Play it Forward: A Workshop to Improve Your Writing through Play

Mama always said I was an old soul.

“You were always so serious,” she said. “Even when you were a baby.”

When I was six months old her mother—my maternal grandmother—was diagnosed with breast cancer. And she had to wean me from her breast for the struggle of it—the hard work of balancing the care of a newborn and that of her dying mother.

This is the world I was born to: one of hunger, poverty, addiction, complicated parent-love. Play was always a serious business for little girl me. I went inside the world of imagination to escape the reality of life. It was a solitary task, a quiet thing. Something in my makeup resisted the kind of play lived out loud.

It’s taken me almost fifty years to understand that this is okay. Yes, this is okay, but there is so much more to play. And I have only just begun.

Play looks different for different kinds of people. When we understand this and accept this, it opens us to new ways. New ways of playing, new ways of seeing, new avenues of creativity, new ways of being.

Play is a powerful thing.

Will you come along on a play journey with me? Sometimes these things are best undertaken with a guide. How about two guides? My friend (and fellow writer) Laura Brown and I are embarking upon an exploration of all things play. Over the course of eight or twelve weeks (you choose), we will lead an adventurous few through an odyssey of play—sampling different ways of play that might enliven our creative lives, enrich our writing and hopefully, add beauty to our everyday living.

Read more about it over at TSPoetry. It’s going to be a grand adventure. It may be just the thing to breathe new life into your writing practice. It may be just the thing to awaken the old soul in you to a fresh view of this tired world. After all, writing is a form of play—a way of seeing. To write well requires opening the eyes in new and different ways. We’re going to have so much fun finding playful ways to achieve this.

Photo by Samuel David Rinehart, Creative Commons, via Flickr.

Like Riding a Bike

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As I write, the little boy across the street is learning to ride his bike. From my desk I can see them through the window—his father holding onto the seat and running along beside as his boy pedals maniacally. When he lets go the man bellows, “Pedal! Pedal!” I hear a high pitched howl before boy and bike topple over into the soft grass. His sister and another little neighbor girl stand witness, cheering as he goes down time after time. But he keeps returning to the seat.

“I feel like my writing muscles have grown weak,” I joked with my friend last weekend at the poetry retreat. “Well,” she said. “It is a skill. If you don’t use it …” I recognized the truth in her words and felt a catch in my throat.

It doesn’t feel like “riding a bike,” this ebb and flow of the writing life. In some ways, though, it does feel like the learning to ride—all these bumps and crashes. I’m on a quest to rediscover the joy I used to find in words. Somewhere along the way, writing became something else, my voice muffled like a song under water.

Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés calls this quest “building a motherland.”

“This world is being made from our lives, our cries, our laughter, our bones. It is a world worth making, a world worth living in, a world in which there is a prevailing and decent wild sanity …” She goes on to say,

When we think of reclamation it may bring to mind bulldozers or carpenters, the restoration of and old structure, and that is the modern usage of the word. However, the older meaning is this: The word reclamation is derived from the old French reclaimer, meaning ‘to call back the hawk which has been let fly.’ Yes, to cause something of the wild to return when it is called. It is therefore by its meaning an excellent word for us. We are using the voices of our minds, our lives, and our souls to call back intuition, imagination; to call back the Wild Woman. And she comes.”

Last night I told a friend that I am learning I must fight to awaken my voice again—I mustn’t give up as easily as I have. This love of creating is a way of giving to the world and I feel like a part of myself is missing when I am silent. Like a psalm written on my bones, it is a core part of my being.

Across the street, my little neighbor friend gets back up on the seat of his bike again. I hear his sister and her friend lift up encouragement. I hear his father giving instruction. I have voices cheering me on as well. Some have held me until I can find my balance.

But the most essential part falls to me. I have to keep getting back up into the seat.

The winner of last week’s happy giveaway is … Julie Dodson! congratulations, Julie! I’ll be in touch.

The Right to Write: Roots (book club)

image by Lívia Cristina L. C.

image by Lívia Cristina L. C.

