I’ve been struggling with writer’s block for over a year, but the worst of it was last winter. It was a portal-to-pure-hell kind of feeling. Worse than a creative drought, it was accompanied by a thousand daily voices in my head telling me my work wasn’t worth it and everything I wrote was crap. I was broken as a writer, and I had to figure out how to deal with how writer’s block was quashing my creative flow and replacing it with an incapacitating fear of putting words on paper.
To get out of the slump, I tried running, taking long walks, reading more than usual, having long heart-to-hearts with my critique group members, who, I’m sure, were pretty sick of hearing me complain about my inability to produce anything. I took online courses to put myself on deadlines. I tried to write side projects aside from my current novel to “inspire” me, but everything always fell flat, and I still felt unable to write effectively.
Then one day, I opened a digital newsletter from writer and creative coach Heather Demetrios, who I follow because she has mad talent and her book I’LL MEET YOU THERE blew my mind with how she dug so deeply into the emotion of the characters. Buried in that newsletter was a link to a blog post entitled “I’m Going to Pavlov Dog the Crap Out of This Meditation Stuff
” by another writer, Jessica Conoley, who had gone on a retreat only to find MEDITATION on the workshop schedule. She was unthrilled with the prospect, not caring much for the hippy dippy reputation surrounding meditation. But Conoley needed to find a way to slow her mind and focus, so she gave it a shot, attended the workshop with Heather, and it worked – giving her concentration, helping her produce, keeping her on task. A writer’s dream!
Still, I was hesitant. Meditation just seemed like a waste of my time. The idea that I had to stop being productive to be more productive was nuts. But writer’s block is its own personal hell, and I wanted out. So I signed up for a “Mindfulness for Writers” course with Heather, which included guided audio meditations, emails, and video chatting. I’ve always told my husband that, in order to write, I have to ease into it daily, settle and focus, and find that creative spot and flow. Sometimes, with kids and dogs and work and phone calls and social media and deadlines and—ack!! --that’s nearly impossible! But, crazily, I found that just twenty minutes of meditation got me straight to “that place of focus,” that magical spot where I could sink right into my story world without being distracted. I found meditation is like priming the creative pump in your brain. To quote my own quote on Heather’s creative coaching site
, “I started filling pages with words again! It’s like flipping a creative switch on a daily basis, and it helped to shut off those critical voices in my head that told me everything I was writing was trash.” For me, meditation was a game-changer for my writing process.
So I’m throwing this out to all my fellow SCBWI-ers to challenge you to see if it works for you, and I asked Heather to tell us in her own words why she thinks meditation is something every writer should be doing daily. Here’s the interview:
How do you briefly explain what meditation is for people who don't know much about meditation?
Meditation is a practice that helps you learn how to work with your mind so that you can more elegantly navigate the challenges of humaning. It can be relaxing, but it’s not about relaxation. It’s about waking up to the present so that you can show up for your life and, by extension, your writing. While meditation is an ancient practice, it’s more necessary than ever in our modern world: when is the last time you just sat for twenty minutes and breathed? Not checking your phone or ticking things off your to-do list or multi-tasking. Just simply being? Meditation is really a way to work the muscle of paying attention. The act of meditation sets so many neurological things in motion, including creative flow. It also directly deals with the part of our brain that houses our inner critics. This is legit neuroscience, but, like anything, you just have to give it a go. Most people I know who give meditation a fair shot end up being pretty darn amazed by how the practice changes things for them. It opens you up. It switches on lights. It gives you back your life.
How did you get involved with meditation, and how is it a part of your life currently?
I basically came to meditation on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I’d been completely shattered by my exhausting publishing schedule and decimated by what the industry was doing to my self-confidence and my artist’s spirit. I’d been a seeker my whole life and so I’d tried meditation before, but I’d never needed it. A friend introduced me to guided meditation, which was a great way to stave off the panic of sitting in silence with my brain that goes a mile a minute. Now, of course, I sit in silence, but you have to start somewhere. I knew that the only way I’d have a practice was if I really did it for real, so I sat nearly every day. I went to a local meditation center, got instruction. I quickly began to see the connections between the meditation practice and the writing practice. The two have been in conversation with each other almost from the beginning. Meditation gave me back my dignity as a published author and it taught me how to balance my creative life with career. It grounded me, and reconnected me to my spiritual side. It’s taught me how to be gentle with myself and has gotten me through some pretty bad creative blocks. Like, actually eliminated the blocks. It’s not a cure-all, but it’s a big, big help. Especially if you suffer from depression and/or anxiety.
I eventually got certified to teach and I teach meditation and mindfulness to writers exclusively—both in person and online. I also infuse the practice into my coaching and use it even with editorial clients—you’d be amazed at how mindfulness can make you better at craft. I teach retreats, too. This October, I’ll be teaching one at Highlights where we’re going to look at how mindfulness can help you through the revision process. I blog regularly about the topic, and bi-monthly I do a Mindfulness Monday post for Vermont College of Fine Arts. For my own practice, I sit every day for twenty minutes, go on at least one long intensive retreat each year, have various mindfulness practices that I infuse into my life, and I study Buddhism, as well. Mindfulness naturally led me to Buddhism and I now identify as Buddhist. It just makes so much sense. So much about my studies help me with my writing process—it’s so exciting to see how my meditation and writing support one another. Side note: you don’t have to be Buddhist to meditate. I teach from a secular point of view. But Buddhist philosophy—the concept of non-attachment in particular—is really helpful in terms of navigating the ups and downs of the writer’s life.
