1. That my favorite, best selling, Pulitzer prize-winning, epically published writers’ first drafts SUCKED! I found this very liberating—that maybe they too were not the elevated intellectually-superior, uber-disciplined, specially anointed species, I’d projected them to be.
That they too struggled, floundered, wrote utter crap, and failed miserably. And THEN succeeded—if only by sticking with it because they simply had to! They pressed on through the murk of fear, doubt, and failure, kept reading, writing, and editing, sought help, support, great editors, and eventually completed.
2. That writing a book takes a village. Somehow that image of the solo artist toiling away at her craft in a little cabin in the woods held strong. There is some truth to that, we do need alone time to generate much of the work, but the reality is that most great writers are part of a writing group, have a crew of trusted readers, have professional editors, and final copy editors that not only edit, but support and guide.
3. That I am NOT my repetitive negative thoughts of doubt, self judgment, self recrimination, fear, and avoidance. That mindfulness meditation can allow space for those thoughts to exist without thwarting my creative process. After some time of consistent meditation practice a distance opens up between me and the thoughts, to the extent that I cease to identify with them and then they in turn lose their charge and influence over my behavior.
The true me is much bigger than these fleeting moods and repetitive negative thoughts, and with practice and determination I have the power to continuously re-direct my mind toward encouragement, inspiration, and self love.
4. That I can accomplish a lot in a very short period of time when I stay consistent. I can generate 50,000 words in a single month. That’s a book-length project. And if I go back to #1 above, I can allow this to be my “shitty” first draft, and move forward from there with a lot of material to work with. Imagine what you can accomplish in a year!
5. That I am able to stay most disciplined and consistent when I focus on self-care. What does self-care have to do with writing? Everything. Look what happened to Hemingway, Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath. I’m pretty sure these writers were not meditating regularly, watching their diets, dealing with their issues via therapy and body work or exercising a lot.
Taking care of mind and body on a consistent basic is crucial: Sitting in silence for 30 minutes a day, spending time in nature or at the park, limiting excessive TV or Internet distractions, writing down positive goals and affirmations, surrounding yourself with positive people, eating healthy organic food, and needless to say, reading and tending to your creative life.
Applying these “5 things” literally did change my life, and no they didn’t happen over night, but what can help accelerate the process dramatically are intensive programs. Staying consistent with all this stuff in support of your writing life takes support, accountability, and community.
Writers shoulder a lot when it comes to writing a memoir. There are so many things to hold in addition to the memories, messages from our saboteurs, and bouts of self-doubt. Most writers who are working on a memoir are learning a new craft while also dealing with the wellspring of emotion that comes from tapping into experiences that can oftentimes feel like stirring a hornet’s nest.
Sometimes it’s hard to keep track of all the points you’re supposed to hit while writing. So here’s a list you might print out and keep in your writing space—a checklist of sorts, but more like a scene-writing toolkit. When you’re writing scenes, keep in mind that you have all these tools and more at your disposal. You might want to do a quick run-through at the end of each scene you write and ask yourself which you’ve touched upon. And if your list is looking a little sparse, you can consider layering in some other concepts to make your scenes more robust.
The Toolkit for Scene and Memoir Writing
When I think of books I love, I consider the ways in which they’ve sometimes challenged me. I think of beauty. Sometimes our shitty first drafts are just that, an effort to get out what you need to say. But in a second or third pass, you want to be looking to word variation to create an experience the reader won’t forget. Vary up your words and your sentences to keep the reader’s mind engaged.
A scene without dialogue is like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without the jelly. It’s fine, but it’s just not as good. Look for opportunities to weave in dialogue. It makes your characters come alive, and it provides a needed break for the reader from narrative summary.
Narrative voice can be varied up too. Some memoirs are done only in what’s often called the “voice of innocence,” while others are told exclusively from the “voice of experience.” These are your “then” and “now” narrators, and I personally love memoirs that let both voices speak. Given yourself permission to explore what you think today about what happened to you “back then.” You can weave back and forth. You can use reflection to give insight to the reader about what you know today but couldn’t have possibly known “back then.” Using a more complex narrative voice lends sophistication to your memoir.
