Tag Archives: hidden self

What is your purpose? Try this experiment and see!

When I read Tzivia Gover’s blog post a few days ago about asking a dream symbol, ‘What is your purpose?’ it felt timely for me because I had just dreamt about an image that recurs fairly frequently in my dreams, so I had an obvious one to try the technique on.

In the dream, I was walking along a cliff path, looking out across the clear blue water. I felt happy and full of energy. As I came down towards the bay, I saw a woman in a bright floral summer’s dress  lying languidly in a wide shallow boat, gently rocking.

I noticed an enormous fish, almost as big as the boat, swimming around in the water  nearby. There was no sense of danger. It was, as I recorded in my dream diary, simply ‘extraordinary and remarkable.’

I walked on, and saw several more of these huge colourful fish, as I came down onto the beach and crossed a wide rushing stream.

2013-06-08 18.35.09

These days, I don’t usually try to interpret individual symbols in my dreams, I just enjoy them, but today I asked the enormous fish, ‘What is your purpose?’

Nothing came to me immediately, so while I was waiting for a reply I pondered, ‘What is it about this enormous fish? It’s not scary, it’s just swimming around in its natural element of water. Yet it is a remarkable fish.’

Then I realised, ‘What is the purpose of this remarkable fish? To be remarkable!’

I feel my life is remarkable, as anyone who has close contact with their dreams and imaginary worlds will feel. I seek the remarkable in my work, always trying to break new ground.

My book Bullies, Bigmouths and So-called Friendswas identified by the Independent critic as the first real self-help book for children; Writing in the House of Dreams and the book I’m working on at the moment, When a Writer Isn’t Writing: How to beat your blocks and find your flow, both mix themes to make unusual hybrids.

My fish is an ordinary fish in its ordinary element and yet it feels remarkable. My life is an ordinary life but my purpose is to find the extra-ordinary within it. That’s what brings me pleasure, the same as  when these enormous fishes swim into my dreams.

You can find your symbol too; you don’t have to wait for a dream. Simply sit quietly for a few moments and take a few slow breaths. Still your mind.

Lower or close your eyes, and move into your inner space. Ask, ‘What is my life’s purpose?’ and let the question float away, as you take a few more slow easy breaths.

Now think of an object, and accept the very first thing that drops into your mind. Don’t judge or rationalise it away.

Examine your object from every angle, noticing its particular characteristics. I notice that my huge fish is always brightly coloured, always swimming in clear water and always on its own.

Ask your object, ‘What is your purpose?’

Again, don’t censor or rationalise; go with the first answer that pops into your head.

If you try this, because my purpose is to find and celebrate remarkable things, please share! What was your symbol, and what insight did it bring?

 

 

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The gifts of writing – 2

In this, the second of my pre-Christmas posts on the three gifts of writing, I’m thinking about the gift of awareness.

In ordinary life, a lot of what we experience is subliminal. We engage with the world through our senses, but barely notice what we are feeling. For example, sitting here at my computer I’m only really seeing the keyboard and screen, unless I take a moment to deliberately notice the four different colours of gel pen right in front of me, one of them a very vibrant green, the particular blue of the walls, the dark grain of the old table, the torn or crumpled bits of paper in the basket beside my chair.

pens

When we write, we picture the scene. We use all our senses to fully imagine it. We notice the detail of our protagonist’s clothing, the colour of their eyes, the quality of their voice. We notice the smell of the air, sharp and clear on a winter’s morning, close and musty in an old drawing-room, or wafting from a warm kitchen carrying cinnamon, or cabbage, or toast.

Our senses are the gateway to the world of our story, and describing what we can see, touch, hear, taste and smell there is how we bring our readers in too.

In writing, in imagination, we can experience life more fully and intensely, and that vibrancy spills over into our experience of real life.

Another thing that we do in writing, which is part of show-don’t-tell, is to notice and describe our characters’ emotions through their bodily sensations. When they are angry, we imagine where they might feel that in their body, and so experience it in our own. Again, this habit in imagination spills over into real life, and we become more aware of how emotion is expressed in the body.

 

Writing non-fiction also brings an increased awareness, not of what we experience through the body but of what we know, the life of the mind. When you write non-fiction, you become aware of knowledge you don’t normally notice or think about – it’s just there, part of the scenery, like the background details I never notice when I’m working in my study.

How to look after a rabbit; how to write a biography; how to grow plants from pips – these are some of the subjects I’ve written about. Others include the skills you learn just by being alive for a long time, such as cultivating happiness, building self-esteem and handling bullying. I’ve never done much research because I write the things I know about through my own experience, and in writing them, I notice what I know.

