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If Only You Could See What I See

deer behind grass
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Sometimes I have to rein back my excitement. I’ve got to slow down and not rush too far ahead. Stay in the moment with weary people who’ve worried over their story for so long the doubt is crushing them.

You may have asked yourself similar questions as my clients. Spun in similar doubts.  

“Can I really do it? My writing is terrible. I’m not getting anywhere. Will anyone like this story?”

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If only you could see what I see: The moment your enthusiasm escapes the prison laid by doubt and frustration, lighting you up as you speak of your idea.  

If only you could read what I read: The gorgeous prose and courageous truths on the page.  

If only you could feel what I feel: The power encoded in your tender body and nimble hands to create joy, make me laugh, nurture warmth, bring me to the edge of my seat… all in response to your words.

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Remember that you may never know who will cherish your words and embrace your stories. Who will sink into your truths to free themselves or connect to something much greater.  

You may be unaware of the value of your own words through someone else’s eyes.  You can’t experience what it’s like to read your story for the first time when you’re glazing over looking at the same words over and over again.

We’ve all got an inner critic. It’s typically harshest on ourselves.

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Your first draft does not have to be good. Five star quality is neither a requirement nor expectation. It’s not about the details but the sentiment and creative movement. You can always edit. Keep going. You’ve got this.

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When you’re feeling hard on yourself, know this struggle is not the only story, or the only truth. Imagine looking into a mirror held by a treasured source who is full of affection for all that you are.

Even if you don’t feel like it right now, you are beautiful and powerful, right at the center of your own story.

Are you removing yourself from your writing?

When you’re uncomfortable with the story or content you’re writing, you might shy away from specifics and instead make broad generic statements.  Your sentences might be unnecessarily complex.  

You may be subconsciously creating a protective space between yourself and your words.  This can make the writing abstract.  It’s a dance between your true voice and your reader.  When you distance yourself consciously or unconsciously, your reader can often sense that disconnection.

Here’s what someone writing on loneliness said at first: 

“Since childhood, I’ve been familiar with the sense of being alone, and the struggles of isolation.  Until finding meaning for seclusion, there’s no way to move on.  When you lose your voice, it’s like they put a spear in your heart.”

Confusing, yes?

That’s partly because the writer used a passive voice to remove themselves from their writing.  The first sentence is vague and distant.  The statements are generalized instead of personal.  Ideas jump from one to the next.  At times, the subject or action is unclear; it’s unclear who “they” is.

Perhaps the writer realized they were trying to protect themselves from the pain of past memories.  They decided to try stepping directly into their story:

“Since childhood, I’ve felt alone and struggled with loneliness.  My heart was breaking because it was like no one understood me.  I lost my voice. I was living a story that wasn’t mine… until I discovered meaning for my seclusion and found myself.”

In which version do you feel more connected with the writer?

In general, people tend to use a passive voice when there’s a power differential, in collectivistic cultures (versus individualistic cultures), when uncertain, and in lieu of taking responsibility.  It can also be an unconscious avoidance strategy as an internal protective mechanism.

You can stay in the writing in order to connect more deeply.

Have you ever parried with beliefs like: “I don’t have the right to tell this story.  Others will judge me.  I’ll be abandoned if I share this story.”  Let’s look at ways to not just change the words on the paper, but to open your heart to let yourself out. 

Find a safe space to work with your internal self.

  1. Tune into the heart of what’s keeping you at a distance from your writing.  Notice your beliefs, fears, and worries.
  2. Ask your fears what they need.  Reassurance?  Permission?  Acceptance?  
  3. Give the fears what they need as best you can. Imagine a resource—a fairy godparent, nature, you as an older and wiser self—soothing, guiding, and protecting the fearful self.
  4. Does meeting your needs help go deeper into the story? …Notice if that’s true for you.

Once you’ve worked with your internal self, check your writing to see if the energy of these beliefs and feelings are evident there…

  1. Look for abstract, generalized, vague statements.  While having diplomacy is a strength in many contexts, consider if a direct route is necessary.  (If you can’t see it, ask another set of eyes to take a look—it’s hard to see in your own writing.)
  2. Identify where you’ve written in the passive voice.  As an experiment, change it to active, and see how it feels both personally and in the writing. 

Don’t lose who you are!  Put yourself out there, and notice how that shifts your writing and your inner self.

Happy writing.

