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Meditating, mindfulness, and writing fiction

spiderlilyspiderlily Explorer
edited May 2015 in Meditation

Hello! I'm new around here. Thanks for having me :)

There’s a situation that I’m in, that I’m hoping for some advice and input on.

I used to write fictional stories as a hobby / side interest, before I started developing anxiety. The anxiety was caused by relationship issues, toxic relationships that I’ve since gotten rid of.

Back then, story ideas would flow freely into my mind. I was often immersed in a fun stream of ‘inspiration’, which, in turn, was used to fuel my writing. It was an enjoyable process for me, and I loved writing very much.

However, I stopped writing when my anxiety hit levels that were so high, nothing came into my mind except for negative and paranoid thoughts. I was a wreck, and I wasn’t in the right state of mind to write anymore, so I stopped for several years (around 6 - 7 years).

1.5 - 2 years ago, I started to delve into Buddhism. I began meditating and practising mindfulness (as well as other Buddhist teachings), as a way of coping with the large amounts of anxiety and paranoia that I was suffering from. It has helped me very much, and in recent months, I feel more calm, and more at peace with myself than I was years ago. I’m very grateful to the benefits that I’ve reaped from these practices.

And so a couple of months back, I decided to pick up writing again.

However here are the issues that I'm now facing.

  1. Ever since I’d started meditating and practising mindfulness in my daily life, I’d developed the habit of ‘not thinking’. I’d conditioned my mind to allow thoughts to enter and leave, without paying any heed to them. This seems to be interfering with my writing. Whenever I attempt to generate ideas in my mind, my subconsciousness blocks out ideas, and prevents them from developing. I seem to tell myself subconsciously, to 'stop thinking so much, stop mulling over matters, stop getting attached to the thoughts that I have'. While helpful when it comes to dealing with mental anxiety, this is also preventing me from developing story ideas and plots.

  2. Occasionally, when I do manage to get into that state of 'story creation', I space out. I stop being mindful, of both actions and thoughts, I stop paying attention to what's going on around me, and I'm unable to remain rooted in the present. Unfortunately for me, story creation seems to be a 24/7 process. I feel that inspiration strikes me randomly - when I'm walking, eating, or being engaged in other mundane activities. It isn't something that I'm able to schedule into the day, where I set aside a couple of hours just to think and get inspired. As a result, I'm left in a situation where I have to choose between allowing my thoughts to wander, or staying mindful. It seems to be either one, or the other.

So here I am, looking for some help. I hope that my long ramble isn't too confusing! I've searched online, and can't seem to find much advice on how to deal with this situation, so any opinions would be very much appreciated. Thank you for reading!

dantepw

Comments

  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    Welcome @spider lily <3

    Very interesting. Creativity often exacts a high price. Calm does paradoxically too. There has been a radical and useful shift in consciousness. Being both creative and anxiety free is the goal. That means you will have to create your stories without the usual mindless/anxiety seeding.

    How?

    Well a good Buddhist source is the Jakarta tales which you can embellish, explore mindfully and riff on a theme. Something traditionally left to the sutra creators. ;)

    Really it is a question of realising you have switched your writing style. Just as a painter becomes a sculptor or vice versa. That's all. B)

    TravellerZennispiderlilyyagr
  • spiderlilyspiderlily Explorer
    Thank you lobster. It's very helpful that you've laid out the paradox in such a way that I can see it clearer now.