Shintie -sweet source of all the know-how in my little book, 'Rabbittalk - How to make friends with your Rabbit'
Shintie -sweet source of all the know-how in my little book, ‘Rabbittalk – How to make friends with your Rabbit’

This increased awareness of the knowledge and experience we normally take for granted and stop noticing is my second great gift of writing. Next week, I’ll close this little series with Gift Number Three.

Our stories, our selves

My work is emotionally autobiographical. It has no relationship to the actual events of my life, but it reflects the emotional currents of my life ~Tennessee Williams

This quotation from Tenessee Williams seems to me to encapsulate where dreams and creative writing are the same.

Being literal-minded, if we try to relate the writing to the author we only do it in a direct way, wondering whether the people in the story are based on real people or the events are things the author has actually experienced.

We do the same with dreams, especially if we focus only on the symbols and not the emotions.

But even where we don’t find any obvious connection between the story and the author, the dream and the dreamer, it is powerfully there because dreams, like fiction, are simply story-versions of the dreamer’s or author’s emotional experiences.

Have you ever written a story that seemed to have nothing to do with your own life, only to realise later that it was ’emotionally autobiographical’?

My top five rules for writers

It’s eighteen years since my first few books were published and I’ve had a very varied and productive writing career ever since. I’ve also got to know lots of other authors, at various stages in their careers; I’ve been on many workshops and read many books about the art and craft of writing.

Books, poems, magazine articles... my varied writing life
Books, poems, magazine articles… my varied writing life

Although I’ve experienced occasional bouts of frustration, stress and despondency over the years in relation to the business side of things, I’ve always felt happy and confident in my writing, and I think that’s largely down to finding and following my five golden rules:

Focus on the big picture

The real work-in-progress is yourself as a writer – every word, draft and manuscript you produce contributes to that. Therefore even if a piece of work is turned down by publishers or agents, that doesn’t mean it’s been a waste of time, because it’s added to the sum of your writing experience. (In fact, rejected MSS will often go on to have their day – they’re eminently recyclable)

Don’t push the river

Creative work has its own rhythm, requiring fallow time as well as pondering, planning, drafting and redrafting. If you try to write a book before it’s ready, you’ll come up against blocks and difficulties; if you learn to be patient, and allow the ideas to fully form up in your mind before you begin, the writing will flow.

Go with the flow
Go with the flow

Don’t expect to please everyone

We’re all different, so we all enjoy different themes and voices in our reading, and that includes publishers and agents. If you get rejections, take notice of constructive criticism but don’t take it personally. Ditto if you get bad reviews.

Understand your soul’s needs

Some people want to write because they have a burning desire to tell their own personal story, or to achieve celebrity, or to become a public speaker. Some people hope to earn a lot of money. Others may simply want to be able to create objects that please them. Identifying what you want from being a writer will help you to create achievable goals and lasting satisfaction. I’ve written about this on the blog, in What kind of writer do you want to be?

Life-coaching techniques could help you to identify your writing goals
Life-coaching techniques could help you to identify your writing goals

Be grateful

As soon as you start to write, whether you are published or not, you begin to see life through a writer’s eyes. You notice everything. Snippets of overheard conversations; the story in a stranger’s face; the movement of light in leaves. You uncover the unconscious narrative streams that flow in your own psyche, and so magnify your experience of everyday life.

The story in a stranger's face
The story in a stranger’s face

These are the rules which have underpinned the whole of my writing life. What are your writing rules?

Sigmund Freud and the writer’s gift

The creative writer does the same as the child at play. He creates a world of phantasy which he takes very seriously — that is, which he invests with large amounts of emotion — while separating it sharply from reality ~ Sigmund Freud

Over the years, several people coming new to writing workshops have remarked that they feel like they’re in playschool, when they had been expecting something much more difficult and demanding. ‘It’s very enjoyable,’ they say, ‘but when are we going to get to the nitty gritty?’

The ability to be playful is the nitty gritty – it’s the key to creating the dreamlike fantasies of fiction, and it’s an ability that many of us lose as part of the natural process of growing up and engaging with the ‘real’ world.

Freud says we actually distance ourselves from the fantasies of our inner lives to the extent of feeling fearful and ashamed. The writer’s gift may be that in being able to sustain the playful attention and emotional attachment that children do to their dreams and fantasies, he or she provides an acceptable way for readers to indulge in the same activity vicariously.

And there’s more.

