Halfway Home: My Mind in Writing
Writing as a "practice" rather than for "production" is surprising me in unanticipated ways. I’m just past halfway in the 31 days of daily writing practice -- The October Writing Project -- and I’m feeling bolstered, not dragged down in the least. I'm also thankful for my fellow writers who chose to join me on this journey. Writing together is so much better than solo...even if it's virtual.
What was a little wonky in my writing on day 1 and 2 has smoothed out by day 17. When I let my mind run wild and show up to the page with as little expectation as possible, I’m more often wowed by what I write than not. There's delight in the air when I see what flows from each writing prompt. I’m usually bowled over by where I go with each topic. Sometimes I stick to the it, sometimes I don’t.
I had a hunch I’d feel something extraordinary by committing to the exercise of writing for at least 10 minutes daily. I’d arrived at Natalie Goldberg’s writing and meditation retreat in Santa Fe with such hopes -- a new writing high was my gift from the five days in the high desert with about 70 fellow writers.
I recall Natalie saying in one of her early lectures that finding myself “cracked wide open” was a potential outcome of this daily meditative practice. I left the retreat with my shell mostly intact, a few fine lined cracks were just becoming visible. But now well into October, some big hunks of shell are missing. I’m seeping out in ways I couldn’t imagine. When I stay open to “what is” and keep my inner editor at bay, I’m rewarded at every turn. Writing with no agenda, no outcome in mind, has been liberating.
Getting Into the Wild Mind
I’ve been unofficially studying Natalie’s approach to writing as meditation for more than a year based on my read of her books: Writing Down the Bones, Wild Mind, Old Friend From Far Away, True Secrets of Writing. I signed up for her writing meditation retreat at the Upaya Zen Center not really knowing what I was getting myself into -- trusting that tug on my sleeve. Five days in the high desert meditating through writing, walking, eating, working, and sitting sounded like a benefit to my healing journey at a minimum, and if it helped my development as a writer, extra bonus.
What I didn’t anticipate hooking me during the retreat was what Natalie calls “examining the mind of the writer” -- mine and others. I’d read statements like that in her books, but the words hadn’t penetrated. I didn’t have a way to integrate this concept. I had a mind. I was a writer. But I didn’t understand their connection.
To prepare us for the retreat, Natalie assigned three books. None were on my “already read” list. And it turns out none would make it on my “want to read” list. So, I plodded through the books like a dutiful student. Trusting there was method to her madness.
I detested the first book by page 10 leaving me questioning the wisdom of my teacher and ever being a tourist again (Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place). The second I found more palatable, but grating. The life story of a depressed writer with a difficult upbringing struck a nerve I didn’t now I had (Elizabeth Strout's, My Name is Lucy Barton). But I didn’t feel the way I like to at the end of a book -- uplifted, bolstered, emboldened, wiser.
When I dove into the final book at the end of the summer, I found a level of disgust I didn’t know I could feel about an author. I had been more hopeful about the third book. I have thoroughly enjoyed this author’s contemporary travel foodie shows, but I just couldn’t finish his book. Chef Anthony Bourdain’s diatribe about his life in the restaurant business twerked me on all fronts (Kitchen Confidential). The level of detail he recounted on his experience in the underbelly of the 80s and 90s restaurant scene was a writing feat, but also excruciating. How much cocaine snorting, sex on flour sacks, and unsanitary food practices can one really take? I found my limit.
So, I was relieved when our discussion of the books at the retreat didn’t focus on their content but rather the minds of the writers. And that’s when my dimly lit bulb got a new surge of energy and brightened. In fact, everything changed. I immediately saw the wisdom in my teacher's choices. As I re-read passages from the books with the authors' minds as my focus, I found a new way in. I’m now returning to those books with different eyes. In fact, I’m reading every book piled on my night stand and stored in my Kindle a little differently.
Surrendering to Wildness
I now understand that examining my own mind is what I’m really doing when I write for at least 10 minutes each day. When I read a seemingly random (yet hopefully seductive) topic, then tell my hand to go...write for 10 minutes...don’t lift it up until the timer goes off, something magical usually happens.
Writing about “toothpaste” or “sauerkraut” isn’t always my jam. But those topics pull me off kilter just enough I actually get to something deeper, a bit wilder. Within three sentences, my toothpaste post took me to my need to clean out more than my closet. Fresh teeth became a fresh outlook on what sparks joy in my life via purging, cleaning, and folding. It worked. Is it Pulitzer Prize winning writing? No. But that’s not the point.
Permission Slip Anyone?
I've heard from some of my fellow writers that they don't always want to write about the assigned topic. First, please don't be the "dutiful student," that's not the point of this. Second, if you need a “permission slip” to write whatever you want each day, it’s yours. Scrap the daily prompt if you want, it’s your daily practice. Do with it what you want. Just show up to the page.
I do hope you'll consider the method to my madness and what I've learned so far about writing practice, though. I promise you’ll get there through the topic assigned if you surrender to it and let your mind go. Your inner critic is looking for any and all excuses for you not to write. Don’t let the prompt be the reason. Let your wild mind roam. Trust me, it’s worth it.
Thoughts to Noodle On and Share:
How's daily writing practice going for you?
What has surprised you about your writing?
Any daily writing prompts that you've really liked? Disliked?
Not participating in the October Writing Project but want to jump in mid-month? Please do. There's no better day to start writing practice than today. You can find the writing prompt daily on Instagram @insideedgecoach and Facebook on my Inside Edge Coaching page.