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Emily Hanlon: The Fiction Writer's Journey
Emily Hanlon : Writing and the Cosmic Shopping Mall!

Writing and the Cosmic Shopping Mall!

By Emily Hanlon

Writing from the creative unconscious is like walking into a cosmic shopping mall where each shop offers a different persona for us to try on, actually a different way of being in relationship to ourselves and the world. The only means of exchange in this cosmic mall is exuberance, fearlessness and a desire to share and be shared.

Oh, and there's a key to the mall, too. We all have it in our pocket when we arrive, even if we don't know it's there. The key is a desire to break out of the box of who we think we are, who our families think we should be. It is a desire to fly in a place that, as John O'Donohue says, "is full of the most melodious and nourishing and wild freedom. And everyone should go there, to the wild place, where there are no cages, where there are no tight rooms without windows and without doors, everyone should go to the free clearance places in their own hearts."

And so, with our keys, we enter the mall. There, in every window we see amazing costumes. Here there is a multi-colored cloak of the finest silks, feathers and gemstones. The price: a desire to shine. Here there is a hat that reaches the clouds and is made of glittering stars and moons floating in what seems to be space itself. The price: a desire to expand consciousness. There are shops with nothing but wings: dragon wings, fairy wings, butterfly wings, lace wings, velvet wings, silk wings in all colors known and unknown. The price: a desire to fly. The shops go on and on, for they are as cosmic as our creative potential. And what is even more amazing, is that just the perfect shops show themselves to you as you walk by.

I believe each time we return to this cosmic shopping mall, we find different shops… shops beyond persona, shops of beauty, depth and mystery that we weren't ready to see when we first arrived. Our eyes and our hearts were not open enough. We were not ready to allow our spirits such freedom of expression and flight. But amazingly, as time passes and we integrate these new parts of self into who we are, we see that there was no shopping mall at all. That we never had to pick or choose — all that magnificence was inside us all along!

As creative women and men, we are at home in such mystery; we carry those rhythms, colors and songs inside ourselves. Once this becomes part of our consciousness, we are on a path from which there is no looking back.

Writing Exercises and Prompts

How to bypass the dictates of the mind, which is home to the Inner Critic, and write from the heart and gut, which are the realms of the Inner Writer, is basic to my teaching. The best way I know to make this shift is to use the image as a bridge into the unconscious. Why? Because the image resides in the right side of the brain, the place of dreams and sensations. The Inner Critic is terrified of a place where its logic, judgments, criticisms and evaluations go unheeded. Why? Because the right side of the brain is far too chaotic, imagistic and sensory for something as complicated as language. Further, the Inner Critic lives to maintain the status quo, something that is meaningless in the cosmic potential of the creative unconscious.

What follows is an exercise that takes you through the process of using the power of the image to unleash creativity. Then there are three writing prompts along with suggestions on ways to move from the free fall of the image into developing character and story born of the imagination.

The Exercise

1. Close your eyes and take three deep, circular breaths. When you breathe, imagine you are inhaling your Inner Writer. When you breathe out, imagine you are exhaling your Inner Critic.

2. With eyes closed, imagine you are alone with your Inner Writer. Follow her as she leads you into the cosmic world of the creative unconscious. It is a world outside of time and space where nothing is predestined and everything is possible. If what you see makes little sense, you know you're in the right place!

3. After a while, become aware that you are looking for an image to make itself known to you. When you see the image three times — no matter that it makes no sense — this is your image, a gift from the Inner Writer that will start you on a new and exciting journey.

4. Write down the image on a piece of paper.

5. Now the magic of working with image as guide is going to reveal itself. For that to happen, you have to allow your image to shape shift. But you can't "think" or try to make it happen. You can't control, question or try to figure out the shape shift. Are you ready? Write down the answer the following questions quickly. Don't think! If one answer makes a previous answer seem untrue, remember, we are in the realm of the imagination where nothing is as it seems. Answer quickly. Don't second guess yourself.

  • Close your eyes and ask your image to shape shift into an object in nature, i.e, a tidal wave, a black rose... whatever… What is it now?
  • Now your image is going to shape shift into an animal, what kind of animal is? Go for a primal animal; it holds more passion and risk. So, if a kitten comes to mind, shape shift it into a lion, tiger or panther.
  • Now your image is going to explode with new color. Remember, the color does not have to make sense. Coloring outside the lines is a requirement!
  • List as many adjectives as you can think of to describe your image.
  • List as many nouns as you can think of to describe your image. Write fast. Don't worry if you are writing down adjectives instead of nouns or vice versa.
  • List as many verbs as you can to describe how your image moves.
  • Name your image.
  • Look at your lists and underline the words that hold the most energy, positive or negative.
  • Make a list of these words. Using these words as a jumping off point, write some sentences. This is the beginning of a new story growing out of the gift of the original image. Don't think. Let the rich and plentiful images that rose up out of your creative unconscious be your engine. Write even if what you write makes no apparent sense.
  • If you get stuck, see if you have enough dramatic tension. If not, arbitrarily throw in something like a fight. Why a fight? It creates immediate tension, which gives energy to your story. Or throw in a stalker or a thief, a seductress or someone in flight. Alternately, go back to your list. Pick out another word or image and see if that gets the juices flowing. Or simply ask your image to write for you.

Any of these suggestions will work if you shut off your mind (the home of the Inner Critic), put pen to paper and let the writing flow. This exercise is not about writing the perfect story. It isn't even about writing a story, although one may come out of it. It's about accessing the creative unconscious differently.

Remember, your image is a gift from your Inner Writer and its many shape shifts are the key. Write without thinking. Write fast. In the world of the imagination, there is no right or wrong. Go for it, have fun!

© 2008 Emily Hanlon. All rights reserved.

Emily HanlonEmily Hanlon has been a writer all her life and is the author of seven works of fiction and a book on writing and creativity. More »

2/13/08