Have a Question about Writing You’d Like Me to Answer?

If you have a question about writing, and you think the answer might benefit others as well, please send me an email at Nomi.theWriteCoach(at)gmail.com, and I’ll set to work on a blog post that answers your question. (It’ll be kind of like you’re giving me a writing prompt and benefiting from what I come up with!) If I don’t know the answer, I’ll do my best to find you some resources where you can find the answer.

Then, keep your eyes open for my response (in the form of a blog entry)!

It gives me great joy to share what I’ve learned about the craft of writing over my 20 + years as a book editor, writer, and writing coach.

I look forward to hearing from you.

I’m all ears.

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Recipe for a Non-Writing Retreat

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If you find yourself hitting the wall with a writing project, you can’t figure out what comes next in a scene or chapter, or you’re just too dang close to a project to know whether it’s any good or not, try this recipe for a non-writing retreat.

Ingredients

  • Fresh figs
  • Dark chocolate
  • Art supplies
  • Good climbing shoes
  • One large tree

Choose a serene spot with at least one large, accessible tree. I find the most effective is a location with very few, if any, other humans.

Place your brain to the side. (You will need this later when the retreat is over.) Put on your climbing shoes (I like Five-Finger shoes because they give you sticky-monkey-feet, but sneakers are good too. Bare feet work in a pinch).

If there is more than one tree in your chosen location, select the tree that calls to you the most. One way to discern which tree is calling is to approach each tree one by one and place your palms flat against the trunk. When you become aware of your heart, you know you’ve found your tree. Sometimes I feel a strengthened connection between my palms and my heart. All of this may be subtle, so take your time and listen with your whole body.

Once you’ve chosen your tree, proceed to climb it. You don’t have to be a daredevil climber to reap the benefits of tree climbing.  Even sitting on a low branch with your feet swinging a foot above the forest floor will provide you with the core benefit of your non-writing retreat.

For the most effective tree-sitting experience, find a limb or large branch that you can align with your sternum. Gently press your sternum against the branch or limb. One of my favorite ways to do this is to lie belly down along a large horizontal or near-horizontal limb. Alternately, you can align the limb or branch with the “back door to your heart” (this is the spot between your shoulder blades roughly opposite your sternum, or your heart). The gentle pressure vertically along your sternum or between your shoulder blades will allow the grounding energy of the tree to flow into your body, resetting your nervous system. (Note: The author has done no research to back up this statement. Neither is it FDA approved.)

Once you’re in a comfortable position, turn flame to low and simmer. Allow your gaze to settle on various aspects of the natural habitat you now find yourself in. Let your gaze soften and focus inward. Do you feel your energy shifting? What other senses are you aware of? What is the temperature of the air on your skin? Is there a breeze? Do you notice any sounds, textures, or smells? (If you smell tuna casserole, you haven’t gone far enough out into nature.)

As you sit or lie in the tree, you will likely feel your body relax (unless you’re afraid of heights). You may even become drowsy. In this subdued state you may notice creative ideas begin to bubble. Note: If you haven’t been out of the city for a while or you’ve been working particularly long hours, you may need to allow for a preliminary period of thought-slowing before your body begins to relax.

You’ll know you’re done with the tree-lounging portion of your retreat when you’ve got so many creative ideas bubbling up that you can’t sit still any longer or, alternately, when the ants that were streaming along the tree trunk are now streaming through your pants.

Climb down.

I like to thank the tree for the nurturing energy by placing my palms once again flat against the trunk. (If any of this sounds like nonsense to you, by all means skip the nonsensical parts! No reason to do empty rituals. But if you’re open to it, I invite you to suspend disbelief for a moment and at least try it out for yourself. If you’ve followed the recipe so far, there’s no one around to see you do it.) Another powerful touch point is the lips. Gently touch your lips to the bark of the tree and feel the energetic connection to your heart. (There’s a reason kissing is done with the lips!)

Now you can start on the art project you’ve brought along. If you haven’t brought along an art project, take a walk around your selected location and find some natural elements that speak to you—twigs, stones, grasses, whatever appeals to your senses. Now arrange them on the ground or in a tree or bush in a manner that’s pleasing to you.

And don’t forget about the fresh figs and dark chocolate (or whatever sensual foods you prefer). When you eat them, try closing your eyes and really pay attention to the smell and taste of the foods.

