An extract from Heart, Sass & Soul: Journal Your Way to Inspiration and Happiness
by Greta Solomon
When I run workshops and online programmes, I always ask the participants why they’ve come and what they want to get out of the workshop or programme. The answers ALWAYS involve blocks or fears. Here are some of the responses I’ve heard:
- “I work in communications for a management consultancy. I write articles and do a lot of ghostwriting for people in the company. I feel that my own voice is becoming lost. I’m trying to write a novel and want to start a blog. But I haven’t got a clue about what I would blog about.
- “Most of my career has revolved around writing, but mostly other people’s writing–editing and translating their work so they can get published. I finally want to prioritise MY work.”
- “I have been writing professionally for about 10 years, mostly journalism, plus two non-fiction books. I would love to explore a more creative way of writing. This is something I have wanted for a long time but simply haven’t ‘allowed’ myself the time to do.”
- “When it comes to my writing, I feel like a washed-up actor, as though my best work behind me.”
- “I’ve spent so much time and energy raising my kids that I need to do something for myself. I want to be the writer I know I can be–before it’s too late.”
Do you recognise any of these responses in yourself?
Knowing what you want and your intentions before you start writing is super powerful. It helps you to anchor your writing, because you’re clear on exactly which blocks, or behaviour patterns you want to break through.
For all my clients, writing is such an intricate part of their lives. Most have a longing to make their writing more formal. They feel a need to put a stake in the ground and accept that their thoughts and feelings deserve to be put in writing. Yet, their fears and negative emotions are getting in the way. There’s a push-and-pull between wanting to share and being scared to share.
Now, it’s time to put an end to that.
Begin by creating your joy list
A Joy List is a list of objects that spark joy in you. The idea is to curate this list, and then use it to tap into your self-expression. You’ll use your objects to master the tool of object writing. This is where you take an object and write about it using your seven senses. These senses are seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, feeling and moving. Object writing is a powerful tool by itself. But by using your joy list, you get a double-workout. You practise your writing skills and harness your joy.
My challenge to you: spend five days writing for joy
Why five days? Because five days feels joyful. It’s long enough to feel like a daily practice and short enough to commit to–even amidst our daily pressures and strains. Especially so, in fact. When there are too many demands on your time, your needs, wants, likes and desires can get ignored. Your inner voice can diminish daily, little-by-little. That’s why you need to write. It’s a quiet protest, a quiet power.
How to create your joy list
Now, this is simple – so don’t overthink it. Simply go through your house or apartment and collect the objects that spark joy within you. Start by choosing just five. Don’t simply choose ones that are fashionable, or expensive, or desirable to others. Choose the ones that mean something to you, even if they’re rusty, old and in need of some love. You’ll give them that through your object writing. This ‘spark joy’ process has been made popular by Marie Kondo, the famous face of the Japanese art of tidying up. You don’t have to tidy-up, you just need to feel, and trust your instincts.
To help inspire you, here is one of my joy lists (meaning that the list you create doesn’t have to be THE definitive one)
- Wedding picture
- Hard copy of the December 2017 issue of British Vogue
- ‘Woody’ piggy bank
- Miranda perfume from French perfumery, Fragonard
- Our turquoise sofa
So, what exactly is object writing?
Object writing was invented by Pat Pattison (a Professor at Berklee College of Music) to help songwriters get raw material for their songs. It’s likely that some of your favourite songwriters and recording artists rocked up to the studio one day and followed the steps that I’ll outline below. But this technique isn’t just for songwriters–it can completely transform anyone’s writing skills.
Object writing can:
- Get you started (it kicks your writing muscles into gear)
- Bring your writing to life
- Increase your powers of description
- Improve your ability to give quick stories, examples and analogies
- Build your confidence to tackle more difficult pieces of writing
It’s easy to master, fun and gives fast results. When we do it in my workshops people often want more. They want to re-experience the freedom they felt while writing from the heart–not the mind.
How to do it
Take an object from your Joy List and write about it–with a pen and a piece of paper–using only your seven senses. So, you look at the object and focus on what you see, hear, touch, taste and smell, the movement of the object and how you feel about it. You do this in a short burst of either 10 minutes, five minutes or 90 seconds. Having a limited amount of time makes you laser-focused and stops your mind from jabbering and getting in the way.
