Check out our podcast interview with Marijke McCandless here.
What do we non-fiction writers have in common?
We all desire to share the truth. Whether we are experts writing about a subject matter we’ve studied our whole lives or memoir writers diving into emotional trauma, we want to speak authentically.
This can be easier said than done. It’s tricky speaking the truth for we are up against a host of challenges from overcoming our inner critic to not daring to be vulnerable for fear of looking weak. As purveyors of truth, we want to project an image of having life all figured out.
I know this from personal experience. Years ago, I wrote personal essays and travel articles for magazines and newspapers. I maintained an upbeat personality in my articles. Although I didn’t fully realize it, I equated being a purveyor of “truth” with being in control – with “knowing” something.
Then a mid-life crisis hit. Suddenly, I felt like I had nothing to say. As my life crumbled beneath me, I felt like I didn’t know anything. How could I maintain an aura of positivity when I was hurting inside? My life felt out of control and thus my writing felt blocked. I stopped writing for others, except in the corporate setting. I daren’t expose my messy interior.
It took me years to realize that sharing the messy interior was as important as sharing the buttoned-up, pulled-together, happy exterior. My natural tendency to only share when I felt in control throttled my pathway to authenticity.
The result? My “truth” got watered down. When I wrote in the corporate field, my writing morphed into an agenda or potential resume. When I wrote personal essays, they lost their vitality for they didn’t dare enter into the unknown. I wasn’t sure of my writing voice when it wasn’t upbeat. Only my journals held the raw truth of my experience.
Today, I want to talk about an approach to revitalize your writing. This is a little different from journal writing. It is similar to a practice I first learned from Natalie Goldberg in “Writing Down the Bones.”
I call it Write Now Mind.
Write Now Mind refers to both a free-writing practice where we allow our words to flow unedited and unfiltered onto the paper and to a state of mind that pays attention to the particular moment at hand. When we adopt an attitude of Write Now Mind we let go of control and get out of our own way. We practice paying attention to the details.
Write Now Mind combines awareness practice with writing. As awareness practitioners we practice paying close attention to the interior and exterior details of the moment without judging them, capturing them with naturally flowing words that have not been polished and improved. This is naked writing.
We follow a set of simple rules: 1) Keep your hand moving, 2) Don’t think, 3) Lose control, and 3) Be specific.
What this means is we don’t filter or edit. We don’t worry about punctuation or grammar or whether we are being eloquent or even making sense. We get vulnerable and free. We allow ourselves to experience our naked writing.
When we do, we experience five ways that Write Now Mind can revitalize our writing:
Write Now Mind is a writing practice where the initial rule is to “keep the hand moving.” We have a little prompt, set a timer, and then begin writing, completely unsure what it is that will come out. We practice noticing what thoughts arise and writing them as they arise, instead of pausing to organize our thinking. We stay in the flow and allow the word streams a life of their own. If the words that arise are “I’ve got nothing to say about this prompt” or “I feel anxious writing about this,” we write them down. If you have ever been blocked from writing, this simple practice can help get you back in the flow. We practice allowing words (any words) to flow.
Overcoming the inner critic
The second rule is “Don’t Think.” We, writers, often are overly critical about our writing. We can get caught up in worrying about whether what we write is brilliant enough, eloquent enough, entertaining enough, or worthy of being said. Write Now Mind takes us out of that mindset altogether. We practice writing without controlling what’s coming out. We give ourselves to write the worst junk in the world or to be surprised by unexpected brilliance. We let go of all expectations and simply write. It is a powerful practice.
One of my favorite aspects of Write Now Mind is its ability to suss out our “natural voice.” When we write without forethought or control the words come out closest to our natural expression. We begin to befriend our mind, learning to appreciate its unique expression. We may, for instance, be prone to lyrical writing or staccato expression. We may be prone to certain themes that come up no matter what the prompt. We may discover that poetry is a more natural expression than prose. It’s particularly clear when you listen to the different entries of several people writing to the same prompt. More than anything else, this writing practice began to give me the feeling of trusting my voice—the particular way I said things and the particular themes that bubbled up when I didn’t force anything.
Another rule is to “lose control.” When expounded upon the instruction is not to worry if you go “off-topic,” or if you stray into “taboo” territory. In Write Now Mind we are encouraged to “let ‘er rip.” Having permission to say whatever comes up can be freeing and can bring us much closer to authenticity. Even as subject matter experts, we don’t “know” everything or can recall times when we didn’t know. Practicing entering into the unknown when we write endears us to our audience. As humans, our lives are not always in our control—people die or leave, pandemics happen, and weather events cripple us. Writing from a place of “not” controlling what might be said allows us to touch on that truth.
One of the most important rules of Write Now Mind is to “be specific.” This means paying close attention to the details at hand and to practice writing them. This means observing for the first time exactly what you see or feel. You could say “I see a flower,” but with Write Now Mind you are encouraged to look closer. “I see five yellow petals radiating out from a brown poky center, with a second offset ring of petals around that. Light radiates like polka-a-dots across the child’s picnic table.” Being specific also includes paying close attention to your interior world as well. You could say “I feel sad,” but even better is to describe the actual physical sensations “I feel heavy and squishy like my heart is a rotting brown banana pushing water streams out my eyes.”
The acronym for the five ways Write Now Mind can revitalize your writing makes me smile. Of course, it reminds me of the choice we make in picking a font to best represent our writing, but, even better, it reminds me that Write Now Mind practice serves as a safe receptacle—a holy font, if you will—for our authentic, unpolished, naked writing.
Marijke McCandless is an award-winning author and long-time awareness practitioner. Her recipe for enlivenment? Listen. Play. Write. She leads a popular online writing practice called Write Now Mind and awareness practice sessions called Juicy Practices for Getting Present plus other immersion experiences in meditation, writing, and enlivenment. https://marijkemccandless.com