How to Access Your Own Deepest Writing Wisdom

As writers, we're often either besieged by advice about our writing careers and writing projects or actively seeking out feedback on our writing or our career trajectories. Rare is the writer who never does so. And yet, when we give it the chance, our deepest writing wisdom comes from within. This isn't to say that feedback, mentoring, and coaching isn't also valuable, but at the end of every long writing day or hard writing decision, the person we have to answer to is ourselves. I've worked with mentors who don't understand this, or care, and I've worked with mentors who do. The difference can be astonishing.

I began this year with an intention to focus on Deep Work. (I've since read the book by that name, which I'll write about in the near future.) I've devoted the early part of this year to clearing the decks so I can go deeper and deeper into my writing over the course of 2017. In doing so, I had the opportunity to once again test the Writer's Guided Visualization I developed for the Ultimate Writer's Toolkit.

Our Most Profound Source of Guidance Comes From Within

The visualization is based on my early work as a coach, when I created my first Embrace Your Essential Self coaching program. I designed the processes and visualizations in that program to help people access their own deepest wisdom and get in touch with the essence of who they are. Last year I had the privilege of walking a client through that process again, something I don't "regularly" do these days, but which I found bringing both of us to the point of tears again and again -- the type of tears that spring into your eyes because you're in the presence of that which is profound, wise, and greater than yourself. I was reminded why I loved that early work of mine so very much, and even why I was called to coaching in the first place: Helping people touch the power of who we truly are and how we are called to be in the world is an incredible honor.

I created the Writer's Guided Visualization from that foundation.

When I used the visualization again myself last week, it brought home to me that my mind is often filled with chattering voices, ideas, opinions, fears, doubts, and self-sabotaging impulses that are hard to hear through or filter out. Before I listened to the 10 minute track, I scribbled down a few questions about my own writing trajectory, including:

  • What's the next best writing project for me to tackle?
  • What will move me closest to the path I want to be on?

The answers I received, as I quieted my mind and listened to the wisdom my inner Writer Self had to share with me, were simple in some ways, and profound in others. Isn't that often the truth with inner wisdom? It brings that sense of peaceful, quiet knowing to us. 

Because my Writer Self knew about my intention to go deep, she knew just what to say about where my deep work lies. I've been continuing the conversation with her since our last meeting, as I fall asleep each evening.

Two Powerful Methods to Access Your Inner Writing Wisdom

If you want to experiment with this yourself, here are two ways you access your own inner writing wisdom.

  1. Guided Visualization or Meditation. Visualization, or meditation, if you prefer the term, is my favorite method for helping myself and my clients access our inner wisdom. You can do this on your own, or I can walk you through it in the Writer's Guided Visualization in the Toolkit. Start by jotting down your questions, then relax your mind and body with a simple progressive relaxation, and then have a brief conversation with your future Writer Self in a cozy place, with time and space to listen for the answers. When you're done listening, open your eyes, and write down the insights you received. My experience with this technique is that it is a profound source of wisdom, reassurance, and calming. Our higher, wiser Writer Selves know what's what, and they're ready to share it with us.
  2. Journaling. Alternatively, you could use a similar technique with journaling. In this case, you would use your morning pages or journal to dialogue with your future Writer Self (much as you might do with a character in your novel) and converse with her/him about the questions you have. Ideally you'll shift yourself into something of a relaxed state first, either by taking deep breaths, closing your eyes, meditating, or otherwise changing your mental state into a more open, receptive place. Some writers also find that writing the responses with their non-dominant hand helps access more of their subconscious mind and deeper insight. 

The key to either approach is to not censor anything that comes from your inner self and just letting the answers flow with as little mental interference from your conscious mind as possible. I know for myself, with my strong mind that likes to run the show, I have to consciously quiet it with the relaxation techniques of the visualization or another meditation method in order to cut through the chatter and opinions my conscious mind likes to toss into the ring.

The beauty of tuning to your inner voice is not only that you can gain valuable insight for your writing projects, process, career, and life, but also that by listening regularly to what your deeper self has to say, you strengthen your access to your inner wisdom and your sense of what's right for you and your stories.

Your writing will only become stronger through this knowing of yourself.

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Make 2015 your year to write (Part five!)

Welcome back to the Make 2015 Your Year to Write series! We're closing in on the end -- both of our seven-part series, and also of 2014. The end is near! ... which makes this the perfect time to venture into the real reason we're all here: setting goals and resolutions for 2015 that are real and attainable.

But first, two things:

One: In case you're just joining us, let's review what we've been exploring this week together. We started by reflecting on our writing lives so far, then looked at challenges and insights, then began tapping in to what we want for our writing lives, and then explored how to close the gap between where we are right now and where we want to end up.

Two: Before we get into specifics for 2015, we're going to first look at the big picture of your writing career (and writing life!) as a whole. Tomorrow will be the big day for 2015 goal setting and resolutions. More about why we do it this way in a few minutes.

