Please join me for a Sunday afternoon workshop on Writing as a Spiritual Practice on March 30 at beautiful Mercy Center in Burlingame, CA.
The blank page…the empty Word document. What to do when the creative juices aren’t flowing, and none of the old tricks work? The two best answers I’ve found are:
1. Start writing anyway.
2. Find some new tricks.
START WRITING COLD AND DUMB
Why start writing before we are “in the Zone,” ready to be brilliant, and feel creativity coursing through our veins? Because sometimes, we just have to do it that way. Writing cold and dumb often primes the pump. That courageous, faith-filled act often lifts us into the Zone.
One of my favorite pieces of advice comes from Sam Barry and Kathi Kamen Goldmark in Write that Book Already (Adams Media, 2010):
“The Zone is a creative state of mind in which the writing flows…You feel connected to your own imagination, ideas flow, synapses connect, and before you know it you have filled the page. New writers make the mistake of thinking they have to feel the Zone before they begin work, when more often it is the other way around. Getting in the Zone comes from the act of writing…Just don’t wait for the imagined, perfect moment…Start writing and the muse will come. Not every time, but keep at it and the muse will come enough for you to get the initial writing done.”
Words to live by, along with Annie Lamott’s admonition to write “shitty first drafts.” We don’t always have to write from inspiration; we can write toward inspiration. Begin. Trust. The magic will come if we do our part and get those keys moving.
FIND SOME NEW TRICKS
We all have our tricks for getting the juices going and for writing in the Zone, but not all tricks last forever. No problem. We just need to find new ones.
Lighting a votive candle used to work for me, but then I got cats—curious, fearless, very large orange tabby brothers who thought it was the world’s job to stay out of their way, not the other way around. I switched to incense, then to a host of other tricks. I used what worked, and discarded them when they stopped working.
Writing charms, tricks, and juju are everywhere. Some writers jump up and down. Others run around the block. Still others meditate or do yoga. The best tricks are those you make up yourself. Here are a few tricks that actually involve writing:
- Free-writing, as offered by Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones (Shamballah, 2005) and Wild Mind (Bantam, 1990). She suggests letting yourself write off the top of your head without thinking or being specific. Just keep your hand moving. Don’t worry about punctuation, spelling, or grammar. Write bad stuff, but write the truth.
- Morning pages, as offered by Julia Cameron in The Artists Way (Tarcher/Putnam 2002). Every morning, write three pages of whatever comes to mind without any judgment or self-criticism.
- Mind mapping. Begin with one circle that contains your central idea, and free associate out to smaller circles that connect with that idea. Add more circles farther out on the map until a sense of meaning and flow emerges.
Prime the pump, or just jump in the pool. Do whatever works for you. It’s not just writing that’s an inside job; it’s also the process of starting to write, putting your hands on the keyboard and moving your fingers, even before you know what will come out. That’s the real magic.