- Brave Voice: Writing & Singing For Your Life
- Transformative Language Arts Concentration at Goddard College
- Worlds of Change: Blog of the Goddard Graduate Institute
- Konza, a Bioregional Journal
- Transformative Language Arts Network
- Chrysalis: A Journal of Transformative Language Arts
- TLA Resources Center
- Kansas Area Watershed Council
- Konza: A Bioregional Journal
- 150 Kansas Poems
- Kansas Poets & Poetry
- Map of Kansas Literature
- Essays on the Writing Life and More by Caryn
- Huffington Post Articles by Caryn
- Hugger Mugger Yoga Columns by Caryn
Writing Ground Rules
When writing on your own or with others, these ground rules can help you have enough support and structure to freely venture to new ground.
1. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar, and most of all, making sense.
2. Write what you know as well as what you don’t know. Feel free to make things up as well as write about what you actually experienced.
3. Follow your writing, not the suggested exercise, or what you think you should write. Write what wakes you up the most. So if you start writing from one of the exercises on this site, and then get inspired to go another direction, go!
4. Feel free to experiment with poems, stories, dialogues, essays, letters, and whatever other form the writing wants to be.
5. Practice trust. Trust yourself to write what you need to write, how you need to write it.
6. Treat all newborn writing with great respect and tenderness so that it can grow. Remember that what you’re writing is a first draft. Just like you can’t weed too much around a seed that just sprouted, you can’t edit too much around your newborn words.
7. If you’re happy with what you write, that’s fine. If you’re not, that’s fine too — you’re just priming the pump for what will come later. Treat your writing as a practice, something you simply practice for the joy and surprise of it.
8. Strive, as much as possible, not to compare your writing with the writing of others, and not to critique, interpret or analyze away what your writing is trying to show you.
9. Treat all you do as a delicious and invigorating experiment. Play. Take chances. See what way leads to way, and what words lead to words.
The Sources page links you to many resources to learn more about Caryn's well as well as your own writing practice. Scroll down to see some basics about starting and sustaining a writing practice, writing groundrules, and click here to see "Staffordisms," wonderful advice about the writing life from poet William Stafford, who among others says, tells us, "“Every person, if pitched right, meets things with a song – a just right resonance.” Caryn believes so much we learn how to write by writing, and as Annie Dillard says, by aiming into what calls us to write:
Who will teach me to write? a reader wanted to know.
The page, the page, that eternal blankness, the blankness of
eternity which you cover slowly, affirming time's scrawl as a right
and your daring as necessity; the page, which you cover woodenly,
ruining it, but asserting your freedom and power to act, acknowledging
that you ruin everything you touch but touching it nevertheless,
because acting is better than being here in mere opacity; the page, which
you cover slowly with the crabbed thread of your gut; the page of
your death, against which yo pit such flawed excellences as you can
muster with all your life's strength; that page will teach you to write.
There is another way of saying this. Aim for the chopping block.
If you aim for the wood, you will have nothing. Aim past the wood, aim
through the wood; aim for the chopping block.
~ Annie Dilliard, The Writing Life
Get Started, Keep Going, and Begin Again
Here's some tips to get and keep going:
- Remember that writing is a practice more than a talent or spectacular lightning bolt in the distance. You show up, meet your words and the space in between them, and lean into what wants to be said. The more you show up, the more your words meet you.
- Pick a regular time and place to write -- it can be 10 minutes when you wake up or before bed, one hour each Thursday afternoon at a local coffee shop, every Monday night at the library, or whatever else works for you. Having a regular place to go to write -- even if it's just a certain chair in your house or on your porch -- will help reinforce the writing: everytime you sit there, you'll be reminded this is your writing spot, which can help get the writing flowing.
- Aim for just short stretches. You can write quite a bit in 10 or 15 minutes, and writing for that length of time isn't so daunting when you're not feeling particularly inspired.
- Or aim for a certain length -- you might decide you'll write at least two sentences or fill half a page every three days.
- Make writing dates with others -- it's a lot like workout dates: when the other person shows up, even if you didn't feel like jogging or biking, you're more apt to do it in the presence of others who depend on you. Meet at a home, coffee shop, restaurant, park, favorite bluff or wherever else suits you. You can each bring one writing exercise to try out together.
- Extend the date by creating your own writing circle that meets weekly or monthly or seasonally to write together. You can bring in writing prompts from lots of sources (see next bullet point), and/or have members bring in writing prompts, drop them in a bowl or hat, pull one out, then write like crazy for 10-20 minutes.
- You can also find lots of writing resources at the Transformative Language Arts Resource Page. Look under "expressive and creative writing" for great books. My favorites are Deena Metzger's Writing From Your Life, Susan G. Wooldridge's Poemcrazy, Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones and John Lee's Writing From the Body. Find more great books to consider here.
- Keeping a running list in your journal, on a pad or in your computer of writing ideas. Sometimes when you sit down to write, you might feel more like adding to your list. Great things to list: all your firsts (first kiss, first car, first home, first job), your lasts (last house, last love, last miracle), moments you witnessed great beauty or sweetness, who and what you love most in this life, amazements you've seen or helped happen, great kindnesses, things you've lost or carried or released, most precious belongings (material or otherwise), moments of folly that turned out well, life's biggest surprises, and great adventures of your life.
- Consider taking a writing workshop in-person or online. You can find great online sources at two places where I regularly offer workshops along with other writers: the Transformative Langauge Arts Network, and the Loft Literary Center. You can also find great workshops face-to-face at places like, in the Kansas City area, the Writers Place, Turning Point (if you are living with a serious illness as a patient or caregiver), or at local arts and community centers.
- If you stop for a while, start again. Put any guilt or shame on the shelf, and meet yourself through your words. The page is always waiting for you.
Transformative Language Arts
Transformative Language Arts (TLA) is a new and emerging calling, profession, and academic field focused on social and personal transformation through the written, spoken or sung word. Transformative Language artists bring the language arts – writing, storytelling, drama, performance, and more – to community-building, cultural and ecological restoration, personal development, and many other areas of individual and collective liberation. Years ago, Caryn started to realize how much writing had saved and enhanced her life, which led to her found TLA through a master’s level TLA degree at Goddard College in 2000. She launched the Power of Words conference, through Goddard College, which is now a project of the TLA Network, a not-for-profit professional organization started by TLA students, faculty, alumni and friends. Caryn maintains the TLA resource page, and co-edited two anthologies on TLA: The Power of Words with Janet Tallman, and Transformative Language Arts in Action with Ruth Farmer. Listen to Teri Grunthaner of the TLA Network interview Caryn here.
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