Writers Live Twice

That’s the allegory of the private screening room.  But let me add one observation.  Physical things within dreams exist in a different way than they do in real life, but the emotions we feel are the same real emotions we feel for actual events.  Opening ourselves to these feelings–of which we are very protective in our day-by-day activities–unblocks them.  And, the result stays with us, at least for a while. Think of a dream in which you have an argument with your husband or wife.  In the morning that person asks, “What’s wrong with you?”  You say, “Nothing, I didn’t sleep well last night.”  But, you’re angry and it takes you time to get over that anger.  In this way the feelings we experience within the private screening room stay with us outside of it.    

When we project parts of our inner self, and see them in the open-ended context of other possibilities, we free our emotions to take us where they will. Testing their limits helps us un- derstand who we are. This is not illusion. Through a release of feelings we are–at least tem-porarily–more fully ourselves.    

Writing is a way of making this happen.  The approach I advocate uses the writing process to unlock feelings and experiences, applying techniques from acting and film editing to make them more interesting to readers.  It may take a while to grasp the ramifications of this last sentence. There are other ways of getting you to the point where you want to go.  But, one thing I can assure you is that this method does get you there.  Suspend your judgment and commit yourself to it and it will work.  Once you arrive, you can think back over the journey and ponder whether there might have been a more direct route.           

You are reading this  because at some time in your life you have had some success with writing.  It might be you are earning your living as a writer now or that everyone in the office “likes to run things past you” for writing suggestions.  Perhaps you had poem published years ago or some instructor put a note on your paper in school saying, “I really enjoyed this.”   Maybe a friend tells you she likes your letters and “you should really try to get something published.”    

You are also reading this because you are not where you want to be with your writing: you’re not motivated, you’re stuck in a rut or discouraged by the quality of what you do write.  At a time of your life when you have more to say, have stronger feelings, have a greater need than ever to discover and communicate the uniqueness that is you, you are more paralyzed than ever by the act of doing this on paper or at a computer.              

When I was teaching college I discovered adults were looking for three things, no matter what type of writing course they signed up for: growth, motivation and tools.    By growth most people mean, “How do I get to the next plateau, the next step on this writing ladder?”  Have you had the experience that you feel like writing, but the subject doesn’t come?  Or have you had times when you’re so full of a subject you can hardly wait to start writing at the computer…but you don’t?  The secret of growth is to feel like writing and have a subject you need to write about, at one and the same time.        

All of us realize growth comes through a certain amount of work.  We don’t mind that as long as we have the second element, motivation.  There are two kinds of motivation.  One form of motivation is external.  It’s the reason all of us would like to be published (fame) or paid for what we write (fortune).  But, there’s another type of motivation–the insight we gain from the process of writing, itself.  This form of motivation is immediate, real, full of surprises and satisfying. It makes us look forward to the act of writing, rather than treating writing as a means to an end.  It’s what Gloria Steinem meant when she said, “Writing is the only thing that when I’m doing it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.”    

Finally, what are the tools that can help us write the kind of things we, ourselves, love to read?  In business the profit and loss statement and the balance sheet are basic financial tools.  The business owner who can read these at the end of the month can assess what’s going well for his or her business and what is not and needs immediate attention.  The same kind of thing exists in athletics.  If I watch the Olympics on TV–gymnastics or ice skating, for example–I catch myself saying, “Wow that looks great, I wish I could do that!”  But when I listen to the announcer explaining the judges’ ratings I realize that this is more than something that looks difficult or is aesthetically pleasing.  There are specific standards these athletes are trying to achieve.  And the success of their performances depends upon how well they meet these criteria.    

When it comes to writing the idea of standards becomes very subjective.  One end of the spectrum believes “anything goes” as long as you feel good about it.  A self-indulgent stance that’s not particularly helpful in terms of reliable results.  The other extreme always finds something to criticize: “This is an interesting subject, but you need a more work developing it in a logical sequence.”  “Good subject and the development is better, but now your sentence structure is monotonous–you need to write long sentences and some short ones, etc.”  In this situation the student writer feels like saying, “I don’t care how many rules there are–tell me if there are 200 of them–but if I do each of these 200 correctly, will I end up with a good piece of writing?”  There aren’t 200 rules, there are six.  These are the six principles that make good writing great.  And, you can use these principles as tools to improve your writing performance (in the same way a business owner uses financial statements to improve the business’s bottom line).  The six writing principles are: 1) Discover, 2) Dramatize, 3) Involve, 4) Frame, 5) Mirror and 6) Discharge.  If you employ them well you will have an exciting piece of writing.    

How is it we are writing one way one day and can write another way the next?  How do we change?  There are two ways.  The first is to “let loose” in order to discover what we already know.  Let loose of some bad habits, to be sure, but also of some good ways of doing things that have gained us praise.  We need to put past successes, as well as past failures, behind us in order to grow.  Secondly, we change by visualizing the results we want as if they already existed.  It’s like shopping for a new car, sitting in the driver’s seat, pretending this is already yours.  That was the purpose of “The Private Screening Room.”  Visualizing is what writing is all about. 

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