I’m a huge advocate for mindfulness in all walks of life, not just writing. Everyone can benefit from the sense of calm instigated by yoga, or the self-awareness prompted by meditation. But what’s the relationship between mindfulness and writing? And how can we start to produce mindful writing?
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the awareness of ourselves and others that can significantly improve mental wellbeing.
There are books, documentaries, and thousands of articles exploring mindfulness and its benefits, and from colouring books to binaural beat playlists – mindfulness has become an everyday part of the world we live in.
We’re all under a lot of pressure. Day jobs, families, voluntary commitments, extra pursuits – we live our lives by the ticking of a very demanding clock. How many times a day do you look at your watch or your phone? Taking time for yourself (even just a few minutes) shouldn’t be a luxury, it should be as important a life process as eating, sleeping, or breathing. But I know it’s not always easy.
Mindfulness for writers isn’t about ignoring these thoughts or even pressing them to the back of a cluttered brain. Mindfulness is about acknowledging how we feel, and realising that this feeling doesn’t always have to dominate what we do or say. It’s developing this mental muscle so that we can choose to act based on what we want, not what we feel. So you’re not switching off the ‘monkey mind’ (as it’s referred to in some schools of Buddhism), it’s about developing that other part of your mind, the part which observes you feeling a certain way and wishes it was different.
Why is mindfulness for writers important?
There’s a great quote from the Dalai Lama which brings together mindfulness and writing. He says;
“The nature of human thoughts and emotions is such that the more you engage in them, the more you consciously develop them, the more powerful they become.”
For writers, mindfulness can bring a greater objective understanding of human emotion, which can be then transformed into art, poetry, or prose.
Mindfulness practices and exercises are yoga for the brain. They help to improve mental acuity, focus, and stamina. If you want to write – you’ll write. And if you’re aiming to write a target number of words a day, then this can save you many hours of discontented struggling.
Practicing mindfulness can help you focus on the present, rather than flicking backwards or forwards into unhelpful emotions. With writing, this could be if you’re haunted by past rejection or afraid of future rejection. This might result in putting it off, crippling self-doubt, or never even picking up a pen at all.
The Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, has written a lot about it:
“Our mind may be caught in the past or in the future, in regrets, sorrow, fear, or uncertainty. […] During the time you are practicing mindfulness, you stop talking—not only the talking outside, but the talking inside. The talking inside is the thinking, the mental discourse that goes on and on and on inside.”
Mindfulness helps you to seize control of your writing, procrastinate less, and break through writers’ block.
Mindfulness for writers top tips
Like to give mindful writing a go? There’s more than one way to be a mindful writer,.
Everyone’s different, so different mindful practices will work for different people. The below relaxing top tips for writers are some excellent places to begin, so give some a try and start writing the way you’ve always dreamed of…
Meditation is what truly brings together mindfulness and writing. Out of all the mindful writing tips, this is my favourite, and the one I’ve done the most. I’ve meditated for years, at Buddhist centres, in the living room, in the garden, on the bus… You can download walking meditation apps, listen to guided meditations on YouTube, or simply set a timer for 10 minutes and concentrate on the breath. Meditation centres the mind, develop self-awareness, and helps you to treat yourself with far more love and kindness than you might do now. Even 10 minutes a day can make a huge difference.
This one seems almost obvious! From going to a regular yoga class to starting the day with some sun salutations at home, yoga calms the mind, stretches out the body, and releases a delightful truckload of endorphins right into your eager brain. So give yoga a try and be ready to feel more flexible – physically and mentally.
You don’t need to search for long to find ‘writers’ playlists’ and ‘focus soundtracks’ on Spotify or YouTube. I’m a fan of digging out binaural beats – described as is an auditory illusion which happens when two different pure-tone sine waves (both with frequencies lower than 1500 Hz, with less than a 40 Hz difference between them) are each presented to a listener through a different ear. They’re not specifically music as such, more of an auditory experience. Try out a few for yourself when trying out some mindful writing.
Crafting and art
Years ago I wrote a series of articles on creativity and mindfulness, advocating crafting as a way of switching off the speculative mind and focussing on the present. Not everyone is naturally arty, but everyone can try arts and crafts to some degree. Sketching on some loose paper, pottery classes, painting, needle-felting, knitting, colouring-in… Hey, there are even pyrography kits out there to get your teeth stuck into! Try something new without fear of failure… After all, you’re only doing it to relax.
Getting out into the great outdoors and doing something physical focussed the mind on the present and helps to switch of the ‘speculative’ you that travels through time. If you’re struggling to focus or move forward with a project, break away from it and reset your brain with some physical activity. Being out in the fresh air and handling real, living things you’ve grown yourself is always good for a bit of perspective. The time will fly.
Although tai chi originally started out as a martial art, we most often imagine it now as a slow, meditational practice. Tai chi might be a good alternative to meditation if you get too twitchy. There are different types of tai chi, but mostly they involve slow, yogic movements, breath control, and a fair bit of balance. Starting your day by following a quick 15 minute tutorial on YouTube might just kick-start your day and set you off to creating some mindful writing.
Walking and running
I’m not a runner at all. But I have lots of friends who advocate it as a meditational practice. Many famous novelists are dedicated runners. But since I’m not one of these, I’ll refer to a quote from the twice-Pulitzer-nominated writer Joyce Carol Oates;
“In running, the mind flies with the body; the mysterious efflorescence of language seems to pulse in the brain in rhythm with our feet and the swinging of our arms. Ideally, the runner who’s a writer is running through the land- and cityscapes of her fiction, like a ghost in a real setting.”
A bath or long shower
I don’t know about you, but sinking into a tub of hot water or tipping back your head in the shower pins the mind securely in my body. Especially the bath. It’s something about the still air, the silence, minimal chance that someone will come through the door and need my help/ My mind wanders, but it’s a conscious wandering, and sometimes I’ve come up with some of my best ideas while lying in the water. Remember to bring a pen and paper!
And that’s it. There are all sorts of ways you can explore mindfulness for writers, from yoga to taking a few extra minutes in a hot shower. It’s a chance to cut off from your worries, focus on the present, and be able to return to your mindful writing with fresh eyes.
Looking for more writing tips? Dip into my guide to how to be a writer for more help (and weird anecdotes).