Writing, Meditating, and Mummies

  Karloff and Johann in The Mummy


Throughout the process of writing a novel, a writer will inevitably reach points where they can not see in which direction the story should go; or, they do see- only they have no idea how the hell they’re going to get there.  Or, their characters remain aloof;  mere outlines rather than three-dimensional beings.

And the more one struggles to breakthrough, the more strongly the problem grips its claws.  Answers are much more likely to come while in a relaxed state of being.

In the biography The Life of Charlotte Bronte, Elizabeth Gaskell recalled a conversation she’d had with the authoress while staying at her home in Haworth.  “I asked whether she had ever taken opium, as the description given of its effects in Villette was so exactly like what I had experienced, – vivid and exaggerated presence of objects, of which the outlines were indistinct, or lost in golden mist, &c.  She replied, that she had never, to her knowledge, taken a grain of it in any shape, but that she had followed the process she always adopted when she had to describe anything which she had not fallen within her own experience; she had thought intently on it for many and many a night before falling asleep, – wondering what it was like or how it would be, – till at length, sometimes after the progress of her story had been arrested at this point for weeks, she wakened up in the morning with all clear before her, as if she had in reality gone through the experience, and then could describe it, word for word, as it had happened.”

 Actress Zita Johann used a techinque which she called, “The Theater of the Spirit”, which could very well be used for writers.   Ms. Johann, mostly known for playing the dual role of the sophisticated Helen Gosvenor and her previous incarnation, The Princess Anck-es-en-Amon in the original The Mummy,   held a life-long interest in the occult.   As Spiritualists would call upon dearly departed ones, she would meditate and invoke her characters to reach a special depth of emotion.  Though the revered stage actress never truly made it big in Hollywood (largely due to her outspoken disdain of Tinseltown),  her hypnotic performance in the aforementioned film is unforgettable and gives a glimpse into why she was regarded as, “The White Flame of the American Theater”.

One of my favorite meditation methods when it comes to writing is to think intensely on the subject (or problem) at hand, and then completely let it go by meditating on something totally different: an image,  a mantra… Then, hours or days later- the answer pops into my mind as I’m in the twilight state between sleep and wakefulness; or, just as likely, when I’m doing something as mundane as the dishes.

Do you use meditation for your writing?

  Helen is hypnotized in The Mummy


   Helen remembers her life as the Princess


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30 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Wow, I find that fascinating, the process which Charlotte Bronte arrived at her passages. I think that is one of the most demanding and exhilarating of steps in writing- the mulling over of the story. It’s hard to live in the present then, when you are chasing threads in your mind. Sometimes I startle my husband by saying, “Ah! I get it now!”

  2. Hi Pink!

    Yup. I’ve startled more than one person. 🙂

    The mulling over the story is the most difficult part for me, too. It’s so frustrating when you can only see bits and pieces.

  3. I’ve found that I’ve gotten quite a few ideas or solutions to story problems while doing things like walking, washing dishes, or some other repetitive task. I seem to recall reading somewhere that it’s because while you’re doing such a task, which doesn’t completely involve the left brain, it gets bored and the right brain sneaks in and it’s party time.

    Or something like that. Not sure I’m even remembering that correctly. 🙂

    But I do know such meditative activities do work. At least for me. And that period in the morning between sleeping and awakening? Very fertile creative time. Only problem is writing down whatever insight I got before I forget it. 🙂

  4. What an extraordinary technique Charlotte Bronte came up with. I think I’m going to try Zita Johann’s strategy for a couple of troublesome characters I have.

    I don’t set out to ‘meditate’ necessarily, but I sort of let myself zone out, if you will, intentionally letting my mind wander around in the story. I just sort of mentally picture the scene and the characters, and they usually just take off on their own talking and moving and doing things. I just sort of follow them around 🙂 Sometimes it’s good, sometimes not so good, but I usually get something.

  5. Oh, Jenna’s comment reminds me of something from Brenda Ueland’s book “If You Want to Write”: she says to rise an hour earlier than usual, don’t speak, don’t read anything, just get to your desk (or your notebook, or whatever) and start writing. By doing this you train your brain to click on to write during this hour. I’m paraphrasing, obviously, don’t have the book here with me at work.

  6. Hey Jenna,

    Agatha Christie claimed to get lots of ideas while doing the dishes.

    I walk a lot, and do find lots of solutions and ideas popping in my head during that time. I think I’ll do a post soon on the mental benefits of walking.

  7. Heya DD,

    I’m going to try Zita’s method, too. Sounds intriguing and fun.

    Brenda Ueland’s advice is spot-on. I’ve noticed if I write first thing in the morning, even if it’s only a couple of lines, that I write better throughout the day. It helps to get the mind stirring.

  8. How interesting about Charlotte Bronte. When I took art classes, I found ideas would arrive at the most sudden and unexpected times. Simply trusting your own imagination goes a long way in the completion of a project.

