Meditations for Every Stage in the Writing Process

Meditations for Every Stage in the Writing Process

Have I told you about my first internal editor? His name was Ronny. Ronny was an asshole. Every time I sat at my desk, he whispered in my ear. 
 
“This sucks, Lisa.” 
“Don’t quit your day job, Lisa.” 
“No one loves you.”  
 
I fired Ronny a few years ago. 
 
My new internal editor is Sophia. Her voice reminds me of spring. Instead of pounding me into a pit of shame, Sophia cheers me on. When I worry that my writing sucks and move to throw it out, she tells me to get over myself.

“Of course, the work sucks right now,” she says. “You’re working on a first draft!” 
 
As I edit, Sophia is my copilot. She pokes my ribs when something’s not working and encourages me to go for walks when I’m stuck.
 
How did I go from a Ronny to a Sophia? 

Meditation. 
 
But not just any meditation. 

A year of loving-kindness meditation kicked Ronny to the curb. Sometimes called Metta meditation, loving-kindness helps you develop greater compassion for yourself and others.
 
Metta is great for writer’s block, working through career-related decisions, and keeping calm once your work has been published. 
 
Metta is just one of many meditation practices you can use to enhance your writing life. The list below contains the ones I use at different stages in the writing process. When possible, I’ve provided links. To learn about others, like the centering meditation, send me an email
 
Meditations for Drafting 

 Why they work: The first four meditations ground you in the present moment. During walking meditations, you swing your arms across your midline, which improves communication between the left brain (logic) and the right brain (creativity). Visualization-based meditations that focus on your project can help you get in touch with your characters and their motivations. 

Meditations for Revision 

Why they work: These meditations train you to pay attention to fine details, which is revision job number one. We often think of revision as a mental exercise, but your gut is actually your wisdom center. Body scans can dial you into that body wisdom. As you revise, you might even feel a poke in your ribs or a tug in your gut when you encounter work that needs extra attention. 

 
Meditations for Writer’s Block and Motivation 

  • Metta meditation
  • Soften, Soothe, Allow by Kristin Neff 
  • Centering Meditation 
  • Mantra meditation where you repeat “My creativity matters.”

Why they work: Writer’s block and flagging motivation often have the same causes: doubt and/or perfectionism. These meditations increase your sense of self-compassion and soothe away the fears and doubts stymieing your creativity. 

Have a favorite meditation? Add it to the comments. 

Suck at Meditation? Try Lowering Your Standards.

Suck at Meditation? Try Lowering Your Standards.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I’ve always sucked at meditation. 
 
While attending Buddhist meetings as a kid, I admired the adults who could chant for hours without concern for the time or their circulation. I had no idea how they maintained their laser-like focus. 
 
When we were supposed to concentrate on world peace, my mind was a jungle gym of ideas and worries about how long this was taking or whether kneeling on my feet would cause them to fall off. After a few seconds of focused prayer, my mind was off to the races. 
 
Over the years, I came to understand the various stages of sleeping feet from the pin-like tingles to the rush of blood that causes you to lose your breath to that moment when your foot feels dead.  Sometimes, I’d try to invoke a different sleepy foot stage during these meditations just to pass the time. 
 
I was too ashamed to share my experiences with the adults around me. I just figured I was a lousy meditator. 
 
My mind can still be a jungle gym of ideas. Sometimes when I’m meditating it’s hard to sit still, or some part of me will itch like I’ve been stung by a bee. These things are more likely to happen if I’m tired, worried, or not feeling well. 
 
After years of study, here’s what I learned: 
 
There are no meditation heroes. Sure, there are gurus and religious leaders like the Dalai Lama who are meditation pros. But even they struggle from time to time. Instead of trying to meditate perfectly, let each session be its own experiment. 

The rush of thoughts, wiggles, and those tickly, itchy feelings are completely normal. The brain’s main job is to keep you safe. It does this by making up stories about your experiences. Sometimes it ruminates on the past so it can learn from its mistakes. Other times, it rehearses future events to help you be more successful. When focusing on the present moment, sometimes you can actually feel your nerves activating. Hence that itchy feeling.  

If you’re a wiggly person who hates sitting meditations, try movement. Kristin Neff has a great standing meditation called Soles of the Feet. Many writers find a good walk solves their writing problems. If that’s you, give walking meditation a try. Walking meditations tend to enhance problem-solving because you are swinging your arms across your midline.  
 
The goal of mindfulness meditation is simply to give your mind a choice. That moment when you notice you’ve been focusing on all the brands of toilet paper you wish you could buy and then say to yourself, “Oh wait, I’m meditating” is your victory. Savor it and keep telling yourself that attaining this realization is enough. 
 
Do you suck at meditating too? What’s your meditation pet peeve? Share it in the comments. 

Three Reasons Why Meditation Is Good for Your Writing Practice

Three Reasons Why Meditation Is Good for Your Writing Practice

When I was in high school, my neighbors believed I worshipped the devil. It was the mid-1980s. We lived in a rural upstate New York town obsessed with Geraldo Rivera’s exposé “Devil Worship: Exposing Satan’s Underground.”
 
