A few weeks ago, a dear friend asked me this question:
Money is no issue…what are you writing? How much time do you spend writing it?
The question – asked by a writer I trust and a friend of years – took my breath right from my throat. It doesn’t sound that profound, maybe, but to have someone ask – right into my heart – what I most had to say . . . that’s the gift of wisdom right there.
I carried his question around for a while, a golden nugget glowing somewhere behind and above my jaw. I pulled it to the front of my mind from time to time and studied it, but mostly, I just let it sit there. Germinating.
Then, one day, I made some time, and I sat down and did what I do when understanding is hard-won – I wrote. I wrote a page, two, pen slipping into language on the pages of my journal. I wrote through all the stuff that was whizzing by my teeth, all the weight sitting in my hips, and then I stopped. I sat back. I lifted my chin and stretched out my legs.
And I listened.
For most writers, I think there’s a place that we sink into when we are writing from our trueness. That place feels – for me – like a woodland path where I can wander and observe, where I’m cool and the whisper of wind soothes my spirit. For you, that place might feel like you’re walking the place of your novel or sliding back into that day when you were 8. Each of these places speaks to us, shelters us, keeps us secreted while we get our words down.
But if you’re like me, it can be really hard to reach that place. It usually takes some time to get there – a sort of clearing of the mind – and it takes a level of concentration that is hard to achieve with 25 tabs open on our laptops and phone calls and children knocking and that ever-present list of things.
I don’t always drop down into my forest; sometimes, I have to make do with imagining the forest from afar. But when I find it, oh, I write with a smoothness that reminds me of why I love this work, and when I’m done, I feel like I’ve just spent the day by the lake with a glass of sweet tea – all fluid and calm.
I’ve found that a little ritual – lighting a candle, reading a poem, etc. – helps set my spirit in the right place, but it takes even more than that for me to really fall into the words. Here’s what I do to help myself give into the words and find the glowing quiet place:
- I close everything but my blank document on my computer, and I put my phone away. I shut down Firefox; I hide all the other projects I’m working on; I tuck the phone into a drawer across the room. I eliminate as many technological distractions as I can.
- I ask for help in finding what I need to say. For me, that request is a prayer. For you, it might be a nod to the universe or a simple nudge to yourself. I find that the best writing comes when I realize that I need to be tied into something beyond myself.
- I write by hand first. I let the physical motion of journaling clear out the clutter. I write down what I have to do that day, what’s worrying me, the way that person hurt me in that email. I just get it all down.
- I sit back, look up, and listen. I take several deep breaths. I force my body to relax by dropping my shoulders and stretching my jaw. Then, I just sit and wait.
- I come to a question. Usually, the first thing that comes to mind for me is a question. I see that question behind my forehead – near my third eye. This is the intellectual part of this process. Sometimes, the question is one asked of me verbally, but sometimes, it’s just one that comes up because of something I’ve been pondering or have read. Sometimes, the question comes out of nowhere, placed into my palm like a tiny white pebble.
- Then, I let that question slide down in my chest. Sometimes, I have to imagine this quite directly, almost pushing that pebble down past my brain, through my throat, to my heart. Sometimes, it just drops there naturally, a stone into a well.
- Once the question has settled into the orange glow of my heart, I write. I don’t censor. I don’t think – or if I do, I force myself to stop. I just put down what comes to mind as fast as I can. Usually, I do this work on a computer because I can type much faster than my hand can write, and this speed helps me keep the thought monsters at bay.
- Finally, at some point in that writing, I hear the thing I’ve just written resonate, a brass bell sounding up beneath my tongue. Then, I know I’m there, and I just keep going until I have finished. I find – when I’m in this place – that the stopping point becomes quite clear – a tavern by the roadside on this long journey.
More and more, I find that taking the time to follow this process is well worth the minutes. When I let myself settle in, I’m rewarded with understanding I did not find just by thinking, and the refreshment of good work makes all the other things after seem easier.
When I listened to the question my friend asked and let it sink into my heart, I was absolutely and completely surprised at what I heard. I’m not ready to share it yet – I’m still treasuring it close right now – but the answer took me to a place where I felt my spirit tingle. I’m so excited now.
Sometimes, it’s really easy to get wrapped up in the day of doing, to think only of the project that sits most heavy in our minds. But my writing life has taught me that the real stuff doesn’t happen in our heads, but in our hearts . . . and it takes some time to let our hearts speak.
So I ask you, if you could write whatever you wanted – time and money aside – what would you write? I’d love to hear your answers, and if you try this process, I’d be thrilled to hear how it goes.
We have 9 spaces left for the Writers’ Retreat in late July. We’d love to have you join us for a relaxing, restful, word-filled weekend. Get more information and register here – http://andilit.com/writers-retreat-at-gods-whisper-farm/.