Posts Tagged ‘creative writing’
Book Review: Women, Writing and Soul-Making: Creativity and the Sacred Feminine by Peggy Tabor Millin
Posted December 9, 2013on:
We cannot write well by staying on the surface of our lives or by attempting to hide our true selves behind our words. We free the pen to dig deep whenever we pick it up. Peggy Tabor Millin
What can women who wish to write discover about themselves if they enter into conversation with a nonlinear, archetypal feminine process? What is the wisdom and inner authority that awaits them in their own bodies, moving through perhaps limiting feelings of shame, blame and judgment? In the richly inspiring book Women, Writing and Soul-Making: Creativity and the Sacred Feminine, Peggy Tabor Millin argues that what awaits women, if they so choose to explore, is their deepest self from which springs their writing life. And, she asserts that excavating this self is more important than the outward goal of publishing. Drawing on her extensive experience as a writing teacher, practicing Buddhist and cartographer of women’s cycles of creativity, she argues that the real struggle that many women have with writing is not just about a lack of time, writing space or support. It is the struggle for authenticity. Women’s multiplicity of social roles and living in a world that often undervalues them add to the challenges of finding the courage not just to write, but to create a worthy self. In Women, Writing and Soul Making, Millin offers a fresh and inner directed path to the writing life through what she calls an ‘archetypal feminine approach’ to writing and self-making.
Millin shares insights of how to access the subterranean territory of the writing experience that has seldom been mined. Many writing books crowding the shelves today assert principles, programs, and protocols for becoming a bestselling author with a platform that will entice agents and publishers. We can characterize much of this work as outer directed, active, assertive and perhaps linearly driven. Readers, in this book, will not find tidy exercises and chatty language about how to pitch ideas to editors. Millin, however, offers women writers (and male writing instructors) another way to think about the writing life by first acknowledging that women writers struggle with claiming a voice. She names and explores internal and external barriers that stop women from writing and from taking themselves seriously as writers. She argues that women must make new meaning for themselves by paying attention to what innate wisdom residing in their bodies and buried in their psyches, they (and the world) may have devalued.
She successfully yokes together concepts about women’s spirituality, Jungian and archetypal analysis and embodied learning. Her book is part of a growing trend that employ a contemplative and body wisdom approach, gleaned from eastern traditions, as a foundation for a writing practice, including Gail Sher’s Writing the Fire (yoga and writing) and Larraine Herring’s Writing Begins with the Breath (mindfulness and writing). Through vignettes, koans and stories Millin’s method is subtle and almost easy to overlook. The task is to move from our heads into our bodies, easier said than done. She reveals her technique of ‘Centered Writing Practice’ which includes two elements: “writing to neutral prompts and writing in community.” Neutral prompt are phrases, concrete nouns and active verbs that carry no obvious emotional connection for the writer. The writer follows where the language takes her. The second and important aspect of this practice is writing in community. Centered Writing Practice happens in a circle of women, regularly, and with focused attention. Each chapter begins with a piece that emerged from some of the free writes and ‘word circle’ exercises that Millin uses in groups. The reader is thus invited in to see how the book was constructed through many nonlinear techniques. The spiral graphic sprinkled throughout Women, Writing and Soul-Making remind us writing and coming into self has no final destination. Miller notes: “Practice does not make perfect; practice makes possible. Practice—of sport, writing, art-making, meditation, music—has no goal but revelation.”
Along the way, we meet Lord Mother, Millin’s contribution to an archetypal support system rooted in women’s experiences with the Divine, mystical, cyclical and seasonal. Millin helps us to recognize that our judgment, shame and victimization can be acknowledged without being indulged in, constituting a resting place versus a stopping place. Readers will also enjoy getting to know the intriguing archetypal figures of ‘Lady Underground’ and ‘The Blood-Raw Savage’ who can also support in getting to know our bodies’ wisdom and unconscious desires.
