Five on Friday: Gloomy February Edition

I know, I know, you get back what you put out so I shouldn’t be calling February gloomy. But for cripes sakes, it kind of is.  I mean, we’ve got the Donald, and here in Portland we’ve had so many ice and snowstorms I’ve lost count (give me plain old Oregon rain any day), and there’s just so much going on it is hard to concentrate. But, people, we must. And so let’s chat about good things. (Yes, you may call me Pollyanna.)

What I’m Reading. I’ve had the worst dry spell. Had a few books on hold at the library and when I went to pick them up I found more on the featured shelves. And then…disaster. They were all a bust. So I went back to the tried and true and I’m reading A Light in the Window, by Jan Karon, second in the Mitford series books.  For the uninitiated, Mitford is a charming town where nothing too terribly bad happens.  Truthfully, not all that much happens in general.  Perfect antidote to these times.  Oh, and another trip to the library netted another hopeful armload of books, among them The Fortress, a memoir by Danielle Trussoni. She had this rather wild and wonderful book about angels that I enjoyed a few years back. And, wait for it, this book is set mostly in a small town in the Languedoc region of France, where I go every year. (And you can, too.)  Not having a good book to read is like not writing….

(And don’t forget about my buddy J.D.’s book.)

What I’m Reading Online. This series by Shawn Coyne on love stories just wrapped up.  It is brilliant, and for the record, it is not just about romances.  He makes the point in earlier posts that love stories in one form or another underlie just about every story.  But, for the record, romances comprise 45% of the Ebook market on Amazon.

What I’m in the Market For: A new phone. Oh my checkered history with phones! I was an Iphone girl for a long time, and then I switched to Samsung, because I got bored and wanted something different.  Loved my Samsung Note 4 for a couple of months until it started doing odd things. Like rearranging the icons on my home page. Hanging up on people. Calling people.  And then there are the strange noises that occur in the middle of phone calls. I convinced the phone is tapped.

But, glory Hallelujah, this oddity is nearly paid off and I can get a new one! I was all set to go back to the Iphone and then they released the 7 without a headphone jack. People, I spend half my life on the phone coaching, I need to use headphones. So that’s out. I’ve narrowed the field to the Samsung 7 Edge or the Google phone (which I understand I can buy through Google, even though I use ATT. Does anybody have any suggestions? I would love to hear.

What I’m Excited About: Friday night at home by the fire. (Except it has been freakishly warm the last couple of days, so maybe no fire. Damn.) I’ve been out every night this week: Monday to Happy Hour with my biz partner and a new friend, Tuesday to babysit grandchildren, Wednesday to the bi-weekly writing group Debbie and I run, and last night to the Women Without Rules Happy Hour.  This last is a group of women who got together when one of them put out a call on Next Door Neighbor (one of my favorite obsessions).  They meet for coffee every Monday, have Happy Hours every other week, and do other fun activities as well. I don’t go nearly often enough because I enjoy it when I do.

What I’m Amazed About: That, even on the busiest days (and I had some doozies this week), the more regularly I take time out to meditate or knit a few rows on a current project, the more easily I get things done.  I just found an article related to this here. It speaks to the benefit of getting the freak away from computers and smart phones and tablets and having another hobby.

What is going on in your world? Please do leave a comment, I love hearing from you.

What it Takes to Be a Writer: Part One

asok_project365_mydesk_1059218_hWherein I talk about what it takes to be a writer, in my humble opinion, anyway.  To finish a book project, or even an article or short story.  To get the book out in the world, either into the hands of an agent and editor, or publish it yourself, which is a whole other enterprise. To hit the bestseller list. To rinse and repeat, which you’re going to need to do to build a career as a writer. What it takes to accomplish whatever your dream is.