Please, don’t forget body language and tone when you’re writing descriptions and dialogue. The reader can garner a lot of information about how a line is delivered if you tell us about a raised eyebrow, a terse look, a pat on the back, a smirk. Writers often underdeliver on body language cues either because they lived what they’re writing and don’t see how important it is, or because they forget. This is an invaluable tool!
Figures of speech
There are many figures of speech, but for the purposes of this post I’m only going to point out metaphors and similes. Use them. They’re wonderful. And they create more dynamic imagery for your reader.
Analogies are also great brain teasers, and only not included above in figures of speech because they’re not. Analogies serve the same purpose as metaphors and similes, however. Because they’re imaginative, and because they compare two unlike things to show a likeness, they’re fun and interesting for your reader—and can create a very rewarding reading experience.
This is a big one— and it’s the essence of scene. Yet too often writers breeze through their descriptions, not giving their reader enough. I’ve come to discover that this often stems from not wanting to be boring, and yet the result of that way of thinking is that a scene can feel rushed, and the reader ends up feeling like they’re not wholly immersed in your memoir, or worse, just cheated.
When you think of these details, you’re considering taste, sight, sound, touch, and smell. Let your scenes explore each of these details. Or at least consider them while you’re writing. What were you—the protagonist—tasting, seeing, hearing, touching, and smelling during any given scene? These are the details that make scenes come alive—and create that layered description you’re aiming to gift to your readers.
All good memoir has reflection. An easy rule of thumb is to allow your reflections to come at the end of scenes. Don’t forget to let the reader know what the then-narrator was thinking or feeling, or, when appropriate, what the now-narrator makes of a given scene from your vantage point this many years later.
“Rejection does not mean you are not good enough, it means the other person failed to notice what you have to offer.” –Mark Amend
“Oh, the holiness of always being the injured party.” — Maya Angelou
Rejection… who hasn’t felt the burning sting?
Rejection is not a pleasant experience for anyone. Whether rejection comes as a social snub, unrequited love or getting passed over for a writing assignment, rejection deals a direct blow to our ego.
The psychological aftermath of rejection causes emotional wounds and, if left unhealed, can fester internally as shame, anxiety or embarrassment.
Rejection also has serious implications for society as a whole as often times individuals who are ostracized become angry, aggressive and violent. Think Ferguson, MO.
The pain of rejection is real.
New research in psychology and neuroscience suggests that the same brain pathways that are activated when people experience physical pain are also activated when they experience the emotional pain of rejection.
According to Naomi Eisenberger, PhD, at the University of California, “As far as your brain is concerned, a broken heart is not so different from a broken arm.
Those reports were backed by a MRI study, which found that people who had taken Tylenol (acetaminophen) daily for three weeks had less activity in the pain-related brain regions when rejected.”
So how do we heal the brokenness of the rejected soul?
Quite possibly by looking at those individuals who healed their pain and became successful despite experiencing rejection.
Throughout history many innovative leaders have been rejected.
The clever and original ideas of Maya Angelou rejected. The profound philosophies of Aristotle… rejected. The harmonic compositions of Johann Sebastian Bach… rejected. The peaceful efforts of Nelson Mandela… rejected. The message of love sang by John Lennon… rejected. The Truth spoken by Bob Marley… rejected.
And of course who could forget Jesus of Nazareth who lamented, “A prophet has no honor in his own hometown.”
Not quite the faces that readily come to mind when you think of a “reject.”
Surprisingly, not only did they experience the trauma of social rejection while following their dreams but during their childhood toxic messages of rejection lingered in the air as each would be abandoned, orphaned or adopted during their childhood.
It is almost as if The Great Architect of the Universe laid down a blueprint for their life that sent them to Earth with the ultimate crash course in rejection.
Ouch! What a seemingly sadistic plot! Or was it the greatest act of mercy and love story ever written?
When faced with this trauma, these men demonstrated the amazing fact that the human mind and spirit have a Divine capacity for recovery and growth.
Each one of these people decidedly took on the mindset that life did not happen to them but for them.They made the decision to tap in to their innermost resources and connect with the gift of rejection by channeling the genius, creativity and divinity inside.
They stood in the glory of their full potential despite their circumstances.
They kept the purity of heart to connect with others and share their voice and message with the world despite being given the cold shoulder. They did the opposite of what was done to them and they connected with others and with themselves.
