Walking Into Fire workshop notes

I did a writing workshop last weekend with Jen Louden and friends called Walking Into Fire.

It was subtly transformative–no dramatic processing like some workshops I’ve taken, but I’ve noticed my thoughts and actions shifting. Something is freed up in me around my work and purpose–that my thing is really just to be creative.


Creating Containers

There’s a new allowance for making my living space into one that supports my creativity. I’ve been rearranging, decluttering, and planning purchases that are solely to have a home that is beautiful, neat/orderly, and has the space and resources to support me in daily self-connection and creation.

I turned one of my workspaces into a dedicated Tarot/journalling space. I usually do these activities wherever, but by having a dedicated space means I can more easily create a daily practice of it. I have hung up my artwork and have a basket with all my sets of Tarot and affirmation cards.

And it works! I woke up this morning feeling crappy, and then I sat down and did some Tarot and whatnot and ended up with two SoulCollage cards and a much better mood. So there you go.

Craft: Noticing Structure and Thickening

My favorite section was when Jen talked about craft, and how to go from journalling for yourself to writing for others.

She told us to look deeply at books and notice the structure of them–and that the structure of a book can be the difference between success and not. So my mind has been keyed to this. Not just books–I’ve been playing Fable III and I notice the structure of the game is more cohesive and unobtrusive than Fable II.

Structure gives the work a body. Readers need structure. Writers do to. When you have a good structure, you can pour your ideas into it. (Being a web designer, this completely makes sense to me from an accessibility perspective.)

She also talked about thickening and deepening your writing–after the initial draft, taking phrases, ideas, or words and further developing them with free-writing (to bring in more “wild-mind”). Many unrealized pieces are too thin. Don’t go from drafting to editing–it’s wasteful to polish a too-thin piece, and then you get attached to the work you’ve done (which Jen calls “getting precious with it”). Draft, then thicken, and edit only at the end.

These two nuggets were a revelation. I needed to know what good writing is, in a more basic way than grammar and diction. And to know that it was possible for me to learn and practice, instead of it being this mysterious craft that nobody will explain (except to tell you “just write!”). Yes, “just write” is part of it. But there are more parts too, and something in me relaxed to receive these clues to the next steps beyond just giving myself permission.

What you have to say is the same as who you are

This message was infused into the whole day. It amounts to allowing your own life to be enough to inform your writing. You do not need to be a special person to be a writer; instead, you have to be willing to trust in your own life as enough. “Your life has a life of its own”. There is a narrative inside you, that is unfolding as you live. That’s the richness that you can bring; that’s your voice wanting to speak. And opening to that is the same as opening to your feelings, which is the purpose of meditation and self-connection practices.

It’s you. It’s your voice, it’s your life–that’s what you have to say.

You can’t play two intentions at the same time

If you’re on a stage, you can either play Hamlet or you can get the crowd to love you; you can’t play both intentions at once.

What I take from this is that you can either try to be famous and recognized, or you can do your work honestly and for its own sake.

It reminds me of the phrase, “Seek first the Kingdom of God, and all else will be added unto you”. Living in connection with God is the point. The rest will work itself out.

So in writing, do the writing. Understand what you want to say, who you are, what is in you that wants to be written. That’s the only way to create authentic work.

And you might get famous for that or you might not. And in many ways that’s a whole separate question and not the point of writing.

What you spend your time on becomes your work

If you spend your time promoting your writing and checking the bestseller lists, that has become your work. If you spend your time processing your feelings, that has become your work. So what do you want your work to be?

You have a lineage who want to bless you

This one is hard for me. I tend to think of myself as alone, in some fundamental way. That I don’t belong and don’t understand, and am really just visiting this planet and perhaps the next one will make more sense. So the idea of being part of a creative tradition, one of many millions who have taken the journey of exploring and expressing their creativity–it’s foreign and strange.

When this idea was presented, I thought of Einstein. And Emma Goldman, who I was named after. And writing this, I feel relieved. Because the people I’m around are always comparing themselves to Martin Luther King and Mother Theresa. But I am not a populous leader, and don’t want to be. I’m more akin to brilliant thinkers who were personally eccentric and opinionated.

