A Cure For Writer’s Block: Channelling Your Mystic Muse

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Recently I’ve been reading a wonderful book called Mothers of the Village: Why All Moms Need the Support of a Motherhood Community and How to Find It for Yourself. The author C.J Schneider talks about having post-natal depression after her third baby, and the importance of having a village of other mothers around us who can support each other.

Part of the way she lifted herself out of her depression, was to build a meaningful life for herself, which involved supporting herself and other mothers with childcare swaps, and regular time for her writing.

One of the most interesting chapters of the book was entitled, ‘Develop Your Inner Mystic.’ In it Schneider writes about how mothers after often very conflicted between choosing work or family, or trying to juggle the two. She talks about how Martha Beck, an American sociologist and life coach who describes a different kind of woman – a ‘mystic,’ who, ‘knows her path – they know it from some deep, sacred place inside them, and because their decisions come from this strong place they are able to walk their path with clarity and confidence.’

So much of what it means to be mystic can be applied to writing too.

For example just the other day I was really trying to wrestle with an article I wanted to write about when my grandmother died. Through my parenting work I’d learnt that tears are a healing process for emotional recovery and this helped me so much to recover from the grief. I could dive deep into my emotions, and even in the midst of my sadness, a little part of me knew things would be better after I’d cried.

However the article just wasn’t coming together. I could of dismissed it as writer’s block, as a bad writing day, and just shut my computer and done something else. This might be okay if you are young and carefree with plenty of free time to dedicate to writing. But who really has infinite time??

I’m a busy mum, and I only had those two hours while my daughter was playgroup. I knew that I had to get some writing done there and then. I also believe that writer’s block doesn’t actually exist.

What actually happens I think is that our subconscious has a story to tell, and when we ignore our subconscious voice, and try to consciously choose what to write we get stuck.

As I was struggling with that article, I asked myself what is it I really need to write today>? Now my subconscious wasn’t having a very profound day and it didn’t actually want to reflect on grief and healing. It wanted me to write up these 5 tips for the writing career of your dreams for Britmums The article flowed, once I let go of what ‘I’ wanted to write.

And that’s been the secret of my writing ‘success’ so far. If ‘I’ had any choice I’d be writing novels. But instead, I’m finding my writing is coming from a subconscious urge to help others, and share the important information that has helped me. For now, at least!

A couple weeks later I got an email from the editor of Kindred Spirit Magazine, to tell me they really liked my pitch on an article about the healing power of tears. I had completely forgotten that I had sent in the pitch, and I had said I would write about my grandmother’s death. Now I had a specific magazine in mind, I knew the best thing was to start that article from scratch after reading a few copies of the magazine and getting an idea of their style.So listening to my ‘mystic muse’ was actually the best idea!

What does your mystic muse want to write today? Sometimes spending 10-15 minutes journalling can help us get through our blocks and decide what to write. 

What helps you navigate your writing blocks? I’d love to hear from you! 

 

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Writers Getting Out There – 5 Tips For Self-Promotion

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I’ve left this blog abandoned for the past three years as I trained to be a Hand in Hand parenting instructor, and wrote a book Tears Heal: How to listen to our childrenSo I appreciate you reading this whether you are one of my original subscribers or have just discovered it!

Recently I’ve been feeling the call to focus more on the writers process, and the world of reading and writing. So I hope I will be blogging more recently (although I never know where my muse is going to take me).

As a parent the only way I could write a book was to hibernate at evenings, and weekends. But now it’s finished I’ve returned to my old writer’s group, and I’m looking forward to connecting in person with other writers, as I develop my own writing. Maybe I’ll even return to one of my novels that have been also lying abandoned on my computer!

That’s my dream, but instead I find myself focused more on the outside world. There’s a scary statistic about published writers that 1/4 of them don’t make back their original advance. I love writing and I would love to make a living out of it, and I know that takes a lot of work.

I read a wonderful book called Create Your Writer Platform Create Your Writer Platform, by Chuck Sambuchino, which is all about how in the modern age writers need to be their own publicist. Following Chuck’s wonderful advice I’ve been able to see how the internet can be a way to make real human connections, and that we can enjoy the process of getting out there on Facebook and Twitter, without sounding like a salesperson.

