The Pen and the Bell: Mindful Writing

I have started reading a book called The Pen and the Bell: Mindful Writing in a Busy World. It was written by Brenda Miller, who was of my creative nonfiction workshop leaders in my MFA program at Antioch, and Holly Hughes, who taught the poetry workshop I took in July at Fishtrap. As much as I love these writers, I hesitated to buy the book. It’s a lot about meditating, contemplating, slowing down, seeing with more than one’s eyes. As much as I want to be creative, artistic and thoroughly right-brained, I’m pretty practical. Maybe it’s all my years in journalism, or maybe it’s just how I’m wired, but I like solid assignments, deadlines and start-to-finish processes. Even when I do yoga, I’m ticking off the postures and rushing to the final namaste. Git ‘er done, as the comic says. Ring a little bell and sit and do nothing? Hm. Aren’t we going to talk about marketing?

But I did finally buy the book because that workshop in the woods with Holly Hughes got me writing. It also got me breathing, relaxing, and seeing. It untied a lot of the knots in my writing self. This morning, I pulled a dusty little bell off my mantel, rang it, contemplated my current between-carpets den (see last week’s post), and started writing. I wrote for an hour, and I like what I wrote. It started as prose, then became a poem that begins, “I ride my couch like a life raft/floating in a concrete sea.” I thought about being shipwrecked. I thought about how our human dens can be compared to the dens of wild animals. I forced myself to look at the paint-stains, nicks, dirt and ants on the concrete that lay all these years beneath my white Berber carpet. You can put a rug on it, but it’s still dirt underneath.

I will polish this poem, and I will think about getting it published, but for the first hour today I put all that aside and just wrote. It didn’t have to be a whole hour, but I didn’t want to stop. It felt too wonderful. When I finished, I rang my little bell. Ding. I did it.

Maybe, like me, you’re not inclined to get all New Agey with your writing, but slowing down long enough to play with words not only feels good, it enhances everything you write. No matter what you write, take a few minutes to warm up the brain and the fingers. Athletes do warm-up exercises, musicians play scales, artists make sketches, writers . . . Right.

In addition to their Pen and Bell book, you can visit Hughes and Miller’s Pen and Bell blog for their own mindful writings and more inspiration. The Pen and the Bell is more linked to meditation and mindfulness than most of the writing books I have read. Other good books that will get you writing include Natalie Goldberg’s Old Friend from Far Away, Wild Mind and her classic Writing Down the Bones. All are full of free-writing exercises. Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and The Right to Write are good ones, too.  I also enjoy The Write-Brain Workbook by Bonnie Neubauer. If you like puzzles, that’s the one to get.

We’ll get back to marketing and all that other writing business stuff, but you can’t sell what doesn’t exist. You have to write first.

Now go write.

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