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Monday, February 28, 2011

5 Steps to Mindful Writing

Mindfulness is the idea of becoming aware of our mind; we notice when it wanders and strive to bring it back to the task at hand.  Mindfulness is all about being present and living fully in the moment.

Recently, I've been thinking a lot about mindfulness and its connection to writing.   In particular, how can we as writers, improve our writing practice by being more present in the moment?  Here are 5 steps I've discovered that bring me to more mindful writing. 

1)  Show up at the page.  This is the "being present" part of mindfulness practice.  It might seem like a no-brainer, but you can't write if you don't actually show up at the page.  These days it's so easy to putter around and "look busy."  You can tweet or post on Facebook that you're writing.  You can hang out with writing friends and talk about how you're going to write.  You can do lots of things instead of writing, but if you don't actually pull out your pen and paper to write, you won't get any writing done.  It's that simple.

2)  Be aware.  Are you feeling overly judgmental about the current project?  Are you loving your idea a little too much?  Is your inner critic gnashing at the bit?  Notice your emotional impulses (especially fears and worries) as you write, then set them aside and keep writing. 

Tip:  I keep a worry jar on my desk where I write my fears on a slip of paper and put it in the jar.  This way, I get them out of my head and put them away for safe-keeping so that I can keep writing. 

3)  Draw on your Wise Mind.  Wise Mind is where Emotional Mind and Rational Mind intersect.  Wise Mind is where you find the resources to write mindfully and push forward in your work.  When you write, your Rational Mind might be worried about pragmatics: how tough it is to get published and why you should be researching potential agents before you write your book.  Your Emotional Mind will probably focus on emotions like: What's the use?  Whatever you write will never be perfect so why bother?

Wise mind is the part of you that tells the other two to shush.  It's the part of your mind that acknowledges that both Rational Mind and Emotional Mind do have a point but that they're not right about everything.  Yes you need to know something about the business, but if you don't write, you won't have anything to sell.  And maybe your book won't be perfect, but you can work at it and make it better, as long as you put words on the page in the first place.

4)  Sit with your discomfort (for a little while).  I hate mindfulness exercises.  I fidget too much and can't keep still.  My left knee is always bouncing and I have a nervous tick where I start to laugh if I think people are looking at me.  Still, I make myself do them because I know it's important.   I do my best to sit with my discomfort for a while, until it starts to melt away.

The same is true for writing.  I used to have this knee-jerk reaction whenever writing something would get hard: I'd start writing something else.  Now I force myself to sit with the uncomfortable project for a little while, to see if my decision to set it aside is one of pragmatics (the project just isn't feasible) or based on my own discomfort.  If the latter, I try to work through the discomfort.

5) Practice, practice, practice.  This comes back to showing up at the page.  The goal with mindfulness isn't to be aware of every thought every minute of the day.  The point is to be able to turn on the "mindful" switch and become aware when you need to be.  The same is true for writing.  You need to practice getting "in the zone" so that eventually you will be able to do it on command.

Contrary to popular belief, the brain is a muscle and you need to work it often.  As you become more accustomed to switching on this level of awareness--this mindfulness--you'll be able to do it whenever your writing needs a boost.


Lisa Gail Green said...

Really nice post! I especially love the concept of the "worry jar" and think I'll recommend that to my critique group!

Ghenet Myrthil said...

I love this post. I'm working on being more mindful in my writing. #2 has been an issue lately but I'm working on solving that by doing #4. In the end, #1 (being present and showing up) is the most important part!

Cat Lavoie said...

Thanks for the great post! Right now, I'm having trouble with #1. I could talk day and night about my new project but I can't seem to 'show up at the page' as often as I should. I will definitely work on that! :)

Linda McMann said...

I love the concept of the Wise Mind - where the Emotional and the Rational minds meet. I think that what sometimes happens to me is one or the other takes a detour and they pass each other by!

Kari Marie said...

I love the idea of a worry jar. I might have to try that.

Yat-Yee said...

Like some of the other commentators, I too think the idea of a worry jar is an excellent one. When I was a practicing pianist, I would keep a notepad handy for the same purpose. It seemed that every time I sat down to practice, I'd remember something I ought to be doing. Writing those things down really helped me focus.

Jenny Torres Sanchez said...

Practice, practice, practice! So glad you added this one because early on in writing, I used to wait around for a muse to show up and inspire me to write. But like you said-if you keep practicing (and sitting with the discomfort of typical writer's angst), you somehow do become able to do it on demand, which is key in developing a writing schedule and producing a finished piece.

Thanks for the tips!

Ph_ said...

That was very helpful and interesting. Thank you =)

Margo Berendsen said...

You make some great points here! I love the worry jar tip. And working through the uncomfortable points.

Unknown said...

Good post. An awareness of life and a centered existence are vital for writers. As writers, we're trying to share truths about the world and the human plight, but we can't do that if we're not able to find clarity in our own lives.

Gabriela Pereira said...

Great points made by all! I've been thinking a lot lately about being more mindful both in my writing and my reading so this may be a recurring theme in my future posts. :)

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