Today, we break our hiatus with a guest post from Yvonne Spence, founder of the 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion blogging challenge! 1000 Voices Speak invites bloggers to post on topics of compassion on the 20th of every month. These posts can range from fiction to poetry to nonfiction and everything in-between, and aim to raise awareness about the various ways in which people can show compassion. Posts are linked up on the 20th so that participants can read each others’ work and spread the word.
Yvonne is with us today to discuss the power of writing, which is at the very core of the 1000 Voices Speak initiative.
Suppose you’re having a tough day and feel as if nobody understands you. Lost in sadness, you search the internet for help and find an article that says what you need to do is get rid of your negative thoughts and choose happiness. As you read, you might see where your thoughts have driven your spiral into misery—or you might feel even more miserable because you think you should be able to drop those negative thoughts, and because your feeling that nobody understands you intensifies.
The written word has power—but only as much as the reader gives it. This is true even of unpublished writing—even if nobody else reads your writing, you do. If by journaling you gain insight into your own mind’s thought patterns, then your writing has the power to transform.
Back in January, I read articles about the Charlie Hebdo murders and massacres in Nigeria. As I read, I felt shock, and yet a sense that of change, of the world saying, “No more.” Two words held up by the people of Paris summed this up: “Not afraid.”
Later, I read a post by fellow blogger, Lizzi Rogers, that was a call for more compassion. I often read similar posts and yet it seemed that many writers felt lonely in their longing to care. It struck me that we needed to get them together.
I invited people to join me in writing about compassion. My hope was to get 1000 people to write on the same day, creating a counter to the frequent reports of atrocities. I hoped that in some small way we would help to spread love and understanding around the globe. We’ve been spreading love ever since.
When writing comes from the heart, it provides a service. In giving ourselves permission to write from our deepest truth, we touch the same truth in our readers and so give them permission to be who they are.
Writing that wants attention for its beauty or cleverness tends to disappoint. It feels empty and leaves writer and reader feeling frustrated though often not knowing why. It’s simple: the writer isn’t writing to spark ideas in the reader, but to impress them, to gain approval and feel of value.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. If we, as writers, feel lacking and gain approval through our writing, the confidence that comes can spread to other aspects of our lives.
And yet, if we want to connect with readers, we need let go of wanting approval and write from beyond habitual patterns. This deeper kind of writing most often happens when we don’t plan it, but simply show up at our desks and allow the process to do the writing for us. The “I” (or ego) steps out of the way. It’s no coincidence that many great writers say the writing writes itself.
Great writing by “ordinary” bloggers or authors comes that way too. We don’t have nearly as much control as we’d sometimes like to think and the more we let go of trying to control, the better our writing usually is. When we let go of trying to control, our writing comes from our deeper, unconscious mind and we connect with other people in this same deep way.
Yes, we also connect in superficial ways—if, for instance, I write an article about politics and present my view as the “right” or “good” one, many people will agree with me. However, this also risks disconnection from others if they happen to hold different political opinions. The same holds true for any topic – I could have strong opinions about parenting, schooling or even cooking that diverge from a percentage of my potential audience.
Again, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this. I’m not suggesting we censor ourselves, because that destroys any power our words have. If we express our view and are open to others disagreeing with us, then we will reach deeper understandings. In this way, writing connects and transforms.
Writing that comes from the unconscious mind, that goes beyond ego and touches that deeper part of the reader, doesn’t need to be serious or “worthy.” Comedy exposes the collective insanity of the mind, the parts we try to hide. In recognising and laughing at our human foibles, we release them, and again open to deeper connection.
Writers, including many of the people who take part in 1000 Voices Speak For Compassion, often struggle for words, not because they are trying to impress, but because they don’t feel worthy. In reality, it’s not that we aren’t enough, but that language can only ever point to what connects us; it can never fully be it. When we go beyond our fear of disapproval, what remains is a wordless sense of peace.
However, to point others to that, we need to use words. Take compassion. I’ve felt it; you’ve felt it. But we experience it through the filters of our minds. When I share my definition and read yours, it leads to deeper understanding.
The power of the written word comes when it breaks through a reader’s filters to allow new insights and awareness. For me, this is the biggest source of joy in writing—both as reader and writer. Several people have said that my novel, Drawings in Sand, helped them to gain compassion for someone from their past.
One post for our very first #1000Speak link-up came from a Nigeria woman, aptly named Joy. She now lives in South Africa and to try to protect herself from the pain of what was happening in her home country, she shut it out. After joining 1000 Voices Speak, she found the strength to open her heart to her country’s people, writing: Today and always you are my family.
There can be no stronger testament to the power of the written word than that!