Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Roots of Story

“Sarah, you draw a tree here.”

“Okay. Now you draw a cloud.”

This was the substance of the discussion as my four- and five-year-old granddaughters collaborated on a drawing during lunch at a recent family reunion. I was especially intrigued with the final phase of this art project.

“Now let’s make a story about our picture,” said Marley.

The story began much earlier as they drew their respective avatars, Princess Sarah and Princess Marley, and talked about the rain coming from the clouds. They discussed which words to write on the picture. Now it was time to summarize their narrative. I have no doubt they would have written the entire story down if they’d known how. For now the few words they could manage sufficed.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Is It True?

The deceptively simple question: Is this TRUE? may be the single most important expressive writing or journaling tool around. This question may never occur to you on your own. We tend to take the truth of our thoughts for granted. How else could we make sense of things? We forget that we may not have (or be taking into account) all the relevant information, and that we tend to get stuck in a single way of viewing things.

The next time your thoughts begin to whirl or you tense up at a memory or anticipated event, give this question a try. Break the situation down into as many component pieces a you can think of and use this question to evaluate each element. For example, consider this hypothetical journal excerpt:

Nobody cares what I think. They always ignore me and do their own thing anyway. They don’t care if I’m there or not! If these were your words, you could ask IS IT TRUE that nobody cares what I think? IS IT TRUE e that they always ignore me? IS IT TRUE that they don’t care if I’m there?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Harness the Power of Questions

Questions have paved the path to wisdom, enlightenment, and solutions in cultures throughout history. You may recall that the Socratic Method was based on the use of questions between tutor and pupil. Jesus often posed questions to his followers. Zen roshis challenge disciples with koans (enigmatic riddles like what is the sound of one hand clapping?).

Fortunately you don’t need a time travel machine or a guru to tap into the transformative power of questions. Every person on earth is born naturally curious, and mining the depths of our own curiosity can lead to a wealth of wisdom. Journaling and freewriting are powerful ways to harness that power for any purpose you wish, whether that's solving a perplexing problem, finding your way through the maze of life, or untangling your thoughts as you write a memoir.

As you write, you may often find yourself wondering some version of, “Why does this keep happening?” or “What’s really going on?” or “How else could I go about this?” Listen to that small inner voice, and write down the question, then without further thought, start writing the answer. For example, you might ask yourself the question, “Why am I so stuck?” You might be startled to watch an intuitively obvious answer emerge from your pen or fingers: “Because I don’t really want to be doing this in the first place. I’m only doing it because Grunterman will have a fit if I don’t and . . . .”

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Writer's Hell: Myth #1

Anyone who reads self-help books and articles for writers has come across instructions for freewriting, writing practice, journaling or any of several other topics that urge you to simply start writing and keep that hand moving. If you run out of things to say, doodle, repeat a word or phrase, do whatever it takes to keep that hand moving because … what? You’ll go to the proverbial Writer’s Hell where you sit and stare at a blank page for all of Eternity if you don’t? Or maybe the motor in your brain is driven by the inertia of your hand and you’ll stare at a perpetually blank screen?

The advice to keep your hand moving is good advice if you suffer from serious writer’s block, and it can unclog fascinating ideas that may otherwise never emerge. But here’s some great news: You will NOT be sentenced to Writer’s Hell for failing to keep your fingers moving. In fact, it’s often quite a healthy option to lapse into a motionless trance during a writing session. Especially when that writing takes the form of journaling.