While sharing their gifts they found redemption. With their own hands their wounds were healed. They removed the label of reject that was placed upon them and replaced it with the truth that was inscribed on their hearts.
Instead, they stood in the light of the truth that they were worthy and rose to connect with their calling.
Sometimes rejection can seem like a big “no” but it can oftentimes be the greatest “yes”. Sometimes rejection can be the ultimate act of love and mercy that the Universe can bestow upon you so that you can dig deep and keep building your masterpiece.
We all have unique talents and gifts that are waiting on the inside to be released and sometimes we are given a “no” so that we can keep working.
So, next time you get that dreadful rejection letter or get blown off by that love interest remember, keep building baby, you are a builder!
About the Author
Diana Renee Williams is an accomplished freelance writer and lifestyle blogger currently living in Augusta, GA. Ms. Williams offers her writing as a service to others to help increase positive self-development and strengthen individuals and communities. She has immersed herself in the company of many luminous and progressive thinkers to include Mastin Kipp, founder of thedailylove.com and is a contributor for the sexy savvy self-help blog, addictivedaughter.com. Ms. Williams is currently accepting assignments for The Augusta Chronicle, one of the oldest newspapers in the United States still in publication. Prior to freelancing, Ms. Williams worked as a social worker and domestic relations mediator thereby broadening her perspective on a wide range of topics.
Connecting with your body as a source of wisdom, intuition, and creative flow is an ancient art that many of us have lost touch with. It can be the difference between writing that’s good and writing that comes from a place in your soul with the potential to light the reader on fire with enthusiasm. Time to connect again… let me show you how.
Body awareness is the key to unlocking a creative flow you may not have experienced before, even if you’re a long-time writer. It’s the door to feeling, sensation, and emotion and the avenue through which you can Feng Shui the internal mess that is your mind. Making space mentally is very much like making space in your physical environment – it changes the energy and allows flow.
To connect with that inner wisdom, healer and intuition, no matter what your purpose, you must first understand that feeling is the way in. You must give yourself permission to feel everything, including the resistance to feeling! By using the body as an anchor for awareness you can let the mental story attached to the sensation drop away. This leaves space for new ideas and fresh inspiration to flow through to you!
A Body Awareness Exercise for Writers
Try a little bit right now. Push back from the screen, plant your feet on the floor, and settle down into your chair. Relax your body, shoulders down; neck, back, and legs softening. Take some deep breaths and really arrive in your body for a few moments. Notice what you feel. Any tension? Any aches or pains? Any mental chatter starting up? Just notice those things and go back to following the deep breath and melting or un-clenching the body with each exhale. Be the observer and the feeler of what’s going on. With an open mind and curiosity, see what happens when you get still and connect with your body like this. Try this practice for a few minutes at first and work your way to fifteen or twenty. Body awareness meditation is a powerful practice that takes you on a healing journey.
After you’re finished, grab a piece of paper and pen and fill in the blank: I feel_____. This kind of writing has no rules, so don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar, or even finishing sentences. Set a timer for 5 minutes and write until it goes off. Allow the writing to come freely, without getting in the way of it with your judgements or thoughts.
When we connect with the body essentially we’re connecting with the soul’s GPS system. It will help us navigate inside of our lives and aim us at uncovering the layers of stuff keeping us from ease, flow, inspiration, and joy. When you begin to peel these layers off by simply feeling them and letting go, you are practicing the Feng Shui I talked about earlier. You create the space that will attract the creative flow you’re looking for in your writing or other endeavors.
Why the Ability to Connect with the Body Is Essential
In more than twenty years of studying the mind-body complex and what it takes to help people heal and feel better in their bodies, I’ve learned that the ability to connect with the body is essential. Helping people arrive as a conscious, loving, curious soul inside their own bodies and practice feeling and learning the language of their inner wisdom is a powerful, life-long tool. When that shift starts to happen and an individual wakes up to the messages they are being given on a daily basis that guide their life, everything changes. Suddenly they feel excited, hopeful, and enthusiastic about their life.
When you allow this connection to fuel your writing, you open a door to endless possibility in terms of ideas and inspiration. You open a box you didn’t know you had locked up. When this door opens you realize you had the key to it all along, right there under your own skin. Once this connection is made, you’ll hardly ever use the excuse of writer’s block again because you’ll be connected to a source that’s so much bigger than you.
