Monday, August 26, 2013

Keep Talking to Yourself

Self-talk can serve as a type of writing prompt or heuristic. Instead of hoping to immediately arrive at some sort of valley of golden content, talk yourself through to the journey to new material. You might be surprised by how wise and compassionate of a guide you can become for yourself. Imaginative and intelligent work leans on such scaffolding.

In previous posts, I have talked about the need to turn to intrapersonal or internal dialog for content for writing. What I am discussing in this post is turning to that intrapersonal communication to find an inner teacher or guide: someone who "assigns" structure, who is general of the Next Step.
People who write fluently or with ease tend toward process thinking and meta language--both of which could also called "awareness" or "mindfulness" in their own right.

Sometimes we need to stay a little more mindful of the production: we need to hear ourselves ask questions. Questions are the girders of the text we're building. We need to see the Instructions. Just as when a teacher gives you prompts to write (I do this often in the classroom), these commands release you from the total responsibility of coming up with the text. Someone else is handing you the next step; you just listen and "follow directions," writing down whatever arises in response to their suggestion.

In my notebooks, I am constantly asking myself, "What's next?" "What does the poem/article/paragraph want to do next?" (Sondra Perl uses a similar strategy in her book on Felt Sense.)

Writing becomes a sort of command performance, in a good way. A certain liberty is possible: you can throw caution to the wind. After all, these are not your ideas. If the text isn't high quality, that's not completely your fault. And so forth. The responsibility to create a great piece is leveraged a bit onto this other party, this teacher, this guide.

This release from total responsibility for the outcome of writing is in part the allure of formal poetry. Sonnets and their ilk provide a structure; the poet's job is to respond to that structure. In a sense, poems written in form are a heightened act of listening, of call and response.

In Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, Suzuki speaks of the balance between control and openness. "To give your sheep or cow a large, spacious meadow is the way to control him."

While writing, we do this by assigning ourselves prompts while we write. We ask ourselves helpful, generous questions; more importantly, we remain able to hear ourselves asking those questions so we can respond. Finally, we must be able to accept the response, whatever it is. Don't sort or judge it.

As you write, keep a notebook or screen handy where you can do process notes about the act of writing. In those process notes, ask yourself questions about the text you're working on. Do this regularly, every 20 minutes.

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