Fresh off teaching a recent workshop in France, I’ve been pondering this.  Working with writers, listening to their hopes and frustrations opens my eyes over and over again, because their concerns echo mine in my own writing practice.  We are all gloriously different, right? And, at heart, we are also all very much alike.  To that end, here are two arenas in which many frustrations lie:

  1. Mindset
  2. Butt in chair

Let’s look at mindset,  otherwise known as the way you think, first.  It is easy to groan about this, to hold up your hands and say “Don’t tell me I am what I think!” But the cold, hard truth of the matter is that it’s true. If you think you can do it, you will be able to. But if you don’t think you can, you won’t. Sigh. You really do need to master your mindset about your writing.

But here’s a lot of the reason why—because after thinking about it, you need to do it. I know. Duh. But if you’re busy telling yourself that you can’t do it, you won’t. It’ll be too much pressure. You’ll get bored and wander away, take up archery or long-distance swimming or bird-watching.  Thoughts wear grooves in your brain and if you keep thinking you can’t, then your brain will believe you. And you won’t take time to write, because, well, you’re convinced you can’t. Or that you’re a bad writer. Or that the odds are stacked against you.

I follow a young woman named Jennifer Blanchard.  She is always ranting fervently about mindset and how important it is, how one must write down their goals every day, or at least re-read their goals. Etc., etc.  Part of me loves this stuff. Loves it. And part of me—the part that actually has to take the action—rolls my eyes at it.  But the thing is, everything she says about mindset is true.  You gotta get your brain in the right place to be a writer.  And that means doing whatever it takes, be that rereading your goals every day or monitoring those pesky negative thoughts.

Most of all it means you have to believe you can do it. Because if you don’t believe, you won’t make the time for it.  You’ll read knitting blogs (like I do when I get blocked), instead. Or you’ll decide the kitchen floor needs mopping. Or the cat’s nails need trimming. And the thing is—you won’t even realize why you’re indulging in these procrastination activities. You’ll convince yourself that it’s because there’s that spot of dirt, right there on the floor where everyone can see it.  Or that you absolutely must read that blog because you have to figure out where you went wrong on the sweater you’re knitting.  Or that the cat pulled up a thread on your gorgeous slipcover. Like that.

What’s the antidote to this? In truth, a lot of it is in taking action, which I’ll get to in a moment. Because the more you write, the easier it becomes and the easier it becomes, the more you’ll believe you can do it. Yeah, there is definitely an endless loop going on here.  But here are a couple other hints about mindset:

  1. Visualization has scientifically been proven to help. Not visualizing the moment you stand at the podium and accept your Nobel Prize for Literature, but visualizing yourself actually sitting at the computer writing. Thinking about how it feels as the words flow and your fingers range across the page.

Here’s an article that gives a good rundown on how to do it, and here’s one from Psychology Today on its benefits.

  1. Meditation and positive thinking. Activities that go hand in hand with visualization are meditation (you knew I was going there) because it quiets the damn monkeys in the brain enough to allow you to think positive thoughts about your writing, and affirmations. Yeah, I know. Dopey. I get it. But you can use them in the most casual of ways, as in when you’re thinking how you just can’t seem to get the scene right instead of berating yourself for being an idiot who can’t write, turn it around and tell yourself you know the story and you can figure out the scene. Just tell yourself that the rest of the day. C’mon, you’re a storyteller, right? So tell yourself a positive story. That’s all an affirmation is, in truth. You’re going to be telling yourself something all day anyway, it might as well be something positive.

As for meditation, just try it. Really. It is ten or fifteen minutes out of your day, and if it helps you become a better writer, isn’t that time well spent? I highly recommend downloading the Insight Timerfor your phone and using it. You can set interval bells so that the fifteen minutes doesn’t seem to stretch to fifteen hours, and there’s all kinds of cool ambient sounds you can meditate to, as well as a selection of guided meditations to try. Plus, it’s like social media for meditators. You can create a profile and interact with others all over the world.

Okay, so, alas, one cannot sit in one’s recliner and meditate and visualize and think positive thoughts all day and become a writer.  Would that we could. So I’ll discuss part two of the topic of what it takes in a blog post slated for Wednesday.

Until then, happy mind-setting. Or meditating. Or whatever.

And do tell what you think it takes to be a writer.

