Discovery WritingSM is a process that uses writing as a way of listening. You might even think of it as listening on paper. In Discovery Writing groups we focus on experiments which are all simple opportunities, invitations really, to listen within and write whatever we hear. There is never a right or wrong way to do this listening-writing. Neither are there right or wrong outcomes. Whatever happens is very in-the-moment and very particular to you. Each listening-writing experiment holds the possibility of discovery, now and into the future.
Here’s one of my favorite listening-writing experiments for you to try. It’s an indirect, multi-layered opportunity for discovery. Please allow 30 minutes for this experiment so that you won’t feel rushed or pressured to make something happen.
You might want to begin by jotting down, and then setting aside, an open-ended question that you are seeking insight into.
Examples: What am I overlooking? What needs my attention? What would help look like? What am I holding onto?
Begin by taking a few moments to remember the types of stories that appear in night dreams. These are often highly detailed stories, or story fragments, with elaborate plots that change in curious and sometimes fantastical ways. Because these stories are contained in dreams, we seem to withhold our usual disbelief or criticism. We give dream stories a special place in our lives and our imaginations; we allow anything to be possible there.
In this experiment it doesn’t matter whether you’re easily able to remember your own night dreams, because you won’t be using actual night dreams. Instead, you’ll work with three “night-like” dream stories that you write.
Here’s one example of a night-like dream story (not an actual night dream): “I am walking along a boardwalk in a nature preserve and it is either dawn or dusk. I really can’t tell yet, and this troubles me. No one else appears to be present, but I might be hearing voices off in the distance. There are patches of low hanging fog that attempt to lift themselves, but they always fall back around me. It’s clear the fog is preventing me from seeing far along the path ahead of me. I sense something mysterious separates me from what I desire, although I don’t know what that is. A bird screeches a chilling wild call that jolts me; it sounds like mourning.”
To begin creating your first night-like dream story, simply listen in the direction of a dream-like story and write down whatever you hear. Each story will probably be somewhere between a few lines, a short paragraph, or a page in length. When you finish the first one, listen for and write a second one, and then a third. Allow at least five minutes for each dream story, more if you like.
When all three are written, read and select from each one — a word, a phrase, or a line that leaps out at you. Copy your three selections into your notebook at the top of the next blank page. For example: “dawn or dusk,” “not the only one confused,” and “someone whispering my name” might end up being three selections. Another example: “shapeless canvas bag,” “thirsty,” and “complicated reservations” might also be selections.
Next, write to explore the connections between your three selections. Write until you sense the connection revealing itself to you, no matter how unlikely that might seem. Trust that there is a connection; persist with listening-writing until it makes itself known.
If you jotted down a question at the beginning of the experiment, consider how you have been attempting to address that question as you’ve been listening, writing, and unraveling. What insight(s) have you unraveled?
IMPORTANT: If you feel this experiment didn’t really work for you, set it aside and return to it in a few weeks. Given a little time and distance, the experiment might yet reveal something significant. It could even be a powerful and intuitive affirmation / confirmation of things about to happen.
Read more about Discovery Writing.