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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

“Meditating” Your Way into Writing

In the previous post, I said that drafting and revising rely on divergent thinking and editing relies on convergent thinking. It’s a weeny bit more complex.

In Off the Page (2008 edited by Carole Burns), Richard Bausch says this about beginning a book:

“I start writing with an image or a voice, but I don’t know anything when I start. The only thing I know is that I’m starting. And learn it as I go. That’s why it’s so hard, you have to learn all over again, because each one is different. I’ve written 16 books, and I had to learn how to write each one of them. The real artistry comes with rewriting. And that’s where the real work is. But at no time is it a rational thing that I’m doing. It’s at the level of an animal smelling blood. It’s that kind of knowledge. And if it does not surprise me, I don’t trust it.

“When you’re dreaming it up for the first time, you are using the side of you that looks out your eyes when you wake up from a nightmare and for an instance don’t remember what species you are. That’s the part of you you’re dreaming it out of. Then when you’ve dreamed it up, you go through it again and again and again, using more and more the side of you that figures out how to open up the gate when you’ve got two bags of groceries in your arm and you don’t want to put them down. And that’s really all there is to it. It’s simple in the same way that virtue is simple, which means, it’s damn near impossible to do.”

I suspect you’ve known (or at least had an inkling) all along that the kind of cognitive activity you do when you’re “dreaming it up” – aka pre-drafting, drafting and doing early revisions – is a whole different animal than the kind of cognitive activity you do when you’re manipulating the dream – aka doing later revisions and editing.

The dreaming-it-up cognitive activity is not just divergent thinking, but a whole different state of consciousness: the writer’s trance, aka creative flow, flow writing, freewriting, dreamstorming, the awake dream.

Stephen King says

“Part of my function as a writer is to dream awake… If I sit down to write in the morning, in the beginning of that writing session and the ending of that session, I’m aware that I’m writing. I’m aware of my surroundings. It’s like shallow sleep on both ends, when you to bed and when you wake up. But in the middle, the world is gone and I’m able to see better.” (from Naomi Epel’s Writers Dreaming)

Some writers “dream with their eyes open” with pen in hand or fingers on keyboard. When you’re drafting and revising, you need to do that, to be in your writer’s trance and still sit up and make your hands move.

But when you’re in the pre-drafting stage, the very earliest stages of dreaming it up, I recommend you keep your butt on the meditation cushion or your back on the yoga mat most of the time.

I’ll explain why in my next post.

Until then, you can practice moving from your usual style of meditation into your form of the writer’s trance.

Practice your usual style of mediation for 5 to 10 minutes to relax and quiet your mind.

If you usually practice focused-attention meditation – where you attempt to maintain your focus on a single thing like your breath or a candle and let go of thoughts and emotions as soon as you become aware of them (more at YouTube Jeremy Sutton Single Pointed Focus) – let your focus drift to invite and entertain thoughts about your writing project.

If you usually practice open-monitoring meditation – where you observe your moment-to-moment thoughts and emotions without judgement and without attempting to focus your attention on any one particular thing (more at YouTube Jeremy Sutton Open Monitoring) – gently, occasionally bring your focus to your writing project.

Whether you start with focused-attention meditation or open-monitoring meditation, let your imagination wander. Don’t worry if you don’t see an immediate connection between your writing project and whatever memory or image comes to mind.

Set your intention to explore what you’re going to write, the characters, settings, situations, images and ideas. Trust your unconscious to deliver.

Your unconscious will wander far; that’s how it frees you from the limits of your rational mind. It may be days (or more) before your rational mind can recognize the significance of what your unconscious offers you.

More about this, too, in upcoming posts.

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8 Comments on ““Meditating” Your Way into Writing”

  1. Theresa August 21, 2017 at 7:50 am #

    …. and then I had time to read the post and realized it speaks to my question a bit. If I can find a place to do the flat-on-the-floor meditation, I’ll try it?

    (Not on the bed. Anything on the bed gets me into trouble.)


    • rosannebane August 21, 2017 at 8:18 am #

      Hi Theresa,
      You could have fun with the expression “Anything on the bed gets me into trouble” as a writing prompt… 😉
      And yes, try the flat-on-the-floor meditation (or sitting comfortably on the floor, a cushion or chair). Let me know how it goes.


  2. Theresa August 21, 2017 at 7:36 am #

    Morning Rosanne 🙂

    What meditation techniques are there to not relax but still get writing done?

    I am, again, working my way through your archives more than reading your current postings. I’ll get here, I promise.
    I know you support relaxation before writing and the other phases. Unfortunately, my body’s response to almost any type of relaxation, when it’s safe to do so, is to fall asleep.

    I can’t do anything asleep, of course. Very frustrating. I get behind on many things, I’m constantly trying to throw things together at the last minute for the class I teach on Sunday mornings, for example, instead of doing things throughout the week, as I’ve scheduled.

    Is there a good open-and-focused-but-not-relaxed meditation(s) that you’ve found?



    • rosannebane August 21, 2017 at 7:54 am #

      Hi Theresa,
      I think you might be asking how can you meditate without falling asleep… I don’t know of any form of meditation that doesn’t include an element of relaxation. Which is okay, because it’s impossible to write effectively when you’re tense/anxious (yes, you can write when you’re stressed, but you can’t write your best stuff). Feeling constantly behind is both the cause and result of anxiety.
      If you fall asleep any time you relax, you may be sleep-deprived and your solution may lie in solving that.
      Start small — maybe meditate for 5 minutes. The temptation will be to tell yourself you can’t get any benefit from meditating 5 minutes; which is your saboteur lying to you. If you find apps effective for other things, check out some of the meditation apps. Or set a timer for 5 minutes (with a pleasant sound to let you know when 5 minutes is up – not a jarring alarm) or play 5 minutes of relaxing music, and simply notice the air coming in and going out of your body. You’ll be amazed.


  3. Glynis Jolly August 12, 2017 at 5:03 pm #

    I write this on Saturday evening. There is not any point in doing this type of exercise until I have the house to myself on Monday. I think I will sit in my usual place for meditation when I do this but take your suggestion of changing modes.



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