Five Ways to Write with an Open Heart

–Originally Published in the August 18, 2017 Newsletter for WriterHouse

“Don’t be afraid to be confused. Try to remain permanently confused. Anything is possible. Stay open, forever, so open it hurts, and then open up some more, until the day you die, world without end, amen.” ― George Saunders, The Braindead Megaphone

At noon on Saturday, August 12th, I sat in a meditation session with twenty-five other people. Cloistered in a yoga studio, we silently practiced loving kindness meditation while sirens blared and helicopters flew overhead. By the time the event ended, chaos had enveloped our downtown. Roving bands of angry men carrying shields and batons walked the city streets. Heather Heyer was dead.

The scene and the sounds were shocking. I couldn’t believe what was happening to my beloved city. By the time I made it home and turned on the news, the gravity of the situation began to sink in. The events were so terrible, I walked around in fugue state for days afterward. It was difficult to concentrate, let alone write. Eventually, I realized my heart had temporarily closed.

Maybe you felt that way too. Or, maybe you were courageous enough to pick up your pen, ready to channel the difficult feelings tragedies evoke.

As I’ve mediated about how to live up to George Saunders quote, I’ve reviewed all the practices I’ve learned and taught over the years. As a way to move forward, I thought I would share a few with you.

Write your stormy first draft: Write without censorship. Let the child have its way so you can feel what you feel. Snot bubble cry if you need to. Remember, this draft is only for you.

Find a way to get some distance from your work: Put that draft in a drawer. Burn a copy so the ashes can float freely on the wind. Make lists of what it’s all about. Distance will help you make meaning from your work, which is essential.

Write about the heroes as well as the heartache: While it may be true that if it bleeds it leads, resilience is based in hope. Saturday’s events may have brought out the worst in some people, but for others, it brought out the best.

Get spiritual: This doesn’t necessarily mean religious. Spirituality is simply the way we make meaning and find hope. Dial in to community and all that is good and just in the world. If you do nothing else, allow your mind a few minutes to be still. If you’d like some resources regarding self-compassion, check out Kristen Neff’s website.

Take time outs: While it’s great to process these events and work toward justice, it’s also important to take breaks. Write about difficult feelings for no more than twenty-minutes at a time. Walk in nature. Find activities that sustain you. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Treat it like one so you can, to quote Reverend Alvin Edwards (a speaker at Heather Heyer’s memorial), wear out rather than rust out. In other words, don’t let the writing life become so intense you bow out.

Be well, my writing friends. Find hope. Build unity. Keep showing up. Your beautiful words have tremendous value.

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