Lately, I’ve added meditation back into my writing routine.
Wait. Before you click to the next thing, hear me out. Meditation doesn’t have to be strange or alternative or hippie. It’s just a tool, a way to discipline your mind.
Writing fiction is a mysterious process. We all know this. We might not be comfortable with it, but we know it.
I mean, really…where do ideas come from? People ask me this all the time. Why did I decide to write a book about England, about a woman who has to unravel her mother’s secrets, about the connection between a British family and and Indian family?
Readers want to hear that you have a plan, so I’ll come up with some explanation. My partner is British, and there’s this strange family secret I’ll never unravel, and I like the BBC shows about old manor houses and castles being saved.
But where did these particular people come from? Why that secret? Why did the grandmother show up in this way, not that way?
I’m currently writing about two sisters who have heaps of secrets between them. Part of the story is set in New Zealand, and it’s no secret that I love the place. Part of it is set in a restaurant modeled very loosely on Nepenthe, a restaurant on the northern California coast that I only know about because my friend, writer Elizabeth Grayson, thought I would enjoy a book she found about the place, and I did.
But here’s the thing: a dozen things a day go into that pot I keep on the back burner of my mind. Thousands by the end of a year. All the things I watch and read and every Internet rabbit hole journey and the look of a fabric in a window and a lovely dish I eat with a friend, and the bubbles of water on roses on a summer morning.
What makes a group of things come together and insist that they’ll make a book?
I have no idea. I only know that my entire job is to be open to allowing those stories to flood in. It’s my job to keep I’m filling the pot on the stove constantly, every day, all the time, in many of the ways I’ve talked about here. Keeping a journal or a writer’s notebook is a good way of capturing things that will build stories. Reading and watching movies and television. Getting outside to walk.
And lately, I’ve added meditation back into my writing routine.
Let me be frank. I don’t always love it. I like to get up and get moving and accomplish a bunch of stuff before noon, when my energy will start to drop. Since I have those puppies to make me walk, I have to do that first thing or they’ll nag me incessantly. (This is a really good reason to have a dog.)
When I get back, I just want to open up my files and get going on those words. Usually, walking shakes loose a lot of ideas and I can see where I’m going. I’m raring to go.
Taking time to meditate feels…redundant.
Meditation works. Taking even just five minutes to engage the portion of the brain that meditation ignites means I will do twice as much work in half the time with virtually none of the struggle.
Yes. That’s a lot. A big claim. Also true.
My schedule this year has been completely insane. Life has insisted on roaring right into all my plans for a measured, thoughtful year—and a lot of it is great stuff. A lot of it is ordinary. One thing was looming: a book deadline.
Because I’ve measured it for so long, I know how long it takes me to write a book. Some take a little longer, some take a little less, but I know how many hours it takes me to produce a finished page.
That number of hours was a bit reduced. I can’t hurry. That doesn’t work for me. What I need is to be reliably and artistically productive, day in, day out.
Obviously, that requires keeping the well full, which I have talked about here many times. It means keeping my body healthy—getting enough sleep and exercise and avoiding the crash-inducing urge to graze on Jelly Bellies. It means keeping my obligations to a minimum.
Writing all day to meet my page goals is not what I want to do. It’s exhausting, for one thing. I have about five good creative hours, and beyond that, I’m lugging boulders from the quarry to the page. It’s possible, but it’s an awful way to work.
Let me say it again: five minutes of mediation will allow me do twice as much work in half the time with virtually none of the struggle. Fifteen minutes is the best length, honestly, but that anxiety starts nagging me and I set the timer for 5 or 7.
And it still works.
No idea, any more than I know where books come from. In some society in the future, they’ll have mapped all of this and know where the magic of creative thinking originates and how to fuel it, but now we don’t know. Just as we don’t know, really, why meditation is such an effective tool for productivity. Maybe it opens doors that blew closed overnight. Maybe it jolts awake the connection centers. Maybe it opens the communication between self and Spirit, or brain and Great Mind or whatever words you want to use.
Again, I don’t know. I only know that it works.
If you want to give it a try, I love Fragrant Heart. A New Zealand woman has made available dozens of guided meditations for free. You can also try an app like Head Space or Calm. (For a list of apps for you phone, go here.)
It can’t hurt. It will only take five minutes. Nothing lost if it doesn’t work.
But what if it does?
Have you used meditation as a tool in your life? Do you resist it? Love it? Let’s talk.