Although shunning simple and formulaic steps toward writing, Millin does offer organizing principles for writing and exploring consciousness that include the Four Wisdoms: ‘The Wisdom of Not Knowing’, ‘The Wisdom of the Ecology of Body and Earth’, ‘The Wisdom of Fierce Compassion’ and ‘The Wisdom of Diversity’. These Wisdoms explore what she identifies as feminine processes of ‘relationship and responsiveness’, an awareness of interconnectedness and fierce compassion that links soul work to creative work. Through these wisdoms she tackles many ‘hotspots’ of women’s lives including how we grapple with power, vulnerability, and expectations in relationships. This is a chapter most readers will want to linger in.
I was predisposed to like this book as I am intensely curious about how women navigate a creative life given the obstacles borne out of the social tensions around caretaking, relational work and constructing a core self. Finding new metaphors of creativity that don’t pit women against codified ways of knowing the world, their work and families is of vital importance. In my teaching and coaching work, I’ve found similar patterns of challenges that women face, in pursuing a creative life that is aptly described by Millin. And, Millin does a good job of arguing for exploring and being open to a repository of suppressed ‘women’s wisdom’: “Tribal cultures that honored women’s rhythms understood women to hold the creative future of the culture-not only because they produced children, but they fathomed the sacred nature of the cycles of creation.” However, in several places, I was uneasy with some of Millin’s uncritical language and assumptions about women’s experiences (including “when women feel stress, they are biologically wired to seek solace with other women” or “the power women innately hold confounds thought”). As I read, I felt the tension between embracing and feeling good about ‘feminine’ patterns and my understanding that gender is also mutable, historically varied and socially constructed. There isn’t one universal women’s experience or even ‘female ways of knowing’. Each reader will have to navigate and make sense of this tension.
Toward the end of the book and again drawing on Buddhist thought Millin makes use of the four paradoxes writers face: ‘Pleasure and Pain’, ‘Praise and Criticism’, ‘Fame and Disgrace’ and ‘Gain and Loss’. The dynamic of dualisms confound and often frustrate us yet form a way into understanding the writing life. I found myself lingering here, too.
Her book also addresses those writers who are transitioning from one type of writing that may be more analytical (i.e. technical writing, academic writing) to one that is symbolic and abstract (i.e. poetry). She wants a general respect for all writing. Despite the lack of specific exercises, Millin’s material will ignite an intuitive spark in each reader about how to proceed: some might journal more, some will try using ‘neutral prompts’ to begin a project, some might list the ways they experience societal femininity and how that is or isn’t congruent with their personal ways of knowing the creative cycles of the earth. Some will want to explore deeply the archetypal figures Millin presents. Some readers will be better able to recognize where some of their negative voices about writing came from (which are personal and which are cultural), some will feel relief to find that many women struggle with inner barriers that often go unrecognized; they might seek or start a writers’ group based on Millin’s thoughtful guidelines. According to Millin, if we get focused on our own excellence and joy in creating and living, this will support our inner most desires. I can see why this book was a Next Generation Indie Book Winner. It is so useful, innovative, playful and fresh that it is worth a place on every aspiring woman writer’s (and writing teacher’s) book shelf.
This book review first appeared in the December 2013 issue of Western North Carolina Woman
Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be sharing some insights about how to prepare for the coming New Year and lay the foundation for making headway on our creative dreams. Today when Rochelle Melander’s wise newsletter landed in my inbox, I knew this was a perfect prompt to begin introspective work.
The Reckoning by Rochelle Melander
Truth walks toward us on the paths of our questions…as soon as you think you have the answer, you have closed the path and may miss vital new information. Wait awhile in the stillness, and do not rush to conclusions, no matter how uncomfortable the unknowing. —Jacqueline Winspear, Maisie Dobbs
I’m a huge fan of Jacqueline Winspear’s mystery series featuring Maisie Dobbs, a private investigator working just after the end of World War I. At the end of every case, detective Maisie Dobbs sits with her case map and does a reckoning. She reviews her notes, makes decisions about how to deal with any loose ends, and thinks about how she’ll use what she’s learned in her life and with future cases.
Before we dream up a brand new exciting year of writing, we need to take a look at 2013 and do our own reckoning of sorts. Yeah, I know you’re still living it. But you have enough of the year under your belt to reflect on what rocked and what didn’t.
