There are two things in my life, particularly, that have always invigorated me, and that I’ve instinctually known how to do without strain. Writing is not one of them (unfortunately).
However, through them, I’ve understood how to write with maximum ease, and enjoyment.
This morning I did one of them. I went jogging. Surprised by the sudden chill of autumn, and lit by autumn’s soft light, I made it up to the ruined Cathar castle, and looked out over the Pyrenean mountains. Layered one in front of the other, the furthest silhouettes were still tipped by snow, recording last winter. The jagged sides of the nearest were carpeted with trees, their leaves just on the turn towards the completion of the seasons.
On the winding track down, I met an older woman, in shades and slippers (really). She was struggling to keep up with her Cocker Spaniel. She caught her breath and exhaled her question. ‘Did you go right up to the top?’ I nodded. Looking exhausted at the very thought, she replied, ‘my husband says I should do that. But it’s such an effort, isn’t it?’ I assumed the most sympathetic face that I could muster whilst jogging on the spot, and with a bon journee, we both went on our way.
But the thing is, it isn’t an effort. Not at all.
Firstly I don’t consider myself a ‘jogger’. It’s just that sometimes I put on trainers, and loosen my body up a bit by moving it on down the road.
I start very slowly. I go absolutely with the level of energy that is present for me that day. I ease into that, whether it’s a fast pace, or a slow pace. I stay with my bodily experience, and don’t aim to go any particular distance, or move at any particular speed. I watch the change of energy. Usually, the act of moving releases more, so I naturally speed up. But sometimes it doesn’t, so I don’t. Sometimes I feel I could push just a tad further into that store of energy. I do that, and watch what happens.
I see that thinking speeds me up. If I get lost in trains of thought, and lose connection with my body, I find that I am racing, disconnected from my physical experience of flow. Effort and resistance move in, and it’s no longer enjoyable. I am duller in body and mind, rather than more alive.
If I jog in the right way, I arrive back on my doorstep invigorated. If I don’t, I’m exhausted.
The same is true of dancing. It’s about feeling the rhythm of the music, and allowing my body to respond. Not expecting. Not hoping or fearing. Just waiting patiently for the responses, the messages, and answering.
I’ve taken these principles and applied them to my writing process:
1. I am someone who writes, rather than ‘a writer’ per se.
2. I never count words. Instead I put myself in my writing environment for a certain length of time, stay there whatever, and see what emerges.
3. I move my hand on the pen, or fingers on the keyboard, in response to the energy that arises. Sometimes I edge into it a little. Sometimes, I stop myself from moving away from a task, kindly. But my golden rule is never to force anything. (That risks plots, characters and phrasing being born as lifeless as forced flowers).
4. I have an outline of the section of story I’m going to write next beside me as a signpost, but otherwise I set up as few expectations for myself as possible. I do not berate myself for what my body/mind cannot do on any given day. It’s my whole self that has a need to tell the story. I have to allow that to be what it wants to be. That’s the whole point of being someone who writes.
This is how I’ve learnt to write in a way that sustains through the months and years of long projects. This body-based learning has done more for me than any techniques offered to my rational mind.
The Monthly Prompt
What small, physical activities do you do, without effort? E.g. are you an expert chef, lover, cyclist, make-up artist, singer or swimmer?
How could you apply what you know in other body-based arenas to your writing?