Please welcome author Diana Raab, PhD, to Writer Unboxed today! Diana’s latest book, Writing for Bliss: A Seven-Step Program for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life, is geared toward writers of all varieties, whether they be novelists-in-progress, nonfiction writers, or seasoned authors. A little more about her:
Diana Raab, MFA, PhD, is a memoirist, poet, blogger, speaker, and award-winning author of nine books and numerous articles and poems. She holds a PhD in psychology, and her research focus is on the healing and transformative powers of personal writing. Her educational background also encompasses health administration, nursing, and creative writing.
She’s the editor of two anthologies: Writers and Their Notebooks and Writers on the Edge. Her two memoirs are Regina’s Closet: Finding My Grandmother’s Secret Journal and Healing with Words: A Writer’s Cancer Journey. She’s also written four collections of poetry. Her latest book is Writing for Bliss: A Seven-Step Program for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life (September 2017).
Dr. Raab facilitates workshops in writing for healing and empowerment. She’s a frequent guest blogger.
We’re so pleased to bring an excerpt of Writing for Bliss to you today.
Rituals for Writing
When writers talk about their writing process, they often refer to details about where they write, the time of day they write, what they wear when they write, the music they listen to, their inspiration, their attitude, the tools of the trade, and how they go about revision. All such factors are ritualistic elements that can enhance the writing experience.
Creating a Sacred Space
Writers need privacy and solitude to tap into their creative selves. Writing is not easy, but it can be even more difficult if is done in an uninspiring environment or surrounded by unwanted people and noise. Before you begin your writing practice, find a time and place when you can be by yourself uninterrupted for at least half an hour, keeping in mind that where you write can influence your writing. Virginia Woolf stated the importance of having “a room of one’s own” in her book by that title. She was referring to a figurative room, which can be a deeper concept than what might be an actual physical space. She believed that women (and all writers) should have a place where they can go to write and feel safe and comfortable—a place that offers a blanket of support, while also being inspiring.
Your writing area can be a room in your home or even a part of a room there; it can also be in a public place where you feel comfortable. If you choose to make it a sacred space in your home, you may want to consider including special items that inspire you and make you smile. Perhaps they are artifacts from memorable travels or family heirlooms that jog your memory about certain times in your life.
My writing space has candles, essential oils, prayer beads, and photos of my family. I am also surrounded by my collection of typewriters, as a reminder that my first book written in the 1980s, Getting Pregnant and Staying Pregnant: A Guide to High-Risk Pregnancies, was written on a Smith Corona. In the corner of my desk sits a Buddha holding a stone that says “serenity.” Seeing his face grounds me. Years ago, I read that some major corporations placed coffee-scented candles in their offices as a way to increase productivity. So now I have one of those burning on my desk. I find that it alerts my senses and keeps me motivated, perhaps in the same way as drinking a cup of coffee would. Behind my desk is a bookcase holding all my favorite reference books, and nearby is my altar and a chair for my daily meditation practice. My room also has a reading chair and an ottoman facing my garden.
There have been times when I was not blessed with such a special sacred place, because either I was traveling or my living quarters weren’t amenable to one. Nevertheless, I was able to create a special space wherever I was. Here’s a good way to do it:
- Make yourself comfortable.
- Close your eyes, uncross your legs, and take some deep breaths. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Listen to your breath and concentrate on it.
- Imagine visiting a room of great importance in your life. If you don’t have one or want to create an imaginary one, that’s okay.
- Use your third eye (the space between your eyes) as a movie camera, and try to visualize the room. Capture all its details. When you are ready, open your eyes.
- Now pick up your pen and write about the space, describing it in great detail. Stay in the moment and write without lifting your pen off the page. What do you see in your space? What are you feeling in your body when you are in your space? What is your heart feeling while in your space?
Joseph Campbell (The power of myth, Anchor Books, 1988) also spoke about the importance of having a sacred space as being necessary for everyone—a place without human or world contact, a place where you can simply be with yourself and be with who you are and who you might want to be. He viewed this place as a place of creative incubation. He said that, even though creativity might not happen right away when you are in this special space, just having it tends to ignite the muse in each of us.
Sometimes it is a good idea to vary your writing location. Working or writing in a different place brings an altered perspective to your creativity. When there was an abundance of chain bookstores, I spent a lot of time in their coffee shops. I did some of my best writing there—perhaps as a combined result of the ambient noise, the smell of coffee, and being surrounded by books. At home, sometimes classical or spiritual music helps me concentrate. However, listening to music with lyrics can be difficult while writing, although the lyrics of some musicians, such as Leonard Cohen or Bob Dylan, are very inspiring for some people.
During my teens, my grandfather introduced me to the fine art of people watching in Parisian cafes. We’d sit for hours observing people and talking about them. I am still inspired by the white noise of cafes. After my grandfather passed away, I continued the practice and then expanded to bookstore coffee shops. When not working on my projects, I would write in my journal about what I saw. I wrote about the people passing by, wondering what they were doing when not in the book store. I also sometimes documented conversations. It was a fun exercise that I sometimes suggest to my workshop participants. For another change of venue, on a nice day I like to write sitting in a park—another great place to people watch.
What is your ‘sacred space’ for writing? Do you write only in one place, or do you mix it up? We’d love to hear from you in comments.