Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Point of Now: Guest Blog Post at North American Review




To read the rest of this post, go to 

North American Review

The Point of Now


I’ve been recently asked if it’s possible to reconcile the work of the imagination with mindfulness. After all, mindfulness means observing the actual, not the imaginary, in real time with as much of an accepting, non-evaluative stance as possible. That actuality could mean perceiving changes in the flow of our internal talk, changes in our physical state as we write, or changes in our emotional condition, again, as we write.
This question feels particularly salient for creative writers who unlike scholarly or first-year composition writers, for example, devote their time at the desk to evoking scenes of elsewhere and the hypothetical interactions of non-existent populations. The imagination equals what could have happened or what could happen, but it’s not what’s happening right now. It’s a positing of believable possibility, the elaboration of alternatives. It’s adorned, what-if-ed, glittery, exaggerated, darkened, or pulled into different shapes...


Sunday, August 26, 2018

Mom, Can You Help Me with My Essay: A Mindful Way For Parents To Help

In the glow of the kitchen table lamp, as though interrogated by officers of procrastination, your son or daughter sits slumped. The table is covered with the detritus of an evening of frustration—crumpled paper, a plate from a snack enjoyed hours ago, marked-up handouts and the grading rubric. 

Your child is stuck on repeat: “I don’t know what to say” and “I don’t know what the teacher wants.” From upstairs, the sounds of other household members brushing their teeth and preparing for bed, the happy murmur of siblings untormented by an essay. 

It would be so easy to helicopter in rescue sentences that start, “how about saying this here?,” but you refuse to write the piece for them. You just wish you knew how to make this process smoother.

Short of plagiarism, your child may be willing to do anything to exit this predicament, yet it’s precisely right now that your son or daughter needs to finish this homework.

The reason your child is suffering through this assignment is that they’ve been trained to miss out on the present moment in order to prepare for a future moment when their work is critiqued and graded. Mindlessness, as Harvard professor Ellen J. Langer has documented, hurts learning. It’s harmful to critical thinking and the ability to perceive alternatives to move beyond rigid views. 
I believe that mindlessness (future- or past-oriented thinking that overlooks what’s happening now, in real time) is specifically consequential to learning how to write. Writing becomes an entirely different experience if children focus on what’s happening in the moment.

The main pipeline for this mindlessness instruction is a bit of routine advice. Students are constantly told to “consider their audience,” which really means visualizing a person in the future. After absorbing this traditional advice, your child unconsciously invites the teacher (their biggest audience) into your home. Ms. D from sixth period or Mr. K from Language Arts are not sitting on their couches binge watching Netflix: they’re in your kitchen.

The student hasn’t had time to compose that polished draft—it’s strictly a hypothetical object in the future—so what this teacher-reader “sees” is your child at their most vulnerably imperfect time—in the rough draft stage.

To avoid disappointing this teacher-reader, children delete and correct in-progress writing. Often it’s preferable to not write anything because that’s seemingly the most foolproof way to avert negative feedback.

#1 Settle into the Moment

The most important step is to help your child settle into the moment and steer attention away from that writing future. It’s a sort of mental CPR you need to perform on your child. Pick and choose from the other measures explained in this article, but this part is fundamental.

The best way for your child to more aware is to reengage with the body by observing the breath for 1-2 minutes. Breathing in, here, breathing out, now. The physical benefits of mindful breathing are the slowing of the pulse and the petering out of adrenalin. 
As young writers redirect their mind to follow the breath, self-talk downshifts from that stressful racing of I can’t write I have no idea what to write I am in big trouble
Breathing is a free and readily available method to switch perceptions of the time of writing—no special equipment required. 

In my classroom, I’m partial to what I call “yoga for hands,” directing students to focus on the sensations of typing (wrist bones, musculature, pistons of the fingers). It’s impossible to obsess on a tricky audience and simultaneously stay aware of your hands.

#2: Take Charge of Reader Proximity

To evict future-based imaginary readers, switch writing materials. Notebooks and pens install the teacher in the back of kids’ heads. To gain breathing room, avoid writing materials associated with final products.