…our actual enjoyment of an imaginative work proceeds from a liberation of tensions in our minds. It may even be that not a little of this effect is due to the writer’s enabling us thenceforward to enjoy our own day-dreams without self-reproach or shame ~ Sigmund Freud

In overcoming their ‘grown-up’ rejection of the dreams and fantasies of their inner world, writers may also be giving a kind of permission for readers to explore and engage with their own.

What kind of writer do you want to be?

I’ve always thought of myself as a very happy writer. I used to put it down purely to the fact that I was a dreamer first, and therefore completely used to coming and going across the threshold of consciousness, which meant I never experienced any kind of writing angst about getting blocked or running out of ideas.

But at the recent Scattered Authors conference in Peterborough, my friend and fellow-writer Penny Dolan recommended a book she thought I might like, called ‘Coach yourself to writing success,’ by Bekki Hill, and it has extended my thinking.

life coaching book

Penny was right – I love this kind of book. I enjoy doing practical exercises that help me to arrive at different ways of looking at things. I’m a great fan of life coaching too, having had some life-changing sessions with astrological life coach, Pat Neill, a few years ago and more recently a brilliant group session with a writing coach at a Lapidus networking day.

What has become clearer for me through reading this book is that another reason I’m very happy in my writing is that my goals are perfectly attuned to my core values.

We commonly measure writing success in terms of sales and celebrity, but I have never felt any of that is important; I haven’t felt jealous, anxious or disheartened about having less of a public profile than many of my writing friends.

My core values, it turns out, are in order of importance:

  1. Beauty/ creativity. I’ve blogged about the elegant harmonies of structure that please me in my work on the children’s blog, girlsheartbooks http://girlsheartbooks.com/2012/12/18/does-this-make-me-weird/
  2. Nature/health. I love the writing life because it means I can live somewhere remote and go walking in nature every day
  3. Loving/caring/sociability. I enjoy the connection with readers, for example here on my blog, although it’s medium-profile and profit-free. One of my main drives in writing for children is to suggest ideas which might help them create positive experiences and deal with difficult ones
  4. Originality/self-expression. The parable of the talents has always informed my life, and it feels very important to me that we explore, uncover and develop our God-given gifts, whatever they might be
  5. Spirituality/solitariness. This was the surprising one, because I’d have thought it would rank higher, but when I did the next exercise, expanding upon these core values, I discovered that all of the first four boil down to ways of celebrating the divine, in myself, the world and other people

You are more likely to achieve your writing goals if they fit with your core values in life. Should you manage to achieve goals that don’t, your success is less likely to make you feel happy.

That is not to say you are limited forever to where you are today, because core values can change and evolve. Like you yourself, they are a work-in-progress.

But for this moment and this step, understanding how your current writing goals relate to what your soul wants is empowering and may be a revelation. Like Penny, I can totally recommend this book.

Have you ever thought about how well your writing goals tie in with your core values?

Is it easier to write for children?

When I decided to try and make a career of writing in my early forties my first stumbling block was that I had no idea what kind of writer I wanted to be. I’d written a number of adult novels in my teens and early twenties, and sent a sample of the last one to six big publishers, four of whom had asked to see the whole MS. They all went on to send me encouraging letters of rejection, the concensus being that my book was too ‘experimental.’

Royal Jelly - too experimental!
Royal Jelly – too experimental!

Like lots of writers dipping their toe in the market for the first time, I didn’t notice the encouragement, or indeed clock what a good sign it was that four out of six major publishers wanted to read my whole manuscript. I took the fact that they’d all rejected it as a sign that I wasn’t good enough.

In the long gap between those early novels and my decision to try and be an author, I’d also discovered a great enthusiasm for children’s books through reading billions of them to my own children. So I wrote an adult novel, a whodunnit and several children’s stories and sent them to several agents.

letter

The agent who took me on said she thought I could be published as both an adults’ and a children’s author, but advised me to start with children’s stories. She stressed that it wasn’t easier to write for children but, purely because of the much shorter length, it was quicker. I might spend five years writing an adult book and then not find a publisher, which would be crushing, whereas I could do a lot of children’s stories in that time and, even if I got rejections, I might well still hit the market quicker.

I was happy with that. Writing shorter pieces was easier to fit into my daily routine of grabbing a few hours to write in the mornings when all the children were at school or playgroup. I enjoyed it hugely, but I assumed it was a phase – I thought the reason I could write children’s stories was because I had children at home, so I was kind of in the zone. When they grew up, my writing would surely grow up too.

