‘We practice mindfulness by maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and the surrounding environment.’ Source
In a world where most of us are focused on what we plan to do in the future, or mulling over events from the past, it is a well-known fact that most of us spend a lot of time in a state of autopilot, completely detached from the present moment. Mindfulness aims to bring us back to the present, to reconnect with it, and to take it as it is without judgement.
I was first introduced to mindfulness via a Futurelearn course online which I highly recommend (find it here). I found it useful when it came to coping with anxieties I was having, and it helped me to take a new and refreshing look at my everyday life. However, over time I came to realise that it wasn’t just my mental health and wellbeing that was benefitting, my writing was too. I’ve noticed that being mindful makes me a better writer and, in addition to making me a better writer, it makes writing more enjoyable for me. I shall explore both of these points in greater detail below.
Mindfulness and becoming a better writer
To summarise, there are two reasons why I think being mindful makes me a better writer:
- Being more aware of sensations, sounds and environment allows me to explore more vivid description and realistic, immersive writing on a deeper level.
- To be able to hold thoughts without judgement means I can look at situations from a neutral perspective, detach my own strong opinions and take up a viewpoint different from my own.
Awareness of life = vivid and realistic writing
Instead of walking around, focused solely on where I am going, what I plan to do next or where I’ve just come from, I find myself more often engaging with the present moment. I’ll notice the sound of the rain hitting the leaves first thing in the morning, I’ll feel and appreciate the softness of someones skin beneath my finger tips, and I’ll engage with my own body to recognise how certain situations make me feel, whether it be positive or negative.
It is these insights that often go unnoticed that can really lift your writing to the next level, and assist in immersing your reader fully in your story. It’s all well and good telling them there are birds singing, but how does it sound, how does it make them feel? Being mindful can help you answer these questions, and thus improve your writing.
Lack of judgement = exploring an alternative and believable point of view
A huge part of mindfulness is the ability to recognise thoughts and feelings, and to look at them with a non-judgemental eye. In general, this is said to help with being kinder to other people, managing anger, and being kinder to yourself.
The relevance of this to writing is simple. To be a writer you must take up the position of multiple characters that are often very unlike yourself. These characters hold different opinions, temperaments and qualities that make your story dynamic and full of conflict. This means that often, you must detach your own opinions of a situation/topic and explore the point of view of others. Your reader wants to really believe in your character, and in order for them to do that, you need to believe them too. You must feel what they feel, act as they would and with every bit of passion they have, even if it is in conflict with your usual views. In that moment, you need to become someone else, and this is much easier to do when you are able to let go of your own beliefs, albeit temporarily.
Enjoying writing, thanks to mindfulness
In addition to mindfulness making me a better writer, it also makes writing more enjoyable for me.
Again, I can pinpoint two reasons why:
- The process of writing a novel is less intimidating when you focus on the present and take it one step at a time.
- My heightened awareness of experiences makes writing an integral part of me and my daily life.
Breaking down the writing process
The thought of writing an entire novel – from a blank page to a finished book and everything in between – can be extremely intimidating. So intimidating in fact that many people are put off even starting, and many more begin to feel the pressure partway through. Such pressures and the expectations we put on ourselves can actually make writing feel like a chore if we are not careful.
A big part of mindfulness teaches that, instead of focussing on an end goal, we should also enjoy the process of getting there – the present moment that is so easy to miss. As Derren Brown recently said on his show Derren Brown: Miracle, you do not read a book just to skip to the ending, you read it because it is enjoyable. Why should writing be any different?
Writing a novel is not a quick process, and there is no way around that. So, by taking a mindful view of it, accepting that it will take time and focusing on the present task one step at a time, will likely make the process more enjoyable, less overwhelming and something you will not end up resenting.
On her blog, ambivert1979 explores the idea of ‘enjoying the ride’ in greater detail here, so we advise you to check it out.
Writing is an integral part of me, and my daily life
As explained earlier, when I can, I engage with the world around me and my own sensations in the present moment. As well as helping me to write vivid description and create realistic characters (as mentioned above), this also helps me to make writing an integral part of my life. It is more often in my awareness, and is now a natural extension of my other everyday thoughts.
What I mean by this is that I can recognise a certain sensation and its relevance to my writing, or find inspiration for a scene in a natural and organic manner. I don’t sit down at ‘novel-writing time’ and force it, inspiration for my writing now comes to me anytime, anywhere. Writing is now as frequently a part of my cognition as thinking about what I am having for dinner. I guess you could say it is becoming a habit – a good one at that!
So there it is, a brief summary of why I think mindfulness makes me a better writer, and how it makes writing more enjoyable for me. I’m not suggesting for a moment that you all begin to meditate every morning, noon and night or that you need to completely overhaul your lifestyle – for a lot of us, that is just not practical, me included. However, I can’t preach enough the impact of taking even just ten seconds of your busy schedule to stop, breathe, listen and feel. It may be just in that moment that inspiration strikes you, and if it doesn’t, well hey, enjoy the moment for what it is and how it makes you feel, without judgement.