By writing much, one learns to write well. - Robert Southey
I could hear hawks calling across the golden summer-warmed hills. I could hear the wind running fingers through the oak trees outside of the hall. Occasionally I could hear the rustle of cloth or creak of a meditation stool when one of the other hundred people meditating around me shifted their weight.
Over and over, when my mind wandered to the hawks, the trees, or the others in the room I hauled my attention back to my own breath hushing in through my nose, shushing out over my lips.
This was the only meditation instruction we were given. Return to the breath. It is all we need to meditate on, the teacher instructed. We can always return to it. When life feels like a struggle; when suffering raises its head; find your seat and return to your breath.
The Writer’s Breath
Recently I seriously considered quitting writing. I received a critique on a piece that hurt my feelings. My queries seemed to be disappearing into the ozone. A pro bono project was cancelled after I submitted my work so I couldn’t even use it in my portfolio. My daughter and my partner had been sick and I was exhausted from the effort of caring for them while squeezing in time to write late at night and during nap times. Who was I, I wondered, to think that I could be a writer? What was I even writing about anyway? Who wanted to read anything I had to say?
Then I remembered my meditation teacher’s instruction to return to the breath. Writing, I realized, is the writer’s breath. Returning to the breath is coming back to the page. Just showing up and putting words down. It doesn’t matter what the words are. What matters is the habit of writing and being willing to return to the habit over and over.
The habit of writing is what will keep us on course as writers. When our minds wander, we must return to the page. When our spirits flag, we must return to the page. When the work feels precious and tender, we must return to the page. When we believe we have nothing to say, we must return to the page. When our courage falters and our voice gets lost, we must return to the page. When we need to fall back in love with words, we must return to the page.
Find Your Seat
You may need to experiment to find the writing habit that best suits your time and your personality. Whether you write full time or are writing around the edges of a full-time job or while raising small children it is still possible to have a sustainable writing habit.
Write longhand in a composition book first thing in the morning or before you go to bed. Write in your car on your lunch hour. Write on the subway. Write while you wait for the bus.
Write online at 750words.com. Make a long list of prompts in the back of a notebook. Pick one and set a timer for 20 minutes. Don’t stop moving your pen until the timer goes off.
Kick-start yourself by starting a blog or writing a post every day for a month (many Wordcount Blogathon 2012 participants are starting new blogs). Or by taking the NaNoWriMo challenge to write 50,000 words in 30 days.
The writing habit is not about the finished product. It is about the process. Do not worry about what you will do with what you produce. After a while you will see a pattern. Stories will emerge. Later you can edit. Later you can re-write. For now, just build the habit of coming back to the page, over and over and over again, until writing feels like breathing.
Doña Bumgarner is a writer, mom, and artist. She meditates more regularly with pen and paper than on a zafu. You can find her musings on motherhood in midlife, among other things, on her blog, Aubergine.