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Writing Tip: Finding solid ground


“There is in each of us an upwelling spring of life, energy, love, whatever you like to call it. If a course is not cut for it, it turns the ground around it into a swamp.”

-Mark Rutherford


“What is upwelling in you?...Stories, articles, poems, songs, and screenplays—to name only a few forms—are reliable containers for the energies arising from within you….The swamp of unchanneled creativity…bog[s you] down. You will seldom feel you really ‘have time for writing.’ But writing ultimately frees time…it turns much of what was marshy in your life into dry ground upon which it [is] easy to tread.”


This advice comes from Susan Shaughnessy’s work Walking on Alligators: A Book of Meditations for Writers.*


I love this imagery. What swamp have you created by ignoring your passions, making time only for the things you have to do? What alligators must you tread on each day by shushing the creative voice crying out? What fatigue are you engendering where there could be levity? What life are you allowing yourself to sink into like Artax from The Neverending Story rather than struggling to the surface to truly breathe?


Let go of the ushy-gushy, the yuck of kumbaya, and all the resistance to this new-age spiritual nonsense, and ask, "What if this were true?" Sit in it, lean in, and let yourself wonder. What if I let myself shine? What if I constructed the container to revel in my art?


Today, let’s draw that container. Grab a scrap piece of paper and let yourself doodle. Set a timer and don’t let yourself stop for 5 minutes.

Now, look at what you created. Journal on that for 5 minutes. What is the feeling of the piece? What is calling out to you? Where can you go from here?


I was surprised by how much music was in mine. I also noticed the silence. The fermata, the hidden voice, the fear lurking in the swamp. But look at how my container is open. I’m calling forth; whatever is trying to be contained is cracking. Perhaps I'll add a new writing form each day: a song one day, a screenplay the next, a piece of flash fiction following. Perhaps I need that handy dandy writer's journal to jot down a few profound thoughts in my normal day-to-day. Perhaps I need the quiet to sit still and resist the urge to do something valuable with my time. Perhaps I need an actual container to be a physical visual to remind myself that writing isn't just a hobby or an obsession, as if there's anything wrong with that. If writing is the way I breathe, why am I holding my breath?


See what creating that container can do for you and then go create.

*Walking on Alligators: Book of Meditation for Writers, by Susan Shaughnessy, HarperSanFrancisco, 1993, p. 21.

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