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Writing the Truth of Your Own Experience

This guest post is by Sean M. Madden of Mindful Living Guide.

The cornerstone of my teaching is to write the truth of our own experience.

They’re fine words, which roll off the tongue with ease. But I needn’t tell you how gut-wrenching it can be to put them into practice.

For when one shares the results of such writing with the world at large it is very likely to anger at least some folk—no matter how clear, how unassuming, and how well-intentioned is what you have to say. And of course, it can be daunting to commit one’s truths to paper.

But the good news is that there’s a flipside.

Write the truth, and others—perhaps only a relative few—will appreciate beyond words that you’ve dared to express what they’ve longed to say, but perhaps couldn’t quite articulate.

Rilke, in his Letters to a Young Poet, advises his correspondent thus:

Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.

This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write?

I’ve many times asked myself this question over the course of my writing life, and have reconsidered it afresh whenever I revisit Rilke’s Letters, either on my own or with a group of students. My initial response tends to be, no, I mustn’t write—my life could be well-lived without the act of penning words onto a page. And yet I do write, often as if my life does indeed depend upon it.

Eleven years ago, I participated in a meditation retreat in which I had to relinquish any and all writing (and reading) materials for the course of a week and a half. No problem, I thought. Until several days into the retreat when I found I had something I had to express. So I liberated a blue permanent marker from the men’s toilet area and wrote my then nearly ten-year-old daughter a letter which spanned the full length and width of the fitted sheet I’d brought from home to sleep on. A letter she slept with for a very long time, until—ever so slowly, wash after wash—it finally faded from sight.

And how many times, since, have I resolved to give up writing in response to the egregious crimes of state we witness on a day-to-day basis, only to find myself in the most silent hour of my night writing an article for publication, a blog post, or page after page of handwritten diatribe?

Why, if time and again I tell myself I needn’t write, must I?

At times I write to release my soul from the burden of silence in the face of monstrous lies. Other times I write in response to witnessing the wonderment and beauty of this world. Either way, I write to express the truth of my own lived experience, and am infinitely happier for regularly doing so.

10 Steps to write the truth of your own experience

  1. Jump in headfirst. As with entering a cold sea or swimming pool, it’s much easier to plunge in, headfirst, than to wade slowly cursing the cold each step of the way. Once you’re in, you’re in, and you’ll acclimate yourself much more quickly. Ditto with writing.
  2. Courage grows in the doing. Fear and self-doubt, on the other hand, fester in the not-doing.
  3. Write with pen and paper. Make it a physical act, involving your whole body, your whole being, not just your mind. Thoughts are more likely to come in the doing than in the thinking up of things. Certainly, write on your computer as well, but get comfortable with putting pen to paper.
  4. Write first and foremost for yourself. While you might eventually like to share your work with others, write firstly for yourself without concern for your readers. Remember, too, that the acts of writing and sharing your work are wholly distinct. Share your work only when you’re ready.
  5. Trust wholeheartedly in the process. Simply write down whatever comes up. Trust in this process until the need to trust is replaced by an experiential knowing that the process works.
  6. Be patient and supremely gentle with yourself. Remember, too, that a thousand-mile journey begins with that very first step. Keep walking, and writing, and every once in a while look back to see how far you’ve traveled, and how much you’ve accomplished.
  7. Write with no expectations. Rather, nurture a sense of letting go of the notion of writing well. Good writing will come of its own accord, all the more so when you write regularly and truthfully about your own life experience.
  8. Begin a daily, or near-daily, writing practice. Commit to a three-month daily writing practice as a means to recognize, firsthand, the benefits of doing so, and, thereby, to develop it into a habit.
  9. Recognize that writing topics abound. They’re literally everywhere within you as well as in the world around you. Begin to notice the rich, inspiration-packed details of your day-to-day life.
  10. Write down your inner truths with great courage and honesty. You’ll thereby find your voice. This last step is a repeat from an earlier, closely related article I wrote for ProBlogger which you might find helpful to consider alongside this piece.

What strategies have you found to be helpful in writing the truth of your own experience? Please leave your comments below so that we can continue to learn from each other’s experience as well.

Sean M. Madden is a Creative Writing & Mindful Living Guide who is slow-traveling on a shoestring in Europe with his partner, Mufidah Kassalias. In addition to leading courses and workshops, Sean also works one-to-one with clients worldwide via Skype, email and telephone. He invites you to contact him via email or to follow him on Twitter (@SeanMMadden), Instagram (@SeanMMadden) or Facebook (Mindful Living Guide).

