|This month’s newsletter is a patchwork quilt of information for journal writers. First, there’s information about taking a long view of your life patterns. I’ve included a description of an exercise from Ira Progoff’s book At a Journal Workshop. Dr. Progoff was a psychologist who created the “Intensive Journal Process” designed to guide you to learn more about yourself.Then, for those of you who are working your journal writing into publishable pieces, Nancy Oliver, playwright and writer for HBO’s Six Feet Under, shares some ideas about rewriting.
Also included is information about existing patches for correcting known problems in LifeJournal.
Recently I’ve noticed that many people purchasing LifeJournal have “edu” as their e-mail address extension. It reminds me that LifeJournal is a great tool to use as you start the school year. If you are not going back to school this semester, consider giving LifeJournal as a gift to someone who is.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Ira Progoff’s Steppingstones: A Way to Bringing Together Past, Present, and Future
For Writers: Rewriting, by Nancy Oliver, playwright and writer for HBO’s Six Feet Under
Patches for Known Bugs: Ways to Fix Known Problems
How to Purchase LifeJournal
Ira Progoff’s Steppingstones: A Way to Bring Together Past, Present, and Future
A powerful journal exercise that Dr. Ira Progoff developed is called The Steppingstones. The exercise helps uncover underlying long term patterns within your life. Progoff uses the sense of “movement” or “motion” in one’s life to help people move forward on their life’s tracks. The Steppingstones exercise helps you look at periods and significant events in your life, perhaps with the idea of carrying the thread of that movement forward. It is a good technique if you are in transition and looking for direction to move into the next phase of your life. All quotes in this article are from Progoff’s book At a Journal Workshop: Writing to Access the Power of the Unconscious and Evoke Create Ability, written in 1975.
“The Steppingstones are the significant points of movement along the road of an individual’s life. They stand forth as indicators of the inner connectedness of each person’s existence, a continuity of development that maintains itself despite the vicissitudes and the apparent shifting of directions that occur in the course of a life. The Steppingstones are indicators that enable us to recognize the deeper-than-conscious goals toward which the movement of our lives is trying to take us.”
“…In Steppingstones, we draw out of the jumbled mass of our life experiences, the thin and elusive connective threads that carry our potentials toward a fuller unfolding.
“…By working with the Steppingstones, we make contact with these elusive lines of continuity that are seeking to establish themselves as patterns of meaning in our lives. ”
Progoff suggests that you close you eyes and sit in silence, breathing slowly, and not thinking about any specific aspect of your life, but trying to “feel the movement” of your life. Progoff says, “Then, whatever the form in which the continuity of your life reflects itself to you now, respond to it, observe it, and let the flow continue. If images present themselves to you on the twilight level, images in any form, whether visual or not, take note of them.”
“…Passive receptivity is the best attitude to adopt in doing this. As you sit in silence, let the cycles, the rhythms, the tempos of your life present themselves to you. Let them be free and undirected so that they can shape themselves into whatever form truly reflects their basic qualities; let yourself be free in your quietness to perceive them as they come to you without editing or falsifying them.”
Progoff instructs you to write a list of 8-10 and no more than 12 Steppingstones. A Steppingstone is an event, image, sensation, a thought, or milestone of your life that comes to mind when you review your life from the beginning to the present. Select Steppingstones spontaneously, without a lot of mulling and conscious direction, but with an intuitive sense of selecting the right ones. Progoff explains that you do not need to be concerned if the events you list are not in perfect chronological order.
Write only a word, a short descriptive phrase, or a sentence that will trigger your memory when you go back to the list. You may want to use the phrase, “It was a time when…” as the beginning of the description.
When you have completed the list, go back and read the Steppingstones. Try re-reading the list from a neutral frame of mind, rather than thinking about whether the list is praiseworthy, disappointing, or even complete. Rather, determine whether there is a focus or pattern or theme. What do you feel when you read the list? What things do you observe about it? What is the thread of continuity? What do you learn from the list?
Depending on your point of view at the time of the writing, the Steppingstones may shift. The first time you do the exercise, you may find that you include just the basic chronological facts of your life. Each time you do this exercise, three days or three months later, you are viewing your life through a different lens. Identifying what the lens is may give you information about your present focus and may help you see in a new light the path you have taken, where you are today, and a trajectory for the future.
You may continue to work with this list, choosing to select a Steppingstone period that you feel may offer insights, and explore it in depth. Write about the period in a Life History entry in LifeJournal. Ask yourself questions about the period to help it become more three-dimensional and tangible. Start with general recollections–such as adjectives describing the periods, images you have, sensory recollections, and metaphors about the time period. Go to more specific recollections, such as dreams you had, attitudes or beliefs to which you subscribed, aspirations, life philosophies, conflicts, frustrations, key relationships, feelings, and hopes. You may want to write dialogs between different aspects of your life during the time period, such as a dialog with family, friends and other important relationships; a dialog with your health; your work; your religion/spirituality; an important event; or cultural or societal norms, attitudes, or values of that period. (Learn more about the journal technique dialog and how to use the LifeJournal dialog tool in the November, 2001 issue of the LifeJournal newsletter.)
