I’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.
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.
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.