Guest Post By: Eva Langston
Every morning, I meditate for ten to fifteen minutes before sitting down to write for a few hours. Neither of these activities is easy, and yet I think they are both good for me. And it often seems that what I learn from meditation can be applied to writing, and vice versa.
1. The Practice Is Harder Than the Theory.
I’ve read many books about how to meditate and many more about how to write. But in both cases, reading about it is not the same as actually doing it. You can gather all the sage-like advice you want, but nothing can quite prepare you for the experience of facing your wandering mind, or that hauntingly blank page.
2. Sometimes the Hardest Thing Is Getting into a Routine
It can be difficult to find ten minutes in your day to meditate, or a chunk of time in your week to write. After all, these activities aren’t essential… are they?
The first step is to realize they are essential to your own well-being. The second step is to start small. Wake up five minutes earlier and do a short meditation before breakfast. From ten to noon every Saturday, lock yourself in your room for an uninterrupted “writing date.” If possible, get your husband or roommate to meditate with you; maybe join a writing group to hold you accountable. But most importantly, create a routine you can stick to. Make it small and simple to ensure success.
3. It Can Be Scary to Be Alone with Yourself
Sometimes it’s not that we can’t find the time for meditation or writing; it’s that we avoid it for other reasons. Maybe you find it stressful to sit still, or you’re afraid of what emotions might surface when there’s nothing to distract you. Maybe you’re afraid that you’ve lost your creative spark, or that if you try to write you will fail.
These are valid fears, but don’t let them stop you. Try guided meditations to ease you into the practice. (I enjoy the Headspace app, which offers a free two-week trial.) As for writing, try writing about your fears. Or write about how you have nothing to write about. Maybe try a writing meditation! The more you practice, the less scary it will become.
4. There Are a Million Different Methods, but No “Right” Way.
I’ve read that I should keep my eyes open when I meditate; I’ve also read to keep them closed. I should imagine my breath as a snake, or a wave, or a ray of light. I should lie down, I should sit in lotus position, I should sit in a chair with my feet on the floor. I should meditate with sacred ash on my third eye. I should do alternate-nostril breathing.
There are all sorts of rules for writing, too. Your story should have a three-act structure. But it should also be “character-driven.” You should create an outline first. But you should leave room for your characters to surprise you. Your ending should be, somehow, both inevitable and unexpected. It’s enough to make you quit before you’ve even begun.
But these are all merely suggestions. And they can be extremely helpful, as long as you don’t let the advice overwhelm you. Just remember: there are many different paths to the same goal.
There is no “right” way to meditate or to write. The only right way is the way that works best for you. When you are first starting out, try different methods. Experiment with the way you meditate and the way you write. Figure out what you like best. Don’t worry that you’re doing it wrong. You’re not.
5. Learn to Let Go of Judgment and Outcome
Finally, you have found the time and courage to meditate. You close your eyes and focus on the breath. Thoughts come. You notice them — you try not to judge them (it’s hard). You try to let them go (that’s hard, too). And you wonder, when is something going to happen – some amazing benefit or epiphany? Why are you doing this anyway?
It’s the same when you sit down to write. You try not to judge the sentences you type. You try to keep writing. But you wonder if what you’ve written is any good. You wonder, will anything ever happen with your writing — publication, money, respect? Are you wasting your time?
Here’s the thing: even though you are on a path, try to let go of the idea that it will lead somewhere. I know how hard this is. You want to know that one day your book will be published, or that one day meditation will lead to a less stressful, more enlightened life. But that’s the future. You can’t predict the future, so best not to waste energy trying.
Don’t get hung up on where you want to go and neglect where you are now. Do it for the experience you have in the moment. It’s not always fun or interesting or easy. But it’s an opportunity to go inside yourself and see what’s there. That’s what makes it important –essential, even.
6. The More You Do It, the Easier It Gets
When I first started meditating, ten minutes seemed like an eternity. I was simultaneously bored and frustrated. But now, my ten minutes of meditation don’t seem like quite enough. My husband and I have started meditating for twenty to thirty minutes on the weekends. It’s still not easy, but it’s easier than it used to be.
When I first tried writing novels, it seemed a near-impossible task. But finally I pushed through the muddy middle and finished one. It was pretty terrible, but I proved to myself that I could write an entire novel, from start to finish. Then I knew I could do it again – hopefully a little better each time.
Practice will never make perfect because there’s no such thing as perfect meditation or a perfectly-written book. But in time, it will get easier; that I can guarantee.
7. Find a Balance Between Effort and Ease, Between Work and Play
There are mornings when writing feels more like a chore than a fun, creative venture. I have to remind myself that telling stories and playing with language are supposed to be fun! And not every day needs to be so obviously productive. If I am trying, I am improving, and that’s an accomplishment. It’s good to work hard and push yourself, but sometimes taking away the pressure provides the room you need to grow and explore.
And there are also mornings when I don’t feel like meditating. I have to remind myself that it’s a luxury to sit and do nothing for a few minutes. It can be pleasant, if you let it, to pause and feel the breath moving through your lungs. Sometimes, when I stop trying so hard, when I lower my expectations a little, the practice becomes more fun, more fruitful. I remember that I’m lucky to have a body, to have a mind, to have this moment in the here and now.
So face the challenges of writing and meditation with curiosity and compassion. Notice the beauty of your wild mind, and the opportunity in a fresh, white page. And let what you learn from one help you with the other.
About the Author
Eva Langston is a writer and yoga-enthusiast. She received her MFA from the University of New Orleans, and her fiction has been published in many literary magazines. She is the Features Editor for Compose Journal and a regular contributor to Burlesque Press’s Variety Show. A former math teacher for students with learning disabilities, she now tutors middle school and teaches adults how to write YA and Middle-Grade fiction. Follow her on twitter at @eva_langston or check out her blog: inthegardenofeva.com.