I listened to Allison Fallon’s The Power of Writing It Down while jogging through my neighborhood. Those weren’t my best runs, because I kept pulling out my phone to thumb-type a great quote before picking up the pace again.
And yet they were fantastic runs, because Allison’s words inspired me to re-establish a daily journaling practice.
On that first outing—with her voice in my ears—I listened through the first chapters and returned refreshed and motivated. Allison’s invitation to “unlock your brain and reimagine your life” spurred me to set a timer and launch the first 20-minute personal writing session I’d attempted in a long time.
I continued the practice the following days and discovered I was indeed “getting limbic,” as Allison calls it—I was slipping past the nagging to-do list items and scheduled tasks to explore feelings, memories, and struggles. Nothing dramatic transpired (yet), but I’ve found myself diving deeper and opening up on the page, in private, before the day presses in.
I’m not new to this practice, but I’d fallen out of the habit. I’m so grateful for Allison’s convincing call to return to it and reap the benefits.
In this interview, Allison mentions Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages, which reminded me of Writing Down the Bones and Natalie Goldberg’s explanation of freewriting as a way to get to our “first thoughts.” Allison makes a strong case for why and how a private writing practice like that feeds directly into our professional writing, whether through ideas or memories we unearth that can be woven into our work in progress, or through shifts in perspective that add depth and insight to our piece.
Will you join me in revisiting this simple but fruitful activity that can enliven and inform your writing pursuits and projects? I predict you’ll begin to see how a daily writing practice will truly unlock your creativity.
And please enjoy my discussion with Allison Fallon. Allison is an award-winning author, sought-after public speaker, and nationally recognized writing coach. She has worked with thousands of people to realize their writing potential and become published authors. She’s host of the podcast Find Your Voice, an excellent resource for writers, and author of The Power of Writing It Down: A Simple Habit to Unlock Your Brain and Reimagine Your Life.
On Allison’s writing practice:
My daily writing practice happens for 30 minutes every morning, and it’s me just sitting down and dumping out my first thoughts of the day. The great thing about this is it’s a beautiful practice for absolutely anyone whether or not you want to be a published author. It can bring so much value and goodness into your life, regardless of what other kind of writing you do.
On mimicry as a way to learn writing:
There’s something about being able to copy an author that we really admire, appreciate, and adore that helps us get into the groove of finding our own way to say it.
On the right to tell your own truth in your own voice:
Don’t I have the right to share my own unique experience of what it was like to live in that household? Don’t I have that right as much as he has that right? That’s what it means to find your voice. It’s to be able to stand on both feet, to say, “This is how it was for me.” And even if it was different for you, that doesn’t change the fact that this is what was true for me.
On how our brain’s “catalog” stories and we reinforce those stories through repetition:
If you have a detail in your life that seems to repeat itself, it’s a hint for you that there’s a story there that you’ve told yourself and it’s been cataloged. And that limbic part of your brain is driving the ship in ways. It’s not that it’s your fault. It’s just you’re helping co-create that reality over and over again.
On falling in love with writing instead of pursuing platform:
If I could only give one piece of advice, don’t grow your Instagram platform. Go fall in love with the act of writing. Don’t go chase down some big magazine that will publish your work. Go fall in love with the idea of writing stories and I dare you to do that for very long without finding an audience that’s really into what you’re doing.
- The Power of Writing It Down, by Allison Fallon (link takes you to her website where you can download a free chapter); purchase a copy at your local bookstore or use Bookshop, which supports local bookstores (Bookshop affiliate link for hardback)
- Find Your Voice: Allison’s coaching business
- Find Your Voice, the podcast (we refer specifically to the episode titled “Why is writing so hard for me: The Power of Writing It Down, Part 1” with Science Mike, who says our brains are “narrative machines”)
- Allison on Instagram @allyfallon
- The Book Idea Primer: Allison is offering my audience a copy of The Book Idea Primer ($199 value, and more info about it HERE), a 5-part workbook that can help a writer hone in on their book idea, choose their best book idea if they have several, and clarify what they’re going to write about before trying to launch into the book-writing process. Reach out to Ashley (ashley AT findyourvoice DOT com) and she will send you a copy when you mention you heard about it from the podcast.
- Rewrite Your Life by Jennifer Lourey, which Allison mentioned: Bookshop affiliate link, Amazon paperback affiliate link, or Kindle affiliate link
- Julia Cameron’s “Morning Pages” explained HERE.
- Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way (Bookshop affiliate link for paperback edition)
- Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones (Bookshop affiliate link for paperback edition)
- Erik Fisher’s interview with Allison on Beyond the To-Do List, “Allison Fallon on the Power of Writing for Clarity, Confidence and Purpose“
ANN KROEKER, WRITING COACH
Develop a Daily Writing Habit to Find Your Voice:
Interview with Allison Fallon
Ann Kroeker (00:03):
You’re listening to the Ann Kroeker, Writing Coach podcast, where I’m sharing my best tips and training, skills, and strategies, to coach writers to improve their craft, pursue publishing, and achieve their writing goals. If you are a writer struggling with writer’s block, or you’re trying to find your voice, today’s interview is for you. Today we’re going to hear more about what’s going on inside your brain—and how to unlock it. Today’s guest is Allison Fallon. Allison is an award-winner author, sought-after public speaker, and nationally recognized writing coach. She’s worked with thousands of people to realize their writing potential and become published authors. Allison is the author of The Power of Writing It Down: A Simple Habit to Unlock Your Brain and Reimagine Your Life. Welcome, Allison.
Allison Fallon (00:52):
Thanks for having me.
Ann Kroeker (00:54):
Well, I cannot wait to get into your book to get into your deep understanding of the science of how the brain works and how it all connects to the writing life. But before we get too far, I do want to ask you this: I just read your well-crafted bio, and it’s amazing all the ways that you serve writers, but I would love to hear in your own voice—with your own words—a little bit more about how you view who you are and what you do.
