Writing Ourselves Through

Hello friends, good people, and creative folks, For some of us, it feels a little scarier and more uncertain to use our voice right now than it might have a few weeks ago. For some of us, the blank page is not only empty but potentially charged. It might even feel dangerous. And others might be rushing to the page right now -- it might feel like a pit they could fill and fill and fill. Maybe you are asking the page, again and again, to give you some clarity and bring you some peace.

I've crossed paths with many writers recently who are not only struggling with violence, hate, and pain in the world but also physical, spiritual, and emotional challenges personally. Some days it feels like the universe is doubling down on an obstacle course for us. My own sense of how to navigate it keeps changing... so frequently that I have to keep promising myself: There are many ways forward.

I hope this doesn't over-simplify, but in a way, it's kind of like a writing prompt. If there was only one path, only one story, in response to every writing prompt, what would be the point? Part of what steadies me right now is the promise that there are many paths. The world is prompting all of us right now. And like a good writing prompt, sometimes the deepest learning happens when we are most uncomfortable or surprised.

I have to believe that writing will continue to carry us. Muriel Rukeyser writes, "The universe is made of stories, not of atoms." Our stories may be the most vital currency we have right now. They have the power to open people's hearts to one another. Our voices are the key that could set us free.

Of course, writing in the midst of fear or anxiety is no small feat. And too many folks have lived their whole lives with their voices being undermined, mistrusted, or ignored. What's happening now may be new pain but also all-too-familiar pain. So for the little circle of the universe that I hold, it feels important to say it directly: Voice & Vessel remains a safe space to go to the page. Whatever shapes your story -- whatever religion or spiritual path, whatever race or culture, whatever class, whatever gender, whatever family, whatever passions, whatever curiosities -- you are welcome here.

This reflects my own values, and it's also baked right into the affirmations and practices of the Amherst Writers & Artists Method. Every time we write, we gather as equals. We share in creative risk. We work to listen deeply when we share our writing. Now more than ever, I'm leaning on those parts of the AWA Method to hold space with folks.

There's something beautiful about practicing a method that's 30+ years old and being offered around the world in concurrent workshops. I like to think that all of us, globally, using the method right now are carrying each other. And when we leave our workshops, perhaps we carry the spirit of the method into our homes and communities. (I'm working on this one... if I could listen to everyone in my life like I listen in the workshops, I'd probably have about 200% more love to go around.)

When I started this note, I imagined sharing a handful of writing prompts to support you, in case you're feeling a little anxious, afraid, challenged, or just plain tired. But maybe this isn't a moment for over-practicing and over-prompting. There are many paths, but maybe we can see where just one takes us, and then try another at another time.

So I'll leave you with one of my very favorite prompts, one that always pulls me back into my feet and settles me in my heart. I hope it brings even a little of that energy to you:

I am here to remember...

With hope for the stories to come...


This post originally appeared at VoiceandVessel.com.

Creative Rituals to Deepen Your Writing this Fall

Fall is here. My favorite season. The liminal time, where the light trades itself out for the deeper, darker half of the year. The autumn equinox was last week, and there is a new moon today. It's a rare black moon, our second new moon this month. To me, this is all part of a good pause before the holidays. September and October are the year's last call to establish a creative routine or deepen your writing with new creative rituals. While the writing itself is what matters, I'm a big believer in the power of rituals to bring us to the writing (or any creative practice). At the beginning of my workshops, I share the affirmations and practices of the Amherst Writers & Artists Method. Often I share a quote to center us. Sometimes I invite people to take a deep breath before we start. To me, these aren't agenda items to tick off. These are essential rituals that signal the special space and sacred time that our writing occupies. The rituals aren't elaborate, but that's for the best. They more easily quiet and ready us that way. There is no flash for the inner critic to turn her nose at. There is only the humble work of beginning again.

As you slip into fall, I hope you get some time to re-center in your writing life. Over at Voice & Vessel, I shared a handful of creative rituals that always call to me at this time of year. The post includes writing prompts for your journal, music suggestions, a creative walking practice, and some of my new favorite poetry finds for a contemplative season. If you have your own rituals, playlists, or books to welcome the season, I'd love to hear about those. And if you don't yet, I hope you'll consider trying one or two to land on something that feeds your writing practice. However a ritual works for you is the right way, as long as it draws you into your creative spirit and helps you write.

