Writing the Circle: Prompt #2

Your 2nd prompt for WRITING THE CIRCLE

(If you missed the first prompt, click here. For the introduction to this short series of FREE prompts, go here.)

“Without the motivation of desire, without hunger, you would achieve nothing since you would want for nothing.” –Laura Day

Laura Day’s The Circle is all about making a wish and turning it into reality. Today, I want you to home in on what that wish can POSSIBLY be.

When I work one-on-one with students on this exercise, I see two ways in which they get stuck. First, we have learned so well how to squelch our desires, to not get “too big for our britches,” to be ashamed of our desires, that it’s hard to remember or even to recognize what we really want.

I do this all the time. I get what my husband wants and what my daughters want all mixed up with what I want. I suspect I have spent a lot of my life trying to keep my desires way way in the background, to keep myself small and invisible so that I didn’t draw attention to myself. (What happened to the Bethany that wanted to learn to scuba dive, walk the Great Wall of China, own a horse, climb a mountain?)

A second way we get stuck is—believe it or not—the flip side of gratitude, or of “gratitudes,” those lists of things we’re thankful for, or that we feel we should be grateful for.

In other words, we feel guilty if we aren’t grateful for what we have. But we can be grateful, and still want what we want. We can even be grateful for our desires! Sure, some of them may turn out to be false paths, but if you never allow yourself to explore them, how will you know?

We want to write a best-selling novel or have an award-winning book of poems, but once we finally admit what we want, we then spend the next several minutes (or weeks, or months) beating ourselves up for wanting what we know eludes so many other writers.

But in this exercise, there’s only approval. The longer your list, the better!

As my friend Louise says whenever anyone says, “I wish that I could…”:

“Permission granted.”

In the next prompt, I’ll be writing about action steps, but I’ve found that the first action step I always have to take is to give myself permission to want what I want. (Well, to figure out what it is that I want, and then to own it.) Only then can you come up with what steps are necessary. When I wanted to travel, for instance, my first actionable step was to get a passport.

So here’s your assignment:

In your Writing the Circle journal, list everything you’d like to create for your life. As I said above, at this stage, don’t censor yourself. Write down every possible desire that comes to mind. Wild, crazy, sane, everyday, general, specific. It can be messy! You aren’t choosing, not yet; you’re simply bringing into focus what you might want.

Of course you can list anything you want to create, but I want to encourage you (in this context) to think about what kind of writing / writing life you’re imagining.

Set your timer for 10 minutes (if you’re comfortable with more, by all means, go for 15 or 20).  If you’re floundering, try setting a numeric goal, 8 things or 10 or 20.  Let’s say you start with 20. Or–to borrow an exercise from How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci by Michael Gelb–you can go for 100. If you’re like me, you’ll find that the higher goal will tease things out that you haven’t thought of in years. The higher number will also help you get really really specific. Try breaking down your desires into more manageable chunks.

For instance, I might start with, “I want to write about my mother.” But what are 5 or 10 ways I can imagine that unfolding?

  • a poem about how she named the trees when she was a girl
  • a blog post about what my mother taught me about gardening and how that relates to writing
  • a book of her recipes that I can give to my nieces and nephews
  • a poem about mom and Nancy Drew
  • an essay about how she read nothing but mysteries
  • a mystery novel or novella about a woman who reads nothing but mysteries

So what do you dream of creating? Write it down, and, remember, NO JUDGMENT.

Step two for today’s work (you can spread this out over two days if you’d like) is to go back over your long list and CIRCLE only a few items that you really, really, really, really, really want. Yes, you can do the work of developing action steps for almost anything–but what are you willing and ready to begin working toward now?

Once again, I’d love to hear from you. Email me (, or leave a comment below.  I’ll have one more post later this week; if you would like to take part in the entire FREE series, all you have to do is subscribe to my blog.

Writing the Circle: Prompt #1

If you don’t subscribe to my blog, you will want to go back and read my introduction to this short series of writing prompts for getting your writing rolling in the new year. You’ll find it HERE. And now–

Welcome to your first of 3 days of journaling prompts for WRITING THE CIRCLE.

Although I’m drawing these blogposts from my own work with Laura Day’s The Circle, you can  write your way through this series with me independent of the book. (I don’t want to say that you don’t need the book, as I love the book.) You’ve probably noticed that my slant on Day’s work is toward writing the circle. 

To do these exercises, you will need:

1) a timer (there’s a handy one on your phone, or you can use the timer on your stove in the kitchen, or you can go to

2) a new notebook in which to write–if you already have an established journal and want to use it, that’s fine, too (no prizes here for following Bethany’s directions to perfection) 

3) a pen that you love writing with

Your First Writing Prompt:

In the Preface to the 2009 edition of The Circle, Laura Day describes her book’s original debut at her local bookstore in Manhattan, New York, on September 10, 2001.

