Mind-magic for writers – harnessing the power of the circle

The circle is an archetype for wholeness and integration, a universal pattern in nature and the human psyche which is also a template for the stories of life and fiction. You can use the  power of the circle archetype in writing, deliberately placing it in your mind by making mandalas.

The Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round. The sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves ~ Black Elk

Ice in a circular hollow

Stories naturally make circles. The protagonist sets off, achieves or learns something in the course of the action, and returns changed. Often the work of redrafting is about refining the beginning and ending to tie everything into a satisfying whole. The crafting of a story is a process of perfecting the circle.

Dorothea Brande (‘Becoming a Writer’) says the unconscious is not only the source of our creativity, but also the home of form. This is why, when you have plot problems, new ways of fitting things together can naturally spring up in your mind as soon as you stop consciously trying to force them.

When I’m planning or redrafting a story I will often draw mandalas while I ponder.

One of my working mandalas
One of my working mandalas

‘Mandala’ comes from the Sanskrit word meaning ‘circle.’ It signifies a geometrical pattern based on a circle, and it’s used in every spiritual tradition as a focus for contemplation, meditation, protection, healing or prayer.

In its most basic form, the mandala is a simple circle, and if you’d like to try making some you can start by drawing circles. I recommend you do this free-hand, although your first attempts may look like lumpy lozenges. Keep working at it until you can do one that looks reasonably round. The process of this will anyway help attune your mind to the archetype.

When you have drawn your circle, you can incorporate other geometrical forms into it and around it. You could put a triangle inside it, crossed by another triangle to make a six-pointed star. You could put your circle inside a square, or squares inside your circle.

Choose any geometrical shapes you like, but try to achieve balance, so that the sides and segments of the circle are the same. Drawing geometric shapes also settles your mind into the beautiful reality of numbers. 

Treat the whole process like doodling, not trying to create art, but simply to play and allow your mind to idle. Keep building mandalas until you get one you really like.

Shading or colouring your mandala is a way of staying with the archetype for longer, and allowing it to work upon you. When you have finished, bring the energy of the circle with you into your writing. Bear it in mind as a template for your story, and see whether it gives you a greater sense of direction and clarity.

 What creative activities do you use as part of your writing process?

Check out these lovely prayer-flag mandalas by Toko-pa Turner http://toko-pa.com/2013/11/29/mandalas/

12 thoughts on “Mind-magic for writers – harnessing the power of the circle”

  1. How fascinating, Jen. At a very difficult time in my life I found great satisfaction and comfort from drawing mandalas. I did a lot. As things became clearer to me so the mandalas became more refined and more beautiful. Eventually I didn’t need to do them any more. I would never have thought of them to help with my writing, but now I will try!

    1. Yes, there is comfort and satisfaction in creating these objects – I came to them at a difficult time as well, Tessa, then gradually realised that that calming of the mind could be useful to me in my creative work

  2. Lovely blog Jen – this is especially interesting to me as the word Mandala kept coming into my head yesterday. I thought it was because I’d just seen the film Mandela and my brain was trying to make sense of the word. I’d also delved into one of my astrology books called An Astrological Mandala. I think there may be a message for me here! I love doodling but have never tried a mandala – I’m going to give it a go!

  3. I’d never thought of the crafting of a story like the crafting of a circle, but now that you say it, it seems very true. We do talk a lot about the “arc” of a story, but I think you’re right to bring the metaphor “full circle.” Because so many stories do take us back to their beginnings, with something important altered. And I absolutely identify with what you say about the process of revision’s often being focused on the beginning and end of a piece. That’s the way it usually is with me, too.

    1. Yes, I think when we finish reading a book, or writing one, we always reflect back to how the story began, to see how the beginning and the ending fit, to close that circle

    1. Yes – I would have used that quote Vicky but I’m going through hoops trying to get permission for it in my book and I didn’t want to breach copyright here on the blog

  4. I have enjoyed this post very much. I relate to it since I sometimes find myself drawing circles and squares and other shapes on a blank page before or after writing. And what I find most enjoyable about doing it is how peaceful I feel. It really feels like a sort of religious experience. Paul

    1. Oh that’s it exactly Paul! I find that drawing geometrical shapes does something to my mind – settles and organises things in a quite abstract way – and peaceful is the word I’d use to describe that feeling too. I think this is why religious architecture of all faiths includes these magical images – simply gazing upon them can create the same effect. I find that contemplating numbers can do the same thing, especially numbers I’ve recently dreamt about

    1. Yes, I used them as abstracts to relax the mind, and also in planning, with more focused thinking – one of the things I love about Christopher Vogler’s book ‘The Writer’s Journey’ is all the circular images for scenes/characters etc. They’re much more pleasing to me than the peaks-and-troughs picture of plotting

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