And it’s working. Now I get messages every week from people telling me how much they love my parenting blog, Listening To Tears and how they can’t wait for my book to come out. Now these online connections are even going offline, as I’m meeting a fellow parenting instructor in Zurich, and another writer who’s coming to Basel.

Here’s five tips about self-promotion that I’ve learnt so far.

  1. Be a friend. It’s quite simple. When I uploaded the cover of my book to Facebook, I was thrilled by all the positive comments, and the people who spontaneously decided to share it with all their friends. What I noticed is was that it was my closest, best friends, that shared it. Or the people who shared a passion for parenting in the same way I do. Or my writing friends who know how important it is to support each other. Social media is a great way to reach out to people, but in an age where there is less real face-face human connection, it is still the most powerful tool. What a great excuse to get out there, and meet some writing friends for a bit of face-face writing therapy!
  2. Make Real Human Connections I must admit that I was pretty negative about social media until I read Create Your Writer Platform. I think sometimes our assumption is that these interactions are not real, means that we don’t use social media to it’s full potential. We forget there is a real live human through sitting at another computer. So when people tweet or Facebook you, or leave a comment about your blog, be sure to message them back, listen to them, thank them, and remember they are a real human being.
  3. Don’t be a walking advert. This is something Sambuchino really emphasises in his book. If we are on Facebook or Twitter constantly broadcasting about our book, people are going to quickly get bored with us, and mute us out and unfollow.
  4. Take an interest in others. A better tactic is to be interested in other people. So if you are on Twitter or Facebook, don’t just broadcast your own stuff. Be sure to retweet others. Pick people who you are genuinely interested in, perhaps writers who are similar to you. Regularly commenting and interacting with people you like, won’t feel like self-promotion, because it’s also about simply building relationships. You might even make an offline friend!
  5. Show Some Of Your Personality If you share someone else’s post on Facebook, or twitter, be sure to write a comment that reflects who you are as a person. Then you’re not just someone silently reposting or retweeting, but a real person that people can get to know.

I hope these tips are helpful. If you’re a writer or blogger, and would like to share what works for you, I’d love to hear from you!

Check out Create Your Writer Platform for more tips

Guest Post: Writing your Way to a Mindful Existence

thanks to Jenna Mayhew, and Caroline Macory, for submiting this wonderful guest post.

Writing your way to a mindful existence

Do you find yourself overwhelmed by the pressures of modern living? For some people, stress is so commonplace that it has become a way of life. They live life at a fast pace, constantly rushing to meet deadlines, complete tasks and fit as much as possible into their day.

Mindfulness is a way of slowing down and paying attention to the current moment and it can provide a vital break for those leading busy, stressful lives. It helps you to concentrate your attention on the here and now. It offers a way of focusing on your breath, your thoughts and feelings and your physical sensations at the present time.

Mindfulness is more than careful observation. It is also an attitude and an approach to life. It quietly acknowledges without seeking answers or questioning motives. It doesn’t judge. It’s about exploring the present moment with curiosity.

Practising mindfulness can give you more insight into your emotions, boost your attention and concentration and improve relationships. It is proven to help with stress, anxiety, depression and addictive behaviours and can even have a positive effect on physical health problems like hypertension, heart disease and chronic pain.

Another technique that has been found to produce significant improvements to physical and emotional health is expressive writing.

Expressive writing is very simply writing about your thoughts, feelings and experiences. The purpose of expressive writing is not to find answers, but rather to sit with the experience, and change your relationship to it, by translating it into words. Language is powerful; and through writing, previously unnamed anxieties become concrete, manageable fears.

So here we have two techniques, mindfulness and expressive writing, that have both been shown to improve health and well-being and provide us with a new focus and perspective. What other characteristics do they share?

Well, both practices involve self-directed attention and encourage a heightened awareness; both generate a sense of curiosity and require a particular form of non-judgemental observation.

