Author Archives: Jean-Philippe Veilleux

How Creative Meditation Can Help Writers

Meditation

Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Flickr

Since I’m not here to convince anyone to take on meditation (although you really should!), let me reassure you: the topic has little to do with Tibetan Buddhism, Zen, Transcendental meditation, Kundalini or any other Eastern tradition.

I’m more interested in a specific type of meditation.  One that can help artists feed their creativity.

Believe it or not, a strong link exists between boredom and creativity. You’ve all experienced it: as a child, when you were bored for long periods of time and your mother insisted that you got off the Nintendo console to go play outside, what did you do?

You created your own games.

That’s how my sister and I designed a complex game at the age of 8 and 6.  Infuriated by the habit of their enemies to exploit them as the basic substance when brewing cursed potions, the Pumpkin Nation declared war on the neighboring Tribe of Witches, Fortunately, the two girls next door agreed to impersonate the witches!

Okay. Let’s get back to writing.

You’re stuck. Blocked. And you need an idea for the climax of your future award-winning novel.

What do you do? Try to get bored out of your mind? Almost.

You sit and look inward.

How to Use Creative Meditation

1. Meditation works best if you sit cross-legged (you don’t have to do the full lotus pose), back straight but relaxed, palms resting on your thighs just below the knees. For those like me who aren’t too flexible, it helps to sit on hard cushions to keep the knees below the hips.

2. Keep your eyes closed and deepen your breath.

3. Start by noticing how you feel. Does your back hurts? Do you feel agitated, anxious, hopeful? Simply look at those emotions or sensations without judging them. Try to accept them.

4. Now. It’s time to think about your story. Summon images from the problematic scene in your story. If you can’t see your story world or characters, don’t worry. Focus on the concepts or ideas you wish to put down on paper. Then start asking your questions.

Depending on the situation, questions can be as simple as “what happens next”: What happens to Natasha after she makes the decision to follow Anatole blindly, forgetting her love for her fiancé?

They can also target concepts: What emotion or theme do I want to convey through this particular scene? How can I achieve that?

Or tackle tricky bits: How do I bring my plot twist even further so it can blow my mind along with those of my readers?

Sometimes, when you’re lucky, you don’t need more. Ideas just pop-up out of the blue. And I’m not talking about hours. Ten to fifteen minutes is usually enough.

If what you’re looking for is more complex (character creation, book ending and so on) you may need step 5.

5. Up to here, what you have been using is actually called guided visualization. Let’s now go deeper into the meditation phase proper.

Its quite simple: Forget about your story.

You’ve asked your questions during Step 4, now it’s time to trust your subconscious and let it do the heavy lifting.

So what do you do in the meantime? You meditate!

How do you do that? There are many ways, but here is the most common one: Focus on the breath. And don’t think that you’ll be able to stop your thoughts. This is the biggest misconception of what meditation is. You will have thoughts. When they come, label them “thinking” and then come back to the breath.

Unless your interested in meditation for other reasons, don’t worry if you keep getting distracted by thoughts, feelings and sensations. Its normal. Mastering meditation takes years. The good news is, we don’t need to master it for our purpose.

After ten to fifteen minutes of sitting through Step 5, get up, stretch and get back to work!

In my experience, most of the times, ideas emerge during any of the five steps, mostly the fourth and fifth. If it doesn’t, I go for a walk, work on something else without worrying that it didn’t happen this time. I know that the answer will materialize sooner or later.

Why? Because our brain is just one big problem-solving machine.


Four Ways to Find Inspiration for your Writing

1. Start with an Emotion!

I don’t know if you’re like me, but there is a quite large quantity of short stories “piling” up on my hard drive, USB keys and cloud storage. And what do a vast number of them have in common? They interest no one.

Photo credit: Uwe Mayer via Flickr

Photo credit: Uwe Mayer via Flickr

Why is that? I wondered. Isn’t everything that flows from my brain sublime? And if not, at least interesting?

The hard cold truth struck me in the face one morning: Apparently not.

Recovering from the blow, I turned to the stories readers did enjoy. An answer finally came. The ones they preferred were always those in which I successfully captured a strong emotion. It worked even better if I had actually lived the anger, jealousy, shame, anticipation, or joy in a vivid real-life event.

So what am I suggesting? When in need of a brilliant story idea, recall moments in your life when you felt strong emotions. Can you put those sensations down on paper?

2. Remember What Makes a Story

Now, before you describe in five pages the morning that crazy driver cut you off in traffic and how rage overwhelmed you, let’s take a moment to breathe a little.

Emotions are good. Crucial even: if there is something readers are avid of, it’s not a clever plot twist or an action-packed scene where giant robots fight invaders from space (although they may love those too!). Above all, they want to feel something.

Why not write about that road rage event then? A valid question. The problem is elsewhere: it lacks what stories are made of.

A story becomes a story when desire comes into play. The protagonist has to want something badly. Forcing him (or her) to confront danger in order to attain it is key. The struggle can be either physical or moral, but it should be meaningful enough for others to care.

To sum up, if you want an never-ending list of story ideas to pick from, sit down and come up with desires a hero might have. Then put youtself in the enemy’s shoes. What would you do if you wanted to prevent him (or her) from reaching the goal?

3. Become a Dream Catcher

This one is pretty simple. You write down your dreams.

I noticed that the more I acknowledged my dreams, the more came to me. They also became a lot clearer. If you don’t remember your dreams at all, simply say to yourself before falling asleep: “Tonight, I will dream and will remember my dreams when I wake up.” I know, it sounds a bit voodoo, but it can lead to quite surprising results.

