The Mindful Practice of Morning Pages.

mindfulness

Image found here.

There are many reasons to write Morning Pages.

Lately, I find that they are a great tool for practicing mindfulness. My focus is not as laser sharp as I want it to be these days, to say the least. Pretty sure I’ve rewired my brain to look for the next shiny thing on Twitter or Facebook which is not the best result for a writer.

In meditation, my mind wanders over and over again. The practice is noticing when that happens and coming back to my breath or body or mantra or sounds. Writing morning pages I feel the impulse to lift my pen over and over again before I get to the end of my three, handwritten pages. When I lift my pen, my mind drifts. When my mind drifts it is oh so easy and tempting to reach for my phone or click on a tab on my laptop.

When I feel that impulse I just keep the pen moving In fact, I actually write, “just keep writing.” I feel the ink flowing across the surface. I hear the sound of the pen scratching against the paper. I see the trail of pink left behind. At this point, the words don’t even matter.

What matters is staying present.

What matters is not letting my hand lift, not letting my mind wander. Not checking my phone.

What matters is rewiring my brain to stay on the page, to stay in the moment.

As with meditation, keeping my hand moving, connecting to all the senses as I write leads me gently into that “serene encounter with reality.”

Advertisements

The Deep Dive Into the Unknown.

underwater

Image found via Pinterest.

I’ve never been deep-sea diving but I imagine writing to be similar—only without the apparatus to help me breath.

Each day I show up to the page, not knowing what I will find, not knowing what I will write, not knowing where I will end up but I take a deep breath and dive in anyway.

I dive beneath the surface of my mind, swimming toward the dark murky shadows, pushing myself further and further out until I’ve lost all sense of direction. Not only do my feet not reach the bottom, but there is a whole other world beneath me now. Which way do I turn? Which way is up?

I remember snowmobiling on frozen lakes as a kid, the shore swallowed up beneath the snow, all landmarks gone no sense of where to turn next.

Writing so often feels like that.

I think I am too hard on myself  when I still find it hard to get to the page. When I don’t write as many words as I think I should. When I get stuck on a scene.

Writing is hard. The getting lost. The not knowing. The getting even more lost. Followed by even more not knowing.

I only do it because I can’t imagine not doing it.

Nobody is waiting for my words. Not an agent. Not an editor. Not a publisher. Not a reader. Yet I still show up, day after day, willing to take a deep breath and plunge back into the inky depths of the unknown.

Writing in the Age of Distraction.

Distraction

Image found via Pinterest.

It used to be so easy to sink into my writing. Even though I had two small children, once I dropped my youngest off at pre-school, I’d slip into the nearest Starbucks, order my chai and a pumpkin scone and hunker down at a table for the next two hours.

The writing itself wasn’t easy, but the ability to focus and disappear into my writing was.

See, this was almost twenty years ago. Before cell phones and the internet and Twitter and Facebook. Back then the only thing standing between me and my writing was me, not the entire world in the palm of my hand.

Sure, I’d get distracted by looking out the window or watching people but those activities kept me in that dreamy receptive state necessary to write. Checking my phone rips a hole in that state, tearing it to shreds as I allow the noise of the world in, drowning out my voice, the voice of my story and characters.

The Freedom app helps. As soon as I set a session, turning off access to the internet on all of my devices, I immediately feel a little more present. My breath has some ease, my mind and heart unclench and I am able to turn my attention to the page for a certain amount of time. When I get to a scene where I don’t know what happens, instead of reaching for my phone, I gaze out the window and dream.

And dreaming is where the stories exist.

Dancing with the Blahs.

IMG_5969.JPG

I woke up feeling meh this morning.

Nothing tragic. Nothing terrible. Just meh. Blah.

Now, much of the time I give in to that feeling. Give in to the physical, mental, emotional and energetic inertia by hunkering down on the couch with Netflix and my phone and hours later, (surprise surprise!) I feel ten times worse.

I want to be clear. This is not depression. This is just a normal ebb and flow of energy, of emotions. Today, instead of giving in to it I chose to dance with it.

I got on my mat and did a gentle practice just moving in a way that felt good, not to achieve anything other than being present in my body.

Then I meditated for 15 minutes.

IMG_5941.jpg

Then I took my dog over to the park where we walked around the lake for an hour, more moving of the body and connecting with this beautiful world that often doesn’t feel beautiful when I view it from the incredibly myopic view from my phone.

