This July I’ve been following along on the progress of Camp NaNoWriMo through different writers’ blogs. The impressive word counts, surprising ideas, and creative ways to push through that I see coming from all these writers are really inspiring. It’s exciting how the everyone’s-in-it-together energy becomes contagious and encourages writers to stretch their potential in ways they never would have before.
Well, I’m basically neurotic overall, but my anxieties tend to come out most strongly in the areas of my life that I feel most passionately about…like writing.
A week or so ago I posted Secrets Your Inner Critic Would Kill to Keep and received such an incredible response from other writers. Many commented that they, too, worried about not being good enough, or struggled with the editing process, or questioned their writing choices. I realized that there are a lot of other writers out there like me. And I thought about the tools I’ve discovered in recent years to help me quiet my mind and dissolve fear.
The number-one, most powerful skill I’ve learned is meditation.
I didn’t start my meditation practice to help my writing. In fact, I had no idea it would impact me creatively at all. I sought out meditation because I used to frequently wake up at 3am with racing thoughts about the state of the universe and everything in it, and needless to say, it was not really conducive to getting a good night’s sleep. I was also attracted to Buddhism because it seemed so quiet, and for most of the past 15 years my life has been very loud and busy.
I started going to Zen meditation sessions at the San Francisco Zen Center, and then when I felt comfortable, I started meditating on my own. At first I tried to meditate for an hour, and when that didn’t work I aimed for 30 minutes. Now, I do 15 minute chunks in the morning and evening. I also skip some days. I am not strict with my meditation practice at all, and yet I still notice significant changes in my thinking patterns.
So what does this have to do with writing?
Meditation cleans out the brain clutter. It gives your mind space and energy to encompass a wider field of consciousness. And writers—as modern-day artists in an online world—need the most spacious field of consciousness they can possibly command.
Practicing meditation can…
Focus Your Creative Eye
Writers are never short on ideas. The difficulty is in picking one and sticking with it. An experienced writer knows that one little idea can stretch into months and years of writing, editing and promoting a book. It’s essential to pick the few solid ideas that you really want to work with long-term, out of the million crowding for attention inside your head.
Meditation trains your mind to let your heart speak up once in a while too. By strengthening your connection to your heart, your intuition will kick in more powerfully than ever before. You’ll get solid gut feelings about which creative ideas you should pursue, and the inner bedrock of spiritual confidence to support the follow-up work on them.
Clear the Path Ahead
Writers these days are constantly questioning. Self-publish or get an agent? Start with short stories or launch a novel? Facebook or LinkedIn or Twitter or all of them? Asking for advice from other writers is sometimes helpful, but can also add to the confusion. Each person has an individual process that works for them. Part of discovering yourself as a writer in this modern world is figuring out your own unique process.
Meditation teaches you how to slow your mind down. Devoting more time to your thought processes results in more thoughtful choices. The rapid, and often frantic, pace of our online world can pressure us into making choices based on what we think of others in some idealized reality we’ve found somewhere on the internet. But you don’t have to make impulsive decisions stimulated by information overload. By thinking things through slowly and clearly, you take back your power to be a unique human being and find your own way.
Open Your Life to New Opportunities
Every successful writer has one thing in common: They can point to good opportunities in their past that they jumped on, and recognize how those opportunities shaped and fueled their career. Where are your good opportunities and how will you know them when they show up?
By slowing your mind and listening to your heart, you open the door for other little gifts to arrive. Like the re-framing of old perspectives. Regularly practicing meditation enhances your inner vision, and after a while you can “see” the opportunities to be found in new people, relationships, and situations, that you might have missed before.
Meditation practice teaches us about “taking the one seat” as Jack Kornfield calls it in A Path With Heart. This means you imagine yourself sitting in a chair in the middle of an empty room. People come in and out of the room, conversations happen, maybe someone opens the window, maybe someone crawls through it. Many things happen and catch our attention, but we remain seated, watching and observing and true to ourselves. If we apply this clear thoughtful energy to our writing life and our writing career the whole process becomes less overwhelming, more interesting, and a lot more fun.
You can look into going to practice sessions if you have a nearby Zen Center in your area, or you can Google “Zen Meditation” or “Zazen” to learn how to do it on your own at home. You don’t have to know what you’re doing, you don’t have to be religious in any way, and you don’t have to do it perfectly to start practicing and seeing results.
Take your one seat, open your heart, and grow your writing life.
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Lately, I’ve been reading a LOT of poetry. I recently discovered that I can search for specific topics on my WordPress Reader and so I’ve been gorging on poetry every day. Back when I was studying for my English degree in the late 90s, the general idea was that modern day poets didn’t have much of a future. People told me there was “no money in poetry” and “not enough space” for all the aspiring poets out there.
At that time, I don’t think anyone counted on how drastically the internet would change the world.
The last decade has changed everything about the way we see books and authors, the way we think about publishing and having a writing career. It’s been kind of scary at times, with many writers questioning if novels and poetry will even have a place at all in our digital future. But what the internet has really done is expand the amount of space for creative effort to stretch and flex itself. It’s removed the limits that we previously took for granted, so much so that they seemed like a law of the universe.
We now live in a world where you can write a poem and instantly share it with billions of other people across the globe. No one has to approve it for you. No one has to distribute it for you. You get to be in charge of your creative life. For the first time in history, the poets have no more need of the gatekeepers.
How brilliant is that?
I’ve always felt that it’s an incredibly life-affirming act to write poetry. Although a lot of the time we come to writing poetry as a way to express the intense emotions of sorrow and loss, rejection or anger, what is born out of our creative effort is this beautiful life energy wrapped up in just a few words. And because the form of a poem manifests primarily in symbolic language and imagery, it’s like a straight-shot arrow of emotion that hits us squarely in the heart.
Whenever you fall into the cynical mindset of “not enough” or “no one cares”, jump on Google and search for poetry blogs. People are posting new poems every minute. It’s like sitting at the edge of a field and watching dozens of different flowers bloom right in front of your eyes. The poets out there haven’t given up on the writing industry, or on planet earth. They are saying YES to life every second, with every new poem they write and share with the world.
Instead of there being no future and no place for modern day poets, the exact opposite is true. Today’s poets have created their own space in our online landscape, and by sharing their poetry within our virtual world, they help to teach all of us how to pause and receive beauty. They show us how to truly live in the present moment.
If you are a poet, or even someone who thinks they only “dabble” in poetry, consider these ideas deeply. Your time has come. You have a valuable, essential role in this world. I can tell you, just from my personal perspective, that the poems I’ve come across while browsing blogs have a significant impact on my day. They lift my mood. They recharge my spiritual batteries. Your poems make a difference in my life.
And keep writing.