  9. Hi Kristine,

    Nice to meet you! 🙂

    I agree with what you said regarding trusting your imagination. In fact, imagination tops my list of vital elements for storytellers to possess. And I can certainly see its importance for visual artists as well.

  10. Do you use meditation for your writing?

    I’ve got no real technique yet, I just try a bit of everything, some work, some don’t. As for meditation before I write; I’ve had it work for me. I have a habit of having all my ideas just rush into my mind and remain, sometimes it gets overwhelming and I need to clear my mind before I can continue. I’ve found in that state things become clear.

    Then again it doesn’t always work 😦

  11. Fascinating stuff! I don’t meditate for writing, at least, not on purpose. But I, too, have found that some problems tend to evaporate or suggest solutions to themselves in that twilight you’re speaking of.

    Of course, most of my twilight epiphanies don’t usually work out immediately, but it breaks the dam. I love the pics in this post, btw. Veddy cool!

  12. Hi Chazz,

    I meditate on a regular basis. As for writng, along with what I mentioned in the post, I also find if I do a concentration meditation concerning a plot issue or something as I’m falling asleep…I sometimes dream bits of the scene which I can then play with.

  13. Hey Jen,

    Same here. A lot of the answers come to me in flashes. But I’ll get enough that I can start toying with them.

    Glad you like the pics! 🙂

  14. I meditate for other purposes, so I don’t use that specifically for writing –rather I zone out, while walking, driving, working out, etc.. I find I can do it best when I’m in the middle of some not-too-strenuous physical activity. (I miss my farmhand job mainly for this reason: there’s nothing like a heavy-work, outdoor job that doesn’t require much thought for great daydreaming.)

    FYI – I gave you an award over at my blog, lady. 🙂

  15. I sometimes try to “zone out”, as Amy does. It goes even further than putting myself into someone else’s head – that still means that I’m myself. It’s *becoming* someone else instead, sinking so deeply into their mindset and experiences and perceptions that you can’t help but see exactly what they would do – and why.

    And if they’re a vivid, flawed and larger-than-life character, the story can just about write itself from there.

  16. Thank you Amy for the award! 🙂

    As for the zoning out during non-strenuous actvities- I love things like walking and knitting for that.

  17. Marian,

    That sounds fascinating. Like you truly become the character? I tend to stay more the observor.

  18. So many plot issues have been sorted or resloved while I sleep 🙂

  19. Chazz,

    I think there is definitely a lot to the old saying, “sleep on it.” 🙂

  20. I’d given up on sentient thought the other evening after some agonizing for weeks about some plot problems. There I was, ostensibly dog-tired on the couch (near my ever present notebook but no longer aware of it or caring), with a moratorium on books/DVDs for the night…and suddenly…in swept plot swirls. Ideas, connections… Great stuff. Was I accidentally meditating, or just giving up and focusing on breathing? I suppose they’re connected. I think I may have accidentally meditated. :):) Magnifique!

  21. My process. Exercise, lots of coffee, some hair pulling, large Xs of blue ink over whole paragraphs of script, some questions and then some more writing.


  22. Awesome, Sput! And a great example how answers come while in a state of relaxed being.

    Hope the writing continues to go well for you. 🙂

  23. Heya Ralfast,

    So you follow the principle known as coffee and hair-pulling meditation? 😉

    But yes, physical exercise is wonderful. Not only of course for physical health, but mental and emotional.

  24. I frequently get ideas when doing housework, it must be meditative because if I have order then my mind seems ordered. I meditate as well and this often gives answers to perplexing questions. I find your posts utterly fascinating,gypsyscarlett,so insightful. What beautiful photographs, she is quite bewitching anyway, isn’t she? Great stuff!

  25. It seems to work for me! 😉

  26. Hi Kateri!

    Thank you so much, and it’s always wonderful to hear from you.

    Yes, meditation really does open one up to answers (whether it be for general life or writing). And it truly does lower stress. I’m a huge proponent of it.

  27. When I start to get frustrated in writing, I give my left brain a rest and switch to art for a while. Lately I’ve been working on Victorian-styled photocollages and I’ve found that as I think about the different image elements I’m working with, stories and ideas start to emerge in the back of my mind. When I reach an impasse with the art, I go back to my writing with fresh ideas, and so, back and forth…

    Also, I count most of the time spent at my boring job as “meditation.” *grin*

  28. Hi Haystack,

    Thanks for stopping over at my blog!

    I love your method of working on art to unlock your subconscious for your stories. And now I’m interested in looking up Victorian -style photocollages! 🙂

  29. Check out this show at the Met:


    Aristocratic Victorian women used to make collages blending watercolors and photographs. Some of them have human heads on animal bodies, Photoshop-style.

  30. Hi Haystack,

    Thank you so much for that link! I’m going to check it out later. 🙂

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