The cornerstone of my teaching is to write the truth of our own experience.
They’re fine words, which roll off the tongue with ease. But I needn’t tell you how gut-wrenching it can be to put them into practice.
For when one shares the results of such writing with the world at large it is very likely to anger at least some folk—no matter how clear, how unassuming, and how well-intentioned is what you have to say. And of course, it can be daunting to commit one’s truths to paper.
But the good news is that there’s a flipside.
Write the truth, and others—perhaps only a relative few—will appreciate beyond words that you’ve dared to express what they’ve longed to say, but perhaps couldn’t quite articulate.
Rilke, in his Letters to a Young Poet, advises his correspondent thus:
Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.
This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write?
I’ve many times asked myself this question over the course of my writing life, and have reconsidered it afresh whenever I revisit Rilke’s Letters, either on my own or with a group of students. My initial response tends to be, no, I mustn’t write—my life could be well-lived without the act of penning words onto a page. And yet I do write, often as if my life does indeed depend upon it.
Eleven years ago, I participated in a meditation retreat in which I had to relinquish any and all writing (and reading) materials for the course of a week and a half. No problem, I thought. Until several days into the retreat when I found I had something I had to express. So I liberated a blue permanent marker from the men’s toilet area and wrote my then nearly ten-year-old daughter a letter which spanned the full length and width of the fitted sheet I’d brought from home to sleep on. A letter she slept with for a very long time, until—ever so slowly, wash after wash—it finally faded from sight.
And how many times, since, have I resolved to give up writing in response to the egregious crimes of state we witness on a day-to-day basis, only to find myself in the most silent hour of my night writing an article for publication, a blog post, or page after page of handwritten diatribe?
Why, if time and again I tell myself I needn’t write, must I?
At times I write to release my soul from the burden of silence in the face of monstrous lies. Other times I write in response to witnessing the wonderment and beauty of this world. Either way, I write to express the truth of my own lived experience, and am infinitely happier for regularly doing so.
10 Steps to write the truth of your own experience
- Jump in headfirst. As with entering a cold sea or swimming pool, it’s much easier to plunge in, headfirst, than to wade slowly cursing the cold each step of the way. Once you’re in, you’re in, and you’ll acclimate yourself much more quickly. Ditto with writing.
- Courage grows in the doing. Fear and self-doubt, on the other hand, fester in the not-doing.
- Write with pen and paper. Make it a physical act, involving your whole body, your whole being, not just your mind. Thoughts are more likely to come in the doing than in the thinking up of things. Certainly, write on your computer as well, but get comfortable with putting pen to paper.
- Write first and foremost for yourself. While you might eventually like to share your work with others, write firstly for yourself without concern for your readers. Remember, too, that the acts of writing and sharing your work are wholly distinct. Share your work only when you’re ready.
- Trust wholeheartedly in the process. Simply write down whatever comes up. Trust in this process until the need to trust is replaced by an experiential knowing that the process works.
- Be patient and supremely gentle with yourself. Remember, too, that a thousand-mile journey begins with that very first step. Keep walking, and writing, and every once in a while look back to see how far you’ve travelled, and how much you’ve accomplished.
- Write with no expectations. Rather, nurture a sense of letting go of the notion of writing well. Good writing will come of its own accord, all the more so when you write regularly and truthfully about your own life experience.
- Begin a daily, or near-daily, writing practice. Commit to a three-month daily writing practice as a means to recognize, first-hand, the benefits of doing so, and, thereby, to develop it into a habit.
- Recognize that writing topics abound. They’re literally everywhere within you as well as in the world around you. Begin to notice the rich, inspiration-packed details of your day-to-day life.
- Write down your inner truths with great courage and honesty. You’ll thereby find your voice. This last step is a repeat from an earlier, closely related article I wrote for ProBlogger which you might find helpful to consider alongside this piece.
What strategies have you found to be helpful in writing the truth of your own experience? Please leave your comments below so that we can continue to learn from each other’s experience as well.