Then I brought myself here to the bookstore, one of my happy places where I can browse and write and dream and be out in the world without really having to talk to anyone.

After all that I am feeling much less meh. Much less blah.

I am feeling content.

The Practice of Practice.

practice

Image found via Pinterest.

Practice. It’s a word I used to hate. I didn’t want to have to practice an instrument or a sport. I just wanted to do things when I wanted to do them. And do them well.

Then I came across “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg where she introduced me to the concept of writing practice. Practice? I never considered needing to practice writing. You either wrote or you didn’t. It wasn’t like needing to practice the piano by doing scales everyday.

Except that it is exactly like that. Writers need to practice their craft just like a musician or athlete does. It keeps our fingers, heart and mind limber. Practice keeps the words flowing because there is no pressure to produce the perfect sentence or paragraph or scene. Writer’s block occurs when we think the writing needs to come out perfect. But practice implies, even relies on the concept of imperfection. Because we are practicing we are already admitting that we don’t know how to do something as well as we’d like to. Thus, we practice.

Once I committed to a yoga and meditation practice, the word took on another layer of meaning. In this context, practice implies a certain sacred intention. There is still the freedom to show up without needing to be perfect, but there is also this sense of a ritual that nourishes my soul. It carries an intention to stay present.

These days, my writing practice combines both. I show up to the page each day, free to write the worst crap in the world because it’s just practice, but I also come to the page with a deep reverence for this practice that connects me to my light and dark, my body and mind, my heart and soul. It connects me to this moment.

These days, my art is my practice and my practice is my art.

Writing for my Ideal reader.

emerson

Image found via Pinterest.

I didn’t set out to write for anybody in particular. I just wrote what I wanted, how I wanted. I wrote things that I’d want to read myself.

These days I find myself writing with two particular people in mind. They probably don’t even realize it.

For my fiction, I write for a woman who has laughed and cried when she’s read my stories. She discovers layers that I am even aware of writing. I try to write up to the level of how she reads my work.

For my blog, there is another woman that the words really seem to resonate with and so she has become my ideal reader for this space.

It’s not that I try to guess what and how they want me to write. It’s just nice to visualize somebody on the other end of my words, receiving them, being moved by them, nourished by them.

I don’t need to have thousands of views, shares or likes. If just one person is moved by what I was going to write anyway because I needed to write it, then that feels like success to me.

Tracking Fear.

Be Brave

Image found via Pinterest.

When I was little, my fears were tangible things: tornados, house fire, being kidnapped, snakes. These things never happened but I was aware of them and knew that they frightened me.

As an adult, fear is a much more nebulous thing. Sure, I still have concrete fears but it’s the subconscious fears that trip me up. If you’ve ever taken any kind of therapy, read any self-help or spiritual book, you’ve probably heard that most of our challenges come from fear. Most negative emotions can be traced back to fear. Angry? Dig deeper to find what you’re afraid of and using anger to mask. Procrastinating? Pause and try to unearth what fear lies beneath the procrastination.

Our human brains are wired for fear. Our survival depends on it. Fear alerts us to the danger around us, triggering our fight or flight response. These days our fight or flight can be triggered due to the content state of stress we are under.

This is where yoga and writing come in for me. They allow me to track fear. They keep me grounded in the present where everything is okay. Yoga allows me to stay present to exactly what is happening in my body and in my mind. Writing allows me to stay present to what I’m really thinking and feeling beneath the surface.

Both yoga and writing do not permit me to hide. They require me to dive deep and that is where I discover the fear that is holding me back. Once I am aware of it, I can release it.

Once that happens my life expands. And I expand to fill it.

The Company of other Writers.

Write Smart, Write Happy

Today, I find myself sitting at the bookstore cafe with a grande soy chai, notebook and laptop open. Not an unusual scenario.

What is unusual, these days, is for me to be drawn to a book on writing. A book that promises to help me “become a more productive, resilient, and successful writer.”

Now, I used to devour these books daily when I first knew I wanted to write. It was how I taught myself to write. I read books on writing fiction, writing essays, writing from prompts, writing practice, the writing life, writing goals. You name it, I bought it and read it. What I didn’t do was write very much.

Oh, I’d write Morning Pages and I filled notebooks with writing practice gleaned from Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones.” I loved how she made writing so much more accessible by declaring that just as an athlete practiced drills or a pianist practiced scales, a writer also needed to practice. It bought writing back from that lofty pedestal I had placed it on. It took the fear out of it by calling it practice.

