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February 04, 2008

Words Across The Universe

Later on today NASA's going to be beaming out a song through the Deep Space Network, aimed at the North Star, 431 light-years from earth.  Appropriately enough it's the Beatles song "Across the Universe".

The story's got me thinking about how it feels when we put our words 'out there', out into the vastness of space.  How and why we write for the possibility of being heard, of making a connection.

But I'm also wondering if the vastness of the universe helps or hinders the writing process

It's expansive, exciting and full of possibilities.  The Internet gives us the power to put our words out there with the press of a button.  We thrill at the conversations shared, the connections made with people in other parts of the world - different countries, continents, languages, cultures, time zones.  Maybe the blogosphere is a bit like the Deep Space Network, creating the means for us to share our thoughts and ideas, to connect with different life forms, to sing a song together... no rocket required.

Yet there are times when that vastness, that sense of space, can create a chasm in our minds that it's impossible to jump over.  The universe seems huge, cold and empty.  We feel small, impotent, insignificant in relation to its scale and magnificence.  We torment ourselves thinking about all the voices already taking part in that global, universal, conversation: what can we possibly add?  We imagine all the people connected to the Internet turning to look at us at once... and freeze under the weight of that imagined gaze.

Those are the times when we need to shift our focus back down to earth.  Come back to writing for just one person.  The possibility of making a connection with just that one person (or alien, if you like...)

Liz Strauss reminded us yesterday of the most effective cure for writer's block: conversation.

In Conversation As A Cure For Writer's Block she shows us how we can get out of our own way by focusing on the conversation, the possibility of making meaning together, rather than getting hung up on our own words.

When we’re conversing with friends . . . we don’t edit our thoughts or tie them up like a presentation. We put the focus on who we’re talking to and what they’re saying, not on how they’ll be looking at us.

This is the shift in focus that I make when I find my words getting tied up in my head.  When I feel like my words have lost their value, flying out like endless rain into a paper cup.  When I'm feeling overwhelmed by the vastness of the universe.

Maybe you can help me find the words for this. It's some combination of the universal and the human.  There's something inspiring and exciting about putting our words 'out there' into deep space.  And yet there's something necessary about keeping our focus firmly at ground level. 

Writing for just one person, for the possibility of making that most simple, most human, of connections.

How does it work for you?  Do you like to think of your words going out across the universe?  Or do you need a different focus to get your words to fly?

This is a contribution to the month long series on taking a leap with our writing.  Please subscribe to the feed if you'd like to take a leap too, or just want to follow the conversation as it unfolds.

Are you looking for some extra help to take that writing leap?  I'm offering readers of Confident Writing  a 10% discount on my writing critiques and writing mentoring programmes during February.  Contact me if you're interested.

Joanna Young, The Confident Writing Coach
Because our words count

Photo credit: MakeLessNoise


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Hi Joanna,
The universe doesn't seem so endless to me anymore, not since I've made it my friend. I look out and the sky and it inspires me -- much in the way your writing does. We're connected to the stars -- people and stars are made of the same stuff. :)

How about that horribly gutteral word: Glocal. On the wikipedia page for the term, one of its definitions is "Individuals, households and organisations maintaining interpersonal social networks that combine extensive local and long-distance interactions". You can read more about the term here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glocalisation
I love the idea of that wonderful Beatles track drifting away across the immensity of space! Very fitting :-)

Liz, thank you. Your writing inspires me - and others - so often, in so many ways. You gave me just the words, thoughts, feelings that I needed yesterday.

And this one is perfect for today.

"people and stars are made of the same stuff"



Amy, I haven't heard 'glocal' before and it's a truly horrible word! It's a big, and valuable idea though - and the encouragement to think global, act local throws me back to my sustainable development days (which is a whole other story)

I love the idea of the song drifting too... it's the way I imagine our words going too, not in a straight line, but floating, lingering, drifting...


A thought-provoking subject, that's for sure. What's big, what's small, which words matter and which don't ... it's all a matter of perspective. I actually wrote a poem (!) on the subject a while back. Here's the link - seems relevant to your post, Joanna.

For me, writing is not simply throwing words out into space. It's sitting down with friends in an intimate setting (perhaps a roaring fire, a cup of coffee, an easy chair...?)

It's only AFTER I get comments, particularly from first-time commenters, that makes me think of that "vast throng" out there... (eek!)

Brad, I think it is all in the perspective, and it's a question of scaling up or down to find what works for us... and maybe different scales for different occasions.

I enjoyed the poem, thanks for sharing the link.

I'm still turning over the other question you asked me, I'll get back to you soon :-)


Robert, it always fascinates me to learn the different ways that we all approach these things. I'm smiling at the thought of your surprised reaction after you get a comment from a new visitor!

The 'space' that you've created for your readers and visitors certainly serves us well, and it's interesting to hear how it helps you to write too. So you're not writing out into a void, but sharing a story with some friends around the fire.

Maybe it's the smoke signals that then go drifting off into the universe...


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