Conscious Writing: Be Good to Yourself

We hear the “Be Kind” mantra a lot these days, mostly from people who think kindness flows their direction only, without creating any reciprocating obligation.

Kindness, of course, begins at home, with you. But importantly, we need to learn to be kind to ourselves. In fact, I’d agree that being patient and forgiving with oneself can only make it easier to extend the same courtesy to others.

So, today, be nice to yourself. Be patient. Whenever you express a negative thought about your body, your emotions – or your writing! – take a moment to turn it around.

How can you be kind to your creative self today? You might take a moment to recognize what you’ve learned lately or celebrate a small step, such as completing a project or sharing your work publicly. Reflect on how much stronger your writing has become, compared to a year ago, or five years. Acknowledge your weak areas and promise yourself that you’ll keep learning, so that those struggles become less stressful.

Take a day off from negativity. Be good to yourself.


Conscious Writing: Tune Out Negativity

Another exercise about commitment. I hate to belabor the point, but in the interest in keeping up with the work in A Year of Living Consciously, let’s do it.

You want to write. You want a deeper connection with your creativity and your community. You have something to say. You’ve set goals. You’ve made it your intention to write with authenticity and integrity.

But have you deeply committed to writing consciously? Are you holding anything back? Are you willing to change or challenge your ways of thinking? Are you ready to dig deep?

Ask yourself if there’s something keeping you from mastering craft and developing your voice for deep, emotional, and insightful writing. What’s holding you back from fully becoming the writer you must become.

Are you concerned about judgment? Do you believe you lack talent?

Sit with those thoughts awhile. Ask if the risk is worth the reward.

I’m not there yet either, but I think it is. Visualize tuning out the people who aren’t on your wavelength and making room for those who are.

Conscious Writing: What You Conceal and What You Reveal

Conscious living requires a commitment to integrity and complete honesty, with ourselves and others. We all have told lies at some point. Usually this happens when we’ve failed to keep an agreement, whether at work, home, or with friends.

Unless you’re a sociopath, lying is a defense mechanism. We want to protect ourselves from being embarrassed or admitting fault. We want to protect someone’s feelings or have our cake and eat it. There is only one result, though – we create a barrier between ourselves and the person to whom we’ve lied. A second lie about the lie sits on top.

What does this have to do with writing?

Self-knowledge and integrity are wonderful things, but I don’t have a pithy connection to make for this one.

Instead, let’s do some practical work and play with some imaginary scenarios.

You can use your own experiences as a template, but if you have relevant scenes in your current work, that’s great too.

If you have a scene where a character is keeping a secret or withholding information, flip it around. What would happen if they told the truth in that moment? What is the lie? Is it major or picayune? Why is the character lying? To protect someone’s feelings, save face, or enhance their reputation? What would be lost if they told the truth?

On the other hand, consider a scene where a character is communicating honestly. Turn it around and ask what they would gain by lying. If you’re feeling bold, rewrite a scene in which every response given by one character either withholds information or is an outright lie. What’s their motivation? What imaginary game are they playing and why do they think they’re winning?


Conscious Writing: Conscious Listening

One key practice of conscious living is conscious listening, not merely listening to our thoughts, emotions, and our bodies, but to others. In conversation, many people don’t actively listen to the other person, but rather wait for their turn to speak. We ready our responses to what we think is being said, line up our arguments, or prepare to shift the topic to something more pleasing to us.

A better practice is to listen with a goal of accurately understanding what the other person is trying to say. Going deeper, we can listen for feelings, so that we can understand what emotion is driving the other.

Of course, active listening is a necessary skill for writers, whether you are practicing with your friends and family, or when you’re eavesdropping on a conversation at the coffee shop. Practice paying attention and study how people talk, what they say, and what they leave out.

You can also apply this to your characters. If you’re having a hard time developing a protagonist or side character, re-read the dialogue you’ve written with a goal of actively listening. What are your characters saying beneath your dialogue? What are they not saying? What topics do they avoid? Ask what emotions are they conveying with their speech and whether that is the emotion you intended to show.

Finally, active listening is an important component of the workshop and critique process. When you receive feedback, prepare yourself to actively listen. Don’t get defensive. Don’t prepare questions or rebuttals while the other person is talking.

You can practice conscious listening by repeating back what the other person has said in your own words and asking if you’ve understood. Let them know it’s ok to correct you or clarify.

Don’t do this at the coffee shop, though.


Conscious Writing: Are you Truly Committed?

Committing to a creative practice isn’t easy. All the goal sheets and pep talks in the world won’t help if we don’t have the drive inside.

Take a moment today to consider your commitment and how it’s going so far. This might mean reviewing your writing goals and how well you’ve met them, but more importantly, think about how you feel about your writing practice.

Is writing something you have to make time for or is it something you simply do?

Is writing something you have to do every day or something you get to do every day?

Start to think about writing as part of who you are. Make it an intrinsic part of your identity, regardless of whether or not you’re published or if you intend to share your writing with anyone at all.

You are a writer. Writing is what you do.


Conscious Writing: Don’t be so Defensive!

The work that will help us understand and relate to our emotions can also make us feel defensive. It’s not comfortable bringing up bad memories or discussing the bad habits we’ve developed as defense mechanisms. Being closed up feels a lot safer than being open.

This can also happen when we write. Rather than write in a new genre, we stick to familiar stomping grounds. Instead of exploring an uncomfortable emotion, we write around it.

During your next writing session, notice any times you start to feel uncomfortable or get stuck. Ask yourself what’s going on. Are you getting close to an uncomfortable topic? Did a scene bring up an unpleasant memory? Are you running up against one of your weaknesses (scene setting, high emotional conflict, description, etc.)?

