Depressed about your writing? Buried under an avalanche of rejections? Ready to unsubscribe from your own email and pursue a career in storage unit construction?
You need to resuscitate your writing heart.
What’s that? Your writing heart is what makes you write and keep coming back to writing.
If you feel you don’t have one, you do. If you feel you haven’t written enough to deserve one, you qualify anyway. Your writing heart doesn’t care how much or what you write—poetry, publicity releases, or plumbing manuals. It doesn’t test, screen, require a resume, or demand membership dues. It never asks hard questions, like how much you’ve published, what awards you’ve won, or what you’ve earned this year from writing.
How do you get to your writing heart? You don’t need to meditate bare-chested in frigid temperatures. Or trek through some brow-scorching wilderness on your knees. It’s much simpler. Wherever you are—right now—you can find, refind, or revive your writing heart. You may not yet be certain what it is, but like every other writer you have experienced it.
But this doesn’t mean your writing heart is accessible at the snap of a pencil. It’s more than our fantasies of book tours and talk shows, more than our every-January sworn oath to write 20 pages a day, and more than the uncontrollable grin and rising of joy in our chest when we manage to get something published.
Our writing heart hides beneath all our reasons, promised self-discipline, and dreams of reward.We may not be able easily to label our writing heart—it’s different for each of us. But when you reach it, you’ll recognize it, like a longlost childhood doll.
Sometimes we don’t need to invoke it consciously. It bubbles up and sends us bounding to our computer, typewriter, clipboard, yellow pad, spiral notebook, or the nearest used napkin. Other times, our heart knocks, nudges, pulls, or shames us into punching off the hot new TV cable series and go tussle with our manuscript.
But at more desperate hours, our writing heart seems to dive deep underwater, allowing only tantalizing glimpses, like lightning fish darting through coral. Our heart submerges when yet another rejection arrives of that most cherished, labored-over piece. Or we inexplicably lose all interest in the work that so fired us up last week. Or we get a great idea and haven’t a clue where to begin.
Most of the time, our connection with our writing heart is haphazard, the result of combined lamentation, supplication to the god of abandoned writers, and decimation of a two-pound bag of corn chips. But this approach can take days, weeks, or months, and gain you 30 pounds.
Better, more conscious ways are available to resuscitate your writing heart. They’re less damaging and more quickly reviving than all that weeping and munching.
Here are some ways that have worked for other writers (including me):
1. Stop trying to write. Stop telling yourself you have to. If you miss a few days, you won’t be destroyed, ejected from the ranks of real writers, or condemned to eternal block.
2. Go to a quiet spot, with no disturbances of kids, neighbors, phone, earbuds, or reality shows. Take a few deep breaths. Relax.
3. Let your mind revisit a time you really enjoyed writing. Maybe it was two years ago, last month, or yesterday. What were you working on? What materials were you using?
4. Reconstruct that experience. Where were you? What was the physical setting like? How were you dressed? See yourself writing in that environment. Replay it.
5. How did you feel? Don’t try to force the memories or bully them into being. They haven’t been lost. If you’re quiet and patient, they’ll emerge.
6. Live those feelings. Re-experience them. Feel your ideas flowing, fingers again moving, singing on the page or keyboard.
7. As you allow these thoughts, pictures, and feelings to surface, you’ll start sensing something. It will stir in you, as excitement, maybe, a physical sensation, a desire, a word, phrase, or image.
8. Whatever arises, give it time. You’ve revived your writing heart.
9. Bask in your heart. Let it move you, as naturally as a cat stretching in the sun.
10. And then, gently, without hurry, listen as it tells you what to write. No judgments. If it’s a current project, fine. If it’s a journal entry, fine. If it’s a long-delayed letter to a writing buddy, also fine.
Whatever your lapses, your writing heart cannot be lost. It’s always within you, ready to support, sustain, and guide.
So, when you feel frustrated, bored, hopeless, or any of the other buzzing self-disparagements that swarm in our heads, don’t despair. Just stop, sit quietly, breathe, and let yourself re-experience those glorious memories. And as surely as you blink in the first morning light, you’ll resuscitate your writing heart.
NOELLE STERNE Author, editor, writing coach and soother, dissertation nurturer, and spiritual counselor, Noelle Sterne publishes writing craft, spiritual articles, essays, and stories in print and online publications. With a Ph.D. from Columbia University, Noelle assists doctoral candidates in completing their dissertations (finally). Based on her practice, her current handbook addresses these students’ largely overlooked but equally important nonacademic difficulties. Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping with the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2015). In Noelle’s Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books, 2011), she helps readers release regrets, relabel their past, and reach lifelong yearnings. Visit Noelle at www.trustyourlifenow.com