Here’s a brief process to help you start your reckoning:
1. Make a list of the creative work you’ve done in the past year. Include everything in your list, even the stuff you do because you have to (like hanging out on Twitter, doing research, or sending out invoices.)
2. List what you value most about your work as a writer. Again, include everything from the philosophical (exploring new ideas) to the practical (earning money, working at home).
3. Evaluate how this past year’s creative endeavors (list #1) matched up with your values (list #2). In other words:
–Did you get to do enough of the stuff that brings you joy?
–Did you meet your practical needs through writing?
4. Finally, as you review the two lists, ask:
–What kinds of creative work do I want to do less of?
–What kinds of creative work do I want to do more of?
That’s it for now: make your lists, check them twice. Then hold onto them: there’s more reckoning to be done. And some dreaming, too.
Write Now! Coach Rochelle Melander is an author, a certified professional coach, and a popular speaker. Melander has written ten books including Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (And Live to Tell About It).
As the Write Now! Coach, she teaches professionals how to write books fast, get published, and connect with readers through social media. Get your free subscription to her Write Now! Tips Ezine at http://www.writenowcoach.com.
We’re at the beginning of a long holiday season. This can be a time for relaxation and much needed connection with friends and family members. It can also be a time when our creative work goes out the window. Here are a few tips to keep one’s creativity ignited.
- Work in smaller chunks of time. During the holidays there are many demands on our time with planned and spontaneous social engagements. Just like keeping ourselves healthy with more frequent workouts during the holidays is advisable, the same could be said for creative work. With all the imbibing, late nights and celebrating, trying to find solitude for creative work can be in short supply. Decide to work in smaller increments of time.
- Stay connected to discussions about creativity. If you’re traveling for much of the holidays and that interrupts your creative routine, find ways to stay connected to your interests. I’ve become a big fan of Mur Lafferty’s ‘I Should Be Writing’ podcast and plan on catching up on several episodes during holiday travel.
- Design a ‘Creativity Permission Slip’. While you are writing your holiday cards, take a moment to design a big beautiful ‘creativity permission slip’. This permission slip empowers you to take at least an hour a week for yourself and do something related to your creative life. Post it in your creative space.
- Play with a Creativity TA-DAH List. We all know our ‘to-do’ lists grow exponentially during the holiday season. What about having a ‘ta-dah’ list? Right now, if you throw your hands in the air and say TA-DAH!, I bet you’ll smile. Motivational speaker and humorist Loretta LaRoche, in Relax: You May Only Have A Few Minutes Left, recounts being at a conference on health and wellness that felt deadly serious. Later, in the hotel, Loretta saw a girl of about three waltz down the corridor, twirl her arms and yell ‘TA-DAH!” Many of the adults stopped in their tracks and grasped that “the child knew what they had paid hundreds of dollars to find out: how to enjoy life in the moment.” Your ta-dah list could be composed of anything that makes you smile during the next five weeks. It could also be a celebration of every creative thing that you’ve done this year. Let the ta-dahing begin!
- Treat yourself. Go and purchase the one gift that will support your creativity that you’ve been meaning to give to yourself all year. Think of it as a down payment for the great work you will produce in 2014!
How will you keep your creativity flowing during this holiday season?
Last Sunday, I hosted a teleseminar called ‘Crack Your Creativity Code: 7 Ways to Unlock Your Genius’. I introduced listeners to my new work on how creativity metaphorically functions as a type of code and how we might go about ‘unlocking’ or ‘breaking’ that code in order to experience more of our genius.
The response was fantastic. Callers engaged and offered powerful insights as they began to understand the ‘code and key’ structure of creativity I shared.
I began the call exploring some popular myths about creativity (e.g. you have to be in the mood to create) and the reasons why many people don’t create more (e.g. ‘I just can’t make the time’). I offered some tips about how to work around inner critics, and the twin demons of perfectionism and procrastination.
