Conscious Writing: Joy and Laughter Too

In today’s lesson in A Year of Living Consciously, Gay Hendricks acknowledges that Conscious Living might sound like a drag. This approach requires you to examine negative emotions and unearth experiences and memories that give rise to those emotions and our bad habits.

Fortunately, the work is also liberating. Even better, it can bring up joyous experiences and help you create wonderful memories. Freed from old thinking and able to express your true self, you’ll feel lighter, unbound from the weight of shame and withheld truths.

I don’t have a pithy connection between this lesson and writing, but I do have something to say about the practice itself.

In this lesson, Hendricks acknowledges that many people believe relationships are supposed to be difficult – hard work, hard communication, hard thoughts and feelings. Instead, he wants us to believe that relationships – despite the need for effort – are joyous, fulfilling, and fun.

Are you a writer who believes writing is a grind? Do you often paraphrase Hemingway’s quote about opening a vein and bleeding onto the paper? Do you relate to Dorothy Parker’s lament that she hated writing, but loved having written?

For today, take the opposite view. Let yourself feel that writing is fun. Remind yourself that you don’t have to write today; you get to write today.

Don’t pour out blood onto the paper, pour out love.

Have fun. Be happy.

Art is made by ordinary people

Art and Fear
by David Bayles & Ted Orland

Conscious Writing: Eliminate Unnecessary Tension

The concept of Conscious Living suggests that stress and tension are not created by the events we face in life, but when we avoid dealing with them. When you avoid choosing, tension increases. Stress reaches its peak when our avoidance of choice means we also avoid taking action.

Conscious Living focuses on our personal lives and relationships, but our relationship with our creative self can be just as complicated. Is there an aspect of your writing or creative practice that is creating tension or stress right now? Are you avoiding choices and actions?

We don’t usually think of our creative practice as a relationship, but our writing is a commitment. We devote time and mental energy to it. And it doesn’t always respond the way we’d like. When this happens, we have to compromise and adjust our approach.

What might some of our conflicts be?

Are you stubbornly holding on to writing time, even though other aspects of life need your attention right now? Perhaps you have the opposite problem, and you have outside distractions you’re not willing to give up in favor of more creative time. Are you tackling a big research project but don’t know where to start? Do you have a conflict with your writing group that you’re afraid to broach? Do you have a great idea for a story but are resisting working on it? Are you afraid to abandon a project that isn’t working?

If some element of your writing practice is causing you stress, take some time today to reflect on it and deal with it. As a first step, simply accept the situation as reality, just as it is, even if it’s not optimal. Practice saying, “This is how it is for now.”

When you accept reality, the choices and changes you need to make will become clearer.

 

Conscious Writing: Dig Deeper

The heart of living consciously is understanding that we control our choices in each moment. We are in control of how we respond to what we experience and what we feel. When we react unconsciously, without considering whether our choice is a good one or how our choice will affect our serenity and other people, we surrender our control.

Conscious choice isn’t easy. We’re accustomed to reacting immediately when someone angers us or hurts our feelings. We rely on our old protective measures, whether that’s anger, humor, or withdrawal. These habits may have served us in the past but they clog our ability to make better choices now.

Changing this habit requires integrity and honesty, most importantly with yourself. You can’t discuss a conflict with someone else unless you acknowledge to yourself that the conflict exists. You can’t resolve it until you understand how the conflict makes you feel and why.

For complex feelings, acknowledging these conflicts and emotions requires even more practice. Many of us – me included – carry secrets. Wrongs that have been done to us, mistakes we’ve made, people we’ve hurt, humiliations public and private.

How does this relate to writing?

If you can’t be real with yourself, you can’t be real in your fiction.

Self-awareness, self-honesty, and emotional integrity are key to creating stories and characters with depth. You cannot portray the rich, complicated inner world of another person – even fictional – unless you are comfortable within your own. Digging deep into your own experiences and emotions will provide you ideas and insights for your writing. Examine your emotions, name them, and process through them, and you’ll be able to do the same for your characters.

For today’s practice, set aside some uninterrupted time to think about a secret you’re keeping. Write it down. Where did it come from? How have you hidden it all these years? To what lengths would you go to keep this secret? How has it affected your relationships?

Lean into this as far as you’re able, but only that far. Self-honesty doesn’t mean self-harm. If and when you can, go deep. Reflect on your secret without judgment. Discover its layers.

Use your experience with this exercise in your writing. When crafting your next character, consider what secrets they’re keeping and ask the same questions. This secret might be integral to your story or it might be something only you know about your character. Approach this person with curiosity and compassion, but don’t hold back your inquiry.