Take a deep breath and let go of your defensive posture. You’ll get there, and it will be a lot easier if you don’t tense up.

Conscious Writing: Getting into the Zone

According to A Year of Living Consciously, there are three zones of learning:

  • Zone 1: You know what you know
  • Zone 2: You know what you don’t know
  • Zone 3: You don’t know what you don’t know

Those of us of a certain age will remember Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld discussing the invasion of Iraq in terms of known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns. And that is probably the last time we will discuss Donald Rumsfeld on this blog absent the term “war criminal.”

Perhaps a little more definition is in order.

In Zone 1, you can list the skills and concepts you’ve mastered. You know how to drive a car and you are aware of that knowledge.

In Zone 2, you acknowledge there are things you don’t know. You’ve heard of calculus, but perhaps you don’t know how to use it.

In Zone 3, we are unaware of things we don’t know. For example, it took a long time for me to realize that I get grouchy when I’m hungry. I never knew that was a thing. I’m sure my friends did!

For Gay Hendricks, the greatest learning occurs in Zone 3, where we become aware of concepts that we need to identify before we can learn about them.

What does this have to do with writing?

Writing requires continuous learning. A lot of advice columns won’t say it that bluntly, because “learning” sounds boring to a lot of people. It’s a turn-off. Too bad, I say! Get used to it. Every time you write, you’re learning something, even if you’re merely learning how to tell the story in your head. Hopefully more.

For today’s exercise, think about what you know about writing, perhaps what you do well. Consider what you don’t know or the elements that don’t come easily for you. According to peers, I’m proficient with narrative, dialogue, and character. I don’t need anyone to tell me I suck at plotting.

Finally, acknowledge that there are things you don’t know that you don’t know. Accept – and look forward to! – writing a story that doesn’t let you rely on your old tricks, skills you’ve already learned and mastered. Anticipate having an idea for a story structure or narrative approach that comes from so far out in left field that you’ll have to start from scratch to figure out how to accomplish it.

Today, make a promise to be open to learning whatever you need to learn.


Conscious Writing: Commitment

Nothing happens unless you first make a pledge to do it. A conscious commitment to your goals is a necessary step for positive change.

Notice the difference between goals and commitment. Without these promises, goals are merely words on paper or thoughts in your head.

For today, make or reaffirm your commitments to your writing. Here are some suggestions adapted from the book:

I commit to continuous learning in my creative practice.

I commit to expressing myself authentically.

I commit to taking responsibility for my practice and keeping my agreements with myself.

I commit to fully embracing and expressing my creativity and to helping others do the same.

Write Like You’re Running Out of Time

Because you are.

I came across two good motivational articles this week, both encouraging writers to do more of that thing that they seem to hate doing more than anything else: write.

Not me. I love writing. I wish I could write all day, every day. It’s not always easy, I don’t always know the right choice to make, and I don’t always get good results, but I never hate it. I never bitch about it, I never suggest that my creativity is anything less than a blessing and a gift.

Awhile back, I accidentally said something insightful to my therapist.

“I’m me when I write. I am most myself when I’m writing.”

Don’t know what that signifies, and I don’t care. I burped that out in the middle of a rant about something completely unrelated, and it caught us both short. Definitely a statement that demanded attention, which we gave it. I don’t like to examine it too closely, though. I have a tendency to over-think, so scrutinizing one of the few things in life that brings me unconditional joy seems unwise. Better to embrace and cherish it. I have no need to understand where it comes from.

But if you’re one of those writers who struggles with it – even when you love it – and you find yourself holding back or – worse! – dreading your writing time, a couple of recent articles had some good advice.

On his blog, Steven Pressfield shared advice that might help you get started when you feel stuck or unmotivated or even unworthy or unable.

When you sit down, place your fingers on your keyboard or pen, and say to yourself “And the bad version is … “ and then start to work. You can do that. You can write the crap version of whatever idea is in your head, and believe me – the crap version is better than no version. As someone wise once said: You can rewrite a bad draft. You can’t rewrite a blank page.

Another good article has advice for training yourself as a writer, so that you get stuck less and maybe write crap versions that are less crappy.

In a post on the BookBaby blog, C. Hope Clark says you don’t have to wait for your anointed writing time to write. While it’s great to have a dedicated time, you can use that time more efficiently if you train yourself to write all day. Clark suggests writing in snippets – jotting down ideas the moment you have them, in between emails or while you’re on hold before a conference call. Resist the urge to doom-scroll your social media when you’re bored, and write a few lines instead. When you reach your dedicated writing time, you’ll have filled in gaps or given yourself ideas for your next scene or story. You might even hit your daily word count before you start. Now, that’s motivating!

Clark also says that the more you write, the more you’ll write. You’ll want to write more and more often. You’ll reclaim time from other tasks or hobbies that might start to seem less important. And the work will come more easily. A lot of writers don’t like to hear this, but creativity is a spigot. The wider you open it and the longer you leave it run, the more you’ll get in return.

If you needed this advice today, I hope it helped.

BookBaby: Train Yourself to Be a Writer

Steven Pressfield: And the Bad Version Is…

Conscious Writing: Thank Yourself

Today’s exercise in A Year of Living Consciously also focuses on your physical body and expressing appreciation for who you are. This can be a tough one for many – myself included – who don’t fit into narrow parameters of beauty.

Let’s apply this exercise to our creative practice too, as cultural appreciation for creatives who aren’t famous, wealthy, or conventionally beautiful is equally lacking.

So, screw that.

Take a few moments to honor your creative self. Give your creativity some silent appreciation for all it’s done for you over the years. Thank it for helping you still your thoughts, calm your nerves, work through trials and trauma, make connections, and feel alive.

Ask your creative self what you can do today to show it that you love it.