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Comments

  1. Thank you for reading my latest ProBlogger article. Also, I want to let you know that I’m offering a limited-time SPECIAL OFFER via the following post on my Mindful Living Guide website:

    http://www.mindfullivingguide.com/2012/12/special-offer-embark-upon-life-changing.html

    Specifically, the year-end / holiday offer is for those of you who might like to work with me, one-to-one, from the comfort of your own home (via Skype) to help you embark upon, or rekindle, a daily (and life changing!) writing practice.

    I look forward to hearing from you, and thank you, again, for reading the above article.

    With warm regards,

    Sean

  2. Tom Dixon says:

    Great post….loved the idea of writing for yourself first. That is how I approach my writing, it is primarily a way to clarify my thinking. I have found the more transparent I am in my writing the more engagement I get. Thinking about what you would be upset about if you could never do again is a great exercise for all of us, writer or otherwise, when we are restless in our work and looking for something new. Thanks again….

  3. This is a really thought-making post; thanks so much for writing it. I also really liked the companion post. It reminds me of the important things in life.

  4. Trevor says:

    This is excellent!

    I just started writing a little over a month ago and it’s been eye opening. While I’m far from eloquent, or even, grammatical, I’ve found that writing from my inner truth has allowed me to express things I never knew I had inside.

    Often, I sit down with a plan to write one thing, but end up on a completely different tangent because I get fired up about something. It’s that fire that keeps writing fresh. And truth is the fuel to that fire.

    Cheers!

    • Well said, Trevor. That’s exactly the spirit I was trying to communicate in my article. Thank you for taking the time to write your thoughtful comment.

      With warm regards,

      Sean

  5. Amal says:

    Thanks Mate. :) My strategy is – Write whatever comes in your mind, then edit, proof read, publish. :D

    • Thank you, Amal, for reading the article and for taking the time to write your above comment. Spot on, with the last step being an optional one. For so much comes of writing irrespective of publication.

      Keep writing …

      With warm regards,

      Sean

  6. Lucky Ann says:

    True, the experience is the most interesting article as long as the materials are professionally written and have the advantage in the field of honesty in writing, giving a clear picture and also beneficial.

  7. Ferb says:

    Love this post, writing the truth is where your readers will love you and getting real comments from readers. However, writing a post that you have just learnt from others blog is really important to be careful on what you write.

  8. Ejaz Alam says:

    Very rightly said, of course writing about truth of your own experience makes you stand out because its ‘you’ only. It gets and looks more like natural and natural is the actual truth that impresses others. They feel more to read. Thanks for a nice post Sean

  9. Beautifully written. I especially liked, “2.Courage grows in the doing. Fear and self-doubt, on the other hand, fester in the not-doing.”

    I’ve written from my heart only to have a good friend tell me, “You have everything and yet you write about your crappy life.” Well, I have hardly been able to write anything for the past 6 months because of her comment. I’ve analysed it to death because whining was certainly NOT the purpose of my blog. Sometimes I wonder if I have let it “fester” and my “not-doing” has kept me from being able to move on.

    So, thanks for your insight. It might be a hint to help me out of my funk.

    • Thank you, Mary. I apologize for it taking me a while to get to your, and some of the other late-incoming, comments.

      I’m sorry to hear that your friend made such a hurtful comment which caused your writing to come to a standstill. I can report from the vantage point of a creative writing teacher that comments like this have come to a great many writers, many of whom, thereby, became non-writers. Such hurtful comments have come from friends, parents and other loved ones, elementary/primary school teachers, secondary school teachers, university professors, and as well from those who teach in professional creative writing master’s degree programs — folk who should know better but who seem not to.

      My suggestion for you is the same as for all my students — write, write, write, doing your best to keep your internal editor/censor at bay (while not fighting it, simply noting its presence but otherwise not paying it much heed), and all the while trusting wholeheartedly in the process. From this good writing will eventually come, of its own accord, without our trying to ‘write well’.

      Thank you, again, for writing such an honest response to the article, and please let me know if there’s anything I might be able to do to help.

