“How is your book . . . your novel going?” Angus inquired politely as he sipped at his coffee. “The one about the Scottish saints?”
Antonia sighed, “Not very well, I’m afraid. My saints, I regret to say, are misbehaving. I had hoped that they would show themselves to be, well, saintly, but they are not. They are distressingly full of human foibles. There’s a lot of jealous and back-biting going on.”
Angus was puzzled. Antonia was talking of her characters as if they had independent lives of their own. But they were her creations, surely, and that meant they should do their creator’s bidding. If she wanted saintly saints, she could have them. “But you’re the author,” he said. “You can dictate what the people in your book do, can you not?” -taken from, Love Our Scotland by Alexander McCall Smith.
Most important is to let your writing take you where it does.
All my writing prompts and techniques, all my approaches to writing are to allow the writing to take you where it will. Don’t interfere with the narrative by insisting that this or that must go here. There is a big difference between force and discipline when it comes to writing. Don’t try to force ideas or rules or scenes. This will only cause you angst and resistance to writing. Forcing anything onto the page (or insisting it not be written because it may upset the reader or you just can’t go there), makes for a lesser read.
The discipline in writing, fiction or nonfiction, is to listen. Once you hear something, you get it down in all its detail. The discipline comes in how you are going to get it onto the page, not whether to include it or not. Listen to your characters if you are writing a novel. Listen to your memory, passion and body, if you are writing anything autobiographical.
Let the saints argue.
Know that you will offend someone if you’ve written the full breadth of your story.
Don’t intentionally leave anything out as you write your drafts.
Let your writing take you where it will.
“Antonia reached out for her cup of coffee. “Not at all,” she said. “People misunderstand how writers work. They think that they sit down and plan what is going to happen and then simply write it up. But it doesn’t work that way.”
Angus looked at Antonia with interest. Some of his paintings had turned out very differently from what he had had in mind at the beginning. Light became dark. And dark became light. Was this the same process? He had thought it was simply mood, but was it possible that the work acquired its own momentum, its own view of things?
“Oh yes,” Antonia went on. “The author is not in control. Or, rather, the conscious mind of the author is not in control. And the reason for that is that when we use our imagination we get in touch with that part of the mind which is asking the ‘what if’ questions. And that is not part of the conscious mind.”
“Precisely,” said Antonia. “What if. All the time, every moment, your mind is going through possibilities.” –taken from, Love Our Scotland by Alexander McCall Smith.
What if, dear Writer, what if?
Join me and other writers this Friday the 8th of November from 9:30 to 1:00 at Sjolinds in Mount Horeb to gather, drink excellent hot chocolate, write, and explore the What If’s together. I am happy to give you some free Sherpa coaching in between lines.
Upcoming!: A yoga and writing retreat in January (the 10th through the 12th). Want to explore your What If’s?.... join me at the 2020 Writers’ Institute and sign up for my Soulful Writing, Master’s Class. Want to make a living as a writer? It’s possible. Sign up for my The Abundant Writer session on Thursday February 27th. Email me to register.
Enthusiasm is the nutrient that feeds a successful writer's life. Writing for the joy of getting our words and ideas, our histories and stories on the page. If you don't get satisfaction from writing I recommend you give yourself permission to let the idea of finishing or getting published go. More likely you do get some satisfaction from writing (or you wouldn't likely be reading this blog).
What gets you enthused? Jazzed? When you consider working on your writing, do ideas flow to you as if the GO light was switched on?
Do you know where the switch is?
You can make a living from writing. You can live an abundant writer's life. Now, I didn't say from your books or poetry, self-published or not. Even those who have best sellers have other avenues of income and vocation. You need to as well. This is where the Tree of Life comes in. Instead of thinking in terms of creating something markable or checking your Amazon numbers -- focus on what brings you joy. What do you enjoy doing? What do you want to write about? How do you want to engage with your readers? What else do you enjoy doing besides writing? What gets your attention as a reader?
How do we live an abundant's writer's life?
The question we start with here is this: What is the theme of your life (or core themes)? This is your tree's trunk. Just as we identify the core theme(s) in our writing, we can do so in our life as well. Once we identify our book's (or blogs or essay's) theme -- Everything that goes into the piece must be thematic. Everything branches out from our theme(s).
And money can be made, and that's a good thing.
