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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The Surprising Secret to Creating Believable, Engaging Characters Your Readers Will Never Forget

We all know a good story when we read, watch, or hear one. But do you have a clear idea of what makes one story better than another? We could likely create a long list: vivid descriptions, compelling conflict, evocative emotional landscape, intriguing storylines, and much, much more. And while all of these are necessary for a good story, what’s the one thing that if it were missing there would be no story?

Character.

Many people are moved to write stories because they seek to make meaning of this crazy, beautifully confounding thing called life. And they’re compelled to explore the human condition, which means delving deep into the kaleidoscope of human motivation and behavior. This is why creating believable, engaging characters that your readers will never forget is essential. It’s also an art.

Constructing an interesting storyline that satisfies your readers’ need to know the answer to “what happened next?” is important, but when all is said and done, if your readers go away wondering “why?” did that character do that thing, they’ll go away frustrated and unsatisfied.

We want to understand why we do the things we do, and we look to characters for those answers. There’s a way to get to the core of that inquiry. We can study the ancient chakra system, which will help us begin to drill down inside a character’s core to unravel all her hidden desires and fears. This will better inform our creation of her, and it will help our readers embrace her as a flawed, yet lovable, character that they become emotionally invested in.

Stay tuned for more about how we can use this ancient, esoteric system as a practical application to writing deep, profound characters that come off the page and stay with our readers long after they’ve put our work down.

To get you moving in that direction, call a character to mind. Maybe it’s one from an in-progress short story, novel, or creative non-fiction piece. Or maybe you want to make one up for this exercise. (Think simply if you’re creating one: gender, age, physical appearance.)

Put your character on a plane or a train (or some other mode of transportation) en route to visit family for the holidays, and answer this question: What tacit agreement does this character have with her/his family?

Now write at least two pages about what unfolds as the character approaches, or arrives, at her/his destination.

Then either share your piece of writing or let us know what that process was like in the comments below.

Sending you mad writing mojo…

Making the most of fallow writing periods

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We all have something of unique value to offer the world, and the thought of anyone’s vision, wisdom, or story being trapped inside them hurts my heart. But while I’m invested in helping people remove blocks so they can, find and use their voices, and tell their untold stories, I also know there’s real value in quiet periods.

I’ve been through one recently myself. It all started in early October when I was surprisingly ejected from my living space at the time. I immediately moved into a new space that would be, I had hoped, a more medium-term situation so I could begin to feel settled.

Three weeks after moving into that space, which was the downstairs of a house, owned by the woman who lived upstairs, I left for almost three weeks for a conference in Mexico, preceded by some time in Portland. My goal was to come back from the conference all fired up about life and my work and to get back to it all.

What happened was something quite different, and in the past three months, I haven’t written much of anything, aside from a couple of blog posts in December and an email to my list of followers.

I came home to chaos in my living space (both physically and energetically); the newish relationship I had started in September ended. Then started, then ended again; I realized the living space was bad for me on all levels, so I began looking for a new space, found it and recently moved; hustled for work to pay my bills; and tried to make friends in my new town.

I started to have doubts about teaching other people how to move blocks so they can write when I’m not even doing it myself. But then I accepted the fact that fallow times are necessary. It’s all about recharging our subconscious while we tend to other things. To life. And while we’re tending to life, we’re filling our subconscious, which will show up for us time and again when we finally get back to the writing.

I like to think of my writing practice as I would a relationship. Sometimes we need to step back, give it room, let it breathe. Too much attention can stifle, even kill the love, the flow.

When I hit a fallow writing period, like the one I’ve had lately, the hardest part is not knowing when it will end. And experience has shown me that there isn’t much I can do about it.

I’m happy to say I’m coming out of mine now. Even though my new studio is still in a state of chaos, just having my own space lets me think and feel, and when I can do this, I can write.

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When you have a fallow writing period, how do you come out of it?
Do you do something intentional, or does it take care of itself?

Why I love teaching Writing Through the Body

AllSpheres_eBookCover_DarkBackI’ve been fortunate enough to step into the community at For Goodness Sake in Truckee, a group of people who are conscious, spiritual, forward thinking, and loving. And I was fortunate enough to be allowed to teach a free Writing Through the Body workshop there in December to a rapt audience who clearly appreciated what this process has to offer. It was the kind of validation I needed post-AFest to keep on my path of creating the Writing Through the Body enterprise I envision.

In this free four-hour workshop, I share information about Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi concept of flow and Candice Pert’s discoveries about our emotions and our subconscious and how they relate to our chakras. I also talk about my thought process I went through in creating Writing Through the Body and what I’ve learned over the years from my students about the freedom that comes when we tap the subconscious. I give a general meditation that targets all the chakras, accompanied by a few writing prompts. And after the break, I give them a sample of the meditation and writing prompts from both the fiction workshop and the memoir workshop.

I love talking about Writing Through the Body because I believe in it so much. I believe it’s founded on some solid thinking, even scientific thinking. And I love talking about it and teaching it because I see the benefits people realize, even in this short, condensed version.

It’s gratifying to me to see the shifts in people, to have people tell me afterward about all the ideas they suddenly have again and what they wrote that surprised them during the workshop. And I love receiving the emails afterward and learning about dreams and epiphanies had and how they’re putting what they gained to good use and are writing, either for the first time or again, after a long period of being blocked.

I plan to do more of these free workshops in 2015 as I continue to create and build my stable of Writing Through the Body products and services. Here are some things you can expect to see:

  • A FREE eBook (which will contain the contents of the free workshop I gave at For Goodness Sake)
  • More teleseminars for both fiction and non-fiction
  • A full 7-module digital WTB course for both fiction and non-fiction
  • Weekend and 7-week face-to-face WTB workshops
  • A WTB book, in print form (outlining and drafting have begun)

If you haven’t already and would like to be on the email list, please opt-in in the upper right-hand corner of this page. You’ll automatically receive my “10 Ways to Banish Writer’s Block” immediately. And when I finish the eBook, I’ll send that to you, as well, free of charge.

Thanks to everyone who continues to be interested in Writing Through the Body, who is spreading the word about its effectiveness, and for having the courage to write and share your stories with the world. We need them.

Much love,

XXXXX
Johnnie

 

Writing can heal your body: The science behind it

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I’ve been saying for a long time that writing can heal us on all levels. I’m guessing this is nothing new to those who write because I’m willing to assume that everyone who writes earnestly, including those who have maintained regular journal entries, have experienced a healing of some sort, whether it be a clearing of psychic debris or emotional weight. It stands to reason, then, that if writing clear our minds and emotions, and lightens our spirits, and that because our thoughts and emotions directly influence our physical health, writing can heal our bodies, too.

In this article by Rachel Grate at Arts.Mic, a group of New Zealand researchers have tracked the healing trajectories of patients with medical biopsy wounds. She also writes, “Even those who suffer from specific diseases can improve their health through writing. Studies have shown that people with asthma who write have fewer attacks than those who don’t; AIDS patients who write have higher T-cell counts. Cancer patients who write have more optimistic perspectives and improved quality of life.”

She also writes that “One study found that blogging might trigger dopamine release, similar to the effect from running or listening to music.” With that in mind, I’ll sign off here and get to work on my next blog post about why people procrastinate writing…

How do the benefits of writing show up in your life?

Sending you mad writing mojo…

Johnnie
XXX