Friday, September 25, 2009

Zen, Monkey Mind, and Writing...

A while back I began to do a lot of reading about Zen. I wanted to be present in the moment, enjoy the events of my day as they unfolded, and put the worry and anxiety which is my natural born heritage (thanks, Mom) to rest. Worry and anxiety were blocking my energies (Chi). The more I read, the more I realised that ‘enlightenment’ was an obtainable goal and one I really wanted to work toward. I even started to meditate and continued with the practice for quite a few years.

One of the obstacles to meditation and the attainment of enlightenment is "Monkey Mind". Basically, an alliterative name for worry and anxiety plaguing your waking (and sleeping) hours. It took me a long time to learn to control my Monkey Mind during meditation. Some days I did very well, acknowledging my wayward thoughts and bringing my focus back to my breath. Some days I was all over the place and my 15 minutes would pass in a blur of activity, even though I was sitting on a cushion on the floor with my eyes closed and surrounded by silence. Over the years it became much easier to focus and the practice spilled over into my daily life. I was calmer, more centered, lighter.

Then one day I didn’t meditate. Another day came and went and I discovered that I didn’t have time in my busy day to meditate again – I’d find the time later in the week when things weren’t so rushed and crazy. Days changed into weeks, weeks into months, and my daily practice of being in the moment vanished. I still thought of Zen. I still worked to control my breathing if I found my anxiety level increasing. And I continued to read my daily Zen calendar. Then, even that simple act dwindled down to nothing in the hustle and bustle of work and writing and, argh, Internet.

I haven’t thought about Zen or meditating for a long time, probably for as long as I have been focused on a writing career. And I haven’t given any thought to Monkey Mind for just as long.

Until now.

Over the past week, since my last blog post, I’ve sat at my newly organized desk ready to write. This is just a glimpse into what’s happening:

Me: OK, let’s get started. Only allowed 15 minutes to check blogs and e-mails while coffee’s on.

Monkey Mind: Coffee’s ready.

Me: Right. Let’s open a word document.

Which one?

I don’t know. Maybe we should focus on Gillian and Mac.


I start to read.

Are you sure? I think you were more excited about Grayce and Droyen. That whole branding thing, I think you should really focus on a medieval genre.

You’re right. Where’s my notebook for them?

But you’ve written the end of Gillian and Mac. You’re right, let’s look at that one.


I think you should move your computer over more to the right. There’s better light on that side of your new desk.

Then I’d have to move the file box to the other side. And the pencil holder.

Do it then.

I spend half an hour relocating my stuff. OK, Gillian and Mac.

You know that idea you were kicking around just before you left the Prairies, the wanna-be Private Eye. Maybe if you get your butt in gear, you could have that almost done in case the editor you’ve signed up with asks what else you have. They asked Silver for more than just what she was pitching.

It is more main stream, isn’t it?

Speaking of editors, did you think about your one page?

I took some notes; they’re in a file over here. Argh, this file box can’t stay here, I can’t access anything.

Then you should move it. But you should go have coffee first, we’ve been at this for an hour and I’m thirsty.

SEE! See what I have to put up with. Monkey Mind. Even Muse is not amused. She’s left me totally on my own, gone off with EE in a huff because every time I call on her, Monkey Mind interrupts us and I have to switch gears.

I believe I have two excuses for this problem. One is the fact that I have tons of time right now to dedicate to my writing. No job = no rushing off to work and rushing back to covet the evening hours for my writing. Two, I’m writing or have ideas for more than one story, with a full story still demanding to be reworked and sent out to agents and editors.

So now that I’ve acknowledged the problem and narrowed down the reasons why this problem exists, I believe I’ve come up with a solution. I’ve gone back to my teaching days and have pulled out an old, unused Teacher’s Day Book. I loved those books when I taught. Everything was in there and there was tons of room to plan and organize. Zen practice says that to control Monkey Mind you must acknowledge the thought, then let it go. My ‘thought’ gets written down in my planner and then I let it go. I’ve also listed three items to be on my daily agenda – my focus for the day, just as my breath is the focus of my meditation. Those must get done before I can move on to the other thoughts I’ve listed.

