Monday, June 18, 2018

Presentation on Mindful Writing this Saturday in London

I'll be giving a talk on mindful writing for creative writers at Great Writing: The International Creative Writing Conference, this Saturday, June 23, at Imperial College in London. If you're attending the conference, it'd be great to meet you.

Here's the info:

Saturday, June 16, 2018

(New Book) Prolific Moment: Theory and Practice of Mindfulness for Writing

My new book, Prolific Moment: Theory and Practice of Mindfulness for Writing, is available & out in the world. This book advances many of the ideas on this blog by developing a theory and practice based on Buddhist texts on mindfulness and composition-rhetoric theory.

Here's the info from Routledge:

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Punctuation of Mindfulness

We need a punctuation type that represents mindful writing, a device that can serve two purposes: indicate that mindfulness occurred as we wrote and like a bell remind us to be mindful.

I often ask my students to build their own (regular, not mindful) punctuation, to design a new symbol that meets a creative or rhetorical need as of yet unfulfilled by conventional punctuation. Students come up with a punctuation symbol, a name of the device, and a usage rule.

What might mindful punctuation be?

Several existing punctuation types already support mindfulness.

Question mark: Asking questions while writing is helpful because it suggests a form of intrapersonal or internal listening. A call & response. Use the question mark and really hear it in an early draft, and you're likely to let yourself listen, receptively and nonjudgmentally, to the nonverbal for the next moment. You're able to release your grip on the verbal, your clinging to language, and return to a moment where there is no language, to formlessness. (Because formlessness and form are in constant interplay, this stance paradoxically puts writers in touch with more writing often pretty quickly.)

Dash: The dash suggests the fragmentary, the incomplete, the partial. It also shows respect for your intrapersonal dialog because you're willing to record a fragment without feeling compelled to elaborate and without discarding it because it is incomplete. You’re not imposing the false expectation that every present moment of writing yield a complete sentence. You’re less tied up in preconceptions, rigid thinking, and product outcome.

Ellipsis: An ellipsis suggests that your intrapersonal or internal dialog, as with the question mark, has moved on to a razed, nonverbal space. It has "trailed off" into formlessness and doesn't cling to form (written material), and as a result, working with ellipses can reduce the writing-related suffering that comes from mindless behavior. What differentiates an ellipsis from a question mark is that it's more accepting of emptiness. Ask a question, expect some sort of response (eventually). An ellipsis is like a wanderer headed solo and straight into a landscape of silence (even more acceptance of formlessness).

What's missing?—... If I were to design a mindful punctuation device, it would indicate something about writers' bodies as they write. It would be a symbol of the body's presence and a reminder to include physical sensations in observed present awareness. Appearance-wise, the symbol would probably represent the breath, maybe a diamond-shaped portal or perhaps a curlicue.

Implementation rules for this device would allow it to be used anywhere in a sentence (start, end, middle) or paragraph, without limits on the frequency of usage.

Just as a comma ordinarily tells us how to act around information and imagery (pause, stop for a moment, breath), this device would focus on the mindful breath. Unlike the comma, this new device would direct the writer and reader to the host of physical sensations attendant to the act of breathing.

The device could achieve something that’s frequently absent from conventional writing experience—embodiment.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Do Not Clutch At Outcome

Do not clutch at writing outcome for to do so is to embrace an explosive, rabid, backstabbing, and ravenous pet, combination of pit bull and piranha. This creature will shred the shirt you are wearing. It will leave you in pain. It will show others the foolishness of your choices and the vanity of your ego. It is said that this creature once existed peaceably in mythic lands, running after written products, final drafts, and publications, causing no harm until one of us embraced it. And then this creature of outcome caused havoc with livestock and the ability of nearly adolescent children to focus in school.
                                                                                               Far wiser is it to watch the minnows of the moment pass and pass in the river of process.

Friday, April 6, 2018

How to Notice Your Preconceptions about Writing

Preconceptions are gambles we take on the next writing moment. Preconceptions can cause major problems for writers, whether they're preconceptions about the immediate writing task at hand or about our long-term writing ability. In the previous post, we talked about genre as a common preconception of writers, for example.

