There are so many beautiful benefits of mindful writing exercises for writers.
In my experience, they are brilliant ways for writers to boost creativity and to increase focus. And as an added bonus, they will improve your writing abilities.
I am constantly surprised by how closely writing and meditation relate to one another.
Meditation makes us better writers.
Writing makes us better meditators.
And it’s not just meditation either. Recently, lots of famous writers have opened up about using yoga for creativity.
Somehow, exercises like yoga and meditation make us much better writers.
So let me share with you my favourite mindful writing meditation exercises. [You will probably want to read my guide to Meditations For Creativity too]
Why Writers Are Starting To Use Mindful Writing Meditation And Yoga
I’m going to presume that you already know just how darned brilliant mindfulness exercises are for your health and for your happiness. [READ: Best Mindfulness Meditation Exercises]
But what you might not know is that you can do mindful writing meditation exercises too.
There are so many benefits of mindful writing exercises, and more authors and journalist are starting to realise this because they’re meditating like never before.
In fact, of all professionals, writers are the ones most likely to practice mind-training exercises.
If you’re a writer, I bet you’ve practised some types of meditation, and you have probably tried some mindful writing exercises too, right?.
Why are so many writers meditating
Why Famous Writers Are Into Meditation & Yoga
There are significant benefits of meditation and yoga for writers. Most forms of yoga can help with your writing.
Recently numerous extremely-talented and famous authors have been tweeting their best yoga-selfies. That’s because the Society of Authors has suddenly leapt on the yoga bandwagon.
The Society of Authors is usually all about arguing over contracts and helping authors to raise money to get their books published (actually, I could use a little help with that myself…).
But today the Society of Authors has stepped out of their offices and into the yoga studios. They’ve been challenging authors and book fans to take a yoga-selfie that is inspired by their favourite book.
Joanne Harris [author of Chocolat] asked fans for selfies based on The Hobbit; Philip Pullman [author of the His Dark Materials trilogy] chose Pride and Prejudice, and Neil Gaiman [author of Coraline] chose The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
This was just for fun. But science shows that meditation and yoga are two of the best ways to improve creativity.
Benefits of writing-meditation exercises
As a meditation teacher and novelist, I’m often asked about using meditation for creative writing. Meditation is huge for writers and journalists. Not only does it make you more intelligent, but it also improves your imagination [READ: How To Improve Your Imagination]
To illustrate the value of meditation to writers, let me share a personal story. It’s a time when I personally needed to use some writing meditation exercises to help me with my novel.
I was working on a young adult fantasy (can’t give much away, sorry). My head had been buried in my manuscript. I’d been writing non-stop for ages. Suddenly I realised that I wasn’t thinking clearly and that I was working in the fashion of an automaton, punching the keyboard without thought.
I needed to clear my mind.
I needed to sit and focus.
So I sat for twenty minutes meditating. And hey, presto! After a mere twenty minutes, I suddenly realised a crucial plot point in my novel, a twist that made the entire 75,000-word manuscript significantly stronger. I wish I could share that plot point with you, but my book is currently with the agent, and I’m not allowed to discuss it until it’s complete, so I’ll have to wait for now. Suffice to say, the plot point I added brought the whole thing together.
I can honestly say that I would never have realised the change I needed to make had I not meditated. That’s just one of the benefits of meditation for writers: it helps you notice things.
Meditation cleared my mind, made me look at my novel through fresh eyes, and gave me the insight I needed to finish my work.
And that’s just one of the times that meditating has helped my creative writing.
In truth, meditation has been the backbone of my writing for a long time. I always find that I do my best creative work after meditating.
I need a blank page in my mind before I can fill a blank page on the screen. And that’s what meditation gives me: an empty page.
But there are a lot more benefits of writing-meditation exercises for writers too.
Let’s take a look at the list of exercises first. Then we’ll discuss the benefits of these exercises.
Traditional Meditations For Writers
In my personal experience as a meditation teacher, the following are the best meditations for writers.
Breathing meditations are the best place to start when you’re learning meditation.
Try this simple technique:
- Sit somewhere quiet and relaxing.
- Tell yourself you are going to sit and focus for 5 minutes.