But since my children have flown the nest, I’ve discovered that there’s this lively ten-year-old in me, and she’s the one I’ve been writing for all along. She’s both my reader and my protagonist, and she loves funny stories, with lots of action and chaos.

I don’t think it’s outer circumstances that make a children’s writer, but what’s inside. If you haven’t got that vocal, living inner child demanding and driving your story, you’ll get the voice wrong, you’ll speak down as your adult self and your readers won’t connect with what you’ve written.

In that case, I’d say personally that it would be easier to write for adults.

Writing the bright shadow

Lots of shadows in the House of Dreams lately, but before I leave this theme, an update from Toko-pa has prompted me to write a balancing article about the bright side of the Shadow.

I did mention the bright side in my article ‘It’s the seat of creativity – so how can you find your Shadow?’ but only in passing:

This is not to say the Shadow is only negative. Positive potentials which may have been strong in us can be lost. For example, a strong-willed child may learn to identify that strength as a bad thing, and grow to suppress and deny it.

The Shadow is everything we can’t see directly in ourselves. Toko-pa says 90% of that will be ‘pure gold’, but I feel the percentage will depend upon other aspects of your personality. A person with low self-esteem, for example, will be unconscious of many of their more positive qualities, strengths and potentials, whereas someone who feels they are ‘good’ may be suppressing or projecting out many of their own human weaknesses.

When we write, our protagonists express energies in our Self of which we may or may not be aware, and these are not only the dark energies of our villains but also the bright energies of our heroes.

In our heroes, we experience qualities we may not identify with in life, but which must exist in us because they are finding expression in our stories. My protagonists are usually resourceful, independent and brave, but I’ve only come to see where they are me through writing their stories. I used to think of myself as the very opposite of all that.

So there are bright lights hidden in these shadows which, if we follow them, can lead us into the most wonderful areas of the Self. The process may still feel challenging, because anything that shakes our beliefs about ourselves unsettles our world and forces a readjustment of both our memories and our future dreams.

And we have to walk this path lightly, not trying to understand or interpret, but listening for echoes, being aware.

Have you noticed key characteristics that run through most of your protagonists? Are they qualities you recognise in yourself?

Next week I’ll be giving my answer to a straightforward writing question: Is it easier to write for children?

Why you should not spurn your daemon!

The award-winning author Susan Price and I are exchanging emails at the moment for a future entry on the ‘A conversation with’ page on her blog. By a delightful synchronicity, her latest response was a perfect illustration of the blog post I had just written last week, and she has agreed to let me publish it here.

Susan Price
 

There was a time in my life, when I was denying that ‘other’in my head, when I think my subconscious very deliberately worked against me.

I would say something quite innocent to someone – ‘Hello, how are you?’ for instance – and hear myself saying it in a tone, or with an inflexion that completely changed the meaning and made it insulting or aggressive. I had absolutely no conscious intention of insulting anyone, and would be as astonished as the person I’d just offended – but, of course, what could I say? – ‘I didn’t mean it like that! – That came out wrong!’

Sometimes people were polite, but I’d just bitten their heads off for no good reason. It was impossible to explain that the voice they’d just heard wasn’t mine. They would have thought I was mad. I occasionally thought I was mad.

I was at logger-heads with what I now call ‘my daemon’ because I was refusing to acknowledge that it existed, and so it fought me all the way. I would be writing something and would decide to make some change to the plot. What I now call the daemon would object, but I would refuse to listen because I didn’t recognise its voice. I put it down to a mere passing thought, and brushed it off because at that time I was certain that there was only one voice in my head: the ‘I’ voice, which I would now call ‘the editor’.

The daemon took its revenge by withdrawing. The piece of writing I was working on would turn to stone, or dry up, or fall over dead – whatever image you want to use. I had to learn that with writing – or, I think, any art – the daemon does the real work! The Editor may make some great editing decisions, once the real work is finished, but shouldn’t be allowed to interfere with the daemon.

A vengeful, spurned daemon is a dangerous thing, I think. Mine not only stymied my every effort at writing, it played those tricks to embarrass me. It was ingenious at finding ways to make such remarks as,“Yes, please,” and “Yes, I’ve heard of that,” nasty and cutting.

I had to learn that talk of ‘muses’ and ‘daemons’ was not the arty-farty nonsense I thought it, but simply a way of talking about something that we don’t quite understand, and don’t have an everyday vocabulary for. I began to solve problems with writing by summarising the problem and saying to the daemon,‘Solve this for me.’ And it did! The more I trusted it, the faster and more inventively it solved the problems.

