How understanding the Root Chakra can help your writing

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.

Generative

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

“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?

Corrective

image credit: lightworkers.org

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.

Who’s your character and what’s your setting?

Move your character

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.

JohnL'HeureuxQuote

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.

Who’s your favorite character?

To write better, read.

bokeh_mood_books_read_pages_flowers_butterfly_fantasy_1920x1200

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

*     *     *

What are you reading?

Why I Write by George Orwell

 

And… the last in the “Why I Write” series. The one that got Joan Didion thinking about it all…

George Orwell

Why I Write
by George Orwell

From a very early age, perhaps the age of five or six, I knew that when I grew up I should be a writer. Between the ages of about seventeen and twenty-four I tried to abandon this idea, but I did so with the consciousness that I was outraging my true nature and that sooner or later I should have to settle down and write books.

I was the middle child of three, but there was a gap of five years on either side, and I barely saw my father before I was eight. For this and other reasons I was somewhat lonely, and I soon developed disagreeable mannerisms which made me unpopular throughout my schooldays. I had the lonely child’s habit of making up stories and holding conversations with imaginary persons, and I think from the very start my literary ambitions were mixed up with the feeling of being isolated and undervalued. I knew that I had a facility with words and a power of facing unpleasant facts, and I felt that this created a sort of private world in which I could get my own back for my failure in everyday life. Nevertheless the volume of serious — i.e. seriously intended — writing which I produced all through my childhood and boyhood would not amount to half a dozen pages. I wrote my first poem at the age of four or five, my mother taking it down to dictation. I cannot remember anything about it except that it was about a tiger and the tiger had ‘chair-like teeth’ — a good enough phrase, but I fancy the poem was a plagiarism of Blake’s ‘Tiger, Tiger’. At eleven, when the war or 1914-18 broke out, I wrote a patriotic poem which was printed in the local newspaper, as was another, two years later, on the death of Kitchener. From time to time, when I was a bit older, I wrote bad and usually unfinished ‘nature poems’ in the Georgian style. I also attempted a short story which was a ghastly failure. That was the total of the would-be serious work that I actually set down on paper during all those years.

However, throughout this time I did in a sense engage in literary activities. To begin with there was the made-to-order stuff which I produced quickly, easily and without much pleasure to myself. Apart from school work, I wrote vers d’occasion, semi-comic poems which I could turn out at what now seems to me astonishing speed — at fourteen I wrote a whole rhyming play, in imitation of Aristophanes, in about a week — and helped to edit a school magazines, both printed and in manuscript. These magazines were the most pitiful burlesque stuff that you could imagine, and I took far less trouble with them than I now would with the cheapest journalism. But side by side with all this, for fifteen years or more, I was carrying out a literary exercise of a quite different kind: this was the making up of a continuous ‘story’ about myself, a sort of diary existing only in the mind. I believe this is a common habit of children and adolescents. As a very small child I used to imagine that I was, say, Robin Hood, and picture myself as the hero of thrilling adventures, but quite soon my ‘story’ ceased to be narcissistic in a crude way and became more and more a mere description of what I was doing and the things I saw. For minutes at a time this kind of thing would be running through my head: ‘He pushed the door open and entered the room. A yellow beam of sunlight, filtering through the muslin curtains, slanted on to the table, where a match-box, half-open, lay beside the inkpot. With his right hand in his pocket he moved across to the window. Down in the street a tortoiseshell cat was chasing a dead leaf’, etc. etc. This habit continued until I was about twenty-five, right through my non-literary years. Although I had to search, and did search, for the right words, I seemed to be making this descriptive effort almost against my will, under a kind of compulsion from outside. The ‘story’ must, I suppose, have reflected the styles of the various writers I admired at different ages, but so far as I remember it always had the same meticulous descriptive quality.

