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: Take your call to creative work seriously

“The most regretful people on earth,” said poet Mary Oliver, “are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.” You can start with 10 minutes. One paragraph. Even one sentence. No matter how overwhelmed, stressed, or busy, these incremental movements will keep you connected to your vision and build a habit of taking seriously your impulse to write. As the novelist Doris Lessing put it, “Whatever you’re meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible.”

You could be dancing…

You could be dancing...

Beautiful danger…

Beautiful danger...

Necessary dream…

Necessary dream....

WRITING TIP: Access the poetry all around you

“There is not a particle of life which does not bear poetry within it,” says Gustave Flaubert, and yet we can walk by leaves and faces and the webs of spiders without so much as a nod. It’s so easy to go numb as a stone, forget to notice all the small miracles around us. So what’s the antidote? How do we begin to access this poetic layer of life and bring it to our writing? We need only step for a moment out of the life ruled by the clock. This takes little more than the intention to slow down enough to feel the ground beneath our feet, the flow of our breath, the tension in our shoulders or the looseness in our limbs — until the colors get a little brighter, the noise in our head a little softer, the sound of traffic more like music. “Wonder is the heaviest element on the periodic table,” says Diane Ackerman. “Even a tiny fleck of it stops time.”

Under cover of daylight…

Under cover of daylight...

I can still taste…

Writing prompt: I can still taste...

A curious sky…

Writing prompt: A curious sky...

WRITING TIP: Want to change the world? Write a story — or read one.

When the world is in danger of fearful lockdown and the system no longer serves the majority, isn’t it frivolous to be writing stories and poems, to be dreaming up fantasies and novels? Just the opposite, according to author Ursula LeGuin. “To me, the important thing is not to offer any specific hope of betterment but, by offering an imagined but persuasive alternative reality, to dislodge my mind, and so the reader’s mind, from the lazy, timorous habit of thinking that the way we live now is the only way people can live. It is that inertia that allows the institutions of injustice to continue unquestioned. …Fantasy and science fiction in their very conception offer alternatives to the reader’s present, actual world. Young people in general welcome this kind of story because in their vigor and eagerness for experience they welcome alternatives, possibilities, change. Having come to fear even the imagination of true change, many adults refuse all imaginative literature, priding themselves on seeing nothing beyond what they already know, or think they know.”

Control and abandon…

Control and abandon...

Unshaven chin…

Unshaven chin...

My secret life…

My secret life...

WRITING TIP: Allow your writing time to marinate

Just as we allow food to marinate, writing often needs to marinate as well. “There is much to be said in favour of laying a work aside to mature,” says Rosamund EM Harding in An Anatomy of Inspiration. “For one thing it gives the judgment time to operate; the mind is able to return to the work from time to time with a fresh outlook and check it from many different angles. It follows also that if new ideas are to be set aside to develop and newly finished works left to ‘mature,’ there must be several things on hand at the same time in various stages of development. The continuity of attention is purposely shorted and interrupted partly on account of the rest this gives.” While we rest, the unconscious continues to work, weaving unexpected threads together in ways we’d never dream of with our conscious mind, so when we go back to our work, we know just what to do to bring it to the next level.

Embarrassing dreams…

Embarassing dreams...

The fragrance of meaning…

The fragrance of meaning...

A dead plastic union…

A dead plastic union...

WRITING TIP: Go for the “zen” in writing

With practice, doing freewrites that utilize the principles of writing from the soul helps us learn to bypass our usual thoughts and source the work from somewhere deeper — not from the constructed “me” made of our thoughts and feelings, but the broader, truer “self” that exists more as process than a person. Writing from this space is a meditation in itself. Zen poet Chase Twichell puts it this way: “The work of Zen is to reach the ground of being, to perceive the true nature of the self, which, as it turns out, is a phantom. This is also the work of poetry, at least for me: to erode the membrane between self and the world, so that a newly innocent consciousness can emerge, one that sees what it sees without commentary, analysis, or judgment.”

This dangerous moment…

This dangerous moment...

A slant of light…

A slant of light...

I have nothing to do with me…

I have nothing to do with me...

