Friday, February 8, 2019

Program for North Shore Young Writers Conference: The Mindful Moment

I'm sharing the program for the workshop I gave last week on mindful writing to English teachers so you have a sense of how these presentations look. Feel free to contact me if you are interested in a presentation for your school, institution, or group. 

The Mindful Moment for Creative Writers and Teachers

2019 North Shore Young Writers Conference
February 1-2, 2019

Alexandria Peary, MFA, MFA, PhD

First Mentor Group Meeting

I.                    Overview of mindful writing approach

II.                 Mindfulness, bare awareness, metacognition

III.              Strategies for developing mindful awareness
a.       Activity: Mind List
b.      Activity: Mindful Eating for Description

IV.              Writing Factor #1: Intrapersonal rhetoric (inner voice)

V.                Audience as Māra
a.       Activity: Caricature of a Tricky Audience

VI.              Preconceptions about Writing Ability and Writing Task
a.       Activity: Already Perfect Exercise
Second Mentor Group Meeting

I.                    Intrapersonal rhetoric continued

II.                 Audience Proximity and Revision
a.       Activity: No Feedback Feedback

III.              Mindful Writing Factor #2: Impermanence
a.       Activity: Freewriting to Track Change
b.      Activity: Momentwriting

IV.              Mindful Writing Factor #3: Verbal Emptiness
a.       Activity: Prolonging Prewriting
b.      Activity: Disposable Writing
c.       “Corpse” or Relaxation Pose for Revision

V.                Third Mindful Writing Factor: Materiality and the Body for Writing
a.       Activity: Yoga for Hands

VI.              Wrap Up

Recommended group activities (see handout packet or consult blog link):

2. Twenty Five Breaths Exercise

3. Momentwriting

4. “Corpse” or Relaxation Pose for Revision

5. Loving Kindness Meditation for Writers

6.  Disposable writing

7.  Word Bells (discuss what could be selected as a bell):

Monday, January 14, 2019

Next Scheduled Presentation: Workshop on Mindful Writing at North Shore Young Writers Conference

I'll be presenting two 90-minute sessions on mindful writing for creative writing teachers and giving a reading of my nonfiction and poetry at the 2019 North Shore Young Writers Conference on February 1, in Beverly, MA. Looking forward to meeting these terrific young writers and their teachers!

Teacher Workshop

"The Mindful Moment for Creative Writers and Teachers"

Click here (and scroll down) for more details:

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

New Year Wishes to You for Your Writing in 2019

May every moment be an inventive moment.

May the razed space of the present

Fill with words and phrases.

May the walls of your breathing

Become a terrain of possibility.

May the emptiness of the moment

Be woven with interconnection,

With grace and acceptance, 

With the presence-absence-presence of others.

May every moment be a prolific moment.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Word Bells and Reminders to Be Mindful

One of the most important steps in a mindful writing practice is to find a way to "remember to remember." To remember to remember to notice the present moment. 

This reminder is the agenda of the word sati, an important term that predated even the term "mindfulness" in Buddhist texts. 

The ringing of a bell is one of the most common methods to return to the present. In mindfulness centers and retreats, practitioners are also trained in this remembering work by picking an ordinary object or activity to serve as a trigger to remember: crossing doorway thresholds, climbing stairs, or touching a door knob.

Writers also need a way to remember to remember in order to notice the present moment for the purposes of writing.

Ideally, this method should be practiced at the beginning of each writing session.

1. Formal seated meditation (even in the desk chair) is a tried and true method. Meditate for 3-5 minutes before turning on the computer or opening the notebook.

2. Something embodied, something you. This is different than the mindful breathing of meditation. Pick a physical sensation that always happens with writing. Examples: the sensation of sitting in the desk chair, the sensation of one's wrists resting on the laptop keyboard, the sensation of holding a pen. Whatever it is, draw your attention to it in the moment.

3. Focus on a writing object. Pick an item routinely on your desk. Start a writing session by observing this one object for 1-2 minutes while watching your breathing.

4. Set up a triggering action. Opening the laptop. Taking out your notebook. Pulling a pen from a holder. Opening a Word file. Whatever the action is, do it mindfully, while watching the breath.

The above are methods to remember the present when starting a writing session. 

We can also train ourselves to remember to remember when we're in the middle of a writing session. These methods are geared for more advanced mindful writing practitioners: people who can tolerate interruptions in their productive mindlessness. They're also helpful for all of us, no matter our experience with mindful writing, as occasional practice.

1. Set a timer for every 15-20 minutes. When the timer goes off, stop whatever you're writing and return to watching the breath for a minute. Then resume writing.

