As writers, it often seems we are channeling our stories more than creating them. So it should be no surprise to learn the tool of meditation can inspire your next story.
I have often thought of writing as something of a meditation. When we’re really in the zone, it can feel like an altered state. Especially when I was younger, inspiration would sometimes strike with such force I’d call it a story high. I could ride it for week sometimes—before experiencing story hangover!
As writers, our great love affair is with inspiration. Sometimes that relationship is on, and we are flooded with creative passion and more ideas than we know what to do with. At other times, we have to put in the work to court our inspiration. Most writing lives require a balance of both. One of the most profound lessons I have learned over the last decade is the importance of cultivating a lifestyle of creativity. This means not just observing what lifestyle patterns contribute to sustainable creativity over the long-term, but also seeking out specific tools that can help foster and boost creative patterns.
Turns out mediation can be one of those tools.
Accessing Subconscious Creativity Via Meditative States
Meditation has become increasingly popular in recent decades, mostly for its positive effects on mental health. For me, it has been a gamechanger in so many ways. I came to it several years ago during a difficult period in my life and have instituted a daily practice that has literally become my favorite time of the day. But before I was ever meditating “on purpose,” I was using this same brain space whenever I played with my stories. Whether I was daydreaming in the car, telling myself stories as I fell asleep, imagining my characters throughout the day, writing away on a story high, or purposefully journeying into what I came to call the “dreamzone”—I was unwittingly taking advantage of the profound benefits that meditative states can offer creativity.
Last week, I released six guided meditations that take writers on a journey through the primary archetypal character arcs of the life cycle. I’ve discussed all of these archetypes in-depth here on my site and in my latest book Writing Archetypal Character Arcs. But as I pondered what I project I wanted to work on next, I realized what most excited me was sharing the tools that have transformed my life and my creativity over the years. I wanted to create a tool that didn’t just tell writers about story techniques, but that helped them access and experience the stories for themselves.
Guided meditations are a helpful tool for easing us into a meditative state via gently narrated instructions. The narrator might invite you to visualize certain things or explore certain sensations or emotions in your body. A guided meditation provides a sort of guardrail you can hang onto as you descend into the boundlessness of your own subconscious. Guided meditations can be a fabulous tool for helping us let go of our conscious brain’s expectations of what we “should” be thinking about. Instead, we can use the prompts provided by the narrator to allow images, ideas, and emotions to arise freely in our brains. In my experience, the results can be profound and surprising.
However, guided meditations are only the tiniest tip of what is available to writers in using meditation to inspire story ideas. (More than that, I should state that I do not believe guided meditations are a replacement for a dedicated personal practice.) The aim is to access our subconscious creativity, to delve beneath the conscious and “logical” chatter of our ego brains, and to discover the resonant symbolism and profound originality within the deep reaches of our own imaginations.
5 Steps to Use Meditation to Inspire Your Next Story
My own personal favorite approach to using meditation to inspire my stories is what I call “dreamzoning.” It requires no guide, although I do set up my space with certain helpful cues (particularly music) to help prime the pump. For me, the experience of purposefully entering the dreamzone is both exhilarating and deeply restful. In contrast to consciously brainstorming a story, which is often an intense and even tiring experience, “dreamzoning” is like, well, dreaming. It’s like tuning in to a favorite program and just watching. For me, there’s also a deep sense of coming home. I never leave the dreamzone without at least one great idea for my story—and usually many, many ideas!
Whether you’re using a structured approach such as the Archetypal Character Guided Meditations or just freewheeling, here are the five steps I use to create a successful meditation for new story ideas or inspiration.
1. Set the Space
This could mean seeking privacy, shutting the door, turning off notifications. It might mean turning out the lights or waiting until evening. But it could also mean taking a walk or a ride in the car. The point is to create a physical container for the experience that will help you avoid distractions and allow you to turn off your “front brain” and settle in to your deep imagination.
2. Add a “Zone-Out” Aid
To help in tuning out the distractions and dropping in, you may find it helpful to add some sort of a visual aid as a focal point. At its simplest, you might just choose a spot on the wall and stare at it. But I always find it helpful if my visual aid offers gentle, rhythmic movement. My personal fave is fire. A fire pit at night is ideal, but I’ve also used candles. If you don’t have access to a fire, you could try streaming a fireplace video or a nature video. I’ve also found lava lamps particularly restful in a hypnotic sort of way.
3. Choose Music
Some people will find silence to be most helpful in sinking in, but you may also want to add music. For me, music takes it all to another level. Of itself, it creates a “guided” experience that allows you to use the cues (whether lyrics or just the emotional response to the music) to invite you deeper into your story. Choose your music carefully, since the wrong music can throw off everything (although I will say that sometimes music that doesn’t seem to fit can help you discover unexpected moments in your stories).
4. Treat It Like a Meditation (But Fun)
Some people hear the word “meditation” and think, Oh, that’s too boring and hard. I could never do that. Meditation of any sort does require discipline—to sit still, to be with one’s own body, to ignore insistent thought patterns, to concentrate, etc. However, in my experience, creative meditation is never anything but fun.
That said, to get the full benefit, you do have to treat it like a meditation, complete with the sitting still and the concentrating. If you find it difficult to sink in due to distracting thoughts or fidgets, just stick with it. This is where the music and visual aids can become helpful in distracting you from your distractions. But most of all, remember it’s fun. You get to be a kid again and just daydream and play in your own imagination. If it feels too much like work, then it may not be the right time for this particular tool.
