During January’s five-day Writing from the Heart retreat, ten curious and creative women showed up online with me to explore the power of putting words on a page. The retreat theme was Your Words Matter and each day we had a specific focus. I called Day 1 “Discovering our Voices”. Once we established our container of safety and trust, everyone was guided to complete timed writing from prompts.
If you’ve never heard of timed writing before, it is an amazing way of writing that I first discovered in the works of Natalie Goldberg (specifically, her books, Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind, serve as foundations for this practice). By introducing a broad writing theme and then setting a short time in which to write about it, timed writing bypasses the intellectual brain, the place where the inner critic resides and gets in the way of the powerful writing that wants to emerge. Timed writing often takes us to what is below the surface, the place where powerful words reside.
To complete the process, everyone at the retreat was invited to read aloud their fresh writing. Listeners were guided to listen for what was strong in the writing, and then share what they recalled from the words they heard with no interpretation – perhaps a single word or a phrase like “yellow sunflower” or “light dancing on leaves”. Each listener reflected back to the writer the words they found strong and beautiful.
This simple and profound exercise is the foundation for all my writing circles. I write along with my participants and share my fresh writing with the group. As I read aloud, I’m often surprised at what has arrived on the page. There are times it takes courage to be so vulnerable and as I gain more experience, I realize just how important this style of modeling is to the writers in our circles.
It’s been a week since the retreat ended, and I continue to unpack my learning, both as a writer and as a facilitator. One of my discoveries is that I have a new level of confidence in my role as retreat leader. The practice of timed writing has taught me to trust an organic process, to be present to what arises, and this has become a part of how I create retreat content. Some of what I suggest in the group arises in the moment, which can seem scary at the time. The results are always worth it.
Other observations I want to share with you, that you can use in your own practice include:
- You can use recall to build a piece of writing from a memory or experience. Imagine you are in the moment. Use each of the senses and recall the smells, sights, sounds of that experience. This will bring your writing to life. Recall can also help you to remember details that might otherwise be overlooked or forgotten. Before you start writing a narrative, try doing some bullet points of recall. You may be pleasantly surprised!
- During the retreat I introduced the practice of Loving Kindness meditation. This is another way of counteracting the energy of the inner critic. While we may find it easy to listen to the beauty of someone else’s words, it is sometimes difficult to hear the same in our own writing. With Loving Kindness practice, we always start with the Self first. Over time, you may begin to hear and see the beauty of your own words, as if there was an outside listener doing recall with you. There are many online videos and teachings if you want to explore Loving Kindness at home.
- Several writers commented that their writing often went in surprising directions. Where they ended up after 10 or 15 minutes was different than where they started, and what was on the page revealed new insights, material to consider and go deeper. It’s writing that emerges from mystery, full of surprises and shared connections.
- Our writing practice of reading aloud and being heard offers everyone powerful opportunities for nourishment, for strengthening our voices, and believing that Our Words Matter.
Recall doesn’t just apply to writing. Within the retreat process, I recalled and revealed hidden aspects of who I am. In the company of supportive writers, I felt safe to be more vulnerable– to share more of the truth of who I am. Other writers reported feeling free to show up, to speak and be heard. Retreat members have chosen to continue supporting each other on their respective journeys and nurture heart connections.
Mark your calendars with my 2023 Writing from the Heart Retreat dates: January 25 – 29th. Be prepared to be amazed! And don’t forget – Your Voice Matters.