Many of my students and clients tell me that they have a hard time finding the time to write. This is totally understandable. Our lives are busy. We have obligations and commitments we must fulfill, or face tangible consequences. Writing is not like this. Nobody knows or cares if we don’t write.
But people who have the urge (calling) to write and don’t act on it often experience dissatisfaction, even angst. They feel like they have an itch they can’t scratch. Part of the problem—what keeps people from sitting down to write—is their own imagination. They’ve made up stories about what “writing” is supposed to look like. They assume they need to carve out huge chunks of time. They believe that they have to feel energized or inspired. They might envision their writing hurting people they love. They may worry they lack talent. They’re convinced they have to know what they want to say, despite the fact that writers often have no idea what’s on their minds until they’ve written.
Drop Your Limiting Stories and Write Where You Are
When you realize that these inner voices are keeping you from doing what you say you want to do—write—you get to show up exactly as you are. This means you accept yourself and your circumstances, and instead of feeling like you have to stretch into some impossible, imagined version of yourself as a writer, you take “writing” off its pedestal, cradle it in both hands, and invite it into your crowded, messy, busy life.
Ask yourself these questions: How can I make writing fit within the real world that is my life? How can I create just a little bit of space to write? Can I sit down and scribble in a journal for twenty or thirty minutes once or twice a week? How about fifteen minutes once a week? Start small.
Some people don’t think this qualifies as writing, but experienced writers know better. Small efforts taken over time become large. Minutes become hours, so have at it: dump thoughts out of your head and onto the page. Romp around. Have fun. Take your shoes off. Strip naked. No one’s watching and there aren’t any rules. Until you start to take this process seriously, at which point you might want to hit the pause button
Writing Is Not Heavy
Author Jack Canfield tells a story about his spiritual teacher pointing to a boulder in the woods and asking, “Is that heavy?” Jack replied that of course it was, to which his teacher said, “It’s only heavy if you pick it up.” Trick question? Maybe, but it serves as a lesson for writers: Don’t pick up and carry heavy thoughts that prevent you from writing.
If you show up for yourself in this way—even once a week—you’ll be writing without “writing,” and effortlessly developing a practice. I advise people to work by hand at this stage, which ignites the heart-hand connection. Intimacy flourishes when we bring pen to paper. Author Natalie Goldberg says, “Just because you can drive a car doesn’t mean you should stop walking.” Take one step at a time. Feel your way.
Type and Edit Your Work
Once you’ve developed a “writing without ‘writing’” practice, you may want to expand that by devoting a small amount of time each week to typing up what you’ve scribbled, editing as you go. When you feel like you’ve shot your creative load with any given piece, set it aside. When you allow time to pass and come back to your work, you see it with fresh eyes. Edit some more. You’ve no doubt heard the expression “writing is rewriting.”
Keep lists of (a) journal entries that feel relevant or alive in some way that you’d like to develop, (b) typed and edited pieces in process, and (c) places to send your work when it’s ready.
Now, to recap, you’re basically just showing up a couple times a week to scribble and play in your journal, and also devoting one hour a week to typing, editing, and developing ideas that surfaced during your playtime scribble session. With these two practices in place you are “writing without writing.” But really, you’re writing! Congratulations! Keep going.
Find Trustworthy Guides
It’s a game-changer to get the right kind of feedback on your writing. This means someone who can hold an unconditionally loving space for you and your work--and who knows the art and craft of writing. This person can help you see what you have, identify themes, water seeds ready to sprout, keep you honest while bolstering your courage, and be a cheerleader for you while supporting your process and expanding your reach.
Many of my students and clients simply do not see the value of their own writing. They are convinced that what they’ve written is garbage. The problem here stems, once again, from their imagination. They are making up stories in their head as voraciously as on the page. That’s okay. Learning to recognize this habit eventually liberates us from it.
A good guide will help you see treasure where before you saw trash.
Share Your Work
Thoughtful, compassionate critiques will help you grow as a writer, and if you’ve been enjoying these practices, the day will come when you’ll want to share your work. Again, start small. Share with your writing circle, class, group, coach, editor, or mentor. As your confidence (and skills) grow, start to share on social media. Share at public readings. Share on blogs—yours or somebody else’s. If you don’t have a blog, create one. Share with newsletter subscribers. Share with people whose work you admire. Even though writing is a solitary act, writing careers thrive on relationships. Reach out. Find a writing community.
My dad used to say, “If you love your work, you’ll never work a day in your life.” I’d like to add: If you don’t think of what you do as “Writing” with a capital “W,” if you shift your thinking about what it means to write and be a writer, and allow yourself to have a good, long scribble, rant, or rave, free from ego demands or expectations, you will be living the “writing without ‘writing’ life”—and loving it!
If you’d like some writing inspiration and live in Southern California, please consider joining us for a literary salon THIS Sunday. The event is free and open to the public, but you must R.S.V.P.
If you’d like support “writing without ‘writing’” you might enjoy my writing circles. I have one space left in my online writing circle, and two spaces left onsite. Classes begin January 29. The salon is a great place to listen to what goes on here and to celebrate brave people and their writing!