True in the writer's life too. If you want to make a living from your writing you need to identify your theme(s) and design your Tree of Life, your abundant writer's life, from that theme. Our theme is rich with history, passion, stories, pivotal moments, knowledge, and readers. The enthusiasm will be feeding and nurturing you all along as you explore and discover your theme(s) and your avenues of making a living as a writer.
I am offering a one day session for 10 writers on Living the Abundant Writer's Life. I use The Tree of Life as a template to help you explore and identify your unique ways to generate income, get readers, and to live successful and plentiful as a writer. The template is universal but your Tree of Life will be unique and generate tangible ways to make your writer's life abundant. Date: Thursday February 27th, 2020 at Healing Services on the River in Prairie du Sac. 9:00 till 4:00 You will leave enthused, with helpful handouts, and real-life ways to abundance. Lunch on our your own. Drinks and treats included. $85. Dear Writer, I won't turn anyone away from this opportunity. So, if you lack the funds at this time -- no worries, let me know what donation you can give and let's get you signed up!) Contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
“At that instant when language seems to match experience, some rift is healed, some rupture momentarily salved in what Hart Crane called, ‘the silken transmemberment of song.’” Mark Doty, The Art of Description: World into Word.
In Buddhist practice we challenge our solipsistic states. We open up to our experiences and encounters with others with an appreciation that our experiences are not all about “me.” In writing for the local paper these past couple years, I learned another layer of removing the “I” as a way to deepen the reader’s experience. In journalism, I learned (thank you Matt) that there should be no sense of the author within the article. The piece after all is about someone or something else. When I included myself in the piece, the piece became subjective rather than objective, and not about the subject. This removing became a discipline, this removing of the self from my stories, just like in my Buddhist practice of becoming less self-centered.
When, as a Writing Sherpa I consult on autobiographical pieces and on my client’s memoirs, I help them remove themselves for similar reasons. When we write, “I felt,” and, “I saw, I think, I remember, I don’t remember,” these references get in the readers way. They are redundant because the reader knows this is your view, your perspective. So, getting into the scene or narrative without these personal references strengthens your readers connection to your story. The reader can be in the experience, which is want you want for your readers.
Instead of I felt sad, describe sensations in your body and your emotional state.
Instead of I saw . . . show and describe what you saw.
Instead of I thought . . . show and describe the experience in a way that invites the reader to have similar thoughts. Draw on metaphors and similes. Give the reader some details around certain objects or observations in the scene.
Instead of I don’t remember . . . well, leave that one out entirely. Mention of what you don’t remember doesn’t build up your story, it’s a distraction from the story and may illicit distrust in your reader.
You are of course the main character in memoir. So, you are likely to use the “I” as you write your story. Practice removing all the references to the I that are not necessary to the narrative or scene. A worthwhile discipline on and off the page.
“It sounds like a simple thing, to (write) what you see. But try to find words for the shades of a mottled sassafras leaf, or the reflectivity of a bay on an August morning, or the very beginnings of desire stirring in the gaze of someone looking right into your eyes, and it immediately becomes clear that all we see is slippery, nuanced, elusive.” Mark Doty, The Art of Description: World into Word.
Upcoming Events include the 31st Annual Writers’ Institute, March 26-29, 2020 where I will be offering a Master’s Class on Soulful Writing; a Winter Yoga and Writing Retreat with Molly Chanson, January 10th -12th, and in late Spring, 2020 the Free Library on Wheels launch, along with the launch of my latest book. (I’m a woman in search of a small trailer that can be converted into a free library on wheels).
I just sent off my fiction manuscript to my editor and friend in Vermont. My mind therefore is a total blank. I'm not even sure what to make for breakfast. So, nothing new comes to me to share with you today. Instead, I offer up one of my favorite mind-transformation practices that has helped me deal with dark and negative thoughts. This is an excerpt from my book, The Wheel of Initiation.
Wherever I went, a new life begun,
hidden in the grass, or waiting beyond the trees. There is a spirit abiding in everything. –William Stafford, from the poem “You Don’t Know the End,” in The Way It Is
Back, a couple decades ago, I found myself at times inundated with certain dark thoughts that just seemed to appear randomly and out of nowhere. They would show up at different times in my life and interfere with an otherwise pleasant time. They didn’t seem to have any cause. Asking why they existed only generated more unhappiness on my part, so I decided to pay more attention to when they arose. Knowing that the medicine is next to the wound, that the solution is within the question, I noticed how, if it weren’t for these random dark thoughts, I would be feeling connected to my experience at the time. I would be more present. In fact, they tended to show up at times that would otherwise be particularly beautiful.
