8 Things Writers Need to Know About Flying Trapeze
I took trapeze lessons this year! My niece made me do it. And because I understand everything as metaphor (many writers are wired this way — you might relate?) the whole experience turned into a hyper-embodied writing class.
Here is what I learned when I climbed a ladder a million meters high, held onto a skinny bar, and jumped off a ledge — and what it taught me about writing a book.
Use chalk! Your palms will sweat.
When you do something new, your body has a fear response. Many writers get nausea and sweaty palms when they think about writing. It’s okay to have a physiological response to a challenge, and to do the scary thing anyway. Make choices to help yourself through the fear. In trapeze, you use chalk for a better grip.
When writing, you can use isochronic tones, peppermint oil, or write with a friend to give yourself the stability you need before you jump into a scene.
Just take at one rung at a time.
Climbing the ladder is the scariest part! My trapeze teachers told me that they still get the worst of the nerves every time they go up that impossibly high ladder. They deal with this by looking at each rung as it appears in front of them, one at a time. You grab it, and step up. Then you focus on the next one. Eventually, you get to the top.
When writing, break your project down into small pieces you can manage. Take one page at a time, ten minutes at a time, one scene at a time. Focus on one thing, finish it, and then focus on the next one. Those pages add up.
Breathe deeply and get grounded before you jump.
Because yes, okay, the jump is terrifying too! My teacher noticed that I was way up in my head and disembodied, which is why I was frozen on the ledge. I just stood there at the edge — my mind just wouldn’t let my body let go. She coached me in a brief meditation at the top of the ladder — and when I took a minute to breathe deeply, I re-associated with my body, and felt calm enough to jump.
Before you write, give yourself 1-5 minutes to clear your head and ground yourself. You want to be associated with your body before you write creatively. Do a brief body scan, and take a few deep breaths to calm yourself and get out of your head.
Your jump should just be a tiny little hop.
No big power jumps off the ledge! The purpose of the starting jump is just to surrender your feet from the platform. You’re allowing gravity to take you. This is not about force and hustle. This is a release. This is simply you letting go. You’re hopping off to enjoy a magical collaboration with gravity.
When you’re about to write, skip the muscled push. Creative writing feels a lot like letting go — there’s energy there, because you need to motivate yourself to start — but you don't want a lot of conscious force. Your intention is to swing into your creative work. You’re just hopping off of your conscious thought platform to enjoy a magical collaboration with your unconscious mind.
You’re stronger than you think.
When you’re holding onto the trapeze bar, your arm strength kicks in whether you think it can or not! This isn’t about muscle: this is about the instinct to swing. You can trust your arms.
When writing, you trust your language and your voice. You have an innate way of processing what you notice about the world, people, story and nature. You have been living in story since you were born. And if you’ve taken a good writing class and you’ve practiced at all, you can trust your craft. You’re a better writer than you think.
There’s one quick instant after the jump that gives you enough momentum to swing yourself upside down on the trapeze bar. This happens in a microsecond. By the time I thought about how I would get my body upside down on the bar, it was too late, and the momentum had passed. After a few failed attempts, eventually I learned that I had to trust the forces outside my intellect for trapeze: trust the force of gravity, trust the harness around my waist, trust the net beneath me, trust my teacher’s guidance, and most of all, I had to trust my own body.
Writing is not only an intellectual exercise. It is a transformative process, and a story comes in and through the way you write it. When you’re on the page, you get to be in your body. Trust the forces outside your intellect for writing: trust all the books you’ve read and loved, trust the words that come when you allow them, trust the images that arise. In other words, if you could think up the outcome of your book, you wouldn’t have to write it.
Remember, this is FUN!
Flying trapeze — and creative writing is exhilarating! It’s addictive. Remember how much you love it. You get to enjoy the sensation of flying, swinging, jumping, and letting go. It’s an adventure every time. And you get better and better at it the more you practice.
It’s scary every time. WHEEEE!
Even after I knew how to climb, and jump without thinking, and use the force of gravity and momentum to go upside down and hang from a bar a million miles away from the ground... even after I realized how much I loved the amazing, sensational, exhilarating feeling of flying... even after doing it over and over again... climbing that ladder was still terrifying. Jumping off the ledge became more familiar, but it didn’t get easy. Still... WHEEEEE!
Your writing process becomes more familiar the more you practice. But every new story starts with that scary jump. It’s so worth it! Do it anyway!
And that’s basically my takeaway from the whole experience. This is why I climbed the ladder again and again, even though it was crazy scary every time I did it:
Climb, Breathe, Jump, Enjoy. Repeat.
It’s worth it. It’s so worth it.
Photo credit (top): Dmitry Egorov on Pixels.