In the meantime, remember, if you have questions, thoughts, challenges, comments, or problems, I'm your coach this week. Just post them in the comments section on the blog and I'll be sure to address or answer them for you. And if you're wondering, it's perfectly okay to join in on this process at any time. We're glad to have you.

Now for part five!

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Tune into your vision for your writing career and life

Although we did some initial exploring in part three for what you want your writing life to be like, feel like, and look like, and looked at how we can start to close the gap between then and now in part four, today we're going to consider the trajectory you want for your big picture writing career and life. 

The importance of having a long-term vision

Before we go into it, though, let's talk about WHY we want to do this visioning thang. It's important to start with a long-term vision BEFORE setting goals for 2015, because we want to make sure that your short-term goals are in alignment with those long-term goals.

In other words, if you're setting goals for 2015 that have nothing to do with where you want to end up, you can end up in an entirely different place than you intended to go. That may sound entirely obvious, but I can't tell you how many writers I've worked with who set goals that take them to the wrong place, often because of what they think they should be doing or because someone else wants something for them that isn't necessarily a match with what the writer wants for themselves. 

So it's worth it to be clear about what you're doing and why you're doing it before you start identifying specific goals. 

First we'll discuss the common places writers get stuck with visioning and how to use a vision.

Then we'll explore our two writing prompts for today.

Common places writers get stuck with visioning

Sometimes visioning can get sticky. It sounds like a big fancy thing to do, and in a way it is, but it's also a lot simpler than we tend to make it. And we're all wired a little differently, so the kind of visioning that works well for Josephine Writer down the street may not work so well for you.

Here are the typical ways I see writers getting stuck with visioning. If you see yourself in any of these, try my suggested tweaks to course correct.

For instance:

  • Some writers get hung up on trying to be too specific, e.g. "I'll have written 27 books by 2019!" Being specific can be clarifying and useful, but it can also feel like all the creative juice gets sucked out of it when it's just about fulfilling a numbers game. If this is an issue for you, just be a little more broad with how you approach it, e.g. "I'll have books lining my shelves with my name on the byline." 
  • Sometimes going into visioning work can feel discouraging because it feels so far off in the distance and so big that we'll never get there. If you find yourself having trouble with this, invite yourself to hold it lightly, like a game or one possible future. And if it feels too heavy, give yourself permission to tweak and change it until it feels fun and inspiring. That's really the point, after all! We're going for fun, inspiring, and directing.
  • Another important pitfall to be aware of is that it can be easy to fall into fulfilling other people's visions for you if you're not careful. Sometimes our mentors, agents, managers, parents, families, friends, colleagues, spouses, and kids can have ideas about what we should be doing that may or may not ring true for us as individuals. And if you start forcing yourself to follow someone else's goals, you'll be likely to find yourself feeling lost instead. This isn't to say that our trusted experts and colleagues should always be ignored, but rather to make sure that we are checking in with our own internal guidance about what we truly want. A good way to check for this is to keep an ear tuned in to the word "should". If you catch yourself saying that, chances are your vision needs some adjusting to be more in line with YOU and your reality.
  • Along the same lines, we can get equally hooked by what outside measures of success are supposed to look like. In other words, you might think you "have to" self-publish, or traditionally publish, or break in by a certain date, or make a certain amount of money. It's important to both remember that we each have our own paths to take, and also that we can define success on our own terms. So as you vision, think not about what you are supposed to have, be, or do, but rather what feels most exciting and meaningful to you. Don't just focus on making lots of money if you don't know what you want to do with it, for instance. This isn't a race. It's about creating meaningful, quality lives for ourselves, and that can span a wide range.
  • Don't worry overly if you can't get super clear and have great detail about your vision. Some writers say, "I just don't see anything specific." If you find that to be an issue, you can go for flashes of a vision like we did in part three, or even try to tune in to a felt-sense that tells you a bit about where you'd like to be. There's no right and wrong with visioning. Just go with what comes to you, and feel free to make it a combo-deal of your mental ideas and thoughts plus the images you see. As long as it's coming from you, it's all good.

How to use a vision

It's also important to know HOW to use a vision. It's not a hard and fast tool, nor does it have to adhere to a specific timeline.

Instead, hold a vision lightly, as a guiding tool, and know and trust that you can evolve and change it as you go -- because after all, things change, and LIFE changes.

That said, we can still use a vision as a powerful step in moving toward what we want.

The key is to get clear on the vision and then focus on taking the first steps.

As you take your first steps, your next "first" steps will become clearer.

It's worth checking on a regular basis about where you are on the path -- Are you moving in your intended direction? Falling off course? Is there anything that you want to change or adjust?

Then you can make adjustments -- or not! -- depending on what's emerging for you in terms of your own clarity about it.