Note: Although the point of this retreat is to take a break from writing . . . it may very well trigger some writing ideas. So you might want to bring along a notebook and pen, just in case.

Oh, and don’t forget to gather up your brain before you drive home.Image

Write Fresh: Open Your Eyes as Though for the First Time

See a waterfall as though seeing it for the first time. Touch your dog’s fur and feel it as though you’ve never felt it before. Taste a hot meal as though you haven’t eaten in days. And then share that experience with your reader.

As a writer, if you can convey a common occurrence to your audience in a way that creates a brand new experience for your reader . . . then you have done your job well.

This beautiful short film exemplifies fresh seeing. Fresh feeling. Fresh being.

Click here to view the film: Gratitude HD – Moving Art™

Check Out This Video Clip of My Workshop

I just got access to some footage of a workshop I did for the UCLArts and Healing Conference 2011. The workshop is Writing from the Senses: Quieting the Inner Critic, where I use movement and somatic awareness to help people access a deeper current from which to draw in their writing. It was an amazing workshop with incredible students. Click here to see the video. (It may take a while to load.)

The Awe of the Writing Teacher

 

I just returned home from teaching a class (Writing from the Senses: Quieting the Inner Critic). A first night of a new series. And again I find myself in awe. A roomful of (mostly) new people—new to me, new to each other—and everyone dove in with such honesty and vulnerability . . . and so much wisdom.

Every time I teach I lay before my students an invitation. Come ride this wave with me! Dive in and see what you find! And each and every time I am honored, and astounded, to have my invitation accepted. Wow, they’re really gonna do this! They’re going to dive into the depths and return to the surface with such treasures.

I am so blessed to get to witness this process. And so grateful to those willing to engage in it.

Writing from Your Body?

 

If you’re a writer, there’s a good likelihood that you’ve spent at least a little time (if not a huge amount of time) procrastinating. Maybe you’ve even experienced “Writer’s Block”—which is kind of like procrastination that has taken up residence, with seemingly no recourse for eviction.

Have you ever wondered why writers are so plagued by procrastination, or why there’s even such a thing as “Writer’s Block”?

Unlike dancers or painters, we writers rely on the verbal centers of the brain to craft our work; this brings us up into our head . . . and the head is where the infamous Inner Critic lives. A lot of writers don’t see the connection between the Inner Critic and their procrastination or their “Writer’s Block,” but as far as I’m concerned, the Inner Critic is the man behind the Writer’s Block curtain; he’s orchestrating the whole show, making you sharpen every last pencil before you can sit down to write (and you haven’t used a pencil in decades; you write at a computer!).

In my experience, writers seem to suffer more severely from procrastination or “Block” than any other kind of artist. We writers just hang out a little too much with our Inner Critic (remember, our Inner Critic lives in our head).

When we’re writing we can’t just turn off our mind entirely; we need those verbal skills to form sentences and paragraphs. But we also need to fly under the Inner Critic’s radar if we’re going to actually get anything out onto the page.

So, how do you stay just enough in the mind to write, but not so much in the mind that the Inner Critic takes over? It’s a delicate balancing act, one where sensory awareness plays an important role.

Many of the writers who come to see me are stuck in their heads, duking it out with their Inner Critic. They don’t realize that all they have to do is duck. . . . down into their bodies. But just inhabiting the body doesn’t work if you do it in a mindless way. You can go kickbox for an hour or run up a mountain. But if you don’t tap into your sensory experience while you’re huffing and puffing, you may not be any closer to your writer’s flow when you come down the mountain.

So, being solely in your mind brings you perilously close to your Inner Critic, and being solely in your body can take you away from accessing your verbal centers. Thus, a secret route to inspired writing is to be in both your mind and your body at the same time. This is worth repeating: A secret route to inspired writing is to be both in your mind and your body at the same time.

But how do you do this? The simple answer is: You watch your body’s experience with your mind. You pay attention to your senses. It’s the sensory experience that is the bridge between inhabiting your body and inhabiting your mind.

So, the next time you feel stuck or find yourself engaged with your Inner Critic, go for a walk . . . and pay attention to your walking. What do you feel as you’re placing one foot in front of the other? What’s your inner experience? Notice the sensations in your feet, your belly, your chest. Pick up a stone and notice its texture. Take in the smell of a flower. Or you could do yoga or take a bath, but watch your sensations with your mind as you do it. And most important, have pen and paper on hand; you never know when the floodgates will open!