When I was about sixteen I suddenly discovered the joy of mere words, i.e. the sounds and associations of words. The lines from Paradise Lost

So hee with difficulty and labour hard
Moved on: with difficulty and labour hee.

which do not now seem to me so very wonderful, sent shivers down my backbone; and the spelling ‘hee’ for ‘he’ was an added pleasure. As for the need to describe things, I knew all about it already. So it is clear what kind of books I wanted to write, in so far as I could be said to want to write books at that time. I wanted to write enormous naturalistic novels with unhappy endings, full of detailed descriptions and arresting similes, and also full of purple passages in which words were used partly for the sake of their own sound. And in fact my first completed novel, Burmese Days, which I wrote when I was thirty but projected much earlier, is rather that kind of book.

I give all this background information because I do not think one can assess a writer’s motives without knowing something of his early development. His subject matter will be determined by the age he lives in — at least this is true in tumultuous, revolutionary ages like our own — but before he ever begins to write he will have acquired an emotional attitude from which he will never completely escape. It is his job, no doubt, to discipline his temperament and avoid getting stuck at some immature stage, in some perverse mood; but if he escapes from his early influences altogether, he will have killed his impulse to write. Putting aside the need to earn a living, I think there are four great motives for writing, at any rate for writing prose. They exist in different degrees in every writer, and in any one writer the proportions will vary from time to time, according to the atmosphere in which he is living. They are:

(i) Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc. It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one. Writers share this characteristic with scientists, artists, politicians, lawyers, soldiers, successful businessmen — in short, with the whole top crust of humanity. The great mass of human beings are not acutely selfish. After the age of about thirty they almost abandon the sense of being individuals at all — and live chiefly for others, or are simply smothered under drudgery. But there is also the minority of gifted, willful people who are determined to live their own lives to the end, and writers belong in this class. Serious writers, I should say, are on the whole more vain and self-centered than journalists, though less interested in money.

(ii) Aesthetic enthusiasm. Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement. Pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story. Desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and ought not to be missed. The aesthetic motive is very feeble in a lot of writers, but even a pamphleteer or writer of textbooks will have pet words and phrases which appeal to him for non-utilitarian reasons; or he may feel strongly about typography, width of margins, etc. Above the level of a railway guide, no book is quite free from aesthetic considerations.

(iii) Historical impulse. Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.

(iv) Political purpose. — Using the word ‘political’ in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples’ idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.

It can be seen how these various impulses must war against one another, and how they must fluctuate from person to person and from time to time. By nature — taking your ‘nature’ to be the state you have attained when you are first adult — I am a person in whom the first three motives would outweigh the fourth. In a peaceful age I might have written ornate or merely descriptive books, and might have remained almost unaware of my political loyalties. As it is I have been forced into becoming a sort of pamphleteer. First I spent five years in an unsuitable profession (the Indian Imperial Police, in Burma), and then I underwent poverty and the sense of failure. This increased my natural hatred of authority and made me for the first time fully aware of the existence of the working classes, and the job in Burma had given me some understanding of the nature of imperialism: but these experiences were not enough to give me an accurate political orientation. Then came Hitler, the Spanish Civil War, etc. By the end of 1935 I had still failed to reach a firm decision. I remember a little poem that I wrote at that date, expressing my dilemma:

A happy vicar I might have been
Two hundred years ago
To preach upon eternal doom
And watch my walnuts grow;

But born, alas, in an evil time,
I missed that pleasant haven,
For the hair has grown on my upper lip
And the clergy are all clean-shaven.

And later still the times were good,
We were so easy to please,
We rocked our troubled thoughts to sleep
On the bosoms of the trees.

All ignorant we dared to own
The joys we now dissemble;
The greenfinch on the apple bough
Could make my enemies tremble.

But girl’s bellies and apricots,
Roach in a shaded stream,
Horses, ducks in flight at dawn,
All these are a dream.

It is forbidden to dream again;
We maim our joys or hide them:
Horses are made of chromium steel
And little fat men shall ride them.