Using the following prompts, I asked them to begin connecting with their ‘Creative Self’, an eternal part of the psyche:
1) When I reflect on the current relationship I have with my Creative Self, I’d use the words:
2) When I was a child, my creativity showed up as:
3) I might describe my relationship with my Creative Self, over the years, as:
On Fire? Dormant? Under acknowledged? Undernourished? A good solid friendship? Difficult to keep up with? Wild and unpredictable? Just Right? Passionate? Reliable?
4) In the next three months, I’d most like my Creative Self to help me with the following…
From there I shared a process to explore how their Creative Self is currently being expressed through one of 5 ‘Creative Code Expressions’. Creative Code Expressions are personalities that are archetypal in nature. They discovered if they were expressing their Creative Selves as Ranters, Lovers, Seekers, Players or Withholders. I then talked about the 7 Universal Keys that we need to use in order decode our creativity.
Intrigued? Weren’t on the call? I missed you! You can access the call here.
Toward the end of the call I gave information about my powerful upcoming program ‘Tone Your Creative Core’. This program will provide you access to life-changing tools that will help in the areas that most creative people struggle in: time, abundance and prosperity, feeling worthy to create and goal-setting.
You can find out even more details about the ‘Tone Your Creativity Core’ here. This offer expires soon so don’t miss out!
If you have any questions about if this program is right for you, don’t hesitate to email me at email@example.com.
Yesterday was World Gratitude Day. Did you celebrate it? World Gratitude Day was officially started in 1977 by the United Nations Meditation Group. The idea for it was seeded some years before at a dinner with spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy. World Gratitude Day provides us an opportunity to express appreciation to others and reflect on what we’re grateful for in our lives. How nicely the reminder to practice and extend gratitude leads us into the marvel of the first day of fall.
Autumn requests our attention in a way that feels different than the other seasons. Autumn invites us to reflect on the nature of our harvest and make sense of a way forward. We know the fallow period of winter is not far away.
Here are some writing prompts to feed your creative impulses as you explore the gifts of fall:
-Look at the following two words—autumn and authenticity. What connections between these two words do you sense? (Authors Alan Jones and John O’Neil note that both of these words share the Latin root aut-, meaning “to increase or grow”.)
-When do you feel the most authentic? Alone? With others? At work? In nature?
-What is in your harvest?
-Write about what you’re most grateful for.
-Write about what you feel like you should be grateful for but aren’t.
-Write about a time when you felt bountiful.
-Write about the three most authentic people you know. What do they have in common?
-Write about the gifts from summer. What came to fruition? What didn’t? What are you letting go of for fall?
Creative Harvest Meditation:
Sit in a comfortable position. Rest your hands on your belly. Take several deep breaths noticing how the belly expands on the in breath and contracts on the out breath. As you settle into your body allow yourself to imagine (in your mind’s eye and through sensations in the body) a feeling of great warmth flooding through the stomach and low back. Breathe in the feeling of expansion. Let your mind’s eye experience the different colors associated with fall: blazing yellows, scarlet reds, pumpkin oranges, rusty browns and deep majestic purples.
Feel the richness of your inner landscape with each breath.
Slowly repeat the following phrases to yourself (in your mind or aloud, whatever feels right in the moment)—The harvest asks of me, the harvest intends for me, the harvest gives me…(you can also substitute ‘autumn’ for ‘harvest’).
Invite the energy that has gathered in your core to offer bodily wisdom. Repeat these phrases over a few times and then freewrite the first responses that come to mind.
How do different people view an unusual event in nature? Is it a disaster? Is it a miracle? Is it a sign of life out of balance? Barbara Kingsolver explores these questions through the prisms of class, region, science, love, loyalty and family. Kingsolver’s main character, Dellarobia Turnbow, is someone who has been let down in many parts of her life. She got pregnant young, married the wrong guy, is tolerated by her in-laws, doesn’t like church and is constantly overwhelmed as a housewife and mother. The novel opens as she finds herself about to take a drastic step to escape this life when she comes face to face with an experience that will shape and redefine her in unimaginable ways. The writing is unflinching as Kingsolver skillfully takes aim at the media, the decline of public education (and the critical thinking that comes along with it), and the effects of globalization that has taken a toll on Turnbow’s isolated Tennessee community.