Instead of a Word document or clean notebook, gather Crayons, magic markers, Post-Its, a coloring book, food stained paper from the recycling bin, a grocery bag—materials not normally shown to teachers. This automatically marks the writing as “private”—buys your child distance from critics. For instance, I write poems in the early hours of the morning with a $1 composition notebook and a pink magic marker precisely because I will never ever show an editor that copy.

#3 Start Where You Are

Young writers often make the mistake of believing they must start from the literal beginning of a document (title, first sentence, introduction). They’ll stare at the screen forever. The student erroneously equates the timing of reading (in English, we read from the top left corner to bottom right corner, rinse and repeat) with the timing of writing (as we write, we move all around a document). 
Any final document is actually covered with the ant tracks of time—what looks like the opening sentence to us might have been the final touch before submission to a publisher.

Instead of waiting for perfection, help your child start anywhere. A mindful and more prolific approach to writing means accepting whatever the moment offers in terms of material. Ask your child where he already has something to say and start freewriting about that spot—it doesn’t matter if it’s in the dead center of the research project.

#4 Go for Quantity over Quality

Help your child mute her tendency toward correct writing in favor of lots of writing. Between the two of you, agree that she’ll complete a number of rapid freewrites of a reasonable word count, for instance 100 to 300 words. Quality doesn’t matter—fillers, repetition, poor grammar, incomplete sentences are all fine for now.

Withhold rewriting, edits, and proofreading for later, even if only for the last fifteen minutes. When your child is deeply stuck, the focus should be on creating a full, messy first draft. It's much easier to operate from a position of abundance than scarcity.

You can improve your child’s writing experience through mindfulness—as long as you keep two principles in mind. First, you should write with your child. Reach for scrap paper or the back of a bill and write alongside him. Write about anything—scribble pajamas and novel in bed pajamas a dozen times—as long as you’re seen writing. This sends an important message that while you won’t be writing their essay, you’re engaged in writing.

Second, abstain from any criticism whatsoever—not a single misspelling, comma-gone-wild, or out-of-place sentence. Your kid is struggling because she’s crouched in a mental huddle, anticipating corrections on content and grammar. For her to access the present moment, it’s important that she writes as freely as possible from anticipated correction.

 It might be tempting to tweak your child’s writing once it starts flowing—don’t. It’ll only do more harm than good. Take a breath—I bow to you—because if you’ve followed even a few of these steps, you’ve already done a world of short- and long-term good for your child writer.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Keep Nothing Day: A Celebration of Disposable Writing





We have Write-a-Novel-Month, we have poem-a-day initiatives. Try Save Nothing Day, a session in which you delete or 
 discard whatever you've written. 

Write your own sand mandala. Do not keep notes toward what you have written. Do not save drafts. Do not memorize phrases to keep for later. Do not tuck them discretely under a folder or notebook when no one is looking. Instead when time is up for your writing session, press delete, drag the item to e-recycling bin or crumple the sheet of paper into an actual waste bin. Using a paper shredder might be a better option for it keeps at bay the temptation of retrieval.

Write your own sand mandala—writing that gets blown away. Reach beautiful insights, find colorful structural strategies, realize new points and segue, create whole stretches in an aesthetic approach—and then erase.

Often another breed of deletion becomes dominant in a writer’s process: a deletion that causes more harm than good, that anticipates a future audience and is defensive. (Hitting the backspace bar as often as moving forward, mixing editing with creating.)

The deletion of disposable writing is different because it's a deletion of product, not process. We follow the moment, we enjoy the motion of writing, and at the end we relinquish product, unattached to outcome.

Who should join the tradition of those who Keep Nothing?
·         Those who are stuck in their writing and find everything they have written to be precious.
·         Those who need to think everything through before writing, who need to be perfect as a defense against anticipated criticism.
·         Those who daydream about product and outcome, about how the end result will personally benefit them, change their status, improve their lot with others or with themselves.
·         Those who will not allow words to be in their natural state and those who will not allow writing to be ordinary and prosaic in its constant generation.
·         Those who worship writing.
·         Those who wait for regeneration of their writing, either of their overall ability or a specific project.
·         Those who place their own standards and motives before the motion of writing.
·         Those who don’t see writing as a movement occurring in time but instead as an object, static, like a trophy.