How to connect with an audience that might not understand

It can be really difficult to imagine writing (or speaking) to an audience that is different than you. You might wonder how they’ll understand your perspective. All you know is they’ve had vastly different experiences, and you’re not sure what you have in common. How do you make a point, get your message across, or simply communicate to be understood—what do you even say to them?

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When I visited Chicago during an unseasonably warm winter with no snow, I felt the shock of cold while others rejoiced in the pleasant warmth and celebrated not having to shovel out sidewalks. I’ve lived in California all my life with sunny India as my ancestral origin, so my body isn’t regulated for the cold. (Plus, I generally tend to run cold.) The weather is an external experience. My shivers when walking down the street and joy once I found the coziest hoodie were an internal experience. Though the Chicagoans around me were amused by my reaction to the “cold,” they could relate to (and empathize with) teeth chattering and the satisfaction of a soft warm jacket.

We all have different experiences of the world, shaped by our environment, what we’ve learned, and the unique way we respond.

Emotions and physical sensations can’t be argued with; they simply exist as part of an internal experience. Though two people could have contradicting beliefs of right/wrong or haven’t experienced the same thing (e.g. climbing Mt. Tamalpais, tasting mango pickle), they likely have similarities in emotional experience (e.g. feel happy with success, feel sad upon loss, scrunch their face when tasting sour).

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To make a deeper connection in your writing, describe the internal experience (your emotions and sensations) without solely focusing on the external experience (what happened). This is a universal core that connects us as human.

To a reader, an evocative piece that packs an emotional punch or mirrors their own feelings may be more interesting than a dry description.

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When writing,

  1. Try starting from the energy of “feeling” versus “thinking.” While your reader may not have traveled to the Bahamas, they can likely relate to the excited-nervousness of visiting a destination for the first time or the disappointment of ending a vacation.
  2. Take your audience on an emotional journey. How do you feel about the transpiring events?

In this way, you may have more success in connection, being understood, and desired response. You may also experience more satisfaction as your internal experience gets expressed more fully.

Good luck and happy writing!

Why You Want To Write

Do you know why you want to write? This can be an interesting question, with answers varying by mood, day, or project phase.

Say you’re in the middle of a project but you’ve lost the zest. When you’re stuck, doubting, or uncertain, it can help to get clear on the purpose of why you’re wanting to write. It can also help to shine a light on your inner beliefs. You can consciously choose your purpose. Here’s how:

  1. Start with a blank piece of paper.
  2. Free-write a list of why you’re wanting to do this project. Be honest with yourself. Maybe you want accomplishment, acceptance, self-expression. Why else do you want to write? Maybe to contribute, to find meaning…
  3. Let yourself see all your motivations, even the ones that might be uncomfortable to face. You might judge some reasons as “good” and others as “bad.” Your list is only for your eyes; the motivators that seem “bad” may be related to core needs, so try to see it all with kindness.
  4. Once you have your list of reasons, notice which ones:
    a) Feel good to tie to your project.
    b) Are needs which might be met in alternate ways alongside or besides your project.
    c) Are outdated or just don’t feel good.

Wherever your desires are coming from, they’re okay to have.

It’s often helpful to acknowledge whether any desires are outdated. These can be let go because they won’t really serve your fulfillment and joy in life. For example, the desire to prove yourself as a writer to your family or the English teacher who give you a C may feel heavy. You might replace it with wanting to feel proud of yourself and authentically connect with the people who want to hear your words.

Core needs may show up in your reasons. For example, the desire for approval, to feel like you’re a good enough writer, might stem from past unmet needs. It may be helpful to release the pressure of these needs on your project or your audience. When you can get those needs met (like through self-validation, spiritual connection, or a supportive friend or mentor), then you don’t have to be looking for those needs to be met through your readers. This can free you up to enjoy the creative process more.

Focus on the desires that feel good in your whole body. So you can enjoy the time, energy, effort, and love you pour into your project. You might feel good about completion, learning something new, or connecting to others in a novel way. Even simply excitement, creative passion, tapping into your intuition, or speaking your truth.

Write down your dreams, purpose, and mission. Refer back to it when you’re feeling lost.

When you know what you truly want, even if it’s unusual or embarrassing, then you can take steps to create it. Your desires for your story don’t have to look like anyone else’s. There are no right or wrong reasons.

I hope this helps you think about your relationship to your project in a new, freeing, and more fulfilling way. Happy writing!

When To Show Up Imperfectly

I had a deadline to share a draft with a mentor last week. Unfortunately, inspiration didn’t hit until two days before the deadline, not enough time to complete the draft.  

