Last week my husband and I hosted a literary salon. We do this a few times a year. We fill our home with flowers, food, and beverages and transform our backyard into an outdoor theater. We can seat 60 people. Usually my students read work written in my class. This time, in addition to the regular student reading, a former student, Robin Finn, joined us and read from her novel, Restless in L.A., which was released in February and “conceived” in my class several years ago.
It’s been over four years since Robin called inquiring about my classes. At that time she hadn’t done much creative writing but felt like she had something inside her. “It felt like a logjam,” she told me. She had a powerful urge to write.
This salon reading was followed by a Q&A session with Robin. I asked her what she knows now that she didn’t know when she’d first called me four-plus years ago. She laughed and said, “About what?”
“That’s up to you,” I said, wanting to leave the question wide open.
Her response intrigued me. She said that the most valuable thing she learned in my classes was how to channel her writing. “I was always looking in my mind,” she said. “That was the main place I was accustomed to being. I didn’t know that the story was in my body—my stomach—or somewhere around here,” she said, circling her heart and belly with her hand.
Prior to having that awareness, Robin said she’d worked really hard, but never seemed to get anywhere. But once she was given the opportunity to show up in a safe, nonjudgmental environment, she relaxed her mind, and the writing poured out. “I didn’t do anything. I just let it out,” she said. “I call it my divine download.”
We writers are a cerebral lot. We are thinkers. We ponder. Strategize. Ruminate. And that’s fine. Until it isn’t. Until our thoughts block access to more intuitive ways of knowing. Our stories may be divine but they come through our bodies. The act of writing is physical. Who knows where ideas come from. Perhaps they circle the ether waiting to enter us—if and when we’re open to receive them. We receive first and then we give. And whether we’re giving or receiving, our experience is richer when we’re open. I refer to this opening process as getting out of your own way so that what wants to come through you is free to do so.
People sometimes think they have to know where they’re going in order to start writing. When I hear this I always think of E.L. Doctorow’s quote: “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. It is the truest of all things; the only way to write a book, raise a child, save the world.”
No matter what we want to do in life, the first step is to show up. Showing up isn’t always easy. Especially for writers for whom any number of real world concerns can keep them from plunking their butts into their chairs. But eventually, hopefully, we sit down. We relax our minds, set aside our egos, and enter unknown territory. This is where magic happens. This is where we become vessels, where we allow something larger than ourselves to come through us. Where we listen first and talk later. Where we trust the creative process. Where we delight ourselves with discoveries—long before we share revelations with readers. Where we can release blockages that have the power to transform our lives.
Where do your stories live and how to do you access them? I’d love to hear from you!