Rick Hanson

When Not Writing Becomes an Art Form


My mind the last few days.

This will be a short post because I'm very busy this weekend, Not Writing.  

Instead of writing, I'm reading, knitting, working on a project cleaning up part of the basement, working on another project cleaning up the driveway, doing the crossword puzzle, cleaning the house, enjoying an Independence Day neighborhood barbecue, checking email (of which there is little this holiday weekend), and petting the cats.

You know, Not Writing.  Studiously Not Writing, I might add. Turning Not Writing into an art form.

It happened this week that all my clients put off their appointments until after the long holiday weekend.  And I got caught up on a lot of chores, leaving me time to write.

Except I didn't.

I did all of the above-mentioned activities, but I didn't write.  Every time I thought about it, my mind reached a blank, white wall.

I've been at this game long enough to know that I need to take such a time of Not Writing in a relaxed way.  Why?

–Because my brain needs a break.

–Because big things are brewing in my subconscious

–Because I know once the time is right for me to get back to my writing, it will all come out in a huge rush that will make me giddy with joy

My job at the moment is to just go with it.  As I was pondering this blog post today, an email newsletter from neuropsychologist Rick Hanson came in.  The subject? Rest.  Here's what he has to say about it:

Tell the truth to yourself about how much time you actually – other than sleep – truly come to rest: not accomplishing anything, not planning anything, not going anywhere. The time when you don't do anything at all, with a sense of relaxation and ease. No stress, no pressure, nothing weighing on you in the back of your mind. No sense of things undone. Utterly at rest.

 Probably not much time at all, if you're like me.

Also acknowledge to yourself any unreasonable beliefs or fears about resting – for example, that if you rest you'll lose your edge, things will fall apart, you'll let people down, others will judge you.

 Now imagine a kind, wise, fearless friend looking over your shoulder and knowing both how little time you rest and your "reasons" for not resting more. What will your friend tell you? Similarly, listen to your own innermost being about you and resting; what is that still quiet voice saying to you?

Imagine the benefits for you and others if you listen to the support and wisdom of your dear friend and innermost being.

Then commit to what makes sense to you, in terms of nudging your schedule in a more restful direction, refusing to add new tasks to your own bucket, taking more breaks, or simply helping your own mind be less busy with chatter, complaints about yourself and others, or inner struggles. 

So, he calls it rest, I call it Not Writing, but it is one and the same.  And I've got to go now and do more of it.

Do you take rest times?  Or do you struggle with the need to be always busy?

Another Helpful Practice for Writers

Buddha_religion_philosophy_223679_lYeah, sometimes I have a one-track mind.

Last week I wrote about some slightly different regular writing practices (beyond the usual round-ups of meditating and all the other things we try to do regularly and fail at).    And now here I am again, with the word practice in the title of the post.

At the moment, I'm obsessed with the concept of practicing because I'm working hard to do it myself–as in practicing writing regularly (to the tune of 1,000 words a day on my WIP).  And when one is trying to maintain a creative practice, having some other practices that you do as a baseline is helpful indeed.

I'm not sure if this will be helpful to you, or if that matter if it will be helpful to me over the long haul, as I only just discovered it yesterday, in church.  (When you're a writer, everything is grist for the mill. I get some of my best ideas in church.  I often take notes during the messages and my little carry-around journal is a mishmash of ideas I want to remember from the sermon and thoughts on my current WIP or other projects.  And this does not mean I'm not paying attention.  It just means my mind is particularly open.  Or so I tell myself.)

A Practice For Feeling Whole

Anyway, Lisa, my minister, talked about a process for feeling whole, based on the work of neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, author of Hardwiring Happiness and other books.  He also writes a cool regular newsletter, from which the quotes I used of his are taken. The idea is to open your mind beyond that which it usually obsesses about (I'm stuck on knitting blogs at the moment) to take in the whole of your experience.  This has the delightful effect of getting you away from the critical voice of the ego who likes to scream hateful things at you.

Why It Might Be Helpful

Two Reasons:

1. Because it could help your writing. If your ego (you can also call it your inner critic if you like) is in the habit of screaming the aforementioned hateful things while you are writing, then you really want to practice this practice. (Hahaha, I couldn't resist.)   As Hanson says, "With moments of practice that add up over time, you will feel more like a whole person, less fragmented and partial, less yanked this way and that by competing desires in your head."  (Such as, write, no, I'm terrible at writing, I must stop, no, I yearn to express myself, write, oh who am I keeping I must stop, no I must write….and so on.)

2. Because it could help your ability to see.  You're a writer, and you've got to have something to write about, as in, you need ideas.  But when you're stuck in your critical mind, worrying about one thing or another, like your relative worth in the world, it is difficult to be open and receptive to that which is going on around you.   And you really need to be paying attention to the world, because that is where ideas come from.

How to Do It

1.  Practice for 12 seconds at a time or longer.  (I give you permission to estimate.)

2. Become aware of all the sounds around you.  As Hanson says, "Disengage from inner verbal commentary abou them; stay with the experience of sounds as a whole."  In other words, don't judge, just listen.  

3.  Become aware of all the sights around you.  If you look toward the horizon, this activates "neural networks that process sights in a more global, I'm-integrated-with-the-whole-world-way."

4. And then become aware of your breathing, all of it, the sensations of it in your entire body.

My minister thought this feeling whole process was a dandy way to become more aware of God, and of being in a whole universe.  I agree.  And, I think this process is a marvelous way to become more centered in your creative self, without your inner harpy screaming at you.  Try this process before your next writing session and let me know how it goes, won't you?

While you're at it, I'd love to hear about any processes or practices you use to enhance your writing.

 Photo by fresh-m.