Paying Attention: Or how to attract ideas

My avocado drawing

The most accurate way to describe my mind is to use the Buddhist term: monkey mind.  That’s me.  My mind is always moving; the thoughts are chattering away, unbidden.  Ideas fill my head from morning until night.

Here are some of the writing ideas that have flitted through my brain in just the past 24 hours:

  • I was doing some background fact- checking for the cover copy that my publisher has just completed for my upcoming book and I stumbled on the biography of Christiane de Pisan.  Never heard of her?  I’m not surprised; she was a 14th century woman, a writer, a woman ahead of her time, a Venetian by birth.  That sounded intriguing to me – and I wondered where I’d heard of her before.  In any case, I decided that there was a story there just waiting to be told.  A new book, perhaps?
  • Then, I was working on a document for my day job (university professors have to write stuff even when they are not in the midst of a teaching term), and I stumbled on another interesting idea: maybe I should write something about how university students want to be entertained by their professors these days.  Interesting.
  • Then, there are the inevitable ideas that spring to mind as I complete the activities necessary for our upcoming vacation.  A story set in London or New York? On Broadway, perhaps?  Well, you get the idea.

I did take meditation classes a few years ago and do have a meditation practice – when I have not fallen off the wagon as I have recently.  (Yes, of course I’m writing a piece called The Meditation Class based on the journal I kept.)

But, here’s the thing: to truly capture ideas, I have learned that you need more than a sturdy journal or two.  You actually need to quiet your mind and pay attention.  According to research, a wandering mind is one of the characteristics that make us human.  However, it is also what makes us unable to be attentive.

A few years ago, I decided that I need to be able to hone in on details more – that these details would enrich my writing.  So, I decided to learn to pay more attention.  I took a drawing class.

I am someone who clearly does not have a shred of talent when it comes to that kind of visual expression.  I seem to have some flare for graphic art, but picking up a drawing pencil was very foreign to me.  But I persevered with the classes.

Le Gourmet
Le Gourmet, Picasso, 1901

What I learned is that to be a visual artist, you have to be very observant.  Even if your artwork resembles Picasso’s later works with all of the deconstructed images, you still need to be keenly observant.  Until I visited the Picasso Museum in Barcelona some years ago, I had no idea that Picasso was not always an abstract painter; in fact his early work was very realistic. All of his work required considerable focus on details regardless of the artistic product at the end.

I did learn to pay attention to visual details and I did learn to draw.  I’ve often used this new skill in paying attention to details of people around me that later make their way onto a page.  Funny how I learned to describe things better from learning to draw.  But the bottom line is that I now (sometimes) pay attention.  Next week I’m going to tell you how many writing journals I have and what I use them for…

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One thought on “Paying Attention: Or how to attract ideas

  1. Pingback: The genesis of an idea « Backstory…

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