Five on Friday: Everything New

Hola! Its a beautiful Friday afternoon in Portland, Oregon, and I am posting the very first post on my new blog. Well, its not exactly new–just the design and the host (WordPress instead of Typepad).  So, there’s a bit of a learning curve here and I’ll be playing around the next few weeks.  But seeing as how it is Friday, its time for another edition of five things are going on in my life.

What I’m Working On: NaNoWriMo, in a cheating sort of way.  Cheating because I already had around 17,000 words written when I started last Sunday and the rules say you can’t start until November 1.  What I’m doing is using the collective energy to help me writing every day.  And its working–I’ve got 10,000 more words racked up then I did this time last week.

What I’m Reading: After You, by Jojo Moyes and a book on meditation.  Speaking of which:

What I’m Crazy About: Meditation.  I know.  But I’ve managed to put together a daily meditation practice for three weeks in a row now and I’m pretty happy about it.  Researchers say the brain changes after just six weeks of meditation and I believe it, because I feel different.  More in a blog post about this next week.

What I’m Doing This Weekend:  Attending Wordstock, our local literary festival, reconstituted after a year’s hiatus.

What I Need You To Be Aware Of: The fact that if you followed me on Typepad and arranged to get notification when a new post published, that might not have transferred over.  Then again, we’re not sure.  So if anybody got here via email, please let me know!  Meanwhile, I’ll try to figure out how to let you subscribe in the comments box.

And, um, yeah, there’s no photo–because I haven’t figured out how to add one yet.  All in good time, people, all in good time.

Living With Ease: Interview with Sandra Pawula

It is my pleasure and honor to offer you this interview with Sandra Pawula.  Sandra writes one of my favorite go-to blogs, Always Well Within, where I find spiritual wisdom and inspiration.  She's a writer herself, so everything she shares speaks to creatives.  Sandra has a new e-course that starts September 9th.  I'm planning to sign up–it's just $21.  Please check it out.  And read her informative comments on easing stress below.

You've been writing a popular blog for quite some time now. What made you decide to offer an E-course?

The purpose of my blog, Always Well Within, is to help others tap into their own inner spring of true happiness and freedom. A blog post can inspire, encourage, instruct, and spark change. But, you can only go so far in a blog post.

I’ve already been facilitating online meditation courses for more than five years. It feels natural to extend that into an e-course via my blog so that I can support people to grow through a process of positive change that occurs over a period of time.

I’ve led a high stress life, and I know it’s not easy to turn stress around, which is the focus of my course. You need a more concentrated immersion and an ambiance of care and support, to begin to retrain these long-held patterns.

What is the greatest enemy to living with ease?

Your own mind. Marcus Aurelius said:

“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”

This hasn’t changed since the time of Marcus Aurelius, thousands of years ago, and it will never be different now or in the future. Yet, many of us suffer needlessly because we don’t realize we are responsible for our own thoughts, emotions, and perceptions and have the power to change them. Instead, we function on automatic and in a reaction-triggered mode, feeling like a victim of circumstances, relationships, and our own turbulent mind. This can adversely affect your mood, your body, and your overall sense of well-being.

That being said, it’s important to know that some people are genetically predisposed to having a stronger stress response or a weaker relaxation response. Some immune-related diseases may diminish your ability to respond to stress as well. Early nurturing or lack thereof can also impact one’s capacity for resilience. A series of strong stresses that arrive one after the other can also wear out your ability to cope effectively with adversity.

If stress plays a big role in your life, you may be dealing with a unique mix of factors like some those above. If so, it’s critical to take this into account, and at the same time to know it’s still possible for most people to see significant improvement through the mindful use of stress reduction practices.

Stress is endemic in modern life. Physical, emotional, mental, and circumstantial stresses will always occur in your life. But you can learn to intercede and diminish the stress response. The long-term impact of stress can be so debilitating it’s foolhardy not to do so. Stress can be a key element in the development or exacerbation of many disorders like heart disease, diabetes, depression, anxiety, skin conditions, and inflammatory bowel disease, among others. Not to mention it can totally wreck the quality of your life and relationships.