2. Pick a fairly frequent word, perhaps an article like "the" or a preposition like "to." Train yourself to return to the present moment each time you either write or read this "word bell." I recommend that this practice be used less frequently than the others. It's useful every now and then when you want to bolster your mindful awareness. Try it for 10 minutes every now and then.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Example of Student Using Corpse or Relaxation Pose for Revision

Below is an example of a first-year college student's work with the Relaxation or "Corpse" Pose for Revision. She completed this work as a low-stakes exercise, applying the method to a longer project in genre analysis. Kylie Leydon is a student at Salem State University. 

For steps in teaching this exercise (or using it on your own writing), see the post from November 1, 2018.

Conclusion Paragraph:

This conclusion is way too short. I used the terms “I” and “you” too often.  I need to sum up my ideas better. Maybe relate it more to the concept and main ideas of this assignment- it is too brief and not formal enough for a college assignment.  I need to relate back to the idea of Genre and my coupons…how did I learn from it?  I need to write more- perhaps details and examples- on my analysis section.  This is my weakest paragraph I think.  More “formal” words are needed to my piece.  Don’t talk like you are to friends- you are passing this in for a grade.  Conclusions are the most important pieces of an essay. Make it count.  This part of my writing is “jumbled” and thrown together almost out of a last resort to get this over with.  Pay more attention to summing up your ideas.  I need stronger sentences to sum up/ conclude my ideas.  Formality and organization is key in a rhetorical analysis, so I must take time to review this work.  I want to achieve a good grade, so I need to start putting in better work and pay more attention in focusing and expanding on my ideas.

Second to last paragraph:

What even is this topic sentence “Genre is often viewed differently for each person?”…. Were you seriously going to turn that in? Again, I need to make this formal.  Even though it is a letter to the future students, it states right in the directions that it is formal.  In this paragraph I need to look back on the rhetoric of my genre more.  I need to make sure that I am looking at the questions in the prompt and answer them more properly.  I need to use better language and expand my ideas while maintaining formality and professionalism.  I need to ensure that the quote fits where I placed it as well.  I feel like I kind of just threw it in there as a last resort to fulfill this requirement and I feel that I can expand my ideas more.  I feel that I am either using too many short, choppy sentences or too many long sentences lacking voice.  Sentence structure is key in any essay and it is important to keep interest.  Review the concluding sentence as well and see if any transitions can help with this section of my writing as well.  I feel like the length of my paragraph is strong although the content could use some revisions and work.  This is the finale before the conclusion…end on a strong finish.

Third to last paragraph: 

I need a strong conclusion that links my main idea to my paragraph.  I am simply just going into my requirements and answering questions on the prompt instead of forming coherent paragraphs and sentences.  I need to focus more and use the skills I have to form the quality of paragraphs that I am capable of writing.  I do like the detail of the first sentence and I may decide to keep this but I feel it needs to be in the content and body of my paragraph writing.  I also feel that I can eliminate some “flowery” words and add some colons like we learned in class to make my words mean more and get to the point quicker.  I can eliminate some words that actually take away from my piece like “ultimately”, “things”, and even “some” to strengthen my vocabulary and purpose behind writing this analysis.  I need to stay on topic and be more concise.  Stop starting your sentences off with the same few words and use variation to make your ideas have more meaning.  Gain a unique voice and do not try to fulfill a genre simply by filling in what ever you feel.  Stop sounding like a robot. Your sentences have no meaning when you are answering every question on the prompt.  Focus, focus, focus!

Intro Paragraph:

I know it’s okay to not be the typical “five paragraph essay” but it does certainly feel weird.  Since it is not set up like one, I feel like I need to make my intro stronger or perhaps break it up.  Intros are not supposed to be really long but what if it’s on a letter? Is that ok?  Something about my first sentence doesn’t feel right to me.  I keep reading it and keep wishing that it wasn’t on my paper every time.  I’m going to change it.  I need to introduce my preconceptions first I think.  I can take out unnecessary phrases such as “as I am a commuter student”, “the first thing”, and “I would mock the genre of coupons as I find them ironic”. Looking back, I question what I was thinking when I thought that it was a good idea to write that on a paper that I was going to turn in.  Maybe I’m going into too much detail in the first paragraph and I can fuse some of the sentences into other ones? I don’t know.  I need to reduce the number of times I say the word “I” and look for other words to avoid during formal essays.  Do not use words that you would when talking to friends and instead replace them with words you know are formal enough for a college professor to read.  Not a super awful paragraph but some revisions and editing will improve the content of my genre analysis piece.

