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Natalie Goldberg speaks at length about how, as writers, we must practice writing.  Much the way a runner must practice and train to get better.  We must work our writing muscles.

She recommends 10 minutes of writing practice sessions.  Sometimes she challenges herself to write for 30.  It’s simple: Just give yourself a topic.  Like trains or how the light comes into the room.  Her rules say you put pen to paper and you don’t stop writing until the time limit is up.  You do not edit, you don’t even punctuate or capitalize.  Just write.  You must not censor anything that wants to come out and you let the thoughts go where they may.  At the end of the time period, you will have stronger muscles and maybe some insights or ideas.

I have altered her rules a bit as I find it difficult, physically, to write that long without stopping.  And my daily journalling, I believe, contains enough of that free flow, non-stop, non-censored writing.  My rules say to write 2 sides of a piece of paper without stopping, but for a moment, if I need to readjust my hand.  I try not to let the thoughts stop even if I must take a break.  I keep to the topic as much as possible. If I need to, I just repeat it.  Everything I’ve got on trains.  What more do I have to say about trains?  I ask to continue.  As Natalie instructs, though, I allow myself to be lead by the thoughts on trains to a memory or idea that surrounds it.

However you do it, the idea is to keep practicing.  To realize that you will get out of shape if you don’t write.  It’s about repeating the process over and over again. This repetition will build muscle tone and make you a better writer.  I find, too, it helps to dislodge any blockages.  Nothing breeds writing like writing.

Paint a lot and you will become a better painter.  Practice an instrument so you can hear improvement.  The more you run, the more you can run.  The better you warm up, the better your run will be.  It’s simple.  Award winning athletes do not get that way from just entering tournaments.  It’s the hours of practice they put in before the event which paves the way for their excellent performances.

It’s hard to hear what you’re thinking.  Most of us run around with a million thoughts (or so it seems).  Things I need at the grocery, what time to be somewhere, the gas in the car, how my shoes feel, what he really thinks, that’s a good song . . .  Not to mention dealing with whatever is in front of you and what comes next.

There are a lot of thoughts going on under all the flotsam and jetsam of everyday life.  It’s difficult to know what they all are.  But these thoughts are important. They color everything we do, whether or not we’re aware of them. I sometimes see it as a running commentary: “Oh, that worked out well.  That didn’t play out the way I thought. I wonder if I can do this.” The really scary thoughts, though, are buried down deeper, under all this chatter. Things like I’m no good or people don’t really like me.

Of course, they are not true. Certainly there’s something good in me and there are people who do like me. But these thoughts have been around a long time.  And their roots run deep. The thing is that once they’re revealed, once you face them and really hear them, they lose a lot of the sting.  You can see them for what they are.

One really good way to get at these thoughts is to write.  I call it journalling, but you may call it Morning Pages, like Julia Cameron (or Writing Practice as Natalie Goldberg deems it.) Writing longhand, 3 pages of whatever is going on in your head.  Julia suggests the morning because it’s a good idea to get all that out before you start your day. But also because it tends to be quiet and there is less activity in your brain.

It does take time.  Sometimes you need more than 3 pages. And you need, most of all, to feel safe doing this.  Know that this is for your eyes only.  No one else need read it.  You must have a certain amount of trust to pursue the mining.

It’s about allowing yourself to be completely honest. To be able to say things like, “I’m not sure I really like him.”  Or “Doing that really makes me feel good!”  Perhaps, “I didn’t handle that well.  She pisses me off and I reacted too fast.  Maybe next time I’ll try to think first before I speak.”  You might also try to explore why you felt the way you dind when someone reacted to you.  The more you can partake in this monologue, the deeper you can go, the more you will learn about yourself.

Talking to someone else, especially a credentialed person, definitely helps.  But most of us don’t feel compelled to seek that kind of help.  This is free and doesn’t entail a lot of effort on your part. I believe that thinking doesn’t work because you can think yourself into circles. Writing is the key.  Nothing beats seeing it for yourself, on paper.

Some of those floating thoughts in my mind tell me that I have so many things I need to take care of.  When I take the time to write them down, I often find it’s really more like 2 or 3 things.  The others being easy, part of one of the two or something I can do tomorrow.  Saying it out loud can be powerful, but nothing gives more clarity than the written word.

You have little chance of changing a situation and zero chance of changing others, but you can change yourself.  And deep knowledge of yourself is how you do it.  Writing is the key to unlock your secrets.  It there anything more valuable than understanding yourself?