Allison Fallon (01:19):
What a great question. Well, I always say I fell into this work accidentally because I didn’t mean to be working with other writers. I thought I just wanted to be a writer myself and I struggled to own the identity of writer. I remember as young as elementary school and middle school when people would say, what do you want to be when you grow up? I would say, I want to be an author. And I would get the feedback that I think a lot of us get when we talk about wanting to do art as an adult where other adults, well-meaning adults would say you need a backup plan. You know, you need a degree that you can get where you can actually go make some money. Are you going to teach on the side or? You know, just well-meaning adults trying to coax you to think through the challenges of being an adult.
Allison Fallon (02:01):
I started to really question that instinct to be a writer and think maybe people don’t make money as a writer so maybe I should just think through a different career. So I got on the track of becoming a teacher. I grew up in Oregon and in Oregon, you need a master’s degree to teach at the high school level. So I got my master’s degree. I started teaching and I was not far into the teaching life when I realized this was just not the career for me. It was just not. I have so much admiration for teachers. It’s a very hard job in my head. I was like, “Oh, I’ll have three months off in the summers so I can get my writing done.” And that’s just not what a teacher’s life looks like. You’re working around the clock and around the year trying to figure out other ways to serve your students.
Allison Fallon (02:49):
I quit my teaching job and set off on this journey to write my first book. And the whole process was so tumultuous, just even trying to figure out, like how do you craft a book in a way that a reader would be interested to read? But also the complications of like, if I’m including my personal story, how do I tell those stories? How much? What about the other people who are involved in these stories? Is it okay to include them? Is this going to be interesting to anyone? And then on top of all that you have the world of publishing that you’re navigating. So I’m learning what an agent is and what a book proposal document is and how to create one. And I’m mingling at parties, which I hate doing, and I’m networking and trying to shake the right hands.
Allison Fallon (03:35):
The whole thing was just such a process for me that I realized at the end of it, I could actually combine my skill sets of writing, and I have this master’s degree in teaching with an emphasis in teaching writing. I’m like I could build a curriculum where I could teach writers how to use the tools that I learned in order to get my book out in the world. After my book came out in 2013—that was my first published book with my name on it—I started serving other authors and I’ve never turned back. My career has also evolved over the years because I obviously help people publish their books, but one of the things that I watched happen was when people were in the writing process, they would have these profound discoveries about themselves. So now a lot of the work that I do is with people who don’t necessarily know whether they want to publish their stories, but they know they want to get their story on paper. There’s more similarities between these people than you would think. You think there’s published authors and then there’s people who are just kind of dabbling, but actually at the end of the day, we share the same insecurities, the same roadblocks in the writing process. Everybody’s experienced writer’s block before, so there’s a lot that we have in common.
Ann Kroeker (04:47):
I want to ask so many questions about so much of what you just said, but let’s look first at what you just said. This idea that we have more in common than we realize—maybe the person who’s not even sure they want to be a writer, they want their stories to be publicly told, and then professional writers. I’m a writing coach. You’re a writing coach. We do work with writers. I think I probably work with some who have more aspirations for a public writing life, a successful public writing life, and so they’re thinking about voice in a certain way. They think of voice more like what agents say, I’m looking for that unique writing voice, and everybody’s asking, “What is that? I want that! I don’t know what it is. I don’t know how to define it.” But what I’m hearing you say is the same way that you go about helping anybody find their voice is the same method you would use to work with a professional writer to help them find their voice. Can you talk a little bit about that? What do you really mean by voice, especially speaking to listeners or viewers who would be thinking of voice in a certain way, thinking about writing voice.
Allison Fallon (05:54):
Yeah. There are so many parallels there. This is why I call my company, Find Your Voice, because I really am helping people both find their voice on the page and also their voices in their life. I think one always unlocks the other. When you’re in the writing process and when you overcome those blocks that we all face in our own writing, that helps you overcome blocks in your life and vice versa. When you overcome blocks in your life, it helps you overcome blocks in your writing. There are so many parallels there, but essentially when I think of voice, and on my podcast, the first question I ask every person that I interview is what does it mean to you to find your voice? It’s so fascinating to hear everyone’s description of this cause everyone will describe it a little bit differently.
Allison Fallon (06:31):
When I think of finding your voice, I think of really being able to own your power, to own your sense of self, to stand on your own two feet and to assert yourself as you into the world. The interesting thing about this is there are a hundred ways that we do that. You don’t have one voice, you have tons of voices that you use in all kinds of different contexts and different relationships. You’re going to be a little bit different, the same you, but a little bit different if you’re standing on a stage in front of a thousand people, versus if you’re having a conversation with an intimate partner, for example. You’re going to be a little bit different. You’re going to kind of carry yourself differently. If you’re talking with your mom, versus if you’re talking with your best friend, or if you’re talking with your grandma. We have these different voices, different versions of ourselves that come out of us in different parts of our lives.
Allison Fallon (07:20):
The same is really true with our writing. As we begin to explore those voices on the page, it gives us permission to explore them in our lives, and as we explore them in our lives, it gives us permission and new ways to explore them on the page. And the other parallel that I’ll point out is how we learn how to be ourselves, how to find our voice is by mimicry. This is true in life and in writing. In life, I have an eight-month-old daughter and right now she can’t really say many words. She can kind of say mama and daddy. Sometimes we’re not really sure if she knows what she’s saying, but she can make lots of noises with her mouth and she mimics us. She watches what we do and then she repeats it.
