WRITER’S BLOCK IS A condition that can become a frustrating obstacle for anyone who attempts to write. In fact, many writers have been known to abandon their craft for years, or even put an end to their careers altogether.
We can’t all be like writers such as Anthony Trollope of the Victorian era, who awoke every morning at 5.30 and stuck to the rigorous regime of writing 250 words every 15 minutes. And if he finished his novel before 8.30am, he’d start writing another one. He ended up having 49 novels published in 35 years.
The rest of us require a little more effort and motivation before we become such word-churning machines. But writer’s block is mainly down to a state of mind. If we can clear the mind to an empty canvas and give ourselves writer’s blank instead of block, we open up space for our ideas to thrive.
Meditation is an ancient technique that’s rooted in the East and has taken the Western world by storm since the 19th century. The aim of meditative practice is to create stillness in the mind and it has been scientifically proven to sharpen concentration and even slow down the ageing process, lower blood pressure and boost the immune system.
Many psychiatrists even use written meditation with their patients as a form of diagnosis, therefore writing itself can be viewed as a meditation.
Susan Smalley, Ph.D, a doctor of Psychiatry, commented on the therapeutic side to writing:
‘…in the process of writing, the thoughts or emotions are somewhat ‘distanced’ from the “I” experiencing them. There arises a tiny ‘space’ between the ‘I’ and the experience so that we can explore, study, evaluate the experience and its effects more objectively.”
I have been practicing meditation for about five years and as a writer, I find that slowing down the traffic of my thoughts substantially enhances the amount I’m able to write, the quality of my writing and the smooth-flowing of ideas. In fact, the less I think, the more I’m able to write.
Daniel Goleman, established Author, Psychologist and Science Journalist, said he started meditating in his college days to help him cope with anxiety. Gradually, his daily routine became to have breakfast, meditate and then write, which he claimed would produce the best of his work.
Yoga on the Page
I recently attended the ‘Yoga on the Page: Journaling, Yoga & Meditation’ workshop at the renowned Triyoga Centre in London.
The class was held by Nadia Narain (an experienced Yoga Instructor) and Beverly Frydman (who has an M.A. in Creative Writing and Personal Development and is one of three instructors in the UK certified to teach the Journal To The Self Workshop)
Yoga works hand in hand with meditation and uses bodily poses and stretches to achieve the same goal. The class switched between Narain’s yoga instruction and Frydman’s writing guidance.
Narain taught us basic yoga postures, the names of which have been translated from the original Indian language of Sanskrit and make references to animals and objects that reflect the shape of the body whilst in the pose.
The Downward-Facing Dog position is meant to calm the brain, reduce stress and mild depression and relieve headaches. The class also followed instructions for the One-Legged King Pigeon Pose, which stretches various parts of the body and also stimulates the abdominal organs, which help the brain to relax.
After the initial yoga session, she encouraged the class to relax and take three deep breaths and then write freely and openly, without thought or judgement. She described the flow in yoga as being the same as the flow that should be found in writing.
Her main advice was to write without stopping, even if you end up repeatedly writing ‘I hate this; I don’t know what to write’ all the way down the page. This acts as a release and the first step in letting go of inhibitions and creating room for ideas.
Frydman explained how Sigmund Freud, the founding father of Psychology, advocated the need to write from our stream of consciousness. Freud wrote in the book ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’, that in order to promote creativity, you ‘‘write down, without any falsification or hypocrisy, everything that comes into your head”. (Jones p.219).
Frydman pointed out that children do not worry about their writing or paintings being good or bad, which is why they are able to create without mental constraints. She says on her website, “As adults we can forget how much having a space to play can be life enhancing, healthy and just plain fun.”
She advised that you can write something even if you have just five minutes. So if you are able to clear the mind of its clutter, it takes less time to be productive.
How do you meditate?
Frydman went through a very basic form of meditation that involves visualization. She told everyone to close their eyes and imagine looking out of a window, which has a blind rolled up at the top.
She asked everyone to take a few moments to imagine the scene outside of the window. Then, to gently roll the blind down and gaze at the blind, which appeared as a blank white screen. The point of the exercise was to sweep clean the mind of its thoughts.
After a few minutes, we opened our eyes and began to write. Naturally, I found that thoughts re-entered the mind but it’s important not to get frustrated. I acknowledged the thoughts and then gently pushed them aside and brought back my focus on my writing. After a while, the thoughts become far less frequent, although it can take a little persistence and practice to make this happen.
I found the experience relaxing and was able to write with a calm and open mind that led to a continuous flow of words on the page, without worrying about my choice of words.
A stream of quantity is more important than quality in such cases, as a writer can perfect what’s written afterwards, so that it can be shared and understood by others.
Other forms of meditation include the Buddhist method of closing the eyes and focussing on the inward and outward breath and the space between each breath, before inhaling and exhaling.
Another popular relaxation technique is to mentally scan the body from the feet to the head and be aware of any tension, making a conscious effort to relax the muscles as you go along.
Open your eyes
Marsha Linehan, the University of Washington Psychology professor, recommended a five-minute-a-day simple technique which incorporates open-eyed meditation, that is also taught by the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University.
Linehan advised her patients to adopt this technique to improve their mood and concentration. She asked them to sit on a park bench, or anywhere in a public place, and look ahead at strangers walking by. However, the idea is to avoid actually looking at the details of the people passing by, even if they draw attention.
Different techniques suit and benefit different individuals and they vary according to the country of origin or school of spiritual discipline they belong to. So it is important to find one that is comfortable and rewarding for you.
The Osho Meditation Resort in India, which teaches dynamic, movement meditation, describes simple meditation techniques on their website, some of which are designed for individuals with busy schedules.
“Powerful concentration amplifies the effectiveness of any kind of activity”.
Meditation is yet to be fully understood by science, but the studies carried out so far show positive health results from its practice. Also, the true understanding of meditation works on a level that goes beyond the parameters of science, theory and logic.
Often, our flow of writing is intercepted by our inner critique, which is the hardest critique to satisfy. Nobody should expect to churn out a literary masterpiece or an international bestseller when they begin writing.
But if you can silence your demons and achieve writer’s blank instead of writer’s block, you allow your creativity to flow without interruption.