      With warm regards,

      Sean

    • Readers interested in learning more about Mary and her inspiring life story are encouraged to do so via the following two links:

      http://climbingeverymountain.com/about/
      http://www.linkedin.com/pub/mary-e-ulrich/14/195/b55

      Thank you, Mary, for all you’ve done and continue doing …

      With warm regards,

      Sean

  10. Dan Erickson says:

    You hit the nail on the head. I write poetry, fiction, song, and nonfiction. Great stories, even fictional, are based off reality, real people, real places, real situations. We’ve all read fictional works that read and feel like reality. I think this is what separates average writes from great writers.

    I was a child victim of a cult. Last year I brought my story to life by being honest and bold in a fictional format. The result, “A Train Called Forgiveness,” is the first book of a trilogy, and captivating look at the inner-workings of a cult and it’s aftermath from a child and young man’s point of view. To learn more, visit my blog @ http://www.danerickson.net

    • Thank you, Dan. I’m happy to hear that you’ve successfully put pen to paper to produce writing of all sorts, including your “A Train Called Forgiveness” in response to your painful childhood experiences.

      I see you’re also a photographer (as well as a dad, musician and many other things). Via the below link you can visit my partner Mufidah’s and my Instagram photostreams of life here in Burgos, Spain:

      http://www.mindfullivingguide.com/p/about-sean-m-madden.html

      Best wishes with everything in your life … and thank you, again, Dan.

      With warm regards,

      Sean

  11. Rajiv says:

    Thanks, Good points to keep in mind before writing for a good writer.

    • Thank you, Rajiv. I appreciate your taking the time to read and comment on my article. Good points, too, to keep in mind for anyone who’s not written much or at all.

      With warm regards,

      Sean

  12. Great advice and tips. I have done many of these for years, some are new ideas to ponder.

    • Thank you, Jason. Yes, I can see from your avatar that you’re seriously pondering these ideas! :-)

      I really appreciate your reading the article, and for taking the time to comment on it.

      With warm regards,

      Sean

  13. Many thanks for such a personal, thought provoking post Sean. I love the story of the sheet and how your daughter obviously treasured the gift. It’s such a shame that it faded but it’s good that she treated it as a thing to be used and appreciated rather than being preserved and put away out of sight.

    The words may have faded but I’m sure the memories never will!

    Thanks for the list of writing tips, I particularly like the advice to write with pen and paper, I think it might be a dying art but it’s one that should be preserved, I certainly find that my thoughts go off in different directions when I do that rather than sitting facing a keyboard.

    Great post – thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Tony

    • Thank you, Tony, for reading the article and for all you wrote in your likewise thoughtful comment.

      Yes, I’m happy to have persevered over the years with the process of reawakening my writing hand (arm and shoulder, etc.), as it does, indeed, result in a different sort of writing and which has helped me to tackle difficult writing topics with greater honesty and to be touched deeply in the process, resulting in my being able to go deeper, to write with even greater honesty and responsiveness.

      And I can see this in the looseness and greater confidence evident in my handwritten words. My writing used to be much smaller, much more cramped, where now it flows more largely and with greater ease — though it’s still as illegible as ever by anyone who’s not used to reading my handwritten work!

      Anyway, dear sir, thank you, again.

      With warm regards,

      Sean

  14. Hey Sean

    Thank you so much for posting this, it really struck a chord. In my teaching I spend much time encouraging others to begin writing and also listening within the interstices between sounds for inspiration. I endorse this blog whole heartedly! Keep up the great work! Vivienne

    • Thank you so much, Vivienne. Coming from you, this comment means all the more. For those who aren’t familiar with Vivienne’s work, you can learn more via the link below:

      http://www.awritingretreatportugal.com/biography

      In particular, I love the “listening within the interstices between sounds for inspiration”. Splendid!

      I also suggest to my students that they pay close attention to the inherent sounds — the natural rhythm, harmony and music — of language, having myself been inspired to do so by Robert Pinsky’s The Sounds of Poetry, which I first had the opportunity to study while in graduate school.

      Thank you, again, Vivienne. All the best with everything, and let me know if there might be an opportunity to work together in the future.

      With warm regards,

      Sean

  15. Writing the truth can free you from the stress and burden that you are keeping inside you. Sometimes, we are afraid to open up and be honest about what we truly feel that’s why we are always distracted and on guard. We will never feel any comfort about it if we keep quiet and let the problems stay inside our mind. Writing is an effective method to release what you truly feel inside.

    • Thank you, Chris, for reading the article and for taking the time to leave your thoughtful comment. Wise words.

      With warm regards,

      Sean