Allison Fallon (08:00):
My husband and I were laughing the other day because we both accidentally do this thing when we smile in a selfie or a photo or something where we’ll smile with our mouth open—a really big smile—and now she does this too. And I’m like, who taught her that? No one sat her down and said, “This is how you smile in a photo.” But when you hold the camera up to her and she sees herself in the photo, she does that. She opens her mouth and smiles really big. It just is a reminder that this is how we learn language. How we learn how to be ourselves in the world is by mimicking other people, and yet there comes a point when mimicking other people isn’t enough—where we have to sort of pull from these different sources and know that they’re a part of us, but they aren’t us and find our own way to move through the world.
Allison Fallon (08:42):
And that’s one conversation if we want to have that about how do you do that in your life versus in your writing. The cool thing about using mimicry with writing is one of the exercises that I’ll teach. When I teach writing workshops, I’ll have people bring a copy of their favorite book with them and everyone opens up their own copy. Everybody has a different book in the room. Everybody opens a copy of their book and they start by copying what they see on the page. I’ll set a timer, but I’ll tell them when you get to the point where you feel like you’re done copying and you’re ready to move on and write something else, then feel free to move on and write something else. It takes a different amount of time for everybody. Some people will copy for a couple seconds and some people will copy for a few minutes, but usually around the five-minute mark, most people have moved on to writing their own words. There’s something about being able to copy an author that we really admire, appreciate, and adore that helps us get into the groove of finding our own way to say it.
Ann Kroeker (09:36):
So good. I have written a few times and spoken a few times about the Ben Franklin method, which is similar. In his autobiography, he talks about a similar approach where he would read people that he admired, put it away, and there was a different technique-—he’s really trying to learn from that person. What I’m feeling from you is that it almost serves as priming the pump for yourself, and then do you find, does what they produce come out a lot like what they just read or is it just what they needed to get their own voice out?
Allison Fallon (10:12):
It depends on the person. I mean, if you’re really new to the writing process, then yes. It’s just like an infant who’s copying their parents. It’s going to look really similar to what your parents are doing, but you know, if you’re in your twenties and you’re in your career and you think, “That person who works next to me, I really admire the way that they are on the phone,” or something like that. You pull pieces from what other people do, and it doesn’t have to overtake all of who you are. It depends on where someone is in the writing process whether it takes over their whole voice,but I just tell writers, “Keep feeling your way through this and keep practicing with the voice.” Over time, your own unique way of doing this does start to come through.
Allison Fallon (10:53):
Let’s just say you’re writing and you feel like, “My voice is kind of falling flat. I don’t really know how to put my finger on it, but I’d love to bring some more humor into my writing,” for example. Go order some comedy books, and read some Tina Fey, and read some David Sedaris, and read some Bill Bryson. See how these other authors bring lightheartedness and humor into their writing and then see if you can copy them first and then find your own way to do it. Or maybe you’re like, “I need some more poetry and depth in my writing.” Go buy some Anne Lamott and go read some poets, some Billy Collins, some Li-Young Lee, and see if you can mimic the way that they do metaphor and imagery, and then start to pull some of that into your writings if you can find your own way to do it. I think that’s all I have to say about it, but it’s really fun to get to play with the way other writers do it.
Ann Kroeker (11:48):
That’s a great exercise. I love it. Thanks for sharing it. You talk in the book about having what you describe as a regular writing practice, but I think—and this is where I’d love for you to clarify if I’m misunderstanding—but I think what you’re talking about as a regular writing practice, which is what you talk about in The Power of Writing It Down—is a little different from sitting down to do the work on my work in progress. Can you tell us what the distinction is between those two activities?
Allison Fallon (12:19):
I’m not the first person to say this. I really have been so influenced by Julia Cameron who talks about Morning Pages, but I think of a regular writing practice very similarly to how she would talk about Morning Pages in the sense that your regular writing practices writing that you do privately for yourself. And it’s always that, regardless of whether you’re a professional writer. I write professionally, we have blog posts and articles that go out daily, weekly. I’ve got Instagram that I’m writing for. I’ve got books that I’m working on. I’ve got teleprompter scripts for new videos that we’re filming. So I have all these things that I have to write—and for the podcast—but, my daily writing practice is really for me. Sometimes out of the daily writing practice comes a nugget of wisdom, or an idea or some words that I want to play with, or something that feels really valuable to me that I can carry into the parts of my writing life, where I’m sharing that writing outside of just myself, but not always.
Allison Fallon (13:16):
Sometimes the daily practice of writing is literally just about getting rid of the garbage that’s on the way to the good stuff. When I’m in a season where I’m working on a book, for example, I might have two hours or three hours blocked in my day that I’m working on the book, but that’s not my daily writing practice. My daily writing practice happens for 30 minutes every morning and it’s me just sitting down and dumping out my first thoughts of the day. The great thing about this is it’s a beautiful practice for absolutely anyone whether or not you want to be a published author. It can bring so much value and goodness into your life, regardless of what other kind of writing you do.
Ann Kroeker (13:57):
I looked back at your book and there were 14 outcomes that transform people who have this daily writing practice. You referenced Morning Pages, which is, like you said, just sort of a brain dump—a heart dump—but how is that different from expressive writing or are they one in the same?
Allison Fallon (14:23):
I think they’re similar. Expressive writing gives you a little bit more of a roadmap for what to put on the page. This is what I teach in the book, but the definition of expressive writing in the data is expressing your deepest thoughts and feelings on the page about any subject. You can choose a subject. I give the infinity prompt in the book to help people think through, “What subject might I want to write about?” But you could choose any event from your life. Like, the guy who cut you off in traffic yesterday, or maybe something bigger, like a loss that you have faced. Maybe you lost your job in COVID or something like that. Choose an event like that from your life, and then use the writing practice to express your deepest thoughts and feelings about that particular topic.
