Monday, April 15, 2019

Writing, No Writing: Guest Blog Post at North American Review

Here's my second guest blog post, "Writing, No Writing: Cultivating the Emptiness of the Page," at the North American Review:

The blog post opens:

"Normally, not-writing is rejected experience. Most writers value the popcorn sound of typing or other signs of productivity—a paragraph written, a journal page filled, a poem drafted, a noble goal of 3,000 words/day. The entire reason for prompts is to springboard writers out of the preverbal and into the verbal, for instance. We only begin to feel secure once language makes an appearance on the screen and the word count climbs. Each new sentence or line seems to rescue us from a perceived plight of failure, transporting us farther away from this face-off with nothingness..."

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Bowing to Writing Difficulty

One of my most important writing practices is bowing to difficulty.

As I end a session at the desk, after I've stored my notebooks and pens and closed the laptop, I bow deeply. I acknowledge the opaque black plastic of the closed laptop lid. 

It doesn't matter if the session was seemingly productive, resulting in new writing or a completed document. It doesn't matter if the session was seemingly non-productive, resulting in a phrase or two or perhaps no increase in word count whatsoever. I bow to difficulty; I bow to non-difficulty. It's all the same.

This practice is as important to me as anything I do to start the morning writing session. Or anything I do during the writing session. I would even venture to say that bowing to difficulty is as important as having the discipline to return to the desk. Why? 

The practice of bowing to writing is an exercise in acceptance and equanimity. I express my gratitude to the writing experience for what it is, without sorting it into categories of usefulness, non-usefulness, favorable, unfavorable. The experience is free of my evaluation, free of clinging, free of suffocating ego and ambition.

The practice of bowing allows me to continue to focus on the present moment of writing and work on avoiding future- or outcome fixation. Bowing to writing, no matter what, means the moment (and not the product) is the star of the hour.

Finally, the practice of bowing lets me establish the end note for the session. Bowing lets me take charge of "writing affect" (the emotions we have about the act of writing). Bowing allows me to steer my internal talk about writing toward gratitude, calm, and happiness and away from bitterness, frustration, and writing unhappiness. By purposefully shaping how a writing session ends for me emotionally, I am more inclined to return to the desk the next day.

The practice of bowing must be sincere: I honor whatever writing has happened in the moment.

Here's what I wrote about "Bowing to Difficulty" in my recent book, Prolific Moment (page 140):

"An easily initiated practice in accepting writing affect is "Bowing to Difficulty," in which writers close a writing session by bowing (physically or mentally) to their desk, laptop, notebook, or other writing materials for the challenges presented during a session. It's a variant of a remark I once heard a scientist make during a radio interview about his process of returning over hundreds of days to his lab to perform an experiment without success: 'Another day, another fail.' Eventually, he obtained interesting results (and was interviewed on National Public Radio), but success wasn't guaranteed--a lack of control that in itself constitutes a potent form of difficulty for many writers. To work without expectation of outcome or product and without expectation of ease is a trademark skill of a mindful writer who is comfortable enough with uncertainty and detached enough to perceive variability. A writing moment or hour passes: it contains the failure of seemingly insufficient quantity or quality. It's a matter of indifference, since the basis of success is the ability to perceive the writing moment and not whether the writing moment yielded appreciated material..."

* image from Taoism about com