I don’t believe in writer’s block as an ailment, in and of itself.  It doesn’t just belong to writers for one thing.  Nor does it have anything to do with writing, particularly.  It is merely a symptom of something much bigger and more pervasive than just being “blocked” from writing.

I do, however, subscribe to Julia Cameron’s take that the well is dry.  It is possible, when you’ve worked too hard, are under a lot of stress, or just completed a large project, to feel empty. This is a much more positive and workable image.  Instead of having to “break through” or smash a block, you simply and elegantly refill the well.  Sounds like a lot more fun, too.

Some ways to “fill the well” are to get out in nature and observe it, lightly and respectfully.  You can take special care of yourself at this time.  Lie in a hot bath, get a soothing massage, or eat some fresh fruit.  I always like to hear live music to stir things up.  But any kind of “Artist’s Date” as Julia calls them, will do.  Wander through a museum and see how you feel afterwards.  I used to visit antiques stores or thrift shops looking at all the objects.  Julia insists that for artists of any stripe, this is a mandatory, planned and executed, weekly event to keep the well filled.

If I cannot make a full-fledged Artist’s Date, I sometimes try colorful catalogs.  Anything that gets your senses going will bring a swell into your well.

In my writing corner, I am an advocate of showing up at the desk.  Nothing breeds writing like writing, I always say.  Sometimes I use Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Practice – 10 minutes of uncensored writing on a specific topic. Free writing is similarly designed to loosen muscles, open hearts and allow the well to refill.

For me, at times, within a busy schedule, it’s enough just to give myself the gift of a block of time. By allowing myself permission to have quiet time to write, I can sometimes fill the well to overflowing in a short time.

Some use drugs or stimulants to get them going.  I’m of the mind that most such triggers take more than they give and in the end leave you feeling even more depleted.   A light, healthy meal can offer more long-lasting rejuvenation.

It may be best to stay away from things which zap your energy and time, like the Internet, a heavy, fat-laden meal, or people who bring you down.

What’s most important here, I think, is to reframe Writer’s Block into something you have more control over.  Something you can manage.  I wish you all full wells!

The words aren’t coming. Sometimes they get caught up when I’m focusing a lot of effort on something else.  I can feel it.  It’s not about being a writer and being blocked.  It’s about being a human being with issues and responsibilities.  And allowing them to take over.  It’s all there.  I know it is.

There are a few solutions I’ve found to release the clog.  One of my favorites is taking a vacation.  Even if that means taking a day or even an hour.  If I do it that fast though, I have to mean business.  No washing dishes, doing the filing or just doing this one thing . . .  I have to be serious about resting and/ or playing if I want the full effect.

Speaking of playing, hearing live music always opens me up.  I’m not sure exactly how that works. But almost without fail, when I listen to musicians (all right, they have to be half-way decent musicians) playing, within 24 hours, I have something to say.

Another remedy is to make a practice of doing one small thing for myself every day, for a few days in a row.  For best results, I must be sure to do something that’s really good for me.  Giving myself the chocolate sundae I’ve been wanting will only offer a momentary buzz.  It wears off quickly and won’t produce the kind of writing worth the calories.  It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate or expensive.  A few moments of quiet may be all I need.  Perhaps it’s a talk with a good friend.  Sometimes I just need permission to write whatever I feel like, instead of what I’m trying to write.

One of my favorite and most effective ways to get things flowing again is to work my muscles.  I’ve spoken before of Natalie Goldberg’s  Writing Practice.   What an amazing thing that is!  I’ve often thought it would be really cool if Natalie would offer weekly (or even daily) writing prompts.  She’s very good at it.  There are quite a lot in her books.  But I can also pull a topic out of a hat.  Write for 10 minutes about hats. Many times I have opened the gates after a few days of writing practice.  If you don’t use your muscles enough they tighten up, too.  I stand by my statement:  Nothing breeds Writing like Writing.

Sometimes it is a matter of what’s going on in my head.  This does require a little sorting out of the priorities.  Writing about it always helps me. 

 But in the end it always comes down to just putting pen to paper or fingers to keys.  Voila!  457 words. (And I thought I had nothing to say.)

I’ve been away and haven’t been writing daily as I usually do.  I feel a bit like I’m bobbing in a vast ocean without a word in sight, not a hint of land.

I know what to do in such cases. Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Practice. Like muscles gone flabby without exercise, I must move them again.  Perhaps gently at first.  Just to get the feel of it.

Natalie’s Writing Practice consists of writing for 10 minutes on a particular topic. Doesn’t much matter the topic:  Green, trains, I remember ___ , stars, a memorable meal, how to get unstuck, etc.

