Ep 180: Write to Discover – Start with Yourself

A few weeks ago I shared with you how freewriting freed me. The book Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg, played a big part in that during my college years, introducing me to the idea of timed writing as a means to write and discover.

Even though I wasn’t all that interested in Goldberg’s frequent references to Zen Buddhism, I liked her basic approach: “When I teach a class,” she says, “I want the students to be ‘writing down the bones,’ the essential, awake speech of their minds.”1

When I tuned into to my own inner voice and wrote down that “awake speech” of my mind, I began to know myself better. And the better I knew myself, the better and more interesting my writing became.

But when I look back, I realize the practice of self-reflection started even earlier, in high school.
Write to Discover
One afternoon when I was about 14 years old, I was glancing through books on writing at my local library and noticed a title: Write to Discover Yourself, by Ruth Vaughn. I looked both ways and plucked it from the shelf, running my fingers over the green cover with a fuchsia Gerbera daisy poking out of a pencil cup. It seemed a little wacky, but . . .

Write. Discover.

Writers have a lot to discover, but a way to write true and fresh no matter the project is to start by discovering oneself. I knew that instinctively, even then, and felt affirmed by this title.

I desperately wanted to understand myself, to unearth who I was meant to become. And, I wanted to write.

I took the book home and retreated to my room where I followed instructions to “portrait” the important people in my life, exploring memories, capturing life.

I sat on the hardwood floor of my bedroom and composed a word-portrait of my father, struggling to express the way his resonant voice, rising from deep within his barrel chest, could build and fill—even shake—the house. Or was it just me, shaking?

Page after page, the author encouraged me to continue being specific, to use concrete details and metaphor. I poured out stories from my little world.

Digging into yourself requires a depth of honesty that is painful, the author said, but imperative. She quoted a professor who said a writer “is the person with his skin off.”
First Thoughts
That’s how I began to decipher my life. On the pages of a journal, I wrote with my skin off—bare, vulnerable. I tapped into the “awake speech” of my mind, burning through to what Goldberg calls “first thoughts” in order to write down the bones, the hard truths, the core of what and who I had been and was becoming.2

The idea of first thoughts made so much sense to me, because I wanted to express my truest self but I knew I was mostly living in layers of thought, edited thoughts. Goldberg explains:

“First thoughts have tremendous energy. It is the way the mind first flashes on something. The internal censor usually squelches them, so we live in the realm of second and third thoughts, thoughts on thought, twice and three times removed from the direct connection of the first fresh flash.”3

So I used her idea of freewriting when I was in college—timed writing without stopping—hoping to once more get to the bones of thought, experience, memory, feeling; to gain clarity on faded and forgotten memories.

As I practiced this private outpouring of words and deeply personal reflections—first with the help of that stumbled-upon writing book and later with guidance from author Natalie Goldberg—I peeled back layers to stare at my heart and soul. I began, through practice—through pain—the lifelong process of finding myself.
Methods for Using Writing to Discover Yourself
Since then I’ve found other resources that encourage a similar practice, like Proprioceptive Writing, Expressive Writing, and Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages. I encourage you to look into these various methods and learn more.

Whatever approach you try, seek to know yourself better and find insight and freedom by tapping into memory,

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