What I learned  from the Relaxation Method and how I plan to implement:

I always dread the editing and revision stage to any one of my projects or assignments.  I often find it hard to remove or change information because I feel that I already said everything that I could possibly say.  I also find my audience very close.  I feel that by re-reading I can only find the bad within my writing and never the good.  It is almost as if when I read some parts that do not sound pleasant, I wish that it was already turned in because I really do not want to have to look at it again.  

This corpse/ relaxation pose was very different and was certainly a first.  I knew that my analysis piece was worse than my creative piece so I wanted to work on that. I noticed myself calling out my lack of formality on my essay and the need to better organize and expand on my thoughts.  I found that I had a lot of unnecessary words and phrases as well.  I will include more clarity on the genre assignment perhaps and even relate more back to the genre of coupons that I chose.  I am going to vary my sentence structure thus incorporating more voice into my writing and I am going to ensure that all my sentences are in the proper place backed up with explanations and details.  

I find that I will do this exercise more often.  It is a great way to write down initial thoughts on your work from end to start then actually let the ideas slide away as you push the papers on the floor out of thought.  It is like gaining a clean slate every paragraph and is an overall great activity to constantly be aware and conscious of your words in the moment.  I was not preoccupied with prior thoughts and it felt good to let it all go.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Award Winning Student Essay Using Mindful Writing Techniques

Allison Gage is a sophomore at Salem State University and recipient of the 2018 First-Year Writing Award. Allison wrote "The Stone Backpack of Anxiety" in a first-year writing course she took with me in the fall semester of 2017. In this essay, Allison explores the impact of audience in the head and affective responses to needing to write.

