In my creative writing workshop for mental health one aspect of writing I focussed on was mindful writing. But what is mindful writing?
If you google mindful writing you will retrieve numerous results, blog post and articles on mindfulness, mediation, journaling and so on. Plenty to help you get started, but here is my own summary of mindful writing.
Firstly, what is mindfulness? Definitions vary depending on the source, but on the whole it is something very spiritual, with a meditative element, and of course can be interpreted differently by different people. Here’s a few definitions:
1. The quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.
2. A mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.
“Paying more attention to the present moment – to your own thoughts and feelings, and to the world around you – can improve your mental wellbeing.”
So, what is mindful writing?
If mindfulness is paying more attention to the present moment, then mindful writing is directing your attention, thoughts, and focusing your mind, on writing. Simple really? Well, maybe not, as writers sometimes we can find it hard to focus, getting distracted by other thoughts, projects and the world around us, but if we are mindful we can tune out those distractions and boost our creativity.
Now, you don’t have to meditate, but it can help to at least do a brief breathing exercise to get yourself in the zone. Again you can find plenty of meditations and mindful breathing exercises online. A simple breathing and focussing exercise I use before writing is just to do the following:
- Sit comfortably, upright, with good posture (see my Office Pilates post for more on sitting well) where you will be writing.
- Close your eyes, place your hands on your ribcage, thumbs towards the back
- Breathe in deeply through your nose, allowing your ribs to expand laterally to the sides and back
- Breathe out slowly through your mouth. Notice how the air passes through your body
- Continue for about two minutes or so (you can always extend this as much as you like), trying to just focus your mind on what you will be writing after. As any other thoughts or emotions come into your mind, feel them, acknowledge them, don’t name them, and let them go, don’t judge them. Bring your thoughts back to your breathing
- Open your eyes when you are ready
- Gently roll your shoulders and neck
- You should now be suitably relaxed and focused on what you need to do.
As for the writing itself, if you don’t have a specific project you need to attune your focus to then a free writing exercise is an ideal way to use that creative energy. The simplest of these is literally just to write whatever comes out, your stream of consciousness. Don’t judge; don’t worry about spelling, sentence structure or anything else. Just allow that stream of thoughts to flow from your mind to the paper (or keyboard). It is this freedom from judgement, self-doubt, fear, and restricting ourselves with needing to be ‘correct’ (in the many various ways we apply that) in our writing that can stifle our creativity. Generally, no one but you will see this flow of words so the chaos and mess doesn’t matter, because if you are going to turn it into a readable piece that will happen later. “Let it go, let it go…”* (sorry, not sorry)(*source acknowledgment Disney’s Frozen)
Whether you are in your writing space, or out and about (with your notebook) being mindful can bring new depths to your writing, as you focus deeper, giving more attention to things, being in the moment. By tuning into your senses and emotions through mindfulness your descriptions or showing of these things will be much richer in your writing. How does a gentle breeze on a hot day really feel? What sensations can you tune into whilst sat in the local café?
There are plenty of mindful writing exercises you could try, I love the small stones concept from Writing Our Way Home. Here is one of their exercises:
A small stone is a short piece of writing that precisely captures a fully engaged moment.
- Grab a paper and pen, or open a blank document on your computer.
- Look up from where you are sitting. Look around the space and give your attention to something. If you have trouble choosing, think, “What can I praise today?”.
- Really give your attention to what you have chosen. What size is it? What colour? What is it like to touch? How does it fit in the world?
- Write down a few lines about what you have observed.
- Give your attention back to what you have chosen. Is it really like what you have written?
- Revise your small stone.
Have you used mindfulness in your writing?
Do you have any exercises you would like to share?