Writing like a River Flows

Overcoming Self Doubt as a Writer

Photo by Daniil Silantevon Unsplash

The next time you hear the voice of doubt as a writer remember that you are harder on yourself than anyone else could ever be. ~ Mary Alice

When you write you are digging a deep well. In the darkness lives all of your fears, doubts, and the prima materia that only you can mold into stories written in your unique style.

When I feel the pull of doubt — I look to natural metaphor, inner work, other writers and creatives, and my life experiences as inspiration that will diminish my fears and keep me writing:

The nature of writing

I live on the border of a wild, natural playground — the Olympic National Park. It is easy to lose track of time as I write sitting on a boulder by the Elwha river, overlook the Bailey Range on Hurricane Ridge, or witness the delights of Raven’s flight.

© Mary Alice Long

Library of dreams

My dreams help me to understand that I am called to be a writer, that through my dreams I will find the answers I seek, and that my Teacher is nearby, he has found me and wants me to do the work of a writer.

Write and you will find your answers

Your Teacher will find you — A male dream figuretells me that hewants me to use my talent and write well. I write in my dream journal, 

I know I can do it if I put the work in.

In the shadow of writers

For years I lived in the shadow of artists and then I married one! By the time I met Michael, I was beginning to understand that it was time for me to embrace my own innate creativity.

Today I find myself in the shadow of writers and artists who inspire me to write stories in my unique style: 

And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.~Sylvia Plath

I’m a little anxious. How am I to bring off this conception? Directly one gets to work is like a person walking, who has seen the country stretching out before. I want to write nothing in this book that I don’t enjoy writing. Yet writing is always difficult.~ Virginia Woolf

Describe your sorrows and desires, the thoughts that pass through your mind and your belief in some kind of beauty — describe all these with heartfelt, silent, humble sincerity and, when you express yourself, use the Things around you, the images from your dreams, and the objects that you remember… Try to raise up the sunken feelings of this enormous past; your personality will grow stronger, your solitude will expand and become a place where you can live in the twilight, where the noise of other people passes by, far in the distance. And if out of this turning-within, out of this immersion in your own world, poems come, then you will not think of asking anyone whether they are good or not. Nor will you try to interest magazines in these works: for you will see them as your dear natural possession, a piece of your life, a voice from it. A work of art is good if it has arisen out of necessity. That is the only way one can judge it. ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Life experience

After writing a quick list of experiences that have been transformative in my life, I realize once again the importance of recording my stories and sharing them with readers.

I have many stories written and stored away in computer files and drawers. I have shared a number of the stories I have written in draft form as part of interviews or research studies. Self-doubt has kept me from sharing mystories in my own unique, writer’s voice. 

I know that I can find my way to sharing my stories if I put the work in.

Write. Rewrite. Read. Repeat.

How do you overcome self doubt as a writer? 

I would love to hear from you and send you my weekly letter.

Forgotten Something?

Matters of the Heart

When there are big deals happening in my life, I am grateful for the small. Pulling myself back again and again to what I might otherwise dismiss helps me to claim what is all around me, in me, of me.

Are they really small or are they forgotten? It feels like I just haven’t gotten to my destination yet or I forget to walk into the writing room that has my name prominently etched on the door.

My writer’s heart. So often I walk around doing and forget that my body of work is limitless when I write in rhythm with the beating of my heart.

Heart Center

My heart keeps pumping even as I glaze over, feel down, leap for joy, go on to that next thing.

In the center of my heart may the purest flame rise up dancing.

Janine Canan
  • The human heart is divided into chambers
  • The heart beats about 100,000 times per day (about 3 billion beats in a lifetime)

A Broken Heart

Inevitably in life your heart will be broken, not once, but many times over.

Follow your Heart

Follow your heart. Our everyday moments remind us repeatedly (if we are listening) that this life does not go on forever.

Write from the Heart

Fill your paper with the breathing of your heart.

William Wordsworth

Mary Alice Long, PhD is a play-based, heart-centered coach, writer, and artist who practices and teaches the ‘Art of Playing in the Everyday’.

Playing in the Everyday: In the Process of Clearing

I often review my journals, images, and stories and look at what I am drawn to, what I delight in, as I practice playing in the everyday moments of life.

Natural Pattern © Mary Alice Long

I wonder what you are drawn to in your everyday moments? What is stirred, what captivates your attention? What are you curious about?

I have no difficulty at all finding play in the most difficult moments of my life. At the same time, I realize that you may not be able to understand how play can be present in any part of your day, let alone part of every moment.


Well, it so happens that I am in the process of clearing. I had to move past my own resistance but now I am going through boxes and drawers in my studio, home, and garage. I’m curious, what does it means to clear? To clarify? To give away, eliminate, throw away, gift, hold onto, create new understanding, focus, organize, create clarity.

When I search for clarity on social media I find the following:

  • Clarity creates Simplicity
  • Morning Pages: A Process to Help you Clear the Chatter and find more Clarity and Peace
  • 8 Questions to Help you Declutter for Clarity
  • Mindfulness will calm the Running Commentary in your Brain and let it Focus on the Present for Clarity
  • How to Achieve Clarity by Practicing Yoga

I am eliminating things by recycling, giving away things. Choosing to dig into what clearing means to me today is helping me to take a pause. There is so much more to the steps that I am taking to clear my home and studio space. New understandings are emerging. Right now.

