[MZ] Monday Zen ~ WHO is your character?

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“It’s not about following all the rules; it’s about hitting the right story…. Editors want to laugh and cry and cheer on your hero and heroine. That’s what sells.” ~ Anonymous

“Dig deep.

And I start to bang my head on the keyboard.

If you are a writer, you are aware of the love/hate relationship writers often have with the process of “digging deep.” The relentless quest to create a character the readers will care about and fall in love with.

After all there are more pleasant things to be done, right? Perhaps the laundry, dishes, oh and that visit to an old friend you haven’t spoken to in years (for a very good reason).  Almost anything is better than writing sometimes, right?

The truth is when we do hit that note, when we do get it “right”, it’s exhilarating, as if we’ve just climbed Mt. Everest. Well, recently, I took my Regency WIP apart in my attempt to undertake the daunting task of digging deep.

Sometimes we are stuck in our own world view and ideas that we can’t see the solution that’s right in front of us.

I decided to work one-on-one with an amazing teacher/writer to help me with this process. It required me to sit with the unknown, to dig deep and ask the hard questions: Why do I want to write this story? What is it about? Who are my characters?

This process can be a very frustrating experience, but when you “get it”, it can be very enlightening.

I have to say, during my own process of digging deep, I have discovered not only what drives my characters, but why it is so important to me to tell this story.

But trying to figure all this out on your own can be quite challenging. And over the years, I’ve gain some “tools” to help me free my mind and to allow my inhibitions to melt away so that I can dig deep.

1. MUSIC

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Not just any music, but songs that evoke particular emotions you want to convey in your scene. I can’t write with the music on in the back ground, but I do listen to them when I need to fuel my energy and extract certain emotional intensity for a particular scene I am writing. I think it frees up inhibitions.

Do you have a list? What are they?

2. Meditate on your character

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What does meditation have to do with writing, you may ask?

Why not?

We meditate on our own inner workings, out thoughts, the negative emotions that often keep us stuck, so why not meditate on our characters?

Mediation is a way to center yourself and to connect with the physical world around us. It allows your clouded thoughts and judgments to melt away and simply be in the moment.

Sit with your character, allow your own fears and inhibitors to all melt away. The answer you’ve been seeking may come to you when you aren’t struggling to find the answer, when your mind is free to explore.

You know how it is. You may be taking a shower, driving somewhere, or taking a walk and BOOM, an idea hits you and you GET it…the ahhh moment.

If you already have a sitting practice, you may tweak it to apply your method to your characters. Ask the question, “Who are you (your character)?” then sit and allow it to go where it leads.

3. Journal in first person

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Sometimes I write a journal for each character in first person. This allows you to get under his/her skin and find out who they are, their motivations, conflicts, and character flaws.

You will be amazed what comes to you.

I usually start with a question. You can write it down or not, it is up to you. Then see where it leads, let the character speak through you. Or I may free write and simply let the character speak through me.

Try it out and see what works for you. 

Please share your writing process, I’d love it hear about it.

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[MZ] Monday Zen ~ To Meditate or Not to Meditate, That is the question.

 

Monday Zen

 “Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh   

I am attempting to meditate again, but with much difficulty. I will admit it has been nearly a decade since I have had a regular practice of sitting.

So why now, you may ask?

Good question.

Many years ago my parents have taught me how to meditate ~ my dad was a Zen monk. Additionally, I was fortunate enough to attend a weekend retreat at Deer Park Monastery with my sister (Vietnamese Zen master and teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, was at Plum Village in France at the time, but the experience there was life changing, nonetheless).

However, not too long ago, a tragedy stuck my family – my dad was killed in a car accident. For many months, I’ve lived in a fog of disjointed memories, as if I were living in a hellish dream with no sign of reprieve.

For a long time, I was angry at the world for my suffering. This anger became a breeding ground for negative thoughts that had pumped through me for a long time. You can image how this kind of anger might affect someone on a day-to-day basis.

I wholeheartedly wanted to stop this cycle, to sit and allow my mind to heal. But sitting with the negative and muddy thoughts after abandoning my practice for nearly a decade, felt like torture.

Ven. Tenzin Palmo, a Tibetan nun once noted, “When the mind calms down, it becomes clear.”

For me, there is a priceless beauty in her words. Many years ago, I too had a glimpse of peace, calm mind and of letting go.

I told myself I would sit for 5 minutes a day and honestly that was all I could give at the time.  

During my first attempt, I noticed how messy and muddy my mind was, endlessly going from one stream of thought to the next, like surfing the web and getting lost in all those myriad of information we don’t know what to do with. If you are a beginner, like me, you know what I mean.

Despite the fact that I felt “unsuccessful,” to say the least, I told myself it will take time and to go SLOW.

If you are a beginner, or have started to sit again after a long absence, here are some things I have observed and often tried to tell myself:

1. It will not be easy.

This seems obvious, but we often berate ourselves for not achieving our goal in time (whatever time that may be for you) while allowing that negative voices take over.

