Many of my students sign up for a writing course because they have an urge to bring forth their experiences.
They want to write stories, poems, memoirs. Many have never written before. They don’t know where to start. What to write about. How to choose fiction or nonfiction. Many have confidence issues. Fearing judgement, they hesitate to share their work.
I understand the tenderness of the beginning writer, the courage it takes to put forth embryonic work and place it under the light of scrutiny.
Even though I had written professionally for years, when I was ready to put out my first fiction, I was terrified. The marketing and training books I wrote, the manuals, web text, and scripts, even the ghost-written articles—none were as personal as fiction. It took stern conversations with myself before I started sending my work to magazines, accepting the inevitable rejections, and sending it out again.
Now, after publishing many short stories, three novels, and a few personal experience narratives, I tell my students that I learned the most about writing from the effort to produce publishable work.
My writing teachers taught me much. So did the students in the classes and workshops I attended. Every editor I hired to advise me before I sent out a piece taught me something new.
Some magazine editors were kind enough to say why they rejected my piece. Some even suggested changes. Every time I looked anew at a rejected story, I found ways to improve it. And of course there was the exquisite pleasure when an editor said they liked my story.
The whole process was a learning experience. It toughened me and eventually became fun. Not to say I enjoy rejections, but they no longer stop me. It’s not personal. It’s the work. Which can be improved.
What’s important for new writers, especially those who start later in life, is to honor the urge to create. To bring forth and shape the nascent idea nagging at you. The images you know are part of a story. The characters who spring to life in your mind. The feeling that your experiences matter. Which they do.
We live our lives according to the story we tell ourselves. We change our lives by changing our stories. Whether we fictionalize our experiences or write searingly honest memoir, the benefits of getting them out of our heads and into the world are enormous. It helps us, and it helps others.
The drive to create is in everyone. It’s part of being human. Honored, it makes us more human. Our Creative Self urges us onward. It wants to be expressed. It wants to dance, with joy and abandon. Honor it.
So, write! Sing! Dance! Paint! Make a poem! Outline your novel! Decide you’re going to tell about all that you’ve learned! I promise, you won’t be sorry.
The stories of our daily lives have changed. We had no choice. We’re working at home. Not working. Home schooling the kids. Can’t travel. No baseball games, concerts, movies, or parties. We learned to operate on Zoom and discovered you can order anything, literally anything, on Amazon.
The changes were abrupt and startling. We adjusted and asked a lot of questions.
- When will it be over?
- Am I safe?
- Is any of this true?
- When will life go back to normal?
For answers, there’s no lack of stories.
- It will end in the summer.
- The virus will run its course like the flu.
- Only old people are at risk, so don’t worry about it.
- We don’t know what’s going to happen.
- The way the story ends depends on how we behave.
We find ourselves in the role of protagonist.
But is that anything new?
There are so many stories to choose from. As much as humans love inventing stories, then repeating and elaborating on them to entertain each other, this is different, isn’t it?
Yes, and no.
Before written language, people told stories. They relayed what plant was safe to eat, what trail led away from the lion’s den and which one to follow for water.
Stories based on facts won.
When the story is about our health, safety, how we work, and how we provide for our families, we want a story based on the best facts available.
But when the story is about how we respond to abrupt cultural change and how we feel about it, that’s different. It’s about our lives. We get to make it up.
We tell a story about how we’re doing. What adjustments we’ve made. What’s going to happen. What it all means. It’s how our brains work. They want to know the next step. An unfinished story makes them squirm.
We tell the story of our lives all the time. To friends, to colleagues, when we’re interviewing for a job, or talking to a realtor about buying a house. The stories may be snippets, short stories, or in some cases, novels. This is who I am. This is what I did. This is what happened. This is what I’m going to do.
Our story makes up our personal myth.
- I’m the kind of person who always . . .
- I love a challenge.
- Nothing stops me from reaching my goals.
- If my family had been supportive, I could have . . .
- Relationships never worked out for me.
- Boredom is the worst, so I go where the adventure is.
Now that life has changed, are you changing your story? Developing a new plot? Inviting new characters into it?
In fiction the hero’s journey is a familiar plot. The protagonist ventures forth, meets allies, vanquishes enemies, and after conflict and difficulty, seizes the prize. Whether the prize is a princess to love, treasure, or hard-won knowledge, he meets his destiny. He was brave and developed skills.
