How To Fall in Love With Your Life Through Writing
Words are powerful and writing them is both exhilarating and terrifying, frustrating and satisfying. But we write them because deep within us we long for a way to express our lives that will help them make sense.
We desire a way to connect with other people who have had similar experiences.
We want to process and heal.
We want the opportunity to see more than what’s on the surface.
And when we write, we can dive deep, under the turbulence of our minds into the still waters where the real story lies at the bottom, waiting for us to discover it.
I am taking a writing course from Natalie Goldberg. Today, she read an excerpt from a novel. It was riveting. The author set the scene and developed the characters so skillfully I could easily see it and was immersed in the experience.
When Natalie finished, she looked up and expressed how much she enjoyed reading it. She had a broad smile and a look of pleasure on her face. Then she asked “Did you enjoy that, too?”
Yes! Immensely! I, for one, wanted her to go on. But then she said “That’s what writing is all about. You fall in love.”
You fall in love with writing because you see the power of words to move people and make a difference. And you fall in love with your life by offering it your attention in the present and then writing about it. When we write about our lives we get to live twice and our experience is richer.
How can we learn to love our lives through writing?
By paying attention.
Natalie has been teaching “writing practice” for over 30 years. Her seminal book, Writing Down the Bones, has been a game-changer for many writers. But even those of us who have owned and loved this book for 30 years can forget how simple it really is to dive deep into our experience and extract the treasure that is buried there.
When we use writing practice, we find that, as Natalie puts it, writing writes itself. Choose a topic — or a prompt — and start writing. Write for ten minutes without stopping. This part is very important. You have to keep your hand moving and try not to overthink. This is where the buried treasure lies.
Do this everyday and your writing will improve and you will discover things you never knew were there. The joy of writing is the surprises — the things that come up as you are writing that you never saw coming.
This happens when we stop thinking and just write. We let writing write.
Natalie’s favorite writing prompts are “I remember” and “I don’t remember.” Or “I’m looking at” or “I’m not looking at.” If we just write ten minutes to those prompts everyday, we will be honing our ability to really see and pay attention to our lives.
We all have untold thousands of memories. Many of them are buried so far beneath the surface of our consciousness that we do not even realize they are there until we start to write. When we write with pen and paper and do not let our hand stop moving, that is when the real juice of our memories can be squeezed from our subconscious.
Today, during the writing session, Natalie said for us to make a list of all the jobs we can remember having. Then, choose one that has some energy and write about it. But, she said, you have to include something to eat, something to drink and the weather.
This is the memory I came up with.
When I was young, I sold brooms and other household supplies door-to-door for Stanley products. I don’t remember how I got my leads or if I did cold calling. But I do remember, very clearly, standing on the back stoop of a simple wooden house. The house was in the country and the woman who came to the door was wearing a flowered apron. She let me show her my wares and then, probably out of pity, bought a broom. The sky was gray and cloudy, threatening rain. She invited me in for a glass of sweet tea and a slice of lemon meringue pie.
We sat at a red formica table, with silver trim around the edge, in her small but tidy kitchen. This woman did not need a broom. She had several brooms lined up against the wall in her small pantry off the back of the kitchen. She noticed me looking at her brooms and said, with a warm smile, “Oh, none of those is as fine as the one I bought from you.”
I smiled back at her in gratitude. I was 17 years old. I had just quit high school for more reasons than I can name. But I was smart. I loved to read. And I loved to write. I wanted to be a writer but I didn’t know how.
Now, here I was selling brooms. I made $3.75 on the broom I sold this nice lady. It was 1979. Minimum wage was $2.90. But it had taken me all morning to sell one broom.
“What am I doing?” I wondered. I felt defeated and ashamed. My high school counselor said I would never amount to anything. That is what he told me the day I went into his office to withdraw from school. I was a junior. It was March. My father said I had to get a job and this was the job I found. Day one, and I hated it already.
In her chapter about living twice, in Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg says that as writers we have been training ourselves to sit down and see our lives again, looking at the textures and the details. I cannot tell you how surprised I was at all the details that came from a simple 10 minute writing session about one of my earliest jobs. That’s the beauty of the practice. We get beneath the surface to see the real substance of our stories.
In today’s class, Natalie said “Nothing matters if you don’t write.”
And by writing you save yourself.
Falling in Love With Our Lives
Falling in love with our lives is one of the greatest ways to save ourselves. If we can make peace with what is, if we can see the beauty in the details of our imperfect experiences, if we can fall in love with all of it, then we can help the world see its way clear to do the same.
In her poem Arriving Again and Again Without Noticing, Linda Gregg says
“I remember all the different kinds of years.
Angry, or brokenhearted, or afraid.”
She concludes with these lines:
“I finally fell in love with all of it:
dirt, night, rock and far views.
It’s strange that my heart is as full
now as my desire was then.”
That’s the key. To fall in love with all of it through our writing. Writing about what we remember. Writing about what we don’t remember. Seeing the details. Diving deep. The details are what will make us great writers. And the details are what will set us free.
In Writing Down the Bones Natalie says “Our lives are at once ordinary and mythical. …We are important and our lives are important, magnificent, really, and their details are worthy to be recorded. This is how writers must think, this is how we must sit down with pen in hand. We were here; we are human beings; this is how we lived. Let it be known, the earth passed before us. Our details are important. Otherwise, if they are not, we can drop a bomb and it doesn’t matter.”
“A writer must say yes to life, to all of life…Our task is to say a holy yes to the real things of our life as they exist. …We must become writers who accept things as they are, come to love the details, and step forward with yes on our lips so there can be no more noes in the world, noes that invalidate life and stop these details from continuing.”
Through writing our lives we can learn to say yes to them. And in saying yes to them, we will fall in love with them in all their messy imperfection.
So pick up your pen. Start with “I remember”. Write for 10 minutes. Go. Do it again tomorrow. And the next day. Learn to love your life in its entirety. Then share it with the world.
Why Your Stories Matter
Writers on why you should write even when you wonder if anyone will care
Beth Bruno lives by the mantra “If not now, when?” She is a writer trying to make sense of the world as she sees it. She works as a horticultural therapist with dementia patients. She spends her free time gardening, camping and reading. She lives in South Carolina with her husband, 6 chickens and 2 cats.