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Transcending With Words

When it hurts write harder; taking risks leads to revelations.

Dear Self:

When I was in graduate school working on my MFA in Writing, one of my favorite professors told me to post a note on my computer which said, “When it hurts, write harder.” For more than five decades, those five words have been my mantra. The writing process is not always about writing away the pain of an experience, but it is often about tapping into your deepest feelings and sentiments about an experience. It is also a means of reflecting on our experience while moving forward with our lives. Sometimes we are not even clear about what we are feeling and through writing the feelings magically emerge.

This is why stream-of-consciousness writing or free writing can be so revealing; it puts us in touch with our inner psyche or voice. The term stream-of-consciousness writing was coined by psychologist and philosopher William James, inferring that words flow like a stream or a river. In my writing classes, I advise my students to write for fifteen minutes without lifting the pen off the page. Thinking about leaving the pen on the page encourages this type of writing. Another way to know you are engaged in stream-of-consciousness writing is when you are writing and don’t acknowledge the passage of time. You look up and hours might have passed. This is truly being in the “flow.” It feels as if the words are coming from nowhere in particular; they are just flowing.

My connection with writing poetry began while raising my three children. In those days I found writing time to be a valued commodity. I worked as a medical nonfiction writer, and my job took intense concentration and research. As a result of my maternal responsibilities, I was forced to take a break from that type of writing. Those breaks lead me down the path of poetry. Writing a poem offered a quick, efficient, and gratifying form of creative expression because it cut to the chase of the subject being discussed. When writing poetry, I often find myself entering an altered state of consciousness. This may also be called a transcendent or mystic state. When we transcend, we go beyond the limits of our mind and fall into the territory of reflection and revelation that often arises from the unconscious mind. When we enter this altered state of consciousness, there is a blurring of the boundaries between the conscious and unconscious mind. Writing is only one way to transcend; some people find transcendence through experiences such as sex, exercise, dancing, social gatherings and communication. Whatever your outlet for transcending, it will feel as if the mind bursts open and is available for messages sent from the universe. This could be the path to transformation, growth, and a sense of empowerment.

One way to possibly enter this altered state is to start with a statement or sentence that offers a snapshot of where you are in your life, such as “I’m not sure if this profession is fulfilling.” Try to fill the page with your sentiments, while still remaining focused on your situation or place in time. If you choose, you can give yourself a time limit for writing or just put the watch or iPhone aside and ‘let it rip.'

In his posting, "Risk is Extra Life: Can Writing Make Us Extra Brave?" Matousek interviewed Michael Klein on the importance of taking risks and not being boring in your writing. Klein wrote about the importance of writing having energy; exploring truth of the old adage about writing about what you know with the idea that it will be your best writing. When it comes to personal writing, sometimes what we know is hard to write about, but if we try to push boundaries, then the best writing will emerge. When we let go, push boundaries, and are brave, then there is a greater opportunity for revelation and illumination. If you share your words with others, your readers will be compelled by your bravery and be pulled into your story. For a reader to become entranced in your writing, it is necessary for you to embody each word while transcending the moment or experience discussed in a way that the reader feels as if they were there with you. Matousek and Klein are right; taking risks does make us more brave, but taking risks in writing also leads to revelations, transformation, and growth in a way that enables us to respect and honor our pasts, be mindful of the present, and be guided by both the past and present as a way to navigate into the future.

With life, love and lust,


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