Don’t underestimate this little tip: I created the story world for my first novel and harvested cool atmospheres and plot points for short stories by paying attention to what was going on inside my head at night.

4. Sit Down Anyways

You have writer’s block and panic seems to be on its way over? Okay, let’s try something different.

If only for fifteen minutes, just sit down in front of a blank page. You don’t have to write anything if you don’t want too. Just sit and let your mind wander.

And don’t sweat it. Try to relax.

Not even a single word came out? Good. Come back tomorrow, and the day after that. Eventually, ideas will come; the simple act of taking the step to sit down in front of the screen or paper will poke awake your internal little workers also known as your subconscious.


Mythology and the Power of Stories

Myths, as our friend Sigmund taught us, are concrete examples of psychological processes. We only need to think about the infamous Oedipus killing his father without knowing it was him, Electra harboring nasty feelings against her mother or Robin checking out Batman’s outfit…no wait, bad example.

batman-and-robin-tvWhen a story is well crafted, it achieves the same level of meaning as mythology did back in the days of good ol’ Alex the Great, Ramses II or… Ch’in Shih Huang (yeah, he’s less known in the West, but he was still awesome).

Attributing symbols and basing some of your characters on archetypes will add a rich layer to your novel, script or short story. It will transform it from a “what you see is what you get” to a profound tale where multiple interpretations are possible.

As a writer, I am not ashamed of admitting that I often go back to my mythology books to get inspired. I even go as far as copying the structure of a myth. And I’m far from being the first to do that. Shakespeare did it all the time. So if the Bard wasn’t shy, why the heck should any of us be? The good news is, myths are abundant, rich and often very weird. If you think the Greeks are messed up, wait until you hear what American First Nations, African tribes or Hindus had to say.

I will end this post by revealing a secret. You liked The Hunger Games?  After fifty pages or so, I started to suspect Suzanne Collins for finding her inspiration from the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. To prove that I’m not a lunatic, the author confirmed it first hand in an interview. So if you ever happen to experience writer’s block, or find your story a little too bland, you know where to look. Mythology can also help with story structure: I recommend reading Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces.


Four Tips for becoming a Disciplined Writer

Let’s start with numbers.

A majority of the population (81% in the US) wants to write a book. I can’t remember where I heard the next statistics, but it sounds right: less than 3% of people who start to write a novel never type the final dot.

Why? Well, for multiple reasons — one of which certainly has to deal with motivation.

Truth is, writing day after day after day can be daunting. So how do writers do it? Divine inspiration? No. And yes (see Four Ways to Find Inspiration for your Writing). The answer is much drier: discipline.

Photo credit: tonyduckles via Flickr

Photo credit: Tony Duckles via Flickr

1. Fight Off Distractions

Writing can often feel like an internal war.

The first step to take is to stop feeding the enemies!

Here’s the Top Wanted list: emails, Facebook (the whole Internet for that matter), the phone, food, TV, games. You know them.

When you choose to write, it helps to raise the flood gate and ignore the constant blabbering that’s going on outside your fortress of solitude. How is that accomplished? I usually go to the library (avoiding looking at the Web daily passcode as if it was some giant hairy tarantula) or anywhere else where I can remain disconnected. I recently started writing on paper again, just in case.

To sum up:

Turn off the phone.

Ditch it in a sock drawer.

Get out of the house.

Find a safe haven.

Smash your wireless port with a hammer.

And your good to go.

2. Build Your Willpower Muscle

You’ve just read the first tip, and you’re still thinking: “Yeah, whatever, Dexter’s on.”

Please continue reading.

Roy F. Baumeister knew all about willpower. He taught us that if we do not train our self-control muscles by restraining ourselves, we progressively lose that crucial ability.

He put it this way: “Making decisions uses the very same willpower that you use to say no to doughnuts, drugs or illicit sex”. Now we know why its so hard!

The good news is, writers can cultivate willpower by controlling their own behavior and exercising their willpower “muscle” little by little.

Developing this mental discipline can help writers — especially beginners — overcome procrastination, bring discipline into their lives and help them persevere in mastering their craft.

Just like at the gym, its recommended to grab the light weights first. For example, when you get back home, you can decide to store your shoes side by side in the closet instead of throwing them anywhere, and to do your dishes right away. Oh, and put those dirty clothes in the basket, avoid the “half-clean” pile.

Yeah, I know. Our mothers were right all along.

3. Try Mornings

I’m conscious that some people prefer to write in the evening (or even at night). But if you are struggling and can’t say no to friends or TV, why not try mornings?

The nice thing with the early hours is that nobody will ask you to go grab a beer or two (hopefully).

Most of us perform best in the late morning. If you don’t want to wait that long, taking a warm shower helps jump start the process.

You’ve tried and still can’t wake up with the birds? Another option would be to find the best spots during your day when you will be able to write. And block your agenda. It is that sacred.

4. Start Small

This is probably the best of the four.

I recently spent three months recovering from a concussion and for those who don’t know what this means, I can sum it up in two words: extreme boredom.

During that time, I stopped writing. To help me build my discipline back again, I had to trick my mind.

I decided to start real small. Like 100 words per day (you could probably go for 50 even). My old goal used to be 1,000 to 1,500 words. Writing only seven lines seemed like a joke, and so I sat down with a confident smile on my face.

Funny thing is: once you start, you never stop at 100. In the beginning, it came down to 200-250. Then 460, and 680. Last Monday, I wrote a “Stephen King like” 2,000 words!

(By the way, if you’ve always wanted a six-pack, this method works like magic. Just start with 8 to 12 sit-ups!)