“That’s the thing about pain,” Augustus said, and then glanced back at me. “It demands to be felt.”
~ page 63, The Fault in Our Stars
In the past three days, I’ve led two different groups of free-writers from ages 11 to 75.
The same free-writing process works for all ages, all the time. It’s remarkably simple. There are three steps. It takes ten minutes or less and always produces results.
If we are comfortable doing it alone and make the time, it’s free. The no strings and no agenda kind of free which means it’s available to anyone and everyone with pen, paper or a computer. The actually free free.
1. Find a prompt.
Use a quote. Pick the first line of the third paragraph in the nearest book. Google writing prompts or use the one at the end of this piece.
Using a prompt provides a new way into what might be old material. We come at it from another angle and what emerges might be different, maybe even revealing.
Instead of starting with “I” we come at our writing (and life) from a fresh perspective. Same house. New entry. This alone might change our focus or what we see—and write.
2. Keep the fingers moving.
The only time our fingers should be resting is before the writing starts and when it ends. Whether it’s 2 minutes or ten, the key is to not stop writing. The reason is not to avoid our hands cramping.
We don’t stop writing in order to get beneath the conditioned mind that worries about how we appear, seem or might sound. That’s the critical mind. The judge. Some call it the ego.
Tip: If what we wrote makes perfect sense, is easy to read or understand and well-punctuated, we were probably trying too hard. The critical part of our mind was in use. We love that part of the mind. It’s great for editing and revising and doing resumes.
It’s less fantastic for creative, raw and emotional writing—the kind that improves our immune system function and heals the heart.
3. Write the honest truth.
Remember, the person we are building trust with is ourself.
If what we must write is too hard to share and we worry that our words might be found or read then we can delete or shred them but we don’t self-censor. If necessary, we can buy a safe keep our words safe.
We also don’t alter our truth for a possible audience. The most important part of this process is being honest. It’s possible, even in a journal to deceive ourselves, to rationalize and justify anything.
It’s pretty impossible to lie if we are writing from our heart, gut and true center. That’s the part of us that comes alive in free-writing. And that’s the goal.
Not publishing (though we might).
Not making a pretty poem (though we might).
Not starting a social revolution (though we can hope).
It’s simple. But it’s not always easy.
On my 40th birthday, before my divorce, my ex gave me the best birthday party of my life. The day after, I woke up sad. I wrote in my journal that day,
“Lying to myself is over.”
I felt I should be happy and grateful.
I was grateful. I was not happy.
What kind of woman wakes up sad the day after a beautiful birthday bash?
The answer was this kind of woman. Me. I wasn’t happy.
In the past I would have judged and shamed myself, trying to force myself out of how I was feeling. Or what I used to consider being strong and tough. I now call it trying to force myself to be different, which is another form of lying and not accepting how and who I am.
So on day one of turning 40, I didn’t try to force myself to feel happy and I didn’t calculate and plan all the ways I would make myself more grateful.
Years later, it became quite clear exactly why I was feeling as I was. It made perfect sense and the sadness had a clarity that was honest even though my mind didn’t understand the why.
Years later, I knew I had “good” reason to be sad.
However, that’s not the important part. We don’t always know why we feel what we do.
But we do know what we feel.
We are people, not pantries. We are not individual items in well-marked containers that we can sort and alphabetize. We are a stew, cooking together in a world crock pot. Our spices and aromas get mixed, merging and marinating. Some smells can be tasted, ingested and felt even if we don’t take a bite.
Sometimes other people impact our emotions. Sometimes we impact others. Sometimes we get beef. Sometimes carrots. Same stew. Not always the same taste.
Writing gets to the part of us that’s human and emotional. The part that runs out in the rain and jumps in puddles and doesn’t care if we get wet. The part that swears when cut off in traffic even though we promised ourselves we weren’t going to swear anymore.
Writing helps us access the deeper self, the often unconscious or sub-conscious self that we cover up at work or parties—the inner self.
Writing helps the left and right parts of the brain be better friends.
Writing keeps the animal and higher brain swimming together in the same head.
Writing cleans up the debris in the heart and helps reveal the soul.
And that is why this form of free-writing is magical and radical and life-changing.
What I learned after my 40th birthday has stayed with me. I learned to acknowledge the truth of my feelings. First. Always. Even if I don’t know the why.
By honoring my true feelings, the entire day was not gloomy. In fact, I had more space within to enjoy the gifts and the love, the people and the effort that went in to making my birthday special. Had I spent the day fighting my own feelings or being mad at myself for feeling how I did, I would have been consumed by those feelings, leaving me to merely act happy in front of my friends and family instead of actually being happy—wearing a forced smile outside but feeling miserable inside.
Those days are mostly done. I care more about how I am rather than how I seem. And I’ve learned that often, admitting the truth, is all that’s necessary. I realized I don’t always have to do something or know what the feeling means.
Expressing, all by itself, has value.
We should all try it. Maybe, we will share our words or be inspired to change our lives in some way. Maybe we’ll just sleep better. We don’t have to worry about that.
We only need to write honestly about our own experiences, as we are having them and trust what comes up.
Start with being with ourselves, honestly and authentically, for two to ten minutes a week or a day.
It’s tiny and it’s huge.
It’s simple and it’s magical.
So, a prompt, inspired by my daughter, who is crazy for all things related to The Fault in Our Stars of late, is as follows:
What demands to be felt is…..
Okay. Let’s write.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Apprentice Editor: Kim Haas / Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: Emma Larkins via Flickr