For more in-depth information about the Progoff Intensive Journal method, or about Steppingstones, read Ira Progoff’s At a Journal Workshop: Writing to Access the Power of the Unconscious and Evoke Create Ability . To find out more about the Progoff Intensive method, visit the Progoff website.
For Writers: Rewriting, by Nancy Oliver, playwright and writer for HBO’s Six Feet Under
You have an unexpected half-hour free to write in your journal. Remembering the trashy bodice-ripper you skimmed in the doctor’s waiting room, you wonder, could I write like that? You give it a try and come up with something like this:
Nicole looked at Lance in horror. His eyes flashed with anger as he bared his white teeth in a grim smile. “You knew what I was when you hired me,” he drawled. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she protested. She tried to inch slowly toward the door, but he grabbed her tight with his tan muscled arms. All those long summer days breaking mustangs had made him strong as a lion. Her startling blue eyes pleaded with him. “Let me go,” she begged. He drew her closer, bending his mouth to hers.
Not bad. People publish paragraphs like this all the time. Still, to a writer, if there’s one thing inevitable as death, taxes, and unemployment, it’s rewriting. So where do you start? Let’s go back to your journal and break this paragraph down.
“Nicole gazed at Lance in horror.” Well, it’s not criminal, but “gaze” is a little over the top and not really the right use of the word as it implies a steadiness that Nicole clearly does not possess. And is “horror” too strong a word only a few sentences before she succumbs to her desire? Looking at Lance or watching him nervously could do the job.
“His eyes flashed with anger…” When was the last time you actually saw somebody’s eyes flash? Avoid clichés unless you’re making a point about clichés. Try some real observation of the expressive possibilities of eyes and you might come up with something fresh. “…as he bared his white teeth in a grim smile.” Oh, mercy. That’s a lot of action and description for a sentence that says nothing new we need to know. “He smiled” is plenty.
“You knew what I was when you met me,” he drawled. Does Lance need to drawl here? Chances are he’s been drawling all through the rest of the book and in this scene specifying the drawl weakens the punch of the dialogue. In fact, when your dialogue is sharp, clean, and in character, it’s not necessary to describe the way things are said; we’ll get the point.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” she protested…” Again, the protest is implicit in the dialogue, something like “lied” would be more interesting. “…her heart beating wildly in her chest.” Okay, we’ll let the “wildly” pass for genre’s sake, but “in her chest” has to go since everyone already knows where hearts are.
“She tried to inch slowly toward the door…” The verb “inch” already tells us she’s moving slowly. “…but he grabbed her tight with his tan muscled arms.” First, there’s no need for “tight” since you can’t grab something loosely. Second, the imminent embrace demands that “tan muscled arms” appear somewhere in this scene. But to use them after “grab” is lame–what else is he going to grab her with, flippers? Best to mention those arms somewhere before our paragraph begins, at the top of the scene.
“All those long summer days breaking mustangs had made him strong as a lion.”This is pretty good except for “strong as a lion” which is another cheap cliché. You also don’t want to mix your animals within a few words of each other. Why not try something more straightforward?
“Her startling blue eyes pleaded with him.” Surely we’ve heard about the startling blue of Nicole’s eyes on page one and every few pages since then. This is not the time to bring it up again. And why does she bother pleading with her eyes when she’s going to plead with her voice in the next sentence?
“Let me go,” she begged. Nicole really shouldn’t be begging or pleading at all at this point. As a bodice-ripper heroine caught in a dangerous embrace, she should be feisty, not passive. The idea is to increase the physical tension of the moment, and all she’s done so far is inch. We need to remind the reader that Nicole, too, is flesh.
“He drew her closer, bending his mouth to hers.” You can’t really draw a woman closer when she’s fighting like a tarpon. Now is the time for Lance to pull her in tight. However, because mouths don’t actually bend, maybe he should just kiss her, but in an unexpected way.
So a rewrite might go something like this:
Lance raised his tan, muscled arms and threw the pitchfork into the hay. Nicole watched him, suddenly nervous. The color of his eyes seemed to change and he smiled. “You knew what I was when you hired me.” “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she lied, inching toward the barn door, but he moved swiftly and grabbed her. All those long summer days breaking mustangs had only made him stronger, leaner, harder. She twisted her body, trying to break his hold as he pulled her tight against him. She stopped struggling. “Please,” he whispered and kissed her softly for a long time.
Your version would probably be quite different. It doesn’t matter. These are the sorts of questions to be asked and answered as you learn the art of the rewrite.
Patches for Bugs: Ways to fix known problems
We have several patches that have been available for download for known bugs atwww.lifejournal.com/patches.html. Below is the list of patches and when to use them:
“Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.”
–Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Our life is like a road that passes through many environments. As conditions change, it varies its style of movement. But it remains the one road of our life.” –
–Ira Progoff, PhD.
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