1.15.2019

Get Your Blood Moving

I am a firm believer in the need for a transition period, of five or so minutes, between your everyday life and sitting down to write. You need to wipe out all of that mundane crap in order to concentrate. Here is an idea for authors whose primary problem is feeling sluggish.

Back in my college days, I developed an interest in Indian gurus, and the first prerequisite for an acolyte is learning how to meditate. I would like to tell you that this was the beginning of a remarkable career, filled with om chants longer than any Westerner in history. The fact is, however, that I was terrible at meditating. I couldn’t keep my thoughts still, no matter how hard I tried. Luckily, a benevolent, if exasperated, spiritual advisor showed me a series of physical exercises that each ended with a furious burst called “dragon’s breath.” Since I enjoyed playing sports, this approach was much more to my liking. The physical exercises closely resembled calisthenics.

I did eventually work out an adequate meditation technique that stilled my mind for writing. Yet on days when my thoughts were whirling like a manic ping-pong ball, I would instead employ this dragon’s breath practice. I developed a routine that consists of side-to-side stretches of the arms and legs, touching toes, and stomach crunches. What type of calisthenics you choose doesn’t matter. The point is, I decided to hold each position while I counted to ten. While I am  counting, the numbers block out all those random thoughts. On days when you find that your thoughts are quiescent, you can hold the stretch position without counting. You’ll know when the ten count ends, approximately, and the time doesn’t matter anyway. The purity of suspended motion, mind completely blank, often is the prelude to a very good writing session.

No matter which technique you use, learning to focus on nothingness is just like trying to focus on what your characters are thinking. After all, what are you trying to accomplish when you write? You’re trying to dig deeply into your thoughts. Everyday crap gets in the way of that journey. Although this spiritual technique ended up being directed at a more selfish purpose, you will find that concentration prior to writing is truly a path to bliss.

Exercise: Which types of stretches should you use? If you played sports in school, you probably can recall a set of warm-up exercises right off the top of your head. If not, the Internet is filled with exercises of every imaginable variety. You just have to type in the sort of movement that interests you. In the end, all you’re doing is calming your body in order to plumb your mind.

“Exercise the writing muscle every day, even if it is only a letter, notes, a title list, a character sketch, a journal entry. Writers are like dancers, like athletes. Without that exercise, the muscles seize up.”
—Jane Yolen

Copyright @ 2019, John Paine

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