Allison Fallon (15:06):
The power of this—a couple of different things. Number one is most of us don’t feel like we have anywhere in our lives where we can really authentically and truly express our deepest thoughts and feelings about a subject. We’re social beings, we’re afraid of judgment and criticism and all the things. You might feel like there are certain thoughts you can express in your intimate partnership. There are certain thoughts that you can express in your friend group that you couldn’t express over here. There are certain thoughts like when you go to your faith community, your religious community, that you’re like, no, I definitely can’t say that here. I can’t ask that question here. And the page is a place where you can say whatever. The only criticism or judgment that you would get as your own, which can also be a roadblock to overcome, but you have a space that’s completely safe where you can express whatever it is that you have to express. It gives us that option.
Ann Kroeker (15:59):
So good. We all need that. I love that you make it so accessible. This invitation to transformation—that is what you have promised us in the book, re-imagining our lives. I was listening to an interview you did with Erik Fisher on Beyond the To Do List, another excellent podcast like yours, Find Your Voice. If listeners have not found you yet, they need to. In that conversation with Erik—and this comes back to what you were just saying about needing that safe place because sometimes we don’t say it to one person because we feel like this group would react strangely but we need the safe place—you were talking about how, and maybe this is a deep dive really fast, but you said, “Our ability to communicate through the written word reflects our ability to process that thing and where we’re stuck in our writing is where we’re stuck in our lives.” Then you went on to talk about how the developmental stages of a writer mirror the developmental stages of our psychology. And then you walked through that. Would you be willing to do that for our listeners? It was so helpful.
Allison Fallon (17:06):
Can you help me? I always forget the names of the stages, but there’s pre-contemplative. I remember that one, which is the stage of change in psychology—the stage of change before you know that there’s anything wrong. This is the stage where you’re staging an intervention with the addict, for example. And you’re like, “You’re an addict.” And they’re like, “No, what? I’m not. I have no problems.” Before you have any idea that anything is wrong, that’s the pre-contemplative stage. And then contemplative of course, is the stage where you know that something’s wrong, but you’re not quite sure you want to make a change just yet. So you’re like, “I think this is causing some harm in my life. I don’t love this cycle that I’m in, but I can’t conceptualize another way to do it.
Allison Fallon (17:46):
So, I guess I’m stuck here for now.” This is the stage where a lot of the writers who come to me are ready to write their story, but they don’t know if they want to publish—most of them are in this stage. They’re like, “This thing happened to me, or I had this experience, or I keep bumping up against the same kind of problem in my life, and I’m not really sure what that means, or what to do about it, but I feel really stuck and I don’t really want to be that stuck anymore. Maybe the writing process can help me?” Then the next stage, which I always forget the name of the stage, is where you’re really in it. You’re having epiphanies and discoveries and you’re able to begin to reroute those neurological pathways that were keeping you stuck in that frequent pre-contemplative phase. Then the stage after that is the stage where you actually begin to experience these tangible changes in your life. I have been using this writing practice and teaching it to other writers for almost 10 years now. I have watched this happen over and over and over again where someone will be in that pre-contemplative stage and they’ll be feeling really stuck. They’ll think that they have no control over these outcomes that they’re getting in their life, and they come and they simply write down their story. They realize that actually 90 percent of the story has already happened, but the last 10 percent hasn’t happened yet. Something about writing the story helps them start to shift those neural pathways and the neural networks change and the resolution to the story comes just because they sat down to write it. This is actually true. I talk about this research in the book, but this is true whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction. There’s a great book by Jennifer Lourey called Rewrite Your Life and she shares this same data that I’m talking about through the lens of fiction. If you’re a fiction writer, you can use your fiction as a way to leverage your own healing as well.
Ann Kroeker (19:34):
Oh, that’s so good. The idea that you can actually come to a resolution simply by the act of writing and experience that in your life—that’s what I think your teaching and this book can do for people is invite them to try it and experience it and the only way to do it is to do it.
Allison Fallon (19:56):
Totally. Can I share a quick story from my life? Is that okay? This demonstrates the resolution thing. I went through a really messy divorce several years ago now and after the divorce was over, I decided that I wanted to write about it. I was not sure that I was going to share about it publicly, but I just felt that pull that so many of my clients feel to get it down on paper. I just wanted to be able to see it on paper, what had happened to me, and what I’d been through. I walked myself through the process that I had taken all these other clients through and finished what was basically a memoir, but again, I wasn’t sure if I was going to share it with anyone. Over time as I edited the memoir, I realized I did. I wanted to explore the possibility of maybe publishing this. I started sharing it with some editors who I knew, and the feedback that I got mostly from people was they didn’t feel like the story was finished.
Allison Fallon (20:45):
They were like, “The story’s not resolved yet. There needs to be an ending to this story. Readers are going to end it and feel depressed. That’s so sad to hear about your personal story.” So I started doing some reflecting and I realized that what they were asking me for was to resolve the story by, for example, getting remarried or meeting a new guy, or kind of a knight in shining armor coming out of nowhere, and making the story seem like it had a happy ending. I realized with the most complete resolve that I’d ever had about anything in my life, that that was not the end of the story for me. I did not want that to be the resolution to my story. I wanted the resolution to my story to be that without any of that, I felt internally at peace with the story.
Allison Fallon (21:31):
What I did is I wrote a final scene that demonstrated to the reader that despite everything that I had been through and despite the fact that my life wasn’t all put back together and tied up with this perfect bow that I was happy. I could stand on my own two feet and say, I love who I am. I’m happy with how I handled myself. I have nothing but integrity. I get to lay my head on my pillow at night and feel really proud of how I lived this story. And that scene is what closed the book. That’s just one example of how writing out the story, can show you where a resolution needs to come.