The benefits of disposable writing are the lowering of standards and the practicing of detachment. For the practitioner, there is trust in this letting go: one trusts the abundance of impermanence, knowing that just as good writing arose in this moment, it will arise again in another moment.

What does one write when keeping nothing? 

Write as one would normally write or write as one would not normally write, but at the end, delete.

Write with an audience in mind or write with no audience in mind, and at the end, shred. 

Give oneself a focus, genre, approach, or do not give oneself a focus, genre, or approach and instead freewrite, and at the end, crumble. 

Write the next step in a draft on a particular project or begin something new. 

The content, stage, and genre don't matter—decide those on your own—but in the end, delete. 

Many find the disposable method most useful and least intimidating if done with freewriting or with the earliest stages of invention. A person of advanced training in the mindfulness of writing will practice disposable writing at advanced and more polished phases and with genre of increasing distinction.

You may decide to retain your creation, but don’t allow yourself this exemption too often because the lessons of disposable writing and the benefits of acknowledging impermanence will fade away. 

Finally, it's possible to keep your writing and at the same time maintain the disposable mindset: this requires a sincere dedication to impermanence while you write, a true tracking of the passing moments. It's possible to cheat the recycling bin, but the person who does so must have a strong mindful writing practice. It's is too easy to become ensnared in attachment.

Write your own sand mandala—words that get blown away.

1  A quota means focusing on doing, which is good because that is a focus on process, but at the same time these sort of initiatives dangle the charm of a particular genre (I wrote a novel; I wrote a sonnet today), and therefore harden patterns of attachment (I wrote a whole novel; I wrote an actual sonnet today).


Sunday, July 1, 2018

Transcript of Talk on Mindful Writing at Imperial College Conference



The Ability to Write is Always Present: Mindfulness Theory for Creative Writing Studies

Transcript of talk given at Great Writing Conference, June 23, 2018


In the late 1990s, I lived as a graduate student in a tenement building that was falling to pieces. Green shingles serving as cheap siding fell out like teeth. Pieces of the slate roof struck porch and bicycles like urns in an Edwin Gorey cartoon. On lethargic afternoons, I tried to write to the accompaniment of drills from the neighborhood auto repair shop. 
I’d often felt I was hostage to a massive problem. In school for creative writing, I wasn’t producing enough, and I had no idea how I would survive in the writing world. The years ticked by, my twenties, then my early thirties, whole seasons spent over a vintage typewriter or an electric typewriter, later a laptop, with nothing to show for it but a few magazine publications and a book case of journals and notebooks. 
Fast forward to 2018. I’ve changed from an isolated writer with highly cramped drafts, someone who spent seasons at her desk with little to show for it, to who I am now, a writer who is at peace with her writing and publishes multiple pieces in several genres each year. Writing isn’t a strain but a daily joy. I am deeply indebted to the moment because it’s the present moment and a practice of mindful writing that’s brought me to this place. Every moment can be a prolific moment.

Like any other activity, writing occurs during a present moment—not in the past, not last year, not in the future, not tomorrow. I have never written tomorrow. You have never written tomorrow. Your students have never written tomorrow. As the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh has said, “We have an appointment with life in the present moment. If we miss the present moment, we miss our appointment with life.” Or as Janis Joplin crooned, “Tomorrow never comes.” 
If we overlook the present, we forfeit significant writing resources in exchange for some pretty questionable ones that increase our stress and apprehension. It’s a poor bargain. The trouble is that dwelling on the future of our writing leaves us preparing for impact, locked in a defensive mode, anxiously reaching after already finished polished documents and comparing ourselves with more skilled, future-based and nonexistent versions of ourselves.

