I started meditating to become a better writer. Pretty much everything I have done in my life has had “becoming a better writer” as its ulterior motive. Therefore, I hope what I am about to say about the connection between meditation and writing does not sound shallow or preachy. Just trying to help.
A Word on the Method, By Jeanette Stokes
When I feel completely stuck in my life, I try to remember that I worked all this out about twenty years ago. If I walk, write, and make some art every day or nearly every day, then I can keep going and life can seem quite livable and sometimes even meaningful. So, when I run out of steam, I try walking, writing, or painting.
When I get stuck in my writing, whether working on a book or a shorter project, I can sink into that dark place of: “This is stupid. I can’t write. All those other things I wrote were a fluke. No one wants to read what I write anyway.” Then, just before I give up entirely and turn to learning macramé, a faint voice in my head will say, “the method.”
As though coming out of a fog, I take a few bold steps toward the bookcase in my upstairs study and reach for Blueprint Your Bestseller: Organize and Revise Any Manuscript with the Book Architecture Method by Stuart Horwitz. This and his two subsequent books lay out a brilliant method. I begin at the beginning, proceed through the steps, and everything gets better.
It is important to have already written down everything I can think of to say on the particular subject at hand. That’s actually the first step. The method is most helpful to me once I have written a great quantity of words and am stuck trying to figure out how to help the project hang together.
One step that is particularly useful is writing down all the scenes I can remember. Trust me, I never want to do it, but it’s like peeling the tough skin off broccoli, it is so much more satisfying to eat if I’ll just take the time to do it. So, I write down the scenes, compare them with what I actually have, and notice what’s missing. Almost immediately, I have some hope about the possibilities for the piece I’m working on.
Then comes the really hard part: Cut it up. I never want to do this step either and once wrote a friend: “I don’t want to print the book out and cut up the scenes. I don’t want to do it. I’m SURE it is the next step, because I have the glue-y feeling about the project. I work on a little bit here and a little bit there, but it is time to figure out the theme and the scenes and stop dealing with it as a big wad of dough. Telling you this will give me the courage to DO IT!”
I print the manuscript out and cut up the scenes, worrying the whole time about how to save the brilliant segues I have written to connect various sections. Once this surgery is completed, I get the payoff: a sense of ease and spaciousness comes over me and I can see! Instead of one tight intransigent blob of words, they come to look like small interesting packets that have a chance of making sense together.
The method works for a book, an article, or a chapter. I remember one particularly satisfying hour of writing when I printed out a slightly tangled chapter, cut it apart, rearranged and deleted, and found the meat. The next day I rewrote it. The method never lets me down.
After separating all the scenes, I get to make charts on the wall of all the scenes and a big bullseye target that helps figure out what the theme is for the project. If I just stick with all the steps, I wind up with a much clearer, cleaner, more accessible piece and I stop feeling like I’m lost in the dark.
Writing is hard, but it doesn’t have to feel aimless. Stuart Horwitz’s method will help you find your way.
When a writer approaches me for a critique, there is always this no-man’s-land between what they have finished at that moment, and what they want to have finished by the time I look at their work. Quite frequently a writer will ask for a period of time, three weeks, say, to clean things up a little, or two months, to write the rest of what they have in mind. After that they will send me their work, what do I think of that? I tell them that if they want my honest opinion, it’s to stop writing now.
Many writers are familiar with William Faulkner’s words, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” But what if you’re not always ready to bring your knife to the page? How can you learn to objectively edit my work?
Well, first of all, no one’s talking about killing, or slashing here. Maybe cutting…revision does mean cutting. It’s one of those funny things about revision, you know? Revision is a process by which things get combined, get shortened or get expanded. It is also a process by which certain things get left out.