It helps to think more about the seven senses before you get started. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the first five senses, but it can take a little extra practice to describe objects in terms of feeling and movement. Think about feeling as being more than your emotions. For example, does an object (or your associations with it) make your heart beat faster or your muscles tense up? When it comes to movement, don’t just think of the obvious movement an object makes. Instead, also think about your internal movement when interacting with an object. Think about the strange sensation when getting back on solid land after a boat trip. Is your body moving in response to the object?
Object writing in seven steps:
- Write the following headings at the top of the page to remind you of the senses you need to focus on:
See • Hear • Touch • Taste • Smell • Feel • Move
- Set a stopwatch for 10 minutes, 5 minutes or 90 seconds.
- Spontaneously write down whatever comes to mind about the object. Write with excitement and interest. Be as specific as possible with your descriptions and images.
- You don’t need to stay completely focused on the object, so don’t worry if random words and sentences tumble out. Just go wherever your seven senses lead you.
- Write in full sentences if you can, but don’t worry if it’s easier not to.
- Keep your hand moving across the page and don’t stop to cross out words or correct spelling mistakes.
- Only amend spellings, grammar errors or other mistakes when you’ve finished. Yep, this is hard. But resist the temptation to stop and judge. Keep your flow and don’t worry if what you write looks clunky or disorganised.
Here’s an example of a 10-minute object writing session on a bottle of perfume (Miranda by Fragonard)
Disclaimer: I wrote this freehand while in Starbucks one evening but did a few minor edits while typing it up (to make it publication ready!)
Cool, silver, stainless steel containing such rich warmth and beauty. Burnt oak, sandalwood and cedar with the heady smell of freedom and summer days. The glug of champagne and flowers and life – a life on the precipice of earth, and air, and water, and rain. I hear the beat of bees, of rivers flowing and pulsing. So warm and inviting, enveloping me in a chocolate kiss. Beaconing to me like freshly baked cookies, warm with promise and crumbly with pleasure. And the stink, stink, stink of heady summer bliss.
The bottle feels cool and fresh to the touch. The juxtaposition of cold with the delicious drops inside. Each one like a bubble of soap that contains the whole rainbow in one drop. Knowing that I can be a different person when I step into this scent. One who eats croissants, no, not eats but nibbles them between delicate blood-red lips. And drinks red wine and coffee in the cafés of Paris, and cuddles by the fire in winter. While the noses are at work in the factory churning out scents of such pure delight.
The taste of vanilla, not ordinary, not normal, but rich and succulent on the tongue. I feel warm and bright, and earthy. I feel like I can plant my feet firmly on the ground and spin my mind to new dimensions like a kaleidoscope, or a maze in a secret garden. Like the key to the door of another world.
The bottle is a burgeoning promise, of a summer on the edge of reason when I didn’t know what to feel or think. When I had been betrayed.
Seeing the golden liquid slosh in a container that doesn’t belie its beauty, I see that truth and beauty isn’t always on show. That tin of temptation, makes me feel alive whenever I spray it. I am intoxicated and drunk with delight. I feel enlivened and bold as I carry around a secret. Like going to the cinema in the afternoon and seeing a film just for me. Like taking a bubble bath and spritzing on perfume just for me. For my ears and eyes only. I feel untouchable and touchable all at once and endorsed by love, and by happiness. By me and Fragonard and the secrets of my scent.
My challenge to you: spend five days writing for joy
Why five days? Because five days feels joyful. It’s long enough to feel like a daily practice and short enough to commit to – even amidst our daily pressures and strains. Especially so, in fact. When there are too many demands on your time, your needs, wants, likes and desires can get ignored. Your inner voice can diminish daily, little-by-little. That’s why you need to write. It’s a quiet protest, a quiet power.
If you liked this extract, you’ll love Heart, Sass & Soul: Journal Your Way to Inspiration and Happiness. It’s full of writing exercises, tips, techniques and food for thought to inspire you to fully express yourself in writing, and in life.
Greta Solomon is a British journalist turned writing coach and the author of two books about writing. Her latest book is Heart, Sass & Soul: Journal Your Way to Inspiration and Happiness. In 2006, she discovered a talent for helping people overcome the blocks, fears and shame that stops them from fully expressing themselves. Through talks, workshops and online programs, she teaches real-world writing techniques and inspires others to live rich, full lives. Her work has been featured in Forbes.com, Writers Digest, Kindred Spirit and The Numinous. She is a published poet and songwriter, a psychology graduate, certified life coach, trained lifelong learning teacher and holds a specialist certificate in lyric writing from Berklee College of Music. She lives in London with her husband and their daughter. Visit www.gretasolomon.com to find out more.