Recently, I wrote about how understanding the Root, Sacral, and Power chakras can help your writing. This week, I’m writing about how understanding the Heart Chakra can help.
But first, remember, we always want to begin with a framework of a character. In this case, let’s say a 35-year-old man.
Now, from a generative standpoint, we can begin with one of the primary fears or negative manifestations of the heart chakra (because we want to give our character something to struggle with, consider, or transform): inability to forgive oneself or others.
What might he have done that he can’t forgive himself for? Imagine all possible scenarios and pick the one that resonates most with you. Get him thinking about it. Get him moving around in a space. Start to write.
From a corrective standpoint, let’s imagine that we already have the 35-year-old man who we know is racked with guilt and can’t forgive himself for some act or decision he’s made. We can begin to look deeper at the Heart Chakra and ask these questions:
Who does he love?
What makes him happy?
Even better if he’s done the very thing that makes him happy but is not able to forgive himself for it because it will hurt the person he loves. That will create some good tension, which is just what we want.
This week, I’m writing about Reason #1: You don’t have time.
Here’s the first thing you need to know. Time is a construct.
Sure, we all have responsibilities, and we all generally have to meet deadlines or carry out duties within a specified time frame for work and in our daily lives. But… we are not at the mercy of time. Time does not have to dictate our every decision, our quality of life, or whether or not we write.
Chances are, you have more time than you realize. That is, if you’re a person who believes that time is something you possess.
Besides the obvious obvious approach of adding more time to your day by waking up an hour or two earlier (Try it. I started waking up at 5am, and it completely changed my productivity.), you can collect time and save it.
Think of it like a money jar you keep on the counter. You throw spare change in when you have it, and after a year has passed, you’ve saved enough to buy something for yourself you otherwise would not have been able to buy.
Time works the same way. Think of it as energy that you can gather and shape shift.
The best way to see where you can start saving up time is to do exactly what you’d do if you were trying to figure out where you can save money.
You do an inventory.
For at least one week – preferably two – track your time every day. From the moment you wake up to the moment you go to bed. This may sound tedious and anal, but you’ll be amazed by how much time you’re likely squandering every single day. Notice how much time you spend buying and preparing food, checking and answering emails, watching videos online, having unproductive conversations (or conversations that go on long past the length of time the issue at hand requires), doing laundry, practicing self care, on social media, exercising, and on and on.
Look for ways to shave time. If you’re spending an hour and a half at the gym, chances are, you can cut your workout routine down to an hour and still get the same benefit. Make meals in batches ahead of time and freeze them. Unsubscribe from email lists that clutter your inbox so you’re only tempted to read the ones that truly pertain to your life and your interests. Give yourself a social media time allowance and stick to it. You get the idea…
Check for patterns. After your week (or two) of inventory, if you see that every day around 11:00am you get bored and spend an hour on social media, but realize that only 10 minutes of that hour were spent productively, you can add 50 mins. to your time bank and start a new habit of only spending the necessary 10 minutes to accomplish your task. Do this for every task you perform every day.
Decide when you’re going to use the time you’ve collected. Figure out when you’re the freshest, when no one else is home, or whenever the optimal time of day might be for you.
Make a vow to use your time to write. Follow through and use your extra time to write. Think about this: If you saved $2,000 for that trip you’ve been wanting to take but then blew it all on slot machines, how crummy would you feel?
Now that you’ve figured out how much extra time you really have, don’t blow it carelessly.
The Writing Through the Body™ process is both generative and corrective. It’s generative in that it can help you build a character or a story from nothing, and it’s corrective in that it can move you forward if you’re stuck. Here’s how.
Oftentimes with writing we’re faced with a chicken-or-egg scenario. Maybe we want to write but we’re coming up blank. Or maybe we’ve started a story but it just isn’t going anywhere.
To clear that block and generate story, we can simply begin by imagining a character (think simply at first: gender and age – woman, 35 years old).
“Migrant Mother” by Dorothea Lange
Then, give her a Root Chakra (located in the area just in front of the tailbone) problem: survival fears or fear of abandonment. This can take the form of her literally not having enough money to buy food and shelter for herself and her kids. It can be an irrational fear of not being able to provide even if she does have the resources. Or it can be her fear of her husband leaving her, which makes her suspicious and on edge. The fear doesn’t have to be founded on any evidence. It just has to be present.
