On Writing: Creativity, Practice, and Style

I’ve recently been thinking about the art of writing. For a long time, I’ve thought of myself as a lackluster writer. This thought holds sway in my mind because of some negative feedback I got from a couple professors I had back in my college days. However, thinking back in a more detached manner now, I realize that their perspective came from an evaluation which only valued a particular style — moreover, a style with a fairly narrow scope and a somewhat anti-creative bent. The style that flows forth for me when I simply write, simply let creativity manifest itself on the page, is not readily that style. You know what, though? That’s fine, and I’m not necessarily a bad writer because of it.

A couple weekends ago, I went to an author’s reading. The author was Neil Gaiman, a famous writer of the magical and fantastical. He took some questions from the audience about writing, and he focused on one thing: to succeed at writing, simply write and put it out there. We live in a time when communicating your message with others is easier than ever. This doesn’t mean that you’ll make millions off of your creative works, but is that really success with writing? Isn’t the purpose merely to communicate with others? You can write, write, write away and get that message out to others across the globe. His feedback on “writer’s block: Feeling stuck? Don’t know what to create? Create something else and come back to what you’re stuck on later. There are always more things that need to be written.

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I thought this was really wise counsel. For myself, one of my points of feeling stuck in the creation of this blog has been two-fold: 1) at times, I don’t know how to complete something that I’m trying to write – the thoughts and analyses getting stuck in the process of creation; 2) I have absolutely been certain that I am horrible at poetry – getting even more negative feedback in the past. Eventually, however, I moved past these blocks by just starting to write poems, tersely putting the ideas on the page and deciding to put them out there whether they are any good or not. In many ways, that process of creative writing was the impetus that got this blog started, but I’ve gotten bolder with these stylistic experiments over time, and almost always, when I doubt my writing, or more particularly, my style, those posts get the most feedback and the most likes.

Where am I going with all of this? It’s simple enough. Let me use one more metaphor: growing up, I had a “runner’s build” – lanky with strong legs. I never imagined that I would have any upper body strength, but when I reached my 20s, I started spending time at the gym, doing calisthenics, and challenging myself to get better at pullups and pushups. Now, I have big shoulders and arms from all that work. My point? If you want to write and be creative with words, go do it. Try different things. Write academic analyses, but also try writing a haiku poem from time to time. Work with meter and rhyme, but also explore powerful ideas. Try being creative in any way you feel interested without worrying about others’ feedback or your strengths or weaknesses. With time, you’ll get better at it, but it’s not about self-absorbed concern about you and your excellence – it’s simply about the act of creating; practice the excellence of your style and form, and it will get easier to write often, deeply, and well.

 

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Facing the Blank Page–The Unfolding of Tao

Here’s another interesting set of thoughts from my Morning Pages. It speaks to creativity, wu wei, and insight around our interdependent arising with everything.


Eating brunch–well, soon to be. It’s been a couple days, journal. I hope that this day is beautiful for all sentient beings out there and that those going through the wakes of storms and disasters suffer not at the misfortunes of the world’s changes.

Anyway, I don’t know what to write about again. That’s the first time I’ve said that in a while. Isn’t that wonderful: the thrill and anxiety of the blank page? What will come out? Who knows! As long as one resides in this appreciative, open view, it’s truly a joy to face the blank page. Then it becomes an act of faith in the process, a creative lightning bolt of positivity, and an easy flow along with the unfolding of what is in this moment. That’s right (write? 🙂 )–it’s an action of wu wei. Mastery is only important insofar as to have the skill to flow along without resistance.

So the question is not: what do “I” create (i.e. what do “I” as masterful agent do?)? Rather, it is a letting be of the creative process.

My thoughts and easy smile seem at odds with the liveliness of the little cafe right now, but that just invites me to smile wider. How many creative moments will unfold today as I go through the ebb and flow of deeds and feelings? How many people’s lives will I come into contact with, even just in passing as two apparent egos passing in the night? Such moments of pause are truly a wonder–if thoughts about consumption, desires, aversions, etc. don’t pull you away from the thought experiment.