5. Take Notes
In my younger years, I used to hold the belief that “the only idea worth writing is one I will remember.” Countless forgotten ideas down the road, I no longer believe that! Nowadays, I take conscientious notes. The dreaminess of meditative states can make it just as easy to forget your new ideas as it is to forget your nighttime dreams a few minutes after waking. Although you may not want to interrupt the meditation itself, keep a notebook handy so you can scribble down any ideas or images you want to remember. The vast majority of notes in my idea folder for any given story are ones I took during a dreamzoning session. So much good stuff!
6 Benefits of Using Meditation to Prep Your Story
The dreamzone is a place without rules. You can use it however feels most intuitive and helpful to you. But by its very nature, it can also feel a bit overwhelming. What do you do when you get there? Here are some of the things I focus on when I head into the dreamzone to play with my stories. You can use any or all of them to help you get the most out of your creative meditations.
1. Find the Big Scenes and Plot Points
Often, the images and ideas that come to you in the dreamzone will be big ones. Especially if you’re using cinematic music for inspiration, you will likely find yourself swept away by what will become the biggest moments in your story. Unless you’re using a guided aid such as the Archetypal Character Guided Meditations, which walk you through the entire story arc and all the major plot points, you may want to keep a part of your brain alert to which scenes will make the most sense at different moments in your story’s structure.
For instance, when I was dreamzoning with my WIP Wildblood, I saw a scene in which one character seemed to die, was saved by another—and, in so doing, both of their magical powers and identities were revealed. Thanks to my awareness of story structure, I knew right away this was likely to end up being the First Plot Point in my story, and this helped me guide my imaginings from there.
2. Tap Into Organic Originality
The best thing about the dreamzone is that it offers a hotline to your subconscious creativity. This is the deepest part of you, and therefore the most original. This is a direct line of communication with the ideas and messages that are yours to speak in this life. Although what you see in the dreamzone will undoubtedly be influenced by all the images your mind has stored throughout your life, you will also have the capability to access images, characters, and scenarios you’ve never seen enacted in other people’s stories. Although it’s totally fine to play with tropes you enjoy, when something you’ve never seen before pops up, pay attention. Follow it down the rabbit hole and see if it leads you to surprising places your conscious brain may never have been able to dream up.
3. Go Deep to Discover Authentic Character Arcs
The other cool thing about the subconscious is that it is steeped in archetypes. Just as our brains naturally understand the shape of story long before we start learning the technicalities of story structure, we also naturally understand the language of archetype and therefore character arc. In short, our subconscious brains are often much better storytellers than our conscious brains. For me, I always notice a depth of resonance to the character development I experience when in the dreamzone that is much harder to access simply through left-brain knowledge and technique.
More than that, playing with archetypes in the dreamzone (whether they arise naturally or whether you’re consciously drawing upon one, as I’ve done in the Archetypal Character Guided Meditations), can be personally transformative as well. After all, our characters are us. Anytime an archetypal character presents itself to our imagination, it represents a part of our own brains interacting with that deep symbolism.
4. Make Use of the Symbolism
Speaking of which, the symbolism itself can be a blast! Particularly if you’re a visual thinker, take note of the imagery. What colors are especially vibrant? What animals wander through the scene? You might see scenes or snippets from your story that don’t obviously impact the plot, but that offer insight into deeper meanings in your story.
For example, my first snippet of inspiration for Wildblood was a single image, of a woman dressed in severe Tudor black, standing in front of a single stone tower in a snowy landscape, with a raven overhead. At the time, I didn’t know anything about what these images meant, but I played with them until they revealed a depth of symbolism and meaning that eventually became a whole story!
5. Get Unstuck
As a creative aid, meditation is unparalleled. Whenever your logical brain gets snarled up on a plot problem, take a ramble into the dreamzone and let your subconscious have a crack at it. Shifting from our “word brain” to our “picture brain” can bring in a whole host of new ideas and solutions that might never have occurred to us otherwise.
6. Remember the Wonder and Have Fun
Not only can meditation inspire your next story, but it can also serve to remind you and/or keep you in touch with the glory that is creative storytelling. If you ever find yourself taking your writing too seriously or feeling like you’ve lost the joy of the craft, giving yourself permission to simply daydream is the single best way I know to return to the wonder of storytelling. Although meditation, in all its many forms, can take you deep and initiate intense transformations, it is also fun. It offers a return to the simplicity of our own imaginations, such as we experienced in childhood, back when we walked the dreamzone all the time.
Most writers access meditative states without even realizing that’s what they’re doing. But if you’re feeling in need of a little extra wonder (let’s be honest, who isn’t!) or just want to consciously utilize the manifold benefits of using meditation as a creative aid, try setting aside some dedicated time to play in the dreamzone. If you want to start out with a guide that will help you explore specific archetypes and symbolism, as well as all the important structural beats, you can check out my new Archetypal Character Guided Meditations. But really, all you need is a little privacy and your own imagination. Who knows what you’ll find!
Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! Do you think meditation can inspire your next story? Have you ever tried “dreamzoning” or some equivalent? Tell me in the comments!
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Author: K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland