Over the weekend, I celebrated my forty-seventh birthday with a cake, a silly Facebook post, and a dinner party with actual humans.
I planned everything myself.
This might not seem like a big deal to you, but I grew up in a home where having opinions, wants, or needs could lead to a crisis that ended with your favorite belongings smashed against the floor.
By early adulthood, I’d mastered the ability to suppress my desires for even simple things. If someone asked what I wanted for dinner I said, “I don’t know. What do you want?”
Whatever the response, I replied, “Me too.”
Once, this strategy led to a celebration dinner for a promotion I’d received at Red Lobster. Just so you know, I can’t stand seafood. My stomach churned as I inhaled clouds of fish-flavored air and gnawed on a corn cob while my partner scarfed down Cheddar Bay Biscuits and bites of lobster tail.
Ever chewed on a corn cob?
It’s a lousy way to pass the time.
But dinner isn’t the only place where we suppress our desires.
Sometimes, we treat our writing lives the same way.
How many times have you poopooed an idea that felt too outrageous?
Or revised a story to please the person in your writing group or class who seemed to know best, even though their feedback fundamentally changed your story?
Ever abandoned a manuscript because someone said it wasn’t marketable?
Your ideas are your currency.
Unlike money in a bank account that earns interest, unused creative ideas lose their value.
So how do you turn the spark of an idea into an actual story?
You write a shitty first draft.
But it’s not that simple. To write that shitty first draft, you have to trust yourself and the process.
Here’s an exercise to help you build a little trust.
Make sure to set aside between thirty minutes to one hour so you can complete items 1 – 4 during one writing session.
- Meditate for five minutes. If you’re new to meditation or want to expand your meditation repertoire, check out this blog post.
- After your meditation, set a timer for three minutes then begin with the following line: I want to write about… Don’t stop until the timer sounds.
- When time is up, star the most interesting item. This is your desire.
- Set a timer for twenty minutes and begin the shitty first draft of that story. If the first twenty minutes energizes you, you can write for another twenty minutes. Try to keep going until the idea begins to feel like a project.
- If you’ve just completed your first draft, continue with this step. But, if you’ve taken a break, reread your piece. Once you’re ready, ask yourself which organ in your body houses this story.Don’t think about it. Just write down your first answer.
- If your mind blanks, write the following line in your journal. If I had to guess where the story lives it would be…. Using your nondominant hand, write down the first organ that comes to mind.
- Once you have an answer, click here to discover how your organs and emotions are connected. As you read through this blog post, did you notice any connections? Which emotion resonated with you? Use this information to strengthen your story’s conflict.
- Next, write down everything you know about this emotion. For example, what do you know about anger?
- Where does it come from?
- Who’s allowed to be angry?
- How have you healed (or not healed) your anger?
- How does anger influence the story idea you came up with?
- How does the character’s understanding of anger evolve over the course of the story?
Answering these questions can help you build a narrative arc.
Keep it up and you might even find a theme.
- Now, return to your shitty first draft and keep writing.
Trust that the story is teaching you something important. All you need to do is show up and listen to what it has to say.
Trusting in your creative process helps build the creative intuition each writer must develop.
If you want to truly understand its power, join me this Thursday, 4/15/21, from 1:00 PM – 2:30 PM EDT for my pay-it-forward generative writing class where we’ll put these principles into practice.
All I ask in return is that you either donate to your favorite writing organization ($10 minimum) or find a way to support another writer. Buy a book. Share an essay on social media. Write a review then post it on Amazon and Good Reads.
To join the class, send me an email by Wednesday 4/14/21 at 5:00 PM EDT. Be sure to send me a screenshot of your donation or effort to support another author.
Completing this exercise and showing up to this class are opportunities to claim your creative space.
It’s a little like saying this is what I want for dinner.
It’s such a simple thing, and yet it can have powerful results.
I hope to see you this Thursday.
And when you finish this exercise let me know what it taught you about the writing process.