“I don’t know what I think until I write it down.”
Joan Didion, author of the The Year of Magical Thinking once said this and I completely agree. I always need to put pen to paper in order to get insight on a complicated feeling or figure out a thorny problem. Some people need to talk things out. I need to write things out.
And I can’t even count the number of times I’ve sat down with my journal, thinking that I didn’t know what I was going to write about, only to find myself pages and pages later, unwinding a tight cord that had been unknowingly wrapped around my heart.
Like an underground stream that spontaneously surfaces, our inner self needs only an invitation. That invitation can come in the form of a long walk, a vacation or a retreat, a few hours at the beach, or the blank page and a pen.
I am in contact again with an old and dear friend from a place I lived thirty years ago. We’ve been doing catch-up video calls. This friend is a deep thinker and a beautiful writer and in one of these calls, she told me about a practice she is experimenting with. “Every night before I go to sleep, I sit up in bed with my notebook and pen and wait for what wants to be written to arrive on the page.”
What wants to be written. I love this because it acknowledges the mystery involved in creativity and in expressing ourselves. And not only does this practice give a nod to the mystery, but it actively involves it. Here I am. What will come through me? What wants to be written?
This reminds me of the story that Steven Pressfield tells in his magnificent book The War of Art. He talks about “preparing” to write and the things he does every day before he sits down at his desk: coffee, teeth brushing, lucky sweatshirt, a favourite pendant, a prayer. After all of these rituals (and please do yourself a favour and read it in his own words), he sits down at his computer. He begins to write and he doesn’t stop until he starts making typos, about four hours later. He saves his work and goes for a walk.
In his own words: “How many pages have I produced? I don’t care. Are they any good? I don’t even think about it. All that matters is that I’ve put in my time and hit it with all I’ve got.”
Pressfield readies the stage, just like my friend when she sits up in bed with her notepad and pen, and waits. He too believes that if he does his part, the rest will come. And at the end, he does not wonder if what he’s written is any good because he has trusted the process. A process he believes in.
What about you? Do you believe in this notion of creating space and opening to what wants to be written?
If this is a new idea, why not try it? Set aside 15 or 20 minutes where you won’t be interrupted. Take a few deep breaths. Don’t “think” about what you want to write. Allow yourself a feeling of spaciousness. Be curious. What is floating in your underground stream that might like to surface? Be open and kind to whatever comes up and pay it respect by writing it down.
p.s. My upcoming book, Writing Your Way: A 40-Day Path of Self-Discovery will be available NEXT month. Watch your inbox in early September for details!