- Take a deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth.
- Focus on the sensation of your breath moving around your body.
- Take 108 breaths in this fashion.
- Notice how you are now serene and focused.
Vipassana is essentially insight. This technique helps you to recognise and understand your thoughts.
Vipassana helps you to:
- overcome any hiccoughs you have about your work
- make you more aware of your thoughts, which can help with characterisation (especially in first person writing).
Try this technique:
- Continue from the breathing technique above
- Begin to notice where your mind wanders
- Label the thing your mind wanders to (see points below)
- If your mind wanders to a thought, say “this is a thought”.
- If your mind wanders to a bodily sensation, say “this is a sensation.”
- If your mind wanders to sensory information, say “this is vision / sound / touch / scent / taste”
- This technique trains the mind to be more aware of when it is wandering. It teaches us to regain our focus quicker (meaning less wasted time at the keyboard).
3) Zen Walking
I use Zen Walking Meditation for one simple reason. After writing for ten hours (I write as a novelist and journalist and blogger = lots of writing) I have to get out of the house. And I also need to relax.
Zen Walking Meditation gives me a fantastic break that also helps me to relax and clear my mind.
You want to understand your characters and get into their shoes. What better way than to completely clear your mind and focus 100% on your character.
It’s simple too.
Just close your eyes and focus on your breathing for 10 minutes, then bring your character to mind. To be a little more specific, bring your character to mind in the way you would with a deity in Bhakti meditation. Meditate on them. Aim to achieve oneness between yourself and your character.
Try these eight mindful writing exercises.
As well as these exercises, I recommend creating a meditation space at home that you can use for both meditation and writing.
1: stream-of-consciousness writing exercise
When starting meditation, writers should spend at least ten minutes letting go of thoughts. Writing can help.
Stream of consciousness writing (spontaneous and unguided writing) offers an opportunity to let all those thoughts and feelings come pouring out onto the page. This can be an immensely cathartic practice, and all it takes is ten minutes.
To do this:
- Begin writing your thoughts. Whatever you think, you write.
Remember, the key is not to judge the writing but instead to let it flow freely.
2: Find happiness
Psychologists have proven that the ability to appreciate beauty is vital to happiness (*1).
The appreciation of beauty is one of the twenty-four character strengths defined in positive psychology, the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals to thrive.
One of the ways to appreciate the beauty in the world is to write descriptions of it.
- Get a pen and paper
- Sit somewhere relaxing and beautiful
- Take ten mindful breaths
- Notice anything around you that is beautiful
- Begin to write a realistic description of it. Perhaps there’s a beautiful flower with rich colours. If so, describe the colours. Maybe it’s a sound, like birdsong. If so, describe the tonality and melody.
- Move on to another beautiful thing
- Write a minimum of 1000 words
This mindful writing exercise trains the mind to recognise the beauty of every moment, which boosts happiness. And at the same time, it improves your still-life writing.
3: Self Awareness
One of the essential novel-writing skills is the ability to describe emotions accurately.
Usually, we write about the emotions of our characters. But to improve this skill, we can mindfully write about our own emotions.
This is a type of mindfulness meditation. And not only will it improve your writing, but it will also strengthen your mind.
Mindfulness meditation involves non-judgmentally observing our thoughts and feelings. This has been scientifically proven to help us control our emotions.
There is a better way for writers to do this mindfulness exercise: by writing down our observations. Here’s how.
- Get a pen and paper
- Sit somewhere quiet and relaxing
- Take ten mindful breaths
- Focus on the feelings and emotions in your mind
- Begin to write about those emotions by describing them mindfully.
- Your emotions will change while you write. Follow your emotions. As they change, write about how they are changing.
This mindful writing technique achieves two things:
- It makes us more aware of our emotions, which improves emotional regulation
- It improves our ability to write about a character’s feelings and motivations.
4: Body Scan
Another excellent mindfulness exercise is to observe the sensations in the body consciously.
Imagine that consciousness is the character in a story.
Chapter one begins with the character in the toes.
From there, the character (consciousness) gradually journeys up the body to the crown of the head.
As the character moves, describe the sensations and experiences it comes across, the physical phenomena occurring in the body.