I thought about Mary Ainsworth when I read Julia Cameron’s chapter on Roots in  The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life this week.

Mary Ainsworth is the developmental psychologist who, in the 1960s and 70s, conducted extensive research on Attachment Theory. She identified three different attachment patterns between infants and adults: secure, anxious-avoidant (insecure), and anxious-ambivalent (also insecure).

The most desirous attachment pattern is the secure type (of course), in which the child uses the caregiver as a secure base to which he returns periodically—but otherwise freely explores his environment. The infants who demonstrated insecure attachment styles either were too anxious about separation to explore the environment or showed little relational interest.

Just as the more securely attached infants were found to be more socially successful, Julia Cameron believes that writers who also have a safe base, or roots as she terms it, will be more successful as well.

In order to bloom, all of us need a root system. Just as a regular practice of writing roots us firmly in our lives, a regular life roots us firmly in our writing. Those long sabbaticals everyone lusts after so they can be truly productive seldom yield the promised result. Too often the yawning vistas of time yield self-involved work that yawns on the page…”

Roots—those things that anchor us into life—allow us the freedom to explore. When we have that safe base to return to—whether that is a day job, stable relationships, or some other regular routine—that security gives courage to creativity. It is the foundation on which to build new experiences.

Fine. But I’m not ready to give up my sabbatical fantasy yet. I don’t know about you, but the idea of living on a tropical island and doing nothing but writing (and lazing in the sun…listening to the sound of waves lapping the shore…) still seduces my imagination. But I understand what Cameron is saying. How many times have experiences from my day job inspired writing ideas that would have otherwise gone untapped? And if I didn’t have the security of a regular income, would I have dared invest my free time in writing a book?

Writers need to live in the world, Cameron says.

Give us too much self-involvement and we lose our involvement with the world. Yes, then we are boring…When we center our writing lives on our writing instead of our lives, we leach both our lives and our writing of the nutrients they require.”

Maybe Julia Cameron has a point. Chances are, if I did live on a tropical island with no responsibilities but writing, I would probably do everything but (I’ve always wanted to learn to windsurf …).

But I’m holding out for a happy medium. I think I could spend half the year on island time and the other half as responsible psychologist. Don’t you? Do you think life will wait for me? Perhaps one day I’ll have the opportunity to find out, but until then, I’m keeping my day job.

How about you?

Next week we wrap up the book with the last four chapters. Join us for Stakes, Procrastination, Into the Water, and The Right to Write. See you on the page!

Week 12: I Eat with My Eyes
Week 11: Friendly Reader
Week 10: Feed the Horses
Week 9: Honesty’s Shy Younger Sister
Week 8: In Praise of Happiness
Week 7: Writing as Prayer
Week 6: The Letter
Week 5: I Go Alone
Week 4: Witness
Week 3: Invite the Muse to Tea
Week 2: Write from Love
Week 1: Start Where You Are
Introduction: Invitation

Above image by Lívia Cristina L. C., sourced via Flickr, used with permission.

The Right to Write: Feed the Horses (book club)

image by Lívia Cristina L. C.

image by Lívia Cristina L. C.

A few years ago, a young patient that I worked with left a mark on me. The girl was admitted to the rehabilitation unit where I work with a severe brain injury. We like to believe that some aspects of recovery from brain injury follow a predictable course. But truly, each case is different—each individual emerging in his or her own unique way. It was fairly early in this child’s recovery. She showed little awareness of her environment. She was also nonverbal.

When will she talk? Her mother worried.

No one could give her an answer. Several weeks went by and there was little change. We began to wonder if the child would ever speak again. Often, at the end of the work day, I would sit beside her bed and pray—watching her noiselessly writhe around in the safety bed.

Finally, the day came. She spoke her first word. I’ll never forget the sweetness of that moment. That evening, I tried to capture the beauty in poem:

silence broken by
one lonely word—long
awaited. thin
voice, not as I
thought. tremulous,
leaf shiver, small
in life’s breeze. you
named her and we
cried as you
called out “mommy”

My young friend came to mind this week as I read our assignments from The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life. What a precious gift is our voice—both vocal and written. It is one of the things that make us uniquely ourselves. This week Julia Cameron reminds me of this.

