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January - February 2011
1. Introduction: "A Small Treasury of Wonderful Things to Share"
2. Feature: "Intimate Details in Writing (details that bring what you're
writing about intimately close to the reader)"
3. Writing Medicine: "A Flower Essence Remedy to Help You Write Those
4. Lengthy Sentence Contest: "Deep Is Fun: A challenge to write long"
5. Guest Blogger: Ann Luria
6. Writing Medicine-plus: "Flower Essence Remedies for Writers &
A SMALL TREASURY OF WONDERFUL THINGS TO SHARE
This issue of the Writing from the Deeper Self newsletter encompasses January as well as February. Partly that's because I got a bit of a late start this new year, but also because I have a small treasury of wonderful things to share with you, and ~ as with all good things ~ they took time to percolate, distill, and make real. These things are here for you in this issue.
What awaits you, here:
There's much to feed on, here. Deep writing should be nourishing. Don't rush off for fast, junk food. Let the "slow food" movement touch your inner, writing-and-reading life, too.
INTIMATE DEAILS IN WRITING
Not a confessional, but details that bring what you're writing about intimately close to the reader
Fiction writers know the importance, even essentiality, of details in writing, but nonfiction writers often don't. We've gotten too used to writing, and reading, nonfiction pieces top-heavy with concepts and ideas, and nothing in them close at hand to bring the experience of what they want to convey to us home.
If I were to end this feature right here, you can see that I would have done the very same thing. There's nothing in the preceding paragraph that opens you up to yourself through your senses, imagination, or metaphorical intelligence. There's nothing to see, to hear, to smell, to perceive with your own innate sensibility.
Why it is that there is such a tendency among nonfiction writers ~ including many of those who get published ~ to assume that lists, concepts, enumerating ideas, and the like are enough to be called "writing" probably has to do with what we were asked to do in school term papers. Putting forth a thesis or idea of some kind; building a case for why it had a right to be; giving minimal, often lifeless, illustrations; and drawing conclusions is certainly one way of writing, and it has its place, for sure. But when what you really want is to reach an audience of readers, this atmosphere-deficient architectural scaffold is not really likely to do it. And despite the encouragement these days to write, and write books, and sell books about anything, don't we want to have some kind of memorable, valuable experience in reading what gets written? Don't we want to be able to be nourished by it, somehow? To put ourselves into the picture?
Maybe not if the book's purpose is to teach you the ten steps of planting roses. But even there, there is room for some rhapsody regarding roses.
This need to offer intimate details in your writing ~ "intimate" not in the sense of confessing private things, but in the sense of bringing what you are writing about into the reader's close-up, opened-up experience ~ has struck me ever since I decided to go to graduate school in psychology in the early 1980s. I already had an M.A. in English literature ~ and in literature, you are exposed to the telling detail over and over again ~ when I realized that another way to get into the depth of the human being's inner world and possibilities was psychology. Eagerly, I bought all the text books assigned; but when I began to read them, one by one I was disheartened to read how they were written. Brilliant, empathetic ideas and understandings were put forth in the most clinical language possible. Human beings who had experienced deep and sometimes conflicting feelings were written off as "case histories," with no one able to tell whether Case A had blond, brown, or grey hair, or how when Case R smiled, his forehead crinkled. These composite descriptions of composite human beings lay on the page like ink flaking off. Nothing there brought them to life.
We have gotten too used to this kind of writing. We think it is expected of us. But there's no reason not to seek what's alive and telling, in whatever we write. Not only for the reader; for ourselves, so we enjoy what we are doing; so our quest has meaning, and life.
THE "LINEAR BRAIN" AND THE "ARTISTIC BRAIN"*
What is the difference between fiction and nonfiction? One is that, in fiction, real things can get told using imaginary characters, scenes, dialogue, and settings ~ whereas in nonfiction, real things are often written in such a way that they don't actually feel real. I attribute this to ~ in addition to what we have been handed down and gotten used to, regarding what is asked of us in nonfiction versus fiction ~ what I've been calling the "Linear Brain" and the "Artistic Brain." I prefer these terms to "Left" and "Right" brain, when it comes to writing, because we have both tendencies as part of our human makeup. We just tend to incline in one direction over another. And the conventions about nonfiction writing tend to incline us towards the Linear Brain.
