deep play

EVERY WEEK OR TWO, I send out a writing tip and three soul-inviting prompts as inspiration for you to freewrite, either alone with your timer or in a gathering of writer friends. The resulting deep play opens up whole new landscapes of creative possibility for our writing and our lives. If you are new to this kind of writing practice, have a look at the freewriting principles. And to take your writing to the next level, check out the mentoring sessions I offer, which are helpful whether you are working on a book or just beginning to find your voice.   [read more]

WRITING TIP: Tempted to publish that angry diatribe?

WRITING TIP: Be sure your writing frees us up...

It’s vital to give yourself all the space you need to write whatever you need to write, including your anger and your judgments. But when it comes to revising your work and sharing it with others, whether on social media or in a book, you might want to pay attention to the effect your writing will have. Does it encourage you or your reader to stay complacent, angry or stuck? Is it adding to the fear or despair in the world? “What writers do should free us up, shake us up,“ wrote Susan Sontag. ”Open avenues of compassion and new interests. Remind us that we might, just might, aspire to become different, and better, than we are. Remind us that we can change.”

WRITING PROMPT: Waiting for deep thunder…

WRITING PROMPT: Darkness covers me when I’m cold…

Darkness covers me when I'm cold...

WRITING PROMPT: A missing shoe

WRITING TIP: Commit to what surprises even you

“There is one path in the world that none can walk but you,” wrote Friedrich Nietzche. “Where does it lead? Don’t ask, walk!” This original path through life can be difficult to stay with when it challenges our sense of belonging and safety, and the same is true in our writing. Some questions to ponder: Are you writing a story or poem or argument that has already been written by your conditioned mind, already sanctioned by your social group, already accepted by your conscious, fearful mind, or are you walking the path, open to finding the true and new story, poem, or idea as you go? There is no easy answer to this question, but the awareness we might get from reflecting on it just might be the check we need to stay on our own path and reach the surprising conclusion authentic to us. As writers, this is our real gift to the world.

WRITING PROMPT: The tiny gods…

The tiny gods...

WRITING PROMPT: A grave of dreams…

A grave of dreams...

WRITING PROMPT: You are with the friend now…

you are with the friend now...

WRITING TIP: Tempted to put off writing?

writing tip
Creative work that asks us to extend ourselves beyond our normal limits is harder than scrolling through Facebook or shopping for mustard. Here’s why it matters which we choose to focus on: If we are given the impulse to write, whether to better understand ourselves or to communicate from a place of depth with others, this is an impulse toward contributing to the soul of the world, and it matters far more than the things most of us do instead. “My responsibility is not to the ordinary, or the timely,” Mary Oliver wrote in Upstream. “It does not include mustard, or teeth. It does not extend to the lost button, or the beans in the pot. My loyalty is to the inner vision, whenever and howsoever it may arrive. If I have a meeting with you at three o’clock, rejoice if I am late. Rejoice even more if I do not arrive at all.”

WRITING PROMPT: Those who listen…

Writing prompt

WRITING PROMPT: Dare to inhabit…

WRITING PROMPT: Whatever happened to…

writing prompt

WRITING TIP: Use writing to create new possibilities out of things that hurt

“Words are tricky. Sometimes you need them to bring out the hurt festering inside. If you don’t, it turns gangrenous and kills you,” wrote Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni in the novel, Queen of Dreams. She goes on: “Sometimes words can break a feeling into pieces.” Some feelings need to be broken to pieces — shattered and swept away to the compost. You can write the hurt in a way that makes this possible, rather than writing it in a way that will add concrete to the mud and make that negative feeling a permanent part of your identity. The key: write the story of the hurt a few ways, and see how it leaves you feeling. Once you get it out raw, can you find a meaning for it that wasn’t evident at first? Can you find the strength and resilience hidden in your response to it? Can you find the springboard to compassion and insight that it creates? All of these possibilities — and more — are in every hurt you carry, however negative it feels. To be the author of your own life story is to be the authority on what you become. You are the one who determines what things mean, and in doing so, create yourself anew.

It hurts…

It hurts...

In spite of everything…

In spite of everything...

The garment of self…

The garment of self...

WRITING TIP: Make space for the numinous

“I am learning to see,” said poet Rainer Maria Rilke. “I don’t know why it is, but everything enters me more deeply and doesn’t stop where it once used to. I have an interior that I never knew of. Everything passes into it now. I don’t know what happens there.” Everything in our culture tells us to look outside, into the daylight and the screen light. Do that all the time, and you are missing out on the juicy realms of the soul. This world is a little dim and mysterious, and it takes a conscious effort to move our attention there, against the tide. Meditation — and meditative writing — is the key to relationship with these inner landscapes, out of which comes the work and insights we find most satisfying and real. A dim room, a candle and a notebook, the sound of rain on the window or soft music, will help you access it. Why not make that a priority?

The one who hides inside you…

The one who hides inside you...

I lean back and close my eyes…

I lean back and close my eyes...

This shrine to the past…

This shrine to the past...