The trick is to write without thinking too much.  I believe her instructions say to let it go where it may, writing as fast as you can.  Physically, I can’t write non-stop for 10 minutes without experiencing some pain.  And I like to stick to the topic.  I write in my journal letting it go where it may all the time.  So, that’s my plan: pen to paper, only stop to ease the tensing of muscles, on one topic. (Actually, I calculated that 10 minutes equals 2 pages, a front and a back.)  If I start to lose my track, drift off into something else, I pull myself back.  Much like meditation. It is, in a way, a writing meditation.

I believe that nothing breeds writing like writing. So, this is a process by which you can immerse yourself in a sea of words, and thereby generate more.

Personally, I don’t  believe in writer’s block.  Sometimes it may be too much to write on a particular subject, but there is always another to muse on.

A teacher I once had taught me about the Mumble Sheet.  It’s a kind of discussion you have with yourself about what you want to write: “I want to write about bears.  I’d like to write a story about bears that are in love. So, I must start with at least two bears. What is the conflict?”  Etc. Before you know it, you will have filled a page or more. In there will be the nugget you’ve been waiting for to get started.

It all really comes down to putting pen to paper or fingers to keys. I prefer, at least at the outset, the pen to paper method.  Natalie, I believe, says it’s more connected to your heart.

With nothing to write, no words floating around, I’ve written 400 words and feeling back in the swing again.

Writing requires practice, just like training for a race.  You must play with writing, get to know its feel through you.  As a writer.  But I believe everyone can benefit from a little writing practice in the form of journalling. 

Journalling has been at the heart of my writing practice.  Not only has it helped me find my voice as a writer, it also helped me find my heart as a human being.

For over 15 years, journalling has been a part of every single day. I must write at least three pages in my journal.  If I don’t I will feel as if I haven’t taken my vitamins all day – weak and a little weary.

Natalie Goldberg, in her book “Writing Down the Bones,” taught me to journal.  I strived to follow her instructions to the letter.  Getting an inexpensive Sheaffer fountain pen (which I have upgraded a few times, but continue to use). I have always written in coil notebooks.  Like Natalie, I prefer to buy the series notebooks.  Around back-to-school time, you can find coil notebooks whose covers are laden with colorful pictures of the likes of cats, dogs, race cars, or cowboys. Like the lunch boxes of the 60’s and 70’s.   Natalie says it’s hard to be too serious when you open up a notebook with two cute cats on it.

The Writing Practice Natalie suggests is a timed exercise.  It doesn’t matter, she says, how long you sit, as long you commit to the time.  (I tend to go for number of pages instead.) There are rules for these things:
 1.  Keep your hand moving.  Frankly, I must confess, I can’t keep up with that, physically.  Natalie warns that it stops the thoughts.  And that is true.  I  write at an even pace, but now and again, take a moment to breathe when I have to and not let myself get distracted out of the journal.
 2.  Don’t cross out.  That stops flow.
 3.  Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar.  There is no editing here, no stopping and thinking, just spilling.  Natalie suggests not even staying within the lines and  margins on the page.
 4. Lose control.  To me that says that anything goes.  And you must allow yourself to say what you want to say. 
 5.  Don’t think. Don’t get logical.  This is hard for me, but I try not to re-think, anyway.  And I don’t worry about sounding reasonable, logical, clever or any other judgement that may come in.
 6.  Go for the jugular.  Natalie explains this well, “If something comes up in your writing that is scary or naked, dive right into it.  It probably has lots of energy.”

This is how I learned to journal.  And how I learned about myself.

In my journal I can talk about anything I want. I love the way Natalie explains it: “Like grating a carrot, give the paper the colorful coleslaw of your consciousness.”  One thing I do is to work out issues with others.  On the pages of my journal I can get the sympathy I want, the expression I need and when I’m done, I’m most often left in a place of love again.  With that energy let loose, I realize it just doesn’t really matter and move ahead without it.

My journal is a safe place for seeing what I think about all kinds of things.  In the training materials that come along with the SARK class I’m taking, a good chunk of it involves answering questions in your journal. (See my Saturday post for more on the Dream Boogie class with SARK.) Like mind-mapping, my thoughts can come spilling out in any old random order. I can keep writing until I understand myself better.  Sort of working my way around to the answers I seek.

In my journal, I learn who I am and what I’m thinking and feeling.  In my journal I get to talk freely, in the voice of my heart.  In my journal I have learned to say what I need to say.  I believe it’s made me a better writer and a better person.  Thank you, Natalie.  (And SARK!)