WRITING TIP: The trouble with trying

Why use prompts and turn on a timer to write without stopping? Because otherwise we’ll be trying — trying to do something good or wise or insightful. Trying to be clever or artful or smart. By writing on a prompt where all we have to do is finish the sentence, that part of us doing all the trying has a hard time taking over, and this gives our exploration a chance to reach below the surface to the realm of soul. Aldous Huxley put it brilliantly: “What has to be relaxed is the personal self, the self that tries too hard, that thinks it knows what is what, that uses language. This has to be relaxed in order that the multiple powers at work within the deeper and wider self may come through and function as they should. In all psychophysical skills we have this curious fact of the law of reversed effort: the harder we try, the worse we do the thing.”

Pleasure first…

Pleasure first...

A thorn in the soul…

A thorn in the soul...

Unsaidness rises…

Unsaidness rises...

WRITING TIP: Where to find fresh ideas

When people find out I’m a writer, they often ask where I get my ideas. The way I see it, ideas come from everywhere, but only become “mine” once they have entered the soup of my psyche and marinated with all of the images, sensations and feelings I’ve stored in body and mind. When I pay attention, tune into my senses and listen closely both inside and out, fresh things come. Rod Serling, the creator of “The Twilight Zone,” puts it this way: “Ideas come from the Earth. They come from every human experience that you’ve either witnessed or have heard about, translated into your brain in your own sense of dialogue, in your own language form. Ideas are born from what is smelled, heard, seen, experienced, felt, emotionalized. Ideas are probably in the air, like little tiny items of ozone.”

They’re like friends, these beliefs…

They're like friends, these beliefs...

Juice forward…

Juice forward...

Dread cures despair…

Dread cures despair...

WRITING TIP: The most important reason to get writing

Our superficial, discursive mind has all kinds of ideas about who we are, and most of them aren’t our own: We absorbed them unthinkingly from the culture and from those around us. Without some form of contemplative practice, there is really no way for us to know what we truly think or who we truly are. Our minds are just too big a jumble of influences. Author Joan Didion used writing as her method to sort through this jumble, with brilliant results. Says Didion: “Had I been blessed with even limited access to my own mind there would have been no reason to write. I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”

The sun and the shadow…

The sun and the shadow...

It will hurt good…

It will hurt good...

Because I could not stop…

Because I could not stop...

WRITING TIP: The most important technique for powerful writing

Just as the Buddha advises that equanimity, inner peace and compassion originate with being fully present and aware in the moment, so it is with creativity and powerful writing. In fact, author William Saroyan’s advice for writers could also be an instruction from the Buddha. Says Saroyan: “The most solid advice for a writer is this, I think: Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell. And when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”

Wild nights…

Wild nights...

When meaning left…

When meaning left...

Music, talking, wind…

Music, talking, wind...

WRITING TIP: Go to the heights — but don’t stay there

The heady feeling of imagined creation, of exhalted or timeless states, are necessary to those who want to pierce the veil between ordinary life and the mysterious regions of the soul. There, images, sensings, and a storyless trembling dominate. It can be tempting to stay in the inarticulate, unedited heights and depths, but if we do, the whole thing will drain of meaning. Like the bodhisattva, the artist, the mystic and the saint, the writer must return and do the work of translation so that what has occured can benefit others. As poet and musician Patti Smith put it, “It’s the artist’s responsibility to balance mystical communication and the labor of creation.”

You are dreaming me…

You are dreaming me...

Back on the ground…

Back on the ground...

Bridge to another world…

Bridge to another world...

WRITING TIP: If you don’t know what happens next, you’re doing something right

Writing and life have a lot in common. You can do it by a formula, the way others say it’s supposed to be done, or you can trust the process and step into the unknown, curious about what will emerge from a place other than logic and willing to be surprised. In speaking about our lives as a story with a plot, mythologist Joseph Campbell also gives great advice for writing: “…when you look back on your life, it looks as though it were a plot, but when you are into it, it’s a mess: just one surprise after another. Then, later, you see it was perfect. So I have a theory that if you are on your own path things are going to come to you. Since it’s your own path, and no one has ever been on it before, there’s no precedent, so everything that happens is a surprise and is timely.”

A loose thread…

A loose thread...