Both mindfulness and expressive writing are approaches that help you transform implicit and unconscious thoughts, feelings, memories and perceptions into explicit and conscious ones. They provide you with a deeper understanding of yourself and allow you the time and space to attach words to experiences and perceptions, giving them a new identity.

When you start to explore these areas of your life, regardless of the method you use, you’ll start to find some incredible changes in your life. Relationships improve, stress reduces, overall mood improves, sleep gets better and your immune system strengthens, just to name a few. Overall, you’ll start to experience better emotional, psychological, social and physical health.

Expressive writing improves your ‘mindful awareness’ by:

a) leading to increased awareness, allowing you to gain insight into feelings and thoughts that you were previously unaware of;

b) allowing you to confront your experiences safely by writing about them rather than talking, which can sometimes be more difficult.

One study found that individuals who received high mindfulness scores responded better to expressive writing. That is, if you are already ‘mindful’ or ‘mindfully aware’, you’ll get more benefit out of expressive writing than an individual with less mindfulness.

There are also particular writing exercises that can assist you to combine these two approaches – helping you to still your mind and observe yourself in the present moment through writing.

Try the mindfulness writing exercise outlined below:

Take some time out of your day and place a blank piece of paper and a pen in front of you. Observe carefully what is going on around you – the noises, the smells, the objects. Observe, but don’t let your story-telling mind take over. If you notice your mind drifting to past or future events, simply observe these thoughts, set them aside, and return to direct observation. Notice how your body feels, particularly any areas of stress or any aches and pains. Write down everything that you observe in the present moment.

Like mindfulness, writing is an activity that you can return to time and time again. Both require very little in the way of equipment or preparation, and can help you to ground yourself and regain a sense of calm. Mindfulness and writing are two very separate, yet potentially overlapping practices, both offering a welcome escape from a busy, pressure filled world.

Write As Rain is an email-based counselling and therapy service that celebrates the benefits of writing. You can email a therapist at any time, from anywhere. No appointments, no waiting, no travel and no fuss.

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Writing your intuitive wisdom

Intuition is a wonderful tool that can allow us to unlock our creative potential, and transform our lives.

In her book, ‘Emotional Freedom,’ Judith Orloff MD defines intuition as ‘a potent wisdom..a practical, smart decision-making aid…Intuition can be a hunch, a dream, a ‘’knowing’’, specific guidance, or a warning of danger.’’

She explains that the phrase ‘gut feeling,’ is actually literally true. Cutting edge scientists have now discovered a kind of brain in the gut, called the ‘enteric nervous system.’ It is a network of neurons that learn and store information.

Intuition, is a kind of knowledge that can help us make better decisions, and avoid the endless circling in our heads, that leads to nowhere. When we write intuitively, our characters seem to take on minds of their own, our words flow, effortlessly, we are no longer thinking.

But we have to find our intuition, we have to switch off our minds, and allow our writing to come from a different place. When I began to write while being consciously aware of my body, I found a voice that was wiser than myself, who wrote much better words than me. They did not even seem like my words anymore.

Here are some other things that help switch off our circling minds; Go for a walk or swim before writing, dance around the living room,  meditate. Write somewhere out in nature far away from distractions, so your intuition has the space to speak.

If you’re a beginning writer staring at a blank page, your head can sometimes sabotage the process by worrying about what you will write, and whether it will be good enough. But you can simply ask your intuition ‘’what should I write?’’ and your intuition will answer at the speed of light. Simply write down the first thing that comes to you, no matter how strange or ridiculous it seems. Keep doing this, following the trail that you intuition leads you along.

My intuition has never let me down, when I ask questions, it answers. These could be questions about my life, or about my writing. When I was in my early twenties, I worried about when I would have children, so I wrote down the question, and then the answer that popped into my head. At 32 years old. I actually had my daughter two months before thirty second birthday, so perhaps your intuition, can’t always foresee the future! But it can make an accurate intelligent estimation, based on you and what might happen.

