What I’m about to say about this is likely very different from the ten thousand things you may have run across on the internet about choosing what to focus on and finding inspiration for your work. Not that those other things aren’t cool – they are. I’ve gotten a lot out of writing prompts, and Nanowrimo’s Adopt a Plot forum, and blogs about find topics about writing blogs.
But if I’m working on something bigger – a novel, the copy on my website that’s supposed to be an authentic representation of the kind of work I want to do to change the world, or a magazine article to submit to a publication that goes out to tens or even hundreds of thousands of people – my heart has to be in it, one hundred percent. It has to be the work’s beginning, and it’s end.
Tell me if this sounds familiar: you have a feeling that there is something within you that wants to come out, if you could just put your finger on it. Maybe it’s an idea for a whole new project, or maybe it’s finding the next step in something that you’re already working on. It’s the perfect thing. It feels beautiful, powerful, like a spark of fire inside of you.
But it’s also a slippery little devil. And you can’t think of exactly what it is. And then the monkey mind starts to have it’s fun.
One of the favorites tricks my monkey mind likes to play is search and search and search for a good idea, and when I come up with one, to tell me that it’s cliché, or rote, and that I’ll put tons of time into something that my friends will read and think less of me for, because it’s so trivial. So then I try to think up something that will be new and fresh and unusual, which monkey mind will respond is pretentious.
There’s just no winning in that game. The key is getting out of the game entirely.
We need to source our writing ideas from someplace else, other than the intensity of our analytical prowess. It can still be from within our minds – after all, our minds include the beautiful powers of visioning and imagination. And we can use the powers of our linear capabilities in service to our imagination and our hearts, when we are developing plot or synching up a series of blog posts to create a series, for example.
But when trying to decide what to write, or anytime you’re really stuck, it’s the heart that will guide you through.
To do that, here’s what I invite you to do:
1) Find yourself someplace lovely, and private, to be. That could be a café, if your home is too busy for you to be undisturbed there. It can be Tilden Park, or Bernal Hill. It can be the shower.
2) Do something to get your mind to be quiet, and to set the judgement-and-expectation-demons at bay for a little while. That could be some kind of breathing or meditation technique, but it also could be listening to your favorite music, or stretching and moving your body for a little while.
3) Ask yourself, “What do I want to write about? What is pulling me right now? What would I really like?” Then be quiet and let your Self answer, in all of the more subtle ways that it does. Give Self a little time to pontificate without asking it the hard questions about how, why, or for whom. Just see what floats up. You could also do this as an automatic writing exercise by setting a timer for five minutes, putting your pen to the page or fingers to the keypad, and letting loose until the buzzer goes off.
4) After you have a couple of possible ideas or bare-glimpses-of-ideas (two to four is a good number), do something to shake out the energy. That could be literally shaking, standing up to stretch, or changing the music on Pandora.
5) Now go back to your conversation with Self. Ask, “What’s important about this?” for each of the ideas that you came up with. Notice that we are not asking ourselves what stinks about it or is unrealistic or is has poor marketing potential. Just, what’s important about it, or “what will writing about this do (or mean) for me?” You could set the old timer again if doing this as an automatic writing exercise works for you.
6) Shake out the energy again, and ask yourself, again for each idea, “How would I know that this piece of writing was successful? What would the language be like, the tone, and how would I feel reading it, and writing it?”
7) Go take a short walk.
8) Come back, look at what you’ve written, and make a decision based on that. Or sleep on it, and make your decision the next day – unless, of course, you’ve committed to writing 1500 words a day and already 855 words behind, like I am.
9) Tell us all how it went and what else works for you when you’re trying to figure out what to write about in the comments below.
In the writer’s trenches with you,
Words for yesterday: 1845 (1200 for the blog, 645 novel)