Monday, August 8, 2011

Writing as Sacred Space

by Laura Bickle

Many thanks to fellow Word-Whore Jeffe for getting me thinking about the sacredness of writing. It's a topic I've been mulling for quite some time since I heard her use the phrase. 

When we think of sacred spaces for writing, we tend to think of desks, offices, rooms to close the door on the world and write. We consider the right computers to use, whether our chairs are comfy, whether we light candles or meditate beforehand. We obsess whether our desks are too messy or too clean, fiddle with the lighting, and try to extract the cat from the filing cabinet.

Writing does exist in physical space, and I do recommend having a place of one's own to write - whether it's the corner of a guest bedroom, a favorite spot in a library or coffee shop, or at the kitchen table. Having physical space to write, where we honor what we do, serves as a prompt in our heads to write some more. What we fill our physical world with also stakes out corresponding real estate in our minds. We *are* what we surround ourselves with I know that when I finally made myself a desk at home to devote to writing, I became much more productive and spent more time behind the keyboard.

Surrendering physical space to are, any kind of art, shows that we're honoring what we do. It reminds us that writing is important enough to give it a nook or space of its own. That works its own psychological power on us. We have created a small temple for our work.

But a temple, no matter how beautifully-appointed or humble, is useless if it's empty.

That's why sacred writing space also has another dimension: time. Time breathes life into a writing practice. And time is more scarce than carving out physical space. It's difficult, because it's slippery and fluid. Most people I know have computerized or physical day planners containing a never-ending list of "to-do's." And writing always seems to get shoved to the bottom, somewhere behind getting an oil change, the vet appointment, and assignments for the day job. Writing can, because it's for *us,* and for *us alone*, can always be procrastinated another day. We tell ourselves that we can make up our word counts or the time on another day, and seldom do. There's laundry, after all.

And we make it less sacred, shove it aside. Days and weeks and months pass, and we don't make progress on our work.

Part of making writing a sacred practice involves ritual and repetition. There are many things in our lives that don't get procrastinated: brushing one's teeth, for example. The habit is so deeply ingrained and ritualized that it becomes automatic. We don't even think about it. Exercise programs, for many people, are also ritualized. Many people are better at carving out time for workouts and socializing than they are at creating the time to write. It's easier to keep a lunch date...because you're accountable to someone else. Keeping promises to yourself is much harder.

I'm not going to say that it's easy. But we all have the same number of hours in a day, and must choose to make the most of them. Writing is just as much about muscle memory and habit as it is about inspiration. Butt-in-chair is the only way to succeed, and in order to do that, we've gotta treat it as a ritual...we have to repeat it, every day. And it becomes easier if we manage to do so at the same time each day, so that we fall into a habit.

Sometimes, it means giving things up. I've given up bellydance classes and a good deal of television to write. Other people I know get up in the cool hours of dawn, before their families, and write until their kids awaken. I've met people who've found a way to jot down notes on the bus or the subway on the way to work. I've scribbled away many, many lunch hours with a half-eaten sandwich beside me.

One key is to keep yourself accountable. I keep a separate day planner for writing goals. I bought a really lovely one with Celtic knot illustrations that's a pleasure to open. I write down a goal every day and a time to work. I have monthly and weekly plans - breaking work down by chapters or revision stages. More often than not, I achieve my goals. Much of the hard work is in actually articulating what I want to accomplish in a realistic way...revising a chapter a day, writing a thousand words, outlining the back half of a story arc. Breaking big projects down into small bites works for me. I get a little thrill of accomplishment each time I can scratch something off my planner list.

The important thing is that you do it. Just do it. Give time to the process. Give it some space. Don't feel that you need to do it perfectly. Breathe some life into your writing practice.

Make sacred space, sacred time, that can't be violated by the thousand other things you must do. For now, just do this one thing. And do it again. And again. Wash, rinse, repeat.

How about you? What do you do to honor your writing, to give it importance in your life?


  1. This is a very inspirational post I must say. We'll keep your musings in mind.

  2. "Breaking big projects down into small bites works for me. I get a little thrill of accomplishment each time I can scratch something off my planner list."

    Oh, I am so there with you. A) because I'd forget what I was supposed to do otherwise [doh!]and B) because a tangible end result in this wonky publishing world isn't an immediate reward. Those little "accomplished" check marks keep the "worthless me" thoughts at bay.

  3. A lovely post, and a great reminder that the time needs to be as sacred as the space. I am working on this, trying to hammer out a way to keep the writing from sliding to the bottom of the list.

  4. Thanks, folks. Carving out and guarding that time can be a struggle. Something I'm trying to do better with...

  5. You know I love this topic! (But cheater - no pics!!!)