This post is from guest writer Lynda Monk, originally published in Compose Magazine, October 2013 issue. 

Writing with others is not new. Writers often gather to write alone and with others within workshops, retreats and writer salons. For over seven years, I have been writing in community with two other women, Ahava Shira and Wendy Judith Cutler. For the first three years, we met monthly for three hours to journal/write for ourselves and read our writing aloud to one another. For the past four years, we have been co-authoring a book about our experiences entitled Writing Alone Together: Journaling in a Circle of Women for Creativity, Compassion and Connection. We have learned there is a transformational and healing power to this practice of writing alone together that can help you honour your truths, acknowledge your courage, nourish your spirit and open your heart while all at once cultivating your authentic voice as a writer.

Natalie Goldberg, in her book, The True Secret of Writing (2013) defines practice as the following:

“What is practice? Something you choose to do on a regular basis with no vision of an outcome; the aim is not improvement, not getting somewhere. You do it, because you do it. You show up whether you want to or not. That’s ultimately what practice is: arriving at the front—and back door—of yourself.”

This has been our experience of our Writing Alone Together practice—we do it, because we do it.

There are four practices that we have identified as the structural heart of our Writing Alone Together, these include: writing freely, reading aloud, listening deeply, and bearing witness. Through these four practices:

“We write into and out of unknown spaces, in and out-of-line, into and out of the margins, revealing our stories one syllable at a time, one timed-writing response at a time. We are messy and uncalculated, open and vulnerable, in this moment and the next. We share the depth and complexity of experience that emerges from going to the blank page, alone and together.”

In other words, we let writing lead the way. We write, share our writing, listen and witness one another. We do not critique the writing, the purpose of the group is not to edit or critique the writing that has emerged, rather the purpose is to come together to engage in the act of writing itself, writing for writing’s sake. Of course, regular writing makes us better writers but we go to the page to know, grow and care for ourselves to learn what it is we have to say.

Writing with others creates a container, a sacred space for the soulful act of self-expression while also being witnessed and accepted in the truth of who we are. Writing with others unleashes our creativity and brings us into connection through the healing power of story and words. Story and narrative help us make sense of our experiences and can open us into deeper states of compassion and empathy with others, deeper states of compassion with ourselves. Writing alone together can teach us about the nature of love and self-acceptance—this enriches our writing and our lives.

“Love is a bird with two wings, compassion (the heart) and wisdom (the mind).” Cindy Wigglesworth

Writing in our most open, vulnerable and authentic state is an empowered state of being, a heart opening journey. When we write and allow ourselves to be seen and heard by others, our writing opens and expands, our hearts open and expand. I have witnessed these openings in my Writing for Wellness Coaching Circles—a virtual program that brings women together to write, heal, awaken and grow through expressive writing. In this six week program, women engage in Writing Alone Together and also learn various journaling and writing techniques including the following: free writing, transactional writing, dialogue writing, poetic writing, affirmative writing, and gratitude writing. The focus is on writing to heal and grow, writing as a creative self-care practice. Research tells us that expressive writing has the power to help us transform our physical, mental, and spiritual health.

Self-expression is a gift we give to the world that begins with writing for ourselves first. When we have a sense of identity and belonging in a community of “writers”—we are empowered to write, to dream about writing, to call ourselves “writers” and to take the steps to publish our writing (voice, message, stories) in the world. We can enter the silence and sound, the stillness and movement, the solitude and company of our words and wisdom, alone and with one another—to become better writers, to awaken as women.

“Writing asks us to settle into ourselves and be awake.” Natalie Goldberg

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Author bio: Lynda Monk, MSW, RSW, CPCC is the founder of Creative Wellness. She regularly teaches and speaks on the healing and transformational power of writing—alone and with others. She is the author of Life Source Writing™: A Reflective Journaling Practice for Self-Discovery, Self-Care, Wellness & Creativity. To learn more about the writing and wellness connection, click here get your FREE copy of the Writing for Wellness Getting Started Guide.

Write + be well.