Hmmm… Now I am really excited!

New Growth © Mary Alice Long

Chopping but Keeping the Roots

After discovering that clematis needs to be cut back from time-to-time I chopped the plant to about 3 feet above ground. Her purple blossoms are more vibrant than ever.

I’ve also been cutting away what I have collected and archived. As a starting point, I went through things stored in boxes and then after reviewing them put them all back in the box. After a number of attempts, I decided that I had to be ruthless and send most of what I had stored as archives to the recycle bin.

Every box that is cut up and tossed in the recycle bin helps me lighten the load I have been carrying and gives me space to imagine what is next. My roots are deep within the soil of my dreamscape, embodied, ensouled, and won’t be disturbed by the cutting that happens above ground.

Mary Alice Long, PhD is a play-based, depth-oriented coach, writer, and artist who practices and teaches the ‘Art of Playing in the Everyday’.

Kiss the World With Your Feet

It has been difficult today to stay grounded. So much of me seems to be in my head. I am feeling anxious.

What do you do to stay grounded?

Tapping the keyboard to write has a very different feeling than writing in my journal. When I pick up my favorite pen I can feel its weight. I can feel whether or not I am in flow. When I am in the moment or hesitating.

Prayer as a Container

When I am in moving meditation, writing, painting, or playing outdoors in nature I often feel a sense of the ineffable. That which I cannot see or touch but I believe to be a part of me even as I don’t have the words to express what I am feeling or sensing.

and yet…

some words are following me, regaling me, informing me…

this is my body, take and eat

first stars appear

let me carry bowls for the offering.

Embrace the Darkness

I started an I-Ching series in early September exploring new beginnings, digging deep into our rootedness, and facing difficulties.

Hexagram 4 speaks about the necessity of embracing the darkness.

Go Deep Within the Self

Shadow [Play] is the Path of the Heart Warrior

~ CG Jung

I have found that to go into the depths of my soul I have to face or befriend the darkness.

What is in that inky darkness? The Shadow–what I don’t see about myself. Parts of myself that are hidden, my unacknowledged gifts (what I excel at), as well as, those areas I need to improve to live a well-lived life.

Our night and waking dreams are guides to your shadow play. In our dreams we can find our darkness.

One of the themes in my dreams is someone chasing me. T-Rex came to me in a series of dreams some years ago, looking in the bay window, scaring me in one dream after another until I integrated the instinctual parts of myself. I also have threatened others or even killed others in dramatic ways.

Do not be afraid of Self, of the sky where no moon shows.

I invite you to Shadow-Play. Be yourself and embrace the darkness. Our unacknowledged gifts are a great place to begin. Befriend what is in your Shadow. Ask your spouse, friends, loved ones, or trusted colleagues, Definitely bring this question to dream time or ask the I Ching.

You know me well, can you tell me, what are my gifts?


New Beginnings

The I Ching for Writers by Sarah Jane Sloane (2005) is a book for writers that I’ve have been playing with for many years as I’ve been writing and re-writing my personal memoir.

The I-Ching is a 3000-year-old oracle or guide that informs my life side-by-side with my dreams. As I have been re-writing my memoir and a book proposal to send to publishers I have started to play with each chapter in Sarah Jane’s book. I am playing with each reading as the I-Ching shares its own sense of humor with me.

I created this video, broadcasted on Periscope, on Instagram, and on the Play=Peace page on Facebook focusing on Hexagram 1, New Beginnings.

I will continue to create and share a play-based, depth-oriented series which will include all 64 hexagrams. I hope today’s video and broadcasts feeds your imagination.

I invite you to share your new beginnings or ways that you are approaching your work, writing, or project in the spirit of beginning a-new!

The Savor of Divine Things

I spotted my copy of The Seven Story Mountain, the 1948 autobiography of Thomas Merton on my bookshelf this morning while on the studio floor stretching. I opened the book to the phrase the savor of divine things.

the savor of my back pressed firmly to the studio floor

the savor of a full breath and my vocal body

the savor of the soft morning light and a new day

What divine things are asking me to savor them?

A dream asks me, you are in it everyday, why are you seeking outside what is seeking you in every moment of every day?

With this question comes a barrage of remembrance. Memories of being dissatisfied, finding something new to replace it, only to be dissatisfied once again.

One example comes from my experience in nursing in the 1980s:

I went to nursing school so that I could become a nurse-midwife, and I was lucky enough to have the chance to study for a certified nursing assistant certification if I found that this particular career path wasn’t for me. But it was my dream and I was determined to give my best go. After receiving my license to practice and gaining some nursing experience in obstetrics I looked into midwifery training but the program and training was untenable for a single mom of three. I gave up on the idea and continued to work in high-risk obstetrics, and then, antepartum care. The culture and hierarchy of hospitals started to wear me down. After a year or two I was ready to move on. Transferring to another hospital setting meant that, at least in the beginning, things would feel fresh. Rinse and repeat.