To summarize:

  • Hold it lightly.
  • Take the first step.
  • Check to make sure that the next "first" steps are in alignment with the big picture vision.
  • Refine and adjust the big picture vision as needed.
  • Take the next "first" steps.
  • And so on.

So now let's look at our inquiries for today's exercise: 

1. What’s your overall vision for your writing career?

We'll begin with thinking -- your ideas and thoughts about what you want.

While you're working with this inquiry, you want to consider things like:

  • What kind of writing career and life do you want to have? Are you picturing writing in a quiet, remote place with lots of independence and freedom? Or working in the hustle-bustle of a big city? Or collaborating for long full days in a writer's room in Hollywood, staffing a TV show? Do you feel excited by the idea of high-intensity, fast-paced work, late nights, and deadlines? Are you more in the "I just want to write in a quiet place by myself" camp?
  • And along those lines, is what you're currently headed toward or holding in mind a good match for your temperament? Sometimes writers are focused on a specific kind of writing career that doesn't fit well with their temperament, like someone who might prefer the collaborative environment of screenwriting but is instead currently focused on novel writing, or vice versa. 
  • Is writing the core of your career, or is it part of your platform? Some writers are also speakers, teachers, bloggers, or coaches. Writing can be a PART of the big picture but it doesn't have to be all of it.
  • Are you envisioning your writing as your sole source of income or does your income come from a mix of sources? Think about what that might look like and feel like. Sure, it may be something you transition to over time, but making a living from your writing as your only source of income is a very different thing than having multiple streams of income. And it might also be interesting to think about the types of writing you're considering as well.
  • By when do you hope to have "arrived"? Do you have a timeline in mind? Is there anything you know will be in place when you have the career you want to have?
  • How will you know you have "arrived"? Are there any outside measurable or observable criteria? Any inner guidelines that will help you "know"?

From my notebook:

"I'm most interested in a having mixed and varied writing career. I'd like to publish novels and write the screenplays based on them. I'd also like to write about writing, since I love the personal insights we can all gain around our writing processes (and tantrums, LOL). As much as I like collaboration, I know I'm going to want to have time alone to write as well. As far as income goes, I'd be delighted to have the majority of my income coming from my writing, but I'm hard-pressed to imagine giving up ALL of the coaching work I do too, since it's so much fun. I'm willing to have that be something that gets determined in a supply/demand kind of way."

 

2. What do you intend to accomplish as a writer? 

Do you have a specific idea in mind about the breadth or depth of your work?

Any ideas about how your work will manifest?

This might include things like:

  • Genre
  • Medium/format
  • Quantity
  • Distribution
  • Sales (or not!)
  • ...and more!

From my notebook:

"I want to be known for a groundbreaking sci-fi series that gets adapted into movies for the big screen. I'll happily write other books and screenplays along the way, and I know they'll be primarily in the sci-fi and fantasy genres. In my heart of hearts, I'd also happily have more than one series. But I still imagine there being one core series that I am known for. My own Harry Potter or Hunger Games. Wouldn't that be fun?"

 

3. What images flash into your mind that show your accomplishments?

A great tool for exploring the first two questions are to also see what images flash into your mind that show your accomplishments.

For instance, do you see a row of your published books lining the shelves in your favorite local bookstore? Posters of your movie plastered all over town? Your published articles in your favorite periodicals?

Perhaps you see yourself as the renowned expert in a specific field of study.

What comes to mind for you?

From Ginger, one of our Writer's Circle members:

"For the longest time, I had an image in my head of shelves and shelves of books in the bookstore, like a Nora Roberts or Danielle Steele. Not necessarily romance, but tons and tons and tons of books. I never really put too much thought into it, it was just a picture that I had. I always wanted to write a LOT of books -- like, a crazy lot.

"Then the other day I was in Chapters and I saw it -- you know in the sections where it’s like, 'Fiction A-D' or 'Spirituality' or 'War'? There was one of those huge signs, just like those ones, and it said 'James Patterson.'

"He got a sign as big as 'Lifestyle' or 'Magazines'.

"And I said, 'That. That’s what I want.'

"Of course, it’s a different world now, and by the time I’m publishing, and considering what I’m publishing, there probably won’t be a bookstore, and there won’t be a sign. Digital world and all that. But I want it to be reasonable for there to be a sign, even if the whole world goes digital. I want to be worth a sign."

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pen coffeeWriting prompts for Part five: Vision

Now you get to play with the writing prompts for today.

If you're inspired to do so, please share your responses in the comments section on the blog -- or your insights after writing about them in your journal, talking them over with other writers or a trusted friend, or letting them swirl through your consciousness. Feel free to leave questions for me too, if you have them.

  • What do you intend to accomplish as a writer?
  • What’s your overall vision for your writing career?
  • What images flash into your mind that show your accomplishments?

And don't miss tomorrow's installment, where we'll get specific about goal setting for 2015!

Hold on to yer keyboards, writers, here we go. :)