When I first came to writing in 1992, I was falling through the universe, trying to grab anything I could hold onto, flailing, failing, spinning. I had left a chaotic home and came to chaos in my mind as an undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, trying to figure out who I was and what I wanted to make of this life.
One day–maybe in a coffee shop or browsing the bookstore–I found Natalie Goldberg’s seminal book, Writing Down the Bones, and it inspired me to buy my first official journal. Dressed tight in its hideous fabric, this journal was the first to introduce me to the power of reflection and intention. It also taught me the immense power of my own words in lifting me out of my darkness.
Sometimes things and people come to us when we need a lifeline. Ever since, writing has been mine.
Twenty-six years later, I am still writing. I have a bookshelf crammed with journals housing a lifetime of big and small moments. It has become a massive unedited memoir. The thing is, I rarely reread what I have written. It is the practice of writing–of pausing Time for a moment to take a good look at the life I am living and the person I want to be–that inspires me to write.
A common theme I hear from people who want to write is that they do not know how to begin. There is so much they want to write about, so many thoughts and so much to say, they are overwhelmed by the gravity of placing those first words.
I think the most profound things are also the simplest. And this belief has inspired these instructions for beginning:
1. Buy a journal you love. I like blank pages so I can be as free as possible as I create the page. My daughter Lucy prefers lines. Go with one that resonates with your soul.
2. Write the date and where you are at the beginning of every entry.
3. Enter the page with the words, “Right now…” Begin with this moment, where you are now. What is going on around you? What do you see/feel/hear? How old are you? What are you thinking/worrying/dreaming about? Begin with everything about your life right now–your age, your job, your relationships, your obligations and your frustrations–everything that is going on in your life and mind.
As you write, you will hit a vein, and you will find yourself writing about the things you need to write about. Eventually, you will uncover the song beneath the words, the heart of your dilemmas and the spaces of your growth. Your attention to your present circumstances will empower you by giving you a solid ground on which to stand and look deeply at your life.
Life is an art. Writing is the dance of mindful engagement.