Another journey is that of the heroine, taken by both men and women. It does not require a quest, but instead follows an inner path where memories, feelings, and beliefs are examined. The goal is to be authentic. The heroine examines her values, decides how much of the common wisdom applies, and who she will be in the future.
This time seems perfect for the inner journey, a pause to examine our lives, notice our reactions to the changes we’ve had to make, and decide what can be left behind. As we move forward, we may need a new perspective. New plans. A new attitude.
If you’ve thought about writing the story of your life, for personal development, legacy, or memoir, this may be the time. Especially if that story is changing. Writing helps sort things out so you can become the conscious narrator of who you are and who you will become.
I offer a class on Writing the Story of Your Life through UNM Continuing Education. Contact me to learn more about it.
Do you believe in miracles?
Sure, you might say. I’ve seen miracles. And I expect to see them again
Or, There are no such things. Science has explanations for everything.
Actually, both perspectives are right. Miracles are prayers answered, hope fulfilled, stories of the seemingly impossible, inspirations that change lives, the melting of hardened hearts, personal transformation. But how do these things happen?
Contrary to what our senses tell us, science informs us that everything is energy. The observer affects the observed. Our thoughts influence what we perceive, how we feel, and whether we are joyful or depressed.
Mahatma Gandhi said, “A man is a product of his thoughts. What he thinks, he becomes.”
Traditionally, a miracle is an event we don’t expect and didn’t foresee. It comes out of the blue, full of meaning, an object of wonder so marvelous it points to a reality beyond our reach. In a religious context, we can see this as God, the ground of being, or as manifestations of supernatural powers.
What is miraculous in one culture may be ordinary in another.
In the west, people interpret spontaneous recovery from serious illness as a miracle, and persons with unusual healing powers as miraculous beings. In some earth-based cultures, thunder and lightning are considered messengers of the divine, while recovery from serious afflictions is the result of energetic interventions by a shaman or spiritual healer. And perfectly ordinary
Saint Augustine said, “Miracles are not contrary to nature, only to what we know about nature.”
Another view is that the miraculous shows itself in the everyday world—in nature, in the love between people, in a child’s smile.
The miraculous may simply be something we do not yet understand. When we use the power of intention, affirmation, gratitude, or prayer, we are harnessing energy in the living field that connects us all. We do it to change our lives, which means we acknowledge our connectedness in the field of life. Nothing is really separate. If I love you, I love myself. If I hurt you, I hurt myself.
When we understand this, we notice that our thoughts and words change our perception of reality. If we persevere with those new thoughts, our actual reality changes too.
If I pray for healing for my friend, and my friend recovers from his illness, is that a miracle? Or the effect of intention on the web of consciousness that binds us together
You decide, according to what you believe.
For 101 stories of everyday miracles, check out the new anthology, Believe in Miracles, by Chicken Soup for the Soul, available now for pre-order. My essay, Please Pass the Holy Water, is one of the stories. I hope you enjoy it.
The Book of the Center
While I was working on my novel a few years ago, a thought dropped in. It had nothing to do with the book and came with the little jolt I associate with the part of me that is NOT my ego-mind. The thought was, “The Book of the Center.” I heard the words as if a voice had spoken aloud.
The first time this happened I was 28 and it scared the heck out of me. I thought either God was speaking, or I was losing my mind. Maybe both. A self-professed humanist, I had no religious convictions or grounding in metaphysics. I sought help. To no avail. Finally, I realized the voice was a part of myself I didn’t know. It seemed prudent to record what it said. That was the beginning of my awakening to spirit.
I’ve learned (the hard way) to listen. When I heard about this mysterious book, I pulled out a fresh file folder, labeled it The Book of the Center and stuck in a file with other writing projects. Going to write that someday, I thought. Wonder what it means. Sometimes I pondered if Center meant my own center or Self, my heart, a place of neutrality, or something different.
Reading The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself recently, I remembered how my Book of the Center appeared. Finally, I’ve started it.
Journaling for Healing
Between the first intrusion of the voice of my Self and the title of a book I didn’t understand came a lot of years of journaling. In the beginning I journaled to deal with the drama of my life.
In midlife, I was embroiled in a difficult relationship that made no sense. By then, I had learned to meditate, work with my own energy, and use healing methods to address my issues. With this situation, nothing worked.
