It’s everywhere these days. From Guardian articles, to blogs, to self-help books and Youtube videos. The practice of Mindfulness has become synonymous with relaxation, meditation, stress-relief and, for some, those hipster kids with their fresh kale smoothies and too much sunshine.
Whatever your stance may be on the subject, there is no denying that Mindfulness is a hot topic on the internet. Which leads me to ask one simple question:
Is Mindfulness useful for writers?
To help answer this, I’ve teamed up with a writer who specialises in mental health and wellbeing. Today, my guest blogger will be the lovely Mel Lee-Smith!
Mel Lee Smith is a blogger who talks about writing and wellness. She believes that in order to write our best work, we have to be our best selves. From self-help articles, to no-nonsense advice, Mel uses her writing to help inspire, motivate, and educate her reader. On top of this, she is a fantastic freelance writer, editor, and just an all around stand-out gal. Do check her out on her website (melleesmith.com) or her Twitter!
Now, without further ado, I’ll let her explain exactly what Mindfulness is!
First off, I’d like to thank Emma for this fabulous collaboration opportunity. I want us to stop perpetuating the myth that all writers are mentally-ill insomniacs addicted to cigarettes and whiskey. That’s a dangerous image, and certainly doesn’t help us write our best work.
What is Mindfulness?
If you’ve been on the internet at all in the last five years, you’re at least familiar with mindfulness. When most people hear the word “mindfulness”, they envision incense, candles, and herbal tea. You don’t need any of those things to practice mindfulness, although they do help some people relax.
All you need to practice mindfulness is a full awareness of the present moment. First and foremost, you need to be aware of all the sensations in your body—most importantly, your breath. You also need to be aware of your current surroundings, as well as your thoughts and emotions.
One of the main goals of mindfulness is to become more aware of your thoughts, and to watch them pass by without judging them or letting them consume you. Simply observe your thoughts instead of letting those thoughts get a grip over you. Learn to control your mind instead of letting your mind control you.
Here’s a handy link for more information about general mindfulness.
Mindfulness for Writers
So, how can writers practice mindfulness? Believe it or not, it’s easier than you think!
You don’t need to be sitting cross-legged on a yoga mat in front of an altar to practice mindfulness. You can do it right now! While you’re writing, in fact.
Right! And here’s a few examples how:
Focus wholly on your work.
Zen master, peace activist, and teacher of mindfulness Thich Nhat Hanh says, “There is no reason why mindfulness should be different from focusing all one’s attention on one’s work, to be alert and to be using one’s best judgment.” He goes on to say that a “calm heart and self-control” are required if we want to do our best work.
Practising mindfulness means focusing one’s full awareness on the task at hand. This also applies to work. Limit distractions by turning off your phone or blocking your social network sites. Set aside a period of time for working, and only focus on work for that period.
Recognise your urges
When you’re working on a first draft, it can be so tempting to go back and change what you’ve written. You feel a burning in your chest, a frustration. It can be so easy to scroll back a few pages and beginning editing; Your craving to get it right can eat up your valuable writing time, as well as make you feel like your story is never progressing.
Rather than feed that feeling – or ignore it completely – the next time that urge arises, you can pull your hands away from the keyboard. Don’t check your phone. Don’t distract yourself. Recognise how that frustration feels physically – let the wave pass. Do this enough times and before long, you’ll be able to overcome the urge to self-criticise without having to re-write all those pages!
Mastering your breath will take a lot of practice, but you can start right now at your desk. First, pay attention to your breathing.
Breathe in long and deep through your nose. Allow the breath to fill your lungs first, then your diaphragm. Your chest should rise first, then your stomach, then your chest again. Then exhale the breath as slowly as you inhaled it.
Re-direct your thoughts.
Our writer minds have a habit of wandering. Rather than focusing on the story at hand, we choose to direct our mental attention onto the next novel, the next blog post, the next tweet. Soon enough, you’ve spent two hours daydreaming instead of writing!
And this is okay: creative minds are supposed to wander. But the next time you feel your thoughts getting off track, gently pull them back to the present moment. I personally take out a piece of paper and write the wandering thought as a small bullet point. That way, you can address the thought and move on, re-directing your thoughts to the task at hand. Once your writing session is over, you can check that list to see what you can do next.
HOW IS THIS GOING TO HELP MY WRITING?
Okay. You’re probably thinking, “That’s great. But how on earth is this going to help my writing?”
Luckily, Mel and I have listed just a few ways mindfulness will benefit your work:
- Improve concentration. Improved concentration means you get more done in less time. You’re also more attentive to what you’re doing, which means you can catch mistakes more easily.
- Improve your observation skills. By putting yourself into the present moment, you will be able to see the world without regret, fear, or anxiety. When all the world is rushing by, you can be there with pen and paper. Seeing what others miss, caught up inside their own heads.
- Kill writer’s block. Hey, guess what? If you keep telling yourself you have writer’s block, you will. But if you don’t give into those thoughts and just start writing, you’ll soon discover you don’t have it after all. Don’t think; just begin. It’s like magic!
- Kick bad habits. As you write with mindfulness in mind, you’ll begin to pick up on those annoying little habits that inhibit your writing. Spend too much time at the kettle than at the desk? Practice mindfulness, keeping focus on the task at hand, and you’ll be on the first step to kicking these unproductive habits!
- Let go of negativity. Notions of self-doubt, inadequacy, and failure plague many writers. Learning to observe those thoughts and emotions before going back to your work will make you feel more confident in yourself and your work. Acknowledge the inner voice that whispers, “You can’t,” but don’t listen to it.
If you want more tips on how you can apply mindfulness to other areas of your life, I highly recommend Nhat Hanh’s short book/long essay, The Miracle of Mindfulness. You can find a summary of Nhat Hanh’s teachings from the book, as well as a link to a free PDF, in my Medium article on mindfulness.
And to you, my wonderful readers, I hope we’ve been able to show you just how writers can use mindfulness, and the ways it might help you get your work completed.
So, what’re you waiting for? Get out there and get writing!
Have you ever practised mindfulness? What do you think of it? Let me know in the comments below, or tweet me @ERHollands. Supporting each other is the best way to improve – if you have a helpful tip, let us know!