On Writing

From Mary Allen on writing as a spiritual practice:

I believe that writing itself is a spiritual activity, that writing allows and even requires us to become mindful, sit in silence, listen to our deepest inner voices, and engage in just about every other spiritual practice there is – that what it takes to write well is also what it takes to live well, and through the regular practice of writing we can – will, automatically, with no further effort – heal, grow, and come to better understand ourselves and the world.

From Mary Allen on maintaining peace, confidence, and inner balance during the editing process. This an excerpt from an interview with Mary Allen by Rachel Melander.  Click here for the entire interview.

I think the key to editing successfully is to realize that you need to stay connected to the same deep inner source of inspiration, or intuition, or whatever you want to call it, that you use when you generate new material.

Most people know they have to stay open to the unconscious to some degree when they’re generating new material, but it’s easy to lose sight of that when you’re editing, and then, in my experience, your thinking, doubting, analyzing brain gets over involved. Plus you’re thinking about what’s wrong with what you wrote so the self-critical part of you tends to take over and as soon as that happens you lose track of what’s good and what needs to be changed and start hacking the whole thing up. I think of editing—every time I change some piece of language, either in my writing or one of my client’s—as a kind of small meditation.  I use my intuition to identify what’s not working by paying close attention to how I feel as I read something, and when I feel confused or bored or my attention wanders, that’s usually a clue that something needs to be changed (because after all we’re trying to create writing that will hold the reader’s attention.). I focus on the spot where I encountered the problem, quiet my thoughts for a brief moment (think spiritual meditation, where the goal is to stop mind-chattering for however long you can). Quieting my mind while I’m editing allows me to connect with the deeper smarter unconscious part of myself whether I’m aware that I’m doing that or not. Then when I turn my attention back to the problem bit of writing, after a few seconds, I almost always have a word or phrase or whatever that works better, pop into my mind.  Once I’ve made the change, I read it over, doing my little editing meditation again (I call this putting it in the hopper), and when I do that, I know for sure whether my editing suggestion works. This process keeps me feeling confident, and if I ever lose my confidence I know that I have to slow down and go back to my little editing meditation mode. I learned how to do this unconsciously over many years of writing, and it was only when I was a writing coach and was trying to help other writers edit successfully, that I noticed what I was doing.

Click here to hear Mary Allen offer advice and suggestions for finding time to write.

Click this link to hear a podcast of Mary Allen talking about writing and the power of now.

Click here to hear Mary Allen talk about creating an everyday writing retreat

Click here for How to Do Fast-Writing, by Mary Allen.