Next, pick a setting, the writing element I pair with the Root Chakra, because setting plays significantly into the shaping of our identities. (Think of your childhood home.) If we put her in her kitchen (a logical space for someone struggling with survival fears… food, sustenance, or lack thereof) and get her to move around, we’ll bring her to life. What’s she making for dinner? Can she make dinner? What are her kids doing in the background?
image credit: lightworkers.org
On the other hand, if we’re already well into a story and we have a character who is already struggling with basic survival needs (sometimes these things just come to us organically), we can consult the chakras and know that she’s struggling with a Root Chakra problem.
The Root Chakra governs our Tribal Power. Generally, we think of this as our family of origin. So when our character is struggling to put food on the table at home (or fearing that she won’t be able to) or fearing she’s going to be left, we can begin to look back into her family constellation and dynamics (her back story) to understand her relationship with money, “having enough,” or “being enough.” We can then begin to know why she has this fear and let that information inform the story. We might even try bringing a family member into the story to see how it helps character development and storyline unfold.
We don’t always have to tell our readers every detail about our characters’ back stories, but we, as the writer, have to know them.
Creating characters readers will be invested in and resonate with is no easy task. We have to make them step up off the page so readers can take them in with all the senses, experience them as real people. Readers want to know what the character looks like, what she smells like, sounds like, feels like, and in some cases, even what she tastes like. Take her from flat to living and breathing by spending enough time with her. Treat her like someone you care about because before you’re finished with her, you will care about her. Very much.
To get started, keep a character journal. Devote a page or more to each character.
Create a name, gender, and age.
Describe what she looks like. Give her a hair color, a body shape. Dress her.
Fill her apartment, bedroom, and car with things. But do this selectively. What she wears and what she owns tells us who she is.
Make her talk. Is her voice high or deep? Loud or soft? The way she speaks tells us how much power she thinks she has in the world.
What does her apartment smell like? Her car? What about her hair?
And if you kissed her? Her skin? Her mouth? What would you taste? (In a past post I wrote that we have to fall in love with our characters. Sometimes we also have to make love to them.)
Move her. Show us how she walks. Laughs. Picks up a wine glass or a cigarette. How she handles a pencil.
After you have her physicality clear in your mind (and this may come in pieces), get to know her and understand what motivates her to want the things she wants and to make the choices she makes.
Why does she go to the same coffee shop every day?
What does she do while she’s there and why?
What does she want, more than anything and why?
What, or who, might interfere with her getting her desire?
What’s at stake if she doesn’t get what she wants? How will this affect her life, and what new decision will she make when met with an obstacle?
As writers, to tell our characters’ stories, we have to become one with them. We have to allow them to climb inside us and live under our skin as much as we have to climb inside them and live under theirs. The more time we spend knowing them from the inside out, the more we can understand what moves them.
And the more we move our characters, the more we move your readers.
One of the best ways to improve your writing is to read other writers. By reading the work of other writers, we can gain a multitude of benefits.
Reading fiction is like taking a vitamin for your brain, psyche, and soul all at the same time.
Besides creating something in our brain called grounded cognition, literary fiction also increases empathy because it helps us to “understand the emotions of others.” And specifically literary fiction, because it “has more depth,” is better for us than mainstream fiction. It’s like the difference between organic food and fast food for our bodies. The fast food might fill us up, but it won’t give us the same nourishment or have the same lasting beneficial effects as the organic food.
While these benefits can be had by anyone who picks up a novel or a short story, for writers, the benefits don’t stop there.
When we read other writers, it causes us to step outside our tried and true habits, go-to word choices, and predictable rhythms. Can you imagine having only one window from which to view the world and never being able to go outside?! Reading other writers affords us the opportunity to look through many windows and expand our view of writing and of the world.
Expanding our vocabularies is also important, as is studying how other writers turn a phrase. And we can reap the benefits by reading fiction both mindfully and unmindfully.
By reading mindfully, I mean that we can choose a particular book with the sole purpose of studying the mechanics of it to find new ways to freshen our own writing, which is not to say we should be moving away from our own voices that took so long to find in the first place, but being aware of how others utilize the language, approach story, and tend to character should be a regular exercise for any writer.
Likewise, reading unmindfully, just reading for pleasure, can also benefit our writing because it wakes up our imagination, works on our subconscious, plants seeds for future use that we aren’t entirely aware of.
And lastly, reading diversely is also important. Life is busy, and our days are full. Finding time to read our favorite authors is hard enough, but it’s also important to read authors who aren’t our favorites. Or authors we’ve never heard of. Especially under-represented authors. Filling our heads with as many voices at possible, letting them hang out together and talk to each other will only add to the rich cacophony of possibilities in our own work.
On my nightstand right now Dear Husband, stories by Joyce Carol Oates Henry and June by Anais Nin Waste and Timelessness and other early stories by Anais Nin