How To Start A Fire (aka How Not To Lose Heart)

From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.

~Robert Frost

 

The Pneuma Facebook Group inspired me to create a metaphor for my entire approach to both my art and my creative professional life. Here it is. 

 

But first: what do you MEAN you haven’t signed up for the Autumn retreat that is all about revision?! We have early-bird pricing – get on that! You can also download the yummy PDF to learn more.

And now, for your previsouly scheduled programming:

71fe7b3ccd91b956f61a2238c1b20c88This one’s for the weary of heart, the slightly lost, the exhausted-

This Sunday I leave for a week-long silent meditation retreat at Shambhala Mountain Center in Colorado. I am PSYCHED (okay, and also nervous because this shit is HARD, people), and will share all of my thoughts on that when I return after Memorial Day. I wanted to get this to you all before I go because I am bursting these days for a million good reasons and this is one of them. Don’t forget to snag your free download of the Expressive Journaling Workbook sneak peak to start your own expressive journaling practice (it’s literally changing my entire life, I love it so – more on this later).

I posted a quote of the day like I do every day of the week (well, M-F) in the Pneuma Facebook group (if you’re a lady-identifying writer, please come and join our mad-as-hatters club of awesome): If your ship doesn’t come in, swim out to it. It would be schmaltzy Internet encouragement except that I added this note along with the quote:

QOTD! I feel like this about sums up my writing career. Can I get an amen? Sure, it’s easy for some people, but for most of us it’s bloody hard work – and almost as much, if not more, once you’re published. It can be hard not to take being passed over or not seen personally. And it can dim a gal’s spirit, to feel as though she’s doing so much and it’s still not enough for where she wants to be. Part of why I post so many go-get-’em girl boss kind of quotes here is because it’s the kind of encouragement we often need in this line of work. It requires us to be really present for our lives, to show up, to continually expand the border of ourselves, and to increase our emotional intelligence as much as possible. We are constantly having to renegotiate our expectations on the creative and professional level, keep the love for writing burning, keep our imaginations limber, and somehow juggle all the business stuff, as well. Having tools along the way – such as meditation, groups like this, personal rituals, etc. – are essential for keeping your wits about you and not losing your renegade spirit. Chime in below: has your ship come in, are you swimming out to it, or are you currently boarding it, ninja-pirate style?

What resulted from this was a lot of comments that really brought to light how much hurting there is out there among us writers: our problems aren’t relegated to writer’s block and a need to boost or improve creativity. I knew that pain was there–it was, in fact, the whole REASON I became a writing coach and started this group in the first place. It occurred to me as I read through the struggles and wonderings and hurtings of these creative women that what was bubbling up the most among my fellow writers was a lack of FIRE. The kind of blaze that could keep them warm regardless of what happens externally, and one that was an invitation to others to join them (whether they be publishers, agents, readers, or fellow writers).

So many of you are probably in this same position: you work your butt off and are reasonably good at writing and have tried to master what the deal is with publishing. You send out query after query and take classes and do all the things but, for some reason, that ship never comes in. It can bring a girl down quick. One of the things I love working with writers on as a writing coach is how to sustain that burning desire to be published through the years and maybe even DECADES of trying to get your work out there. Your pursuit of being published doesn’t have to cause you to internally combust or explode your entire life or burn everyone around you. It can be warm, the kind of place where s’mores and a guitar are welcome.

This led me to begin working on a metaphor for my entire creative life – a visual representation of what got me to where I am as a multi-published author with big publishers, and keeps me going when I feel invisible, irrelevant, or just plain tired of the hustle.

I figured out this metaphor through doing some Expressive Journaling, a term I came up with to describe journaling out-loud. You’re going to hear me talking a lot more about Expressive Journaling over the next few weeks because I am OBSESSED and it has added fuel to my fire in every area of my life like nobody’s business. Basically, it’s talking to yourself via recorder or app, and combining that at some point with working with someone else on a medium like WhatsApp. You can download a little sneak peak of the workbook I’ll be sending out to all of you when I get back from retreat by signing up for my newsletter. (Bonus! You’ll also get my Mindfulness for Writers Social Media Worksheet).

Instead of reading this whole post, you can check out the Facebook Live video I did talking about the metaphor if you join the Pneuma Facebook Group, or you can listen to it here on my Soundcloud – be warned, it’s like 45 minutes long.

