Last weekend I attended the Compassionate Friend’s Conference in Houston, Texas. If you’re not familiar with TCF, it’s an organization that supports bereaved parents, grandparents, and siblings. At this year’s conference, I delivered talks on surviving the first year of grief, the role of forgiveness in the grieving process, and how to care for yourself when a sibling dies.
Story as a general concept, and my story in particular, played a role in all three presentations, because when it comes to life, our experiences are always informed not by what happened, but by the story we tell about it.
Sharing my grief journey made my memoir, which I’ve been diligently revising, feel both alive and important. To maintain this momentum, I need to capitalize on these feelings, which is no easy task.
This trip was number three of the four I’ll take this summer. (Next stop: HippoCamp). It’s nice to visit new places, meet new people, and see old friends, but all these disruptions in my routine are hell on my writing life. So, I’m proactively turning to Anne Carley’s book FLOAT: Becoming Unstuck for Writers.
While I’m not stuck, the premise of Anne’s book speaks to what I need. In FLOAT, she talks about the tension writers face between their need for connection and time alone with their projects. Often, it’s the tension between these poles, or an imbalance between them, that causes stuckness.
FLOAT is an acronym Anne created to systematically help writers understand why they’re stuck and then use specific tools to open up their creativity.
FLOAT stands for Focus, Listen, Open, Analyze, and Tool.
First, you focus on why you’re stuck, what being stuck looks like, and where it comes from. Then you listen for your inner wisdom, because deep down a part of you knows the problem.
Once you’ve identified the issue, you become open to any other messages that arise. Next, you analyze these messages to discover whether your issue stems from overconnection and overwhelm or loneliness and isolation.
After you’ve gained some clarity, you can choose one of the many tools Anne has developed over her years as a writing coach.
The tools have been organized based on the level of impact they’re likely to have on your project and your current level of connectedness.
My current issues are a no brainer. I’m in an extremely high connection period where I’m expending a lot of energy. Because I’m already taxed, I need strategies that will help me make steady progress without increasing my workload.
To do this, I chose two of her tools—Calendar It and Beat a Retreat.
The Calendar It tool helps you examine what your available writing time looks like, so you can schedule the types of writing that fit with your circumstances. For example, when you’re busy or experiencing frequent schedule disruptions, writing sprints or working on activities like line editing might be a more effective than attempting intensive story revisions.
In my case, the last two chapters of my book need a major overhaul. But instead of immersing myself in the pages I’ve written, I’ve scheduled time later this week to create a beat sheet for my chapters. After HippoCamp, I’ll use the beat sheet to inform my revisions.
Until then, I’ve decided to explore Beat a Retreat. This counterintuitive tool encourages you to take a break from your project so you can just be. Anne says, “sometimes just sitting, or just walking is a far better use of our creative time. Away from phones, texts, emails, and clocks—a retreat, in effect from the task at hand—will end up providing the ‘thinking time’ so essential to clarity, perspective, and a better manuscript.”
During one conference break, I “Beat a Retreat” by watching a storm roll across the Texas plains outside my hotel window. As the storm inched along the city and nearby refineries, it darkened an area, dumped rain I could actually see, then left, revealing blue skies.
I thought about how life and books mimic these storms—lives darkening, problems raining down, the light that always follows.
The focus of this draft has been capturing the rays of light in some of my darkest experiences, a feat that for a long time felt like a tall order. But speaking at this conference and watching the storms roll by showed me how to do it.
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