Ann Kroeker (22:08):
That’s so good. In the book, you talk about finding a narrator voice, but you also talked—maybe more in the podcast, I’m not sure where it came in—but you also talked about writing as the protagonist of the story. Doing this in this writing practice, not necessarily in something that you would share publicly. You ended up sharing this book, and the story publicly—thank you for sharing that with us—because that sounds like the narrator voice and protagonist, there was kind of a convergence there. Can you talk to us a little bit about what you mean by writing in a way where you’re the protagonist of your story and hearing, or arriving at, a narrator voice, too? How do those work?
Allison Fallon (22:54):
It’s important to know that these two voices are different. If you’re writing a memoir especially. I’ll speak from a memoir perspective. If you’re writing a memoir, you’re the hero, you’re the protagonist in the story—you have to be. There’s no one else who could possibly be the hero. I think the misunderstanding that we have about heroes and stories is we think of heroes as being these incredibly heroic characters. That’s the way we’ve used that language in our culture. But actually the protagonist in a story is the character in the story who has no clue what they’re doing for most of the story. It’s not until the last scene of the story that they really get their act together. So they’re kind of fumbling and figuring it out. And they don’t know which ways, like, even you as the viewer—as the reader—know more than the hero knows.
Allison Fallon (23:35):
The hero doesn’t know what’s coming around the corner that’s gonna terrify them. You know, as the reader. You know, as the viewer of the movie. But the protagonist doesn’t know until it happens. So it’s important to understand that you’re the hero, the protagonist of the story, because that’s what gives you all the leverage to take the power back on the story. You realize that the action in the story is built around you. That if you don’t act, nothing changes. If you don’t change, nothing changes. There’s no resolution to the story without you, the hero. But there’s also a voice in the story that I call the narrator voice that you’re touching on, which is the voice that knows from the very start of the story everything that’s going to happen. So the narrator of the story knows the ending of the story before it even finishes.
Allison Fallon (24:20):
And this is really fun to play with when you’re writing a memoir. Because like I talked about, if I have a client come to me who is in the middle of a story and they don’t know what the resolution is yet, I tell them to act like they’re the narrator of this story and invent the resolution. What would you want the resolution to be? And this is what I did when those editors were saying, “We really want you to meet another guy. Maybe then we can publish your story.” And the narrator voice in me went, “No, no, no. That’s not how this story ends. That’s not the resolution to the story. What a boring resolution to a story!” I’m sorry. I felt like that doesn’t carry the meaning that I’m wanting the story to carry. So the narrator voice in me knew that the resolution to the story was something really different.
Allison Fallon (25:01):
And I let the narrator voice determine what that resolution could be. The narrator voice needs to at some point—usually, this is in the editing process—to weave itself through the whole story so that at the beginning of a story, you see the hero fumbling around, but you also hear the narrator going, “Something great is coming for her. She doesn’t know it yet, but something amazing is coming for her. She’s gaining her confidence. She’s getting back her mojo.” She’s finding her voice and the narrator kind of reminds you of that throughout the story, even when the hero doesn’t see it.
Ann Kroeker (25:32):
That’s good. That’s good. So how does this happen then in our private life? It’s happening when we’re doing our writing and…it’s just simple as that? You advise your clients to say, “Well, what ending would I want? Or what resolution would there be?”
Allison Fallon (25:50):
I mean, everybody would have a different worldview on this, but most of us have an experience in our life where it feels like there’s some sort of higher voice—whether that’s coming from inside of us or maybe like a divine force outside of us—that feels like it knows what’s coming before it happens, like we have an intuition about something. We have an understanding—a deep understanding—that it doesn’t make any sense that we have. And that voice in our lives is what I would call our narrator voice. It’s the part of you that knew when you were walking down the aisle that you didn’t want to marry this person. It’s the part of you that knew the resolution to the story wasn’t that you just met another guy and he saved you from your problems. You know that voice is present even in our everyday lives. So what’s beautiful about writing is the writing process helps us get in touch with that voice. It helps us hear from that voice on a daily basis. And again, whether or not you ever share that writing with anyone, that’s great for you in your daily life. If you feel like, “I can tap into something and I can have a real confidence in the next choices that I’m making in my career or in my romantic relationships or with my friendships…I know what to do next, because I’ve got this force that’s guiding me”? That’s, I mean, that’s gold. That’s a superpower to have. And so if writing can help us tap into that—that I believe every human being has—then what a gift, whether or not you ever publish those words.
Ann Kroeker (27:16):
And as you say in the book, it’s free! Anybody can do it. All we need is a pen. Speaking of pens, I have a question. It’s very practical. Every writer is dying to know and talk about the tools as if the tools mattered. But maybe the tools do matter in this case? And I would love to hear from you. Let’s talk about practical things. Does it matter when we’re doing our daily writing practice? Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages, as an example, she’s like: pen to paper.
Allison Fallon (27:45):
Ann Kroeker (27:46):
You…Okay. Tell me why.
Allison Fallon (27:48):
She says—I was just affirming that she’s very hard core pen to paper. What I tell people is the data shows that it’s a bit more effective to write with pen and paper than it is to write with your computer or your device. I think probably a big reason for this is because when you’re plugged into your computer, you’re on the internet. I mean, I can turn the internet off, but I’ve got my internet browser right here, and my email, and I can see the red dots coming up, and Slack is on my computer, and my calendar. And I talk in the book about the frontal cortex versus limbic system, and being on my computer flips me into my frontal cortex really quickly. So I think that’s part of why writing with pen and paper is more effective.
