As I prepare to step back from teaching and coaching for the months of July and August, I want to share some suggestions for how to sustain your writing practice when your regular group/ people/supports are not available. Or perhaps, like me, you’re feeling like YOU need a break from the routine. Whatever the reason, there are ways to take a purposeful pause in “putting words to page” that will sustain you and replenish your creative well.
In the words of one of my mentors: “Everything you do supports your writing.” Give yourself opportunities to live your life to the fullest, without having to put words to paper in any way. Give yourself permission to fully enjoy whatever you’ve decided to do, without a nagging sense of “undone homework.” This is a piece of wisdom I had to learn through experience, especially when I was in the midst of completing my memoir manuscript. I’d be out at sea kayaking, and I’d feel guilty because I also felt I “should” be working on my memoir. Then when I was revising my manuscript, I’d wish I was out kayaking. I had an “aha moment” during a retreat about being in the present moment. Now, whenever I feel the old tug of guilt, I remind myself: “When I’m hiking, I’m hiking. When I’m writing, I’m writing.”
This summer, I plan to spend all of August attending a meditation retreat. This will be the second time I immerse myself in deep practice for four weeks. There are many benefits to slowing down, like letting go of day-to-day worries, duties, tasks, and planning. In the silence and the spaciousness, I am guided to study my own mind, to build my capacity for loving kindness, for calm abiding and unfiltered noticing. There is no better practice than this for a writer, in my opinion. If you have trouble setting aside the feeling that you “should” be writing, stepping into this level of stillness, listening, and acceptance (even for a few minutes) can help you find your way back to the present moment.
Plan the next writing class, group, or meeting you want to attend after your time off. Put that event in your calendar. At the end of every meditation retreat I attend, our teacher always suggests, “Plan your next retreat now!” Even if it’s two or three years away, commit to something that supports your practice. One way to maintain and sustain your writing is to know that you have committed to nurturing your practice in some way – whatever that may be for you.
If you’re looking to sustain your writing practice this summer between support systems and classes, here are some practical suggestions for what has worked for me and for other writers I know:
- Find a writing buddy! It’s best if this person is on a similar writing path to yours. Make commitments with each other and support your respective progress. For example, every two weeks, you could promise to swap a piece of writing between 500 and 750 words. Set a date, then follow through. I’ve had a writing buddy since 2012, and we still meet and send each other drafts and finished copies, supporting each other in whatever project we’re cooking up.
- Host an informal writing circle where you gather with a few friends, come up with writing prompts, and do timed writing together. No need to critique each other’s words, just have fun writing together.
- Read inspiring books by authors you love, not necessarily about writing. Dive into a favorite memoir and savor the language. Notice how the story evolves, the structure, believable dialogue, or character development. You can then practice incorporating some of these techniques into your own writing when you take up the pen once again.
- Immerse yourself in nature, either by gardening or another outdoor activity that you love, with who you love. Creativity is nurtured by love.
- Meditate and/or practice yoga, tai chi or qi gong. These are all practices that strengthen the mind/body connection. For anyone who writes with me, you’ll discover that the strongest writing comes from the body, from a deep heart connection; a place beyond the rational mind.
We all have our version of the “monkey mind”– that inner voice that tries to stop you from telling your stories. Pay attention to your inner dialogue when you’re writing. What does the inner critic have to say about your project when you’re not writing? Once you recognize that this is the inner critic, start by saying, “thank you for sharing,” and send that critical voice off to a corner. Noticing is the first step in taking charge of your writing process. Remind yourself that Your Writing Matters! Your Words Matter!