I've spent the last month or so being utterly unable to write anything. Not because of writer's block, but because of Too Many Things To Do. We all go through times like that. It's not the end of your writing career, but you might need to take a step back and reassess your goals and priorities.
There are a couple of useful concepts in martial arts that translate directly to writing and help with this. You may have heard of them.
The first is Monkey Mind. It's most frequently referenced in meditation studies. When you're trying so hard to focus on something (breathing, a specific technique, being at peace, repeating something you just did really well) but your mind WILL NOT bloody settle and focus. Things pop in: you have to do the shopping on the way home; did the kids do their homework; that horrible person at the office; how very bad you are at (fill in the blank).
Your mind jumps from idea to idea, thought to thought, running and scuttling through your memories. It's difficult to stay calm or focussed. Your body won't what it's supposed to in the dojo. And learning a martial art requires you to consciously train your body to the point where the movements become unconsciously easy.
The point is: It's nigh on impossible to achieve any sort of success in what you're attempting while your brain has been hijacked by monkeys on speed.
The second concept is that of No Mind. Which is pretty much the polar opposite of monkey mind. And also quite hard to achieve without practice. It's where you can let go of all the monkeying about. Not so much to focus, laser-like, on one thing, but to free your mind from all distractions. To achieve a state of peace and calm.
In the beginning, No mind IS more to do with just being able to let go of the distractions and concentrate on one skill. But as you get better at martial arts, and the body movements become automatic, no mind becomes more about emptying both mind and body of all tension and distractions. Of concentrating on nothing and just allowing your body to move and your mind to be open to what's around and might be a threat - without worrying about it. Because thinking and worrying affects how your body reacts. How fast, how well, How accurately. If you're worrying about what one guy is going to do, then you're blind to the other guy's actions. Or you'll second-guess yourself and stuff up the technique.
No Mind is the ideal state when going into a fight. It allows you to act quickly and think logically without being too badly affected by adrenalin and stress.
Similarly with writing, if you have a massive To Do list and are constantly doing or remembering other little (and big) tasks, you'll get no writing done. Or at least none that you're happy with. Monkey Mind is a terrible state for writers - or any creatives.
No Mind works well for writing. But instead of achieving it through practice of body motions, you can try meditation and breath control. Take meditation courses. Do guided sessions. Learn to empty your mind of all distractions. It takes time and patience. But when you can do it, your mind will then be free to concentrate on one thing - your writing - instead of on fifty.
We all have too much on. Too many things that seem utterly vital. But you'll feel better and achieve more lasting success if you do one thing at a time well, instead of ten things badly.
Learn to free your mind and your writing will flow more easily.
Haven't done one of these in a while. Life got a little crazy. I forgot to stop and just be; just breathe.
We all live insanely busy lives. Apparently 'busy' is the new black. It's easy to forget to centre yourself.
In Aikido one of the key concepts is breath control. Breathing in to prepare for a throw or lock. Breathing out when you throw someone or put a lock on. Regulating the flow of breath so you're not gasping for air because of exertion and adrenalin. Some branches of Aikido talk about the 'spiritual' element to the exhalation and its connection to power, but there are actually some very practical reasons for breath control.
First: your brain analyses the scent of the air and uses it to judge danger. The smell of a wild animal; the smell of fear sweat; the smell of off meat. It's a warning signal that can trigger a fear-response in you. That causes a cascade of chemicals in your blood preparing you for fight/flight type responses. Your reasoning mind goes a bit haywire and you become generally terrible at making smart, cool decisions.
So if the stress is purely in your mind - your own anxieties, not any physical danger - then taking slow, deep breaths helps show your mind there's no actual threat. So it can help to calm you. That's why meditation teaches so much on breathing. It gives you something to focus on to distract you from the quicksand of fear and anxiety.
And breathing out - whether accompanied by a strong 'ki-ai' cry or just a sharp breath - does help to focus your power when you're throwing or locking someone up.
Breathing and recognising how breath can affect your thinking and emotions is essential in martial arts.
Actually, it should be essential in everything. In writing, you'll often be faced with roadblocks. Either an overwhelming amount of 'stuff' to do to achieve your writing career goals, or perhaps 'writers block', or the stress of trying to understand and interact successfully with people.
In pretty much every instance, if you step away and take a few long, deep breaths, you'll find yourself calming down. Meditation is a brilliant way to settle your mind and help you find what's really important.
So next time you're stressed about a story going wrong, or a bad review, or some apparently insurmountable problem.... just take a few long, slow breaths in and let them out. Relax your shoulders and jaw. Feel the breath go right down into your body's centre. Release it on a scream if you need to. Or just let the stress go as much as you can with each breath.
Your brain will 'taste' the air and understand there's no external threat and the stress hormones will start to reduce in your blood and brain.
I live in Australia - which tells you I have a sense of humour. We're a self-deprecating people, we Aussies. My aim is to, one day, vanish in a blinding flash of enlightenment. In the mean time, I'm doing my best to learn as many