The Linear Brain makes lists, likes numbers, sets up structures before there is anything to put in them. Schooling tended to favor the linear brain in composition writing: "Make an outline, fill it in." There's definitely a place for the Linear Brain. It organizes, sees step-wise sequences, gives a structure, measures things. Without it, we could not easily learn the "how-to's" of how-to books; come up with a budget; apply logic to otherwise chaotic ideas and situations.
But the Artistic Brain ~ also an integral part of our makeup ~ does it differently. It doesn't want to be bound, step by step, to rules and boring regulations. It wants to discover, to leap, to fly; to make connections between things that previously seemed to have none. It doesn't want to convince us of an idea's merit; it wants us to fall in love with how a leaf reflects the light of the sun shining through the tree.
This embrace of qualities , rather than quantities, allows us to move into territories previously hidden or unexplored, in our writing (or any other art). It lets us write without knowing ahead of time what we will say, lets us lean into the wind of what calls us. Even such metaphorical writing as the last part of the previous sentence is a fruit of the Artistic Brain. And even my calling it a "brain" is reductive; surely, it is an aspect of the soul.
When we make the effort to provide intimate, telling details in our writing, we engage the Artistic Brain ~ the soul ~ such that not only are we seeking to open up the territory for our readers, but also for ourselves, in the very act of writing. Such details do not come to conclusions before the fact: they present us with food for our perceptual sensibilities, so that we can see, hear, taste, smell, know, feel into for ourselves. Writing intimate details is more like being a painter of portraits: noticing the way the light brings out the sheen in the brow, the waves of the hair, the rosy complexion, how the eyes look straight ahead, thoughtfully; the tilt of the shoulders, the slight flare of the nostrils suggesting a passionate nature. Intimate details, because they bring the subject close.
When you write about a concept, it's hard to give intimate details. Intimacy is an outgrowth of noticing with interest, with some aspect of love ~ generous, trusting love; fascinated love; even estranged, disappointed love can bring forth details that illuminate the beloved in some way. And by "the beloved" I don't necessarily mean romantically: it can be anything where one's heart inclines. Relationships within the family; a pet; a sunset; how a beautiful young gymnast moves ~ when the heart is open and interested, writing intimate details inclines one towards the beloved.
I once wrote a narrative nonfiction book ~ still waiting to be completed, I confess ~ in which, for one chapter's scene, I wanted to somehow communicate how impractical my family of artists was, and how this absence of practicality had been a difficult legacy for many years. There was much I could have said about it, conceptually: but instead, allowing myself to recall one small detail of an interaction with my father peeling an orange, the whole gist of it came into being in a more intimately detailed way. Here it is:
My Father, Peeling an Orange
Once, in my late teens, I caught my father sitting at the kitchen table, peeling an orange with a spoon. He looked so intent at his work, moving the convex side of the spoon up under the curve of the skin until rough patches of bright orange skin and white rind loosened off in the shapes of continents. I sat entranced as a child for that moment, unable to tell whether the magic was in the unorthodox method of peeling, or how the soft orange-meat was revealed, or the intensity of his concentration, or the sheer fact that what he was doing could be put to use. It wasn't just a matter of beauty and lofty heights, the orange could actually be eaten.
"Want some?" my father asked, turning to me.
I held out my hand. He put half the peeled orange inside it. It sat in the hollow of my palm, cool and made special by its carving and his gift. Whether the sun was actually shining through the windows or not, as he passed me the fruit of his labors, in my mind and from that time onward in my memory, it was: vast and rich and gold-orange, bathing us both ~ the hairs on our arms and the glint off the spoon and the tender huskless orange and the scallops of fallen peel and rind ~ in its light.
For there was something about his work being so physical, his mind so melded to the task of bringing forth something that could be touched and seen and tasted and shared, that took it out of the realm of private thought or public, dished-plunked-down-on-the-table drudgery. The spoon-peeled orange had a physical existence, and yet was plucked out of his secret, offbeat, father-god store. I could not have explained just why it was so touching, or why ~ in that grimed, sullen apartment ~ the scene, when replayed in memory, took place in so much light. But it stayed with me forever, filed off in a private pocket and brought out to the world in a protected, off-handed way, framed as a cross between a boast and a complaint: "The only practical thing my father ever taught me," I would say, "was to peel an orange with a spoon."
And this came to have the weight of an inheritance: unique and precious as something rare with my own name inscribed, yet in light of the forces required to push through the rough world, a token gesture only; of purely sentimental value.