It’s easy for me to go on about how I love journalling.

Journalling has become much like brushing my teeth.  Depending on the circumstances, I can go a day without it, but by the second day, I am well aware of its absence.   It is as much a part of my day as my wakening cup of green tea or my ever-present bottle of water.

Journalling gives me a place to figure things out.  My pen knife feeds me with nourishing words.  It carves out the ugly stuff leaving only the good.  It allows me to complain and attack and say all the nasty things I need to say until I can come back around to understanding.  It’s the canvas on which I spill my life so I can look at it.  It is like listening to music, watching movies or reading books, except that is My story.  I can marvel at the workings of my mind or shine a light on the places where things are stuck.

I credit both Natalie Goldberg and Julia Cameron with inspiring me to create the practice of it.  I always get confused on who came up with it first.

Cheryl Richardson, in her wonderful book ”Life Makeovers,” talks lovingly about journalling, too.  She tells us that keeping to her journal has changed her life in many ways, including eating better and making more “inner directed” choices.  It does give you a place to review your priorities and make sure they are heading you where you wish to go.  I, too, feel like there has never been a better listener in my life.  It’s like I’m talking directly to God.  It forces me, in a way, in order to get my fix of journalling, to take time alone, in quiet, to really do it right. Cheryl says that through journalling, “I feel deeply connected to my soul and what really matters.”

Seems such a small thing for such a huge result.  Cheryl’s book offers many such small changes that produce big returns.  None, for me, quite as powerful as writing in my journal.

Here are a few tips:

1) Make it a routine in your life.  Every day, the same time, write three pages. (I use cheap spiral notebooks.)

2) Don’t fuss about what you write.  It can be anything.  I often get caught in what I call “agendizing,” reviewing my day.  Telling about a dream can fill up almost half the 3 page requirement.  If you get stuck, Cheryl has one of the best list of journal starters I have ever seen:
                  This morning I feel . . .
                  I’m always daydreaming about . . .
(I made it more immediate by saying, “These days I’ve  been  daydreaming about . . . “)
                  My nagging inner voice keeps telling me to . . .
                  The thoughts that roll around in my heard are . . .
(Again, “The thoughts that are rolling around in my head . . . “)
                  My soul longs to . . .
                  What I’m most afraid of is . . .
                  My inner critic tells me . . .
                  What I’m most grateful for is. . . .

3) Trust that the journal will accept whatever you have to say and no one else ever has to see it.

4) If you think you’re just too busy to do it, think of it as relieving yourself of built-up thoughts so you can think more clearly during the day.  It will help you better deal with your busy life.

5) Have fun with it.  Natalie and I use fountain pens.  I like to vary the color of the ink.  I can use my journal to dream things up and figure out ways to play.  I can write funny stories or draw pictures.  It’s your journal, you can do with it whatever you choose.

I believe that the world would be a happier, saner place if everyone wrote three pages every morning.

From Traveling Hopefully by Libby Gill

The first time I tried to find myself in “Fairy Tales, Myths, and Literary Works” I gave up. I made a few lists, but never did it. I felt like most of the stories I read had heros rather than heroines. It was hard to pinpoint any one. Even after going through the list provided and searching the internet, I couldn’t decide. It was when I finally relaxed, of course. It just came to me: Morgaine from the “Mists of Avalon.” Though I was never used in the dramatic ways she was, I’ve often felt manipulated or talked into doing things I really didn’t want to do. Morgaine always wanted to help, but usually ended up feeling like she made matters worse. She should have been treated with more respect, since she was the King’s sister, but instead felt like an outsider, a second-class citizen. She was strange, being a trained Priestess, so many people were uncomfortable around her. Lancelet was her true love, though he cared for her, he didn’t return her affections. Might have been better for all concerned if he had! I really like having stories as a structure on which to see my own life.

Krista found this very easy. Jack and the Beanstalk jumped right out at her. She feels it will be helpful to her to put some things into context.

“Tool #8: Looking at Life Themes Through Verbal Meditation:”

I have been journalling for many, many years now. If I miss my three pages for more than a day or two, I feel it. I have to bring my journal with me on vacation and find time to write. It’s like a day without sunshine. Natalie Goldberg, who first got me into writing every morning, said, always answer any questions you bring up in your journalling. I have stuck to that and it has helped me more times than I can count. But I haven’t tried posing a question before bed and then writing about it upon rising. I keep forgetting where I put the question, but it’s been working, anyway. It will just crop up in my writing. Very powerful tool! I promised to keep “Posing Powerful Questions.” Krista promised to do more “Free-Flowing Meditation.”