Recently I was struggling to write a novel, trying to find the time, getting frustrated by interruptions, and feeling upset, about how I would never fulfill this dream of mine. Then I wrote this simple question on the page. ‘’Why can’t I write a novel?’’ My intuition explained, that at this stage in my life, with a young baby, I just don’t have the headspace for it, and I have other writing projects that I need to work on first, such as my book about creative writing and healing. When that’s done, then my head will be empty for a novel. I’m much happier to leave my dream on the shelf for a while, because now I understand that I just need to be patient.

In modern western society, we are led far from our intuition. We are taught to think and talk, but not so much about how to listen.  Writing is a trail back to ourselves, to the intuitive voice that whispers in our bodies, a wise voice, that will give you an answer, just a long as you remember to ask.

Writing Exercise;

Write a question, about your life or your writing ambitions. Then write the answer, the first thing that pops into your head.

The way stories flow through your veins

Have you ever taken a yoga or tai chi class, and noticed that your body seems to have a zing at the end of it? Have you ever felt the tingles beneath your skin, the energy flowing? Or perhaps you have been to a meditation class and noticed, that when you bring focused attention to your body you start noticing all sorts of subtle sensations, that you weren’t aware of before.

Yogi’s call it prana, tai chi practitioners call it Chi; the life force that flows through every living thing.  According to Chinese philosophy, when chi flows easily, we feel healthy and the body can naturally heal ourselves. When chi is blocked we can experience illness.

Writing can give you that tingly, zingy feeling too, all you need to do is become aware of how your body feels as you write. Lie down with a notebook and pen, and write down one thought after another, focusing on how your body feels as you write. If a thought tenses your muscles, then focus on relaxing them. If you notice your breathing getting hurried, then bring some attention there until it slows and lengthens.

Keep writing your thoughts, and you may find that your focus heightens, and you are aware of more subtle sensations in your body. You may find discomfort or knots of tension, and a flurry of thoughts, that seem to come from a particular area.

As you drop deeper into concentrated focus on your body and your mind, your thoughts will start to flow more easily, and with more clarity. Ultimately chi, or prana, is a creative energy, and by bring your attention to it, you find the pathway to follow the thread of your words.

The healing power of tears, and how listening changes everything

Finding a listener for your stories can make all the difference 

I am the mother of a 10-month old daughter Ruby. When I was pregnant I worried a lot about what sort of mother I’d be and how I could bring her up to be happy. We all seem hurt in some ways by our upbringing and having that responsibility for a child seemed overwhelming. I read a lot of books about parenting, and discovered something fascinating.

Babies and children instinctively heal themselves from trauma and upset by crying, and laughter. Stress hormones such as cortisol are released through tears.

However as parents we often think it is our job to stop or minimise crying. So when babies cry, we feed them even when they’re not hungry, or give them a dummy to stop the crying. When toddlers tantrum we may try to ignore them, or if in public, give into their demands to try and keep them quiet!

Hand in Hand parenting is a parenting organisation, that teachers a method called Parenting by Connection. The idea is to maintain a close connection with your child. To play and listen to them in a way that promotes laughter, and love, and sometimes tears. And if a child cries, then then you should stay with them, offer support, love and a listening ear.

Have you ever had the experience of feeling upset and somebody asks if you’re okay, and then you suddenly burst into tears? Having a supportive listener actually makes us cry harder. If we support children, when they cry, rather than trying to stop them, then they will always have that innate mechnaism, of healing through expressing emotions.

The Hand in Hand approach, has started me wondering about why creative writing is healing. Writing softened me up, it turned anger and hardness into sadness and tears. It took a long time to work through this process, because like most of us, the natural expression of my emotions had been tampered with.

James Pennebaker noted that in his study, participants cried when they wrote about trauma. Perhaps their greater health and happiness was in part due to the tears they released.

In Autumn I will begin training as a Hand in Hand parenting instructor, another job I’d like to do alongside writing and creative writing teaching. In my interview I was asked about emotional release and if I’d done anything to release my own emotions through tears. Hand in Hand recommends that parents have a listening partnership, in which we share listening time about the issues with our lives with another person. The idea is that this listening partnership, gives us the chance to release our own emotions through laughter and tears.

I’d never had a listening partnership before, but I had written to heal my emotions. Was that the same thing? In my interview I was told that it wasn’t, because writing in a journal doesn’t have the same warmth of having a real person listening to you.

