Writing Process V1

Why does pressing send give me clarity about how to restructure, what to cut, and where to develop a piece of writing? I don’t know, but I’ve started using it to my advantage by adding more interaction and externalization into my writing process through engaging friends. It also helps to have a secret blog. Only a few people I know read or comment on it. Just the act of pressing “publish” brings me enough clarity to refine it. Because so much of the writing process happens in the mind, it can be hard to see and understand where I am in the process. This causes me to become lost and blocked. In this post, I am exploring the early stages of an idea.

When I engage my friends in early stage writing, I benefit from their reactions if they have time to share, but I notice this externalization step is not a request for line edits and critique. That comes later in the process. At the beginning, when an approach is taking hold, the people I love to talk to mostly respond with some form of, keep writing. Experiencing the connection with the person - and the context we share - helps me to access the bigger body of truth I am trying to find. My early stage writing usually doesn’t resemble the final product, especially when the topic is hard or personal. Sometimes I don’t even know what I am trying to say at the beginning, it’s just a feeling, and I change my mind as the idea unfolds. This open space to make mistakes and learn is critical.

For the next few months, I’m going to work with the process drafted here and see what I learn. I believe this is how I have been writing for a long time, but I did not previously recognize steps 1-4 as I do now.

Writing Process V1

1.   RECEIVE: become inspired by an experience or observation

2.   INTERACT: talk and listen, notice how this exists in the society

3.   COMPOSE: start the work of expressing it in sentences

4.   EXTERNALIZE: “press send” to a trusted person(s) with no expectation of feedback

5.   DEVELOP: continue composing the concept

6.   EXTERNALIZE: “press send” to a wider group of trusted people with no expectation of feedback

7.   REFINE: clean up language variety and sequencing, narrow content, get an editor if needed, bring in feedback if needed

8.   PUBLISH: make it available publicly

9.   REFINE: tweak as required if there are any final sequence shifts

10. MOVE ON: promote and get busy on your next piece

This observation about the need for interaction and externalization in my early stages of the writing process removes the pressure to compose perfectly, because it adds iteration. In this reality, my task is to produce something with minimal refinement. So it’s always about circulating the idea, not holding back until it is clear. This opens space for vulnerability in my voice, and I work my way out to something for public consumption from there. I don’t share early stage writing with people who I feel guarded with - even if I love them. This is about being in touch with the people who just understand, and in their own way, even if they say nothing, I know they would always say keep writing. Period.

The early stage writing love fest is what helps me develop complex, even painful truths, into something I can share with ease. And it is truly amazing to reciprocate when people send me early concept drafts, and to watch their ideas evolve. When the right people bear witness, amazing things happen.

kermit typing.gif

Being Close

My grandmother taped the Karate Kid from HBO and I watched it when I was home sick from school for my whole life. This was often, especially as a teenager who didn’t find inspiration at school. I know the movie by heart. Ask any of the annoyed people who’ve watched it with me. It plays in my mind, and it informs my vision of what is possible even when I am not aware. We’ve all got stories in our minds that influence our actions and beliefs.

What I love about the way the date scene embedded above is edited are the glimpses into Daniel and Ali’s friendship. For those in the dark, Daniel and Ali went through alot to arrive at Golf ’N Stuff for their first real date. He’s new in town, and he’s already been beat up more than once by her ex-boyfriend’s gang of jerk friends. She’s rich and he’s poor.  Daniel is reminded their love won’t work in the world at the end of the date, when her friends roll up in luxury convertibles and mock his mother’s old faithful jalopy. 

During the heart of the date, Daniel and Ali are not constricted by their context. They play arcade hockey, and right before he scores a goal, their eyes lock in anticipation. Bouncing on the trampoline, they fall in an embrace, laughing. In the photo booth, their bodies are close and they hold hands. As they look at the photo strip, you see a moment in his gaze of wanting her body. Then it cuts back to their friendship, which is portrayed as meaningful conversation with each character beaming.

The quest in Karate Kid is about Daniel getting the girl and winning the fight. We can obviously do better. It’s foreshadowed from the start, and resolved through a series of bad sequels, that Daniel and Ali are not going to last as a couple. The bigger and underemphasized theme in this story is his need to belong. It keeps getting funneled into romantic chases and physical triumph. You see the drama in this first date scene. It ends sour, each character lonely. The story is a trite and narrow piece of the truth. Aren’t there more options?