Mindfulness offers a different a perspective on creative writing instruction by highlighting present time in the rhetorical situation and the writing process. Writing becomes a strikingly different experience if we think of writing as part of a discrete Now. Let’s think for a moment about the writing moment: when we are at our desks, how often are we aware of what’s happening right now? Why are we usually not aware of the present as we write? And what might be different about our writing experiences if we shifted from what’s usually future-based and mindless thinking to focusing on the arising moment for the purposes of writing? I think we’d happily find that every moment can become an inventive moment due to the establishment of a calm, non-evaluative, and observant outlook that promotes receptivity to new ideas.

Mindfulness is the observation of ever-changing phenomena as they occur in real time using a detached and non-evaluative outlook. Jon Kabat-Zinn famously described mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally,” and Ruth Baer as “taking an accepting, non-judgmental, non-reactive or non-avoidant stance toward observed experience.” Ellen Langer made a powerful case in The Power of Mindful Learning for the ways in which mindfulness increases openness of perception, ability to recognize variances and possibilities, and decreases learned helplessness, a condition in which learners misperceive their resources as limited. 
Typically, most creative writing students give disproportionate consideration to the future and past as they write. It’s also the case that our current process and rhetorical pedagogies for creative writing are renting space in the future—they act out of a future orientation. A prime example of that future orientation is the way in which writing scholars handle audience by telling writers to fashion non-existent readers—made-up people who basically appear as tricky genie from the bottle of an assignment while students write. 
Moreover, with a mindless or future orientation, the affective responses we engender in students can tend toward apprehension, defensiveness, worry, and doubt. These negative responses can accrue and cause long-term writing disability. In fact, the problem is that we routinely teach a mindlessness perspective on writing—and we routinely set students up for a mindless approach to the writing they might do for the rest of their lives. With mindful composing, the act of writing is located inside an ever-shifting context of a present moment. 