Then I began to think a bit more, about the times I’d shared my writing with others, about trembling, at speaking allowed about things that had been going around and around in my head. I’d read extracts from my writing at writing workshops that felt like group therapy, but with the added bonus of trying to turn the dust of our lives into beautiful words.

Writing in a journal can help us to intellectually understand our lives but part of the healing process is the sharing. That though we may have been hurt, we can find someone to trust with our stories. In public or in private, I think sharing our words is an essential part of the healing process. In laboratory studies where writing increases health and happiness, could this be partly due to the fact that participants feel that the investigator has read their stories?

After my daughter was born, I was swept up in the joy of being a mother. I felt like I was healed. But then I began my own listening partnership. I began again telling my life story, and feeling, shaky and sad again. Having a listener had made me feel soft again, but this was actually a good thing. Afterwards I was more creative, words flowed more easily. I was no longer knotted up and tight, too busy with being a mother. Finding a supportive listener gave me the time and space to go into myself.

It’s an amazing gift now, to be able to live creativly while being a busy mum, and I wouldn’t have been able to do that without being listened to. It took me back to myself, and made me realise I still had healing to do. I’ll always having healing to do. But that’s a good thing, because I leave the pain, floating around in a conversation, or written on the page. It doesn’t interfere with my life. My days are happier, because I’ve searched inside for sadness and left it behind.

The Two Minute Miracle — How creative writing can improve your health

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Just two minutes of creative writing about positive and negative life-experiences can improve your health and well-being.

James Pennebaker discovered that writing about trauma or upheavel in your life for fifteen minutes on four separate occasions, resulted in 50% less trips to the doctor, and greater happiness, and well-being.

This study has been replicated many times, with different writing subjects such as writing about the happiest moments in your life, or writing about future life goals. Each study resulted in less trips to the doctor, and greater happiness.

Psychologist Laura King wanted to know what the minimum amount of writing time was necessary in order to improve health and happiness. In her study participants wrote for two minutes, on two separate occasions, on either a traumatic or happy life event. The result was greater reported happiness and less trips to the doctor in the following month.

But why does it work? “We don’t know why it works, but it really works,” King says. Pennebaker explains that writing about a life event makes it simpler in our minds, so people, ”don’t have to obsess. People sleep better, they’re more socially connected, they laugh more.”

As humans we are naturally born storytellers, and the stories we tell help us to live and learn. Laura King, explains, “When we write about ourselves, we’re writing a story that ultimately serves as our identity, …When we take a moment to think about our lives as a story, we get these insights that we would not have otherwise.”

Perhaps the reason why writing can improve our physical health, lies in the interconnectedness of body and mind. If we work to tend the wild gardens of our minds, then our bodies will benefit too, and vice versa.

So far there hasn’t been much research into the effect of longer writing periods on the mind and body, and James Pennebaker actively warns against it, saying that two much writing might lead to ‘naval-‘gazing,’ and an unhealthy preoccupation with the negative aspects of our lives.

However we also don’t really know how to maximise the health benefits of creative writing. Perhaps if we write about the whole spectrum of human emotion, not just the negative things that happen to us, then we can achieve balance in our writing and lives. There may also be health benefits to engaging in a long term writing project such as a memoir. Louise De Salvo’s book, Writing As a Way of Healing, describes  the pleasure and the sense of accomplishment we get from editing, and rewriting, our raw emotion. And the way that long-term focussed attention helps us to understand and accept the past.

In my personal practise of writing, I use the meditative techniques of watching my emotions as they arise, concentrating on the sensations in my body, and breathing. This seems to give me a strong and safe foundation, so I don’t get swept away by negative thoughts, but simply watch them, write them and then let them go.

Writing in this meditative way, I find that the longer I write, the more heightened my consciousness is, the more relaxed, and happy I begin to feel, as I clear out all the negative junk that has built up in my mind.

But on busy days,  it’s good to know that all we need is two minutes. Carry a tiny notebook with you,  lock yourself in the bathroom if necessary, and always remember that you do have enough time!