Is it really possible to reduce stress in our crazy new millennium lives?

Absolutely! More than 30 years of medical research has proven this to be so. Here’s one example of cutting edge research from the Harvard Medical School News, which provides an unequivocal yes to this question:

“A new study from investigators at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind/Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center finds that eliciting the relaxation response—a physiologic state of deep rest induced by practices such as meditation, yoga, deep breathing and prayer—produces immediate changes in the expression of genes involved in immune function, energy metabolism and insulin secretion.”

It’s true that our highly active digital engagement – even digital addiction – adds a new dimension to the activation of stress, but we can learn to disengage from time-to-time as part of our personal stress reduction strategy.

Can you share one tip for living with ease?

Breathe! It’s simple, it’s cheap, and it’s always available. Pausing to take a slow, deep breath immediately begins to change your biochemistry. It tells the brain that danger has passed, and it’s OK to relax. But, it's not enough to just breathe once! You need to learn how to breathe, and turn it into a regular practice.

And finally, since my audience is made up of creatives and writers, can you speak to the unique stresses that we face?

Stress takes on so many possible forms in a creative life: Fear of rejection and rejection itself, deadlines, an erratic work flow if you are a freelancer, resistance, lack of motivation or inspiration, finances, juggling your craft with a “real” job. These are just a few ways that stress can manifest for writers and creatives.

If you find stress creeping into your creative life, regular use of mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques will help tremendously. But, you also have to dig deep and be willing to look at what triggers you. Once you know, you can begin to deconstruct the old stories that keep you struck one at a time, or put practical strategies in place that head-off the stress response. Through doing so it will be so much easier to find your flow.

Sandra Pawula is a freelance writer and inner explorer. She writes about finding true happiness and freedom at Always Well Within. Her new e-course, Living with Ease: 21 Days to Less Stress begins on Sept. 9th, and you can register right now.

How do you deal with stress?  Does writing ease it for you as it does for me?  Please share!

Photo by hirekatsu.

What Do You Focus On?

Estock_commonswiki_328901_hWhat you put your attention on grows.  It's that simple.

So if you put your attention on how wonderful it is to write every day, that writing habit will grow.  If you focus on how much fun it is to submit to agents (I'm feeling funny today), you'll do more of it. If you think about your novel when you're not writing, you'll spend more time on it.  That's just the way of the world.

So, piece of cake, right?  Just focus away and off you'll go.

Would that it was that simple.  Because in reality the art of focus is incredibly complex, or at least we humans make it so.

It takes discipline and work to train your attention to writing every day.  Usually, what happens in our brains is a thought process like this:

Oh my God, I didn't write today!  I'm a lazy idiot!  I can never get a writing habit going! I'll never finish my novel!

And then we're focusing on the exact condition we don't want to create–not writing.

Negative thoughts, like all forms of fear, are sneaky beasts.  They can be so ingrained that they form a constant low-level litany of which we're barely aware as we go about out days.  It's the proverbial vicious cycle:  you think negative thoughts–>you create negative conditions–>and then you think more negative thoughts.

Heavy sigh.

What's a writer to do to get her focus on the right things?  Here are some suggestions:

1.  Attentional Training.  This is pretty much a fancy word for meditation that I learned in a book by Jonathan Fields.  You can do any version of it you want: zazen, TM, insight mantra, or just close your eyes and take a few deep breathes throughout the day.  Honestly, it's a pain in the butt, and it is helpful for every aspect of your life, including your creativity and your spirituality.  If you're like me, you'll probably be convinced that you're not doing it right, but no matter how you do it, the practice really helps.

2. Active Attentional Training.  And this is the same as above only, as the name implies, in an active fashion.  So, it's when you are performing sports, or playing music, or, more to my tastes, knitting, sewing, weeding, even mowing the lawn (I do actually do that once in a while–with a push mower even).    You're doing AAT when  you're involved in a repetitive activity that does not require constant attention, or if you're engaging in an activity driven by speed, novelty, or intense bursts of concentration.  A recent example of this for me was doing homework for a class I took at church last week.  I had to read some fairly dense texts and process them mentally.