Claim your authority

This was another message infused into the day. If not you, who? No one can speak with your voice but you.

Having the three speakers underscored this: each had different voices (literally), different messages, strengths, and even wardrobes. It supported a vision of a diversity of people, creating side by side and supporting each other–not competing with each other. They were each strong, and each had sovereignty.

Imbibe beauty

When you need inspiration, breathe it in. Wherever you are, take into your senses what you see. Look out the window and take in the colors of the leaves. Walk outside and smell the dirt. Let yourself be infused. This fills the well and nourishes your creativity. And it rewires the brain.

***

This year has been one of going off the rails. I came into it thinking I was going to create a coaching practice to help self-employed people transform their relationship with money and the business side of their work. I experimented and stretched myself and challenged my demons and in the end it didn’t happen.

Out of the journey, I got a magnificent mastermind group, discovered a gift for making worksheets, and got much clearer picture of what my anxiety about working with people looks like (if not how to resolve it).

This workshop felt like an affirmation and a reminder that I only have to be who I am. And who I am right now is someone who likes to think and write and design and create things that other people can use to help them discover things about themselves.

It’s also a marker that I am on a different path than I thought I would be. There is a measure of grief in that, and also a glimmer of excitement. I don’t know where this will lead; I have no idea what I will be doing 5 years hence. I’m not even sure what I want to be doing. There is more to discover about who I am and what gifts I have to bring the world.

I feel humbled by the process. I thought I could decide who I am and who I was going to be. It turns out that who I am had other ideas, and I’m more along for the ride than I thought.

I thought I was on a path, and there was a brick wall in the way, and I would hike up my skirts and smash headlong into it, emerging triumphant.

What actually happened was that I got weary of beating my head on it. I wandered off the path. I sat down in the grass and cried.

But looking around, I see there are many paths. Some lead around the brick wall. Some lead in entirely different directions. Perhaps, when I’m rested, I’ll explore some of them.

Comments

  1. How fantastic and wonderful to read this and see what you learned and took away! My gosh, I just loved reading this. Thank you for coming and for taking our work in such a rich way. Big grin!

  2. Hi Jen,
    Thank you, and thanks for stopping by! I really enjoyed the workshop and have always gotten a lot from your books. And, I appreciate the no-upsell philosophy. =)

    Emma

  3. I loved this article, and got a lot out of reading it. I’m always impressed by how open, thoughtful, and heart-centered your writing is. It’s very accessible and I actually felt this sense of safety for myself in reading it.

    I’ve recently started writing the book I’ve had in mind for years now to write. I got really into it, and have actually been writing at pretty much every opportunity. But. I’ve basically written three pages and have been going back and redoing them over and over. Every time I start to write more I become convinced the imaginary audience won’t be drawn in by it as is and I need to change things first…not helpful.

    So I’m taking the points about “playing Hamlet” to heart, and the very helpful guidance around structure and thickening. I’m going to play with it more. I’d had a goal to write twenty pages this week…these insights might help me do it.

  4. @Sarah
    Awesome. Yeah, I started my “book” a few weeks ago, wrote a few outlines, and then preceded to rewrite the introduction for three days before I realized I was totally off track.

    I think it’s scary to write the meat of it. The idea is beautiful and shiny, and then there’s the actual writing, and that prompts the imagining of the people reading it, and then it all becomes a pile of stuckness.

    So, my next step is to sit down and start creating a container for writing that will get me to refocus each day on what I want to say, instead of churning around who might read it. This container piece seems really important, to regroove our brain toward consistent writing instead of consistent churning. It’s part organization, part physical space, part mental framing, and part accountability and support. Probably some other parts I haven’t discovered yet. I need more (internal and external) structure to keep the “just write!” inspiration-idea part from fizzling out.

  5. Following up on that last comment, I think what the workshop gave me fundamentally was the permission to create the kind of structure that I imagined that a “real writer” would have to support their craft. Because I am a “real writer”.

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