How Mindfulness Can Transform Your Writing Life

It could be said that writing starts when the ballpoint hits the surface of paper, or when fingers tap the square-shaped keys of a keyboard, but I like to think that writing begins somewhere else.

For me, writing begins on a walk, where the gravel crunches beneath my feet, and the birds swoop in, close enough to make me flinch. The clouds slowly part from each other like the curtain on a stage, revealing the glow from a sun whose warmth settles on my bare skin. Writing continues throughout my day as I sit in a cafe observing the way an elderly woman's arthritic fingers unzip her purse, searching for the coins to pay for her scones and tea. She takes a napkin and sets it across her lap before she touches her plate. My mind wanders to her youth and the untold stories of her life.

I tuck away the smells and conversations, textures and expressions. Later, I'll draw on these memories and pictures as I sit at the computer and tap away, watching perfectly formed letters appear on the screen in front of me.

When the words struggle to flow and I think that it isn't possible to string another sentence together, I remind myself that sometimes the best thing I can do for my writing is to bring myself to the present. Not only back to the present moment; me sitting at my desk in front of the screen, listening to the hum of the dishwasher, the breeze sweeping in through an open window, but to the page. I take my scene and push through to the present moment of it. I close my eyes and picture it; my characters, the setting, the sounds, the colors, the smells. I take those sensory details and build a picture, and suddenly I'm not so focused on the words anymore, but the story. Fully present in the scene, I'm able to be there, like an observer. Once I'm there, I can take my reader with me.

The more I practice mindfulness in my personal life, the easier it is to translate this skill to my writing. There's a marked difference in approaching a writing session with a mind full of judgment and self-doubt as opposed to having a calm mind that's free from distraction and expectation. While I don't find it possible to get into this calm and relaxed state every time I go to write, starting with one single deep and focused breath, helps. There's something in that cue, in getting that stagnant air to flow in and out, that helps prep me for a session in front of the screen.

Other times I'll set an intention, in my mind, or at the top of the page, to be deleted once I'm done. It serves as a reminder of what I want to achieve, and what I'm really here for; to do the work, my best work, from a place where writing equates to pleasure. When it feels too hard, too impossible, too out of reach, those words of intention remind me that while writing isn't always easy, writing always serves a purpose. My best writing comes when I'm with the language, the words, the character, the emotion. And the only way I can truly be with it, is to be present with it.

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