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Write it raw

Several writers around me recently complained of writer’s block. This frustrating state of non-word flow usually occurs when someone is determined to write specific content in a certain way, but his or her deeper self is saying: “No, let’s go this different way, because that’s what you truly want to say.” If the writer ignores this inner prompt, writer’s block will set in.

The solution? Let go and surrender to what wants to come out. This can be a scary about-face for those who never start writing without an outline first. It might even require switching genres. Whatever the change, the words that flow will ring rawer and truer than those you tried to constrain with a structure that didn’t fit.

I recommend Victoria Nelson’s book Writer’s Block and How to Use It. Natalie Goldberg’s free-writing exercises in Wild Mind and Writing Down the Bones also provide inspiration for loosening your mind’s hold on words. This process works — I’ve done it for years. Try it, and let me know how it worked for you.

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To use writing as a spiritual practice requires immersing yourself in the unknown. Rabbi Rami, who runs a creative writing program at Middle Tennessee State University, provides three rules for this kind of writing:

  • Don’t write what you know
  • You can’t write what you don’t know
  • You must write.

Gee, and I thought that “What’s the sound of one hand clapping?” was enough of a mind-twist. His first rule — “Don’t write what you know” — jarred me because that contradicts the advice that every writer learns: “Write what you know.” Yet, I get it. We need to be humble enough to know that we don’t have all of the answers. We need to be okay with not knowing where we’re headed, and to trust that our words will get us there. As Rami says: “Authentic spiritual practice . . . is about living outside the system, any system.”

He recommends that you keep writing until you find something “deeply, disturbingly troubling,” until you’ve shattered all of your expectations, and then you marvel. I can attest to this. I’ve been working on a disturbing book intensively for almost four years; I started it about twenty years ago. It has been the most challenging and painful writing I have ever done, but also the most rewarding and freeing. As Rami says: “[T]here is a liberating wisdom in insecurity.”

Writing as spiritual practice is writing to be free, not necessarily publishable or even good. One of Goldberg”s rules of writing is “Give yourself permission to write the worst junk in the world.”  I like that. Now if only I could do that when I’m on deadline . . .

March 15, 2011 at 8:37 am
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