I want my writing to be polished enough to show who I am (better said, to reveal just enough of myself). I want to be proud of reaching my own internal standards, and even better, going beyond them. It’s uncomfortable to share raw, incomplete writing.   But I was out of time.

I cringed to share my draft before I’d had a chance to remove any potentially awkward or embarrassing passages. I debated whether to share the progress at all, or wait until it was more suitable.  

Ultimately, I sent it with multiple disclaimers. It was in-progress, rough, etc.  

As my mentor and I reviewed it together, I noticed that being seen in my incomplete-ness actually had some benefits. It helped to:

  • Identify the core threads without having to write hundreds of words to find them.
  • Receive big-picture feedback to help shape the draft and give clarity on next steps.
  • Work together on something incomplete, knowing that it didn’t have to be perfect.
  • Trust and surrender control of my writing process.
  • See where I was complicating things.

It’s freeing being brave for a moment of imperfection.  

Are you holding onto something that might be helpful to take an imperfect step towards?  

Here are some questions to help discern when it makes sense to show up imperfectly.

  1. How does it feel in your body?
    The sensations you feel can give you clues on the truth and what’s best.
  2. Is it a baby step to build the muscle or the scariest thing ever?
    It may be uncomfortable, but if it feels like the scariest thing ever, you may want to reconsider your choices or seek support.
  3. What context will it happen in, and with whom?
    While authenticity is important, it may not be appropriate to submit an incomplete draft for a professional deadline.
  4. Where is the pressure to be perfect coming from?
    Notice if this is internalized from past experience or a valuable consideration for the current situation.
  5. Can a growth mindset release the pressure valve?
    Seeing your experiences as learning experiences can curtail your inner critic and help you feel better about opportunities for growth.

Consider your unique situation and consult your inner wisdom. As I did, you might find yourself pleasantly appreciating the results from taking small risks.

The Creative Rebel

I worked with a client who knew their writing was radical, meant to shock readers into transformational clarity. To put words to experiences and issues not commonly spoken about. Almost like once their words were read, the reader wouldn’t be the same again.

Whew, what an intense and tender thing to carry this purpose. Especially with their naturally caring and empathetic personality.

It can be terrifying to do your own thing, new and different from those around you.

Even after you hear your own calling, you may not want to go your own way. Yet you might be feeling a pull from your roots to stay the same. To not rock the boat.

The definition of a rebel is someone who resists convention.

Some rebels are aggressively defiant; others are simply disruptors introducing a novel way of being into the world.

Think about the typical rebellious teenager. Taking risks, lying to parents, ignoring curfew, testing out substances…

There’s a drive towards rebellion. Even if it’s not comfortable for those around them. Even if it goes against the “good person” persona they’ve wore through adolescence.

That teenage rebellion is a key stage towards individuation and maturity. Learning from the experiences. Preparing for a future of confidently making the right choices.

It may not be the time when it’s clear to them WHY they’re driven to do what they do, or WHERE it will lead them. But eventually, it becomes clear in hindsight. Those behaviors and experiences may lead them to a new calling, or the ability to settle into a life waiting for them.

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Creative people can be rebels even in the gentlest way. They explore voices that haven’t been heard and put their own unique spin on what’s out there already.

Even the norms you’re familiar with can be rebellious.

  • Write and share your personal story when it’s normal to keep your private affairs to yourself.
  • Examine your challenges and emotional difficulties when it’s normal to “let things go,” “move on,” and “take things easy” without making a fuss.
  • Search for interdependent communities when the norm is individuality and independence.
  • Go your own way/forge your own path when the norm is to put others first.
  • Seek publication for your creative stories when fiction writing isn’t seen as a gainful pursuit.
  • Honestly name problematic behaviors when direct communication isn’t the norm.

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Rebellion isn’t easy. It’s usually messy.

But whenever things crumble, there is potential for new growth and direction. Like the mature adult stage after child following-the-rules and teenager breaking-the-rules.

Lots of conventions seem to be crumbling on Earth. If you’re feeling a radical rebellious creative voice at this time, I encourage you to listen to what it’s saying. Ask for more information. Explore the voices within you to determine if your personal rebellion is an act of purpose, or if it’s an automatic reaction to avoid discomfort.

When things get difficult, be wherever you are. Channel acceptance into your body. It takes time to complete the process of creation. You don’t need to go from awareness of a purposeful creation to putting it out there. Take your time. And follow your inner voice; the GPS of your personal path.

