Last weekend I took part in a men’s retreat in the forest. For most of one day we sat across from each other in a circle, sharing the words that wounded us and the words we longed for. It seems that words can go a long way depending on how you use them.
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A few days later, sentences were still being uttered in this circle that continued to echo in the walls of my mind. To like:
You are so lovely
It’s not your fault.
Nobody has more integrity than you.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what words can do. You can cut or lift a person. You can overwhelm others with beauty or destroy their soul. I’m always on the lookout for the words that want to be said because when you find them they can change anything. As Kerouac said, “One day I’ll find the right words and they’ll be easy.” My hope is the same.
As a man, I have difficulty offering and receiving the gift of affirmation. But we all want to hear and share the right words, don’t we? There’s nothing worse than opening your mouth and wishing you didn’t and creating another mess that you need to clean up.
I did an interview last week the healing power of wordsand I realized that this cannot be emphasized enough: words can heal or they can hurt. And if we are not trained to use these weapons well, we can do a lot of damage.
So I beg you: please choose the words that you use wisely, that you speak and that you write, that you post and that you publish. Because it’s not just sticks and stones that break bones.
The words were hurt too.
I think this is more important than ever, at least in my life, as a pandemic along with an election year in America seems to be adding to tension between us. What we say to ourselves is more important today than ever. How do we find the right words? The ones we all long for?
First, you need a regular writing habit.
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again when you want to do something well, find a place and time of day to do it consistently, and that includes writing. For me this is often the first time in the morning after taking the kids to school and drinking my morning coffee. But if it can’t happen then, I take some time in the afternoon or evening.
This has been ten years of practice for me, and my commitment to it is so strong that I cannot do it without feeling that something is “over” in my day. There is no fault in itself, just a feeling that I am out of sync with myself and that the rhythm of my day is rocky. When I called myself a writer, I could no longer rely on that identity. When I started calling myself a writer, it forced me to take seriously the daily habit of writing much harder. You might want to do the same.
Whether it’s early in the day or later, set the intention to write each day if you can and try to stick to it. Don’t force yourself to do it – shame is not sustainable. Instead, be honest and clear with yourself: is this really what you want to do? If so, then make a commitment and keep it. We cannot be trusted if we cannot even keep the promises we make to ourselves. I have decided that I will be the last person in my life to disappoint.
Second, write with one goal in mind.
Decide when to finish. I tend to write at least 500 words a day, whether it’s a poem, a newsletter, or part of a book – everything counts. My goal is to get words on the page. That’s it. Do this often enough and the heavy lifting will lose its burden. Exercise, like everything else, makes it easier and allows you to increase the intensity of the activity.
Finally, throughout your day, trust words to come – and have a chance to organize them. For me, writing is a spiritual practice, which means that it is a dance between chaos and order. If there is too much order, you can lose inspiration. and with too much chaos, it’s hard to end something.
I think this is where most writers fail: they don’t know how to organize their writing, and because of that, they have lots of loose ideas stored in notebooks or somewhere on a hard drive, and that clutter in and of itself doesn’t make it any meaningful job. At the same time, there are those who take art and try to turn it into a formula, and my experience with creativity is that it’s always a nice mess.
So I need a system that allows me to be a little chaotic without getting lost in the chaos. And lest you be startled by a word like “system”, understand that all of this is a repeatable way of doing something. In my case, I follow a simple process that allows me to capture ideas throughout the day by taking random notes on my phone, then translate one of those ideas into a draft, and then edit older content the next day from an earlier day of writing. That’s it; this is all i do:
- Think about it for at least one day each day.
- Turn any of these ideas into a 500 word draft and save the edit for later.
- Edit a piece I wrote from a previous day.
I call that 3-bucket systemand that’s what works for me.
I’ve been writing regularly for over a decade and it – along with my daily walks – is the best thing I’ve ever done for my creativity. I highly recommend it.
Somebody once told me that a man who doesn’t trust his strength hurts people. I believe so. Likewise, a writer who does not know the power of her words can hurt others. So, dear Creator, take care of the words that you share. Don’t be too bold. Introduce your meanings, stories and ideas to the world with gentleness and ease so that they can land where they need them.
Practice this art of connecting your heart to the readers, but making something small every day. There is no other way to learn this.
By the way, if you need help with this, I’m running a series of free, live training sessions this week to help you build a writing habit. Learn more at writeabestseller.org/habit.
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