The Reason You Aren’t Writing #2

In a recent post, I talked about the #1 reason I hear people give for not writing. In this post, we’re looking at another common reason for not writing: not being able to stay with the writing and go deep with an idea, character, or scene. Some people call the ability to do this FLOW.

It’s not uncommon for people to carve out the time, then sit down at their desk or go to a coffee shop with the best of intentions, only to find themselves unable to locate the next nugget they can use to move their story forward.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote that being in flow means “…being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

We’ve all experienced flow, and it feels amazing, right? And because we’ve felt it at times makes it even more frustrating when we can’t get there again. The truth is, we won’t float off into flow state every single time we sit down to write. Or at least, we ought not count on it.

There’s a trick to help with this, and most – if not all – of us know about it, yet we rarely do it.

Freewriting.

The next time you’re sitting, staring at a blank page or screen, uncertain about where to begin, do this freewriting exercise, and use the prompt at the end of this post.

With this in mind, let’s have a go at it.

If you’ve forgotten the rules of freewriting, here they are.

  • Set your timer for 10 minutes.
  • Write non-stop. Don’t let the pencil or pen leave the page until the timer goes off (and yes… you have to do this the old-fashioned way with pencil/pen and paper and not at the keyboard. Don’t ask me to explain because I can’t, but when we write by hand, something different happens in our brains).
  • Give yourself permission to not know. If you get stuck, simply write something like “I don’t know what to write, I don’t know what to write, I don’t know what to write.” Eventually, something new and unexpected will replace it. (It’s only 10 minutes. Try it!) Again… magic.
  • Don’t worry about perfection. Just let it all out. Spelling and punctuation be damned!
  • Envision a garden hose. Think about the first time you turn on the hose in the Spring. It’s full of dirt, webs, and bugs that have made the hose their home. Turning on the water flushes out all the “stuff,” and eventually, clear, clean water flows. That’s what free writing does for your writer’s brain. Flushes, cleans, and primes the creative pump. Think of this as a mini version of flow.
  • Dry, rinse, and repeat as needed throughout the day, week, month, year… the rest of your writing life.

Before you get to work on the short story, novel, script, memoir, or whatever gem you’ve got going, do some freewriting. Even if you aren’t stuck, freewriting is a great warm-up for your regular writing practice. Think of it as priming the creative pump to enable flow. Words you didn’t know were knocking around in your brain will flow right out your hand and onto the page. Really. It’s magic.

Here’s your prompt: As soon as she turned the corner and saw it, she remembered why she had come.

After you’ve completed the writing exercise… head over to the Writing Through the Body™ Writers Group on Facebook and let us know how it went. You don’t have to share what you wrote (unless you want to, of course!), but let us know what the process was like. Tell us what poured out onto the page that allowed you to create something new or add to your in-progress work. (AFTER you’ve written it, of course…) 🙂

I can’t wait to hear how it went!

Sending you mad writing mojo…

Kate Spade – stories behind the stories

I know this is a little “late,” but there’s something about Kate Spade’s suicide… I just needed some time.

I really felt it on June 6 when I learned about her passing at her own hand. I have no deep connection to her. I don’t own one of her bags, and I really didn’t know anything about her or her company until I listened to the interview with her and her husband, Andy, on the podcast How I Built This a while back.

As a gritty, motivated entrepreneur, I listen to the podcast religiously. I find it inspirational, and so many of the stories I’ve heard there have inspired me to keep going and to believe that I, too, can build something notable, meaningful.

Kate and Andy Spade’s interview stayed with me. There was something about how they were together, and something about her, in particular, stuck. She had style. There was a sense of calm in her voice and an assured knowledge she possessed as a businesswoman.

The conversation with them created an image in my mind of their life, of her, of them together, and so when I read about her suicide, I was surprised. And saddened.

The precision, the class, the style of her products – of her presence… she brought a certain upscale sparkle to the world. She reminded us that aesthetics matter, that they aren’t frivolous, but necessities of life. Because when we surround ourselves with beautiful things – not for the sake of materialism, but because beauty touches us – our lives are enhanced, and our souls and spirits respond for the good.

Her passing – and the soon-after passing of Anthony Bourdain – made me think of the snapshots we have of each other’s lives. The way we see snippets that we think inform us of the whole of a person, when, in fact, what we know is really only a sliver of their world, much the way photographs work.

The still moment caught by an onlooker, the smiles, the seemingly joyous moments in life that may have been real in that isolated moment, are oftentimes a miniscule glimpse of the real story that lies beneath.

Like so many others, Kate Spade led two distinct lives. The one for the “camera” and the full one… the one embroidered in the variegated emotional colors of humanity striving to do its best, while feeling alone, deserted, desolate.

My fascination with the human condition and with human stories compels me to care about Kate Spade. About her husband, and now, especially, about her daughter. I want to know who Kate Spade was, what she was like, and I want to know about her struggles. I want to know her family. I want to know the woman behind the name change that came not long before she left this plane of existence.

Not in a voyeuristic or intrusive sort of way, but because I crave to hear, understand, and embrace the human condition and all its dark, messy – even dirty – corners… those places where the truth hides… the truths we hide from others and from ourselves.