    I'm starting to realize that this is serving to propel me to the next level of mindfulness practice. To discover new ways of incorporating mindfulness. New lessons to learn, more levels to uncover. I will be exploring the jataka tales in further detail :)

    Problem right now is that the story and characters are fictional, so there's a lot of illusionary work that's required. Which is the opposite of Buddhist teachings. Sometimes if the story / character is of a darker nature, this is where I'll have to take myself too. How to meld my mind with that of, say, a malicious character, while maintaining a distance at the same time. That's a huge challenge to me. I am imagining myself, breaking imagined precepts O.o
    lobster
  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    @spiderlily said:
    I am imagining myself, breaking imagined precepts O.o

    Tsk, tsk ... picknicking in the hell realms here we come . . . now there is a tale ... ;)

    Go there but retain your breath and calm. Any negative unbearable arisings - desist. You might have to write in very short bursts to start with ...

    spiderlily
  • spiderlilyspiderlily Explorer

    @lobster Thank you! Sounds like a plan B)

    yagr
  • yagryagr Veteran

    Oh my...@spiderlily haz plan after talking to @lobster. Something was transmuted I think.

    karastilobsterDavidsilver
  • @spiderlily said: > 2. Occasionally, when I do manage to get into that state of 'story creation', I space out. I stop being mindful, of both actions and thoughts, I stop paying attention to what's going on around me, and I'm unable to remain rooted in the present. Unfortunately for me, story creation seems to be a 24/7 process. I feel that inspiration strikes me randomly - when I'm walking, eating, or being engaged in other mundane activities. It isn't something that I'm able to schedule into the day, where I set aside a couple of hours just to think and get inspired. As a result, I'm left in a situation where I have to choose between allowing my thoughts to wander, or staying mindful. It seems to be either one, or the other.

    I went through something similar years ago and stopped trying to write fiction. If you like writing, how about non-fiction? Or writing a journal?

    spiderlilylobster
  • VastmindVastmind Memphis, TN Veteran

    Hi...nice to meet you!! =)

    spiderlily
  • genkakugenkaku Northampton, Mass. U.S.A. Veteran

    Welcome @spiderlily. Hope you find something useful here.

    The old sports writer, Red Smith, once observed, "Writing is easy. You just sit down at the typewriter and open a vein." Anyone who writes knows that feeling.

    Probably one of the most important lessons writing teaches is, stop thinking it's so important. The same goes for Buddhism, but for the moment, that's another story. One of the easiest ways to learn the writing lesson is to write every day. Every day, set aside a half hour or more and just write ... anything at all ... day after day ... with or without inspiration.

    My mother, who was a pretty good writer, used to say, "don't get it right, get it written." Never mind exercising your critic. Never mind whether writing is one thing and Buddhism is another. Just write it. See what happens. Maybe you'll turn out to be the next Leo Tolstoy. Maybe you'll turn out to be another forgotten schlub. Do it anyway.

    Fiction is harder than non-fiction, so be prepared. If fiction is too daunting, too intimate, too revealing ... well, give it a rest and write non-fiction. But if you choose fiction, get ready to get undressed -- readers instinctively know when a writer is faking it, keeping his or her distance, pretending to be what s/he is ignorant of.

    Drip, drip, drip ... practice makes perfect ... or anyway perfect-ish. :)

    Sorta like Buddhism.

    Vastmindspiderlilylobstersilver
  • spiderlilyspiderlily Explorer

    @Cinorjer Thanks for sharing your experience and your thoughts on creativity. It's very insightful, and a helpful referral point for me :)

    I do have a concern that if I'm not careful, I'll slip up (lack of mindfulness), and fall back into my previous thought patterns of anxiety again, yes.

    Cinorjerlobster
  • spiderlilyspiderlily Explorer

    @SpinyNorman It's comforting to see that I'm not alone on this. Thank you. Although nope, I don't intend to switch to writing non-fiction, or a journal, at least not right now. Fiction has always been my thing :)

  • spiderlilyspiderlily Explorer

    @genkaku I've always been practising in solitude, so to be hearing advice right now is definitely useful and very much appreciated. Thank you for your words.

    I'm not too concerned about readers, because as of now, the only readers I have are my partner and myself :grin: But yes, I do agree with you on the importance of having an authentic voice, and that might be a reason why its been difficult for me to pen something down.