We need more stories of people learning to take hold of themselves, through allowing what may even feel like risky emotional bonds to form. Our interactions develop our character. How much potential are we leaving on the table because we are afraid of wanting something that is not allowed to exist in the world? Humans fill our relationships with expectations and then unravel in disappointment when our lives don’t match the story in our minds. These are prime moments to grow in our presence and release attachment.

Cultural conditioning around intimacy - and I point directly to my white, small town U.S.A., middle class background - has us believing that being close entails possession, privacy, and obligation. In this paradigm, holding someone’s hand in friendship and looking into their eyes can feel dangerous. These conditions are hostile towards curiosity and joy. I wonder how life would be if fostering intimacy was one of the society’s treasured design principles. I’m trying to imagine this possibility when encountering the many faces of love, across my relationships. The task is practicing ways of being that allow us to explore boundaries with safety, which requires listening and adaptation. It requires being home in ourselves.

Diesel Cafe photo booth with Erin, 2010

Diesel Cafe photo booth with Erin, 2010

My wife Erin and I, after 10 years together, are thinking back to the beginning. The ways in which our lives are intertwined now makes it hard to relax without thinking about our obligations. We remember how to be playful by having a life full of friends, where caring and intimacy are allowed to exist. We have always questioned the notion that being close with others threatens our marriage. Quite the opposite seems true. How did humans arrive at so few accepted pathways for relationships? Why have our physical boundaries become so rigid? What trust is required between people and in the societal contract for love to flow?

We are connected. The idea that it is possible to be alone in this body, with this mind, on this planet, is an illusion. If you are like me, you have been conditioned to protect your heart. I am asking myself why. There is nothing to break in the open heart. It can be painful when old beliefs shatter, simply because they are known. Despite our best thinking, the future is unknown, and it’s okay to be in love with each other anyway. I am going to die and so are you. Every little bit the heart opens is a move towards living the dream.


People Everywhere (Still Alive) by Khruangbin


My own learning on connection has leaped thanks to Gibrán Rivera and the Evolutionary Leadership community. I made a video about it!

Tribute to Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver died this week. Her poetry will continue to inform how I pay attention to the world. Every so often we come across a writer who makes us feel as though we are not alone in our thoughts. She is that for me, and I will be reading her work every day in these tender early moments of her passing. If I had to choose, this is my favorite of her poems.

Mary Oliver “Of Love”

I have been in love more times than one,
thank the Lord. Sometimes it was lasting
whether active or not. Sometimes
it was all but ephemeral, maybe only
an afternoon, but not less real for that.
They stay in my mind, these beautiful people,
or anyway beautiful people to me, of which
there are so many. You, and you, and you,
whom I had the fortune to meet, or maybe
missed. Love, love, love, it was the
core of my life, from which, of course, comes
the word for the heart. And, oh, have I mentioned
that some of them were men and some were women
and some — now carry my revelation with you —
were trees. Or places. Or music flying above
the names of their makers. Or clouds, or the sun
which was the first, and the best, the most
loyal for certain, who looked so faithfully into
my eyes, every morning. So I imagine
such love of the world — its fervency, its shining, its
innocence and hunger to give of itself — I imagine
this is how it began.

Bold As Love

Axis: Bold as Love, the 1967 album by Jimi Hendrix, fell out of the sky and blew back into my life like a wild storm. It was as if I was hearing it for the first time. I needed a reminder that conformity to the ways of this world is a decision, and it does not always align with what we truly love. Somewhere along the path inertia can get us, and confuse us into thinking that the way it’s always been done is the only option. For many of us, living our truth and being ourselves in public risks our safety.

In the epic If 6 was 9, the album’s A side culmination, Hendrix vows to let his freak flag wave on and on. You can feel him shredding the constructs and conventions that polite society require from one note to the next, and he makes no apologies for it. He speaks softly and sure: “I've got my own life to live. 
I'm the one that's going to have to die
 when it's time for me to die. 
So let me live my life the way I want to.”

Hendrix died suddenly in 1970 at the age of 27. Aren’t you glad he didn’t listen to the people who said his guitar playing was weird and had no place in the world?