Let’s do one more exercise before you go. In terms of the body, the breath is one of the magical entry points into feeling and healing. Push back from your computer again and ground your feet into the floor. Relax your body, un-clenching all the muscles and melting yourself into your chair. Take a breath and clear your mind. Use the breath now to feel. As you begin to inhale and exhale, allow the body to increase or shorten the breath. Just let go and allow the body to breathe while you bathe it in awareness.
Feel the inhale and notice where that sensation flows. Feel the exhale and notice where that sensation flows. Relax and melt with each exhale, letting feeling and sensation be your primary focus. Let go of everything else; all the mental chatter, all the judgements, all the ideas about what you’re feeling. Come back into the body for each breath.
As you ease yourself back into the room and your surroundings, notice how that felt. Grab your paper and pen, set your timer for 5 minutes and fill in the blank: My breathing feels_____. No rules! Just write in a free flow until the timer goes off.
I hope you’re beginning to feel how this kind of writing is different than many others. Without the analytical, judgmental brain taking over, this kind of writing is free to come from another space inside of you. It will show you things about what clogs you up internally and bring them out onto the paper, creating an opportunity for you to reflect, and then make new choices about what you think and believe.
Writing is just one moment when you can practice this body connection. Take this practice into your daily life and you’ll start to notice that other areas of your life begin to shift and transform. Feeling is healing. Using this powerful practice in combination with writing (and anything else you do) is what I call Warrior Healing. It takes a warrior to look at his or her life and decide to make a change.
Connecting with your body, learning its language, and then practicing that awareness on a regular basis will be the key to your best writing, and your best life.
About the Author
Laura Probert, MPT is a holistic physical therapist, published author, poet, inspirational teacher, and black belt in Tae Kwon Do. You can find her writing featured in places like The Huffington Post, MindBodyGreen, Best Self Magazine, The Wellness Universe, Wild Sister Magazine, PersonalGrowth.com, Tiny Buddha and The Elephant Journal. She’s serious about integrating mind body and soul as a journey to passion and power and it’s her mission to show you how. Find her books and programs at www.LauraProbert.com and www.facebook.com/kickasswarriorgoddess.
I was reflecting on some writing goals for the upcoming year and I thought I’d share them with you! Below you’ll find five ways to make 2016 your best writing year ever. Do you have specific writing or creative goals in mind? Reach out! I’d love to hear about them.
1. Plan it out! Set some specific goals for what you’d like to accomplish in 2016. It can be in terms of daily/weekly practice, word count, draft completion, or publishing goals. Start where you are. “My goal is to write for 15 minutes three times a week,” or “My goal is to finish a super-rough initial draft of my memoir,” or “My goal is to write 5, 000 words a month toward my novel.”
Put it down on paper. Schedule your writing time. Do it even when you don’t feel like it. Allow yourself to have bad days and even write a LOT of crap, just to get through it.
2. Read widely and diversely. Read magazines and blog posts, great novels and gadget manuals, read love letters and business books, children’s stories and clothing catalog descriptions. Especially read poetry, whether you like it or not. It will make your writing better and crack open your soul if you let it! Pay close attention to what inspires and moves you. Take notes and re-read your favorites in different moods. Experiment with how you, too, can apply a certain writing style in your work.
3. Nourish you mind with silence. Spend time in silence every day, whether it’s a few fleeting minutes walking out in nature or the park, or hunkered down on the meditation cushion for an hour solid. Silence is the source of your creativity, silence is restoration from all the clamorous, inevitable, and, at times, abusive thinking. It’s the space of clarity and the ultimate source of new ideas and innovative approaches. Silence will free you from blocks, doubt and perceived limitation.
4. Nourish you body with movement. Take breaks, wiggle about, stay hydrated. Drink lots of fresh water. As much as I love them and utilize them, caffeinated drinks are NOT hydration. Move your body by exercising vigorously at least three times a week. At the very least go on daily walks, do yoga, and stretch. Your best writing lives in the body, is hiding in the muscles and sinews, trapped in tough bone. The more you shake it out, the more powerful the writing you produce.
5. Keep learning and growing. Take an online course or in-person workshop. Go on a writing retreat, attend a live event or book store reading. Stay engaged, connected, and inspired. Find a community of writers, join a powerful writing group or writing mastermind program.
