How to Write (and Live) “IT.”

Lydia holding chicks, 2015

Lydia holding chicks, 2015

How do we write about grief, beauty, endings, beginnings, missed opportunities, luck, divine intervention, spiritual experiences and epiphanies?

Today’s Writing Wednesday blog shares how I write about such themes and scenes in both my spiritual nonfiction books and in my (yes, I’m working on my) novel.

When I am having a particular experience, I write about it. I  have been writing in my journals since the age of sixteen. (A friend promises to burn them on my death).

For my nonfiction, I can write from the present experience and use some teaching point as a thematic thread throughout the piece. So if I am writing on the subject of grief, as I experience it, I find a theme to focus my writing (and more often than not) my experience. This gives me a way to move through and contemplate the grief experience and write about it for my readers at the same time.

In my fiction writing, I find a place in my story and manuscript where I want to reveal the experience of grief (when experiencing grief in the moment). For example: When our foreign exchange student got on the train to Chicago to catch her plane back home I experienced a stifling grief. I was utterly surprised by it, not knowing that I had kicked in my motherly attachment to this young woman (of fifteen). Besides using my spiritual practice to live through the grief I went home and found the place in my novel where the protagonist experienced grief. My protagonist loses a good friend (maybe love interest) to a hunting accident. Then her father goes missing in search of her friend. So, she is experiencing intense loss and grief. My grief, from this loss, had intense physical and emotional sensations. I first wrote this experience and scene of loss and grief while it was still active into my journal. Then I sat down and wrote on several scenes in my novel using this experience as my guide. So, another way is to sit yourself down and write your personal and immediate experience of grief, or endings, or spiritual epiphanies as a scene. This means showing us in story what this emotion or experience looks, feels and tastes like. As in all scenes too, something will be happening, some tension where the character may or may not get immediate relief.

Of course, I often have to pull things up through my memory when writing a fictional scene. Another way to capture an experience is to write a poem about it first. Such verse invites symbolic references and emotional shrewdness.

As I write this blog I have my Spring Green writing circle at my home on retreat. (Hello!) Today, I am (really, truly) working on my novel, SKINS. But, I find some of the scenes flat so I call up my emotional experience present today (one of our hens died), and first write a poem about this present experience. Then I find a place in my novel that this present loss may help me write a richer scene. Below, find the poem and the scene. (Both are a work in progress, so be nice to your writing Sherpa!)


The Old Hen


The old hen died today.

Late yesterday afternoon we

gathered her from the winter coop, stuffed hay into

the dog’s traveling cart, laid her down, put in some water,

and shut the latch.


My daughter said she snored

last night.


There’s so much I don’t know

about the world

(I never knew chickens snored).


I know

I can’t stay

Yet, here I am,

without a place to




afraid enough

to wish that some one would gather me up,

stuff some soft hay into a crate, put me inside

with just enough water for my journey,


and leave me there.


Till I awake


on the other side.


(This scene takes place at the roasting of the ceremonial meal after a successful stalking game, my protagonist shares how she captured the Poacher):  I leave the part out of how I heard crows cawing outside the cave all the while I was down in that dark hole, breathing small and shallow like a mite. The crows cawed and cawed from the dark, slippery edge above me. I feel now that I would have not made it back out without them. While in the hole I felt the tug to stay, oddly like I have felt so often on the edge of a steep mountain cliff – to jump!, afraid my body would act with out the agreement of my mind. Maybe it’s just seeing too many movies of people jumping and falling off high places. Though, the pull is so real to me. And down there in the belly of the earth I felt the pull to remain buried.

56 thoughts on “How to Write (and Live) “IT.”

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