Looking back I realize that I would have been happier if I had followed my dream’s counsel:

Look to what is seeking you! Spend time with me, you are in it everyday, why not nurture yourself and those you care for by deepening what you understand about the soul of nursing.

My dreams and practice of ‘The Art of Playing in the Everyday’ is helping me to see that…

Who I am becoming, my happiness, my life, what I am creating, depend on something simple

my relationship with what I am in everyday

There is no need to look elsewhere. It is all available and comes in a variety of colors, textures, and styles.

How can I find the soul in what I experience everyday?

Every so often I make an attempt to journal everything that happens in my day. What I see, who I interact with, shapes, textures, colors, scents. Savor each moment of my life. My entire body tires as I write because, lets face it, there is a lot that happens in the everyday. From the many pages that fill in my journal I am able to easily select moments where, if I desire, I can explore the soulfulness of those moments.

What moments would you select to enjoy the savor of divine things? Try selecting a few savory moments of divinity, of soulfulness in the everyday.

I would love to hear from you in the comments. What are a few moments in your everyday that call you to a soulful relationship with that thing, person, or event?





Sit Back and Enjoy the Trip: Synchronicity, The Soulfulness of Play, and Our Choices

I open up my journal to write, put pen to paper, and before I realize it an hour of my flight has slipped by. I put down my journal and pick up a copy of Southwest magazine.

Dear Southwest

I booked a flight from New York to Milwaukee the morning of because I learned our surrogate in Milwaukee was going into labor five weeks early. Fortunately, my husband was already there. When the flight attendants discovered what was happening, they could not have been more excited for us. The baby was born during the flight, but thankfully, the WiFi was amazing. Event though I couldn’t be there, I was getting realtime updates and pictures of the delivery room. Flight attendant Tabitha Taulbee Cotton also knitted a blanket during the flight–the baby’s first gift! I will never forget being on a Southwest flight while my first child was being born. I am grateful to Tabitha and her colleagues for making what could have been a nightmare into something smooth, easy, and memorable. We will always treasure the blanket and the story that comes with it. 

When I read the word surrogate I recognize a synchronicity that says to me, 

Yes, there is no doubt. You are meant to be a passenger on this plane. 

I also recognize that this year I’ve been pregnant once again, caring for my son and giving birth to an opportunity for he and I to find meaning within our story.

January 2017

The phone rings and it’s my surrogate son. He wants to talk by phone. We end up talking for a couple of hours. I share his birth story. He shares his concern for me. His desire to connect with his birth mother. Turns out he’s been diagnosed with melanoma and has had two surgeries to remove the cancer. His 30th birthday is approaching.

March 2017

William is in hospital after doctors discover his melanoma has spread to his lungs.

September 2017

New Birth, New Beginnings

Nine months has passed since our January conversation, William calls to tell me that he will be undergoing brain surgery. I ask him if he would like me to journey and meet for the first time.

Notes from my Journal:

I am on the Dungeness Shuttle. Left Port Angeles at 6am. The driver says, there are seven on the manifest

Listening to the recorded safety features the driver plays, I hear, Sit back and enjoy the trip.


The most difficult part of labor is transition.

Returning home on a Southwest flight I heard the familiar,

We realize you have many choices in air travel. Thank you for choosing Southwest Airlines.

As I listened I began to think of the many choices I make everyday to discover new ways to play in the everyday.

I write in my journal my belief that…

The Art of Playing in the Everyday is a daily practice that concerns itself with soulfulness in small details of living and with changes and major decisions.

By writing and sharing this part of my playful journey, I am attending to the Soul of Lived Experience.

My hope is that the beautiful dance that I am living and sharing through my writing and play-based work offers you the opportunity to dance in the waters of renewal and creativity.

[Read the prequel here] 

After years of writing my personal narrative, many deep, interwoven conversations, visual journaling, and performance…in less than a week…

I will say his name * meet him in-person * hold him in my arms.

Personal Story, Birth, and the Real Deal We Call Life







What is the name of your Song?

My song’s title could be Should I Really Say That? or it could be entitled, Scream.

My husband, Michael, was hospitalized for testing last week after an MRI showed that he had experienced a small stroke and had a major sinus infection to boot.

Now, add to the mix that Michael and I have been together 25 years and all the while cancer has been our constant companion.

Wouldn’t you want to scream?

So, yesterday I was sitting with Michael in a medical office and felt the need so scream like crazy. No, I didn’t wake everyone up in the clinic. Instead my resourceful imagination and day dreams gave me the opportunity to let it fly! I dance in my dreams so why not scream, curse, whatever it is I need to do to de-stress and stay in the moment. Just another way of playing in the everyday that I will undoubtedly tap in the near future. Medical testing and doctor visits are once again a part of our life. Play is essential!

Play and Self-Care

Playing with self-care * listening to STOP signals * so you can be free (to GO!)

Want to learn more or work with me as a mentor and creative coach? I’d love to talk with you!

Claim your Free Guide to the ‘Art of Playing in the Everyday’.

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The Art of Playing in the Everyday