The first image – and the one that worked the most for me in terms of articulating how to build and sustain a fulfilling artistic life – is that of a bonfire. I personally prefer my bonfires on beaches, but you do you. Now, my husband is the head of bonfire building IRL, but this is an artist’s fire, so I’ll take the reigns:

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Wood aka The Work

You can’t have a fire without wood and you can’t have an artistic life of any kind without the work. Do the work. It’s what your whole foundation is built on. Make the time. Grow and stretch and make.

Newspaper aka Spiritual Technology

I learned from my husband that you need newspaper and / or other kindling to make a fire really go, and so it is with your artistic life and career. You need a spiritual technology. Meditation, yoga, tarot, chanting, prayer: some kind of spiritual work that keeps you feeling the pulse of the universe. It can be totally secular. Not religious at all. Or religious AF. Brené Brown has lots of great stats on why this is legit necessary for a fulfilling life, regardless of how you feel about Adam and Eve. My spiritual technology of meditation / mindfulness deeply informs the next section, my perspective, because it allows me to practice non-attachment and equanimity (basically, think The Dude). This, in turn, helps with the hard times of a creative’s life.

Lighter Fluid aka Perspective & Your Essential Self

Still working on this part of the metaphor, but basically these are the two things that cover everything else. You need both a cosmic perspective (okay, you got rejected, but you’re made of stars and also in the whole course of human history its NBD) and a personal orbit perspective (okay, you got rejected but you’re alive and (hopefully) relatively healthy, fed, and cared for – you are winning at life).

But you also need to be deeply in touch with your essential self: your story (both the one you tell yourself and your actual history), your ethics, values, desires, aesthetic, etc. All of this informs your perspective and is informed by your spiritual tech and your work. The whole bonfire is dependent on all the elements, very symbiotic.

The Match aka Your Intention

Your intention has to be REALLY FREAKING CLEAR to you. (This is where some expressive journaling later might really come in handy). I often have my clients write an artist statement just so that they can get to the heart of what they actually want to do with their writing. Sometimes being published isn’t their end all be all, and sometimes it is. Dig deeper. WHY do you want to be published? Also, a note of caution: it will not, not ever ever ever, fill the holes inside you. But let’s say this is your intention. What needs to shift in your life in order to make that intention manifest into reality?

Fire aka Your Burning Desire

Fire happens when that match (your intention) touches everything beneath it. The lighter fluid (your perspective and essential self) is the conduit for everything else. So those things need some extra love and attention from you. Like, every day. (See: spiritual technology). This fire is contained in the match and the chemical interaction is your burning desire. Burning desire is different from intention. The desire is the deep longing, the wanting, the DRIVE. This is your audacity in action.

Your perspective keeps this fire from getting out of control because it (and your spiritual tech) reminds you not to hustle for your worth. Your value is not in your deals or sales or approval or likes. And now we circle back to the very foundation of your fire: it’s all about the work. Love the work and the work will love you.

Keep the Blaze Bright aka Your Personal Power 

The best way to keep a fire going is to blow softly on it, to coax those flames into staying, as well as adding more kindling and lighter fluid. You keep your blaze going through your personal power: the hard-won respect and dignity you have for yourself and the belief that you deserve what you want. If that word “deserve” makes you uncomfortable, then get ready to be uncomfortable for a loooooooong time. We all deserve the very best. The world is just a fucked up place where we don’t all get the very best. But we all DESERVE it, you and me included. Your personal power is something that is yours and that you do not need to give away to industry people who make you feel small. No one can take that away from you, and having it inside will sustain you for the long haul.

The Invitation aka Inviting Others To Sit Around The Fire With You

The cool thing about bonfires is that, though they are more fun when others are around, they’re pretty groovy when it’s just you, too. Your fire is an invitation: to friends, readers, publishers, agents, librarians, bloggers – anyone – to come join you. This newsletter is a bonfire. My books are a bonfire. My social media posts are bonfires. When you write in your journal, that’s a bonfire, too. Those poems you scratched on the back of a receipt – also bonfires. Instead of it being a desperate cry for help on a desert isle, let your bonfire be an invitation, a chance to bask in the warmth of good words and good people. And if no one shows up for a while, that’s okay. It’ll keep you warm, so it’s doing it’s job. Just keep tending it. Put more wood on there, as needed. Experiment with different kinds of kindling. Buy better matches and cover it all from rain as best you can.

I can’t wait to sit around your’s with you.

 

DOWNLOAD YOUR EXPRESSIVE JOURNALING SNEAK PEEK when you sign up for my newsletter. 

 

Breathe. Write. Repeat. 

 

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Pssst: gorgeous photography and art by fabulous people that are unknown, via Pinterest
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