Get the rituals at Voice & Vessel.

A New Journey of Writing Prompts to Meet Your Voice

A year ago today, I was beginning my journey as a certified leader of the Amherst Writers & Artists Method. I boarded an early morning train from Grand Rapids to Chicago, with a very dog-eared and well-loved copy of Writing Alone & With Others in my hands. The truth is, when I arrived at that training in Chicago, I didn't have Voice & Vessel on my mind. I was coming out of a few years of intense change and learning. My voice was struggling and felt quieted on many levels--creatively, professionally, spiritually. I found Amherst Writers & Artists in the midst of this. It was a warm, welcoming light. I was hungry for something more than talk about change or creativity, and here was a method that said: Come here and start doing.

I applied for the training because I wanted to meet these kindred spirits of AWA. I thought I might bring the method into the consulting I was doing at the time. But it has all unfolded into Voice & Vessel, which is much more my heart's work. A year out from joining AWA, I'm humbled by the people I've met and the writing we've shared. Every day I'm grateful to be a part of your creative journey, even if it's only through posts like this.

Seven Invitations Writing Prompts and JourneySo to say thanks and honor a year's unfolding, I made something for you. It has simmered with me for awhile, and I hope it will feed your creative spirit. It's called Seven Invitations, and it's a writing journey you can follow at home. I included seven of my favorite writing prompts for connecting more deeply with your voice, along with suggested creative practices.

I hope you'll accept this invitation to meet your voice on the page in a new way. If you write with this little guide, I would love to hear your thoughts about how it goes and which writing prompts were your favorite. Happy creating!

[button url="http://www.voiceandvessel.com/seven-invitations" style="normal"]Get your copy of Seven Invitations[/button]

Your Writing Isn't Broken

One of the best parts of starting Voice & Vessel has been learning about people’s writing journeys and finding kindred spirits to share the writing process. Between that and recent events I’ve attended, I’m noticing common questions pop up, like:

  • Is it okay to do (insert technique or style here) when I write? For example: Is it okay if I rhyme when I write poetry?
  • I’ve heard I should _____ when I’m getting started. What do you think? For example: I’ve heard I should never lift my pen and write nonstop for as long as I can when I’m getting started, but it’s been hard to do that. What do you think?
  • I feel like I got stuck on ______. Should I start over when I get stuck on something? For example: A duck showed up in my story, and I thought I shouldn’t be writing a story about a duck. Should I have restarted with the prompt?

These questions seem straightforward, but that's part of their seduction. It’s human nature to want to fix things, and questions like this often get heard as: “Something is broken in my writing process. Can you help me fix it?”

On the Voice & Vessel blog, I wonder whether we need more rules for our process or if these questions simply mean we are hungry for permission to write at all. I also share four ways to spot a helpful writing practice and a set of practices for getting unblocked (if the rules have been in your way). Read more here.

How to Write the Big Heart of Small Moments

Writing the Big Heart of Small MomentsLast week, I inched toward a final draft of a poem I have written and re-written for six years. The seeds of the poem are more than seven years old, and there are at least a dozen drafts. And just because a draft is newer doesn’t mean it’s better. This has been the kind of writing process where things get worse, sometimes much worse, before they get better. Poetry is the only thing in my life that gets this much of my patience. And it’s not because of the poem, really. It’s because of the thing I’m scraping at within the writing, using the poem like a hammer to break it open.

When we write in pursuit of something, especially a small moment or a memory that calls to us, there’s often a pause when we step back and wonder: Is this worth it? What am I chasing, and why?

More at Voice & Vessel

Over on the Voice & Vessel blog, I wrote about the memorable, tough-to-shake moments that drive us to write. How do you follow a "shimmering" moment until it becomes a strong poem, essay, or story? I'm sharing what one stubborn poem taught me, plus three writing prompts to help you write into the idea, memory, or moment that won't let go. Click here to read the full post.