* Photo Credit goes to my mom who took the photo of me (above) decades ago while we travelled together in Italy.
Happy New Year! I hope you had a wonderful holiday season, or at least made it through with your health and happiness intact. I was in a minor car accident, which wasn’t a big deal (no injuries or auto damage), but it shook me up and slowed me down. The slowing down part was nice.
It’s my habit to spend as little time as possible in my office during the holidays and to create quality, festive time with family and friends, as well as quiet, reflective time alone. I’m grateful for these practices and find them restorative, although I’m usually chomping on the bit to get back to work in January.
This year is no exception. I signed up for Michael Neill’s Genius Catalyst Intensive and Creating The Impossible programs. When I consider what feels “impossible” to me at the moment, four things come to mind:
• Landing a traditional book deal
• Making a 6-figure income
• Starting a speaking career and getting paid to speak
• Selling out my print run for Raw in the next twelve months
You could say these are my BHAGs (big, hairy, audacious goals) for 2020, but deep down I know that accomplishing any or all of them won’t necessarily bring what I might expect or imagine. They certainly won’t deliver enduring satisfaction or joy, or make me, or my life, “better.”
I recently read an excellent post on this subject. Written by my friend and colleague Jonelle Simms, Goals . . .Blech! is full of her inimitable insight and humor. In it, she examines the deceptive (and sometimes dangerous) nature of goals. If you take them (and yourself) too seriously, you become enslaved by them and end up looking in the wrong places for your joy, which comes from within.
That said, I’m looking forward to attempting to do things that feel “impossible.” I’m holding it all lightly, and I’m excited about the adventure. In my experience, stepping out of my comfort zone usually leads to growth, and sometimes magic.
And speaking of magic, my writing circles are almost full. I have two openings left in each. If you’re a former student who reserved a seat, it’s time to claim it here. If you’re interested but have questions or concerns, please let me know. I’d be happy to speak with you.
If you’re local to Southern California and would like to connect with a dynamic writing community, please join us at our next literary salon, Sunday, January19th. This event is free and open to the public, but you must R.S.V.P.
The first thing I did when I returned to my office after taking time off for the holidays was to take everything off my bulletin boards. Here’s a photo of what the items looked like piled on my desk after I removed them. Among these treasures are thank-you notes and cards from students and clients; original artwork from family and friends; family photos; and other gifts of inspiration and love. Don’t let the mess fool you; I cherish each word, image, and person who sent them. If you are one of them, thank you!
The next thing I did was to revamp my “Priority Pyramid.” Let me explain. Last November, I worked with Dan Blank, author of Be The Gateway: A Practical Guide to Sharing Your Creative Work and Engaging an Audience. In his book, Dan recommends an exercise to help creative professionals get clear about their life and work priorities.
If you’d like to try this exercise, get fifteen index cards and write down one word on each card indicating what’s important to you. Then prioritize your cards into a pyramid, with your most important priority at the apex, and work down from there. These cards are a wonderful reminder of what matters if you lose your way. Each person will obviously have different words on their cards.
Here’s what mine looks like:
For me, a deep spiritual connection with Self comes first. When I lose that I’m like seaweed tossing in the ocean, and life feels disorienting, even painful. After that my priority is my family and also my writing. While the importance of family is obvious, it’s not always been easy for me to explain why my writing holds such a high priority in my life. The best way to describe it is to say that writing enhances my connection with my True Self. It helps me remember who I am.
Many of my students and clients tell me that writing is also foundational in their lives. It helps them navigate their days with greater clarity and grace, stay grounded, identify and release limiting thoughts, express joy, share stories, and reimagine what’s possible.
It’s useful to look at priorities independently, but also in relationship to one another.
I’ve added “I believe” statements to my “pyramid landscape” to remind me why I do what I do.
I agree with Natalie Goldberg, who, in her book, The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life with Language, says “you can anchor your mind with your breath, but also you can anchor your mind with pen on paper.”
But perhaps the most reliable “anchor” of them all is love, which, ironically, is also the ideal launching pad. The best of what gets created through us comes from love.
This index card—the oldest of my bulletin board relics which I wrote around age six—sat for years beneath a sheet of glass that protected my mother’s mahogany sewing machine table. Mom put in long hours there. It was a palace of creation and love—and so was she!
I had no clue when I wrote this all those years ago that as an adult I’d need to keep reminding myself to be guided by love rather than fear. Old habits may die hard, but they pass more peacefully—and lose their power over us—when we see them for what they are and let them go.
Love is patient and kind, and it allows us to start over and reinvent ourselves. Again and again.
As I sorted through the items I removed from my bulletin board, two of them went right back up. I wasn’t ready to clear these messages. One says, “Listen,” and the other says, “The only time is NOW!” I don’t know about you, but I need reminders like these.
I’ve also left a lot of blank space on my bulletin boards to create room for what’s coming.
Writing Circles begin January 29th. Enroll here
I have two openings for private coaching clients. Let me know if you’d like to work with me one-on-one.
I wish you a new year filled with health, happiness, creative expression, and love.