“Ambition is the path to success. Persistence is the vehicle you arrive in.”
One of the biggest challenges I’ve noticed over the years with my students is persistence. Simply sticking with the process. Life happens and grand excuses arise. They feel so real and insurmountable. A death in the family, a divorce, a major move, an illness, a flood, fire, or earthquake— all terrific things to write about and great material for your practice, especially in the specific moments of their happening. Not easy I know, especially if you are feeling weak and overwhelmed.
However, I promise you this— when you muster up the energy to write into and through these difficult life experiences, not only will you gain insight and healing, but you will become a better writer, merely by the fact of your persistence. The truth is, most people give up. They bail. But you won’t. You will write through to the other side.
How to persevere in the face of doubt and confusion
Make this your mantra: “I will not agree to be defeated.” You need to make an agreement with yourself and face the monsters of negative self-talk, fear, and rejection. The first step is to face these things head on- cry, tear up your paper, scream at your screen- and get it out of your system. And then you can move on.
Be severe in your approach
Notice how the word “severe” is in perseverance? You need to be severe in your approach and how you deal with doubt, fear, and rejection. No matter the obstacles in your way, you need to write anyway, even if it is simply for the sake of creativity.
To persevere, fall in love with the process. Writing isn’t always a glamorous profession. All of the edits, re-writes, book proposals, and rejection letters take their toll. Which is why you need to fall in love with all of it and see the whole process as part of your creativity. Stay committed to the writing practice and foster a belief in yourself and in your work, and you will persevere.
I can tell you so much more about perseverance and the role it plays in the writing practice. It’s one of the ten key success principles I examine in my online writing course. If you’re curious about the course and taking your writing from inspiration to publication click here to find out more.
The brilliant writer Donald Maass said, “Authors who succeed in the twenty first century are not focused on external measures of validation, but rather they value an inward quest for vision, voice, and invented worlds that are more vividly real that reality itself.”
A writing process develops over time. It’s everything from the type of journal you use to your favorite pen. It’s about habit, continuity and completion. Everything from the time of day you sit down to write, to how you find yourself editing is included.
It’s best for process to happen organically over time, but worth starting with the basics of choosing tools that get you to the page. I love writing in hard-back canvas notebooks— blank paper with a Pilot-Precise pen. Even when I’m procrastinating, sometime I’ll draw a terrible little picture with a caption beneath it, just to get the pen moving on the page.
Then there is typing up your work and developing an editing process which should be evolutionary and expansive. The successful writer takes their practice seriously and develops it into a process in order to evolve from amateur scribbler to published author.
Once your purpose is clarified and cultivated, passion is right on its heels. Passion is the engine that drives you and your writing forward. An engine needs fuel. Sincere interest and curiosity are that fuel fired up by active reading and exploration both literary and otherwise, by being physically and intellectually engaged with words.
All the successful writers I know have passion for their subjects; they have an unwavering energy about their characters, scenes, subjects, and plots.
Passion is part of the groundwork for establishing a successful writing practice. This principle is essential. It begins with curiosity: What are your interests, desires, hopes, and dreams? What is your energy practice around your writing? Passion is the energy that will allow you to establish longevity with your writing career.
How do you cultivate passion in your writing? This is a two-part answer.
The best place to start is with meditation and mindful breathing. In order for you to feel grounded with your passion, your body needs to feel centered and grounded first. Physical exercise builds energy in the body, so it is important to stay active during your day. You can hike, do yoga, dance, play sports, or even simply take a mindful walk.
Psychological or Spiritual
Ask yourself some important questions. What do you see when you look into your heart and ask yourself what you are truly curious about and what you truly want to be and write about? A good way to understand your passion is through journal writing and free writing. Jot down thoughts at the end of the day as a reminder of what keeps you going as a writer.
When I was a child, I never needed to recharge my writing practice. You’d be lucky if you could pry my notebook from my hands. I would spend hours scribbling away, writing fantastical stories and poems about absolutely everything and anything. In fact, I never thought of having a writing practice at all— writing was simply something I lived to do. It was the way I experienced the world.
