How understanding the root chakra will improve your writing

One of the first steps in creating a character is to understand their backstory. Whether we use the details about each character’s past in the actual story or not, we need to have a clear and compassionate understanding of our characters’ histories.

Oftentimes, we have an inkling of our characters – even when writing from real life experience in a memoir – and our tendency is to write and write until we stumble across their desires and the motivations for those desires. In fact, it is likely even more difficult to get to the core of characters in memoir because we’re so very close to it all – so emotionally attached to our version of the story.

Whether we’re writing fiction or memoir – or something in between – we need a way to approach characters’ emotional inner workings, and an effective method to accomplish this is to explore the Root Chakra because this chakra is about our origins. It will take you to your characters’ emotional underpinnings.

What do you know about your characters’ family of origin, and how does it inform her/his desires, motivations, and behaviors?

How understanding the sacral chakra will improve your writing

After we make a thorough and in-depth investigation of our characters’ backstories by way of understanding the Root Chakra, we can then begin to explore each character’s understanding and relationship with herself. A common practice to show readers a character’s view of herself is to use interior monologue – to take our readers inside the character’s mind.

Another way to accomplish this is by understanding the Sacral Chakra. It can shine a light on a character’s self-awareness by focusing on his relationship with others (how he relates to others based on his impression of himself) and on his ability to be creative, which can take many forms.

Give thought to how your characters support, interfere with, and reflect each other’s most vulnerable parts, including their ability to create.

How do your characters reflect each other through thought, action, and dialogue?

Stories, gifts, and turning 60

I turned 60 today. And I made a decision.

I’ve believed for a long time that it’s important to celebrate ourselves on our birthdays – the day we left the spirit realm and entered the material realm to begin the endeavor of creating a life-long collection of stories that come together, in the end, to tell the overarching story of our lives. I’ve celebrated myself every year on my day for years. This year, I did something new.

I had a birthday month. I created a list of activities and events that I love, and I filled in people I’ve known for years about what I was doing with the idea that they could come along to anything that interested them. No obligation on their part and no need on my part. I figured whether 10 people or zero people showed up, I’d be enjoying activities that mean something to me.

I savored a wine tasting; attended a book and paper fair; hit the dance floor; had a fun, intimate dinner with some of my faves; ran a 5K; took a stroll through the Japanese Gardens; wandered through lavender fields, sampled lavender teas, and bought lavender flower sugar and a lavender plant at the lavender festival; and I went to to the Blues and Brews Fest at The Gorge. And I got to see some of my favorite people.

One of the absolute highlights was a surprise camping trip with my grown kids… the first trip I’ve had since I was a kid that I didn’t have to plan and execute myself. And believe me, I ate up lying in the hammock and reading my Kindle while they made dinner as much as I reveled in the time we spent together, the laughs and the stories we shared – as we always do… pure bliss.

Leaving the city behind for a while to soak up nature’s vibes – something I used to do on a regular basis – was just what I needed. And it added to the set of stories my kids and I share with each other.

Each of our lives is made up of stories:  the ones other people tell us, the ones that happen to us, and the ones we create. This month has signified the further evolution of the ever-evolving, ever-growing story of my life.

And I have many things to be grateful for.

This morning while I was walking to a meeting in downtown Portland, feeling content and satisfied with my life, thanks to the experiences I’ve had this past month and much more, I had the revelation that this feeling doesn’t need to stop. And so, from now on, I’ll be celebrating myself every day, which means honoring what’s true to me, what makes me feel happy, safe, content, fulfilled, and nourished.

You see, I’m making up for lost time. There were many years when I and the people around me didn’t celebrate me. And it took me a while to learn how to do that.

I plan to live a long time, and the thought of doing life this way – each day as a celebration – makes me want to live even longer, and that’s a good thing because I have a lot to see and do.

We all have stories, and oftentimes those stories have meant a fair amount of struggle to unravel the past, time spent worrying about what other people think, feeling that we aren’t “good enough,” and needing others to fill voids in us that only we can fill.