  • spiderlilyspiderlily Explorer

    @vastmind It's a pleasure to meet you too :)

  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Veteran

    LOL @yagr I thought the same thing. In cahoots with @lobster with a plan in hand! ( @spiderlily "I haz plan!" is a famous lobster quote in the forums so it was amusing to those of us who know that that you told lobster you had a plan :) Not demeaning your plan whatsoever)

    Your brain thinks. It is what it does. Sometimes we have to think about bills and future plans and child care and other things, and when you are doing those things, including writing, it is ok to let your brain focus on those things. Perhaps your writing is entering a new dimension. Sometimes we focus, so when you feel like writing then write. If thoughts about writing come to mind when you can't tend to them, then keep a small notebook and write them down so you can address them later and let go of them at that point. SOmetimes important reminders come to me when I meditate that I should not let go of, so I mentally bookmark them so I can go back later. Not all thoughts should be entirely let go of. It would be hard to live life otherwise!

    spiderlilyyagrCinorjer
  • spiderlilyspiderlily Explorer

    @karasti Ah I see! I was wondering what @yagr meant. English isn't my mother tongue, so I thought I might have said something weird :grin:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I debated posting for quite awhile, and I'm glad I finally did. There's a sizeable amount of new insights for me to chew on and think about, now :)

  • howhow Veteran

    @spiderlily

    You probably know this already but sometimes hearing it from others can help one review what ones meditative practice really is.

    The idea on meditatively practicing with thought is to treat thought no differently than any of the other sense gates (seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting & feeling).
    Meditation is about learning how to allow all such phenomena to freely arise, live and pass on by where formally we habitually manipulated all that data towards supporting our own identity structure.
    Meditation means not grasping after, ignoring or rejecting any of the sense gate data.
    Here we can discover an attentive position of equanimity somewhere between the birth, life & eventual death of all phenomena and our habituated conditioned responses to them.

    You said..
    **I’d developed the habit of ‘not thinking’. I’d conditioned my mind to allow thoughts to enter and leave, without paying any heed to them. **

    This is actually saying that you are either rejecting or ignoring your thoughts.
    While such a practice does allow more space for the other senses to develop and has offered you some peace from your former suffering caused from your thought sense dominance, because it is a form of thought suppression, "writer's block" should be expected.

    The obvious options are either accepting that your present meditative processes provide you with some peace at the cost of your writing, or you could adapt your meditation to
    include paying due heed to your thoughts (as with all your other senses) and learn a new way of finding balance and perhaps being a writer again.

    spiderlilyCinorjerlobstertibellus
  • spiderlilyspiderlily Explorer

    @how Thank you. You've addressed something that I've been pondering for a long time. Seems like this might be a whole new topic altogether and I might create a separate thread for this. I think I might have been confusing myself, because I picked up information on meditational practices on my own, from various sources that sometimes contradict each other.

  • spiderlilyspiderlily Explorer
    edited May 2015

    Or at least, the understanding that I derived from various sources, on my own, contradict each other.

  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Veteran
    edited May 2015

    We get a choice in which thoughts we pay attention to and follow through with. When we learn how to weed out those "useless" ones where we create stories around the thoughts that take us into anxiety and other feelings, we actually leave more room for "useful" thoughts that we can work with. It brings much more clarity and understanding into life off the cushion.
    Meditation is training for how to cultivate those qualities and learn to let go of the stories we create from the random thought generator that is our mind.

    spiderlilyCinorjer
  • genkakugenkaku Northampton, Mass. U.S.A. Veteran

    @spiderlily -- I once was called to my daughter's grade-school class to give a little talk about newspaper writing (I was in the racket then). And the first question I asked the kids was, "What is the fewest number of people involved in an interview situation?" The hands shot up and the answer was perfectly clear ... you need at least two people.

    But that answer, from where I sit, is wrong. It takes three people minimum: the interviewer, the interview-ee AND the person likely to read the interview. To assert that no reader need be consulted is more laziness/rear on the writer's part. Readers can be ignored by the writer -- at his or her own peril -- but saying they don't exist is lazy ... the kind of lazy that sometimes takes shape in words like, "I do art for art's sake."

