Writing for me is a practice. I mean practice in the same way people use the word when talking about meditation. It hasn’t always been this for me. Originally, I wrote for fun, because I couldn’t help myself. Telling stories to and for myself was my passion.
And it still is.
Writing for yourself is the purest form of writing, because nothing is at stake. If you are writing for your own pleasure, what could it matter if the story is good or not? If it is shared with others or not? This act of creation is about enjoyment—nothing more. It is, at its very best, a form of play.
I love nothing more than for my writing to feel like play. But children grow up. I began studying writing craft in high school and finished formally studying craft when I received my MFA in Creative Writing—a writer never finishes evolving her study and knowledge of craft. Along the way, I lived a lot. All that life matured me intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, and broadened my base of experience, all of which help with writing. During those years of study, I practiced writing, often every day. Now, I mean practice not as in meditation, but as in an instrument or a sport. One must put what is learned to use over and over again in order to develop skills.
With my formal study complete, my writing life ebbed and flowed with the rest of my life. Its primacy not as constant as I would have liked. And therefore my progress not as monumental as I would have expected given my lifelong passion for writing. What’s a writer to do?
Seek and try.
I changed my writing time and my writing space. I focused on daily word counts and minimum hours. I used the stick and the carrot. I bought gold stars and a special calendar to motivate myself, because I read it worked for somebody somewhere. (Actually, I think it worked for a couple. They probably had fun comparing his calendar pages full of stars to hers, factoring in some competitive drive.) I tracked projects on apps that let me break down every stage of the process. I found writing accountability partners, joined a mastermind group, and had weekly meetings to help me write more, faster, better. At the end of the day (years), some things helped for a time and other things didn’t. Nothing was a magic pill, a permanent fix. My passion for story never flagged, but everything else rose and fell and rose again.
A little side note: for years I have had a meditation practice. And a hatha yoga practice. Neither perfect, but in recent times I’d been working on the meditation practice with serious dedication. Not long ago, I had logged over 500 sequential days of roll out of bed, light some incense, and hit the cushion. And then something strange happened…
Just as I was becoming frustrated with my lack of enlightenment (I mean, anything resembling progress) after a respectable stretch such as that on top of years of yoga study, I was gaining momentum on a new novel project. And I was enjoying it! Then I went to see somebody about some spiritual guidance. I hadn’t planned to talk about writing. I had planned to complain (ask) about my meditation practice. But the Guides brought up my writing before I’d even settled into my chair. (All right then.) And when I got around to complaining about my meditation difficulty, they asked what my problem was—why did I think I had no practice of worth, no progress of note, no intuitive connection to myself or my Self or a consciousness bigger than myself? My writing, they informed me, is my spiritual practice.
Did you hear that door opening? The door of realization? The door of freedom?
All that trying. All that doing. All that discipline and counting and tracking words and hours and oh my, what a good girl was I! Where did it get me? Well, it eventually got me to that chair where someone took the trouble to tell me I could stop trying so hard. I could enjoy what I was doing again. I could return to writing for myself. For pleasure.
Is my current writing exactly like when I was a kid, telling stories to myself? How can it be? I’ve learned so much in the years between. I am a much more sophisticated storyteller. I am interested in sharing my work. And yet, it is. Because I am not focussed on anything more than allowing this one particular story to flow into the world.
Of course, my new writing practice is not meditation, and I can imagine hardcore meditators the world over scoffing at me. But I am solid in calling writing my new (and old, though I wasn’t aware of it) meditation/spiritual practice.
We writers are all familiar with the notion of the muse, entering a flow state, letting the story take over, being surprised by characters, etc. However you want to describe it, it’s about letting go of control and letting the story come into existence. My practice: I get out of bed every morning, make my coffee, and sit down to write longhand, a notebook on my lap. The world is quiet. My mind is not yet distracted by the needs of the day. And my story comes. It feels like it comes not to me, but through me.
Some people believe every story exists fully formed somewhere in the ether—another dimension, universal consciousness, your higher Self, or your personal future where the book is already complete. However spiritual or quantum you do or do not want to get about it, it doesn’t matter. Frame it how you like. The point is that, as in meditation, it is best to let go of your ego mind, the part that is concerned with emails and to do lists. Open up the creative mind, the subconscious realm that dreams and builds and connects while you busily think your way through your busy life.
Get out of your own way.
The difference between my current writing (meditation/spiritual) practice and the many ways I have practiced writing over the years is that I am now letting the story flow through me; I was then trying to get the story on the page. And the connection between my current writing (meditation/spiritual) practice and my original writing play is that I am now letting the story flow through me; I was then letting the story flow through me. There is beauty in the way children play. There is beauty in getting out of your own way, whether on a meditation cushion (or rock) or sitting down with your notebook and pencil. I am not cranking out best sellers, but I am finding a deep pleasure and satisfaction in my writing practice and progress. In fact, I noticed recently that I have stopped saying, “I need to write in the morning,” and instead say, “I want to have time with Evelyn” (my main character).
A creative life well-lived matters, and I believe the key lies in transforming writing time into writing practice.
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