But somewhere along the journey to adulthood, my writing practice took a more defined shape and form. I’ve had to fit it into the nooks and crannies of my busy schedule. And oftentimes I’ve been hit with writer’s block or a creative slump. It’s got me pondering why I never had these issues as a child. It wasn’t just that I had no obligations or time constraints as a young writer; the truth runs deeper than that.
The real reason is that children are constantly submersed in creative environments. So it seems to me that the best way to recharge my writing practice as an adult is to mimic the things that sparked my creativity as a child. Below are three activities that have greatly improved my writing practice. Give them a go, reconnect with your inner child, and get writing!
Attend a reading
Think about how many hours you spent being read to during your early years, and all of the ideas those books inspired. Yet it wasn’t just the books that were sparking your creativity, it was also the people reading them to you. While you may not be able to convince someone to read you a bedtime story every night, you can still get out and attend a reading in your community. Connect with other writers, listen to a story being told in someone else’s voice instead of your own, and let the creativity pour in.
Volunteer with children
I absolutely love spending time with other writers, but the people who truly open me up to a sense of wonderment and imagination are kids. Volunteering with children will have a two-fold effect on your writing practice: you’ll gain inspiration and you will cultivate gratitude. Both of these things are perfect tools for overcoming writer’s block and recharging your creative energy. Of course, there is also the added bonus of giving back and making the world a better place, too.
Attend a workshop or retreat
Were you enrolled in classes growing up? Not just regular schooling, but extra-curricular actives, as well? I’m sure most of you probably were. As adults, our jobs take up so much of our time that we often don’t sign up for additional learning. But education is a wonderful way to improve your writing skills and your writing practice. You can either attend shorter workshops or splurge for a retreat (like the recent one we did with best selling author Elizabeth Gilbert in Napa, California. Hint, hint.). Either way, you’ll gain new skills and connect with other writers.
I hope some of these activities help you recharge your writing practice. I know what’s like to hit a creative slump— most of us have been there from time to time. Feel free to reach out and connect with us on social media. We’re always happy to support other writers and meet more of our own!
Think of the most influential books you’ve read. I bet at least one of them was based on a personal journey, of someone overcoming their hardships and gaining valuable life lessons. This is the beauty of memoir writing— the protagonist doesn’t have to achieve something extraordinary in order for it to be inspiring. In fact, some of the recent bestselling memoirs, such as Eat, Pray, Love and Wild are based on events to which most people can relate.
If you have a personal story to share— one that you hope will inspire and motivate others— there are some things you can do that will help you be a brilliant writer of memoir and stand out from the crowd. Here are three steps to get you started:
Understand Memoir vs Autobiography
An autobiography encapsulates an entire life, while a memoir is a collection of memories from that life. This is an important distinction because oftentimes new memoir writers will make the mistake of trying to fit too many details into their story.
With a memoir, it’s okay to omit people, events, and other information if it isn’t relevant to your theme. A memoir is not a diary entry. You don’t need to write your memoir chronologically, or even start at the beginning. Writing more than one memoir is appropriate, too, if you have multiple stories to share.
Learn from other brilliant writers
One of the best (and pleasurable) ways to become a brilliant writer is to be a voracious reader. And if you want to be a brilliant writer of memoir, then you should be a voracious reader of memoir writers. Read everything from Ernest Hemingway (A Moveable Feast) to Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love). What do you think worked for those authors? What gripped your attention and kept you turning page after page? Make notes, jot down thoughts, and highlight passages that truly inspired.
Another option is to take classes and workshops from memoir writers. It’s a good idea to read their memoirs first, take notes, and then ask the authors to expand upon them during the workshop. Many authors are happy to do this, especially if it is during a designated Q&A. The bonus to this option, of course, is getting to meet a brilliant writer in person, and maybe even getting a signed copy of their book.
Have a story arc
A memoir may be a series of memories from a specific time period, but there still needs to be a story arc. Otherwise, you’ll be left with disconnected islands and nothing to join them together; you need to either build bridges or give your readers a boat. Plan a beginning, middle, and an end, and a theme or two that ties them all together.
Remember, you are writing about real life, with all of its challenges, twists, turns, and lessons. Your memoir doesn’t have to be dramatic, but it should be relatable. This is the gift that memoir writers bestow; their writing inspires, motivates, and helps us get through the challenges in life, if even just a little.