Editor’s Note: As I wrote in Ta-Da: Tributes, Talents, and Thank You All, Noelle Sterne has professional commitments serving dissertation clients, and other writing commitments, so this will be her last post as a monthly contributor.
We’ve been fortunate to have some of the most engaging, informative, and interesting posts from Noelle.
When she submitted this post, she ask that I tell you, “Thank you all, so much, for your thoughts and support. I see you soaring in your writing. ~Noelle Sterne
Have You Lost the Connection?
Are you depressed about your writing? Feeling frustrated with words harder to pull out than bent nails? Have you lost all interest in that piece that so fired you up last week?
Or maybe you’re sinking under an avalanche of rejections, ready to toss the text, obliterate the file, and eviscerate the email account. And wondering why you didn’t take a nice, easy job on an outdoor summer construction crew in Arizona.
If you’ve lost your drive, zest, verve, nerve, and will to write, you need to reconnect with your writing core.
What Is Our Writing Core?
Our writing core is more than those fantasies of book tours and talk shows, more than that rash oath to write 3,000 words a day, and more than our uncontrollable grin when we manage to get something published.
Our writing core may not be identical for all of us, but it’s always there, beneath our excuses, promised self-discipline, and dreams of reward. And when you reach it, you’ll recognize and welcome it like a long-lost childhood doll.
Our writing is what makes us write.
Your Writing Core Is Infinitely Accepting
Your writing core doesn’t avoid you for any imagined failings. It doesn’t hide because you’re a naive amateur or jaded veteran. Nor does it dictate preferences or genres, because it doesn’t care whether you write literary novels, publicity blurbs, or plumbing manuals. It doesn’t test, qualify, screen, require a resume, demand membership dues, levy exorbitant annual fees, or insist on your birth date.
Neither does your writing core deprive you of its presence because you haven’t written for a day, a month, a year. Nor does it care how much you’ve published, what awards you’ve won, or how much money you’ve made or not from your writing.
Above, beyond, and throughout our incessant self-destructions, our writing core is always accessible.
Your Writing Core Often Surfaces Unconsciously
Sometimes, as if at the snap of a pencil, our core surfaces with no conscious thought. Despite the enticing hot new cable movie, our core knocks, nudges, pulls or shames us to punch off the TV and go tussle with the manuscript.
Other times, our core bubbles up and sends us bounding—to our computer, clipboard, yellow pad, spiral notebook, or nearest napkin. You know your core has emerged when you effortlessly decline a five-course dinner cooked by friends or a trip to the new electronics emporium. Instead, smooth as butter, you choose the solitary bliss of communing with your work.
Your Writing Core Can Go Underground Without Warning
But at more desperate hours, our core eludes us. It dives deep underwater, where we glimpse but can’t catch it, like lightning fish darting through the coral. At these times, we may have come up with a great idea but haven’t a clue where to begin. Or we’ve just opened yet another rejection of that most labored-over piece. Or we suddenly feel our magnum opus has lost all meaning.
How to Reclaim Your Writing Core
To get going again, we must consciously tap into our writing core. No, you don’t have to meditate half-clothed in frigid temperatures. Or trek through the jungle on your knees. Or walk barefoot on a bed of flaming vegi-burgers.
We may try to reach our writing core with desperate ploys—lamenting to everyone we stumble over, entreating the god of abandoned writers, and decimating endless bags of corn chips. But these approaches can take months, guarantee no relief, and gain us 30 pounds.
There’s a simpler, more effective way than all that weeping and munching. The steps below have worked for me countless times. You can use them whatever the state of your writing or nonwriting.
1. Stop trying to write.
Stop berating yourself for not writing. Stop telling yourself you have to. If you miss a few days or more, you won’t be punished, destroyed, or condemned to eternal block.
2. Go to a quiet spot, with no disturbances from kids, neighbors, phone, earbuds, Ipad, intelligent personal assistant, or Oprah.
Take a few deep breaths. Relax.
3. Realize that your desire to write may have gone underground but will not vanish, whatever writing you do or don’t.
As Julia Cameron says in The Artist’s Way, if you want to write a novel at 20, you’ll still want to write it at 80. (And hopefully will have—and more than one.)
