? Maybe with one other person. Maybe with eight to ten. Our journey to become the most creative, the most imaginative we can is the work of all writers. Writing exercises can guide us down a dark alley and dump us in unknown territories to see what we've got. They can encourage us, coax new ideas from the dark recesses of our mind, and inspire us to soar to the next mountain top. Writing exercises can take you places where you've never dreamed of going. Get on board!
What does a child do that I don’t do? Is it about being playful, about being spontaneous, not questioning or ruminating about this and that? Could it be the spaciousness in which children view the world? Their openness and willingness to try new things? Or, are there some things inside us we leave unnamed, things that are hard to admit and buried deep? For me, it’s about making friends with my doubts and insecurities, my fears and anxieties. Being a writer is putting my guts and heart on a paper for everyone to see. To be true to myself, I know I must take risks, and trust that I need to write what bubbles up inside me. I need to learn to conquer my doubts and insecurities. Become friends with them, at least acknowledge they are part of who I am. I need to look at my irrational fears for what they are, false ideas about me and how I encounter the world. Having faith in myself means recognizing that writing makes me feel fully alive and even though I have many flaws, I can still revel and celebrate my imperfect wholeness.
Sometimes writing comes to me sideways. I didn't know I was going to write about the muted light coming through the window when my father was dying, or the soft color of my daughter's eyes on her first day of kindergarten. My attention was on other things. But maybe it was the striking, singular beauty of a shaft of sunlight forcing its way through clouds on an early August morning that took me to my father's hospital bed. Or, when a child in a red coat turned to look at me in a doctor's office. Inspiration comes when I wake up to what's around me, seeing, touching and, yes, tasting, letting it all seep into me like I am an open vessel.
This passage was written for women, but I've come to realize that both men and women can celebrate with newfound creativity and zeal the second half of their lives. At this time, many family expectations and career choices are well drawn and it's possible to find a new spaciousness, a kind of kindling that burns with excitement and possibility. We behold a different future when we tap into the gifts we are given celebrating our uniqueness and what we share with the world.
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