Sunday, November 17, 2013

Tune Out to Tune In

We all know about the disappearance of quiet, much less tranquility. Many people, including writers, still enjoy wilderness camping. But they often enjoy it with enough devices to keep them Linked In so continuously that even in the wild they lose touch with their own thoughts. “What’s the harm?” is the consensus. And so long as you have breaks where your mind can flow without distraction, why, yes, no harm at all.

Tip: Continuous external feedback limits the free space needed for creative solutions.

In “Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence,” Daniel Golen calls “open attention” a source of “serendipitous associations” —an opportunity for “utter receptivity to whatever floats into the mind.” In Nicholas Carr’s review of this book in “The Times,” he lauds the “fresh insights” that emerge from “productive daydreaming.”

Look up “open attention,” and you’ll encounter material about emotional healing and forgiveness. Hridaya Yoga defines it as “the natural expression of a consciousness which is not preoccupied with achieving one thing or another. It is an impersonal attention, free of attachments, judgments, labeling.”

Perhaps you’re not into that. Perhaps, even if you are, it seems irrelevant to your life as a writer. Yet every novelist encounters problems: Exposition at the opening, the big Set Scene, the climax, the theme, the logline, and so on. Those are the standard ones. Personal issues also besiege: The sentence that refuses to smooth, the metaphor that won’t unmix, and the detail floating just out of reach.

The standard approach is to sink your teeth into the problem and grind away until it loses—or you do. Yet if there’s enough quiet, enough “open attention,” no one has to lose. Including your readers.

If a question floats in your awareness while your mind’s gently open, you can ponder without grappling and brainstorm without censorship or interruption. It’s hard to be creative when frustrated and harder still to be creative when stimuli, however appealing, bombard you. In fact, the more appealing, then the greater the distraction.

Listening to yourself may seem egocentric and disconnected. But you’re not writing your book on a social network. You’re not revising your book as a team effort. It’s your book, and you have to hear yourself well enough to write it. That daydreamy space is your greatest source of inspiration, partly because only you can have it. Meditation? That’s optional. Whatever works for you. Freeing your mind to solve problems as only it can? Far less optional. Let the phone buzz while you...just listen, inside instead of out…

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