Allison Fallon (28:30):
However, if you will not write with pen and paper, then don’t make that your writing practice, because you won’t do it. So if you can find another way to kind of trick your brain into knowing this is the device that I use, or this is the place that I sit, or this is the set of things that I do—I call that a pre-writing ritual—if you can develop a pre-writing ritual that helps your brain click into place and know “This is my writing time,” then use your computer or use your Notes app on your phone. Many of the clients I work with are busy CEOs of companies, they’re parents, they’re running nonprofits, they’re doing amazing advocacy work in the world. They’re bad-ass human beings. And so to tell them it has to be in this certain way, and you’ve got to carry your notebook around with you everywhere…it feels silly to me when I’m like, it could be on the back of a cocktail napkin while you’re waiting for a business meeting to start. Or it could be scribbled on the back of a receipt on the dashboard of your car while you’re waiting to pick your kids up from school. So whatever you have available to you, whatever you will use, use that and just do the practice, you know? Once you’re in the habit, it’s much easier. It’s much easier to do it. It’s getting in the habit. That’s the hard part.
Ann Kroeker (29:46):
That’s true about so many things, isn’t it?
Change the habits, and you can change your life. I love that. I love that the tools don’t matter as much, and yet if we can get the pen to paper, it may help. How about time of day? Morning or evening or midday?
Allison Fallon (30:02):
There’s a lot of research that suggests morning is a great time to write. Again, I think the reason for this is because of the way that our limbic brains work. Our brains, first of all, are muscles, and they get tired throughout the day. So if you spend your brain energy—the limited amount of brain energy that you get in a day—if the first thing you do is open Twitter and Instagram and your email, and you spend all of your brain energy doing that, your brain doesn’t discriminate. It’s just going to go, “Okay, I’m out of energy. We’ll have to come back again tomorrow. I’ll recharge overnight and we’ll come back in tomorrow.” So if you can commit the first part of your day to your writing, then you’re using up your most energetic time of the day for that thing that matters most to you. And then email doesn’t take much energy. You can come back to that later anytime of day. So I think that’s one thing. Also, our limbic brains are very active in the middle of the night. So if you can capitalize on that time in the morning before your limbic brain quiets down and your frontal cortex comes online, then you can use that to your advantage because your limbic brain is the imaginative part of your brain that doesn’t need things to be perfectly logical or linear. Once you click into work mode as I call it—it’s email, social media, calendar—I’m on a timeline. There’s a ticking clock. Once that happens for me, there’s no going back. So if I miss my morning writing time, I can’t go back at two o’clock and do it.
Allison Fallon (31:26):
I have heard people say, in fact, when I poll people at our writing workshops, probably about 20 percent of people will say morning absolutely doesn’t work for them. It’s either practical or that’s not the way their body rhythms work. But a lot of them will say it’s late night for them. They get a witching hour at 10:00 PM, midnight, 2:00 AM, somewhere in there. And I think it’s probably for the same reasons. That’s speculation on my part, but I would imagine your brain’s kind of like winding down into limbic mode again. Nobody’s going to expect you to come to a business meeting at midnight. And so you can go into your more creative brain and spend some time there. So again, I just tell people whatever works for you, run with that, because that’s always the hardest part.
Ann Kroeker (32:17):
That’s good freedom. And I think that then people can enjoy those results because they actually do it rather than worrying about time.
So you touched on something…I think in context, people can make some pretty good guesses as to what you mean by frontal cortex and limbic, and they should read the book to get the whole big picture, but can you summarize a little bit of that brain science and then help them tie that into the work that they’re doing as writers?
Allison Fallon (32:44):
Ann Kroeker (32:44):
Is that asking too much?
Allison Fallon (32:45):
No, not at all. So first I’ll say if you’re a neuroscientist and you’re listening to this, you’re going to think this is the most elementary description you’ve ever heard in your life, but for the majority of us, it’s helpful to just simplify this. You have more than two parts to your brain, but for the sake of this conversation, your limbic system is the lower-level thinking, more primal part of your brain. It’s responsible for your dream life. It makes connections between images that would otherwise be disconnected. This is the part of our brain that’s activated when you listen to poetry. It’s also the part of your brain where your trauma lives and we’re all of your automated belief systems live. So a lot of our daily behaviors are driven by that limbic system, this more primal part of our brain, but it’s out of our awareness. So you would not necessarily be aware that you have a belief that’s happening in that part of your brain, even though it’s probably affecting your daily life. Then your frontal cortex is your higher-level thinking part of your brain. It’s executive functioning. So this is a really important part of our brain, but it can sometimes, like when you say the phrase, “I’m really in my head,” usually you’re in your frontal cortex. You’re really trying to work hard to make sense of something. Think of the last time that you were trying to remember someone’s name or trying to remember a phone number, and then when you walk away from it somehow the memory pops back to you. So our frontal cortex is the part of our brain that helps us organize our schedules and pay our bills on time and remember to pick our kid up from school at two o’clock and not be late, you know, like to know it takes 20 minutes to get there, so I have to leave at 1:40 and I might run into traffic, so I should probably leave at 1:35. So it’s that part of your brain that’s doing that. And most of us are in that part of our brain for most of the day. And that part of our brain gets in the way when it comes to writing. It’s not that it’s bad. It is great at editing, but when you try to write and edit at the same time, it’ll be starts and stops. So it’s almost like having your foot one foot on the gas pedal and one foot on the brake at the same time. And so what I encourage writers to do is find a way to kind of disconnect that frontal cortex and sink into the limbic system and write what comes up from there, especially for this daily practice of writing. And then come back to it later with that more critical lens and pull the things that are useful for you and put them together into some sort of cohesive argument, because what you’ll get when you write from your limbic system is not always a cohesive argument. In fact, often you’re like, “Whoa, that was from left field! Where’d that come from?” But because writing gives you the ability to tap into that part of your brain, it helps you access ideas, thoughts, stories that are really having a tremendous impact on your life without you realizing it.
Ann Kroeker (35:38):
I took university creative writing classes—undergrad—back in the day, and there was actually a new release called Writing Down the Bones. I’m sure you’re familiar with that book.