Stop. Contemplate: how many myriad lives are in this room with me right now? Don’t stop at the obvious–you and other people. There are bacteria, insects, dust mites! Billions of little specks of life pop in and out of existence around and inside of you all the time. They come and go–emptiness manifested and reformed to another manifestation. This is Tao–the 10,000 things and the mother of the 10,000 things. On a larger level, there are 100s, 1,000s, 1,000,000s of people in your city, state, country, and 1,000,000,000s around the world. Then, there are countless planets, stars, galaxies. Don’t worry about your little passing desires. Stop and see your unfolding in this miracle, and hold this insight in your engagement with all of the unfolding. One mind–no separation.

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“It is not possible that this unity of knowledge, feeling and choice which you call your own should have sprung forth into being from nothingness at a given moment not so long ago; rather this knowledge, feeling and choice are essentially eternal and unchangeable and numerically one in all men, nay in all sensitive beings. But not in this sense–that you are a part, a piece, of an eternal, infinite being, an aspect or modification of it, as in Spinoza’s pantheism. For we should have the same baffling question: which part, which aspect are you? What, objectively, differentiates it from the others? No, but inconceivable as it seems to ordinary reason, you–and all other conscious beings as such–are all in all. Hence this life of yours which you are living is not merely a piece of the entire existence, but it is in a certain sense the whole; only this whole is not so constituted that it can be surveyed in a single glance. ”

The universe implies the organism, and each single organism implies the universe–only the “single glance” of our spotlight, narrowed attention, which has been taught to confuse its glimpses with separate “things” must somehow be opened to the full vision, which Schrödinger goes on to suggest:

“Thus you can throw yourself flat on the ground stretched out upon Mother Earth, with the certain conviction that you are one with her and she with you. You are as firmly established, as invulnerable as she, indeed a thousand times firmer and more invulnerable. As surely as she will engulf you tomorrow, so surely will she bring you forth anew to new striving and suffering. And not merely ‘some day’: now, today, every day she is bringing you forth, not once but thousands upon thousands of times, just as every day she engulfs you thousands of times over. For eternally and always there is only now, one and the same now; the present is the only thing that has no end.”

–From Alan Watts’ The Book pp. 98-99; Quoted sections herein originally from: Erwin Schrödinger’s My View of the World pp. 21-22.

May this help you see beyond you as an island, an ego amidst all–controlling creativity as a forceful act of “I”, “me”, and “mine”.

Gassho!

The Patterns that Bind

The following is a piece from a new journalling practice: Morning Pages. I approach these without any real agenda beyond writing three pages every morning. This entry began with questioning what to write and not wanting to stick in going on and on about negative feelings. I didn’t want to share that intro here and the personal details of what I “could” talk about, as the shift at the end is the point.


…Why grab onto negativity like that if not expressing to someone else, getting it out, or resolving? I’ve talked about it at length with others.

No, we all too readily fall into the patterns that bind, defining ourselves–struggle by struggle, habit by habit. We’d rather invest our time and energy in these than step out into uncharted waters or develop more positive habits that open our hearts and our vision–like meditation.

Is uncertainty–facing the fact that our selves hold a blank canvas of possibility–really so terrifying? Would we really rather pin ourselves down in our identity: I’m defined as such and such, and it explains everything about me?

There’s a lot of wonder in us. We’d prefer to dilute it with something safe–something known. The known here, however, is but a mask, a creation, not the discovery from investigation.

One of the beauties of meditation is the opportunity to face ourselves in an open space of self-reflection. Seeing the flowing nature of our thoughts, experiences, feelings, and ourselves, all these things we hold dear as definite. They emerge, shift, shine, and pass moment by moment: a dance of unfolding wonder, no matter how much we might try to staticize them.

I’d like to use this journal for that open exploration, allowing the words to flow through me, offering my mind in its open potential as creative unfolding.

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What I’ve written here fits well with the title of this song (at least I think so):

May you find your own creative unfoldings and steps beyond the patterns that bind.
Gassho!