I hunkered down into my writing practice for years, filling notebook upon notebook. The problem was, I got stuck in practicing. Don’t get me wrong. It served me well. I learned to put pen to page and write under pretty much any circumstance. I learned how to make space and time for writing in the life I was currently living ( a stay-at-home mom with young children) instead of waiting for the perfect time. I learned to write past my censor.

But I didn’t use what I had learned to actually get in the game of writing. When I finally began writing stories, taking classes and workshops, that’s where the bulk of my learning took place. Writing and finishing stories taught me how to write.

I’ve written dozens of short stories, some published, some not. I have a completed novel-in-stories (looking for an agent). I am well into my second novel, about 6o,000 words into the first book of a YA fantasy trilogy and am beginning to gather notes for a memoir on writing and yoga.

So, with all that writing under my belt, why  do I find myself drawn to this particular book today?

Because it’s a process.

Because I am always a student.

Because I am not afraid to be a beginner.

Because of course I want to be a more productive, resilient and successful writer.

Because now I know that I can read a book like this but, more importantly, I know I have to follow through with action: writing, querying, submitting, reading, setting goals and meeting those goals.

I know there are no quick fixes or shortcuts to being a writer.

I know that merely reading about becoming a successful writer is not enough but I am humble enough to be open to advice from others along the path.

I know that I am willing to put in the hard work necessary. And these kinds of books feel like my own personal cheerleading squad, telling me I can do it. Telling me that I am not alone.

Telling me that it’s okay, that we can walk this path together.

I am grateful for their company.

My Love Affair with Writing Prompts.

prompts

I love writing prompts.

I taught myself how to write using them. It started with prompts from Tristine Rainier’s book,”The New Diary” then I found Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones” and began filling notebook after notebook with writing practice.

I knew I had to write and not just read about how to write to, you know, actually be a writer. Prompts got me writing. They bypassed the the censor and let me just get directly to the writing. I didn’t have to think up what to write about.

Prompts are a springboard that let me dive into the deep end instead of lingering at the edge, dipping my toe in as I try to decide what exactly to write every single time I sit down to the blank page.

When I began writing fiction, I still used prompts only I wrote them from the POV of my characters. Sometimes nothing came of them except that I got words on a page (always a good thing). But often some new, crucial information was revealed about the character or plot. Those days felt magical.

This story published on literary mama.com began as an exercise in a class from a prompt using a photograph of a chair by the side of a house.

My finished novel-in-stories began as prompt from this black and white photo by Mary Ellen Mark:

mary-ellen-mark

Image found via NPR.

 

It’s not that I imagine the characters look like the girls in this photo. The energy between them, the juxtaposition of tween girls in a kiddie pool and the cigarette just intrigued me and led me to explore (for years) that energy that first sparked something in me.

While photographs work really for me (I keep a board on Pinterest) I’m also drawn to other types of prompts as well. Contributions to Post Secret can provide rich material. And I have written through every prompt in Judy Reeves’ “Writer’s book of Days” several times. I once wrote a short story based on something I overheard a man say on a cell phone while at the airport.

Prompts allow me to get back to that playfulness of writing that I had when I first started out. They allow me to get out of my head and into my subconscious where all the juicy things wait.

But mostly they just get me writing no matter what my mood or energy or anxieties. For that reason, prompts are priceless.

Why is my Writing a Gift to the World?

Sark writing

Knowing that I was not “the only one having human experiences” is what made me fall in love with reading. Later, it’s what made me fall in love with writing.

Why I write, tends to evolve. But at the core, the reason why I write is because I find forgiveness, courage, realizations and remembering. I hope that my writing offers that to those who read it as well.

Each time I put my pen to paper or fingers to the keyboard, whether I am working on fiction or a post for this blog, I never quite know what will come out. I don’t know what I will discover, realize, remember. And that is what makes it so exciting.

Not knowing used to scare me. It used to keep me from showing up to the page. I’d think,”Shit, I just wrote my character into a corner and I have zero idea of what happens next.”

Now, I find myself curious. And that curiosity gets me to the page.

While I hope my words my words resonate with others, that they help them find a way into forgiveness or courage, realizations or remembering, the real gift of my writing is that it allows me to show up in the world authentic and beautifully flawed. My writing keeps me tethered to all aspects of myself—the parts I love and the parts that shame me. Writing gives me no place to hide and as I learn to have compassion for all those parts, that compassion spills out into the world.

May that be my gift to the world.