Skillful means: You Become the Trickster
In this case you choose to become like the Heyoka, the Trickster. I have shared this practice with countless clients and students, and they report back how remarkable the results are. When negative, contrary, or dark thoughts arise in the mind, turn inwardly toward the thought as if you are about to greet it. Then do a small bow and say to it, “Thank you.” Know that this particular thought or belief would not be arising if the opposite weren’t actually true. Then notice and open up to what is really going on— touch the beauty of the moment. Turn your attention to your present experience.
You then become the Trickster to the negative thoughts. You free yourself of a negative perception by not letting it block your view of reality, of the present experience. Instead it pulls you more into reality, because it becomes a flag that something beautiful, something real is actually hap- pening right now. Let’s say you are enjoying a wonderful conversation with a friend, and you begin to have thoughts about what an idiot you are, or how bad you feel about your body, or something along those lines.
Then identify these thoughts as flags and turn and face them. Bowing to them in gratitude, you say, “Oh, thank you, you would not be showing up if something beautiful weren’t happening.” The Trickster has taken back the moment. Soon that particular flavor of negativity will stop showing up—you have tricked it into oblivion, because it no longer works to distract you from the moment or to undermine your experience.
“No matter what he does, every person on earth plays a central role in the history of the world. And normally he doesn't know it.” ― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
The Alchemist is about a young man who abandons his life as a Shepard in pursuit of a treasure. To find his treasure he first has to acknowledge his personal legend. Our personal legend is what moves our life forward, and is connected to the forward movement of all living beings. Just as I bring forth in my book, The Zero Point Agreement: How to Be Who You Already Are, and Stephen Pressfield affirms in his book, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, we are each born with a personal legend. We don’t have to go in search of who and what we already are. Our journey to the treasure is our life. All the obstacles, detours, stopping points, losses, encounters and gifts are what make up our lives. We live true to our personal legend, find the treasure and then continue to live our legend, having found our treasure. Just like Siddhartha Gautama, the first Buddha didn’t stop his life’s work, his living his personal legend after his enlightment; our life continues after we find our treasure.
But first we must know our personal legend. What moves our life forward? Who are we?
Fortunately, this discovery is simple (not necessarily easy). We need to know what we want, trust this and follow this. Joseph Campbell referred to this as following our bliss.
“It's the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.” ― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
I want to write. You? I want to transform my worlds into word. I want to be a Change Agent through the written word. I want to serve others by helping them write.
Writing, and helping others to write is part of my personal legend as a Writing and Spiritual Sherpa. My personal legend is about helping others discover their personal legend. This personal legend is who I am. And, as I lived my personal legend I have found my treasure.
What haunts you? What calls to you? What do you want? (A note to fiction writers – your protagonist fulfils their personal legend, your antagonist does not. That is one reason the antagonist suffers so! He isn’t living his personal legend.)
“So, just as an exercise, let yourself want. From this you can invent, recharge, or update your intentions. To want can mean to open up to your heart’s desire, to follow your bliss; it can mean you are focused on what you don’t think you have, and it can point to what you are missing. It can mean all this and more. It’s up to you. You are the meaning maker.
From a place of more awareness and curiosity you can wake up to more of life’s offerings. This process of awakening the meaning maker acknowledges that you will find your own Bodhi tree, discover truth for yourself, and awaken to your own potential. Invest, as the Buddha did or as I believe Eleanor Roosevelt did, sincerely and deliberately in your own personal awakening.” (taken from The Zero Point Agreement)
We become, as the boy did, an Alchemist. Turning the world into golden words as we live out our personal legends as Writers and as . . . ?
“People are capable, at any time in their lives, of doing what they dream of.”
― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
“If someone isn't what others want them to be, the others become angry. Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own.”
― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
"Difficulty at the Beginning" is the 3rd Hexagram from the I-Ching. The I-Ching is an ancient Chinese oracle that I have come to rely upon since the age of sixteen.