3.  Eternal vigilance.  Like I said earlier, it is a constant process.   You have to watch and monitor your thoughts endlessly.  But, they are your thoughts, and you are going to have them whatever you do, so you might as well work at turning negative ones into positive ones.  It's a lot more pleasant than, say, rerunning the fight with your boyfriend all day.

4.  Show up.  What's the famous Woody Allen quote? Something along the lines of, "99% of success is showing up."  So very true.  If you keep showing up at your writing chair day after day after day you're training yourself to eventually start focusing.  Because staring at a blank screen does get boring.

5.  Respect the work.  When we don't show up, when we don't focus our attention, we're not respecting the work, or  ourselves.  And what's the point of calling yourself a writer if you're not respecting your profession?  Respecting the work leads to better focus and better focus leads to better work which leads to more respect. Another one of those cycles, this one not so vicious.

So, there you have it, some tips on focus.  Got any of your own you'd like to share?

Photo by Julo, from Wikimedia commons.

 

A Meditation and Exploration for Your Book

I finished going through the papers from long ago that had landed on the floor of my office, but Everystockphoto-4703759-hyesterday I tackled another organizing project: office supplies.  Read: journals.  As in unused ones. I've got tons of them.  After my initial foray into sorting them, I told my husband that if I ever uttered the words, "I need to buy a journal," he was under orders to shoot.

Because I've got boxes and boxes of them, enough writing paper to last me nearly a lifetime. (And, you mark my words, I'll be buying another one within the month because I won't be able to find one that feels just right in the moment.  I know myself too well.)  Some of them are inappropriate for my needs and clearly need to be given away, which is the project at hand.  Along the way I'm finding several journals that only have one or two pages filled out.

And that's where today's post comes in.  On one of those pages, I found the following meditation, scrawled down years ago for my coaching clients in a moment of inspiration.  I figured I'd share it with you.  This meditation was written down and forgotten, so its not been tested in real life.  I decided I'd test it on you guys, since I love you so much.

(This meditation was designed to elicit information about a book you might want to write, but you could adapt the process slightly to make it work for anything else, such as an article or a story.)

Here goes:

1. Sit quietly and center yourself.  Take a few deep breaths and then focus on yourself breathing in and out as you quiet your mind.

2. Now allow your mind to settle on an image.  It's you, sitting behind a table at a book store.  The table in front of you is stacked with books.  Your book!  Picture the whole thing in your mind and then zone in closer.  Now notice:

–What your book looks like

–What is the title?

3.  As you hone in on the book, witness yourself opening the book.  And see:

–What is the book about?

–What does the subject matter on the Table of Contents cover?

(It doesn't matter if you don't see it all this time through.  This will give you a starting point, a springboard for further exploration through free writing.)

4.  As your signing ends, a person come out of the crowd that is now leaving, books in hand.  Oh my goodness, she looks just like a fairy godmother.  She is a fairy godmother!  And she has something for you.  She hand it to you.

–Open your hand and describe what she gives you as fully as possible.

This is your touchstone to carry with you as you write this book. 

That's it!  That's the meditation.  Hope it's helpful.  Have fun with it and adapt it any way you see fit.

Create a successful, inspired writing life:  Experiment with meditation,either guided or not,  in your life and see how it affects your writing practice.  Do you see a difference in your writing?  In how you approach it?

Please share your ideas on meditation.  Do you do it regularly?  Once in a while?  Never?  How does it impact your writing?  I'd love to hear your opinions on the subjec. 

Photo by MVWorks.

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.

Meditation for Writers

Buddha_statue_asia_224789_lI know.  Meditation. Gag me.

We're writers.  Our heads are full of words and images.  Our heads are supposed to be full of words and images so that we can transfer them to the page. 

But.

