As a professional writer and meditation teacher, I’ve used mindful writing exercises for years.
Mindful writing improves all my writing; my poetry, fictions, journalism, and blogging. And it also helps my mind.
According to Ruth Ozeki [author and Zen Buddhist priest], there is a direct relationship between writing and mindfulness.
Both techniques are therapeutic. The meditative exercise of mindfulness has been scientifically proven to help with everything from stress to anxiety to blood pressure. And, thanks to luminaries like Thich Nhat Hanh and Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness has become incredibly popular of late.
On the writing side, we have things like poetry therapy, mindful journaling, and of course writing therapy, which was devised by James W. Pennebaker in the late 1980s.
Benefits of mindful writing exercises
Mindful writing means to write while holding an attitude of non-judgmental awareness.
Daily mindful writing exercises can increase our self-awareness and help us to put our thoughts on paper. This is a cathartic practice because it helps us to release our thoughts.
Mindful writing exercises also aid our self-development. For instance, writing down goals helps to make them more tangible. And journaling offers a way to chart our progress. I find that just by writing my emotions on paper I accept them, which is a key part of both mindfulness and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).
Although there is little research specifically on mindful writing exercises, we do know from science that there are benefits of journaling. Indeed, this is one reason I advise my students to keep a meditation journal.
James Pennebaker at the University of Texas, Austin, states the journaling strengthens T-lymphocytes immune cells [which is backed by further research (Murray, 2002).] and helps with stressful events [backed by Baikie & Wilhelm, 2005].
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]
So let me share with you my favourite mindful writing meditation exercises. [You will probably want to read my guide to Meditation For Creativity too]
Mindful Writing Prompts
The basic idea of mindful writing is to take a prompt and write about it. With that in mind, here are ten of the best mindful writing prompts.
1: “This is my story…”
Imagine that your life is a story. What story have you been living lately? Write your personal story in 2000 words.
2: “My mind is full of…”
Mindfulness is about self-awareness. It’s about understanding what is happening in your own mind. Because, as Vipassana meditation master S. N Goenka explains, it is a lot easier to control the mind if you are aware of it.
In 1000 words, write down the thoughts and feelings that have been occupying your mind. This will help you to release them.
3: “For the rest of the day, my goal is…”
This is a simple and short mindful writing prompt. Simply write down your goal and how you will achieve it by the end of the day.
4: “I am grateful for…”
Gratitude is one of the 24 character strengths in Positive Psychology. According to Positive Psychology founder Marting Seligman, gratitude helps us to be happy. Plus, it bolsters our mental health. Write a list of 100 things you are grateful for.
5: “This is the most relaxing scene I can imagine…”
One of the best mindful writing exercises is to combine mindfulness with visualization. Specifically, write a 1000-word description of the most relaxing scene you can imagine.
6: Describe your garden
The best place to practise mindful writing is in the garden. Sit in your garden and write a 1000-word description of it.
7: “My body feels like this…”
Have you heard about Body Scan meditation? It is a meditation created by Jon Kabat Zinn as part of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Course. In it, we progressively observe sensations in the body.
Let’s turn this into a mindful writing exercise. Simply write what you feel in your body, going from your head to your toes.
The Best Mindfulness Writing Exercises
Mindful writing prompts are just one of many mindful writing exercises.
According to the University of Virginia Mindfulness Center, mindful writing exercises “use mindfulness to access the inner voice that we all have, which leads to the authentic self.”
In this list, I’ll share the best exercises for accessing your authentic self.
You might also like to read my article How To Improve Your Imagination.
1: Stream-of-consciousness mindful writing exercise
When starting meditation, writers should spend at least ten minutes letting go of thoughts. Stream-of-consciousness writing can help.
“Stream of Consciousness” is a term coined by American philosopher and psychologist William James, whom you might know as the brother of the novelist Henry James. In the book “The Principles of Psychology”, James explains that stream-of-consciousness is spontaneous writing that gives you an opportunity to release thoughts onto paper.
To do this:
- Begin writing your thoughts. Whatever you think, you write.
Remember, the key is not to judge. Instead, let your writing flow freely.
This is a wonderful form of writing therapy. By transcribing your mind onto paper, you gain an all-new perspective on your thoughts and feelings. You will inevitably notice that much of your stress and anxiety is based on illogical thoughts. By seeing those thoughts in ink, you will immediately recognise the delusional nature of the mind. This will help you to overcome negative thoughts and difficult emotions.
2: Beauty Mindful Writing Exercise
Psychologists have proven that the ability to appreciate beauty is vital to happiness (*1). Indeed, the Appreciation of Beauty is one of the “Character Strengths” defined in Positive Psychology.
One way to appreciate beauty is to describe it in writing.
- 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 for both creative writing and mindful therapy
One essential novel-writing skill 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.
- Get a pen and paper
- Sit somewhere quiet and relaxing
- Take ten mindful breaths
- Observe 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 exercise 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: Creative writing exercise
We must be mindful of our physical form. Indeed, “mindfulness of physical feelings” is one of the “Foundations of Mindfulness” in Buddhism.
We want to have a non-judgmental view of the body. And we can achieve this in a weird way. That is, by imagining that 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.
5: 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 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 won’t 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.