I am constantly surprised by how closely writing and meditation relate to one another.
Meditation makes us better writers.
Writing makes us better meditators.
Yoga also boosts creativity. So if you’re a meditative yogi /yogini you’re probably a highly creative person.
Why Writers Love Meditating
Of all professionals, writers are the ones most likely to practice the mind-training exercises mindfulness and meditation.
If you’re a writer, I bet you’ve practiced some types of meditation. Somehow, writers just seem naturally drawn to meditation. (That must be why there are so many spiritual blogs).
Writers inherently recognise the beauty of the present moment. After all, many writers spend their lives striving to express the beauty of certain moments. Little surprise, then, that we are drawn to exercises that put us in closer contact with those moments.
Mindfulness (read: our guide to mindfulness) makes us live in the moment. Writing allows us to express those moments.
Using meditation as a writer
As a meditation teacher and novelist I’m often asked about using meditation for creative writing.
To illustrate the value of meditation to writers, let me provide you with a personal example.
I was recently working on my latest novel, a young adult fantasy (can’t give much away, sorry). My head had been buried in the book. I’d been writing non-stop for a long time. 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. 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 much, much stronger. I really 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.
Meditation cleared my mind, made me look at my novel through fresh eyes, and gave me the insight I needed to truly finish my work.
And that’s just one of the times that meditating had helped my creative writing.
In truth, meditation has been the backbone of my writing for a long time. I always find that to create my best creative work I need to completely empty to my mind.
I need a blank page in my mind before I can fill a blank page on the screen. And that’s precisely what meditation gives me: a blank page.
I’ve spoken a lot about myself up to now. I also have many writer friends who say meditation has helped their creative writing too.
Ways meditation helps creative writing
- For starters, meditation boosts creativity.
- Meditation creates compassion, making you feel closer to your characters.
- It cuts out distractions so you can focus fully on your novel.
- It makes you more mindful, more aware. This helps with editing.
- It makes you more observant of other people, which helps when writing characters
- It strengthens your imagination
- And, of course, it stops you from getting angry and smashing your keyboard.
But how exactly do you use meditation for creative writing? Lets take a look.
Traditional Meditations For Writers
I find the following meditations my favorite when writing.
*You can learn about all these methods in my guide to the top 31 meditation techniques.
1) Basic Breathing:
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 just 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 very relaxed and focused.
Vipassana is essentially insight. This technique helps you to recognise and understand your thoughts.
This helps you to:
a) overcome any hiccoughs you have about your work
b) make you more aware of 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 off. It teaches us to regain our focus quicker (meaning less wasted time at the keyboard).
3) Zen Walking Meditation:
I use Zen Walking Meditation for one very 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 you a fantastic break that also helps you to relax and clear your mind.
Read my complete guide to Zen walking.
4) Character Meditation:
You want to understand your character 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.
Read my guide to Bhakti for an explanation.
There’s so much more!
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 meditation techniques 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: Journey To The Buddha Within You.
How mindful writing trains both the mind and the writer
Sometimes we need to reconnect with the present moment, to bring the mind back to now.
When we are consumed by thoughts, feelings, and other mental phenomena, we can use writing to pull ourselves back into the present moment.
As a meditation teacher, author and journalist, I frequently use mindful writing exercises.
I spend approximately 70 percent of my waking life either writing or practicing 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 powerful transformative experience that can boost both writing skills and mental health.
Mindful writing is the best of 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, athetist, agnostic… unlike some meditations, these are universal.
Try these 8 mindful writing activities.
1. Let it all go with stream of consciousness writing
When starting meditation, it can be helpful to spend ten minutes or so 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 to not judge the writing but rather to let it flow freely.
2. Describe the beauty around you
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. (*2)
One of the ways to appreciate the beauty in the world is to write descriptions of it.
- Get pen and paper
- Sit somewhere relaxing and beautiful
- Take 10 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
- Carry on until you’re written no less than 1000 words
This mindful writing exercise trains the mind to recognise the beauty of every moment. This boosts happiness. And at the same time, it improves your still-life writing.
3. Describe thoughts and feelings
One of the most important novel writing skills is the ability to accurately describe emotions.
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, it will strengthen your mind too.
Mindfulness meditation involves non-judgmentally observing our thoughts and feelings. This has been scientifically proven to help control emotions (*4).
We can take the process further by writing down our observations. Here’s how .
- Get pen and paper
- Sit somewhere quiet and relaxing
- Take 10 mindful breaths
- Focus on the feelings and emotions in your mind
- Begin to mindfully write about those emotions by describing them.
- 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 regulaiton
- It improves our ability to write about a character’s emotions and motivations.
4. A journey through the body
Another excellent mindfulness exercise is to consciously observe the sensations in the body.
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 all the way 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 things be, to remove the stress of negative physical sensations, and to increase appreciation of the body.
5. Imagine you’re a character in a story. Describe yourself
Another important 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 an added bonus: by describing ourselves objectively we learn to write more detailed and more realistic characters.
6. Try this 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 here 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 ore playful.
7. Observe and eliminate distractions
Distractions are funny things. They’re only really 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 your own mind
This is one of the most enlightening mindful writing exercises. It is similar to stream of consciousness writing but with some important differences.
The gist of it is to transcribe whatever runs through the mind. Not only do we write our thoughts, we write the quality of the thoughts, the loudness, the feelings of the thoughts, 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.
Mindful Writers Are A Step Ahead
Mindfulness is an absolute gem for writers. Not only does it train the mind 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.
And you can also try these excellent mindful habits, which will help you to be mindful in your daily life.
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