Climate change is at the heart of this book, but Kingsolver never loses sight of her characters, their daily struggles, biases and complexities. My only minor criticism, initially, was how dense the first chapter seemed. It was rarely broken with dialogue or Dellarobia’s inner thoughts. But, I see how Kingsolver used the richness and layering in that chapter, to great effect, as a touchstone throughout the entire novel. Dellarobia’s humor, insight and curiosity create an irresistible pull for the reader. After the first chapter, I was hooked.
What I love about this book is the way Dellarobia confronts her own biases, blindspots, and does some hard thinking to make up her own mind about the world around her.
Claiming Creative Space
How does one find and cultivate good ideas – from big thrilling ones to small stepping stone ones? This is a constant question for people who seek to be more creative.
Part of the answer rests in the power to claim physical space for our creative endeavors and to become aware of the types of metaphors we use to describe the psychological experience of generating those “aha” moments. To help creativity flow with the power of a waterfall, as opposed to an occasional trickle, requires us to dedicate physical space to support our efforts and cultivate new ways of imagining an inner repository for our good ideas.
Let’s start with physical space first.
A central question that I pose to clients is “Do you have a space where you create?” I receive a range of answers that include “That space is now where I fold my kids” clothes to “It’s cluttered” to “There’s no space that I can call my own.” I find this especially true for mothers with young children. Mothers often struggle with finding time and support for their creative lives. They routinely have to fight the feeling of being selfish versus “self-focused” when they claim time and space to create.
Designating space for one’s passion is a key creativity enhancer and important for two reasons. First, many people do not feel entitled to a creative life. To allocate space makes one’s work (and desires) real, visible, and enables a person to create from a feeling of worthiness.
Space affects us emotionally and cognitively. Psychologists, architects and neuroscientists are in conversation with each other and are developing studies that assess how to design spaces that promote creativity in buildings and micro spaces.
Second, when you claim a space it means you don’t have to recreate the wheel every time you want to work on your short story, collage series, ideas for planning a beautiful garden, or collection of songs. If you have designated space (or spaces), then you can go to it and work. Plain and simple. A specific space eliminates 75 percent of the challenge to creating.
Chris Cassen Madden, designer and author of “A Room of Her Own: Women’s Personal Spaces” reminds us that we don’t even need an entire room to begin claiming creative space. We can “carve out a corner, if you have to, in your living room or bedroom, with a chair and a basket filled with things you love – books, pictures, CDs…etc., If you don’t create the space, you might not take the time.”
I’ve had clients claim creative space in a secret garden, a barn, a window seat, an office in a newly remodeled attic, and on the table top of your dresser. Designating a physical space cultivates an inner authority to continue capturing and acting on ideas.
How do we cultivate metaphors for the “inner space” where musings are captured and brought to our attention?
If in our imagination, we mark those mysterious places where ideas seem to reside, it’s easier to know the path back to them when we’re lost.
I heard Booker T, a noted musician use the metaphor of a “potato hole” as where he gets and keeps his ideas.
He explained that during slavery, African Americans (and I’m assuming poor whites) didn’t have wood floors in their homes; they had dirt or earthen floors. There was no place to keep vegetables cool. So, enslaved folks dug what they called deep holes in the earth that allowed them to keep vegetables fresh. A potato hole is the central metaphor to describe where he gets fresh ideas from and also where other notions incubate. I fell in love with this unique description of an inner creative space literally rooted in conditions of struggle. His use of the potato hole honors the creativity of everyday folk long gone.
Even though I’m always cajoling people to think outside the box, one of my inner creative spaces that I return to for stimulation is a golden box filled with light. When I get stuck, I think about reaching in this big box of light and pulling out what I need. The writer Stephen King writes about his muse coming up from the cellar and bringing him beer. The image of an “inner cellar” stimulates his fresh thinking. I’ve heard other people say that tapping into their inner space for creativity is like imagining oneself at a great boisterous dinner party. All you have to do is sit back and listen.
This piece originally appeared as a ‘My View’ column for The Chapel Hill News on 8/23/2013