If we change our temporal orientation for writing and instead settle into the Now, a fresh new set of rhetorical factors step into the foreground, and these devices can help individuals become more productive and calm writers, improving both outcome and mindset. Mindful writing factors are intrapersonal voice, impermanence, preverbal emptiness, and affective responses to the occasion of writing—ones that normally go unobserved in traditional instruction. By learning to manage these mindful writing factors, students can change their writing experiences, bolstering their confidence, fluency, and even interest. Omitting the present moment will lead to suffering and writing blocks; awareness of the present moment will lead to a more optimal and sustainable relationship with creative writing for the long-term.
This present awareness for creative writing needs to be explicitly taught because mindlessness—not mindfulness—is our default position. The typical human attention span for the present was estimated in the 1880s by Wilhlem Wundt to be between five and twelve seconds. In Principles of Psychology, William James claimed that the average experience of the present moment was limited to a dozen seconds or less. Humans demonstrate proclivity toward avoiding the present: we can’t sustain a now focus without departing into “monkey mind” or inner discursivity concerned with evaluation, the past, or the future. 
Mindful writing theory also neatly dovetails into currently established process and rhetorical approaches to writing instruction. That’s because those mindful rhetorical factors compliment traditional ones of audience, purpose, and constraint and also because mindfulness enhances traces of present awareness already found in a process approach.
In the next few minutes, I want to make a case for why creative writing scholars and instructors should pay more attention to the present moment in theory and pedagogy, asking, What are those important writing resources that go unused if we’re heedless of the present? How can a creative writing curriculum help students become more aware of the present and these writing resources?
Intrapersonal rhetoric
Every time a student sits down to write, two texts happen nearly simultaneously. One comes with a font and a page appearance; it’s the one that’s revised and distributed, uses sentences and paragraphs. It can be spellchecked and reread. It’s interpersonal. The second operates invisibly, often outside even the writer’s notice. It’s intrapersonal, and it’s the first instance of words on the creative scene. 
The shaping influence of this internal talk on subsequent drafts should not be underestimated. All writing, no matter the genre, all writing begins as intrapersonal communication despite how we usually dwell on the interpersonal future, looking for the readers or publications of upcoming moments while overlooking the language immediately in front of us. The intrapersonal consistently fills up most writing moments. In fact, a practitioner of mindfulness will tell you that it’s nearly impossible to avoid this babble. The Buddhist notion of “monkey mind” picturesquely captures our non-stop tendency to sort and evaluate experiences in our heads.
There are three things to note about this monkey mind when it comes to our writing. 
First, it’s a reliable source of ongoing, ever-changing content. There are no blank moments if we can train students to observe the moment for this constant production of words with a non-evaluative, non-sorting outlook. Prolific writing doesn’t require anything extraordinary beyond the ability to remain as accepting as possible. Secondly, the intrapersonal is not entirely a benefit to a writer—especially if allowed to pass unobserved—because in addition to providing possible content, it’s a trouble maker. It generates preconceptions and other writing liabilities. As the language of the moment, the intrapersonal is both highly persuasive and ongoing, and it will persuade us, often without our conscious recognition, of certain outcomes about the piece of writing at hand or about our writing ability and qualifications—either specific to the task or in general. Third, a view toward intrapersonal rhetoric helps us understand the chimerical nature of  our so-called readers, those imaginary beings writers project into their working hours, beings that are in fact constructions of self-talk.
[Examples of exercises to help students notice the intrapersonal: Mind Lists, freewrites to net preconceived thinking about their writing, Caricature of an Audience.]
Impermanence
Something is always arising in our writing minds due to ongoing impermanence and the radical contingency of the moment—this means ideas are arising as well as sensations from the writing body. Fragments, phrases, full sentences appear in the flotsam of consciousness due to the persistence of intrapersonal talk. 
The shifting present summons awareness of physical sensations related to writing embodiment (posture, typing, sensations of jewelry or shoes on the feet, the feeling of the ballpoint pen held by a trio of fingers); awareness of the scene of writing (room or landscape, time of day, season, household sounds, drip-drop of melting snow); awareness of intertextuality (words in hard copy books, digital texts, on phones, in recalled conversations); as well as awareness of affective formations or our emotions about the act of writing (alertness, discouragement, confidence). 
The sheer bulk of transient material encourages students to accept flaws, dullness, repetition, lack of clarity, and cliché and gives practice in low-stakes, informal writing. Because mental formations are transient and continuously arising, the material must be a bit disposable writing: a writer simply can’t hold onto it all, and this provides practice in detachment. Furthermore, concerns a student might feel about potential errors are alleviated by awareness that content is fleeting—wait a few seconds and something else come along. 

[Examples of exercises to help students notice impermanence: Yoga for Hands, freewriting, 25 Variations on Genre.]
Preverbal emptiness
Mindful writing means managing the paradoxical co-existence of the nonverbal and the verbal in each moment. Each moment in the string of thousands that comprises a writing experience, no matter how far along the moment falls in the advancement of a draft, is an empty (preverbal, nonverbal) event. For one, the nonverbal initiates every single writing moment. The observed moment starts off as non-discursive and often ends with language. A fresh present moment opens with awareness directed on the expansion of the lungs, the air pushing against the ribs, the temperature of air as it moves past the nostrils and then shifts to bits of words or voice, half an image, or the tail-end of a sentence of intrapersonal rhetoric. As a result, prewriting is dunked in non-writing and so is middle-stage drafting, and so is a final proofreading decision. Secondly, we perceive the instant when formlessness turns over to form, when out of observed emptiness emerges a phrase, and back again, or when form turns over to formlessness.
Many writing students fail to observe emptiness and miss out on an important resource for generating writing. Probably just as many students avoid the non-verbal and construe those times of not writing as a sign of a writing block. Normally, not-writing is rejected experience. 
The study of form and formlessness, in contrast, reassures students that a wordless stretch will turn over to words because of the nature of impermanence—if we can sit with that wordlessness and cease avoiding or mislabeling it. Put simply, the paradox of emptiness is that nonwriting is included in every instance of writing, and writing is included in every instance of nonwriting. A mindfulness perspective can also overturn dualistic thinking that too easily obstructs writing. To overvalue one genre or stage of writing over another and perhaps especially to overvalue form over formlessness is to risk writing suffering since a writer is craving a particular product and overlooking his or her present writing situation.
[Examples of exercises to help students notice emptiness: Sand mandala (disposable writing), Save Nothing Day, momentwriting, Corpse Pose for Revision.]