4. Let your mind go back to a time you truly enjoyed writing.
Maybe it was two years ago, last month, or yesterday.
5. Recall that experience.
What was the physical setting? How were you dressed? What materials were you using? Picture yourself writing in that environment.
6. What were you working on?
Recall this project or piece—its form, length, development. Can you see yourself chuckling as you drew the quirks of a particular character? Sniffling as you sketched the scene of the dog that drowned? Envision your notebook or screen in front of you.
7. How did you feel working on this project?
Captivated, enthralled, fascinated? Almost in love? Maybe a little nervous? Full with the weight of what you felt compelled to express?
8. Don’t try to force the memories or bully them into being.
They haven’t been lost. If you’re quiet and patient, they’ll float up.
9. Live the feelings of that writing session.
Re-experience them. Let them flow. See and feel your fingers again moving, singing on the page.
10. As you allow these thoughts, images, and impressions to appear, you’ll start sensing something.
It may rise as excitement, desire, a physical sensation, a word, phrase, or image. Whatever shows up, let it in and give it time.
11. You may also feel a surprising joy or a sense of peace.
Or maybe a rightness, like coming home.
12. Then listen as you’re told, from somewhere deep inside, what to write.
Make no judgments. It may be a current project, a journal entry, or a long-delayed letter.
13. Without hurry, go to your favorite writing place, settle in, and begin.
Sit quietly, breathe, remember, and feel, then write.
14. You’ve reconnected with your writing core.
Bask in it and savor it. Let it move you, as naturally as a cat stretching in the sun.
Your Writing Core Is Always Here
Whatever your lapses, your writing core cannot be lost. It’s always within you, ready to support, sustain, and guide. When you feel troubled, bored, or hopeless about your writing, just stop. You’ll reconnect with your writing core.
Bio: Dr. Noelle Sterne
Author, editor, writing coach, writing and meditation workshop leader, spiritual counselor, Noelle has published over 600 writing craft articles, spiritual pieces, essays, short stories, and occasional poems.
Author Magazine, Black Fox Literary Magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Children’s Book Insider, Coffeehouse For Writers, Funds for Writers, InnerSelf, Inside Higher Ed, Mused, New Age Journal, Pen & Prosper, Ruminate, Sasee, Story Monsters Ink, Thesis Whisperer, Transformation Coaching, The Write Place At the Write Time, Unity Magazine, Writer’s Journal, Writing in a Woman’s Voice, The Writer, and Writer’s Digest.
Academic mentor, editor and coach, with the Ph.D. from Columbia University, she helps doctoral students wrestling with their dissertations and publishes articles in several blogs for dissertation writers. Noelle has delivered requested presentations on academic writing at several universities and is a regular contributor to Abstract, the blog of the Textbook and Academic Authors Association (TAA).
She also contributes pieces to other national and international publications on dissertation issues and writing. In July and August 2018, she, was one of six webinar presenters for its “Writing Gym.” Her topic: “Get Started, Continue Your Draft, and Finish.”
Eons ago, she published a children’s book of original (groanworthy) dinosaur riddles, Tyrannosaurus Wrecks (What do you get when dinosaurs crash their cars?). Riddles from the book appear in several elementary school language arts texts, and the book was featured on PBS’s Reading Rainbow.
A Chicken Soup for the Soul podcast (May 16, 2017) featured her story “Time to Say Goodbye” from a 2013 volume: https://chickensoup.podbean.com/e/tip-tuesday-why-you-should-remove-toxic-people-from-your-life-and-how-to-do-it/_
Noelle’s book Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books, 2011) contains examples from her practice, writing, and other aspects of life to help readers release regrets, relabel their past, and reach lifelong yearnings.
Her book Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping With the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2015) is an invaluable resource for doctoral candidates.
As part of pursuing her writing dream, Noelle’s mission is to help other writers reach theirs and create the lives they truly desire.
Taking her own advice (hard as it may be), she recently completed her first novel.
Two Drops of Ink: The Literary Home for Collaborative Writing