Desire is a big theme in the spirituality of St. Ignatius, writer of the Spiritual Exercises. They instruct us repeatedly to ask God for what we desire. And spiritual directors all over the world ask their directees, repeatedly, “But what do you truly desire?” They ask this question because they believe that a person’s deepest desires are echoes of Divine desire.
What does desire have to do with writing? If you can identify the real desire, then maybe you can get to the point quicker rather than writing loops around it for pages. If you identify what the reader most needs—which is likely some version of your own needs—then you can speak to those needs fearlessly. And as you sort through your own motives, your writing of all types will become clearer and more effective.
For instance, I may think that I’m relating some life lesson I learned from an incident that happened at my first job. But really, I’m trying to look back at myself and feel that I did the right thing—I’m still struggling with a particular interaction or decision—and so my writing will reflect this need for self-validation by sounding too certain or righteous or whatever. Because I haven’t identified the real motive behind the writing, the writing will shift in and out of focus and not be terribly helpful to anyone reading it, particularly me.
Fears are simply the flipsides of desires. You fear losing what you most desire. So one of the best things you can do for yourself ever, not just in your writing, is figure out what you fear. This will unlock all sorts of rooms inside you that have grown moldy and stuffy as you tried to ignore them.
If you’re a fiction writer, take note. Once you have determined a character’s greatest desire and greatest fear, that information will guide the plot, the conversation, and everything else.
If you’re a nonfiction writer, take note. Once you have determined the desire or fear that will motivate people to read this blog post or poem or article, you will understand how to craft the material. You’ll know what the important words and phrases are. You’ll be able to speak to what readers really feel rather than simply speak what you think is important.
Fears and desires are so attached to the gut—the center of the person—that they are not terribly difficult to tap once you begin to write. The key is to write quickly and not think too much—just allow the words to flow. Sometimes all it takes is a prompt such as, “What I’m afraid will happen is . . .”
And once you’re accustomed to sleuthing around your own desires and fears, you will become more attentive to what motivates other people. You’ll learn not to always take a comment at face value but ask what may really be going on with that person. In this way, as in so many others, our practice at writing becomes practice at living.
Come up with more complete expressions of these statements—that is, look for desires or fears that may be lurking underneath the obvious words:
- “I’m tired and would like to go home now.”
- “Why are you being so bossy?”
- “What I really need is to go eat chocolate in some form.”
- “These are the house rules, and as long as you live here, you will abide by them.”
- “I don’t want to make this long trip to my aunt’s—it’s nine hours by car!”
Finish these sentences; if you like, finish them multiple times.
- “My life would improve so much if only . . .”
- “If this issue doesn’t get resolved soon, [blank] will happen.”
- “When I have a few minutes to daydream, this is where my thoughts go . . .”
- “If I could rid my life of two people, these are the two I would choose . . .”
- “I must do [blank] while I still can.”
- “The dream I can’t let go of is . . .”
I am trying to believe that Divine Desire is expressing itself through my life. But I need to get out of the way! I need to listen and be honest. I need to honor my wants and follow them to their core. I need to name my fears and stay in the same room with them until I know what to do. Help!
Today, Friday, October 4, is our Tweetchat, at 12:00 CST. Use the hashtag #writethesoul to join in and discuss your experiences from this retreat week. Ask me any questions ahead of time here on the blog or @VinitaKS on Twitter.
I wrote the material this week especially for this online retreat—these are not book excerpts! However, if you find this material helpful and would like to pursue your writing further, you will probably enjoy my brand new book: The Art of Spiritual Writing: How to Craft Prose That Engages and Inspires Your Readers. Use code 4365 to purchase your copy for only $10 through 10/31/13. Shipping and handling are additional.