"It is through the meeting of Heaven and Earth, that individuals are born; and this birth is replete with difficulties. It is only through struggle that we finally attain form." Hexagram 3, I Ching
Our life is full of beginnings. Each morning is a start to a new day. When we commit to a project, a relationship or an intention, we give ourselves a start to something. The I Ching counsels us that "if we persevere a great success is at hand." The success of completion, the success of relationship, the success of connection and financial reward. And the success of figuring something out.
I find that the difficulty (at the beginning) is what makes a commitment worthwhile (and engaging). For readers, if our novels, essays or memoirs don't start with some conflict or difficulty, we are not likely to hook our readers.
We seek the tension and drama of a good read. We seek resolution too. But our successes and resolutions come after our perseverance through difficulty.
"Beyond the difficulties and pressures that surround you, a success lies waiting." Brain Browne Walker, The I Ching, A Guide to Life's Turning Points.
Of course I recommend writing as you go. Write through your difficulties. And make sure your future reader is given the richness of your challenges and difficulties, whether your stories be fictionalized or full-on truth.
Without our difficulties where's the story?
Difficulty at the Beginning by Karen Holden
I sleep folded, as if I had no bones;
my hands so bent and flattened in sharp
downward curve to my chest that I wake
up numb. My knees lifted, ankles crossed,
feet curled, as if I was made of strips
of paper, or green bamboo. My shoulders
curve inward so far I walk with a slump,
the knobby human knuckles of my spine
grind and shift as if they remember
the black fluid body they once were and the
brief, ventilated life of dark and fragrant
pleasure. I can imagine the quick movements
from flower to flower through air as fine
as hair and no sleep until death. Each
morning still, it is as if I emerge from
some gray spun cocoon formed from strands
of my own being, and fight my way through
that same fine air; flexing, merely
waiting for my wings to dry.
Karen Holden, Book of Changes, Poems.
BREATHING UNDER WATER - BY CAROL BIELECK
I built my house by the sea.
Not on the sands, mind you;
not on the shifting sand.
And I built it of rock.
A strong house
by a strong sea.
And we got well acquainted, the sea and I.
Not that we spoke much.
We met in silences.
Respectful, keeping our distance,
but looking our thoughts across the fence of sand.
Always the fence of sand our barrier,
always, the sand between.
And then one day,
- and still I don't know how it happened -
the sea came.
Without welcome, even.
Not sudden and swift, but a shifting across the sand
less like the flow of water than the flow of blood.
Slow, but coming.
Slow, but flowing like an open wound.
And I thought of flight and I thought of drowning
and I thought of death.
And while I thought the sea crept higher, till it
reached my door.
And I knew then, there was nether flight, nor death,
That when the sea comes calling you stop being
Well acquainted, friendly-at-a-distance, neighbors
and you give your house for a coral castle,
and you learn to breathe underwater.
I believe that our writing intentions and our explorations (curiosities) in life are about a desire for wholeness, for completion. Life is not a worthiness competition. Life ultimately ends the same for all of us. (Spoiler alert: we all die). On the first day of my Social Work class through the UW, I write this on the board: "You have nothing to prove and everything to learn (and share)." Just so. In our writing and life -- nothing to prove. Everything to learn and share. Everything to explore.
Our curiosity acts as our gills. Our curiosity gives us the ability to breathe under water and to be present with what is. Our curiosity, without pressure to figure things out a certain way, takes us to where we want to be. As we write and explore we will discover what we need for this moment.
Sometimes we are hit by that ocean, whether it be a loss of a dear friend, an addiction, a betrayal, an aloneness, or some other trauma or disappointment. And when we stay with it, be with the experience, write about it, we learn how to breathe underwater. And so will your readers.
Support this blog: A CUPPA JAVA for JULIE Your support helps keep this Sherpa writing and helping others. Please consider a donation.
Here’s what I know: When (not if) you find your way to the page in a consistent manner this transformation will show up on your page. Whether you write poetry, fiction, autobiographical fiction, creative nonfiction, blogs or memoir.
Whatever stops you from taking your world to word translates into what prevents every-day people from being transformed and taking action based on your writing. That’s what makes writing so transformative for the writer and the reader.
Whatever comes up for you in your life can be part of your writing experience. When you allow your personal experience to be transformed on the page, through your writing, the reader is then given a transformative experience.
