Today’s guest blog post, on the topic of writer’s block and creativity, is brought to you by Issy Flamel.
When your brilliant new baby (story) sucks
Anyone who has ever embarked on any creative venture will know the feeling: the first rush of blind enthusiasm where you know this is going to be the greatest story / painting / song ever. Then the hard slog of doing the work. Then the despair.
Your brilliant new baby sucks. It sucks on a scale that makes trashing it and melting your brain in the company of the Kardashians / Angry Birds / Simon Cowell seem like a valid life choice. People will gather and talk in hushed voices about just how much it sucks and point at you and laugh. Forever.
It happens to everyone. Michelangelo famously took a hammer and chisel to his Florentine Pieta. Unable to see a way forward (what we now refer to as being ‘blocked’) he attacked the marble. The reconstructed sculpture may still be seen in Museo dell’Opera del Duomo in Florence. Even after he smashed it in despair his contemporaries knew it was so good it just had to be reconstructed.
Vasari, in his Lives of the Artists, gives several possible reasons why a genius of Buonarotti’s ability fell into such a bleak exasperated blockage. Now we might know. It could be his brain was just the wrong shape!
There is now considerable scientific evidence of the effects of meditation or prayer on the brain. I say ‘meditation or prayer’ because, although in the West the attainment of altered states of consciousness is mostly associated with Eastern religions and philosophies, in reality the practices of the Hesychasts (the use of the Jesus Prayer particularly) and Sufi mystics (in the practice of Zikr) are indistinguishable in the effects on brain function from their Buddhist or Daoist counterparts. Using MRI scans it can now be demonstrated that even short-term meditative practices can affect the activity and the structure of the brain. Not only do emotional patterns alter for the better, but the physical construction of vital areas of the cortex are radically altered – long term. So now the guys and girls with pointy heads and lab coats are saying ‘Hey! This stuff really works.’ – and you need not be of any religious persuasion to benefit. The same techniques used by the mystics are just as effective when applied in an agnostic environment.
But what has this to do with the creative process? Well, dream or trance states have long been associated with creativity. But don’t take my word for it. Listen to the experts –
“I experience a period of frightening clarity in those moments when nature is so beautiful. I am no longer sure of myself, and the paintings appear as in a dream.” Vincent Van Gogh
“The Author continued for about three hours in a profound sleep, at least of the external senses, during which time he has the most vivid confidence, that he could not have composed less than from two to three hundred lines; if that indeed can be called composition in which all the images rose up before him as things, with a parallel production of the correspondent expressions, without any sensation or consciousness of effort.” Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Coleridge here is referring to his writing of Kubla Khan, which was disturbed by his ‘visitor from Porlock’. Once the stream of thought was broken Coleridge never recovered the lost lines, and the poem was published as a fragment. So his normal waking state was unable to reach the heights that his altered consciousness had scaled. Psychology now has many terms for this intensified ability. Sports stars talk of ‘being in the zone’. Creatives may talk of ‘flow’. It’s that little piece of heaven where the words or brush-strokes just seem to create themselves and time dissolves. We’ve all felt like this at some time – whether when sweating over our next big thing, or nailing the downhill slalom on Wii Fit – some days it just works.
But that’s the problem, right? It’s only some of the time, and you have to come out of the altered state to record your brilliant new creations – and so most of the stardust will be lost, crumbling like Dracula on a sunbed.
Maybe. Or rather, maybe once. But now, with new technologies arrive new techniques. The closest anyone could come to relaxing into a dream state whilst writing used to be having a personal secretary to transcribe their words. Now however using speech recognition software we have the perfect opportunity to do just this.
Instead of sitting hunched over the keyboard you can lie back, spend five minutes settling into a relaxed state and then just let it flow. The software takes the words from your microphone and does all the hard work. You just create. No block, no staring at a blank screen until the sweat of fear blinds you. Just a peaceful, calming process, where the ideas spill out as you sink deeper into your altered state of mind.
I have used this process successfully when creating the first draft of my recently published book, Ancient Wisdom for Modern Problems. Speaking into a digital recorder and then uploading the files into Dragon Naturally Speaking software, I found the whole drama of facing an empty page simply disappeared. What methods do you use to get ‘into the zone’, and does this sound like an approach that would be useful to you as you write?
Thank you, Issy. That was great. I love the image of Dracula on a sunbed.
Issy Flamel lives now lives and writes in the UK. For many years he combined work with travel where he investigated traditional spiritual practices from around the world. From the ancient Nyasa of India to the meditation of Japanese Buddhism, from the Jesus Prayer of the Christian Desert Fathers, to the use of Icons in the Russian Orthodox tradition, from the powerful but gentle exercises of Chinese Qigong, to the contemplative tradition of Ignatius Loyola and the Jesuits, Issy studied methods of contemplation that help heal the inner wounds caused by modern stress. He used these techniques to reclaim a healthy life, after years of devastating anxiety and panic attacks. Now completing a non-fiction book on Classical memory systems, Issy is also working on his first novel.
Synopsis of Issy’s non-fiction book…
Ancient Wisdom for Modern Problems is a short simple guide that introduces clearly explained and easy to follow techniques taken from great religious and spiritual traditions from around the world. Whether you are just looking for deeper relaxation, or dealing with more serious anxiety disorders, panic attacks and the depression that so often accompanies them, this book provides directly helpful methods you can start using today. Although some of the techniques are based on religious traditions, non-faith alternatives are detailed, and the science behind the results explained, so that everyone should find something inside these pages to help bring relief.
You can find out more about Issy and his writing from…
- his website: IssyFlamel.com
- his book: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ancient-Wisdom-Modern-Problems-depression-ebook/dp/B00P59UDYE or http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00P59UDYE
- and from this blog, my guests who have written on the craft of writing include: Aileen Gibb, Allison Foster, Andre Cruz, Ben Russel, Benjamin Cohen, FM Meredith, Graham Smith 1, Graham Smith 2, Ian Miller, Ira Nayman, Jane Wenham-Jones 1, Jane Wenham-Jones 2, João Cerqueira, Jemma Hayes, Jerry Last, J Griffith Mitchell, John Vorhaus, Maria Castle, Melodie Campbell, Marion Grace Woolley, Melodie Campbell, M J Moores, Morgan St James, Morgen Bailey (essentials), Morgen Bailey (rituals), Morgen Bailey (negatives), Morgen Bailey (writing tips), Nathan Weaver, Patrick Swimmerly, Paul Lell part 1, Paul Lell part 2, PJ Nunn, Quentin Bates, Rita Plush, Roger Hurn, Samantha Gray, Sherry Gloag, SJ Wardell, Stefan Bolz, Sue Welfare, Tracy Kauffman, and VM Gopaul.
If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. Guidelines on guest-blogs. There are other options listed on opportunities-on-this-blog.
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