Creating Space

Creating Space


So much writing advice talks about mapping and outlining and following a proven formula and writing for the reader and (for fiction) completing extensive character questionnaires (Who are their friends? What do they eat? What are their politics? Where did they go to school?).

But aside from all this worrying and planning and stressing and looking outside yourself, are you creating space for ideas? They need to be invited in. They need a safe, nourishing place to land.

In her book Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir, Natalie Goldberg reminds us that while writing takes a great deal of commitment (that sometimes we need to just “shut up and write”), “It also takes space—space to write and space to receive.”


She says:

This chapter is for my friend who calls me wondering when I’ll work on this book. I write a chapter and then go to the nursery to pick up zinnias for the garden. I write another chapter and go home and make soup. I know more but I don’t push it because there are things I don’t know that I want to come to me. I’m calling up understanding beyond myself. (p. 187)


How do you make space to receive understanding that is beyond your conscious mind, the mind that plots and plans and worries about publishing?


I mostly receive ideas and questions and clarity in three ways:


  • From dreams (I will ask a question before going to bed, and my subconscious will often throw me tidbits disguised in metaphor.)


  • From time spent in the barn where my horses live. The peace I find there calms both my mind and my heart. Understanding often comes to me on the ride home. (I keep notecards and a pen in the car and furiously jot down thoughts at red lights.)


  • From walks by the lake. When I lived in my beautiful hometown, Chicago, walking away from a frustrating writing session, driving to glorious Lake Michigan, and walking along its shore often put out the fire in my brain so that I was once again able to hear.



How do you make space?

You don’t? Well, then, how can you start?

Listening to music you don’t usually listen to? Reading an author you haven’t read before? Attending a reading or an art opening? Eating a new kind of food? Taking a walk in the woods?

Making soup?



Pam Sourelis writes short stories and personal essays. She assists other writers as a developmental editor, writing instructor, and writing coach/mentor.; also on Facebook



2 Replies to “Creating Space”

  1. Ideas come to me when I move through new spaces. Whether I am walking or driving or flying, I literally get a different perspectives when I travel, even if I am just walking on a new trail. I don’t carry writing materials with me; blank page and pen seem to set an expectation that blocks me. Instead, I just walk, or drive in silence and let the words and phrases form in my mind. There, I can edit them, rearrange them, and forget them as needed. On a plane, I often hold a book in front of me (trying to remember to turn pages occasionally) so that I can observe and absorb without making fellow passengers uncomfortable.

    1. This is interesting. You can edit your words while they’re still in your mind? That’s amazing. I need to get them down on paper (or a blank index card – I keep a stack in my car and in several places around the house) first. Then I can play around with them.

      I love the image of you hiding behind a book and people watching.

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