It probably didn’t help that: 

  • my brothers and I blasted Mötley Crüe’s “Shout at the Devil” from our stereo whenever our parents weren’t home, or
  • that I frequently wore black to protest the many international conflicts our president started, or
  • that my brother had told a few neighborhood bullies we were Voodists with magical powers. “Mess with us and Lisa will chant at you. Then you’ll get bad karma and die,” he frequently said. Often, this was followed by “Lisa, show them.” Sometimes, I did.

 
My mom converted to Buddhism when I was eight. I loved the exotic sounds and smells of this religion that promised a better, more peaceful life. Plus, the Buddhists smiled a lot and fed us candy. Our practice consisted of twice-daily chanting meditations for world peace.
 
I was fifteen when the devil worship cries began. A friend on my school bus asked what church I attended. I proudly said I was Buddhist and asked if she wanted to know more. A few days later, her mother gave me a pile of books on the follies of evolution and the dangers of cults. Two weeks later, I returned her unread books. When I politely declined her church invitation, she responded with the stink eye. 
 
At the time, I chanted with my mother every evening from 6:00 PM – 7:00 PM. This was common knowledge. For years, neighborhood kids had listened to our voices on hot summer nights. 
 
After my church refusal, the neighbor invited all the nearby kids to her house so she could warn them about the evil lurking in our duplex village. The evening after her meeting, a new ritual began. When Mom called me in for our evening mediation, neighborhood kids morphed into little town criers. 
 
“The devil worshiper is worshipping. The devil worshiper is worshiping,” they yelled. 
 
Kids gathered on the curb across from our house. A few minutes into our meditation one of them yelled, “Devil worshipper, are you worshipping?” His young voice pleaded for some kind of satanic action.
 
I responded by chanting louder and ringing our meditation bell.  (I was 15. What did you expect?)
 
Soon boredom set in and they scattered. 
 
A lot has changed since the 1980s. 
 
Information about Buddhism abounds. Meditation has been scientifically validated as an activity that reduces stress, increases a sense of focus, and improves mood. How I practice meditation has changed over the years, but its importance in my life remains the same. 
 
I teach meditation in all of my writing classes. The techniques I offer are simple, mindfulness-based meditations with no connections to any religion. They are designed to prepare writers for specific writing tasks.   

So, why do I teach my students to meditate? 
 
Mindfulness meditation helps writers in three ways. 
 
1.     Throat clearing: ‘Throat clearing’ is akin to starting a car built before 1980 on a cold morning. You have to run the engine before setting off down the road. Writing requires a similar warmup. You have to clear out the disconnected, convoluted ideas before you can get to the good stuff. Pandemic-filled newscasts make throat clearing essential. 

2. Accessing internal wisdom: When your mind is clear, you’re better able to judge what you have the emotional energy for working on. You’ll treat yourself with greater kindness and work on challenging material more effectively.  Also, your B.S. meter is more likely to go off when your work is inauthentic. Practice regularly and the real story you’d like to tell will bubble to the surface.  

3. Brain priming: When meditation is part of your regular writing practice, it can prime the brain for creativity. Over time, you’ll experience less resistance when sitting down to write and have an easier time accessing your ideas.  

There are many ways to develop a mindful writing practice.  Here are a few suggestions.
 
Before you write:

  1. Set a timer for five minutes. If that feels impossibly long, try one minute.
  2. Sit in a comfortable position. Generally, this means placing your feet securely on the floor. Rest your hands on your lap.
  3. Close your eyes or develop a soft gaze toward whatever is in front of you.
  4. Now you have some choices: 
    • You could focus on the breaths coming out of your nostrils,
    • repeat a mantra in your head like “my creativity matters,”
    • count your breaths, starting at one and ending at ten and then repeating this process, or
    • listen to a guided meditation on an app like Insight Timer.
  5. Write as you normally would.

Here’s my best meditation advice: Find a practice you love.

Ideally, this practice should align with your views and tolerance for sitting still. This month, I’ll share a few meditation techniques for various stages in the writing process. Try the ones you like and disregard the rest. There’s no need to convert to Buddhism or any other religion. I promise, no one will stand outside your door and ask if you’re worshipping the devil.

 
Have you ever been falsely accused of something?

How did you handle it?  Leave your answer in the comments. 

Finding Your “New Original:” Re-connecting with Your Manuscript in a COVID World

Finding Your “New Original:” Re-connecting with Your Manuscript in a COVID World

Last weekend my husband cut his finger while replacing the blade on his not-so-safe safety razor. By the time I reached the bathroom, the place looked like a murder scene. We wrapped the wound and hoped for the best. An hour later, it was still bleeding. Next stop: urgent care. 
 
Sitting in the urgent care parking lot was the starkest reminder I’d had that things had changed. 
 
He had to call to enter. Masks were required. His temperature was taken at the door. I was instructed to wait in the car. His wound required four stitches. Fortunately, it’s healing well. 
 
Every day, I hear people say they can’t wait until we can get back to normal. Hell, I find myself saying this. Who doesn’t want to grocery shop without fear or walk the neighborhood mask-free? 
 