One day I sat at my computer, opened a new file, and wrote my latest take on The Situation. Although I judged my relationship problems as too petty to bring to the attention of my deeper parts, I decided to try anyway. I typed a single question: “What is going on with me and this person?” Then I sat with my keys on the keyboard and waited.
After a few minutes I wrote whatever came up, without thinking or judging. No voices spoke, no visions came, I just wrote.
What I wrote was not profound or particularly clear, but it made enough sense that I asked another question, waited again, and wrote again.
That was the beginning of me using writing to connect with Self.
The more I dialogued with my Self, the more useful the exercise became. It took several years to convince me I was talking to more than my ego-mind (one of my issues is self-doubt), but I kept going. No one read my journal. I didn’t talk about it. I just kept writing because it seemed like the right thing to do. Also, I’m a fast typist and the faster I write, the easier it is to bypass the mental critic in my head.
Many others have discovered this method. It’s even mentioned in books on journaling. I teach my journaling students how to do it. The great thing is you don’t have to learn to meditate, take a class, or learn special techniques. All you need is a notebook and pen or a computer, and a mind willing to open.
An Easy Exercise for You
Have you tried it? If not, this could be the time. This is how it works.
- Assume you have an aspect of your identity that knows more than you do, that loves you, and is willing to communicate.
- Settle yourself and clear your mind.
- Ask your Self a question in writing. About a crisis, a choice, a pattern you don’t understand. Anything you want to know about yourself.
- Write what comes.
- Refrain from judgment.
This works. I swear. You may have to be patient, but persistence counts.
If you give this method a try, send me a comment about your experience. I’d love to hear your reaction.
Do you ever wonder why you feel like you do?
If you’re happy and satisfied with your life, the question may not come up.
But what about when you feel:
- out of sorts
Or maybe you can’t pinpoint why you can’t get going on that creative project, stick to your exercise or diet plan, or start looking for a better job.
It could be that you’re ignoring the messages from your own body.
If you’re a creative type, things can get more complicated. Creative people often live in their heads. Exciting ideas drop in and swirl around, but they have a hard time devoting the time and energy to produce their art, writing, or music. They wander in circles, not sure how to begin, or where to find resources. They think about the future (Who would buy my book?) and don’t finish writing it.
We have ready excuses for not moving on. “I’m stressed! I don’t have time. I’ll feel better after the holidays when the weather’s warmer, when my mother-in-law goes home.”
All these may be true, but they don’t answer the question, Why do you feel the way you do?
The eastern metaphysical traditions don’t perceive the mind and body as separate systems. Healing modalities like yoga, acupuncture, t’ai chi and meditation assume that mind affects body and body affects mind. A two-way street.
Many of us have adopted this belief because we got positive results when we tried them. But the medical establishment did not give up its insistence on the separation of mind and body until Candace Pert, a molecular biologist, discovered how peptides, a protein found in every cell of the body, carry information from and to all our organs including the brain.
Her research showed that the body works more like an information processing system than a clockwork. The peptides which carry glucose to our organs, are biochemicals which Pert called the molecules of emotion. They form a network of communication, the means by which thoughts affect the chemistry of the body. As the chemistry changes, so do our feelings.
It turns out that the mystics were right. The mind of the body is in every organ and every cell. The seat of emotion is not in the brain or the heart. It is in our cells, each and every one.
Like information, emotions travel physically between body and mind as the peptides and their receptors. In the subjective realm, we experience changes in feelings and emotions.
Pert agrees with Carl Jung’s intuition that the physical body itself is the unconscious mind. Which is why we often don’t know why we feel as we do. When we repress or discard uncomfortable feelings, we literally push them into our bodies. Held long enough, they eventually produce stress and illness.
If we want to feel better, we can start by acknowledging and releasing our emotions from the bondage of the body. Energy therapies, yoga, acupuncture, any healing modality that involves therapeutic touch, and learning to clear the mind through meditation or prayer establish new pathways so our bodies can let our minds know what they need.
Expressing emotions in a safe environment results in more glucose being available to all the organs. The peptides spread the word, and emotional blocks that have formed into physical blocks begin to dissolve.
Another way to open the lines of communication with your body is very simple. Journaling about what’s going on in your life and how you feel about it is a powerful tool. It can help you get unstuck, boost your immune system, and improve your ability to make decisions and act.
All you need is a notebook and a pen!