You can simultaneously go your own way, and be supported. You may need to reach beyond those who’ve been around you. This isn’t a bad thing at all. It can simply mean growth and expansion for you to be yourself a bit more. So you can shine the gifts you carry out into the world a bit brighter.

Finding Your Words

Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash

The fated question: “What did you do over the weekend?”

Mind: BLANK

Mind: Weekend. There was a weekend. I must have done things. BLANK Why can’t I think of what happened? Amnesia—no, I didn’t hit my head. Memory loss?

Eyes: See expectantly waiting face.

Mind: Oh no, I haven’t answered. Must answer.

Mouth: “Uhhh.”

Sound familiar? Whether it’s in speech or written, finding your words can be awkward at times.

I read this great article on the science behind why introverts struggle to speak. It puts the difficulty of finding words in perspective.

Here’s some things to remember when you find yourself with a blank mind.

It’s okay to take time to find your words. The pressure of rushing never helps, whether you’re put on the spot or judging yourself for not having an answer. Take time to alleviate the pressure so the right words can arrive naturally. You might ask for more time to answer a question or soothe your inner critic before returning to your pen.

Take heart in your own personal strengths and preferences. You may be generally more comfortable writing or speaking, and that’s great. Affirm your gifts. Introverts, even if you struggle with describing your weekend, you may find ease in writing. Extroverts on the other end of the spectrum, it’s okay if it’s easier to voice-to-text your first draft.

Find your own ways to do what you need to do. When you struggle to instantly express yourself, you might try writing a letter or preparing a script ahead of time.

Feed your creative self. Whether that’s through your writing practice, brainstorming with a friend, or taking a writing class, fuel your inner creator. Take the urge to create seriously and value your whole self, knowing that awkward!you isn’t the only part of your whole being.

How do you use your gifts to find your words and create purpose in your life?

Choosing Your Ride

Photo by Dino Reichmuth on Unsplash
Ways to approach writing

Pretend you’re visiting Arizona and want to head back home to California.  You have multiple ways to get there.

  • Fly directly by plane.
  • Take a road trip by car.
  • Horseback?  

Just like travel, there are many ways to approach writing.

1) Sometimes, you know exactly what you need to write and how you will get there.  You plan out each section.  Then, you write, following the outline.  You might use logic to solve any problems you encounter.

This method follows the traditional masculine energy archetype: practical, logical, focused, goal-oriented.  It’s like taking a directly scheduled route to your destination.

2) Other times, you aren’t sure where exactly you’re heading.  You might do a free-write or stream-of-consciousness writing session to get all your ideas in the open.

This method follows the traditional feminine energy archetype: receptive, intuitive, imaginative.  It’s like starting a road trip without a rigid structure.

In my recent Story Journeying class, we were without the formal structure.  Participants had no clue what story would emerge when they began writing.  But through guided meditation, prompts, and writing time, they found meaning for their raw content.  By the last class, the core thread and purpose of their writing became clear.  It’s a satisfyingly magical experience to let the heart lead and give the head a rest.

3) Besides planning and intuitive creating, you might play your way to the goal!  This is how I guide kids using the Writerly Play method at Society of Young Inklings.  It’s a game-based approach to the creative process.  

You can use virtually any method to get to the same outcome; there’s no right or wrong way to write.  You may use a mix of approaches, starting with a receptive brainstorming and then channeling your energy into a single focus once you’ve identified it.

As I’ve worked with clients with diverse writing preferences and natural tendencies, I’ve noticed that it isn’t just about the destination, but what it’s like to get there.  You can feel simple pleasure in creative immersion for no selective purpose… the content generated from this process can become valuable down the road.  On the other hand, it can be important and satisfying to get it all out directly without taking many detours to take in the scenery.

How do you want to write?  It might look different from those around you.  Set your intention for your destination, and discover your fun, exciting, and magical experiences along the way.

Happy writing!

When in doubt, ask your child-self

Say you have a big ol’ reaction when you’re stuck in your creative project. Maybe it seems like more frustration and distress than the situation warrants. You might even feel silly later, or embarrassed for getting so worked up about nothing. All of these are quite common.

You may feel lost between your creativity and feelings. In those moments, it can be helpful to connect to your child-self.

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As a sensitive child, I had big emotions.