Krista’s life has gotten busier with the onset of Spring. Though I have completed Chapter 5, she’s cancelled a few meetings. When I talk to her again, I’ll let her know that I’m moving ahead and she can join me when she can.

We continue traveling hopefully ~

Some of my favorite spiritual teachers also happen to be writers who write about writing.

Brenda Ueland, who wrote, “If You Want to Write” in 1938, taught me that we are all creative and that it is not only acceptable to express your creativity, it is an act of faith and gratitude for God’s gift to all of us. Brenda, I believe, lived a dashing life. In her 30’s being a wild- haired, bold girl and remaining so well into her 80’s. She lived a good life, I believe, like Dan Fogelberg said of Georgia O’Keefe’s life – “a life lived so well.” Brenda was a teacher of young people in Minnesota who came from various social economic cultures. She had a way of seeing, acknowledging and drawing out their creativity.

Natalie Goldberg (in many books, but especially) in “Writing Down the Bones,” showed me that writing is a sacred act and needs to be practiced regularly, as one would do a spiritual practice, or training for a sport. Natalie taught me to put in the hours, get the words on paper and see how good it feels. She inspired me to create the daily habit of journalling. If I miss a day, I can feel it. If I miss two, I become out of sorts. By the third day, it behooves me to take the time I need to put pen to paper. (I’m too far gone at that point to just type.) With her loving use of Buddhist concepts to explain the art of writing, her teaching has become ingrained in me and infused with my spiritual growth.

Julia Cameron (in her works “The Artist’s Way” and “Finding Water”) has been in cahoots with Natalie Goldberg. I cannot say for sure who first came up with the “Morning Pages” as Julia calls them. I thank them both for helping me establish that essential in my life. Julia has done much to help me see that my writer is sensitive and needs lots of care and coaxing. The more of her I can acknowledge, the broader and finer my art will be.

Anne Lamott taught me what it means to be a writer, with all my wants and warts. That it’s not an easy road, but one well worth traveling, step by step. Her incredible book, “Bird By Bird,” brings writing down to its essence.

From all of them, I’ve found that the more I learn about myself, the deeper I quest into my own spiritual growth, the more connection I feel to the Divine, the better my life and my writing will be.

I have been thinking about writing about writing. I’ve acquired a rather full compendium of information on writing including the hits of How to Do it Better and How to Sell it More.

One of my favorite aspects of writing is its spiritual qualities. Amazing teachers like Julia Cameron, Natalie Goldberg, Anne Lamott and Brenda Ueland might agree with me.

I have kept a faithful, long-handed, long-winded journal for over ten years. As I release things in my journal things I would never say aloud, a picture spreads in front of me of who I am and the stories I’m telling myself. Many times that clarity has helped to diffuse anger, heal sadness and turn me around to the truth. Allowing me to treat others with more kindness and understanding. The journal has been a true friend to me, open and willing to listen quietly, accepting whatever I have to say. Taking me at face value – without question or comment. What a comfort that is.

Being able to say what you feel needs saying is a true blessing of writing. Not many people have the opportunity to do that.

The act of writing, as any act of art, is in and of itself, an act of faith. To commit to paper (or whatever your medium) how you see the world and have it appear in some kind of tangible form, subject to assent or dissent, requires a strong level of belief. To be willing to strip yourself bare and say, hey, this is me.

How truly generous the world feels when another’s words stir my soul, uplift my spirit, inspire me. Books and films and songs have changed me, profoundly, in more ways than I can ever count. Others’ words have illuminated my mind and opened my heart as well as anything could. That’s powerful juju!

Writing has made me feel continually supported. It is my connection to God. When I’m in the midst of writing something, the words, eager to be given voice, flowing so fast I have no idea where they are coming from. If that isn’t Grace, I don’t know what is.

Speaking of connection, words are my connection to the world, to my work, and to all those I love. How wonderful it is to tell someone how you love and appreciate their being just who they are! Writing is a vehicle for me to draw out my dreams and visions. I can’t always render what I see in pictures, but I can usually do a decent job of painting with words. All this softens my heart, allowing more love.

Words are limiting, that is true. Some things can only be felt. But it takes words to describe and come to grips with what we’re feeling. I believe in Guidance. More often than not, it comes to me in words. Words keep me well, centered and calm.

Finally, I believe my Mission is to have a positive impact on others through my words. It is my way of doing Good Works and being of service. Amen.

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