[From The Blessings Ledger. © 2008 by Naomi Rose. All rights reserved.]
Even though it's been years since I wrote that, and much compassion has been gained, and infinitely more practicality as well, when I reread what I wrote, I am still moved by it. Something about those intimate details stays with me, takes me back into what it felt like not only to write that but to, in earlier years, live it. An atmosphere is evoked; something of depth and beauty awakens in me and from me, and remains in me over time. Writing has the ability to do this, to get inside an experience and linger there, so that reading it, people take it into themselves too; it becomes part of their impressionistic experience, part of the soul-food that makes up who they are.
It may take a bit of a shift to seek out the intimate details, when you are writing nonfiction. It's quicker and easier ~ in a certain way ~ to just list the ideas and enumerate the steps. But case histories of humans do not penetrate the membrane of shared, intimate experience. Writing intimate details gives you an opportunity to actually nourish yourself and your readers, as you write, with those detailed instances that mean something to you as you write them. Your own experience is the litmus test: if you find yourself touched by what you write, there's a good chance your readers will be, too.
If all you want is the A-B-C's of what to do and how to do it in your writing, then staying with conceptual ideas alone will do. But if you want to evoke a deeper experience in yourself and in your readers ~ and why not? It will last longer! ~ then relax your list-making mind, and see what intimate details call out to you. Follow them; see where they lead you, what about them moves your heart and soul. In the process, you will learn a great deal about your own inner makeup, and also develop your capacity for intimate writing, no matter what the genre you choose to write in.
Copyright © 2011 by Naomi Rose. All rights reserved.
3. WRITING MEDICINE
A flower essence remedy to help you write those intimate details
"Coming In Closer"--A Rose Press Flower Essence Remedy for Writers
As luck would have it, we have a Rose Press Flower Essence Remedy to help you write those intimate details: COMING IN CLOSER: A Feeling for Detail.
For those who tend to emphasize ideas, abstractions, and concepts without the humanizing balance of concrete, particular details (whether due to not relating to the concrete, or not knowing how) ~
Coming in Closer offers the ability to become aware of and express more concrete, intimate impressions of the senses and the heart by experiencing a wide range of sensory experiences (a heightened awareness of touch, taste, etc.) ~ the ability to speak (write) articulately, clearly, and vividly ~ the ability to think in a vital, "alive" way, especially with material that has been feeling too "dry" to describe in an intimate way ~the ability to register sensory details clearly and enjoyably.
To learn more, click here.
4. LENGTHY SENTENCE CONTEST
Deep Is Fun: A challenge to write long
Long sentences may seem to be on their way out, thanks to the ubiquity and speed-inducing presence of technology ~ but there is a lot to say for them, as writers in previous, less speed-absorbed cultures have shown. Long sentences get below the surface of things~ lengthen not only the expanse of space that the words take up on the page, but also the stretch of space within the mind and spirit of the reader. To accompany a writer's lengthy sentences~ following with sustained interest all the phrases and clauses kept in delicate, plate-spinning balance by commas, semicolons, and dashes~ is to lengthen one's own stride, inside; to let go of the whirling circumference of the most surface edge of the radius of the circle, and to settle into the deeper, stiller, quieter realms of oneself where all the real treasures, both known and not-yet-known, reside. To develop a liking, even an appetite for, long sentences is to uphold the primacy of that technology of technologies, the human being, with our capacity for expansive mind, sympathetic heart, soaring spirit, and universally vibrating soul.
As one who has written lengthy sentences quite naturally for years~ my husband, also a writer, kids me that my sentences are "Faulknerian" (though I'd prefer to be compared to Virginia Woolf, if at all) ~ I think it would be a great thing to bring back this way of writing and reading: kind of a recycling of vintage fashion, taking the best fabrics and frills from the past and introducing them, recast, into this year's line.
For this reason, I am issuing a challenge to you, reading this: to write a page with a long sentence in it that (a) makes sense ~ no point in just throwing in words, helter-skelter; no art in that; (b) comes to you from within ~ i.e., you can feel the rhythm of that length urging your words into place, feel it in your heartbeat, sense it in your breath; and (c) makes you feel differently after having written it than you usually do writing short, to-the-point, utilitarian (or PR) messages. (You'll need to write a short bit afterwards, describing this process and experience, for me to know what that change in you is.)
If you are wondering what a long sentence reads like, go back and read the above paragraphs.