And Natalie Goldberg’s book had a similar thing: turn on the timer and write without stopping.
It was kind of revolutionary at the time. And every class that I took—the first two or three of the creative writing classes—used that as one of their core reading materials, because they wanted us to experience getting behind the thoughts. I think that’s how she may have phrased it in one of the early chapters. And that seems like what—she didn’t use the word limbic, but in the book you were saying, “Let’s get limbic” or you used somebody’s quote, “I’m gonna ‘get limbic.’” This is really helpful. I think what I’m finding you saying is that this practice is important even if you’re writing magazine articles to submit about how to create craft projects with your kids, you still will benefit from this limbic activity.
Allison Fallon (36:53):
Stories and epiphanies that were outside of your awareness will come to you when you write this way. So, you know, if you’re in the process of writing a magazine article about crafts with your kids, you could use your daily writing practice to see if you can recall some memories about crafts you did when you were a kid and maybe a brilliant idea comes to you that you hadn’t had before. Maybe a story comes to you that’s a really powerful story that you could use as an illustration in the article. And the way you write it in your private writing time might not be the way you would share it when you put it in the article, but the idea would never have been there if it weren’t for your private writing time.
Ann Kroeker (37:28):
That’s good. So there can be actual overlap of content.
Allison Fallon (37:31):
A hundred percent.
Ann Kroeker (37:33):
It can unleash just who you are and your voice will be truer. Even for that magazine.
Allison Fallon (37:37):
Ann Kroeker (37:37):
All that needs to fit what the magazine is looking for. This is so good. There was a phrase I heard in one of your interviews on your podcast. Oh, it was Science Mike. Did I say that right?
Yes, you said it right.
Okay, in that conversation he was talking about how our brains are “narration machines.” It was in the discussion about creating new neural pathways. And you had another person on there as well. But if our brain, well, maybe explain what that means that our brains are narration machines and how it ties in with this whole limbic system.
Allison Fallon (38:17):
Yeah, I’ve heard it said too that our brains are “meaning-making machines,” which helps you understand what we’re talking about. When we say narration machines—in other words, when things happen to us—our brain’s job is to figure out: Why did that happen? What did it mean that it happened? What do I need to remember going forward? And your brain can nail that down. The story will kind of haunt you. So until your brain has decided what the resolution is, this story will pop up and come back to remind you that it’s there. For example, if your dad never said he loved you growing up and you haven’t figured out why, that story will haunt you until the day you die, until you figure out why. And as soon as you figure out why, your brain will sort of catalog that thing, and it’ll go down into your limbic system. The problem is our brains are really good at coming up with meaning for stories and the meaning that you come up with…
Allison Fallon (39:13):
…that you might’ve come up with when you were five years old, you might say, “Well, my dad never tells me he loves me because he doesn’t love me.” And then your brain goes, “Okay, we figured out a meaning for that story. Let’s put that down in your limbic system.” And then that meaning begins to present itself in your life over and over again. You might find yourself drawn to relationships where the men in your life ignore you or something like that. Because you’ve come up with this meaning to the story that says, “You know, I’m not good enough to get love and approval of my father.” I’m using a really cliche example, I’m realizing, but something like that, where as soon as your brain decides the meaning, it’ll catalog the story.
Allison Fallon (39:55):
And the beauty of pulling our life stories out and writing about them is that we get to rethink the meaning. As a 37-year-old woman, do I want to take the meaning that I came up with at five, or do I want to remake the meaning and say, “The reason that my dad never said he loved me was because my dad was a wounded man who didn’t know what he wanted or what he was about.” And coming up with new meanings as an adult can help us re-catalog the stories and put them back in our limbic systems so that they don’t haunt us, and so that the meanings aren’t meanings that we don’t want to be carrying around a lot of times. This is true for me, too. We have these experiences in our life where we’re like, “This is always what happens to me…
Allison Fallon (40:36):
“It’s always the same. I’m always in a bad relationship. I’m always running out of money. I always get unfairly fired from jobs. I always get betrayed by friends, taken advantage” or whatever. That’s a hint for you. If you have a detail in your life that seems to repeat itself, it’s a hint for you that there’s a story there that you’ve told yourself and it’s been cataloged. And that limbic part of your brain is driving the ship in ways. It’s not that it’s your fault. It’s just you’re helping co-create that reality over and over again.
Ann Kroeker (41:09):
That’s amazing to think about how we are narrating our own life. We are becoming our own narrator and not always in good ways and not always in helpful ways. And if we could affect that with this tool at our disposal of writing, we could completely re-imagine our lives. Let me ask this, though. And this is a question that comes up a lot, and it’s about memoir and how trying to get to the truth of memory. “Memory is a slippery thing,” as Mary Karr says, and even without the work, it is slippery. And while we remember inaccurately sometimes, or sometimes a fact is called into question by readers—maybe family members who were there for an event. And so some people say we try to get as close to the facts of the situation and let the facts tell the story. And then we, in our writing style, we can then let the theme or the message or the truth kind of be present in the facts that we tell. But what I hear you saying here is that we can revisit the facts, but be cataloging and re-cataloging it.
It’s changing that. So how can we be true to memoir—as true as possible to what we understand that episode—while doing this work?
