Writing into Joy...the Challenges and Rewards

Dear Reader!

It’s spring here in Cambridge and the sun is out. It’s a great pleasure.

When we write into pleasure and joy, our writing comes more alive—just like our landscape. But one of the biggest challenges many writers have is writing joy (a word, which, by the way, shares a root with the word “jewel”—both are precious!)

This week, in my Align Your Story class, we’re working on the Joy Module and students are often surprised at how tricky writing this emotion can be–but also how rewarding.

Why is writing joy challenging? It’s partly that we turn to writing to express those things that we can’t otherwise express. We don’t need to write our joy; we can live it. When we feel most alive, we often don’t turn to the page.

But writing joy is also challenging because many of us are not trained in exercising our joy muscle or in giving joy language.

And many of us also shrink back from fully sinking into and staying with the experience of joy.

Brené Brown calls our discomfort with joy “foreboding joy.” In her book Daring Greatly, she writes:

“…I’d argue that joy is probably the most difficult emotion to really feel…In a culture of deep scarcity—of never feeling safe, certain, and sure enough—joy can feel like a setup…We’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

When I first read that passage many years ago, I had a moment of recognition. I realized how often I didn’t allow myself to experience a moment fully because I was scared of losing what I had; how often I’d played small to protect what I already had, as if by daring to go out and experience more and be bigger, I would put the life I had at risk.

In my class, because we also work with our bodies, students sometimes notice how just naming joy might bring a muscle contraction. We might feel we need to protect it or we are not worthy of it. Writing about joy can also bring up feelings of loss, regret, and fear.

When we recognize what is happening, we can change our habit energy.

And when we work not only with our mind but also our body, following our breath, strengthening our core (where our fear, creativity, and joy are centered), and allowing our body to let go, we have a larger range of motion.

The 19th-century English poet William Wordsworth has a beautiful sonnet that begins, “Surprised by joy—impatient as the Wind.”

It’s a striking line that reminds us how unexpected joy can be—how wild and unruly.

But as soon as he feels joy, Wordsworth turns to share his moment of joy with his daughter and remembers she is dead. Wordsworth then feels guilty for his moment of joy, for forgetting the loss of his daughter for even one moment.

But joy is not an either/or. We can have both joy and grief. In fact, often what prevents us from feeling joy is our unprocessed grief or fear or rage.

Writers often notice that if they allow themselves to feel and write their shadow sides, they have more space, as well, for our joy and pleasure.

Today, I invite you to write into joy.

While the writing can be challenging at first, it can also be one of the most satisfying writing experiences you'll have. And getting a larger range of emotion into our work makes our writing come more alive!

Think of joy as a jewel, a flower—something precious to be admired and appreciated.

As you’re writing, stay with your body.

If your joy morphs into something else, there's nothing wrong with that; don’t control it–let whatever arises arise. Allow your writing to guide you. It has a wisdom of its own.

I have a few joy prompts for you. Come on over to my blog post and/or to my Instagram account—or both. I offer different prompts in each place.

Be gentle. Be curious. Listen to your body.

And give yourself the permission to write and feel into the complexity and wonder of joy.

with love,

PS: As always, please leave a comment and share this with any friends who might appreciate it--and please follow me on Instagram, where I'll be offering prompts and meditations and more (I'm trying to get comfortable to showing up in that space that still feels pretty strange to me..but with friends and community, it will be more comfortable :).)

Hi! I'm Nadia Colburn—writer, teacher, yogi, activist

At Align Your Story Writing School, we bring traditional literary and creative writing studies together with mindfulness, embodied practices, and social and environmental engagement. Join a community of over 25,000 other mindful writers. Get the tools and community to write your best work.

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