In praise of a wandering mind

In praise of a wandering mind

A quote by the wonderful writer, Ann Patchett, comes to mind regularly these past five months as I struggle with the book inside me. The book I have thought about, toyed with for years.

“I can’t write the book that I want to write but I can write the book that I can write.”

The book I want to write is perfect. Lauded for its literary rigor. With complex social mores and hard topics written about beautifully. A sweeping story that touches all who read it. Big call!

I have wrestled for the past 5 months with the story I wanted to write. The story I had been working on (and off) for ten years. Looking for the core, developing the characters, plotting the story and it was going nowhere. So I put it away and started a file called Just Write. And that’s what I did, what I do, everyday. I just write.

I watch people around me and make up stories about them. I started in a café in Sliema , Malta continued on planes and in airports in Dubai and Sydney, at a kitchen table in Ouyen, a hotel in Adelaide, in Mungo Lodge, in the studio at the Art Vault, in my garden office, even recording ideas, sentences, better words, as I drive.

And the stories flowed and I was pleased but it wasn’t my great novel. It was just writing for writing’s sake.

Each morning I meditate. It has always been difficult for me to achieve an empty mind until I realised that just like my writing, it is simply the practice of meditation that counts.

My mind wanders. I note that my mind is wandering and I return to the breath and relax the parts of my body that tense up during the wandering mind – my jaw, my left shoulder and my belly. I make them soft and return again to the breath. And then my mind wanders again. I note that my mind is wandering and…..

But it is the value of the wandering mind that I have come to love about meditation. As my mind begins to wander from the breath, the freewheeling thinking begins and these past few days, turns to the characters in my ‘just write’ stories.

And in thinking of them, I see that the path to my novel is to blend the strong ideas of the great novel with these new characters particularly two of them named (for now) Franco and Isabella. I meander with them. They are growing. The idea of the book is growing. And I am just writing.

What I have come to realise is that ideas can’t flow or grow if I constantly surround myself with noise and distractions.

So on these beautiful winter days I step away from what I am doing and spend time sitting in the garden, or by the river or laying on my couch with the winter sun streaming through the window onto my face. No books or magazines. No ipad or background music. No distractions from my thoughts that are focused on my characters and the story.

And what arises is who they are, what makes them tick. I recently brainstormed the same questions with my daughter Daria as she developed characters for her graphic novel. What they love, what they hate, their habits, personalities, favourite things, relationships with family and friends, distinguishing features, their interests and their passions. What brings them together, what do they do when they are together, what tears them apart, how do they cope with love, with loss and how will it all end.

I can’t write the book that I want to write but I can write the book that I can write and I am just thinking and writing and thinking and writing….

Written by Helen Healy