The Inner Voice and Outer Flow of Writing
Have you ever sat down to write, only to feel an immense resistance to getting started?Â Youâ€™ve tried every â€śtrick of the tradeâ€ť for giving the inner editor the slip or for creating a welcoming space for the muse, but the ideas are just … not … flowing.Â Maybe youâ€™ve been following all the advice and strategies that are supposed to at least facilitate, if not guarantee, writing success but your writing style feels contrived and the topic is leaving you as flat as an out-of-tune piano.
If you are writing in a voice or style that isnâ€™t fully yours alone, why would you expect it to sound anything but flat and forced? If your soulâ€™s melody is a baroque symphony and your natural style edges toward eloquently written essays or epics, letâ€™s face it: Youâ€™re not going to be happy writing the equivalent of short little ditties or commercial jingles, even though other writers may love and excel at those formats.Â Similarly, if you are writing on a topic because thatâ€™s what you think you â€śshouldâ€ť be covering but it doesnâ€™t resonate with you, itâ€™s difficult to craft an inspired piece of writing.Â No matter what writing techniques you use to jazz it up, that flat, uninspired tone is going to linger in the background.
I heard an interesting story, a while back, about the singer Al Green.Â Apparently when he was first starting out, he wasnâ€™t quite hitting the mark in terms of capturing a lot of listeners.Â The reason, apparently, was because he was trying to sing like the Soul music guru of his early daysâ€”James Brownâ€”rather than sounding like himself. Â If youâ€™ve heard either of them sing, you know that Al Greenâ€™s voice is silky smooth compared to James Brownâ€™s grittier vocals.Â Â Now Iâ€™m sure he did a great job of trying to sound like James Brown, but Al Green became a whole lot more successful after his producer persuaded him to embrace and build on the strengths of his own vocal style.
One of the best examples that comes to my mind of being true to how you express your inner selfÂ is the character â€śMumbleâ€ť in the movie Happy Feet.Â Remember the little Emperor penguin who couldnâ€™t find his unique heart-song or hold a note to save his place in his community? He was ostracized for his perceived â€śfailureâ€ť and â€śrefusalâ€ť to conform to the norm, but he wasnâ€™t trying to be difficult or contrary. Itâ€™s just that his soul wasnâ€™t meant to express itself through song: He had happy feet, a great sense of rhythm, and was meant to express his spirit through dancing, not singing.
Dammed if you do and damned if you donâ€™t
If youâ€™re feeling resentful and resistant to writing yet another piece that doesnâ€™t resonate for you, maybe itâ€™s time to stop struggling with something that clearly isnâ€™t working and check in with your inner wisdom to find out what the resistance is about.Â You can also stop beating up on yourself because you canâ€™t seem to:
(a) slip past your inner editor,
(b) get your muse enthused,
(c) convert all of the advice from the writing gurus into something youâ€™d be happy to publish, or
(d) even put your finger on the source of the block.
The â€śproblemâ€ť is not that you canâ€™t follow instructions.Â The â€śproblemâ€ť might just be that your soulâ€™s purpose for writing has been buried under what the ego thinks is the sole purpose for writing; recognition, fame, attracting a large following of readers or potential clients through your books or blog, or however you define success by external standards.Â Iâ€™m not denying theyâ€™re valid reasons for writing.Â After all, if your writing is the vehicle through which you serve the world and make your living, you do need readers and clients.Â I am suggesting that in getting caught up in the perceived importance of external feedback and input, we might be overlooking a vitally important source of guidance in our lives.
In the process of trying too hard to please others or pandering to the egoâ€™s agenda, maybe youâ€™ve unwittingly fallen into replicating someone elseâ€™s model for producing their masterpiece and followed the dictates of â€śconventional wisdomâ€ť too well.Â Rather than serving as useful guides or material you could use to support the river banks of your expressive flow, the plethora of observations and â€śhow toâ€ť advice has either dammed the flow or diverted the flow by changing the nature of its intended course. Youâ€™ve blocked your inner wisdom and unique voiceâ€”the true wellspring of your creativity and inspiration.
I recently found myself in this situation. Â I knew I â€śshouldâ€ť really be writing a blog article that was short, sweet and helpful on a topic related to my business. Â But the more I forced myself to write something that was short, focused, and practical, the more resentful and disengaged I began to feel. Â Instead of enjoying and immersing myself in the writing process, resistance set in and the few sentences that I would churn out felt constrained and contrived. Â I think itâ€™s one of the few times that the inner editor and the muse collaborated and went on strike until I came to my senses and listened to their demands.
I spent some time fretting and running circles in the mental hamster wheel before I remembered to dig out my copy of Make Light Work (Kate Sutherland, 2010) and plunge into the work that reconnected me with the voice of my inner wisdom. Â I also used some of the suggestions outlined in Julia Cameronâ€™s Finding Water: the Art of Perseverance (2006), and a few of my own ideas to shape and guide my quest.
If you areâ€”or have beenâ€”feeling similarly dammed (pun intended), I invite you to journey to your sacred wellspring and remove the debris that is preventing your inner voice and wisdom from flowing freely on to the page.Â Your discoveries and decisions emerging out of this process will most likely differ from mineâ€”as they should.Â If you are inclined to share any of your discoveries and experiences along the way, I invite you to post a comment and/or additional suggestions.
