Tool For Writers: Attentional Training

I'm finishing up Uncertainty, the book by Jonathan Fields, and last Friday, after I wrote about Everystockphoto_172114_mprocess visualization, I promised a post with another tip that'll help with your creativity.  That tip is attentional training.

As mentioned earlier, Fields likes to give fancy names to things we've all heard of and are familiar with. 

Thus, attentional training = meditation. 

Or similar activities.  Or, as Fields puts in, "techniques that create certain psychological and physiological changes in your body and brain."  Like I said, meditation.

What captured my attention (hahaha, funny pun) was his discussion of active AT.  What, pray tell, is that?  He says "This is how the vast majoritiy of people get their AT in," and further, that many people engage in this kind of AT without even realizing it.  For instance, when you're painting, or playing music, or knitting, or engaged in sports.  The hallmarks of active AT are:

–a repetitive, deliberate activity that does not require constant attention (I'm way synopsizing here)

–an activity driven by novelty, speed or intense bursts of concentration.

I'm way good at the first kind of active AT, such as knitting or sewing or weeding, all that repetitive motion stuff.  And I've been advocating it as a route to creativity for years.  There's just something about the repeated motions that jars ideas loose from the brain.  I can't tell you how many times I've stood up from the computer, done for the day, and picked up my knitting, only to rush back to the computer because of the rush of images that suddenly flood my mind.  Other activities in this category are running and biking.

The other kind of AT that Fields discusses is mindfulness AT, things like meditation, in all its various forms (including zazen, insight, mantra, and so on).  Over the last few decades, there have been studies galore that sing the praises of meditation for its mindfulness properties.  Here's the deal about it: you do it just for the sake of doing it, but the benefits of it are legion.  Because the more you train yourself to sit in meditation and empty the brain, the easier it is to sit and focus on your writing.  And its good for your state of mind and your body as well, but who cares about that crap as long as it benefits the writing? 

I like meditation because it gives me a break from the ongoing and exhausting rushing craziness of my story.  Now, I'm the first to venerate the power of story, but when I'm caught up in my crappy story, the stuff I've told myself over and over again so many times I want to vomit, it doesn't feel very powerful or uplifting.  So getting a break from it is pretty wonderful.

And let me just offer up the single most important thing I've learned about meditation: even if you're lousy at it, however you're doing it helps.  I used to think that people who meditated didn't deal with the mind chatter that assails me.  But they do.  And that is why we meditate.  To quiet the mind chatter so that we can listen–and hear the still small voice within, or perhaps the voice of God, giving us marching orders.  The key is to keep at it.  Even when your mind chatter interrupts you a million times in the five minutes you've given yourself to meditate.  Even when you think its not helping.  Because it is.  And it gets easier. 

Do you practice meditation?  Or any kind of active AT?  How do you feel it benefits your writing?

***Another great way to foster creativity is to make a vision board for your book or writing project.  Download my free ebook to find out more, just fill out the form to the right of this post and you'll also receive a free subscription to my bi-weekly newsletter, The Abundant Writer.

Photo by keithcr, from Everystockphoto.

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5 Responses to Tool For Writers: Attentional Training

  1. Fear of Writing 11/15/2011 at 07:29 #

    Loved your spunky writing voice in this post. :~)

    Taking a shower, walking in the park and cleaning up the dishes are some of the sure-fire “active AT” things that work for my brain. I took a long bath a couple nights ago and the action of repeatedly pouring water over my head and asking for an answer I was seeking elicited a rush of intuitive insights. There was something about being under a waterfall of my own devising that really seemed to help.

    For meditation – I usually use guided meditation CDs. I’m a wimp about straight meditation because of the mind chatter issue. Your words about that were very helpful – maybe I’ll rethink.

    ~ Milli

  2. Charlotte Dixon 11/15/2011 at 07:35 #

    Thanks, Milli! Yes, the shower is a great place for ideas. I remember a few years ago somebody marketed chalk for the shower, so you could write down ideas. And walking is also great for getting things going. I often end up making notes on my phone. Keep us posted on how the meditation goes for you.

  3. Carole Jane Treggett 11/15/2011 at 07:59 #

    Oh Charlotte – a woman after my own heart: “…but who cares about that crap as long as it benefits the writing?” LOL.

    Your synopsizin’ is electrifyin’ and clarifyin’ 😀 Hmm,I now have an image of John Travolta flashing through my brain? :p Confession: I went to see ‘Grease’ 8 times when it debuted in movie theatres in 1978.

    I’ve tried meditation a few times but got impatient with it all. After reading this post,though, I’m going to give it another whirl and keep at it for a while to see if it helps in the long-run. Thanks also for the reminder to make a vision board; I love that idea too and shall try it.

  4. Anna Thompson 11/15/2011 at 10:27 #

    Interesting…. I think the most effective way for me to develop attention is to try to divide it.

    I know :)

    for example, try to play a piano and concentrate on both hands – that’ll make you pay attention :)


  5. Charlotte Dixon 11/15/2011 at 17:48 #

    Carole Jane, I totally hear you about the meditation, I’ve been the same way–impatient as all hell about it–for years. But something has told me to keep going back and its worth it. Also, do it for just 5 minutes at a time, or a minute, before you write. I think we tend to make too big a deal over it. Check back and let us know how it works.

    Anna, Love it! Develop attention by dividing it, I’ll have to try. Thanks for visiting!

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