    This is not something to be careless about. A writer is free to do whatever s/he chooses, but s/he likewise has the responsibility for that choice. Trying to duck it is like some child who claims the dog ate his homework.

    Just my take.

    spiderlilyCinorjer
  • spiderlilyspiderlily Explorer

    @genkaku My reply might have come across as brash and I apologize for that. I didn't mean to be nonchalant, and I do take the input that you gave me seriously. Thanks again.

  • spiderlilyspiderlily Explorer

    However to give a slightly different take on this...I am a trained artist and illustrator, and I create art both for a living, and as a hobby (as with writing). There was a period of time when I was creating art pieces not for art's sake, but for an audience. It didn't get me far, because it stemmed not from a deep desire to create, but from a need for validation. I now do art for art's sake, and there is nothing lazy at all about my work process.

    TravellerCinorjerlobster
  • @spiderlily - Welcome to newbuddhist- you will like it here.

    spiderlily
  • yagryagr Veteran

    @spiderlily I am sorry I failed to give an explanation for the reference to you having a plan. Karasti picked up the slack for me though - Thanks karasti!

    I have one book published and one I am saying that I'm working on but really haven't spent much time on it lately. The 355 page story is written but the editing has stalled. I no longer think I'll be able to finish it. BUT...

    What I have found is that I had to change my subject matter. The story has a definite Buddhist undercurrent which opened the floodgates of creativity once again.

    Best of luck moving forward.

    spiderlily
  • VanilliVanilli Veteran

    Hi Spiderlily, I find meditating helps my writing - I don't have to think so hard but see things in metaphors almost instantaneously a lot of the time. Have you just tried writing and writing, for at least 20 minutes - it doesn't matter if it's 'good' or not - just let it out and see where it goes. You can then reflect and re-frame it.

    spiderlily
  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    @genkaku said:
    Trying to duck it is like some child who claims the dog ate his homework.

    In the hell realms, we feed our dogs to the ducks for homework ... but that is another story ...

    Journaling, blogs, tales of our struggles, art for Buddha Art sake etc are part of an unfolding voice. In other words as @how alludes to, anxiety and expression and words are a potential 'meditation' or karmic untangling ...

    Talking and listening to Buddhists, writers, righters, wrong uns (eg. the Hinayana) :p and our own internal voices is our Middle Way. I think I read that somewhere ... <3

    spiderlilyyagr
  • spiderlilyspiderlily Explorer
    @mockeymind Thank you! I believe so too.

    @yagr I can see why you found that funny, It made me chuckle too :) Making adjustments to the story in order to facilitate it's growth - that's a helpful tip. It's very possible that I'm struggling because my story ideas (I'm actually picking up from where I left off several years ago) are no longer in line with my personal beliefs and values. Thank you.

    I wish you all the best for your book, and future writing endeavors as well. Its been a pleasure speaking with published authors such as @Cinorjer and yourself :)

    @Vanilli thank you. You've given a suggestion that's similar to genkoku's, and it's something that I'll be trying out too. I'll be giving that a go and see where it takes me.

    On a side note, a Buddhist practitioner I know of, who does writing of her own as well, has suggested that I incorporate a technique into my daily routine, called "Morning Pages" by Julia Cameron, author of the book "The Artist's Way". The idea of this technique is to write freely for 3 pages every morning, a sort of uninterrupted flow of consciousness. This serves to purge your mind of any lurking thoughts, so that you may write / create more freely and without any hinderence.
    lobster
  • CinorjerCinorjer Veteran

    because my story ideas (I'm actually picking up from where I left off several years ago) are no longer in line with my personal beliefs and values. Thank you. @spiderlily

    Would you be willing to explore that a bit? Because I find that my own writing reflects my evolving beliefs and behavior. For instance, I cannot write a story nor even read a story or watch a movie that glorifies violence or focuses on suffering. My stories have conflict and occasional violence as the story demands, but people tend to get what they deserve, both good and bad. Selfish desires motivate and tempt people, but even the villain is flawed, not pure evil. That sort of thing.