Conscious Writing: What Are You Hiding?

Following yesterday’s exercise, today let’s consider why we might not be as open to our creative practice as we want.

Are you holding something back from your writing? Are you unable to commit the time you need to grow as a writer? Do your characters and situations feel flat? Are you hesitant to take the next step in your career? Or are you like me, and you feel foolish referring to your writing as your “career”?

When we’re hurt, we pull away from what hurt us. Unfortunately, for creative people, that often means pulling away from the thing we love because our work was unduly criticized or because we were teased or shamed for trying.

Are you hiding some past hurt about your writing or are you hiding from something? Take time today to ask yourself a few questions:

  • What am I hiding?
  • What or who am I hiding from?
  • What is the payoff for hiding?
  • What is the cost of hiding?

This one might be hard. I’ll go first.

I was an introverted kid who liked reading, writing, and drawing, and was relentlessly teased for it. At home, my childhood efforts were greeted with indifference, at best. At worst, I’d be criticized for what I read, wrote, or drew, and criticized for not doing it as well as acknowledged adult masters. When I asserted my intention to be a writer as an adult, I was told that I wouldn’t make any money that way and that writing was a lonely life.

As an adult, I got into the habit of hiding my dreams and my writing, because I don’t want to be shamed for what I write about. I don’t want to be compared to the masterclass of authors. I don’t want to hear that writing a novel isn’t worthwhile unless I make a lot of money for doing it. If I publish, I don’t want to hear that my novel didn’t sell as well as Harry Potter.

Avoiding berating and shaming is a pretty good payoff, but the cost of hiding is invisibility. I’m hiding the proverbial light under a bushel. Hiding feels safe, but it keeps me isolated from my tribe. It prevents me from finding people who would support me and would like my writing. It keeps me from feeling fully alive.

Are you hiding from something creatively? It might feel safer to avoid the spotlight or taking a creative risk or revealing some truth you’ve experienced or learned, but this is a false safety and it doesn’t compare to the glow of community, growth, and success.

Let’s come out of hiding together.

For God’s Sake, McCarthy

Godot got there faster.

Conscious Writing: Fill Your Writing With Love

Today’s exercise in A Year of Conscious Living focuses on giving love, to oneself and others.

It’s axiomatic that love hurts. Opening yourself to the possibility of loving another living being comes with the very real likelihood that your love will be rejected or will someday end. It might feel easier to shut yourself off from the possibility, but on the other hand, the rewards are unimaginable.

What does this have to do with writing?

What is writing without love?

You must love other people enough to listen to, observe, and learn about the human condition, and the world enough to notice its beauty and the emotional resonance that differs from place to place.

You must love your characters enough to portray them vividly, in all their complexity. You must love yourself enough to commit to your creative practice, set aside the time, and continue even when the work is hard.

Of course, we won’t love everything, every day. But without love of some kind, your writing will feel flat, unalive.

Today, take a few minutes to fall in love with something and commit it to memory. Choose anything – a person, a piece of art, a kind of food or material, a place, a plant or animal, or a sensory experience. Describe your choice in detail. Examine why you love it. Consider what memories and emotions it evokes.

Love something.

Conscious Writing: Take Time to Reflect Before Heeding Your Call to Action

When we’re stuck in creative quicksand or have plateaued on the path to our long-term goals, it’s time to make some changes. That might mean taking classes or studying the craft of the best fiction. It might mean stepping outside your comfort zone to share your work with peers, hire an editor, or query an agent or publisher.

The desire to change is often followed by a prompt jump to action. I wouldn’t dissuade you from having a plan of action, but the Conscious Living – and therefore Conscious Writing – approach calls for a moment of contemplation prior to the leap.

For today, resist the urge to be practical and goal-focused. Take time to embrace your present and the path that brought you here.

Set aside a few uninterrupted minutes to consider what brought you to a love of writing, whether that occurred in childhood, adolescence, or early or late adulthood. Reflect on times you received praise for your writing, times when you were criticized or rejected, or times when you were shamed or embarrassed by others for having the joy of writing. If you earn income from your writing, celebrate the projects that were successful and those that weren’t.

Take this time to embrace all of you and the lessons you’ve learned. All those experiences and feelings – good and bad – brought you to this point, where you are ready for the next step in your creative practice. Consider all the changes you’ve already worked through and prepare yourself for the next.

Go you!

Conscious Writing: What Are Your Commitments?