I am the worm who never turned,
The eunuch without a harem;
Between the priest and the commissar
I walk like Eugene Aram;

And the commissar is telling my fortune
While the radio plays,
But the priest has promised an Austin Seven,
For Duggie always pays.

I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls,
And woke to find it true;
I wasn’t born for an age like this;
Was Smith? Was Jones? Were you?

The Spanish war and other events in 1936-37 turned the scale and thereafter I knew where I stood. Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it. It seems to me nonsense, in a period like our own, to think that one can avoid writing of such subjects. Everyone writes of them in one guise or another. It is simply a question of which side one takes and what approach one follows. And the more one is conscious of one’s political bias, the more chance one has of acting politically without sacrificing one’s aesthetic and intellectual integrity.

What I have most wanted to do throughout the past ten years is to make political writing into an art. My starting point is always a feeling of partisanship, a sense of injustice. When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art’. I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing. But I could not do the work of writing a book, or even a long magazine article, if it were not also an aesthetic experience. Anyone who cares to examine my work will see that even when it is downright propaganda it contains much that a full-time politician would consider irrelevant. I am not able, and do not want, completely to abandon the world view that I acquired in childhood. So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue to feel strongly about prose style, to love the surface of the earth, and to take a pleasure in solid objects and scraps of useless information. It is no use trying to suppress that side of myself. The job is to reconcile my ingrained likes and dislikes with the essentially public, non-individual activities that this age forces on all of us.

It is not easy. It raises problems of construction and of language, and it raises in a new way the problem of truthfulness. Let me give just one example of the cruder kind of difficulty that arises. My book about the Spanish civil war, Homage to Catalonia, is of course a frankly political book, but in the main it is written with a certain detachment and regard for form. I did try very hard in it to tell the whole truth without violating my literary instincts. But among other things it contains a long chapter, full of newspaper quotations and the like, defending the Trotskyists who were accused of plotting with Franco. Clearly such a chapter, which after a year or two would lose its interest for any ordinary reader, must ruin the book. A critic whom I respect read me a lecture about it. ‘Why did you put in all that stuff?’ he said. ‘You’ve turned what might have been a good book into journalism.’ What he said was true, but I could not have done otherwise. I happened to know, what very few people in England had been allowed to know, that innocent men were being falsely accused. If I had not been angry about that I should never have written the book.

In one form or another this problem comes up again. The problem of language is subtler and would take too long to discuss. I will only say that of late years I have tried to write less picturesquely and more exactly. In any case I find that by the time you have perfected any style of writing, you have always outgrown it. Animal Farm was the first book in which I tried, with full consciousness of what I was doing, to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole. I have not written a novel for seven years, but I hope to write another fairly soon. It is bound to be a failure, every book is a failure, but I do know with some clarity what kind of book I want to write.

Looking back through the last page or two, I see that I have made it appear as though my motives in writing were wholly public-spirited. I don’t want to leave that as the final impression. All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one’s own personality. Good prose is like a windowpane. I cannot say with certainty which of my motives are the strongest, but I know which of them deserve to be followed. And looking back through my work, I see that it is invariably where I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifeless books and was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally.

1946

THE END

____BD____
George Orwell: ‘Why I Write’
First published: Gangrel. — GB, London. — summer 1946.

Reprinted:
— ‘Such, Such Were the Joys’. — 1953.
— ‘England Your England and Other Essays’. — 1953.
— ‘The Orwell Reader, Fiction, Essays, and Reportage’ — 1956.
— ‘Collected Essays’. — 1961.
— ‘Decline of the English Murder and Other Essays’. — 1965.
— ‘The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell’. — 1968.

Source: http://orwell.ru/library/essays/wiw/english/e_wiw


George Orwell was an English novelist, essayist, and critic most famous for his novels Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-four (1949). Read more about Orwell here.

Why I Write by Camille Cole

Please welcome Camille Cole, the next in the series of Writing Through the Body’s guest blog posts responding to the prompt: Why I Write.

