“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.”
― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
On my checklist of things to do in this life, meditation had always been in the “no time soon” category. Something about it seemed a bit suspect to me. As evidence, I offer you my original take on how it works: I’m supposed to breathe slowly and focus on the feeling of taking that breath, and then, suddenly, my mind will clear and my “inner self” will begin communicating the secrets of life, and the universe.
Big things will happen. The earth will shift, I will suddenly stop being afraid of angry bees, etc.
But the joke’s on me. After years of poking fun at the concept of meditation, I finally tried it. My opportunity happened while I was on a book research trip, one in which I attended a writing class that included three guided meditation segments over the span of an afternoon.
Either the instructor was quite talented or I was ripe for a new adventure, because I was completely drawn into the experience. I found that once I settled my thoughts, once I focused on breathing slowly, evenly, an entirely new set of ideas found their way into my conscious mind. I also found answers to questions I hadn’t asked. Strangely, those answers related to problems that did exist.
Obviously, the life concerns that moved to the front of my mind that day had been lingering in my subconscious for a while, and the process of formal mediation simply made it possible to access them in a new way. This idea of clearing one’s mind is no longer a great mystery, and I don’t make fun of it anymore.
It’s quite the opposite.
In the time since that afternoon and the remarkable clarity I experienced during that class, I have paid greater attention to my entire writing process. What I’ve found is that while I can work on an outline or character development at any time, I don’t simply sit down at the computer and begin typing words on the pages of my works-in-progress. For that to happen, I need to be in “that place,” or “the zombie zone,” as my friends call it.
Apparently, I space out.
When I “return,” new ideas are almost always waiting -- and not at the front of my mind, but right there at the very tips of my fingers, itching to do their dance across my keyboard.
It turns out that the “zombie zone” can be triggered by just about anything that occupies my hands, or is a long-practiced habit. Playing the piano, walking on the treadmill, doing dishes…things like that. Things that let the brain successfully continue the task at hand, but on autopilot.
If I’m honest about it, I have to admit that my preparation method for writing is actually a form of meditation. Only, I’m using my hands as the mechanism instead of my breath.
Now that I am aware of this pattern in my work preparation, I actively seek out ways to launch myself into the “zombie zone” before sitting down to write. (As a side benefit, my closets and cabinets are now the most organized they have ever been. Next up, the garage…)
I don’t know why the realization that I’ve been practicing a form of meditation for years surprises me so much. Perhaps it is because I’ve always viewed meditation as a place one mentally travels to, instead of realizing it is actually a deeper exploration of a place one already occupies.
For a novelist, learning how to access the “behind-the-scenes” ideas and creative wells of his or her mind, and to access them regularly and easily, could be a key ingredient in learning how to efficiently publish a shelf’s worth of novels without sacrificing story quality.
If we have one story to tell, we have many. As writers, how do we do a better job, timeline-wise, of getting our stories into the hands of readers that eagerly await them? How do we keep the inspiration fresh while working hard to connect with a wider reading audience?
I'm guessing there are countless paths, and meditation, done with the specific intent of improving writing skills, is but one of them.
I’ve been putting in a real effort to fold conscious meditation into the structure of my writing life. And while the application of meditation to this writer’s life continues to be helpful, there is also a rather unexpected challenge associated with learning to turn that “creative key” on demand: I have accumulated too many story ideas that have, in turn, led to too many in-process manuscripts.
I’m behind in meeting my publishing schedule, but ahead when it comes to “birthing” well-plotted, emotional, romantic works-in-progress. It’s confusing sometimes, trying to prioritize all those works-in-progress when a fresh idea, one that is surprisingly detailed and vibrant, starts pulling – hard – on my senses. And fingertips.
I know; discipline. Clearly, I still have a lot of learning in front of me, figuring out how to keep this inner focus, the one guided by meditation, contained to only the story I’m interested in expanding at any particular time.
Currently, I’m incorporating Gael Chiarella’s mediation CD’s into my work routine, several days a week. None of her meditations are specifically about the writing process, but her voice is the one that I have found to be most effective for me.
Novelists, do you turn your focus completely inward when your fingers settle on the keyboard? Do you, too, write in a “zombie zone?” What is your access point or trigger for reaching that mental place? If you do mediate, how has it impacted your writing style and works-in-progress?
Here are some interesting quotes (and links to the articles) I found about meditation and writing:
“To truly flourish in our lives and world, we must alter our inner conditions.” – Jo Malby
“Willpower, discipline, and good old-fashioned hard work may squeeze writing out of you but to produce words effortlessly, to connect with the joy and optimism and inspiration which makes it all worthwhile, to be as good as you can be, you need to know how to nurture abstraction and cultivate creative mind states.” – Orna Ross
“Meditation will make you a better writer.” – Farnoosh Brock
“I get ideas for blog posts, stories and all kinds of other random things throughout the day now.” – Jennifer Blanchard
"You are a writer. You are a writer of power, passion, strength and, yes, courage. For writing is an act of courage..." – From an audio meditation by Mark David Gerson
“Meditation is a doorway between our inner and outer worlds.” – Orna Ross