Mind Waves, Mind Weeds
The occasion of writing often arouses a host of feelings, some unpleasant (apprehension, doubt, frustration, embarrassment, resentment), and some pleasant (pride, contentment, self-respect, thrill). People are steeped in their own emotions about needing to write. Mindfulness plays an integral role in the development of a calm mind for writing so we can stop our kneejerk reactions to the manipulative stories told to us by our intrapersonal voice. By adopting Shunryu Suzuki’s categories of mind waves and mind weeds from his classic Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, we gain a better sense of our writing-related emotions.
Mind waves and mind weeds are mental formations that momentarily disturb the calmness of the mind without existing separate from the mind. First mind waves. Resembling a wordless pulse or sensation, a ripple across the surface of emptiness, mind waves usually remain nonverbal because they’re very brief—the passing urge to switch the position of one’s legs, fleeting irritation at a noise, quick registering of an aftertaste. 
On the other hand, mind weeds are more three dimensional than mind waves because they come accompanied by inner language and last longer. Mind weeds can provoke a writer to off-road from the moment and follow an alluring storyline about what’s happening—a daydream that lasts for a minute or a fantasy conversation with a reader who is not around. Both mind waves and mind weeds represent opportunities to engage with formlessness, resist binaries, and reach an expansive mind.
Students should not be bothered by their mind waves or weeds, since waves and weeds will dissipate. These formations are natural, inevitable, and not worthy of evaluation, just as we wouldn’t try to isolate a passing wave from its pond or feel critical of the pond for including waves. Writers should sit with difficult writing-related emotions, watching the emotions almost like a fire in a fireplace for their fluctuations in energy and imagery, without being kidnapped by the emotional storylines. 
Essentially, this practice entails noticing an emotion without judgment while simultaneously remaining aware of our present circumstances. This discipline also means teaching writers to not cling—not even to positive feelings about writing—because peak emotional experiences such as pride or excitement warrant mindful monitoring to curtail preconception and storyline. The goal of mindfully working with writing-related emotions is to build a long-standing state of satisfaction, calm, a transferrable self-appreciation—a Buddha smile for writing.
[Examples of exercises to help students notice their writing-related emotions: The Fireplace, Already Perfect Meditation, Stone Backpack of Perfectionism]
Let me be clear about this point: most of us are functional mindless writers. 
Paragraphs, chapters, poems, freewrites, novels, screenplays, short stories, memoir, cover letters, and so on have been composed out of near- to fully mindless states. For generations, countless pieces of creative writing have been composed with not a single millisecond of present awareness. No doubt creative writing courses have been passed and books published out of states of mindlessness. 
What I am saying here is that this mindlessness has occurred not without the high cost of many writers’ self-confidence, self-efficacy, and enjoyment as well as the loss of possibility. It certainly hampered my ability for a long while during and after my creative writing education. As imaginative writers, we are in the business of creating illusions and developing a vision of what is not actually present, this I also acknowledge.
The problem, however, is that the capacity of the intrapersonal to float us along is finite, and we will be summoned back to our awareness of the moment, of where we are, of what we are doing, of the fact that we want or need to write. Possibly, we will be beached upon our longing for a return of that state of seamless, oblivious productivity. It is at that moment that individuals most require mindfulness because by returning our attention to the present we will almost immediately be able to submerge ourselves in that intrapersonal rhetoric and flux—to find mindlessness writing. With awareness of the writing moment, every moment can be a prolific moment.


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: http://www.greatwriting.org.uk/

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:

https://www.routledge.com/Prolific-Moment-Theory-and-Practice-of-Mindfulness-for-Writing/Peary/p/book/9781138493599






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.