Ten years ago, my English teacher singled me out for not paying attention in class. Apparently, my gaze was directed at the sky outside the window. The rest of my classmates were following along with the teacher while she read a short story from our textbook and I was very clearly daydreaming.
But it wasn’t the first time it happened, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. In fact, my mother would tell you it was my tendency to daydream that led to my passion for writing. That the stories I created in my head, my escape from the day-to-day of school, were no different than those now finding their way onto the page.
My mother would be right. Only, where she and so many others go wrong is in the belief that I have to then take these daydreams and focus on transcribing them. The truth is that daydreaming and writing are the same action. Writing, like meditation, requires us to access the subconscious. And entering that dream-like trance helped me write a novel the same way it helped me break my high school detention record freshman year.
Now, there are different names for this subconscious state. Some call it flow, and others still describe it as a muse which must be coaxed out of hiding. More accurately, however, would be to call it Zen. Merriam-Webster describes Zen as the following…
The second definition is the Zen we’re talking about. It’s the act of channeling our attention to the breath, to the subconscious. Focusing too hard will get you nowhere. Neither will sitting at a desk and begging some imaginary Greek goddess to imbue inspiration. Even my mother had it wrong, and she rarely ever is!
A false assumption is at the root of why it’s so difficult to access the Zen state as a writer. Many I’ve met credit the voices in their head for inspiration, be those voices what they perceive to be characters in their story or otherwise.
I’m writing this piece to tell you that the opposite is true. We should not listen to the voices in our head. In fact, they are a massive hindrance to our writing in the first place.
In Michael Singer’s The Untethered Soul, he discusses how the key to finding inner peace lies in quieting that voice. The inner monologue which, if left to its own devices, will ramble on and on. If we are being honest, what is that voice even telling us? It’s definitely not crafting the narrative on our behalf. No, what it’s doing is filling us with distractions and, in many cases, doubt. It’s saying we should be focused on something else. That we are wasting our time, and we aren’t good enough.
Being Zen is where the best writing happens. Only once we silence the voice in our heads do we experience those bouts where all time stops and everything just flows. You emerge from a state like that surprised at how much time has passed, and even more so at your word count progress. Writers dread nothing more than sitting at their desk and forcing out words, so the question is…how do we tap into a state of Zen?
There isn’t just one way to achieve Zen, but one approach is by following Singer’s advice in the book. This is to be attentive to your thoughts. By listening to the voice and becoming aware that it’s just that–a voice. It’s not you, or me. No, we are part of a deeper self. And once we become aware of this fact, disregarding the voice no longer is a problem.
Another method I love, and often use, is by writing in the in-between states just before I’ve either fallen asleep or before I’ve fully awoken. This is an easy way of accessing that subconscious state. Our minds are at ease, and there’s no nagging voice to distract us. These times are when I personally get the bulk of my writing done.
Of course, how you arrive at the dream-like state is totally up to you. My only ask is that, if you have been struggling to get the words on paper, explore Zen. Trust me, it’s more than just an overused buzzword.
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