Allison Fallon (42:35):
I actually disagree a little with Mary Karr. I have a lot of admiration and respect for the work that she’s done. And she’s obviously, you know, a giant in her field. And the point where I rub up against what she talks about a little bit is this fact-finding mission. It doesn’t really matter what the facts of the situation were—it’s not that it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if you’ve cataloged the story in a certain way. That matters more than the actual facts. For example, let’s say my dad did tell me he loved me all the time, but I just thought he didn’t tell me that he loved me. But I still made up this story that my dad never told me he loved me because I’m not that lovable. And so now I have to fight my whole life to get the attention of the opposite sex so that I can feel like I’m loved…
Allison Fallon (43:19):
…I’m inventing this situation, but you get where I’m coming from. It doesn’t matter whether he told me he loved me or not. If I thought he didn’t and I made up the story that I was unlovable, that in itself is important to my story. What I want to say to people who are listening is your interpretation of your story matters as much or more than the facts. And that doesn’t mean that you are right, but why are we so obsessed with being right anyway? Why can’t your take on the story be enough on its own? You know, my experience of growing up in my household is going to be different than my sister’s, although she and I are essentially twins. We look exactly alike. We’re very different in personality and we had different experiences of my parents growing up.
Allison Fallon (44:05):
…and if she were to write a memoir, her memoir would look different than mine. Your memoir is going to look different than your siblings’ would look. And your take on a certain experience is going to be different than the other people who were there and involved. And at the end of the day, like when I wrote about my divorce, for example, I’m talking about my unique experience of this relationship that would of course be disputed by my now ex-husband because some of the things I’m saying about him are unflattering. But don’t I have the right to share my own unique experience of what it was like to live in that household? Don’t I have that right as much as he has that right? That’s what it means to find your voice. It’s to be able to stand on both feet, to say, “This is how it was for me.” And even if it was different for you, that doesn’t change the fact that this is what was true for me.
Ann Kroeker (45:01):
That’s so good. Yeah. That’s what it means to find our voice. It’s to feel like we can stand in that truth that we have explored in this practice. So good. So if somebody were ready to get started, what’s the first thing they need to start doing…if they’re ready and like, “I’m ready to find my voice. I want to do this thing.” What do they need to do first?
Allison Fallon (45:26):
I’m guessing a lot of people who are listening or watching from your community probably are writing daily. Anyway, they’re doing some sort of professional writing. So I would say the first step is to see if you can practice and explore this concept idea of expressive writing. And probably if I’m using my experience as a gauge, a lot of these writers have that in their history somewhere. They may have abandoned it along the way, but probably they have some sort of journaling practice or a love for writing stories in a notebook or something like that, that used to be part of their life. So this is not starting from scratch. It’s just finding a way to reconnect with that old itch that you had to just get something down. Tell a cool story or write something down that happened to you. Or write something down that you’re thinking about. So it’s reconnecting with that and then just carving out some space to do a little bit of a different kind of writing than you’re doing when you’re writing for an audience.
Ann Kroeker (46:26):
It may even feel playful after all of the things that we must do to pursue a professional writing life. Just to say, “I’m bringing out the pen and paper again.” Right?
Allison Fallon (46:35):
Totally. You know, what’s so interesting. I had this epiphany last night. I’ll share it here. I’ve not said this before, but my husband and I have been watching American Idol and I’m obsessed with Katy Perry on American Idol because she’s so…she has a young baby, too, I think—a little younger than my daughter. But she’s so maternal with these young kids as they’re auditioning for American Idol. And she says things to them and the advice that she gives to them feels so pertinent to writers. Even though these people are singers, she’ll say things to…a lot of times, writers will get the advice from people in the publishing industry, “Go grow your platform. If you want to write about, go grow your platform.” And Katy Perry looks straight at these kids, and she’s like, “Go fall in love with your art…
Allison Fallon (47:19):
…Stop performing for other people, stop singing to your TikToK followers. Go write your heart out. Go find stages that you can perform on and fall in love with the act of performing.” And I was thinking last night, “That’s the advice that I would give to writers.” If I could only give one piece of advice, don’t grow your Instagram platform. Go fall in love with the act of writing. Don’t go chase down some big magazine that will publish your work. Go fall in love with the idea of writing stories and I dare you to do that for very long without finding an audience that’s really into what you’re doing.
Ann Kroeker (47:57):
Ooh, I got chills. That’s so good. Yes.
Allison Fallon (48:01):
Thank you, Katy Perry, for that one.
Ann Kroeker (48:03):
But thank you, for passing it on to us today. Well, I want people to be able to find your book, to find you, to find your podcast. And I think, you know, there are maybe something you have for our listeners. I’ll have links to all of this at annkroeker.com/allisonfallon, two L’s for Allison and Fallon, right? A L L I S O N. But I’ll put everything in the show notes, but why don’t you just share a little bit here in case, you know, they can plug that away and go.
Allison Fallon (48:34):
Yeah, you can find all of our resources at findyourvoice.com. And the book is called The Power of Writing It Down. It’s available wherever books are sold. I always like to tell people to go to their local bookstore because bookstores are hurting right now. So your local bookstore will be carrying the boo and you can purchase it there, but obviously also Amazon, Target, wherever else. And then you can find me on Instagram @AllyFallon. That’s probably the platform where I’m the most active. And I share all about, you know, new resources and stuff that we have coming out there. We’re coming out with a really exciting new one called Write Your Story, Take Back Your Life really soon. So that’ll be available in not too long.
Ann Kroeker (49:12):
Wow. Thank you so much for your time today for your wisdom and sharing your experience. Not only in your own life, but working with other writers, you are doing amazing work. That is really something that I don’t see any other coaches doing in the way that you are. And I am inspired. And I’m recommending your book! I just today mentioned to a client, go get that book. So…go get the book.
Allison Fallon (49:37):
Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Ann Kroeker (49:38):
All right, take care.
Ann Kroeker (49:40):
I hope you enjoyed this interview as much as I did, and you can access everything related to the show at annkroeker.com/allisonfallon. Over there you will find a free gift that Allison is offering listeners. It’s called The Book Idea Primer, the instructions for how you can access it at annkroeker.com/allisonfallon. I’m Ann Kroeker, Writing Coach. Thank you for listening.