And it makes me acutely aware that I need to check in on the people I care about regularly and ask them how they are… not in a passing sort of way but in a real way… no, how are you, really? Are you suffering? Can I help? Are you happy? About what? I want the details…

No doubt Kate Spade had people in her life who were concerned about her, and even though they may have reached out – even though we can reach out daily to the people we love – it’s no guarantee that we can stop them from doing what they’re going to do.

But we can form a bond with them based on real human connection. A bond that reverberates between worlds, between realms, and can maybe, possibly, serve as a healing balm in times of loss.

Border stories – helplessness and hopelessness

Every day, I’m appalled, disheartened, and sickened by the glimpses of stories I see in the news about families being separated at the border.

A large part of me resists even looking, but I can’t help but see the headlines, images, and videos when I get on social media to take care of business.

To resist – to turn a blind eye – feels wrong, yet reading, watching, and listening, leaves me feeling helpless and hopeless. It’s like watching your house burn to the ground and know that the raging flames are bigger than you and all the other people who’ve gathered to try and put out the fire.

I think about the stories. The stories of the families, the parents, the kids – some babies – and the enduring consequences these separations bring to them, their cultures, and our culture. These separations have set in motion the ripple effects of broken spirits and smothered souls that will reverberate far, far into the future.

The ignorance of the powers that be around trauma and separation are astounding – they clearly don’t see the deeply damaging impact of their actions. Or they don’t care.

It’s likely both.

I find myself fantasizing. I want to tell these border stories. I want to tell all of them. I want to meet these families and individuals, talk to them, and tell their stories. I want to put their faces and voices, sadness and heartbreak, dread and trauma front and center…

And then I think about how the impossibility of one single person without the means to make that a reality stands in the way. And I think about how it wouldn’t likely make a difference because we are in a state of such upheaval and disrepair, that any form of retribution on those who have created this atrocity – and continue to nurture it – as well as all the other atrocities that continue to unfold, feel beyond impossible.

And I feel helpless and hopeless all over again.

I don’t know the point of this post, other than to say that I feel this way. I don’t think I’m alone, but it sure feels that way.

How understanding the throat chakra will improve your writing

All writing is hard, and dialogue may be one of the hardest aspects of writing. Oftentimes, we start by putting two people in a space with a conflict to create a scene. We start writing, and we get them talking to see where the conversation takes them and the story. While just letting them talk can work and eventually lead us to the core of the scene, it can also sometimes eat up valuable time.

In a recent blog post, I wrote about how eavesdropping on strangers’ conversations can help us with crafting characters and giving them voice. Now I’m going to contradict myself, because to be honest, the process of writing is one, big, messy contradiction. What is true for one scene, story, or book, might not be for another. This is the pain and perfection of the creative process. There are no formulaic answers.

Much of the day-to-day dialogue we hear in real life doesn’t belong on the page. Dialogue should be more layered than that. It should accomplish more than just making a scene. It should advance the story, further character development, and more.

The Throat Chakra is the culmination of our expression – our will – that we’ve gathered while identifying our identities in the Root Chakra, our relationships with others in the Sacral Chakra, our ability to be agents of our own lives in the Solar Plexus Chakra, and our level of love and compassion in the Heart Chakra – which is a bridge between the lower and upper chakras.

Before you attempt to get your characters talking, give some thought to all the information you’ve amassed about them by studying them through the lens of the lower four chakras. Think about their desires and motivations. Think about their self-image and self-confidence or lack thereof. Think about their fears and vulnerabilities.

Rather than force them to say what you want, let them be their own free agents. Let them show their not-so-desirable sides – even your protagonist (and even if the protagonist is you). Show them in all their frail humanity. They will thank you for it, and your readers will thank you for it.

Which one of your characters has been giving you the most trouble? Write this character’s monologue, telling you what you’re not letting them say, and see what you discover. (Let her/him be in control, for a change.)

How understanding the heart chakra will improve your writing

When we get clear about each of our characters’ sense of awareness about themselves, their awareness of each other and how they interact and take action, as we discussed with the Solar Plexus Chakra, we can then move forward with writing authentic, round, dynamic supporting characters for our protagonist – even, and maybe especially – their antagonist(s).

We humans sometimes have a tendency to want to get revenge in our writing against people who have harmed us. But hard as it may be to write about our stories’ antagonists with love and compassion – especially when we’re writing memoir-based stories – it’s essential if we want to connect with readers and help them see the complexities of life and relationships in a new light. (And remember, this isn’t about writing to excuse bad behavior. It’s about exploring the complexities of the human condition.)

As the wonderful Ann Lamott says, “You are going to love some of your characters, because they are you or some facet of you, and you are going to hate some of your characters for the same reason. But no matter what, you are probably going to have to let bad things happen to some of the characters you love or you won’t have much of a story. Bad things happen to good characters, because our actions have consequences, and we do not all behave perfectly all the time.”

Because like it or not, even our real-life antagonists are facets of us. Throughout life, we come up against people who serve as mirrors of us. Think of it as spiritual checks and balances. And this is the level of understanding and insight we want to impart on the page.

Do you have an antagonist you want to paint as evil and are having a hard time finding her/his humanity?

Go back to this character’s backstory, as we discussed in the post on the Root Chakra, and see what you can find in their history.