If you want to write well it makes sense to train your mind. You wouldn’t go for a run without warming up, and you wouldn’t run a marathon without training first. Writing is the same. You can’t expect your mind to work straight out of the box, as it were.
So how do you go about training your mind?
The technique in Free Your Pen: Mind Training for Writers is based on the Buddhist practice of lojong which uses 59 short slogans to transform how your mind works. What you’re doing is reprogramming your mind to work in a new, more positive way. It takes time and a lot of practice – but it’s definitely worth the effort.
The lojong slogans disrupt the ego’s habits and undermine its structures. As we saw in the introduction, the ego is a defensive structure in your psyche that’s built out of fear and tries to keep you safe. But you usually just end up feeling disconnected from others and cut off from your own deeper Self. This is bad news if you want to write well or be happy.
So the slogans work against your tendency to control everything and make every situation and problem about your ego – or ‘me.’ They wake you up and force you to pay attention to what you’re doing and thinking about moment by moment.
After you’ve worked with the slogans for a while, they get into your subconscious and simmer away in the background. Then one day, when you’re struggling with a problem and feeling stuck, a slogan will pop into your mind – like a reminder or an alarm going off – and prod you into realising where you’ve gone wrong. It’s a bit like having an internal GPS system – Buddha GPS – that nudges you back onto your true path.
How to Work with the Slogans
Each slogan is a short, easily remembered phrase that you can use as the basis for meditation or contemplation. They’re not meant to be instructions on how to behave or ‘be good’, like the ten commandments or Buddhist precepts. The slogans are reminders of what you’re aiming for, not a stick to beat yourself with. They’re more like guidelines and should be used with flexibility and commonsense.
The book explores the original teaching on each slogan before looking at how you can apply it to your writing practice, and then gives you some practical exercises to try so you can explore the teachings for yourself. How you do this is up to you, but here are some pointers.
First of all, commit to working with the slogans on a regular basis. If you want to transform your mind, you have to practice every day and incorporate it into your routine.
Start a slogan journal. Get a special notebook you can use just for the work you do with the slogans so you can track your progress. Writing the slogans down in your journal will help you to remember them.
Familiarise yourself with the teachings and learn the slogans by reading the book (coming soon!) or by following this blog. You might like to write the slogans on index cards or post-it notes to help you remember them. Or you can use the slogan randomiser I created to go with the book: Lojong for Writers.
Next, if you don’t have one already, commit to a regular meditation practice. It doesn’t have to take long: 20-30 minutes a day. You could choose a slogan to contemplate, study the teaching, and then meditate on it. Afterwards, write any insights in your slogan journal.
You might also like to include the slogans in your daily writing practice, or perhaps integrate them into your existing routine. If you write a daily journal or do morning pages, you could pick a different slogan to explore each day: study the teaching and then write your thoughts in your slogan journal. Or set aside a special time to work with the slogans.
You could incorporate the slogans into a process of self-inquiry or therapy using free writing or journaling. Identify an area of difficulty you wish to explore and find a slogan that might help, or pick a slogan and meditate on it and see what comes up.
You might even like to use the slogans as inspiration for crafted works, like poems, short stories, novels, or non-fiction pieces like blog posts, articles or memoir.
I don’t want to give too much direction in what to do with the slogans because you’ll need to find your own way of working with them. This is about you getting back in touch with your inner voice, so the process will be different for every individual.
Free Your Pen: Mind Training for Writers is available here! Coming next on this blog are extracts from all 59 slogans so you can start your training and get your mind limbered up and ready to write. And we start, obviously enough with Slogan 1: First, Remember the Basics