I’ve been at it for two days and so far it’s working. But, as with Zen practice, it will take many attempts before I can tame Monkey Mind. And one day I will close up my computer and realize that I lived in the moment (story) for a full day with no Monkey Mind to block my progress. Without Monkey Mind, my energies will be more open to accomplishing my goals.

So, People of Blogland, do you have Monkey Mind? I know most of us are working on more than one idea at a time – how do you handle multiple stories, multiple characters? Have you found a system that works for you? Is there anyone out there who meditates?

Janet (Namaste)


Silver James said...

I have only one word of advice. Bananas. Lots and lots of bananas. A bunch of bananas. Frozen bananas. Chocolate dipped bananas. Peanut butter and bananas. Monkey mind can't resist bananas. Leave them strung around and MM will be off hunting all day for treats and you can work. If I'm lucky, Iffy gets in on the game and TR and I can have some peace and quiet. Or a piece of quiet. Or something. Is it Friday yet?

Karyn Good said...

Thanks, Janet! I never had an actual name for it before today. I'm glad you're finding your way toward a solution.

I have started another new wip, but its a paranormal, so that helps to keep them seperate. I hope to add another in November, so we'll see how it goes. Hopefully I don't go totally 'bananas'.

I did give meditating a try once, part of a yoga class, and loved it but somehow didn't continue with it after the class was over.

Hayley E. Lavik said...

I absolutely have to deal with this, especially in the last two weeks where I've barely had any time to write, so the routine has completely vanished. I need to start kicking my butt now to get working, because I could see a nice 'refueling' break turning into a loooong dithering waste of time.

When I have a break like this, I think I get intimidated to come back to the wip. I think the last stuff I wrote was so great, it all came together so well (after all, I was writing tons, so I had momentum) and I assume the new day's writing has to pick up at exactly the same level. Dumb, I know. So I wind up finding other things to do (such as reading to 'recharge' and get that momentum back) and just fritter my time away.

When dealing with multiple projects, I think it can help to approach them like relationships. Not that you can have only one, but that you need to 'commit'. Pick one, sit down, work at it.... and eventually one of your other stories will probably get jealous and demand the whole of your attention. Then you'll know which to focus on, and you'll have the drive to get right into it.

Janet C. said...

I bought bananas today, Silver. Now, where did I put the chocolate?

Thanks for the advice. Unfortunately, Monkey Mind read your comment on your blog ( and now wants to write an EU Fighting Song. Knowing no fighting songs, I'm being bullied into researching some on the Internet in order to come up with something good.

I might post something over there later - I'm hoping the bananas lure Monkey Mind away from that brilliant idea.

Janet C. said...

It's funny how things we 'have to do' (as in a class, even though we enjoy them, don't find their way into a daily routine - unless we consciously slot them in and make it a daily practice (like writing). I'm trying to do that with meditation and exercise. I'd rather sit on my butt for 15 minutes of breathing than hit the treadmill for 30 minutes of sweating. Of course, neither are getting done today :(

So Karyn, how do you decide which story to work on? I know they're both different and that helps, but how do you know which to tackle that day? Curious.

Janet C. said...

Funny, Hayley, my usual thought when I go back to writing is "Who am I kidding? It was drivel then, it'll be drivel now." But then I never have held a lot of confidence in my writing - I'm getting better.

I love your advice. Pick one and commit to it. If my mind keeps wandering, then I know my heart's not into that story and I should ditch it (for now).

Stop dithering - get writing (says one who should take her own advice)

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Janet, if you're trying to get down to work next week, perhaps we can make each other accountable and meet up online.

Janet C. said...

