Metaphors we live and write by

So often, when we have a writing-life problem, we find that the more we mull over it, muse on it, discuss and ruminate, the more anxiety and critical inner voices surface, and the tighter the knot gets.

In the very process of using our well-honed Descartian rational minds, we put ourselves out of range of our innate capacity to flourish.

Thinking isn’t enough.

In her book ‘Metaphor and Meaning in Psychotherapy’, Ellen Siegelman writes that ‘the only insights that are usable are affectively realised truths’. In other words, useful answers must be felt, rather than just thought. They must surface from the core of our physical being. They have to speak from and to, our guts.

Using imagery and imagination can be more effective than words alone.

When we work in this way we unite all aspects of our global experience, including the data from our senses, bodily sensations, and emotions. When we make use of inner imagery, dreams, body movement, or storytelling, the most liberating insights often emerge spontaneously.  At these moments of learning we feel, in Anne Dillard’s words that we, ‘…break up through the skin of awareness a thousand times a day, as dolphins burst through seas, and dive again, and rise, and dive’.

This is why I don’t teach creative writing per se, but instead I teach about how get on the trail of the Wild Words, how to track them down, and how to harness them on the page. The more we employ metaphor and imagination in our search for solutions, the more likely we are to succeed.

It can be tempting, as we explore this unchartered territory, to at some point in the process to abandon the metaphor, and come back to the ‘real problem’. Thinking that before, during, or after our symbolic journey we need to come back to the literal, is a mistake and is often counterproductive. Human beings are metaphorical creatures. We only need to, in psychotherapist Shaun McNiff’s words  ‘stick with the image’.

In the moment that we look our Wild Words square in the eye, we’ve done all the work necessary. It’s then that we know, we heal, we complete.  Things are different afterwards.

Even if you occasionally or often doubt, some part of you knows this extraordinary power of imagining and storytelling. This is why you have chosen the calling of ‘a writer’, and why you should swell with pride when the term is applied to you.