Writing invokes fear of the dark. What’s lurking in there, beyond the light, beyond my known world? Is it a tiger and will it chomp on my guts? That’s the question that our nervous system is asking when we sit down to write. My job is to get writers to sit down anyway.
While on dinner break from teaching my workshop at Pacifica, I was introduced to Eleanor Criswell who was preparing to teach a somatic yoga course. Eleanor studies neurophysiology, the brain-body connection and she said that the body clenches a bit in response to any kind of change. Anytime you go from one activity to another, as in, “It’s time to write,” your muscles retract, you know, just in case the new activity involves getting killed. The fight-or-flight reaction isn’t noticeable to the person experiencing it, Eleanor said, but it can be measured with the right equipment. Then she blew my mind. “If you wait about five minutes,” she smiled, “The body calms down and unclenches all on it’s own.”
Holy cow, I thought, this is why the six minute timed-writing works. Writers ask me all the time, why are the prompts all six minutes. “I don’t know why,” I say, “but if you just do a six minute prompt, you’ll probably find you’re interested in writing for another six.” It almost always works and now I know why. After the timer goes off, your body will be pretty sure that, if a tiger hasn’t eaten you yet, it probably isn’t going to. “Sure,” says your body, “This activity seems to be tiger-free. Go ahead and keep writing.”
It can take a long time to get over one’s fear of the dark, but basically, it’s cumulative. The more times you don’t get dragged under the bed by demon claws, the less frightened you are to put your feet on the floor and make the trip to the bathroom. And the more times you sit down to write and don’t go insane or forget you have a family and responsibilities or get swallowed whole by the great Unknown, the easier it is to sit down to write. Six minutes at a time.