For many people, the difference between our verbal or intellectual commitments and our actions can be vast. We may say we are committed to losing weight but the food we choose says otherwise. We might commit to reading more but spend most of our free time in front of the television or on the internet. Our commitment to exercise is belied by the new sneakers we bought, which have never left their box.

If you want to understand your commitments, examine your results. If your outcomes are dramatically different from your goals – not just a little, but so different an outsider wouldn’t guess the original goal – your true intentions may be hidden beneath what you wish was happening in your life.

What does this have to do with writing?

Do you have any trouble spots with your creative practice? Are there aspects of your writing practice where your results are far from meeting your intentions?

Take a moment to consider whether you actually desire the result you achieve. Rephrase your intention as though it were your actual desire. “I achieve this poor result, because I am committed to achieving this poor result.”

This one might hit a bit close to home, so I’ll go first.

I don’t finish big projects because I’m committed to not finishing big projects.

If your brain is like mine, you’re going to fight against this admission. Certainly this isn’t true. I want to finish my big projects. I work on them regularly. What kind of person wants to not complete a project? That’s crazy.

Repeat your phrase a few times until it feels natural. Consider the reality of your outcomes and how they differ from your stated commitment. Accept the truth of your results. For a moment, pretend that this is what you actually want.

Did you feel a change? You might feel a sense of control over your commitment and your process. You can – and do – achieve what you set out to achieve. That’s a powerful thought.

Now what?

Now that you’ve taken ownership of your commitment, you can change it. Sit with your negative statement for a bit. Consider how it might be true and why. Is there a reason you’re committed to achieving this undesirable result?

I’ll do mine:

Being committed to not finishing big projects isn’t a nice thought. But the reality is…they are not finished. I own it.

I might unknowingly be committed to not finishing big projects because I don’t want to put them out into the world where they’ll be judged. Perhaps I’m afraid I might not have the skill to write the book that’s in my head. I might not be as good as writer as I believe.

That’s enough for this time. If you’re not achieving the results that should derive from your commitments, consider what secret intentions might be holding you back and look for the underlying truths powering those intentions. Practice honesty with yourself and we’ll talk about change later.

 

Conscious Writing: Responsibility and Agreements

Conscious Living and therefore Conscious Writing is about taking healthy, 100 percent responsibility. Martyrs try to take responsibility for what belongs to others. Victims blame others for what belongs to them. Healthy responsibility means you take 100 percent responsibility for what you own while kindly inspiring others to do the same. (Note: You cannot force others to take 100 percent responsibility for themselves, no matter how much this would improve everything. Take it from a slow learner.)

When you take healthy responsibility, you are clear about the agreements you make with other people; you do or don’t do what you say you will or won’t do; you know how to change agreements that aren’t working; and you know what to do when you fail to keep an agreement. You don’t have to be perfect, but you do have to own it.

How does this apply to writing?

Responsibility includes responsibility to ourselves and to our commitments to ourselves. For us, this means our commitment to our writing, our creative health, and the agreements we make with ourselves to take good care of that health.

How often do you say something like:

·      I’d write more, but…

·      I would have met that deadline, except…

·      I would have finished my novel this year, but…

·      I would have gone to the writing workshop, but…

·      I didn’t sit down to right at my scheduled time because…

There are good reasons you can’t make your writing commitments. Family and work obligations, financial issues, poor health, and other aspects of life get in our way. However, if you find yourself regularly making excuses instead of your creative work, you should take time to rethink your agreements.

Consider the buts, excepts, and becauses that you rely on when you miss your creative time. Are they truly unavoidable or are they excuses? Also, re-examine your commitments. If writing every day or attending a weekly writers group is too much for you now, find an agreement that works for you. If you’d really rather garden, knit, or watch television than write, you can toss the agreement altogether.

None of this is meant to shame anyone who isn’t meeting their goals or suggest that you are irresponsible. Conscious Living/Conscious Writing is about discovering who we are and what we want, committing to what brings us fulfillment, and taking responsibility for making it happen.

When you’ve had time to consider realistic and desirable commitments, practice saying them out loud. I’ll go first:

·      I can make a clear agreement with myself to engage in my creative practice.

·      I keep my agreements with myself.

·      When I cannot keep my agreements, I know I can change them so that I maintain my creative commitment and integrity.

·      I know how to say no to agreements that would interfere with my existing creative agreements with myself.

·      My agreements with myself are important to my creative health and fulfillment, and I am solely responsible for keeping them.

What agreements would you add?