The transferring to the page is often the tricky part.  The place where we get hung up.  Because we worry.  About whether or not our words are good enough, or people will like them.

And so sometimes the words and images get stuck in our heads.  And then they whirl around and around, driving us nuts.  Which is usually when I recommend that you get you some prompts and engage in some free writing.

But lately I've also been working with meditation.  Yeah, I know, I'm a bit late to the party.  I've had an on-again, off-again (mostly the latter) relationship with meditation for years.  However, the spiritual tradition I'm now very involved with emphasizes meditation and so I've been forced to take another look at it.

Because the point of meditation is to be still, focus on your breath, and quiet the mind.

And really, isn't that exactly what we, as writers, need?

I like to remember who is breathing me.  That would be God, and the fact that I'm breathing in and out, in and out, is proof of the divine and infinite love of the universe.

And that is where I want to remember to live.  In love, always.

Do you meditate?  What's your favorite meditation technique for writing?  Or do you hate it?  Either way, feel free to chime in.

Image by clix.

The Uses of Repetition in Writing…and in Life

In writing, repetition is often frowned upon because it is seen as a lack of cleverness, or perhaps laziness–couldn't you take the time to find a different word so you don't keep repeating the same one?  Please, please, please can't you vary the length and structure of your sentences so as to avoid the mind-numbing sing-song cadence that results?  And the same is true in life.  Repetition is considered dull.  Driving the same way to work every day, repeating the same routine day in, day out–bor-ing.

But lately I've been rethinking repetition in both arenas.

Why? For a couple reasons, the most important being my new object of adoration.  I'm in love with a man from India, who, unfortunately, has been dead since 1999.  His name is Eknath Easwaran, and he wrote a number of books on spirituality. Easwaran was knowledgeable, and wrote about, most of the world's great religious traditions but as far as I can tell he espoused none exclusively.  What he did recommend was a simple 7-step spiritual way of life which is explained in his book, Passage Meditation.

Eknath_Easwaran

And here we come to the repetition.  Easwaran talks about two forms of repetition–passage meditation, which consists of meditating by repeating a spritual passage over and over again, and using a mantram, which you may know as a mantra.  The use of a mantram involves repeating a word or phrase over and over as you go about your daily life. 

I love the passage meditation that Easwaran describes.  To me it has a two-fold purpose.  It calms and focuses the mind, and at the same time, it drives the meaning and heart of the spiritual passage deep into your being.  But more than that, I love Easwaran and his clear style of writing.  He's written about a gazillion books, I'm happy to report, and I'm eager to read as many of them as I can get my hands on.

Passagemeditation

But we're not talking about my reading list.  We're talking about the uses of repetition.  As I've been reading Passage Meditation and pondering repetition, I've also been reading a manuscript from a client.  As I read, I noted a place where she had used repetition to good effect and wrote a comment telling her so.  And then I pondered the synchronicity of life–repetition cropping up all around me.  So the thought occured we could discuss when it is a good idea to use repetition in writing (seeing as how we've already talked about when to use it in life).  Here we go:

1.  Use repetition for rhythm.  This is perhaps the most common way repetition is used in writing.  You can repeat a word to establish a rhythm, or a sentence structure.  And, be aware, the opposite is also true–when a sentence does not have parallel structure, it is jarring to our sense of rhythm.  Repetition is crucial for rhythm, which is, after all, based on it (I'm thinking drumbeats here).

2. Use repetition for emphasis.  Most often, the experts will tell you to vary your word use.  This is one of the most common comments I make on manuscripts.   But sometimes you want to emphasize a point and repetition can be used to do so.

3.  Use repetition for comfort.  Comfort?  Well, yes.  Sometimes it just sounds nice to repeat words and the effect is comforting, like marshmallows melting in hot chocolate.

4. Use repetition for attention.  Once in awhile you'll want to jar the reader or surprise her, or wake her up. Repetition can be effective for this purpose.

5. Use repetition for effect.  Like yodeling in the middle of a song, or splashing black paint in the middle of the canvas, sometimes you need some bells and whistles to create a certain effect.  Try repeating words and see what that does.

