Today I have the privilege of introducing my 32nd Studio Guest, Jacqueline Sheehan. Her recent publication, a sequel to Lost and Found about a black lab named Cooper, is Picture This. But she has two other books to her credit including Now & Then and The Comet’s Tale: A Novel About Sojourner Truth.
- Jacqueline Sheehan, Ph.D., is a fiction writer and essayist. She is also a psychologist. She is a New Englander through and through, but spent twenty years living in the western states of Oregon, California, and New Mexico.
But how does a writer prepare for the keyboard — for the creative demands of getting words on paper?
Facing the blank page, the blinking cursor, can be challenging, especially if you’d rather be making peanut butter cookies, for instance. Sometimes anything seems more important than sitting down to calmly focus on the next chapter, the next poem — whatever project waits for you in your writing space. I bet I can think of at least five “other” things I should be doing when I open a WIP — a writing document that needs my attention because it is still in progress.
- How does an author calm her mind?
- How does a poet access the depths within?
- How does a writer stay with the task of building stories and sentences when the world, just outside a sun-filled window, is running mad?
As Dinty W. Moore explains in The Mindful Writer: Noble Truth of the Writing Life (a book I’m really enjoying) calming our restless minds can be challenging.
“The brain is likely to suddenly go hyperactive, leaping from notion to notion, idea to idea, like a caffeine-fueled monkey swinging from tree to tree.”
My guest today shares one approach to calming “monkey mind” in an effort to nurture our creativity, meet a deadline, or simply to become more mindful. Please help me welcome Jacqueline Sheehan to SunnRoomStudio — such a pleasure to have you here in this sunny space for kindred spirits.
IN THE FLOW
Why should writers add one more thing to the precious time we have allotted to writing? Some of the most powerful stories I’ve ever read keep the reader firmly in the body of the characters so that I felt every twinge and movement right along with the character. For writers to do this we must also find a clear path into our own bodies and yoga is the way that has served me well for my entire adult life.
One of yoga’s aims for over 2000 years has been to quiet and harness our thoughts and inner chatter. Controlled breathing, a major component of most forms of yoga, actually slows down brain wave patterns, which in turn, helps us to concentrate.
- Conscious breathing allows us to think more clearly without the noise of what writing guru Natalie Goldberg called Monkey Mind, the endless thoughts that skitter around in our brain.
Neuroscientists have demonstrated that working with the body and with breath can help us change brain wave patterns. Beta brain waves, which operate at 13-30 cycles per second, are fine for high intensity, multitasking behavior when we try to do eight things simultaneously. It is not however a state of creativity.
- Alpha brain waves, which operate at 8-13 cycles per second, allow us to concentrate on a single task. It is also the state of being that people experience in the arts, and some sports, referred to as “in the flow.”
With simple yoga practices, you can alter brain waves from frantic to calm, induce a creative frame of mind and open up the imagination and the body to make the stepping stones into writing less jarring and more natural. The bodily awareness, or present mindedness, is greatly enhanced by the focus of aligning breath with poses (asanas) of yoga.
I don’t always spend hours doing yoga each day. I might do two poses in the morning before I start writing, stretch a bit around lunch time, and then add in a few more poses in the afternoon. If you are just starting out with yoga, sample a few different styles of classes until you find one that is right for you and then adapt the poses so that you can do them whenever you need to refresh your body and calm the monkey mind.
Thanks, Jacqueline, for sharing your ideas here! Looking forward to reading about the black lab, Cooper.
Here’s more about my guest. Please look for her on Facebook and Twitter. Explore Jacqueline’s website.
Her first novel, Truth, was published in 2003 by Free Press of Simon and Schuster. Her second novel, Lost & Found, was published 2007 by Avon, Harper Collins. Lost & Found has been on the New York Times Bestseller List and has been optioned for film by Katherine Heigl, star of Grey’s Anatomy. Her third novel, Now & Then, was published in July 2009 by Avon, Harper Collins. She has published travel articles (Winter in Soviet Georgia), short stories (most recently in the Berkshire Review), and numerous essays and radio pieces. In 2005, she was the editor of the anthology Women Writing in Prison. This anthology is the culmination of eight years of writing workshops sponsored by Voices from Inside, an advocacy group for incarcerated women. Jacqueline’s books have been published in over eight countries.
The maker of a sentence launches out into the infinite and builds a road into Chaos and old Night, and is followed by those who hear him with something of wild, creative delight. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
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