That’s right, the eve of 9/11.

She scarcely mentions the canceled book tour, focusing instead on the circle of support that came together for the book, and for her and her young son–and even their cat (as their neighborhood was evacuated). Terrible things do happen, Day reminds us. Tragedies on every scale. But with this preface, she invites us to see our tragedies differently. Yes, it was awful. But were there any gifts that came along for the ride? Have you noticed those?

“You will learn to take everything in your life—yes, even your losses,
your wounds, your hunger, your anger, and your grief—and use it
as creative energy to shape the world you want.” –Laura Day

Set your timer for 10 minutes (so easy!) and write in your Circle journal about a time when something went horribly wrong. (If 10 minutes sounds like too much, don’t let it be an obstacle–go for 5!)

NEXT, reset the timer (Again, I recommend 10 minutes, but if that’s an obstacle, 5 is better than none), and write about how you survived. Who or what helped you? Where did you find comfort? At what moment did you see that you would get through this event? What gave you strength to keep going?

A note: If you feel that you didn’t survive, that you’re still struggling, then write that. Give yourself permission to pour it all out on the page. Trust that you will begin to see it (whatever it is) more clearly, when it’s in writing.

It turns out that seeing is what this is all about. Seeing Differently is a topic I sometimes blog about, too, and you can go here for a sample.

My overall plan?

I’ll have two more prompts for you in blogposts next week; subscribers will get the whole series. Can I turn this into an on-line class? We’ll see.


If you follow my blog, then you already know that I read a lot of books. I love sharing my books with friends and passing them along to the exact right person. But every so often, I come across a book that is so wonderful, I want to buy copies for all my friends.

One of those books is THE CIRCLE, by Laura Day.

Laura Day has written a number of successful books, including PRACTICAL INTUITION, WELCOME TO YOUR CRISIS, and HOW TO RULE THE WORLD FROM YOUR COUCH. But THE CIRCLE is my go-to favorite. I’ve read it several times, and I think I have an effective, “anti-woo woo” way to share it with you.

To my mind, THE CIRCLE isn’t necessarily “woo woo” (what do we mean by that? Spiritual? And what would be wrong with spiritual?), unless you want it to be. In the Prologue, Day reassures readers that The Circle is “not in conflict with any religious or spiritual beliefs,” and my experience has borne this out. You could understand it as an Irish Caim, a blessing circle. But it is not magic, and it is not about any realm of being other than the one we live in right now.

As Day explains, you have probably walked the circle before. My most powerful past experience of it came when my husband, Bruce, had a major health crisis. He was already in the hospital, and had undergone successful surgery. It was Mother’s Day and our daughters were 8, 8, and 2. My parents had been helping out, and planned to go home later that day, as Bruce was scheduled to be released. I had everything under control (hah!)—I had even worked out my teaching schedule so that I would miss only one day of classes! Long story short, my mother got up that Sunday morning and cancelled everything I had orchestrated for my Mother’s Day. She told me that I was to go to the hospital, by myself, and see Bruce.

Long story short, the supervising nurse met me as I got out of the elevator. My husband was hallucinating, he had ripped out his stitches and his catheter, and done some other damage to himself, and he was headed back into surgery.

If I wanted this introduction to be twice as long, I could tell you the astounding number of coincidences (besides my mother’s initial insight) that then ensued–including a woman I scarcely knew showing up at the hospital to take me to lunch because it was Mother’s Day and she thought it would be nice to do something for me. For the next ten days, I lived inside a circle where the right conversations, unexpected help, and loving encouragement flowed to me.

Here’s how Laura Day has helped me to understand this personal story.

Sometimes, often in a crisis, we get intensely focused on what we need. It’s kind of like the way radio waves are all around us, all the time, but we don’t always have a receiver tuned in to them. When my husband had his health crisis, I tuned in.

THE CIRCLE is about creativity; specifically, it is about living and creating consciously.  And it can help you to tune in to what you
really really really want to create in your life.

Day has divided the journey into nine parts, with three main headings: Initiation, Apprenticeship, and Mastery. My favorite subsections might be ritual and synchronicity, and these are the parts I always incorporate into my own classes, even my intro-to-composition classes that I used to teach at my college. (Now, of course, I’m sharing all of it!)

I hope I’ve intrigued you with this introduction. Over the next several weeks I’ll be writing my way through The Circle and I’d love it if you could join me.

Of course I recommend purchasing Laura’s book, but the posts will be enough to move you all the way through what I am calling WRITING THE CIRCLE.

In order to get started, all you have to do is subscribe to my blog. (See the link below.) If you want to know a little more, three of the posts will be available on the blog to everyone, and you can read the first one by clicking here.