Writing as Meditation
There are two situations where, when I answer the phone, people inevitably ask if I've been sleeping. The first is when I've just been meditating. The second is when I've just been writing. I'm convinced that it's no coincidence.
One of the things I enjoy about writing is that it takes me out of myself. Many people imagine creative writing as being a highly conscious process, where the writer is sitting there trying to think things up. And, sure, there are moments when I'm trying to think of what a place would look like, what words would best describe something, or what a character would do next. But most of the time I'm just in the flow, the words coming out from wherever they come without conscious effort.
(And, often, when I get stuck trying to figure what a place would look like, the words to best describe something, or what a character should do next, they suddenly arise out of my unconscious when I'm not even thinking about writing—which is why it's always good have a notebook at hand).
When I am engaged in writing, there is no ego involved. (The moment I start worrying about what someone else might think of what I'm writing, I can't do anything.) And that is also the purpose of meditation, to free oneself from the ego. Where the mind goes when we meditate or write is anybody's guess, but it goes somewhere—hence the confusion of folks on the phone, who guess that I've just gotten back from dreamland. But neither meditating nor writing leads to dreamland; it takes me to a calmer place, a place that feels blank, but is, in fact, the threshold of something bigger than myself, a place from which I get intangible but important things: peace, insight, images, creative ideas.
Call it the unconscious, called it God, call it Nirvana—or don't call it anything; but it's real. When I meditate successfully and when I write successfully, I, too, feel as if I've been somewhere else. And it's a wonderful place, and I want to visit it more often.
Someone once said that writing successfully is about getting out of your own way. I couldn't agree more. To be a better writer, I have to learn to ignore the inner critic, to let go of trying too hard, to practice getting myself to the threshold of that place where good ideas, powerful images, and insight into characters comes from.
One of the best ways to practice getting there is to just start writing—quickly, almost automatically, just putting down whatever flows out of your pen. Much if it will be muck, of course, but often, sticking out of that muck, will be thoughts, images, and ideas worthy of further investigation. I've worked this way when writing background bios for characters in novels, and it's amazing what can emerge that helps me understand the character better. If you want to learn more about this approach to writing, check out the classic Writing Without Teachers by Peter Elbow.
I believe that the more often you can manage to get outside of yourself while you write, the more often you'll enjoy it and the more often something will emerge that you, and others, will enjoy.
2/11/2021 10:07:16 am
Thank you, Kaleb! I'm glad it spoke to you.
10/30/2022 03:57:30 am
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Lawrence Kessenich has written in virtually every genre, was a professional editor at Houghton Mifflin in Boston for 10 years, and