Writing was something I used to think was only for school or my job. It didn't loathe writing, I liked it, and it was easy for me (thanks to some serious honing by my amazing high school and college teachers). But I wrote for others, not myself. I didn’t even keep a diary growing up. I was thoroughly bored with my unoriginal blather. I certainly never found that cathartic groove in journaling even well into adulthood. Writing was part of my profession, not something I did just for me.
But my view on writing changed in 2014. A health crisis prompted me to blog about my situation so I didn’t have to tell my story over and over again. And then a funny thing happened, I started finding comfort in my writing. My ideas seemed more original, maybe even interesting. I began to explore my expression and take some risks with how vulnerable I was willing to be. And slowly but surely, my authentic voice emerged. The more I wrote. The more I came to the surface. The more I healed in ways I could never have imagined. Now writing for myself felt more like the air I breathed than a work assignment.
Blogging once a week, however, didn’t fully fill the void. That’s when I turned to daily writing practice under the tutelage of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. In the Spring of 2016, I went through her powerful book, designed to help people overcome limiting beliefs and fears inhibiting the creative process. I faithfully filled her workbook with 12 weeks of daily writing by hand (ok…it really took me 15 weeks, but who’s counting). By the end, I was hooked and continued to fill notebook after notebook of three pages of writing. I even experimented with six pages per day during the 2016 National Novel Writing Month (NANOWRIMO) and found magic on page four consistently.
Writing With My Wild Mind
It became a cathartic experience to pour out my soul each day in my notebook. Knowing I could leave it on the page was relieving. It was an outlet—one I desperately needed in order to heal my mind and body. Writing daily felt true to my wild nature. It became a key to thriving over just surviving.
But like all good things, my desire to write three pages a day, which took me around 30-40 minutes, waned more quickly than I desired. Finding the time and coming up with daily topics outside of my relentless health regiment and mind monkey diatribes about my long-term survivability realities became difficult. My shiny object syndrome was in full force; my attention easily diverted.
I knew the magic of daily writing. I wanted to continue with that practice. I needed some new inspiration. And that’s when Natalie Goldberg hit my radar screen. In following a breadcrumb trail left by Julia Cameron, I read her introduction to Natalie’s Writing Down the Bones. Just like that, I had found another kindred-soul author.
A Meditative Practice
Natalie framed writing as a “practice” akin to the sitting, walking, standing, and working meditation practice of the Zen Buddhists. I was immediately entranced by the concept that my writing could also be my meditation. A retreat at Esalen Institute in June 2016 introduced me to Zazen meditation. Each day I practiced sitting on a cushion and staring at the wall for 30 minutes. Sounds simple doesn’t it? Not so much. I’m a wiggler.
At Esalen, I was surrounded by fellow meditators and sharing their energy helped. But at home I struggled with my practice. My mind monkeys chattered away despite my shushing and redirection as soon as I sat down. Natalie's writing meditation was complementary to sitting, giving me an alternative on the days when being still wasn’t happening.
I’m drawn to the down to earth practicality of Natalie’s approach. She’s concrete; imploring her students to write the “real stuff. Be honest and detailed.” These aren’t prompts for writing my Great American Novel. The prompts are about my life, my surroundings. They get me to take a closer look at what’s right in front of me. Right here, right now.
On pages 22 and 23 of Writing Down the Bones, Natalie spouts off some intriguing writing prompts: “Begin with I remember…choose a color…give me your morning…write about leaving… about the streets of your city…about swimming, the stars, green places, your first sexual experience, a teacher you had.” There’s more throughout all of her books on writing.
Her prompts helped me dig deeper than I thought was possible. I was able to leave stuff on the page. Hard stuff. Stuff I didn’t need to carry anymore. And my writing stopped sounding like a new dredging of my pit of angst.
With enthusiasm for daily writing, I dedicated myself to writing practice in at least 10 minute increments per day. Oh sure, sometimes I forgot to write for days on end—always surprised that it had been so many days when I got back to it. Other days, I would do five 10-minute writing meditation sessions. I no longer lacked for inspiration when I sat down to write. And I even got pretty good at coming up with “seductive” topics as Natalie calls them—something that peaked my interest and drew me in.
Making It Personal
But again, I wanted more (see a theme?). I desired a direct connection to this new teacher of mine. Her books weren’t enough. From her website, I learned that she occasionally did workshops at a Zen Buddhist center in Santa Fe, NM, one of my favorite places on this planet. Of course when I checked, none were on the calendar. So, I stalked her site until one finally popped up. I signed up the minute it came available, hoping I’d have no conflicts more than six months later.
My calendar promptly protected my September dates allowing me to spend five days at the Upaya Buddhist Center writing and meditating. Natalie was there, with all her spunk and genius, along with her co-presenter, author and teacher Rob Wilder, and about 70 other writers from all over the world. Perfect weather, a stunning campus, and glorious vegetarian/vegan food were our backdrop.
In addition to many, many opportunities to write and read our work, I also refined my approach to sitting meditation as well as working, standing, lying down, and walking meditation. My struggles with meditation from the summer before dissipated as I grounded my practice more deeply and saw how varied it could be and still get the same result—a much quieter band of mind monkeys.
I left Santa Fe with a renewed commitment to my writing and a desire to keep to my daily practice. I have a hunch that daily writing will also be a great tool in my life coaching business—one I’ll explore this fall with current and prospective clients.
Sharing the Gift
I’ve learned from my past experience with NANOWRIMO that time frames and goals make it easier to stay true to daily practice. So, in October I publicized my quest to write at least10 minutes of writing practice per day and encouraged some fellow writers to join me for the ride.
Every day in October, I posted on Instagram and Facebook a writing prompt for the day. Some examples included: “I remember,” “The street I live on,” “Pink”. I also posted some of my favorite quotes about writing throughout the month and snapshots of all the places I was doing my daily writing. It was a little harder to keep to my goal of writing in a different place each day. I certainly explored every nook and cranny of my house in addition to a bunch of coffee shops in my town. I even wrote in my car!
October went so well, I got brave enough to offer a three-month workshop that blends what I've learned about writing meditation with all my life coaching tools. The Writing-to-Wholeness Workshop includes a monthly class (1st Wednesday of the month starting in January) -- online at 12:00-1:30 pm CST and in-person in Kansas City at 7:00-8:30 pm CST. Participants receive daily writing prompts via text as well as instruction and encouragement along the way. I also designed and published a writing journal based on what I liked in my writing meditation practice.
While the January class is full, there are still spots in the February and March classes. If you want to jump in and join the group, we'd love to have you along. Or if you just want access to the daily writing prompts, that's an option too.
Click here to learn more about the Writing-to-Wholeness Workshop.
Thoughts to Noodle On
How has writing been a helpful tool in your journey to wholeness?
How might you fit in 10 minutes into your daily rhythm over the next month?
What keeps you from a daily writing meditation practice?