Start small. For me 5 minutes a day practice is enough – a goal that will not overwhelm and discourage me.  I think when we set unrealistic goals, we set ourselves up for failure.

2. Focus on the breath.

I was told by the monks at the Deer Park Monastery to focus on the breath and count to 10. For example: inhalation and exhalation is one breath and so forth. If your mind wonders start over from one and do it again.

This is a great method for a beginner, I think, because it doesn’t require a lot of training and everything you need is right there with you. If you notice your mind start to wonder, try not to judge it, but rather start the process of counting the breath over again.

3. Consistency.

It is important to create a habit of sitting, even when it is the last thing you want to do. For me, creating a healthy habit is the key to overcoming obstacles, even if it’s for 5 minutes each morning.

Do you meditate? What are some methods that have worked well for you? Do you have any insight you’d like to share on meditating?

[MZ] Monday Zen ~ Conquering Fear and Gaining Freedom

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“Any fact facing us is not as important as our attitude toward it, for that determines our success or failure.” ~ Norman Vincent Peale

Welcome to my first official blog post.

I’ve started Monday Zen for the purpose of gaining some clarity and bringing meaning into my life, as well as sharing with you the joy and challenges of writing ~ I write Regency Romance (You can check out my blurb and a sample of my voice under The Enemy Spy tab).

To be honest, I am a very private person and blogging is an entirely new challenge for me. Odd, isn’t it? I am a writer and yet when it comes to sharing my ideas and what matters to me the most as a human being, I’d freeze up, my critical mind telling me I have nothing useful to share with anyone.

I’ve struggled with the critical voice in my head that often keep me stuck in life and as a writer, sometimes it keep me from writing and finishing my manuscript. In fact, I am struggling with it right now.

If you are a writer, you will have heard the words, “Just sit your butt down on that chair and write.” Nora Roberts is famous for saying these words to fellow writers. Sometimes it works for me but often times this isn’t enough and I have to walk away from my desk and dig deep.

It’s the voice that says, “You have nothing useful to share.”

What is inhibiting me from writing? Is it the fear of failure? Rejections? Is the fear coming from not meeting the society’s definition of what success is? What is it?

I try to look at this objectively to clear up any delusion and chaos in my mind.

Have I really failed? When I objectively think about this, the answer is clear. No, I have not. Despite countless rejection letters, I think I have improved on my writing because of the rejections and support of my writer friends.  In fact, I am fortunate enough to have the time to pursue something I LOVE. ~ to create, to write, to dream. Sure, I have received countless rejection letters and emails, but I also know that this is the process and it means I am actively seeking publication.

While most of us think having success may mean having lots of money, a big house, vacations to the exotic locations, and so forth, the truth is, if we really get to the core of what we believe are really important to us, success may look entirely different from what society tells us.

Thomas A. Edison was once quoted saying, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

It isn’t that we have failed or will fail. Everyone experiences “failure” in some form. Sure, we may “fail” or get rejected, but it is how we choose to view the situation that ultimately matter in the end.

I can choose to give up and said, “I have failed,” or know that the rejections and the feeling of uncertainty are all part of the process.

I know it’s a cliché, but we are our worst enemy sometimes, aren’t we? I think it’s really important to be compassionate and kind to ourselves and to appreciate what we have to offer.

When the critical voice tells me that I am not enough, I try not to entertain that voice, the emotional chaos in my head; instead I listen to that voice with kindness, like being there for a friend who is suffering. Often times, it works and I feel renewed. Sometimes it doesn’t work and that’s okay too. I try to sit with the uncertainty and when I am ready, I let it go.

Here are some methods you can try out on your own to remedy your own fears or struggles you may be facing:

1. Fear is part of being human: Don’t push it away, instead listen to it and ask yourself, as a compassionate friend would, what it is that is making you feel stuck and fearful? What can you give to yourself that will help sooth your fear? Give yourself what you need to feel accepted and understood.

2. The negative voice does NOT define you: We all have moment when we are afraid of the unknown, that chatterbox in our mind that keeps us stuck and unhappy. Listen to it, but try to not fuel that voice by agreeing to the negative, critical voices in your mind because the negative voices in your mind will pass.

3. Be kind to yourself: Don’t hold it in. If you need to cry it out or give yourself a warm blanket to feel protected, do so. Why not? We are so ready to reach out and help out a friend in need, but when it comes to our own fears and need, we don’t treat ourselves the way we deserve to be treated.

4. Live today: We don’t need to push ourselves to the point of exhaustion, competing, doing, working, endlessly filling our day with activities, and should do this and should do that, that we often forget to just STOP and breath, to be in the present and live it fully. This moment, this day is all we really have.

What are your challenges and fears? How do you overcome your struggles?

I leave you with this quote by William Shakespeare: “Our doubts are traitors, and make us loose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.”