To manage the impact of preconceptions on our writing, we'd first need to be able to see them. Preconceptions are tricky and elusive, however; they frequently pass through our mind without our noticing. Lacking a systematic investigation of self-ethos (or the way the self represents itself and its abilities to itself), we are usually at the mercy of this invisible agent. So how do we spot writing preconception?

One method is to try a quick, informal intrapersonal rhetorical analysis. In schools, writing instructors frequently assign interpersonal rhetorical analysis assignments (examining the rhetorical moves of another writer), but we don't typically look at how writers' self-talk is a form of persuasion. 

We don't need to write a full-blown analysis essay: a quick freewrite or momentwrite prior to starting our writing day should do the trick.

In the freewrite or momentwrite, ask yourself these questions: 

* Right now, what are you persuading yourself to do or think about your writing?

* How are you talking to yourself about your writing? What tone are you adopting?

* What sorts of emotional appeals (could fall on a range of positive/support to negative/critical) are you using on yourself about your writing? Are their word choices or images, for instance, designed to make you feel a certain way?

* What are you assuming about your ability to complete the writing task or about the outcome of this project?

Remember that your answers could be task-specific to the piece you're working on today or they could be about your overall, long-term ability and prospects as a writer (or a combination of both).

Freewrite or momentwrite for 5-10 minutes. Afterwards, take a look at what you've written, searching for ways you speak to yourself about writing. Don't judge yourself for hosting those thoughts. Simply make them visible--this will lessen their behind-the-scenes impact.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Does a Breath Have a Genre?

The next time you're at your desk thinking you should work on such-and-such piece, ask yourself, Does my next breath come with a genre? Does it come packaged with the label of Short Story or Screenplay or Sonnet? 

Writers should practice not knowing which genre they're about to write. 

Not knowing genre joins other important forms of not-knowing for mindful writing: not knowing the point of re-entry in a draft (but knowing already which piece one wants to work on); not knowing which piece one will work on (but knowing the genre of that piece); and not knowing if one will actually produce any words at all during a writing session. These types of not-knowing are needed to engage verbal emptiness--the space/time in which formless turns over to form and vice versa. At the most basic level, these forms of not-knowing are also necessary to remaining perceptive of the present while writing.

Notice that I say practice not predicting genre. Don't get me wrong: maintaining a focus is important. We need to narrow our intrapersonal to finish pieces. With a mindful writing practice, however, we allow ourselves numerous opportunities for the opposite of narrowing: a radical openness to the moment.

What we're trying to do is maximize possibility and reduce preconceptions, especially what Ellen Langer called premature cognitive commitments. In Mindfulness, Langer writes about how "mindlessness, as it diminishes our self-image, narrows our choices, and weds us to single-minded attitudes, has a lot to do with this wasted potential."

To increase our creative variables and contexts, it's preferable that we approach each present writing moment with mental windshield wipers that clear away all. Then we listen for whatever intrapersonal bits and phrases arise in that moment. By setting up a mind clear of assumptions, we are likely to hear a greater range of the intrapersonal in that call and response between our writing selves and the next moment. To remain longer in that state of openness, we try to not label this new intrapersonal material by genre (on top of trying of course not to evaluate or critique it).

Without present awareness, genre is a major form of preconception and nonproductive mindlessness.

Picking genre too early forecloses on possibility by exponentially and very quickly reducing structural and content options. Preconceptions freight the writing moment with faulty assumptions and limiting self-talk. Second only to the preconceptions about our writing ability that most of us tell ourselves while writing is our preconception about our genre.

During invention, there's no real need for 100% commitment then & there to the contexts & people affiliated with certain genre. Those people are not physically present while you write. Those contexts are not your context while you write. Our #1 allegiance during invention should be to observing the ever-changing present moment.

This is especially true of professional writers and students in school for creative writing. Graduate writing programs usually ask graduate students to declare their genre and sometimes undergraduate programs do as well. Genre for writers is a like a pearl: grit of past experience (a writing class taken in college, a passing compliment, a book read as a teenager) accumulated layers and layers of actions to make us "a poet" or "a novelist," and so forth. Actually, a series of moments accumulated and hardened into what now seems timeless, just how it is, the personal status quo.

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