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Deep Writing

Kripalu ViewI’ve heard repeatedly from other writers that at some point in a birth of a book, it’s helpful to get away for a few days and focus solely on the project. I’m at the tail end of doing just that and I’m here to say it works.

I recently attended a Deep Writing Workshop at the Kripalu Yoga Center in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, led by Eric Maisel. It was a week which exceeded my expectations.

Since I started writing seriously in 2001, I’ve attended different writing conferences and workshops, such as the Wesleyan Writers Conference, International Women’s Writing Guild Conference, Ridgefield Writers Conference, as well as workshops at the Hudson Valley Writers Center, Westport Writers Workshop, and various local classes. All of them were helpful and enlightening in different ways. This workshop was different and in many ways, more valuable than any of those.

Eric Maisel is a writer, creativity coach, and family therapist (www.ericmaisel.com) His 40-plus published books deal with the artist’s life. I’m familiar with Fearless Creating, Living the Writer’s Life, and Deep Writing. His gift is applying his skills as a cognitive therapist to the creative life, which he does in a gentle, wise way, while hewing closely to certain ideas which support a life in the arts.

At our first session on Sunday evening, Eric immediately began to use the language he has created around creative work. As writers, we write because it’s a “meaning opportunity” in our lives. He suggested that we take this week, while we’re away from the demands of our usual routines, to establish a first-thing-in-the-morning writing practice. Making room for a meaningful experience before the rest of our day descends on us allows us to deal with the other parts of our life while knowing, okay, I’ve got my writing done. I can deal with the other things in my life, some of which have meaning, and some of which may not.

And we were all to try out sleep thinking.

Sleep thinking (Maisel wrote a book about this called The Power of Sleep Thinking)  begins by going to bed with a question in your mind about your project, a “light wondering” about some aspect of your book, e.g., I wonder how the next chapter could be shaped; or I wonder what my main character will do when faced with his loneliness, etc. The answer may not appear when you first open your eyes, but I did find that answers came to me about my wonderings, sometimes later in the day. And, as Maisel said, wondering is better than going to bed worrying.

Every day, after Eric talked a bit and took some questions for about 45 minutes, he glanced at the clock and said, “Okay, now write for 40 (or 50 or 60) minutes”.  And we did. It didn’t matter if we were finishing a draft, in the middle of project, not sure what we were writing about, or uncertain if we wanted to write at all. We just wrote, knowing, and this is the important part, that we were not going to read our work to anyone, not going to get any critique, nor need to give feedback to anyone else.

What freedom! It was a relief to sit in a room with twenty other writers and just work, with the knowledge that what you wrote was for your eyes only. The silent energy of minds engaged was supportive and sustaining.

Dining Room Buddha at Kripalu

And so our days went: three-hour morning sessions with a “lesson” each day, then a writing session, a break, some discussion, another writing session. After a two-hour lunch break, we had an afternoon session in the same format. We averaged three solid hours of group writing each day.

Not to say that it was all easy. Sometimes I sat down and didn’t feel like writing, or wasn’t sure where to begin, or was just tired. I never sleep well when away from home and I was sharing a dorm room with seven other women. But I stayed with it, as he encouraged us to do, and found it easier to drop into the work. I came up with a tactic I learned from my years of studying piano and cello: when I end a practice session, I make a note of where to begin the next day, providing me an easy entry point for the next writing session.

The group results were excellent. By Friday people worked out whatever they were grappling with. Some figured out what form their project would inhabit; others discovered that they wanted to continuing writing; one person finished his ten-minute screenplay. Along the way, Eric offered us bits of wisdom from his life as a writer and as a creativity coach. He understands the anxieties artists face and has tactics for dealing with them all.

I brought to the workshop a rough draft of my biography of mantra musician GuruGanesha Singh, hoping to pull it together, find places to incorporate research material, and bring the draft closer to completion, so I can hand it to my first reader. I’m going home happy with the results. And I started writing for an hour every morning, with the intention to continue this once home.

There was only one downside: I knew Eric offered these Deep Writing Workshops around the country. What I found out after I arrived was the June session is in Paris. If only I’d waited.