But there was no room for big emotions in my environment. I learned that excessive emotions were unacceptable or humiliating. With messages like “stop crying,” I was perceived as stronger if I had control over or hid my emotions.

Messages through words, behaviors, actions showed me acceptable norms. Unfortunately, they didn’t leave much room for my emotions.

I didn’t allow myself to feel, because the feelings were too big. They ended up becoming confusing and overwhelming. So I shut them off… which of course made them come out sideways in unanticipated ways.

This might be familiar to you, too. It’s tied to a common cultural experience where thoughts are valued over feelings. And we’re told not to feel.

What I missed was validation, to know it was okay to feel what I was feeling. Because then I could parse through the feelings. Without the validation, I thought there was something wrong with me. I couldn’t process them.

As an adult, the good news is as I put effort into shifting my patterns, I’ve gotten better at managing and understanding my emotions. When times of distress inevitably happen, there are tools in my toolbox to support me in life as well as creativity.

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When you’re having reactions to challenges that feel bigger than they “should” be…

  1. Remember your child-self still exists within your adult-self and needs care. Ask your child-self what it would like to express; and what old messages it got that said these feelings were not okay. (E.g. stop crying)
  2. What would that child liked to have received? (E.g. validation)
  3. Can you give yourself some of what your child is needing? (E.g. If it’s validation, remind yourself it’s okay to feel what you’re feeling. It’s a normal reaction to what you’re experiencing. Name each emotion and trace its cause.)
  4. Feel it and let it in. That can mean both the pain of not getting what you needed and the comfort you can give yourself now.
  5. Let yourself observe how it is to do this for yourself. It might be easy, you might have to come back to it. Take a breath and appreciate yourself for whatever in this process was useful to you. However you do it, you’re making progress.

Be really gentle with yourself; inner child work can be extremely tender. Many of us didn’t experience complete safety in childhood, whether that is physical or emotional safety. So give yourself credit every time you’re able to connect with your child-self.

This is a great exercise to do in writing. It’s a muscle to strengthen; you don’t need to be good at it the first time you go through it. It took years for me to patch a rocky connection to my child-self.

Good luck and let me know how it goes.

When overwhelmed by unfinished ideas…

Maybe you’ve worked for hours and it’s still not complete. You have no juice left. You’re impatient and overwhelmed.

Maybe you feel suffocated by the weight of your unfinished ideas. Or drown in the distance between idealized vision and reality.

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I crashed like that after my creative writing storm several weeks ago.

Clearly it was time to give those rough drafts space to breathe and focus on other things. A half-finished rough draft can feel as raw as a fresh wound. Especially when coming down from a creative high. Picking at the tenderness by constantly revisiting the drafts isn’t helpful.

I recognized that I needed to stop and rest. As the creative inspiration faded, I tried to hold onto the good feelings and eke out just a little more juice. Despair and depletion, spinning in mental energy without making forward progress on projects—it was time for a break.

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The break helped me see I’d lost sight of the progress I’d made. It’s hard to talk about things when they are unformed and developing. How do you describe a baby before it’s born? You know it exists. But you don’t know how it will act or how it will look. You may be excited and uncertain. There’s a tender protectiveness knowing it may not survive or be all that you want it to be.

That’s how I felt about my drafts. Excited and uncertain. Not wanting to name my works before I really knew who they were.

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There’s a few things that helped me tip the scales back into excitement from uncertainty. And find perspective.

Feelings aren’t always the truth. If you feel despair—saying to yourself “you won’t complete this, you’re just a dreamer and perfectionist”—question it.

You may have forgotten the progress you’ve already made. So check your hard drive, check your folders, check your journal, and remember.

It’s helpful to make lists:

  • What you’ve done already. (Projects, ideas, pieces that are in the final stages.)
  • What’s nearly done. (A midway draft you’ve put significant time, effort, or energy into.)
  • What you’ve begun. (Pieces worked on moderately.)
  • What feels like an exciting idea, but will take a few steps before progress can be made. (The list is a great place for ideas that may not happen for 5 years.)

Remember times when you DID successfully accomplish completion. Notice the good-feeling qualities they contain.

It seems like trite advice, but sometimes I have to ask myself, am I having fun? Or am I doing this because I think I should? That feeling of expansive open excitement can be the best indicator of which idea to continue dreaming on.

Being in the darkness is part of the journey. Along with the highs come the lows.

When you’re in the depths, remember: Progress isn’t always in the mirror. Or linear.

I’m curious how you honor the stages of your creative cycle. Let me know.