This is an alternative take on body scan meditation, which has been shown to help ground us, to help us to let go, to remove the stress of negative physical sensations, and to increase appreciation of the body.
5: Creative writing exercise
Another vital area of mindfulness pertains to the way we observe our physical form.
It is best to have a non-judgmental view of the body. This liberates us from any issue with body image and makes us more accepting and more compassionate of the body.
One of the best ways to create this state is by imagining we are a character in a story.
To do this, we describe ourselves objectively in a non-judgemental fashion. This improves self-awareness. Plus, as a bonus: by describing ourselves objectively, we learn to write more detailed and more realistic characters.
6: Mindful writing prompt
“The light touches…”
The key to using this writing prompt is to become conscious of light in an environment, and then write about how the light moves, the objects it comes into contact with, and how those objects change it.
This writing prompt increases mindfulness of sight. As we follow the light throughout the room, we become mindful of objects, of their shape, colour, texture, and all their visual qualities.
In her excellent book The Creative Brain, Shelly Carson reveals that when we mindfully observe the visual make-up of our environment as we do in this exercise, we boost our creative powers and we become more playful.
7: Observe and eliminate distractions
Distractions are funny things. They’re only distractions when we’re not fully conscious of them.
If we’re at work but really texting, the text is a distraction because it is preventing us from being fully conscious of our work. But when we fully focus on texting (the distraction), it stops being a distraction and becomes a task that we are mindfully doing.
We can take advantage of this by writing about those distractions. This makes us more conscious of how we are being distracted. After writing about the distractions, tear up the paper (or delete the text if typing), and throw it away, imagining that the distractions are being thrown away with it.
8: Transcribe the mind
This is one of the most enlightening mindful writing exercises. It is similar to stream of consciousness writing but with some crucial differences.
The gist of it is to transcribe whatever runs through the mind. Not only do we write our thoughts, but we also write the quality of the thoughts, the loudness, the feelings, everything.
There are many ways to go about this. Feel free to experiment. Or try the following:
- Change the colours of the writing (for instance, if it’s an angry thought make it red)
- Use different letter sizes to express loudness
- Experiment with different fonts.
The end result of this process will look something like a piece of modern art, an artistic expression of the mind. And the process of creating it will not just increase mindfulness but will illustrate the mind in a way most people have never seen. This exercise has to be experienced to be believed.
There are many more meditation techniques for writers
I have used these meditation techniques for many years, and my creative writing has significantly improved as a result of them.
There are, however, many more meditations for writers to learn. If you would like to overcome writer’s block, to unleash your imagination, and to take your writing to a new level, then you should definitely read my new book: Your Best Meditation.
- Meditation creates compassion, making you feel closer to your characters.
- It cuts out distractions so you can focus on your novel.
- It makes you more mindful, more aware. This helps with editing.
- It trains your imagination.
- It stops you from getting angry and smashing your keyboard.
- It makes you more observant of other people, which helps when writing characters
As writers, sometimes we need to reconnect with the present moment, to bring the mind back to now before we can continue writing. This is when mindful writing exercises come in handy.
When thoughts, feelings, and other mental phenomena consume us, we can use writing to pull ourselves back into the present moment.
As a meditation teacher, author and journalist, I frequently use mindful writing meditation exercises.
I spend approximately 30 per cent of my waking life either writing or practising various forms of meditation (along with yoga, Tai chi and other healing arts). And I’ve had the pleasure of teaching both practices to others.
But what thrills me most is teaching mindfulness and writing side-by-side.
Put together; these two pastimes create a powerfully transformative experience that can boost both writing skills and mental health.
Mindful writing exercises are great for both mindfulness and writing. And it a powerful way of improving both your writing skills and your mind.
Of course, you do not have to be a writer to use these techniques. They are great for everyone. Whether you’re a Buddhist, Christian, atheist, agnostic… unlike some meditations, these are universal.
Mindfulness is an absolute gem for writers. Not only does it train the brain but it boosts our writing skills too.
Whether you’re a professional novelist or an avid amateur writer, you can gain a lot from these mindful writing exercises.
Incidentally, it’s not just writing, either. Meditation will also make you a better musician too.