some informal thoughts on meditation and writing workshop

Over the last six months I feel I am finally back on a consistent writing and reading schedule. Finally taking the time to free write chapters and ideas for short pieces I’ve been carrying around in my head. This working–this practice of writing–has also come to include meditation and free writing. And it’s all because of a workshop I attended while on sabbatical.

This past June I attended a workshop and meditation seminar I’ve been wanting to get to for some time. Natalie Goldberg’s New Mexico retreat and workshop was called Sit, Walk, Write. The focus of the workshop being meditation and writing practice–the practice of sitting and engaging with my notebook.

Where can I begin with how much wisdom and inspiration I brought home. I guess the main lesson from the books–Writing Down the Bones and The True Secret of Writing–is that of equanimity. The workshop focused on writer and artist stability through guided and unguided meditation. We also practiced walking meditation which is a practice I’ve enjoyed since being introduced years ago at a Buddhist seminar. Mostly we worked individually and in small groups writing to different selected prompts and then reading the work aloud.

I’ve been back from the workshop for months now and I still think of the lessons. As a writer who studied in an MFA program I am usually prone to hating prompts or exercise like this–I’m supposed to be beyond it. But the practice–approaching the work as practice–has become so vital and necessary to my creativity. And I’ve blogged here about the importance of free writing and I’ve emphasized with my students the importance of notes and iterations of work. But recently I’ve felt re-invigorated. And I’ve even brought together small groups of friends to sit and meditate and practice. The simple exercise of bringing together focused breathing exercises to calm the mind prior to a deep dive into my notebook has been so productive for me.

One thing we also discussed at the workshop and something I’ve been wrestling with after MFA grad school was how to continue exercises in creativity. We discussed how to discipline one’s self to produce but also to care for one’s self. Natalie Goldberg emphasized taking care outside of and beyond school. To put one’s mental heath before productivity and she stresses the idea of patience and practice. Practice makes practice she would say. She emphasized getting away from computers and the internet and rely on the mind and the notebook to get down thoughts, sitting and spending time with one’s thoughts and notes.

What I perhaps was most impressed with was the message from Goldberg beyond writing. She asserts this practice of meditation and understanding one’s mind goes beyond writing but to broader mental health and mental consistency. Sitting and writing to understand one’s mind is the more meaningful way to develop as a person and not just as a writer.

carlos montoya novel excerpt at the write launch

fullsizeoutput_13dExcited to have a novel excerpt up at @thewritelaunch from a manuscript in progress I am calling carlos montoya–a novel 

hating writing

In the article “10 Famous Writers Who Hated Writing” from The Huffington Post, Bill Cotter discusses his “dark feelings” regarding what he labels as “the commission of the act of writing.” He lists quotes from famous authors revealing their angst on the very act of writing and he also discusses the problem of his own inarticulateness. And I must agree when Cotter jokes he would rather go to the emergency room rather than have a writing commitment.

And the more I teach the more I empathize with my first year students and concerns over writing and composing essays. I often say their concerns as writers are very similar to my own. Even in creative writing, my chosen field of study, I feel students have a point when they complain over drafting basic components of a short story assignment. I am just as susceptible to internet distractions and slothful tendencies. And I often dread approaching the work of revision.

Currently, I have a novel I’ve been wrestling with. I also have a novel I’ve been chipping away at for years. And perhaps the more you know about writing the more you are jammed up. The more I teach and learn the more I am self-critical and also I over-think the simplest of revision exercises. And maybe I am just reaching the age of worry over my talent if I have any and the limitations of talent. Perhaps subconsciously I worry about not fully developing as a writer. More and more I have broad stories with broad notes–more free writing really. And I struggle just to get my broadest thoughts down on the page regarding scenes or characters. Sometimes I just type where I want a character to go or what I want them to do and I have no way to get them there. I often say that writers suffer more from inarticulateness than most others. Lately I’ve been joking I would rather work with dogs or own a bed and breakfast than sit and work. I’d rather sit and watch MST3K.

This all reminds me of a George Orwell quote:

“All writers are vain, selfish and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives lies a mystery. Writing a book is a long, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”–George Orwell

Perhaps the difficulty of writing–the illness in composing and revising–is what makes it great. PS: It took me hours to write this.