WRITING TIP: Draw from your life

The view from your life is different than the view from anyone else’s. Honor that deeply, and we will all benefit from the wisdom you will impart just by being real. Writers often stay in the safer territory of dispensing “universal truths” rather than mining for insight in the chaotic rubble of their own living. Yet, one of the greatest gifts we can give each other is the intimate truth of our lives — what we struggle with, what we celebrate, what makes us utterly human. In his book, Zen in the Art of Writing, author Ray Bradbury says it straight: “What are the best things and the worst things in your life, and when are you going to get around to whispering or shouting them?”

WRITING PROMPT: The view from my life…

The view from my life...

WRITING PROMPT: Tell me what you love…

Tell me what you love...

WRITING PROMPT: Life doesn’t have to add up to anything…

Life doesn't have to add up to anything...

WRITING TIP: What to do when things go very wrong

Whether we’re writing or reading the news, when things go off course from what we want and value, it can be difficult to keep an open mind and heart. But that’s precisely what we need to do. “Dreadful events can lead to wonderful events, and the other way around,” writes Buddhist teacher John Tarrant. “It’s always too early to despair.” So what to do instead? Whether individually or collectively, jazz great Miles Davis has great advice for such times: “It’s not the note you play that’s the wrong note. It’s the note you play afterwards that makes it right or wrong.”

WRITING PROMPT: Inside the limits of now…

Inside the limits of now...

WRITING PROMPT: Love wants to…

Love wants to...

WRITING PROMPT: We work in the dark…

we work in the dark...

WRITING TIP: Do this to tap into the extraordinary

All of us have access to the extraordinary, yet we seldom tap into it. Mary Oliver, writing in Upstream, has some advise for where it can be found: “No one yet has made a list of places where the extraordinary may happen and where it may not. Still, there are indications. Among crowds, in drawing rooms, among easements and comforts and pleasures, it is seldom seen. It likes the out-of-doors. It likes the concentrating mind. It likes solitude. It is more likely to stick to the risk-taker than the ticket-taker. It isn’t that it would disparage comforts, or the set routines of the world, but that its concern is directed to another place. Its concern is the edge, and the making of a form out of the formlessness that is beyond the edge.”

Enslaved by Darwinian nest building…

Enslaved by Darwinian nest building....

Contagious indecision…

Contagious indecision...

I’ve been offered windows…

WRITING PROMPT: I've been offered windows...

WRITING TIP: It’s all material

When life interrupts with pain, confusion or election coverage, this is no reason to freak out and stop writing. A better response is to listen to author Neil Gaiman’s solution to the worst of problems: “When things get tough, this is what you should do: Make good art. I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by a mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Someone on the internet thinks what you’re doing is stupid, or evil, or it’s all been done before? Make good art.”

In California? Write with me on November 13

Come immerse yourself in writing as deep play and use the mind of meditation to access the natural stream of your expression. In an atmosphere of warmth and non-judgement, free of critical evaluation, we will create a welcoming space to be daring and self-revealing, loosening the grip of our critical minds so that expression can flow freely, which is one of the ultimate fruits of meditation. This retreat will be held in Fairfax, California on November 13 from 10am-5:30pm. more info/register

The contest of madness…

the-contest-of-madness

Death is my guru…

death-is-my-guru

Start digging potatoes…

start-digging-potatoes

WRITING TIP: Don’t write for the reader… or for yourself

“If you have learned only how to be a success,” says Thomas Merton, “your life has probably been wasted.” By success, he certainly means the word conventionally, and if you are a writer, that means you have published and sold books, or won a contest, or otherwise been praised or paid for your work. By defining success in this way, writing to find the truth inside, to find the words beneath the chatter that normally consumes us, to find what we most care about and want to say, to get us closer to a reality that makes our ego smaller wouldn’t be defined as successful writing unless it had “market” value. If you want to write in this soulful way, then it’s time to dump conventional wisdom and listen instead to Joy Williams: “The writer doesn’t write for the reader. He doesn’t write for himself, either. He writes to serve … something. Somethingness. The somethingness that is sheltered by the wings of nothingness – those exquisite, enveloping, protecting wings.”

WRITING PROMPT: Some kind of mysterious wind…

Some kind of mysterious wind...

WRITING PROMPT: Worse than the feeling of heartbreak…

Worse than the feeling of heartbreak...

WRITING PROMPT: To say no with a smile…

To say no with a smile...

WRITING TIP: How to prepare for harsh responses to your controversial work

As our social discourse gets more and more polarized and disrespectful, it’s natural to want to bow out of the conversation. Why write something about a hot topic and risk being misunderstood or treated with hostility? After all, who wants to talk to people who aren’t interested in listening? And yet, if soul-connected people stop writing about important things, only the most righteous, rigid, and aggressive will take part in the discussion. So what’s the solution? Take a deep breath, contact your heart, and write the truth of what you see with as much respect for other points of view as you can. Once you put it out to the world, author William Burroughs has this wise advice: “Whenever you are threatened by a hostile presence, you emit a thick cloud of love like an octopus squirts out ink.”