I started to give way to it. If it insisted that a particular character should – or shouldn’t – die, I no longer argued, but humbly worked with it to make it so. I discovered that the more I worked with and trusted the daemon, the friendlier it became. It stopped playing those tricks on me!

As a result, I paid it more attention and ‘heard’ it more clearly. I started to see how a piece of writing that I’d ‘made up as I went along’ had sub-texts planted in it, and other subtleties that ‘I’ hadn’t written – so who had? And then I read Kipling’s description of his ‘daemon’ and knew what he was talking about right away.

If you’ve enjoyed reading this taster, watch out for our full conversation on Susan’s blog in the coming weeks. You may also like to check out her ‘Muse Monday’ guest post on Katherine Roberts’ lovely blog, Reclusive Muse, where she descibes her daemon and quotes the passage from Rudyard Kipling she refers to here.

It’s ‘the seat of creativity’ – so how can you find your Shadow?

Jung called the Shadow ‘the seat of creativity’ because it contains every potential in us, not just the qualities we identify with. Instead of being limited and narrow, like our ideas about who we are and what life is, it’s fluid and boundless, and messy like real life.

Meeting the Shadow is an experience of expansiveness; it releases energy which was previously tied up in holding the border between what we think of as ‘me’ and ‘not me’, what we think of as ‘how life is’ and how life really is.

It isn’t something you can understand by reading about it. Jung said the archetypes were not ideas but ‘pieces of life itself.’ You have to experience it, and you only know you’ve got it when you are changed by that experience.

An uncomfortable meeting

Meeting the Shadow is always uncomfortable. If it’s easy, you aren’t doing it right, because the Shadow is by definition the aspects of our self that we’re so uncomfortable with, we’ve disowned them.

This is not to say the Shadow is only negative. Positive potentials which may have been strong in us can be lost. For example, a strong-willed child may learn to identify that strength as a bad thing, and grow to suppress and deny it.

We can’t see the Shadow in ourselves; we have to look in the mirror of the world, where we have projected it out, and the clue is in our feelings.

Five obvious places to look

  1. Think about people who provoke an exaggerated emotional response in you, either positive or negative. These might be people you know personally or public figures. The things you dislike or admire about them could be undeveloped potentials in yourself.
  2. Think about your fictional heroes and villains – who’s your favourite character in the drama/sitcom you’re following? Which character do you most despise? Describe them in two words. Consider!
  3. Slips of the tongue. When you say something you didn’t mean – or someone takes something you’ve said in a way you didn’t mean – what would it say about you if you meant it?
  4. Notice what people say about you – both criticisms and compliments – anything you balk at could flag up qualities in you that you haven’t fully recognised.
  5. Consider anything which blocks your ego-desires, anything you normally fight against in life, as possibly carrying shadow aspects. Physical symptoms which stop you doing what you want, for example.

Letting go of how things ought to be – accepting how things are

Whatever you resist in life, rather than fighting it, see what happens if you side with it instead. Experiment, but don’t go at it like a sledge hammer. This isn’t about instant insights; it’s about attitude.

It’s about a way of being in the world, not demanding explanations, but opening to possibilities, being willing to let go of what you think you understand, without having to replace it with another understanding. It’s about amplifying your experience to accommodate uncertainty and confusion.

Judge by results. You’ll know whether the Shadow is at work by what happens when you stop resisting the things and people in life that you don’t like. The Shadow is an unwelcome visitor, but it comes to bring balance and wholeness.

For example, if you think of yourself as a hard worker, willing to put in all the hours, but back problems mean you keep having to take time off, the illness may be helping to bring balance. It may be forcing you to occupy more of your self, more than just the part that is hard-working. If you acknowledge it, loosen your identification with hard-working and swap some of your overtime for leisure activities, the Shadow’s happy and your back problems may start to improve.

Authors talk about writers’ block. But if instead of battling with it we accept it as part of the natural rhythm of writing, it ceases to be a problem and becomes enabling. Writing is more than time spent at the computer, and words written per day. Trying to push on when it isn’t flowing may mean the ideas aren’t firmed up enough, or you aren’t ready, and your block is forcing you to be patient and receptive.

If you want to explore shadow-work further, I recommend this book of short pieces by various authors – it’s both accessible and thought-provoking.

 
Have you ever realised something about yourself that you’d have preferred not to see?
Next week, the award-winning author Susan Price will be telling her own story about how engaging with the shadow – or daemon – helped her to release her creative power. Wonderful stuff – don’t miss it!