Friday, March 07, 2008

Zen and the Art of Writing

I've recently been very into yoga. What started out as a one day a week cross training that my swim coach recommended has turned into a four days a week, I'm going to do a headstand if it kills me, addition to my fitness routine. After sitting at a computer all day, the bending and twisting works wonders for my neck, shoulders and back.

But this week, one of my instructors said something that resonated with me. As we were preparing to go into "upward bow", basically a full back bend, he instructed us to take these poses playfully. He acknowledged that many were challenging and physically demanding, but if you approach them as a child would, unconcerned and without fear of failure, that you'd be able to accomplish poses you never thought you could. And sure enough, me, the most inflexible, ungraceful person ever, achieved "upward bow" that day, and I attribute it completely to my playful attitude.

I've written many times about the need to approach writing with a seriousness and a professionalism, and though I still agree, I've been thinking that the yoga instructor has a point. What would happen if we viewed our writing playfully, without fear of failure or judgement? After all, isn't that why we started writing in the first place? Because it was fun?

I've found that the shift in attitude has allowed me to break down all types of censors, some I never knew I had. I'm currently working on a short story for another anthology and so far, it has been quite the process. I've often found myself stuck, without words coming through and total blocks in plot movement. But today, when I sat down, I didn't think about the 800 words I needed to finish or the deadline looming over my head. I thought, "I enjoy writing. Writing is fun. Write what's coming and if it sucks, I can always delete it." Reminding myself why I started writing, that as a child I did it only because I enjoyed it, allowed the words to flow and turned the process into a fun activity rather than an obligation.

All of us are so focused on deadlines and career goals, target audiences and marketing angles, figuring out the next big plot or writing the best first line, that we lose sight of why we became writers in the first place. Give it a shot. The next time you sit down to write, tell yourself to approach the task playfully, like a child would, without fear of failure or judgement. Does your attitude shift? Does the writing come easier? Do you feel more free with your words? I may just be spending too much time standing on my head or trying to lift my leg over my shoulder, but I swear the zen-like attitude can be the ultimate cure for writer's block.


Darwyn said...

Dana - I hear you.
While I agree that writing must be taken seriously... I, perhaps more specifically, believe it is actually the dedication to writing that must be taken seriously. One must make time for writing. One must actually sit down and do it. One must plan in order to fit it in, between yoga, cooking, cleaning, life, we must plan in order to succeed.

However, when it is actually coming on the page... the actual writing... yes, I believe a playful attitude is great. In fact, I find that if I have too many 'rules' in my head about writing, then it is much too hard. I must allow myself to track through any adventure that I can think up. I can't do that with a serious approach.

Serious about the execution, but not the creation.

Dana Kaye said...

Great clarification. Thank you. It is the act of creation that should be taken with a playful attitude, not the habit or dedication to the craft.