Those participants whose long sentences are chosen for their fulfillment of (a), (b), and (c) will receive as thank-you prizes a complimentary e-book copy of Starting Your Book: A Guide to Navigating the Blank Page by Attending to What's Inside You . (Or, if you already have this book, a bottle of "Shining Star" Flower Essence Remedy.)
The deadline is February 25th. The subject can be anything. The purpose is to learn to think in long sentences, and write that way at least as an option. The reward, in addition to the complimentary book, is that you will exercise internal muscles you may not know are there: and, once evident to you, they will raise you up, make you more available to refined and deeper thoughts, explorations, and even writing.
Ernest Hemingway, watch out! The slowed-down writers and readers are coming. What will they unearth, what hidden treasures? Stay tuned and see.
Send your lengthy writing entries to me, Naomi Rose, at email@example.com. Put "Lengthy Writing" in the subject line. Again, the deadline is February 25th . Winners will be published in the March "Writing from the Deeper Self" newsletter.
My deep thanks to my friend and writing colleague Jane Falla for first bringing to my attention the losses-in-progress (depth; in-person conversations; thoughtfulness; spaciousness; meaning) through technology's imposition of brevity and speed on the writing and reading experience.
Oh ~ and if any justification for long sentences seems needed beyond my own love for where they bring me, as a writer and a reader ~ Ursula K. LeGuin, that most imaginative and incredibly prolific writer, herself, sung their praises in her book, Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing fro the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew (Eighth Mountain Press, 1998). To reveal the beauty of long sentences, she unveils passages from Virginia Woolf, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Jane Austen, and others who seemed well able to keep their readers' attention in earlier, pre-point-and-click times.
[Note: The writings of the winners of this contest appear in the March - April 2011 newsletter.]
5. GUEST BLOGGER:
Intimately drawn details in Haiku form
Remember how, towards the end of 2010, I issued an invitation to you, my newsletter readers, to be guest bloggers on my Deep Writing blog? A number of you wrote me to express you desire to participate. In the spirit of writing intimate details, I am delighted to present my first guest-blogger, Ann Lurie. Her beautiful poem illustrates how evocative writing can capture an idea, a feeling, an atmosphere better than abstract, explanatory writing. Click here, and see for yourself.
If you would like to be a guest blogger in the future, writing about deep writing ~ your thoughts, experiences, quotations, excerpts, suggestions, etc. ~ write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will arrange it.
6. WRITING MEDICINE-PLUS:
Flower essence remedies for writers & readers
Enhancing your writing by enhancing the fullness of you
Flower essence remedies are a wonderful healing world known by some but not by all. To bring this subtle world to your attention so that you can benefit from its many levels of marvelous healing, I will now tell you just a bit about it, and then direct you to the "Other Fragrant Offerings" page of the Rose Press website. (Rose Press: Books & Other Fragrant Offerings to Bring You Home to Yourself)
Flower essence remedies are tinctures made by gathering certain flowers at propitious times (e.g., dawn) and immersing them in pure water. The water thus takes on the essence of the flower's healing properties. When one ingests the water, it is the essence, not the flowers directly, that one is taking in.
Flower essence remedies, today, are made from flowers worldwide, as well as from trees, sacred waters, and so on. A favorite Rose Press source is right here in California : Flower Essence Services (FES). Originally, remedies made from flowers were discovered and developed by Edward Bach in the 1920s and '30s. Bach was an English physician-turned-naturopath who found that physical illnesses frequently had an emotional origin preceding them, and that if that emotional distress or deficiency could be addressed directly, the physical illness could be healed. Over time, this led to a faithful following of people who sought to not only heal physical illnesses at the earlier, emotional level but also to prevent them ~ and even to use the remedies to enhance their capacities and capabilities.
It is this enhancing aspect that Rose Press Flower Essence Remedies addresses.
Because Rose Press's domain is "Books & Other Fragrant Offerings to Bring You Home to Yourself," the flower essences provided here enhance creativity, expression, ease of being, and healing. Because I know well the yearnings and obstacles faced by aspiring book-writers, the 10 Rose Press Flower Essence Remedies for Writers & Readers are designed to bring you through those obstacles so you can write the book(s) you long to write easily, joyfully, and completely.
The 10 remedies available to you are:
We also have specific remedies to accompany each Rose Press book, so that you can get the optimum healing benefit by reading the book and taking the correspondence flower essence.
For more information on these remedies, including ordering, history, and how to use them, click here.