For Those About To Write (We Salute You) will present a writing exercise to the Ploughshares community every few weeks. We heartily encourage everyone reading to take part!
We’re all here because we want to write. We love doing it even when we hate doing it—and we try, valiantly, to put words down both when it’s painful and when it’s pleasurable, when we’ve got ideas and when we don’t. This series is designed to shake things up—to give us some new approaches, some fresh ways to tackle the art of articulating thoughts.
For that reason, our last exercise—Going Big—felt the best for me so far. I write for a living—as I’m sure many of you do—and while I genuinely enjoy my work, it’s tough to sit down at a computer now without feeling like I’ve got to produce something post-worthy and fit for public consumption (and criticism) every time. Laptop = job. In a similar way, journaling, while often a welcome release, equally often devolves into a bit of murky personal contemplation. Notebook = life WTF. So it was a relief to step away from the desk and settle in on the rug with a few pillows and a blanket, a cup of tea, and some oil pastels, and just go wild. (I also discovered a sweet site called Songza, which has a truly incredible selection of playlists for almost any mood or activity you could think of; I’m particularly fond of the selection of Working/Studying (no lyrics).)
I scribbled, and I drew. I listed positive adjectives in bright colors and I jotted down go-get-‘em verbs in big block letters (it was a slow day—I needed a boost). One of my sheets became a big mish-mash of in-a-perfect-world to-dos, could-dos, and want-to-dos, and I realized it had been a while since I contemplated the future in a freestylin’ kind of way. It was nice, and strangely reassuring that there are some untapped hopes and dreams lurking around, waiting to be exposed (and fulfilled). I hope you’ll share your own experiences in the comments!
And now for something completely different.
#4: Take A (Mindful) Break
We’ve been busy for the past few months, trying out different tactics aimed at revving up, getting going, starting something, stimulating our brains, and expressing ideas with pencils, keyboards, and oil pastels, on paper and screens and postcards.
In the meantime, I’ve been working on refining my relationship with the Internet. The sirens’ call of whatever’s happening online has radically changed the time I used to spend making, doing, and thinking; I’ve found myself instinctively logging on and checking in when I could be doing—well, just about anything else. It can be difficult to disconnect, but it’s time to take a mental break.
—Something to scribble on
—Something to scribble with
Take time every single day to stop producing and cease consuming. Allow your brain to chill out and be peaceful; pay attention to calming the nagging ephemera and major issues. Call it meditation or mindfulness or whatever works for you, but ultimately it’s all about breathing deep and relaxing your brain. Learning how to be still is an art, a boon to concentration, and will help in the pursuit of mastering how to communicate clearly with what’s going on inside that head (and heart) of yours.
Aim for five minutes at a time. In the hustle and bustle of daily life it can feel tough to carve out even a few seconds to completely disconnect, but this is doable. Sit somewhere comfortable: cross-legged on the ground, feet flat and back straight in an easy chair. Set a timer, then close your eyes and until it goes off, don’t move. Breathe in. Breathe out. Don’t itch your nose, don’t sneak a peek at your email, don’t fall asleep. Just be. Thoughts will drift in—let them drift out again. You’re not solving your problems, or the world’s problems, you’re just taking a brief respite. You’re recharging.
When the buzzer goes off to bring you back into real life, grab your something to scribble on and your something to scribble with and take down the first few things that pop into your head. Maybe you’ll have an epiphany surrounding a story you’ve been wrestling with; perhaps you’ll note a minor revelation regarding a new project you’d like to embark upon; it’s possible you’ll just jot down a few to-dos. Whatever the output, give yourself a few moments to record what’s kicking around and come to the surface in your noggin.
Thich Nhat Hanh’s True Love: A Practice for Awakening the Heart is wonderful introduction to mindful thinking (not to mention a pretty quick read—definitely possible to finish in a single sitting). Highly recommended for a beautiful perspective on being kind to yourself and others.