I'd love that, Hayley. Can we MSN this weekend and iron out times - I'm three hours ahead of you?

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Sure thing. I'll catch you on when I can, or email if all else fails. I'm writing days next week until Thursday, so some time should work out for both of us.

Anita Mae Draper said...

At the moment, I'm too busy trying to get caught up in post-conference business to worry about Monkey Mind. This entailed the Thurs Prairie Chick post, today's Inky Poetry post and now I have just a couple days to complete and send in my report on Natasha Kern's Sin + Virtue = Bestseller workshop for the ACFW's e-zine. Then I finally get to work on the ms that was requested at the conference and which I have to lengthen.

I've lived and breathed Emma's story for days now. I've been bombarded with visuals and am so eager to get back to her story. So far I've managed to stay on track. The editor requested I lengthen the story by 20,000 words. I said I could. Now, I have to do it before they lose interest. I rec'd an email from the editor today where she outlined the process and stressed she couldn't do anything until the ms was complete. Oy vey! The ball is in my court. Monkey mind can go play somewhere else.

Karyn Good said...

I worked on Outcast this summer because Ban and I made a pack and I just couldn't seem to get into revising CG. Now I'm going strong on CG and want to be done with this revision by end of October, so Outcast is taking a backseat. And I'm going to use NaNoWriMo to start a new romantic suspense (Kate's story) in November. I know December is going to be pretty much a write off but I'm going to try and work on Outcast then.

Now for the short answer: I have a four month plan. :)

Janet C. said...

A good cure for Monkey Mind, Anita - deadlines and focused determination. You are one busy lady.

Good luck with Emma's story - it sounds like the editor is very interested. All the more reason to burn some midnight oil, eh?

Janet C. said...

Holy crap, Karyn. That's some four month plan. You, too, are a busy lady. I'm thinking your foray into Outcast this summer gave you a much needed rest from Common Ground and now you have renewed interest in it. Perhaps Hayley's jealousy theory works :)

Thanks for coming back to answer my questions.

Jana Richards said...

Hey Janet,
It must be really crowded in your head, what with EE and Muse and Monkey Mind all residing there! :)

But seriously, I know what you're talking about. Sometimes my mind goes totally ape on me too. There's always so much to do, so many things to think about.

And then there's the writing. Should I take the story in this direction or in that direction? Which story should I work on? I like Hayley's theory about manuscript jealousy. My theory is more about manuscript burnout. Sometimes I just have to leave a manuscript alone for a while because a) I can't stand to look at it one more second, and b) If I tinker with it much more I'm going to totally suck the life out of it. Sometimes I have to take a step back for both our sakes. Often stepping away allows me the time to think about new things to add to the story. It also gives me the chance to get excited about the story once more.

Janet: repeat after me. I am a brilliant writer. People want to read my work. Let that be your mantra as you meditate.


Ban said...

the jealousy theory DOES work. when I'm stuck with one story I just move to another. keeps things fresh and assures I always have SOMETHING to write about.
you should join us and post a 500 word snippet on Sundays Janet !!!
anyone want to contact me about how to MSN chat ... I'd be interested !

Janet C. said...

Thank you, Jana - with support like that, how can I not succeed.

I hear ya about the 'writing the life' out of a story. That's what I think happened to Mena and Hugh and why I just can't find the energy to go there again. Then, Gillian and Mac - I've started the thing so many times with so many different scenerios that my mind is too confused to continue.

But continue I will. Thanks for assuring me that Monkey Mind is not just my phenomena.

Janet C. said...

Hey, ban. Yes, I'm almost caught up on my catching up - both with beta bloggers and with Jana's manuscript she sent to me in June (sorry, Jana). I plan on 'checking in' on Sunday and list some goals to give me somebody to accoun to.

I'm available anytime on MSN - Hayley's on there and so is Erika. Let me know if you have problems getting set up - if not, then send off a contact request and we'll move this betablogger thing to a new level :)