I’ve been enjoying life as a content, self-contained entity for a long time, and while it’s been liberating to live this way – being happily aware that while I have all I need within me – seeing everything else as a gift makes each day that much sweeter.

With every walk around the sun I accomplish, I find more to be content with and more to be grateful for, and I have to say, it’s a mighty fine feeling.

So tell me… how are you celebrating yourself today, and is it telling the story you want to tell?

Five Non-Negotiable Must-Dos to Maintain the Health of Your Writerly Body and Soul

Whether we want to admit it or not, we writers are sensitive souls. We write because we notice more than others, which means that, through all the observing and processing, our systems are bombarded, infiltrated, and taxed to the point of exhaustion on a regular basis.

We must take regular reprieves and preventative measures to keep our vessels in good working order. And while some – if not all of – the items in the list below may seem obvious, it’s easy for us to forget. As a reminder, here are five essential, absolutely non-negotiable must-dos to maintain the health of your ever-sensitive writerly body, mind and soul.

1) Get enough sleep. See? I said they may seem obvious, but how many times do you stay up late to gulp in just one or two more episodes of your recent TV series binge? (Okay, maybe I’m talking more to myself than to all of you.) More and more, scientists and the medical community are speaking to the fact that we need a certain amount of sleep for our health, on all levels. When we sleep, we not only rest and replenish, but we also tune into our subconscious, which is crucial for us writers. And if you’re someone who remembers your dreams, there’s so much great fodder there for your next excellent story.

2) Drink plenty of water. Again, maybe obvious, but how many times do you realize that the day is nearly over and you’ve only had one or two glasses of water – if even that? The adult body is believed to be about 60% water. If we don’t maintain that level of liquidity, horrible things can begin to happen. Not only does our skin and mouth dry up, we can get dizzy or lightheaded, tired, and develop headaches. Who wants to – or can – write when they’re lightheaded, tired, and nursing a headache? More severe symptoms of dehydration include confusion, rapid heart rate, fever, and even seizure or shock. 

Imagine the cells of your body and your brain tissues plump and elastic, fully hydrated and ready to serve the wealth of stories that live in my imagination every time you imbibe a glass of clear, refreshing water. If you work at home, keep a glass out in plain sight in a location you walk past several times a day as a reminder. If your budget can tolerate it and your taste buds like it, quaff some electrolyte-loaded coconut water on the daily to keep your system happy, supple, and ready to churn out all those words shoring up inside you.

3) Walk outside. Kill two birds with one stone. After hours at the keyboard or at your desk, hunched over pen and paper, give your body a break and go for a walk outside. Not only will you keep your muscles from experiencing ennui, you’ll get some sunlight on your eyes – always good for your mood, and you’ll get next to nature – always good to keep us grounded and tuned into the earth’s natural rhythms, which will help the writing flow.

4) Eat healthy brain food. And again… this may seem like a no-brainer, but sometimes, we writers can get on a roll and forget about eating. Of course, doing this once in a while, when we’re deep in flow and lost in our story world, isn’t going to do much harm. In fact, it can be a good thing, in terms of clearing us out to make room for more creative solutions to our story problems.

But regularly foregoing food – especially, healthy brain food – can have lasting effects that can harm our physical health, including our brains, and, in turn, our ability to create. Here’s a good list of The Top 50 Best Foods for Your Brain. If you’re like me and have a lot of food sensitivities, there are plenty of other foods you can substitute that are equally good for your brain.

For me, here’s a typical brain food-rich day:

Breakfast – Hot buckwheat cereal with chia seeds and blueberries

Lunch – Salad made with romaine lettuce, celery, chopped carrots, and sweet corn, topped with virgin, cold-pressed olive oil, apple cider vinegar, Himalayan sea salt, and fresh herbs, like parsley, cilantro, and basil

Dinner – Baked sweet potato with grass-fed butter, Himalayan sea salt, and pepper OR sliced baked parsnips, zucchini, and multi-colored carrots tossed with fresh pesto OR beets baked and drizzled with melted coconut oil or nestled atop a pile of romaine along with dollops of herbed goat cheese, topped with cold-pressed, virgin olive oil and apple cider vinegar.

