Writing from the mat

I’m trying something new with my writing practice. I’m deliberately leaning really deeply into my true, authentic self. And it’s not as easy as it sounds.

My true, authentic self is vulnerable. Emotional. Earnest. Hesitant. She is awkward and shy. She isn’t sure she belongs. She needs to be coaxed into the room and assured that she is safe and welcome before she’ll take off her coat.

Too often, she hasn’t been at all safe or welcome. When I sit down to write, I can get super tangled up in performance anxiety, which leads me to be really mean to myself. It feels like being on a tightrope above a rowdy crowd that’s booing the words coming out of my fingertips, even before I’ve given my thoughts a chance to find their positions and settle into place. Impress us! Entertain us! Shock us! Like, oh my god, I better get this right, because if I don’t, I’m going to come crashing down.

That is a really painful place to create from. And counterproductive.

When I’m in a disconnected state my writing comes out defensive or bland, as though I’m trying not to offend or provoke a critic. Or I reach for showy language, and provocative statements that I don’t really mean. Both of these are the death of good writing. I sound stiff and formal, or flowery and phony. I hate what I see on the page because it reeks of desperation and artifice. And then I give up.

Ok, so… no more of that, please.

Now, I’m coming down off the high wire and setting up my writing practice on a tumbling mat instead. This is a soft, cushiony place where there is no risk of plummeting to a grisly death. This is not a place for daredevilish acrobatics or showing off. This is a place for wobbly cartwheels and somersaults, a place for unselfconscious play.

The tumbling mat is my true, authentic self. A solid, stable base where I can spread all my words out like Legos and assemble them into curious shapes, clicking together and snapping apart, rearranging them again and again until they please me. I can crawl and roll around on this safe ground, exploring its dimensions to find exactly what I mean to say.

The exploration and experimentation are important parts of the writing process. Writing, for me at least, is not just about recording ideas, it’s about discovering them and understanding them more deeply. Sometimes I’m not quite sure what I think of something until I’ve written about it. It’s how I make sense of the world and make peace with myself.

Good writing calls for honesty, and honesty calls for self-knowledge.

Now, when I catch myself hating what I’m writing, I can see that the problem is almost always that I’m not being real. I’m wearing a mask. (Who is this person, and who the hell put her in charge of my essay?!) I’m trying to escape my insecurity by reaching even further outside of myself – which only makes things worse.

The remedy is to return to the mat, a private place of curiosity and reflection. I slow right down and take all the time I need to find the right words. What is true for me? How do I really feel about this idea I’m sharing? What sense do I make of it, and what remains a mystery?

I know I have written something good when it hums with truth. I feel safe with it, because I’m on the solid ground of my real self.

I hope this inspires you to spend some time on your own creative tumbling mat, exploring yourself and finding the words that feel true and authentic for you. Writing well with honesty is still hard work! But writing well without it is impossible.