Iâ€™ve outlined the steps below that I used to reconnect with my inner vision (purpose) and create a clear course for what inspires and wants to flow through me in my voice and on to the page. Â The process requires both some inner journeying and outer activity.Â Weâ€™ll start with the inner journey and move outward.
1.Â Upstream Walkabout: This is a self-guided visualization and inner journey.Â The visualization was inspired by some of the images in my favourite tarot deck (The Arthurian Tarot by John and Caitlin Matthews) that spontaneously sprang to mind while I was meditating.Â Make yourself comfortable and letâ€™s get started.
Imagine that you are out walking and you have found a mostly dried-up creek bed with a foot-path running along beside the creek.Â You are not sure how long ago the creek dried up but there is no sense of the invigorating energy generated by a creek:Â Instead, there are a few shallow pools of stagnant water, the mud in the stream bed is only slightly damp, and some of the reeds growing out of the mud have started to dry out.
You are curious about what happened to the creek, so you decide to follow the creek to its sourceâ€”to the wellspring where it first bubbles up from undergroundâ€”and see if you can restore the flow of water and heal the surrounding habitat.Â You follow the path along the side of the creek and you are aware of an unnatural silence.Â As you continue to walk upstream, the landscape shifts and becomes more heavily wooded, and still there are no sounds or signs of life.
You walk for another 10 minute and soon you hear a faint dripping sound.Â You look over and see the place where the creek should surface, but it is clogged with debrisâ€”as if someone had tried to dam the flow of water or maybe divert it from its natural course.Â You see an animal standing there, as if it has been waiting for you.Â In fact, it has been waiting for you and much to your surprise it starts talking to you.Â The animal tells you what happened to the stream and asks you to unblock the spring and thus heal the land.
You walk over to the spring and you start to clear away the debrisâ€”human made objects, rocks, branches, and mud. Finally, you move the last stone and cool, clear water bubbles up and spills into the creek bed once more.Â It dances over your hands and feet as it rushes downhill, gurgling and babbling with joy at being free to run its course again.Â The sound of the flowing water and the sense of freshness and renewed energy generated by the waterâ€™s movement is healing and rejuvenates you, too, as you walk back along the path to where you started.
Return to the present moment and take some time to write about the experience. Â What kind of animal greeted you at the spring?Â What did it tell you? Â How does the meditation relate to your own sense of flow being blocked?
2.Â Â Temporarily tune out the advice and wisdom of the experts. The idea is to spend some time reconnecting with the voice of your inner wisdomâ€”your Self.Â Itâ€™s difficult to do that if youâ€™re constantly looking outside of yourself for answers and advice, no matter how wise or accurate it may be.Â Once youâ€™ve figured out how your inner knowing speaks to you, what inspires you, and how that wants to be expressed in the world, itâ€™s easier to discern what will support and what will impede the development of your own voice and style especially if that flows counter to the conventional wisdom.
3.Â Â Get some fresh airâ€”literally and figuratively. Unplug from the computer.Â Take a break from the writing that is currently leaving you feeling discouraged, blocked or otherwise out of sorts with your Self.Â Pushing yourself to do more of the same is not going to suddenly yield dramatically different results.Â I find that going for a walk through a park or by a river helps me to tune into both the present moment and the voice of my inner knowing.
For a figurative breath of fresh air, you might want to try this strategy from Julia Cameronâ€™s book Finding Water.Â Write a list of ten activities that you enjoy doing and then do them.Â Whether you go outside for some fresh air or you choose to engage in another activity you like, do it mindfully and, to borrow a pearl of wisdom from Make Light Work, notice what you notice.Â Be open to what catches your attention, what makes your curiosity perk up, what inspires you and make a note of it, even if itâ€™s just a few sentences or key words in a journal.
4.Â Â Give yourself permission to simply write what wants to come through you. Trust that when the writing is guided by your inner knowing and the subject resonates deeply with you, the words will flow effortlessly onto the page.Â (Youâ€™ll still have to edit the piece, but getting a first draft onto the page will be a lot easier and whole lot more joyful.)Â My guess is the piece will feel inspired and exude a genuine engagement with the subject.Â Itâ€™s likely that most of your readers will also notice this and respond in kind.
You may lose a few readers or potential clients who have fixed ideas about what they think you â€śshouldâ€ť be writing about and what they consider to be an appropriate â€śformatâ€ť, but so what? You might also gain some new readers or potential clients who also â€śgetâ€ť what youâ€™re really about.Â They want to work with you or read your blog or books because you radiate a heart-felt engagement with your writing and you honour rather than constrain the natural flow of things, whether itâ€™s a topic that needs a 4,000 word essay, or a one page â€śhow to..â€ť article.
5.Â Give it the light touch. Sometimes we just care too much about whether weâ€™re doing things â€śthe right wayâ€ť (read that as entrenched and often unquestioned), whether others will like us or our writing, or whether weâ€™re successful according to some vaguely defined set of standards â€śout thereâ€ť.Â If all the external debris and hubris has squelched whatever joy you originally got from writing, it might just be time to gleefully exclaim â€śUndam it allâ€ť, and let your inner wisdom and vision flow freely.