Friday, March 30, 2012

Meditation and Writing

One of the hardest things for a writer is to get into the "writing zone" when you first sit down. In fact, the idea of writing can be like a wall, one that's too high and too hard to climb. There are various techniques to help you overcome this: leaving the previous day's writing with a sentence unfinished; making notes as you finish the day before to remind you what comes next; creating an outline that will lead you into the next bit; re-reading the last chapter to get back into the world of the story.

When I was at Hamline in January, one of my workshop leaders, Marilyn Nelson, suggested we start each workshop with a 5 minute meditation. I've been meditating on and off (more off than on, I admit!) for many years, and it suddenly hit me - why hadn't I been using this as a way into the writing zone? It may sound strange to do something that is supposed to empty your mind at a time when you want to fill it with your novel or work-in-progress, but it's actually more about emptying your mind of all the day-to-day trivia, and letting the writing take over.

Also there are many different ways to meditate. You may need to relax and drop the daily trivia, you may need to overcome fear and/or writer's block, you may want to do some focused daydreaming about your writing. Meditation actually needs a bit of practice. The more you do it, the better you get, like most things. You can start with relaxation and move onto to something that leads you into writing.

There are plenty of aids, as well. Guided meditations (someone talking you through it) are popular, although I find someone else's voice distracting. There's a heap of music tracks, as well as sound effects such as waves, birdsong, etc. Meditation Australia has lots of free stuff but you can also join up and get access to more. A friend of mine recommends Glenn Harrold - most of his CDs and DVDs cost money but he also has apps for iPhones and Android, so you can take it with you as an mp3.

All you need to do is Google for free meditation music (or something similar) and have a look at what is available. Try some out, and when you find a resource that you like, keep at it. It might be the very thing you need to glide into writing every day.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Art of Concentration

Concentration is a big thing for writers - if you can't concentrate on your novel (or whatever you're writing), you either can't write at all or what you write feels slight or forced. There are two types of concentration, as well - one is the total focus on the characters and storyline as you write, and the other is the general thinking/dreaming/imagining you do every day to develop the story and characters and "nut out" what it's all about and where it's going.

Often we think of concentrating on our writing as just the first option - I must find time to write, I must sit down and totally focus, I must write 1000 words, etc. It's a little different for everyone. Some full-time writers spend all day writing, and I always think that inside that day must come both the physical writing and the imagining and dreaming. But for most of us, we have a limited time, maybe an hour or three, and what we struggle with is concentrating 100% for that span.

Some days it will be no problem at all, and the hours will fly. But on many days, it will be a struggle. If we haven't written for a while, we have to read and think our way back into the story. Then we have to have a sense of what might come next (or if we have an outline, we know but still need to make it happen). And then we have to write. If you've ever spent two hours trying to squeeze out one page, you'll know that feeling of frustration and despair.

For me, half-hour bursts work best. Knowing I have 30 minutes, I am able to focus totally and get a lot done. Then in a short break, I can stretch, make coffee, and return for the next 30 minutes ready to go. Part of it is, I think, a mental attitude and you can train yourself into working this way in a very short time.

But the other kind of concentration is harder. This is where I do envy full-time writers, not for the amount of physical writing time, but for the dreaming and imagining. It's as if a part of your brain is always focused on your novel, and as you get more and more ideas and learn more about your characters, you can create a denser, deeper, more intense story. Without the daily grind of a job, your brain is free to concentrate in a different way.

I know some part-time writers who are able to work this way, regardless of their day job. They are so fully immersed in their stories and characters that the outside world always takes second place! But for most of us, we have to juggle the two kinds of writer's concentration and still endeavour to make our novels emerge the way we envisage them.
How do you balance concentration and the outside world?