“Write What You Know” seems like the most repeated writing advice out there. It can also come off as the most confusing and the most boring – how can we stretch and grow if we just stick to what we know? What if we have acquired lots of knowledge about a topic that doesn’t set our heart on fire – do we just need to stick to that?
Write What You Know is sacred advice that needs a soulful jump start. Write What You Know means we can mine our lives for content and share those stories with the world in all their messiness and flaws and grace.
Our daily lives are full of richness and color. We are all brimming with stories and details that are waiting to be let out into the world, and every day we take in even more stimuli. Snippets of conversations. Dying purple flowers. A flicker of a memory of a vacation gone wrong. The occurrences and thoughts that we brush off as Normal and Boring are sacred experiences that no one else can share in quite the same way we can, and these experiences deserve to be expressed.
Write What You Know means we don’t have to squish our eyebrows together and conjure up new ideas to put on paper – the details are already within us, and our job is to get our self-sabotaging ego minds out of the way and let the words burst forth.
I am guilty of segmenting my life into distinct pieces and arbitrarily deciding which ones are and aren’t “worth” writing about. I have spent hours doodling in the margins and waiting for inspiration to strike while ignoring my inner ticker tape of dialogue that reveals my deepest passions, struggles, and revelations – the exact topics that are rich and earthy and writable.
An example: at some point down the line, I deemed my college experience as a separate part of my life not to be written about. The codependency, the figuring out who I was, the sustainability efforts I fell into, the shitty friendships, the glowing friendships, the laughter and love. All locked up inside.
I didn’t consciously decide to ignore this rich and juicy four year period of my life, but the repression happened organically. I tried to step out of those years, shed them off, zip them closed, and file them away with the other pieces of my life trajectory. But the lessons of those years are still fresh, and by avoiding writing about them I have frozen any potential they may have to help myself and others.
Instead, I have mistakenly looked Out There for interesting topics to write about that can be transformed into something beautiful. This kind of frantic seeking unfailingly comes up short – I blunder around in an aura of writers block, doubting my gifts and ignoring the treasure trove of my own life experiences that lie just under the surface of existence.
Last week I saw Master Stephen Co teach about “spiritual respiration.” When we breathe we must inhale and exhale… inhale… exhale. It is impossible to only inhale or only exhale – we must do both.
He pointed out that in a different context, if inhaling is learning and exhaling is helping others, we also need to do both. When people run around helping others without taking care of themselves, sooner or later they dizzy out and crash.
And when people obsess over themselves & their own learning without attempting to serve the world or change their own actions, they remain unhappy. We need both. We need to take in teachings then channel them out again. Inhaling learning, exhaling service.
In my mind, the creative process works the same way. We take so much in, but we block ourselves from letting it out again through our writing – out of self-doubt, shame, or fear that our stories aren’t Interesting Enough. That we will sound stupid. That no one cares.
But if you dare to let them out, if you allow them to expand from their cramped little boxes in your heart, they can open you up and help you revision your life story into something glowing and meaningful.
I believe we need to creatively respire as well. Breathe in the Daily Life, breathe out beautiful art. Fill up the well, and release it off into the world again. For those who feel creatively blocked, who want to write or make art or explore your lives or make better conversation: you are probably overlooking oodles of magical content.
So inhale. Exhale. Pick up a pen. Tell the story of a tiny detail of your life – the plate you ate (or didn’t eat) breakfast on today, your favorite piece of clothing, the last time you felt afraid. These little prompts get the pen moving and help remind us of our own bigness, opening up creative doors that we may not have noticed otherwise.
Let these stories out. Let them transform you and let them free you. Let them make you cry.
Love & Stories & Creative Respiration,
What stories have you avoided telling because you thought they were too boring? How do you work through creative blocks? Share your wisdom in the comments section!
*Special Announcement: On October 11, Love Letters to Yourself is throwing an International Day of the Girl Celebration in Naperville. I will be leading a discussion group and taking part in all the goodness – details at https://www.facebook.com/events/1413916032161543