Sunday, October 20, 2013

Draw Your Writing

I know that I am mindfully writing when I find myself watching my words form drawing by drawing. Each word takes on a visual appearance. The lines, arabesques, grill work, movement do not vanish in service of meaning but are instead visible.

I can tell my emotional state and the degree to which I was mindful from the way my handwriting looks in an old notebook. If my handwriting is big and Matisse-like, I can guess that my emotional-cognitive state was one of reception and joy-at-writing. If tiny and precise as footnote, I was being careful and analytical.

I am not alone: I think many people have observed a correlation between their mood and personal context at the time of writing and the way their handwriting looks. How could it be otherwise?

The act of writing, as Keith Hjortshoj in Understanding Writing Blocks has observed, is a physical act--a "psychophysical process." I love what Hjortshoj says about this when he's talking about blocked academic writers: "Because scholars tend to view writing primarily as a mental activity, they are often inattentive to what they are actually doing, and where, and for how long. They want to tell me what they have been reading and thinking, or thinking about doing, or thinking about writing, or thinking about their difficulties... All of this is interesting, but I also want to know where their bodies have been moving."
It is important to watch letters and words form in our handwriting--to draw our writing--because then we start to slow down. We slow down enough to notice. Notice what? Our breathing and pulse. Because this use of language is slightly asynchronous with the speed and fluency of our inner conversation (meaning that we form words slower than we say them to ourselves, in our heads), a certain watchfulness happens which is a form of mindfulness.
Watching your words form like this is similar to mindful walking or mindful eating. It's the joining of awareness with activity and brings a sense of heightened calm. It's a good state to be in to find ideas and words.
Additionally, this sort of watchfulness enhances something that normally happens whenever we see a word. Seeing our words triggers hearing those words. The sound of words become more stretched out with the slower pace of our handwriting. Vowels sing, consonants clop, land on the floor, and tie ideas together. Moreover, the more we hear our words, the more likely we will be connected to our intrapersonal or internal dialog which is so essential to writing with fluency and ease.
Finally, because we are writing more slowly, we are more focused on the moment. We are less likely to think about audience or the future of our writing. We are less likely to feel anxious or to falter because we don't typically associate "drawing our words" with the type of production sought by teachers, bosses, or editors.
Practice drawing your words--including noticing the shadows of the pen, the hand, the fingers. See the letters as lines containing sound, emerging from the tiny opening at the tip of the pen.

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