This is the text from my most recent newsletter. To get the MFW newsletter in your inbox about once a month or so, you can sign up here.
Writing in a new genre is scary. Writing in a new genre without the tools to help you deal with the ups and downs? Crazy.
For those of you in a rush, I want to quickly start by giving you the link to my Insight Timer app meditations. Here it is! This app is fantastic and you can do this guided meditation for writers on the go (not literally on the go, as it’s meditation, duh). It’s a basic meditation that you can use before you write to increase flow and focus, or any time! More meditations on the app coming soon…
Now, for the main event: how meditation has helped me through a new and challenging writing phase of my life…
For those of you that don’t know, over the past year I’ve embarked on new projects in not one but TWO new genres for me: narrative non-fiction and historical fiction. I’m a history nerd and am writing about eras and subject matter I’ve always been super into (both take place during WWII), and diving into these stories was kind of a no brainer: the non-fiction, which comes out in 2020 from Atheneum / Simon & Schuster, is about WWII lady spy Virginia Hall, who helped with the French Resistance. The other is about the swing kids in Hamburg, Germany.
With my non-fiction I’ve not only had to do extremely difficult archival research, but I’m having to learn French to boot (high school / college French doesn’t cut it). There’s no other way to get to some of the stuff I need, and to have successful research trips, but also I’m certifiably insane and am using this as an excellent excuse to finally get French down. On top of that, I’ve had to track down people to interview, get loads of permissions, and all of this against a racing clock: JJ Abrams has cast Daisy Ridley to play my spy in a movie that supposedly is actually going to happen. So not only am I undertaking this new thing, it’s got a crazy ticking clock.
With my fiction, I’m dealing with some pretty heavy Holocaust shit. So, in addition to actually having to go to a concentration camp, I have to read about the most disturbing, horrible stuff and then try to understand why very few Swing Kids seemed to care about what was happening to their Jewish friends and neighbors. There is nothing more disheartening than people who turn a blind eye to the suffering of others. What started out as a book about kickass teens who love to dance and wear fabulous clothes as resistance has turned into many nights where I seriously questioned the entire point of humanity.
I’m a leap before you look kind of girl when it comes to what I write: I get the urge and there’s nothing for it but to write the damn thing, because it won’t leave me alone otherwise. This is a good thing – for me – but the learning curve this time around has been steep, and I’ve been grateful for my meditation practice now more than ever.
As you can imagine, some serious self-doubt has arisen during this process. Am I smart enough to write a book about the freaking French Resistance? Am I going to be the laughingstock of the non-fiction world (oh, dear God, Kirkus)? Will I be able to do justice to this extraordinary woman’s life? Do I have the bandwidth to get this done in time?! Am I worthy in any way and who the hell do I think I am writing a book with characters who go to Ravensbrück??? (Whoops, spoiler alert – sorry).
In these moments, my lovingkindness practice has had to kick into full gear. I’ve written about that, and created guided meditations for you here. What this practice does is remind me of my own basic goodness and worthiness. It reminds me that, though there is great evil in the world, there are a host of beautiful people out there who give humanity a good name. And it reconnects me to my writing purpose, which is to help my readers, in one way or another, get to the heart of what it means to be human. Lovingkindness begins with the self and ends with all of humanity, using a series of phrases meant to send good intentions out into the world. I always feel gentler with myself after, and it helps me know that I have all the tools I need to write these books. Then I go about writing them.
If you find yourself in new writing territory and feel a little shaky, take a moment to meditate. Lovingkindness is great, but simply doing the basic mindfulness practice and following your breath is wonderful, too. Meditation reconnects us to ourselves and creates clarity around our intentions. It increases flow and focus (ask any of my clients or students!), and it presses a pause button on those emotional spirals our fear can sometimes throw us into. It allows us to explore this fear or sense of unworthiness in a safe space so that we can emerge into the light, ready to get those words out.
My lady spy I’m writing about had her wits and the ability to silently kill a Nazi in seconds. I have my meditation and my words. Together, we’ll get her story told. And I know you’ll tell all the stories inside you, too.
Breathe. Write. Repeat.
As usual, you can sign up for my newsletter for exclusive posts on the writing life, meditation and mindfulness for creatives, and more. If you’re a lady writer, please join us on the Pneuma Facebook Group for daily inspiration, motivation, and community. If you’re interested in working with me as a writing coach, don’t be shy: email me and I’ll get back to you ASAP. You can also check out the Pneuma Creative site for coaching, editorial, and class info. Happy writing!
Venn Diagram art by unknown; if this is you, holla back so I can credit your work!