So there you have it, my list of when to use repetition in writing.  I'm sure I've not mentioned all of them.  When do you use repetition, or do you avoid it?  How about repetition in meditation, or meditation in general?  Do you use it to enhance your writing?

The Art of Connecting

Yogassan-116592-m Yesterday's blog post was about the fine art of being who you are.  I didn't really mean to write a follow-up post, but as is sometimes the case, yesterday's post caused a lot of comment and got a lot of traffic.  Which always makes me realize I've hit a nerve.  And makes me ponder more about what I wrote.  Which often leads to me writing more.  This is why I'm a novelist, because I'm incapable of writing short.  My short stories are always 25 pages, and I've never, ever written one without thinking, maybe I should turn this into a novel.

But back to the subject at hand.

I wrote about how the most successful writers and entrepreneurs and creative professionals are those who are most gloriously themselves because we are drawn to them.  I don't know about you, but I love it when somebody is not only passionate about some strange interest but confident enough to talk about it.  Give me somebody blabbing on about his rubber band collection and the true meaning of rubber and I'll listen for hours.

I also wrote a little yesterday about how connecting with something bigger than yourself is the key to gaining this confidence in who you are and the ability to be yourself.  And I want to delve into that a bit deeper today.

What, you say, does being yourself have to do with connecting?  Everything.  Because it is through connecting with a higher power that we gain access to our higher selves.  And it is through our higher selves that we are able to express the true essence of our beings to the world.

Connecting entails regularly getting in touch with something greater than yourself, whether you consider that something God, the goddess, Allah, the universe, the divine, Source, or your ancestors.   But what if you don't have an established religious or spiritual tradition within which to work and you're a bit nervous–perhaps even put off–by all this talk of connection?

I like to think that I get all my great ideas and inspiration from my higher self, the part of me that is not worried about judging others and comparing myself with them; the part of me that is not concerned with paying bills and worrying about whether to put bleach in with the next load of laundry.  In other words, the higher self is that part of me that is not my ego.  And I also consider my higher self to be one and the same as that bigger something that I desire to connect with, whether I call it source or universe or the divine.

The good news is that your higher self is easy to connect with.  Here's some ideas to try.

1.  Relaxation.  Get yourself a meditation or self-hypnosis CD and listen to it regularly.  Hypnosis CDs first get you to focus on your breath and deeply relax, and this is the heart of meditation.  So doing hypnosis can be a way to back into a mediation practice if the thought of it freaks you out.

2.  Meditate.  Start short, with 5-minute spurts.  Slowly lengthen the amount of time you sit.  As mentioned above, all you have to do is focus on your breath to meditate.  When thoughts disrupt your concentration, as they will, simply acknowledge them and let them float away.  My good friend Rabbi Rami recommends concentrating on a one-word mantra with your out breath.  Words like love, Lord, home, peace, heart will all work.  Having a mantra can give your ego something to do and help keep you focused, but it is not a necessity.  Experiment and do what works best for you.

3. Pray.  One of my favorite saying ever (and the theme of my novel) is, If it's love, the Lord won't mind.  I think the same is true of prayer–if it is sincere and done with love, the Lord will not mind how you do it.  Don't worry about form or format, just start praying.  And if you don't believe in God, pray to your higher self or the great, gaping, huge and beautiful universe.

4.  Move.  Many people find peace and connection in movement.  Walk slowly and purposely or just walk.  Dance.  Try belly dancing or ecstatic dance.  Or try Qi Gong or yoga.  Moving your body can open up mental space and allow intuition and ideas to come through.

5. Play with Paints.  Or crayons, or drawing pencils, or charcoals–whatever captures your attention. Messing around with art supplies activates the right brain and turns off the left.  And that in turn relaxes the brain and allows space to open up to guidance.

It is best to make a regular practice of one or more of these techniques, but even if you only do them once in awhile you will benefit.  So, tell me–what are your favorite ways to connect?  How do they impact your writing and life?