    So even though some of my writer friends would love, for instance, for me to contribute to horror anthologies, I am simply not comfortable writing disturbing stories. What sort of plots or story elements are you used to writing that you now have trouble with?

    spiderlily
  • spiderlilyspiderlily Explorer
    edited May 2015
    @Cinorjer I hear you on that :) I am unwilling to write stories that are of the horror genre, or of a disturbing nature. Because I am a romantic at heart, my stories are always romance centered. I have a strong theme of 'good triumphs over evil', and I can never write a story any other way.

    What has changed, are my views on romance. I used to be a hopeless romantic, but now I have a sort of belief that romance is rather frivolous, and that everything is impermanent, including romantic love (has turning to Buddhism, ironically, made me judgemental?). Although I am very reluctant to do otherwise, how can I end a story with a happily ever after, when I no longer believe in it?

    Edit: to clarify, my use of the phrase "happily ever after" refers to the ending of a typical romance novel, in which the hero and heroine ride off into the sunset together.

    Apart from that, my story is set in Japan, and centered around a member of the Yakuza and an office lady. It's a story I've always wanted to tell, but I now have a fear that it's pretentious and unrealistic.

    I realize that all this talk about 'my story' might be rather self-absorbed, and I thank members of the NB for your patience and kindness. This has all been very helpful to me, and is turning out to be a good source of mindfulness practice.
    lobsterCinorjer
  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    I think we should give ourselves permission, occasionally, to be 'human'.
    We should perhaps be Mindful that when we write, one of our intentions is to entertain.

    We may be Buddhist, but our readers won't be. At least, not all of them..
    Some people thrive on a bit of escapism... Some forms of escapism might bring an awareness of something more... It's an evolution through reading and absorption of influence.
    Before I began to seriously follow Buddhism, I too, was drawn to certain literature. Over time, I began to seek out books that had a greater and greater effect on my perception, my values, my behaviour, and there occurred a subliminal transition from the distraction to the inspirational.
    There's nothing wrong with a bit of fun, a bit of fiction, a bit of frivolity.
    Just try to keep it skilful.

    spiderlilylobster
  • spiderlilyspiderlily Explorer
    @federica thank you. I've just realized, after reading through everything, that I've been throwing around the term "Buddhism" a lot, and I seem to be using it as a crutch. Time to start looking deeper inwards...
    lobster
  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    There's nothing wrong with that. We all need something to lean on. Buddhism is not necessarily a bad crutch; just be ready to put it down when you don't need it, but use it skilfully when you do...

    spiderlily
  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran

    "Meditating, mindfulness, and writing fiction"
    Can't you just make it all up ?

    spiderlily
  • DhammaDragonDhammaDragon Carpe Diem Recidivist Samsarist Veteran

    Hi, @spiderlily!

    So you are experiencing the panic of the blank page: that awful writer's block.

    What about just sitting down to write after a good meditation session, and simply allowing for your writing to take the lead?
    No preconceived ideas, no expectations, just let the writing flow and see where it goes?

    spiderlily
  • spiderlilyspiderlily Explorer
    Hello @DhammaDragon Have always wanted to say this - I love your name! (And I'm a Scorpio too :grin: )

    Thank you for your advise. I did in fact, try to write freely (though it wasn't Immediatly after a meditation session). I did so today and yesterday, on the bus on the way to work and back home. It helped. Words are slowly starting to flow again, and I've managed to figure out a few things together with the help of all of you guys here.

    The writer's block is awful! But at the very least, this has been a very good exercise on mindfulness and introspection :)
    DhammaDragon
  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    Well, you've not done badly expressing yourself in this thread....

    Someone needs to write a book hang on.... I'm not going to give my ideas away! :D

    spiderlily
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