Ganesha at Kripalu

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17 Comments

  1. Teresa Teresa

    Nancy – Your blog is wonderful and I look forward to your musings. This one is particularly interesting to me as 2 years ago I participated in a writing workshop up at Omega and was delighted by the process and the result. I laugh many times reflecting on my story about getting locked out of my room naked. Perhaps we can read to one another some time. Enjoy!

    • I’d love to hear that story, Teresa. I’m chuckling just reading your post. Thanks for your reply and yes, we should read to each other. Let’s make that happen.

  2. Gerry Assard Gerry Assard

    Your blog will be interesting. Because I have been aware of information being relayed
    from the unknown for some time. You and your research will come closer to what is truth. That one hour in the morning could help with accepting what the day surprises bring.

    • Gerry,
      Well, I don’t know how much “research” I’ll be doing, except through personal experience, but I am open to all sources of information and wisdom. Good to have you on board.
      Nancy

  3. Hi, Nancy,
    You are an inspiration and i am happy to celebrate with you the birth of your blog.
    You do write beautifully and i imagine that we can support and encourage each other. I am also learning to video-blog–and wish that doing these projects was more like your writing workshop…for your eyes only. Perhaps i will apply that technique to my new endeavor. Excited for you.

    • Thank you, Barbara. So nice to hear from you.
      Love the idea of video blogging. Pleas be sure to send me a link to what you’re doing. Would love to keep up with it.

  4. Ismeret Tenger Ismeret Tenger

    Nancy,
    I always thought that there must exist somewhere an Information Ocean deep underneath. Deep in the sense of Mr. Feynmann. It is like the Spirit of G.W.F.H tries to understand itself. In that process it creates structured information and solidifies it into matter, from which, after some billion years of formulation and reformulation, folding and unfolding, we were created. So I am very interested in to see, how the writings of one is resonating, like the string of a piano, in the mind of another via this Information Ocean.

    • Ismeret,

      Your reply is intriguing and I will look into both the references. Any suggestions on where to begin?

      Nancy

    • Marianne Marianne

      That is a marvelous observation, and well expressed! From that perspective, the attentive writer, artist, scientist becomes more than the sum of what one knows, what one is and what one experiences. Constantly evolving harmonics. I appreciate the scope of your thinking.

  5. Marianne Marianne

    Hi Nancy, I have most of Feynman’s little books and the three volumes of lectures, although most fun is had by listening to him. Go to youtube for a sampling, or borrow my books for a dip into wonderment. Thanks for offering this blog space. I have enjoyed the gathering of thoughts here already. (Hello to all). Marianne

  6. Thanks for the tip, Marianne, and for chiming in. I’ll check out the YouTube videos.

    Nancy

  7. Marianne Marianne

    Nancy,

    Your first blog is a delight. But one must never wait for Paris. If you live well, Paris will find you! M

    • I love that idea, that Paris will find me.
      Thanks for the perspective shift, Marianne!

  8. Susan Chandler Susan Chandler

    Thank you for your gems from the Deep Writing Workshop at the Kripalu Yoga Center led by Eric Maisel. I have been needing some ideas about how to get back into my writing.
    I like the structure of your blog and the incorporation of photos with writing. Thank you for posting the program you use. You must have read my mind. What genre are you writing? Mine is literary historical fiction. Love the research.

  9. Hi Susan,
    I’m delighted you found my first blog post useful, and that you like the layout.

    I highly recommend the Deep Writing Workshop, and if you can’t get to one, Maisel has written a book (Deep Writing) which I believe covers the fundamentals that he taught in the workshop.

    I write non-fiction and fiction, short and long, which I love best, but there are non-fiction books I am called to write, and I enjoy the research, too. You can read about my first book, including an excerpt, at http://www.marchfarmthebook.com.

    What period do you like to write about?
    Nancy

  10. Marianne Marianne

    Workshops you describe sound wonderful. They are not feasible for everyone. But I was just commenting to a friend – a superb writer – that reading together is a great way for people to explore ideas and grow. There are rare and wonderous leaps of insight possible, don’t you think? My friend and i are just starting to read “Living Beautifully With Uncertainty and Change” by Pema Oliver Chodron. Writing requires one to be on amicable terms with uncertainly, yes? Perhaps you would like to read together with me and see where this book takes us…

  11. I do love Pema Chodron. I emailed you privately, Marianne, so check your inbox.

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