The Stone Backpack of Anxiety
Allison Gage

Sitting down to start a piece of writing is a time I dread the most in life. Trying to figure out how to start is as if I’m wearing a backpack, and someone is standing behind me, holding it. I try to turn around to see who is holding me back, but I can’t see anyone behind me. Yet every time I try to walk or run away that person just pulls me right back with what seems like the force of one hundred men: this gives me the sense that I have nowhere to go.
 I become so nervous, believing I will never be able to move on because this person will never let go. What will I do? My next class starts in thirty minutes, and if he doesn’t release me, I’ll miss my class. My palms start to sweat, my body starts to quiver, and I’m becoming anxious. I don’t know what to do. Finally, he releases me after I try to break from his grip for what feels like years.
Realizing I still have time to get to my class, I run as fast as I can to Meier Hall to try to make it on time. Once I arrive the door is still open, but no one is there. Now that I think of it, I haven’t seen anyone anywhere. No one is in the halls, or in the surrounding rooms. The whole building seems like a ghost town, symbolizing how lost I feel when I try to start a piece of writing. I slowly start to walk down the hall, but as I do I notice the hallway in front of me is shrinking incrementally in size. 
As I walk further, I feel myself start to shrink smaller and smaller to fit through this hallway, yet the backpack on my body stays the same size. This size difference secretly represents the heaviness I feel when I start a piece and how it feels like it could crush me. The backpack begins to increase in size so much that it weighs me down, causing me to no longer be able to carry it. The walls are quickly closing in, and darkness is taking over my mind. 
Suddenly, I hear a very faint voice in the background, but I can’t really make out what it’s saying until I finally hear it say, Turn back and take a right. I twirl around fast as lighting with my backpack barely staying on my back and start to walk away. I feel myself start to grow back to normal size and my backpack fits comfortably on my body once again. When I take the right, I come to a staircase that seems to extend on forever. I start my journey down the staircase, but I notice that every step I take my back pack gets heavier and heavier, as if someone is adding a stone every time I descend a stair. These stones are smooth round pieces of quartz, which feel so heavy on my back, but the voice in the background tells me to keep descending the stairs. 
I quickly recognize this voice as the reader inside my head who is always present when I am writing. I thought at first that he was here to help me, but as I make my way down the stairs, I realize he wants nothing but to hurt me. Every step I take, his is one of those stones in my bag, adding weight, and the stones represent every instance I procrastinate with my writing. He does everything in his power to slow me down and make it almost impossible for me to move or do anything.
I start to see the bottom of the staircase and the exit sign illuminated above the doorway, but the weight of this backpack feels like I’m carrying seventeen cinderblocks. It gets to the point where I can no longer continue with this bag on my back, but the bag will not come off. This instance represents a time in my writing where no matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t understand the prompt. I stand where I am for a minute and just breath. 
I tell myself, “This is all in my head” and “There is no real reader here, Allie, it’s only you.” Instantly, my backpack feels as if I had only feathers in it, like it was almost floating in the air, and I couldn’t feel it at all. Without hesitation, I sprint down the remaining stairs and busted through the door. The sensation of finally standing outside again and feeling the breeze on my skin was indescribable. I could breath again. Although no one was visible for miles, I choose not to focus on that solitude due to the overwhelming amount of work I still need to finish.
 I start to walk back to the dorm thinking I can finally start all my work. As I step closer to the building, I see this large group of people crowded together. 
As I get closer, I notice that these are people I know, but they are all random people. I see my fifth-grade teacher who was one of the first people to make me hate writing. I tense up a bit until I see an old face that I have never seen before but is so familiar to me. I quickly realize that it is my sixth-grade pen pal from London, with whom I used to send letters back and forth with for almost a year. Spotting her face in the crowd made everything okay because our conversations were fun and interesting; she never criticized my writing or writing styles. She represents the good audience in my head and gives me confidence to write. 
I see many other writing teachers I’ve had over the past years; I see many family members and friends; I see the scorers of my MCAS essays and my SAT responses. These people specifically represent my bad audience, my stress and anxiety: they are some of the people I never wanted to see again in my life.
Seemingly every person who has ever viewed my writing is standing in this large crowd in front of me. Once I finally approach the group, all the murmuring voices stop, and they collectively turn and look right at me. 
Before I have anytime to say anything, they start to talk to me, each person mentioning a different memory they have of my writing. You can hear my fifth grade teacher say, “You’re never going to learn how to truly spell or write. You couldn’t even do it in fifth grade.”  I hear my pen pal say, “I always loved your letters because you always had so much to say.”  You can hear my writing teacher from eighth grade admonish, “I always saw so much potential in you, but you’ll never grow to fulfill that full potential.” And so many other whispers and screams both positive and negative from teachers, family, friends.  
I can feel myself start to sweat, my pace of breathing increases to the point where I can’t even breathe at all. These different voices coming into my head at one time is way too much for me to handle in this moment. The situation represents all the ideas I have in my head when I start a piece of writing and how all the ideas I have cause me to feel overwhelmed because I never know which idea is best. I start to run for the door of my building, but as I take my first step someone grabs ahold of my backpack, yet again restricting me. 
If I knew this was how my day would proceed, I would have never left my bed. I want nothing more than to just be back in bed. I’m trying my hardest to get out of this trap, but my feet are cemented to the ground. At this point I am praying to God that I can exit the situation because I feel like I am suffocating. As if God himself came down to Earth and told these people to leave me alone, my back pack returned to normal position, and my feet were free and able to move again. I have finally found my topic for my assignment: now it’s time to start working on this assignment.
Without looking back, I dash off for my room, stepping onto the elevator and taking the largest breath ever; it feels so good to be able to breathe. I arrive at my dorm room; I open the door, and I see myself lying in bed sleeping, my leg half way off the bed and drool covering my pillow. I am honestly taken aback by this sight. I run over to myself and try to wake me up.
 I’m shaking myself and screaming as loud as I can, but nothing I do will wake me up. I am so confused as to why I am in my bed still. I decide to forget about the other me and try to start all my work I must do. I go to take my backpack off my back to become more comfortable and start my work, but my bag is stuck to my back. I try so hard to pull it off, but it’s as if it’s permanently glued to my body.  
Nothing I do will remove this bag from my back. I am so frustrated that I take the scissors out of my desk and try to cut the bag off my body. As soon as I make the first cut to the bag, I feel excruciating pain and see blood start to drip from my side, signifying the pain I feel when I start to write. I’m not confident in my writing so I never think my work is truly good, so it causes a lot of self-doubt in my writing. My backpack has formed to my body and become part of me. How could this even happen?
I can feel myself starting to panic. Tears rush into my eyes to the point where I can’t see anything, and the whole room goes black. I open my eyes and realize I’m in my bed with my books and papers scattered all over the place. No other version of myself with me in the room. My bed is drenched, and I have no idea why. I look at my phone and the time says 3:04 am. I had fallen asleep when I tried to write my English paper that’s due in five hours and dreamed the most anxious experience in my life. 
It scares me at how real this dream felt, but then it dawns on me that this is how I truly felt every time I have to start a new piece of writing. I slip out of bed and collect all my papers and books and set myself up at my desk. I take my laptop out and try to yet again start my essay, but this time I don’t feel so anxious. So many ideas start to pore onto the page and I am writing better than ever. It’s almost like that dream released all the anxiety I’ve ever felt towards writing because writing comes so naturally. That dream helped me overcome the writing block I usually encounter while starting a piece of writing. If only I could have had this dream earlier in life, writing could have been so much more relaxing.