… I believe that each of us already has a unique voice. We do not need to “develop” it; rather, we need to discover or, perhaps better, uncover it.

As writers we are told that there is perhaps nothing more important than finding our voice. But how? How do we uncover our voice?

Not surprisingly, Cameron believes the secret is daily writing.

I work daily. I get up to write the same way I go out to the barn and toss hay to the horses. It is unthinkable that the horses not be fed and fed in a timely way so they do not get too restless. My creative horses demand the same care. They, too, must be fed and in a timely fashion, and that is why I write first thing in the morning.

… writing regularly and repetitively and from the gut yields you a writing voice that is full and beautiful regardless of which genre you apply it in.

There is no better way to open a writing voice than to write regularly, repetitively, and from the gut…

Do you detect a theme here?

So … How are your morning pages coming? Evening pages? Mid-afternoon pages? Are you writing anything on a daily basis?

If Julia Cameron is right, this is the key to uncovering my unique voice. That rich world that lives in my head—the world of color and warmth and life—its way to the page is through practice. It starts with first words.

Every day I feed the horses. And in doing so, I too am fed.

Next week: Footwork, Practice, and Containment. And don’t forget to hug a Veteran today!

Week 9: Honesty’s Shy Younger Sister
Week 8: In Praise of Happiness
Week 7: Writing as Prayer
Week 6: The Letter
Week 5: I Go Alone
Week 4: Witness
Week 3: Invite the Muse to Tea
Week 2: Write from Love
Week 1: Start Where You Are
Introduction: Invitation

Above image by Lívia Cristina L. C., sourced via Flickr, used with permission.

The Right to Write: Honesty’s Shy Younger Sister (book club)

image by Lívia Cristina L. C.

image by Lívia Cristina L. C.

I’ve been blogging for eight years now and the time seems to have passed like a breath. In the beginning, I was more concerned about communicating a message than I was about the craft of writing. Those early entries are simple and true. They make fine reading. But there is one thing missing from my first posts…me.

When I read through those earlier works, there is not one inkling about the woman who created them.

This week in our readings of The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life, Julia Cameron talks about the need for honesty in our writing.

This kind of dissonance, this sound of falseness, is what creeps into our writing when we use it as a place to hide something rather than reveal something. Writing is sheer—like a silk scarf—and the shape of our odd emotional furniture always shows beneath its drapes…

In my early writing, I hid behind the words. Rather than open the messiness of my life up for public consumption, I handled my message with kid gloves—making sure my hands did not get dirty.

Why? Why would I deliberately rob my words of warmth—hollow out any real connection the reader might make?

Cameron calls it honesty’s shy younger sister.

Vulnerability.

Vulnerability in writing is the enemy of grandiosity. It is the enemy of pomposity. It is the enemy of posturing; the enemy of denial…Vulnerability in writing is health…

But it is also really, really scary. Cameron touts writing as the antidote to this fear.

…once I put something on the page I am also rendered a little less vulnerable. I have created for myself a piece of turf on which I am willing to stand.

How about you? Does writing make you feel vulnerable? If so, can you take it to the page? As Cameron says, Vulnerability…is the part of ourselves that renders us capable of great art, art that enters and explores the heart.

Do you think it is worth the risk?

Three more chapters next week: Dailiness, Voice, and Form Versus Formula. See you on the page. The winner of The Girlfriend’s Short Stack is Carol! Yay! Congratulations, Carol. If you’d like a chance to win a piece of Vibella Jewelry, visit this post

Week 8: In Praise of Happiness
Week 7: Writing as Prayer
Week 6: The Letter
Week 5: I Go Alone
Week 4: Witness
Week 3: Invite the Muse to Tea
Week 2: Write from Love
Week 1: Start Where You Are
Introduction: Invitation

Above image by Lívia Cristina L. C., sourced via Flickr, used with permission.