What I crave is what Dr. Fauci calls “the original way.” I really like this term. “Normal” means we’re living life wrong. “Original way” suggests variations are acceptable. 
 
I also hear this on a regular basis: My project is no longer relevant. Our world has changed. Pre-COVID stories no longer matter. 
 
Not everything in life has to do with COVID19.
 
Babies are being born. Careers are beginning. People are dying of non-COVID causes. Somewhere someone is embarking on a fabulous adventure, even if that trip is simply a journey within. 
 
Your project contains a universal truth that’s still relevant. 

 

Find that universal. Stick it on a Post-It note. Read it every day. Write and revise toward that aim. Unclear on your universal?  Ask yourself the following question:  What’s the one emotion in my story everyone can relate to? Still not sure? Keep writing. 
 
Maybe you’ll find a “new original” for your project.
 
This new original won’t necessarily include COVID19 or pandemic scenes. Instead, it will retain your original narrative arc while also being sensitive to our collective experiences of fear, loss, and a search for meaning.  

If you’re looking for a way to find that new universal, consider signing up for the Thursday section of Writing Through Challenging Times. Class begins on Thursday, May 7, 2020 at 1:00 PM EDT.

 

Writing from the Bottom Rung: How to Sustain Your Creativity During a Pandemic

Writing from the Bottom Rung: How to Sustain Your Creativity During a Pandemic

This post was originally published on the Jane Friedman Blog
on Friday, April 3, 2020.

Quarantine day one. I sit at my desk and hold my pen. Nothing happens.

Quarantine day two. I stare at my computer screen and wonder what the hell is wrong. I mean, I wrote through Lyme disease, even on the days when my brain barely worked.

Quarantine day three. I scribble in my notebook. There are no words even though I feel so full of words I might explode.

Quarantine day four: I scribble and remember that time my dad said, “Don’t be so sensitive,” as if my greatest gift was really a curse. As my pen slides across the page, I realize I’m saying this very thing to myself. Don’t be so sensitive. Don’t be so sensitive even though it feels like the world is falling apart.

Maybe you’re sensitive too. Maybe all this suffering hurts deep in your marrow. Maybe the fear is like lightening coursing through your nerves. Maybe you’re expecting yourself to write as if this is not happening, somehow thinking all this free time will make you more productive.

All writing requires a certain amount of heart space. We tap into our feelings and memories so readers can inhabit our story worlds. Keeping your heart open enough to do this requires an energy reserve large enough to feel and deal with daily life.

Creative nonfiction, which often mines from our most painful experiences, requires an even bigger reserve.

Right now, our hearts are filled with COVID-19 cases and deaths, and which relative might be at risk, or which grocery store has the food I can eat—or better yet, toilet paper—or how much space is required to actually socially distance or how I will get paid or when will this end.

The bottom two rungs of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs include our physical needs for food, water, warmth and rest as well as security. The top rung—self-actualization—is where creativity happens. Many of us are just not there, yet.

So, what do you do when your creative desires don’t match your rung?

  • Focus on those bottom-rung needs. Make sure you have enough healthy food to eat. Rest more than you think you need. Turn your house into a sanctuary. Exercise outside when possible.
  • Help yourself feel safe. Stay home as much as you can. Wash your hands. Limit your news intake. Journal about your fears so they can live on the page instead of inside you. Develop a gratitude practice that helps you pay attention to what is going well.
  • Tap into your wisdom. Practice meditation. Download the Insight Timer app on your phone. Set aside some time to just breathe. If you’re looking for a guide, consider Tara Brach or sign up for Deepak Chopra’s free 21-day meditation challenge. If sitting feels impossible, try walking meditations or join that YouTube yoga class everyone’s talking about.
  • Accept what is. We are living through a pandemic. If your mind is swirling with worries, or your day is focused on getting the kids to do that one online lesson, or you’re trying to figure out how to pay your rent, you’re not wasting your creative time. You’re just living from the bottom rung. Before you can climb, you have to make sure your current rung is sturdy enough to support you.
  • Keep showing up. Sit at your desk and try to write. If your work-in-progress calls to you, say thank you. If there’s silence, thank your unconscious for reminding you to practice self-care. Have faith that your pre-COVID-19 projects are still valuable. You will return to them when the time is right.
  • Pivot. Maybe now is not the time to work on your memoir or the novel that taps into a deep emotional vein. Keep a journal. Write a blog post or essay. Try poetry or fiction. Switching genres might help you exercise the heart space that is available for creativity.

There is strength in numbers, so I’m offering a mindfulness-based writing class, Writing Through Challenging Times. It’s a class about pivoting and playing and activating our internal wisdom. We’ll commit to self-care and perform acts of kindness in their communities. Each week, we’ll sit at our desks and try. Some of us will scribble a few words. Others will jot down new ideas. A few will dive into their works in progress. Old messages will surface. Together, we’ll combat them. Success depends only on showing up. As a team, we’ll rebuild our energy reserves. In the process, creativity will happen.

What practices or methods have helped you during this challenging spring? Share with us in the comments.

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