For the second installment on my series of interviews with writers who meditate, I’ve got the lovely Jessica Conoley, YA writer and meditation convert. Full disclosure: Jess was a meditation skeptic until she went on one of my autumn writing & mindfulness retreats. Her experience there led her to down the rabbit hole of meditation, and it’s been fascinating to watch her relationship to this practice blossom (Ahem: like a lotus perhaps?). She wrote a fantastic blog about that journey here. Jess agreed to answer my series of questions about the intersection of meditation and creativity, and how this practice has impacted her writing. I hope you’re as inspired by her experience as I am!
How long have you been meditating and what kind of meditation do you do?
I started in October of 2017. I don’t even know what the kind I do is called. I just close my eyes, set a timer, and focus on breathing.
What effect do you think meditation and/or mindfulness has on your creative life?
I’m better at leaving the drama of my personal life behind, detaching from the business worries running around in my mind, & focusing entirely on the task at hand—be that drafting or revision or edits.
Have you noticed a relationship between meditation and flow?
Yes. In the sense that when I first sit down to meditate it takes a good 10-15 minutes for my thoughts to slow down. It feels the same when I first sit down to write for the day. The first 10-15 minutes my minds all dodgy, oh I need to put my hair in a ponytail, I don’t have socks on, did I brush my teeth? etc. I have to keep refocusing for the first 10-15 minutes of writing time and am maybe up from the keyboard & back again, but by the end of that opening mind dump I settle into flow just like I settle into a meditation session.
Has there been a time when you have called upon your meditation or mindfulness work to help you with some of the downs of the artistic life, be it a creative block, a rejection letter, a bad review, etc.?
I got a rejection and it was one of those send me absolutely reeling type of days. Heart racing, mind off the rails, almost like it was a fight or flight response from my body. Before I meditated that type of rejection would have kept me off writing for days, maybe even weeks or months. I DM’d a friend, and had a quick interweb-chat for the immediate shock & then told her “I need to go meditate.” I sat down and focused on my breath. It was a long meditation session and half way through I felt the adrenaline subside. I got in a writing session that night. That was the day I saw how far meditation had brought me in my ability to focus.
Let’s talk craft: you may or may not have thought about this before, but do you think that there are ways in which your practice on the cushion, as we say, has helped you in your actual writing on the page?
I think it may have expanded the depth of sensory detail in my writing. I’m much more aware of my body since I began meditating. I notice when I’m in public and my body responds positively or negatively to what’s going on. It makes me curious and I try to notice what is going on to provoke such a response.
Do you have any go-to creative or writing activities that are related to meditation, visualization, etc.? We’d love to try them out for ourselves!
Not really. I do like to go on walks around my neighborhood and count cats. My best walk was 14 cats. There’s also a little park with a swing set & I stop and swing almost every time.
What are ways you’ve brought meditation into your process? For example, do you meditate before you write?
I use meditation for an energy boost. I sit in the morning, but if I start to lag in the afternoon I’ll do another session to perk me up for the rest of the day.
The biggest way I’ve brought it into my practice is when I have to do public events. I’m an introvert, but I speak at conferences, do workshops, readings, etc. Those events take a ton of emotional energy for me to perform the way I want. I’ve learned to do intensive meditation on the days leading up to the event. I’ll meditate the morning of an event too. It feels like I’m storing up energy for the show I’m about to put on. I also think meditating has helped my recovery time. Normally after a big event it would be a week of me functioning at 5%, meditation seems to speed the recovery time.
What kind of instruction do you get in meditation? For example, do you go on retreats, listen to an app, have a teacher you work with…?
I haven’t studied, other than the Pneuma retreat in October 2017, where Heather taught us through meditation workshops. I just took what I learned over those 4 days and applied it to my existing life. Just that little bit of info was enough to be a huge game changer for me.
Do you have any go-to books or other resources that you recommend writers who are interested in these practices check out?
No. I don’t even use an app, just the on my phone. But I do listen to Ru Paul’s podcast & Michelle Visage said the Insight Timer was a great free app for people who want to meditate. So maybe that’s something to check out.
[ Editor’s Note: I also love Insight Timer and am a teacher on there. The timer itself is great, as are so many of the instructors. And it’s free!]
Jessica Conoley was raised on 80’s action films, Jem and the Holograms, and older-brother mandated Star-Wars. Sitting in the back of class she never felt like she fit in with the other kids and escaped reality by reading. She writes fantasy novels, creative non-fiction, flash fiction, and essays to help her readers escape their own realities. From 2011 to 2017, Jessica served on the executive board of Whispering Prairie Press—a non-profit dedicated to art and literature. In 2012 she became the Managing Editor of Kansas City Voices arts and literary magazine and spent the next five years publishing emerging artists and writers. Her creative non-fiction piece “I Am Descended From Giants” won 1st place in the Bacopa Literary Review’s annual contest in 2016. In 2018 she launched a coaching program for authors on the path to traditional publication. Learn more about her work and coaching programs at https://jessicaconoley.com/
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