CamilleCole_Pic

Why I Write
by Camille Cole

I write to untangle the confusion of my life, to remember the five year-old me, the twelve year-old me; me at thirty and fifty years-old. I can evoke the feelings and thoughts and conversations on the occasion of my sixtieth birthday party. Several of my close friends, my daughter, nieces, and a former nanny gathered at a beach house on the Oregon Coast on the weekend I turned sixty. It was an excuse to get together, honor our friendships, make vision boards, and for my friends, a chance to remind me that I am important to them. Even now, it’s hard to put that notion to paper because like many, I sometimes find it difficult to believe that others care about me.

There are events in our lives—it might be a moment, or a day, or longer—that reside in our memories like old friends who never go away. They are there when we’re hurt, when we have something to rejoice, when we’re worried or wondering which way to turn. When I write, my memory opens like a flower to the sun. As I put words together to form thoughts, tell stories, mine my deepest memories, the act of my fingers engaging with the keyboard, the process of calling up my muse and my memoirs opens worlds forgotten—a young girl who lays awake at night, afraid she might wet the bed; an older girl whose feet are too small to wear the new shoe style of the late 1950s. Her father drives her from shoe store to shoe store all over Syracuse, but there are no pointed toe flats in size 4 triple A. Once there was a young woman nursing her baby girl alone in a house truck in the Oregon woods. The baby’s father had abandoned her and she quietly stroked her daughter’s head, trying to understand what she had done to deserve this—surely it was her fault. On her fiftieth birthday another husband took her on a surprise trip, keeping the reveal to himself until they arrived at the beautiful bed and breakfast at the ocean’s edge. He had arranged dinner and made reservations for the best room. Before she turned sixty, he would abandon her, too, and she would work hard over the next ten years to be a better person, a woman who deserved loyalty and love.

The year she welcomed her sixth decade of life, her friends put aside their busy schedules, their obligations and deadlines and dogs and traveled great distances to celebrate her life.

As I write this I can see the horizon where the sky meets the sea beyond our beach house. Boxes of garden vegetables and fixings for four nights of dinners, and five days of breakfast, lunch and general snacking that litter the vast counter space in our three-story beach house. My heart swells as my friends arrive carrying presents and offerings for this time I will forever be able to evoke through story. Memories preserved in joy are as vivid to summon up as memories preserved in pain. All the days of my sixty-six years are important to me and are there for me to excavate whenever I sit before my computer or pick up a pen and paper and let my dream self and my hands work independent of my thinking mind.

All the events and affairs of my life—details I’ve seen, heard, smelled, tasted, and felt—are part of my heartbeat and my breath. When I was five I fell from my bike into the mud; at twelve I heard the mill train in the distance one lonely night in the new town where we had moved. As a young woman I tasted broccoli for the first time, smelled the smoke of a crackling fire that would destroy my home, and at all ages, I felt the pain of abandonment and the joy of discovering a new friend every year, for all my days. These experiences are part of my body’s blood, and I can call them up any time by transporting myself to another season, another geography, with my pen or my computer.

I write to remember, to spread my life out in story and discover the ways in which the pieces fit together. I write so that others might recognize our bond in the ways we are trying to figure out how to live.


 

Camille Cole is an author, writing coach, grant writer, and a retired classroom teacher and education administrator. Her most recent book, The Brass Bell, tells a story about the history of American schools and the life of an American educator, her Great Aunt Marion Parsons. Camille is a co-author of Videoconferencing for K-12 Classrooms and author of Connecting Students to S.T.E.M. Careers, Social Networking Strategies.

Camille works with emerging fiction and non-fiction writers, guiding them in the process of organizing their work; developing story and content; finding and approaching potential agents and publishers; and developing their author platform. She writes grants for schools and non-profit organizations nationwide and has raised over $5 million dollars for distance learning, educational technology projects and arts programs over the past ten years.

Camille is currently working on a YA novel, Nine Mile Creek.  She lives in Portland with her dog, Lily.