Meditation & Revision
Coming off a weekend of teaching at Interlochen Center for the Arts, where 8 participants and I dove into Deep Revision concepts for prose writers, I’m struck once again by how many writers also identify as meditators.
One thing I like to emphasize when I teach revision is that writing is a physical act. If we want our stories and memoirs to speak to the universal, at some point we’ve got to be able to look outside the bounds of our own experience and research, even beyond the current limits of our imaginations, and start thinking outside the box.
One way to make that happen is to get up out of the chair. Go on a walk, a run, a bike ride. Pace the room. Talk to ourselves–Yes, of course writers talk to themselves! We must!–sing to ourselves; you name it. Physically, we can move our bodies and change up the space and views we’re familiar with for our early drafts, working with new movement and spaces to jump-start revision. But metaphorically speaking, we can also work with the internal landscapes of our own minds.
Here’s where meditation comes in, along with one of my favorite topics, mindful flow. Working with the mind is helpful to writers because, before words, the landscape of our mind is actually the medium we compose in. Something starts–a jolt through the body, an image in the mind’s eye, a sense memory triggered–and that initial impulse gradually takes hold, inviting us to start translating whatever we’re feeling into narrative on the page. Sometimes it comes out quite literally–perhaps as freewriting or journaling or even talking into a dicatphone. Other times, it comes out in imaginative fiction that seems eons apart from anything we’ve personally experienced (war, for example). But in either case, it begins in the mind; or the heart-mind, perhaps, which again brings me back to meditation.
If we learn to meditate, these skills are immediately transferable into our lives as imaginative, creative thinkers. Working with our minds, the sky’s the limit. And while I’m rarely thinking about “what I’m going to do about that problem in chapter 8” during my medititation sessions, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the skills I’ve developed in focusing on the breath (touching in with my body and mind through the space of my cells, my lungs, my movement, the room, society, the continent, the globe…) are the same skills that come in handy when I’m trying to revise.
Revision is about looking close; looking closer. It’s about that space in between the in breath and the out breath–a space often overlooked; in fact, one might even say it’s about the space between the sentences we’ve drafted so far. If we look closely, mindfully, what do we find there? What stories within our stories are waiting to come out? How does what rises up speak more keenly to the human experience than, say, our earlier drafts?
This kind of discovery can be a delightful process. As this Putting it Into Practice blog continues to evolve (11 years, and counting!), it’s also something I’ll be blogging a lot more about in the months to come. Stay tuned!