Why do you think meditation is important for writers?
Our job is to pay attention—I’d say that’s almost our primary function as writers. To pay attention and then report back. And it’s very, very hard in the current culture to do that. And even harder once you’re published and there are pressures to push your books and have a brand, yadda yadda yadda. Meditation teaches you to pay attention. It reminds you when you’ve forgotten. The rewards of the practice aren’t on the cushion so much as off it, when you go out into your life and you suddenly start noticing things. And you better believe that shows up on the page. So there’s that. There’s also the very real neuroscience of flow and how meditation helps us work with the inner critic. And then there are various practices that help us to cultivate kindness toward ourselves, to be gentle, to accept failures, and to have perspective on them. This was especially helpful for me as I struggled with failure and rejection and perfectionism. The dividends are unreal. I blog a lot about all of this—it’s endlessly fascinating for me.
What tips or resources do you recommend for writers who are interested in learning more about meditation?
If you go to my blog, www.mindfulnessforwriters.com
, I have a huge list of books, websites, apps, and articles. That should set you up pretty well. And if you sign up for my newsletter
, that gets you access to my Inspiration Portal, which has my 7-Day Meditation Starter Kit, plus lots of the downloadable guided meditations I created just for writers, as well as worksheets and other additional resources.
My basic tips I always give is to start small and to build gradually. Five minutes to start, then build up to twenty minutes a day. Starting with guided meditations is good, but you’ll eventually want to meditate on your own—that’s where the magic happens. And just know that I was ALWAYS someone who said they couldn’t meditate and I am here to tell you that I can, and you can too. Your mind will race—normal. You just go back to the breath when you realize it’s racing. You will be bored sometimes—normal. Boredom works a lot of important muscles, especially resilience, which you need a lot of as a writer. You might fall asleep—no big. And if you’re uncomfortable, you’ll eventually find the right position, and your body will get used to it. Chair meditation is cool. So is meditating in your car! ☺ Give it a real shot. Do it every day. People, listen to me: every day. Every now and then you can skip, but the way this is going to change your life is if it’s non-negotiable. And then?
Watch what happens!
I’m happy to answer any questions you have. Please feel free to contact me
any time. Happy writing—and sitting!
So many thanks to Heather for sharing her knowledge! And keep a look-out for Heather Demetrios’s inclusion in DEAR HEARTBREAK: YA AUTHORS AND TEENS ON THE DARK SIDE OF LOVE – a collection of letters from teens and the raw, powerful, autobiographical letters in response from YA authors. DEAR HEARTBREAK releases in December 2018!
Heather Demetrios is a certified meditation teacher and the critically acclaimed author of six young adult novels. When she isn't spending time in imaginary places, you'll find her traipsing around the world with her husband in her newest creative life hack: a grand international housesitting experiment. Heather has an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and is a recipient of the PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award for her debut novel, Something Real. Her novels include I’ll Meet You There, Bad Romance, as well as the Dark Caravan fantasy series: Exquisite Captive, Blood Passage, and Freedom’s Slave. She’s the editor of Dear Heartbreak: YA Authors and Teens on the Dark Side of Love and the author of Codename Badass, an upcoming feminist pop biography of WWII lady spy, Virginia Hall. Her honors include books that have been named Bank Street Best Children’s Books, a YALSA Best Fiction For Young Adults selection, a Goodreads Choice Nominee, a Kirkus Best Book, and a Barnes and Noble Best Book. Find out more about Heather and her books at www.heatherdemetrios.com, read about all things mindfulness at www.mindfulnessforwriters.com, and learn more about her coaching and courses at www.pneumacreative.com.
Heather Smith Meloche has written for television, print media, advertising, and marketing, and she teaches academic writing to international students at the college level. However, her first love is writing fiction for young adults. Her work has appeared in Spider, Young Adult Review Network (YARN), and Once Upon A Time. She has placed twice in the children’s/YA category of the Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Competition and won first place for Hunger Mountain’s Katherine Paterson Prize in 2011 for a YA short story in verse. A wild fan of dark chocolate as well as kickboxing and running (to be able to eat all that chocolate!), she lives in Rochester Hills, MI with her family. Penguin Putnam released her contemporary young adult novel, Ripple, in September 2016.
Coming up on the Mitten blog:
Creating a Podcast, Painless Self-Promotion, Book Birthdays, and a new Writer Spotlight - who will it be? Did you notice our new blog banner created by our new Featured Illustrator, Cody Wiley? Read his interview here
Save the date!
The SCBWI Wild Wild Midwest Conference
returns on May 3-5, 2019!
An opportunity for Michigan SCBWI members only:
it's time for Shutta's Scholarship Solution for the Winter Doldrums! This scholarship is offered in partnership with author Shutta Crum and the SCBWI-MI Chapter and covers the costs of the SCBWI annual winter conference in New York on February 8-10, 2019. Hurry, the deadline is October 26th!
Here's the scoop: http://blog.shutta.com/2018/10/shuttas-scholarship-time/