The Object Writing Practice offers a novel way to engage with the creative writing process through mindful attention and spontaneous expression. It cultivates mindfulness in a different way than found in sitting meditation practice. Here a word is spoken and one brings attention to one’s inner response as it arises through images, feelings or other words. One then writes spontaneously, letting whatever arises to be expressed without hesitation or conceptualization. There are no “right” or “wrong” responses. The point is to dive into “felt” experience, and to notice how creativity develops naturally when allowed to arise within the space of present moment experience. This process helps one to let go of self-consciousness and the inner critic, and to simply write, seeing what unfolds. The final product is not as important as engaging fully in the practice and exploring one’s experience of it.
Historical Background and Lineage
This practice has been developed by Prof. Reed Bye over his teaching career at Naropa University. He says “these [exercises] have arisen primarily from my practice and study of Buddhist sitting meditation, and other sense awareness practices, but they are closely related to a natural exploration and discovery of states of mind or attention in which writing is encouraged to arise spontaneously."
About Professor Reed Bye
To hear Reed talk more on contemplative pedagogy, please view the following video:
Benefits of this Practice
- Jumpstarts creativity and offers fresh perspectives on the writing process.
- Helps students overcome “writer’s block” by engaging the writing process before it becomes conceptual.
- Supports students to write without judging and evaluating themselves and others.
- Develops fresh relationships to words beyond their known or expected meaning.
- Encourages curiosity about the process of creativity as it takes place.
Preparations for Teaching
- Practice this exercise yourself with a partner several times and reflect or journal on what you have gained from it so that you can bring your personal experience to bear on the practice as you offer it in class.
- Prepare a list of words to use for the practice. Any word can be used, though we suggest simple nouns and verbs that evoke an image, especially in the beginning. Examples: “rock.” “tree,” “icicle,” “moonlight,” “swivel,” “”
- Reed Bye recommends that "it is best if the exercise is kept as non-conceptual as possible, so the teacher should have a personal understanding of the difference between immediate experience and ideas about it."
Steps for Guiding the Practice
- Create a conducive environment for engaging with contemplative practice. Explain the reasons and benefits for contemplative practices in general and for this one in particular (see above for some of the benefits students have reported). If you have introduced contemplative learning in the classroom already, then you may not need to do as much (if any) setting of the context for this practice. In general, students respond better if they know ahead of time why they are doing something.
- Invite students to notice what comes up for them as they try this out, without judging themselves, as this may be a very new experience for them.
- Let the class know that there will be a discussion about the practice and that students will have a chance to share their experiences afterwards. This can help students go deeper into the practice.
- Introduce and give an overview of the practice as described in the steps below so that students know what to expect. They should have paper and pen on hand.
- Offer a brief guided mindfulness practice in order to establish a mindful presence (alter as you see fit):
- I invite you to sit with upright posture and settle into a basic sense of your physical presence. (Pause.) Notice your breath entering and leaving your body. (Pause.) Breathing in, feel your sit bones on your chair or cushion. Breathing out, allow your body to relax. (Pause.) Breathing in, feel your sit bones resting. Breathing out, let yourself relax, bringing your awareness into the present moment. (Pause.) Allow yourself to notice what you see, hear and feel without Judgment, just being with whatever you experience and returning to the feeling of your body here, upright and breathing.
- From this space of silent presence, speak the first word aloud.
- Guide students to notice what arises in their mind and body in response to this word, noting images, feelings and words. If your first word is “stone,” you might ask: Is there an image of a stone that is experienced? What color is it? What is its texture? Is there a feeling associated with this word? Are there any reactions in your body as you hear this word? Prompt their imagination with a few simple open-ended questions like these.
- Invite students to write from this initial “splash” of the spoken word on their senses and imagination. Write from the initial point of contact, letting the image and syntax develop as the writing goes, without premeditation. Stay with the flow of writing without thinking too much about what has been written.
- Repeat the word a few times over the course of this writing exercise. Stay with one word for at least 5 minutes and up to 20 minutes, allowing students time to explore and deepen.
- When you are ready, ask students to stop writing. Take a moment as a class to come back into a felt experience of body and breath. Now articulate the second word.
- Repeat steps 5-7. If you like, you can repeat the practice with a third word.
- At the end, you can ring a bell and bring the practice to a close. Invite a discussion, trying to give everyone a chance to speak.
- What did you notice as you initially heard the word? Did some words feel easier or more difficult to write about? Did some words have stronger visual imagery than others? Was there an emotional response to hearing the words? Did it feel spontaneous or contrived to write during the practice? Did you feel a connection between the words? Did the practice develop for you as you progressed from word to word?
Additional Teaching Notes
- As with many contemplative practices, we try to find the sweet spot between being true to the form and a sense of naturalness and ease. Students usually become more comfortable and relaxed as they do this practice several times in a row.
- There is no “good” or “bad” response; if a student is doing the practice sincerely, they are doing it correctly. An important part of this practice is that one’s writing is not being judged or commented on by others. This point is worth emphasizing.
- Students may share their written work but the heart of the practice lies in the experience of mindful attention and spontaneous writing rather than in the final product.