Plenty of water throughout the day with a 17-oz can of coconut water keeps me hydrated and happy, and snacks include blueberries, dates, Brazil nuts, and pumpkin seeds. And in the evening, some dark chocolate and wine are a luxurious treat at the end of the day.

5) Meditate. It’s SO good for us. It gives us a breather from all the rampant thoughts that bounce around inside our brains day after day. It slows our heart rate. And it expands time. As the old Zen proverb says, “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day – unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.”I start my days with meditation, and it always leaves me feeling that I can take on the day with MORE time to spare. On the days I scrimp, I can tell.

For writers, it’s a great way to quiet our minds and give our characters the space to talk to us. They’re ready and waiting, and when we give them the room, they’ll always tell us what’s next, whether we like it or not.

I’d love to hear what you do to keep your vessel – your writing machine – your physical body, mind, and spirit – in prime working order so you can honor your call to write and tell stories.

Leave a comment below and let me know!

Sending you mad writing mojo…

Johnnie
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Three Easy Ways Strangers Can Enhance Your Writing

I live in downtown Portland, Oregon, on the second floor of a 113-year-old building. I love my apartment, and while the building has its issues, it also has a fair amount of charm. I work at home, so I’m able to look out any of my four, big, north-facing windows throughout the day to see and hear snippets of stories unfold or pass on by. And sometimes, in the middle of the night, I wake up to the sound of alcohol-induced squabbles and lines of dialogue that stay with me.

The storyteller in me kicks in and I can’t help but create a beginning and end to the middle I’ve witnessed and/or heard.

As writers, we have at our disposal a jackpot of fodder and triggers for our writing. Even if we’re working on a longer piece, like a novel or memoir, taking the time to write a quick story based on a conversation we’ve overheard, a facial expression we’ve witnessed, or a scent that stays with us after someone has strolled past can lead to breakthroughs we might not have expected. Or it could lead to a finished piece we submit for publication, and getting our words in print never hurts, right?

Here are three ways we can use strangers to enhance or kickstart our writing, keep the cogs in our writer brains in good working order, and nurture our imaginations so we can keep funneling words onto the page.

  • Physical appearance. I’m fascinated by the vastly different physical traits humans have that can add to a character’s appeal or intrigue. From meaty cheeks, tiny teeth, and lush eyebrows to slender fingers, perfectly painted toenails, and dancing Adam’s apples, human beings are charming bundles of physical intricacies and abnormalities, all fit to be explored, described, and elaborated on. Keep a writer’s notebook, and when you’re out and about, do some people watching (coffee shops are excellent for this) and jot down interesting features you notice (but be stealth… staring at strangers for more than 5 seconds is creepy!).
  • Dialogue and speech patterns. Again, coffee shops are great for this, or any public place, for that matter. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to sit in a public space and not overhear conversations. I know it sounds invasive (and I have a thing about being overheard in a public space when I’m having a conversation), but it will give you some great indicators about how to vary language, cadence, and tone so your characters are distinctive. The last thing we want is for our characters to all sound alike. Listen for that slight lisp, where the voice emanates from (chest, throat, nasal cavity), the nervous laugh…
  • Fill in the gaps. After you’ve watched and listened, start to imagine the rest of their stories. If someone is sitting alone, imagine what the rest of their life might look like. Do they always sit alone? Are they lonely? Or are they happy to be by themselves, away from a house full of roommates or kids or visiting relatives? If two people appear to be having a meeting, imagine what their home lives are like. Who and what do they go home to at the end of the day?

Writers are avid students of human behavior and the human condition. It’s why we do what we do. And what better way to fill our notebooks with rich, usable fodder that will serve as prompts for practice or, perhaps, a polished piece of prose. And it will keep your storytelling brain in prime form, too.

Do some sleuthing, then let us know what you uncovered in the comments below. The voyeur in me wants to know!

Sending you mad writing mojo…

Johnnie
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