EVERY WEEKEND, 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. more >
Looking at old family snapshots, most poignant (after the faces) are those ordinary objects photographed by accident that were constant, intimate companions for a time, now passed — the things we gave no real thought to when using them, such as the mirror over the bathroom sink, our favorite cup, the back steps of the house we used to live in. We are immersed in the particular, even as planets spin and the universe expands. In your writing, it’s interesting to notice if you tend to focus only on what stands out as important or ideal and forget to fully appreciate the intimate soulfulness of the ordinary. What’s true in your writing is likely also true in your life.
Meister Eckhart said that the soul grows through subtraction. The same is true for soulful writing. We begin by generating whatever comes to mind about our subject, without censor, and when we see the whole tangle in front of us, begin to subtract, looking deeply for the truth of what it is all about, getting closer to the essential point hidden inside. This is the secret of soulful writing – and a soulful life.
We live inside of one another, and our sentences echo and repeat themselves in the mind, and if we’re lucky, in the hearts of those we touch. Inside of us, the shadow of other’s sentences linger, even those spoken and heard or misunderstood years ago, and our conversation continues long after we’ve parted, sometimes evolving and sometimes stuck at a long-past time and place. It can be powerful to locate some of the sentences implanted in ourselves and update the inner exchange with mother, friend, boss, lover — past or present. Finding their impact in ourselves can be a jolting reminder to watch our own sentences, both written and spoken, and humbly respect the fire they hold.
According to Paul Hawken, “Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course. The world would create new religions overnight. We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead, the stars come out every night and we watch television.” One of the most satisfying — and generous — things we can do as writers is make it our business to turn off the television and re-connect with the miracle of stars, the spider in the corner, the thistles growing in the grass, our own face in the mirror, then write from that place of connection.
Our moods color the world until everything seems to drip and breathe with whatever state we happen to be experiencing, be it one that quickly passes or one that lingers, inhabiting us as though it owns the place. This can be great fun when everything sways with sudden joy—or difficult, as when a state of misery or grief threatens to engulf the cosmos. By noticing the shift in the landscape that accompanies our moods, we can begin to describe our inner, human world with far more precision than just saying “happy” or “miserable.” Try this: Notice now your mood and how it colors your world. Monitor it, so that you can detect when the same four walls that looked before like a prison now look like the happy boundaries of a newly minted freedom. Try writing about one or both moods as though it belonged to the world, and not to your inner weather. For inspiration, here is a poem from Theodore Roethke that anyone who has been miserably employed in an office will find familiar:
I have known the inexorable sadness of pencils,
Neat in their boxes,
dolor of pad and paper weight,
All the misery of manilla folders and mucilage,
Desolation in immaculate public places,
Lonely reception room, lavatory, switchboard,
The unalterable pathos of basin and pitcher,
Ritual of multigraph, paper-clip, comma,
Endless duplicaton of lives and objects.
And I have seen dust from the walls of institutions,
Finer than flour, alive, more dangerous than silica,
Sift, almost invisible, through long afternoons of tedium,
Dropping a fine film on nails and delicate eyebrows,
Glazing the pale hair, the duplicate grey standard faces.