Write about the denial, the fear, the loneliness, the joy, the questions, the encounters, the disasters and disruptions. Write about what you lost and how you found it.
Take notes on your life.
The thing that stops you from writing is likely offering up the most transformative dynamic for you and the reader.
So, what's stopping you from writing? Not enough time? Some secret doubt? Don’t feel the heat of the urgency? You wonder, "So what and who cares?" In the big scheme of things, does this matter? I will upset my mother, my sister, my neighbor, the spirit of my father. I won't make a difference; I won't make any money; I won't get published. I don't trust myself. I don't trust the reader. I'll be rejected. Did I mention, so what and who cares?
Imagine working through these on the page. When you do, you will be transformed. You will have moved through the fear, doubt, and resistance, and importantly, so then will your future reader. I write about what I’m working out too. And when I meet up with resistance or any of the other myriad of hindrances, writing through them translates to a stronger, clearer message for my readers.
What’s stopping you? . . whatever it is, get it down. Face it on the page. And watch your world transform.
I will be at Sjolinds this coming Tuesday September 17th to write and to meet-up. Join me between 9 and 1:00. I'm available for free consultations on your writing.
Want some one-to-one help with your writing? I'm available for individual Sherpa-Mentoring and Sherpa-Coaching.
“Every day, think as you wake up: Today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it.” – His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama
I started my memoir about 8 months ago. Then put it aside. Then I picked it up again, and then, set it aside. Much like writing my novel . . . this experience could take decades. That's Okay. Writing takes as long as it takes. Then again, how much time do I have to finish this book? The clock is ticking (can you hear your own?); days are passing, just how committed am I to this project?
I'm in. I'm committed.
I want to use this memoir as a way to explore and understand a certain aspect of my life. (Relationships with men.) Courageous wouldn't you say? So every day I am dedicating some writing time to this project. I have taught an on-line memoir writing course through the UW, that Sue Roupp now teaches. I mentor many memoirists. And, I have devoured many a good memoirs. Now it's time to write my own. (I've written self-help books, spiritual books, blogs, short stories and finished my novel). Time to dig into my memoir.
Are you writing a memoir?
If yes, there's a one day workshop coming up you will want to attend!:
"Memoirs are one of the fastest growing genres in the publishing industry. This one-day retreat offers sessions for emerging and established memoir writers. Nationally recognized instructors Julie Tallard Johnson, Sue Roupp, and Coleman join session director Laurie Scheer for a day devoted to developing, writing, and revising your memoir. Three manuscript critique groups available; submit your first 10 pages for feedback from your instructor and your peers." – Laurie Scheer, Faculty Associate, Writing Mentor, Director, 31st Annual Writers’ Institute, March 26-29, 2020, UW-Madison
Here is a link to this upcoming: WRITE YOUR MEMOIR FAST AND SURE held on Saturday October 19th, 2019. On the beautiful Madison campus. October 19, Pyle Center, contact email@example.com for information.
Also, I have room for ONE MORE in my Praire Writer's Circle in Prairie du Sac. We meet up the first Wednesday night of the month. Contact me for more information: firstname.lastname@example.org
if you move carefully
through the forest,
like the ones
in the old stories,
who could cross
a shimmering bed of leaves
without a sound,
you come to a place
whose only task
is to trouble you
but frightening requests,
conceived out of nowhere
but in this place
beginning to lead everywhere.
Requests to stop what
you are doing right now,
to stop what you
while you do it,
that can make
that have patiently
waited for you,
that have no right
to go away.
by David Whyte
All Write Wednesdays: World into Word
All Write Wednesdays is a blog about living the writer's life. Everything in our lives is material. Read all of the All Write Wednesdays posts.
Zero Point Blog
The Zero Point blog shares my teachings about living your life from the inside out and becoming the cause rather than the effect of your life. Read all of the Zero Point posts.
Support this blog
A CUPPA JAVA for JULIE Your support helps keep this Sherpa writing and helping others. Please consider a donation.
Julie lives in Mount Horeb WI where she walks her dogs through Stewart Park, gardens her corner lot, attends yoga at Perennial Yoga in Fitchburg and waits for spring 11 months of the year. She is author of The Zero Point Agreement & ten other books. She also writes for the local Mount Horeb paper and in her free time listens in on others' conversations at Sjolinds.