I chose this word as my Word for 2019 for one simple reason.
I AM LOST!
Most days, I feel like a hamster; I’m running all day, but I seem to have made no progress.
My work falls under two categories –
- my writing projects and
- creating quality content for Read Write Inspire.
Apart from this, I have the responsibility of ensuring a (passably!) clean and clutter-free home and nurturing two little boys with nourishment for their body, brain and soul.
When it comes to my writing projects, I have a plan and I stick by it most sane days. However, with speaking assignments, guests, unavoidable social visits, sudden calls from producers/publishers that pushes one book or a script above another or brings along a sudden new project, all my plans go awry. The problem is that I love what I am doing, and I am truly blessed with opportunities, but things get overwhelming at times.
That has exactly what has been happening for the last one year. I’ve been juggling too many balls and I’m scared I’d lose the joy of the process. So, I’ve taken a conscious step back from the ‘hamster life’ this year. I’m rediscovering all the reasons why I fell in love with this ‘writing’ life, despite all of its challenges.
Before talking about mindfulness in writing and how mindfulness can help writers improve the quality of their writing and their efficiency, let me first explain what mindfulness is.
What is Mindfulness?
Simply put, Mindfulness is ‘being present in the moment’. “Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally,” says Kabat-Zinn, Founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).
You do not have to practice mindfulness by sitting cross-legged on the floor and closing your eyes. You can practice mindfulness even when you drive the car, sip your coffee or write your novel. All that you need to do is be present in the moment and give the activity all your attention. While this sounds easy, being mindful can be one of the most challenging things to do.
When your phone rings the next time, do not rush to answer it. Take a deep breath, pick up the phone, look at the screen and notice who is calling you. Then, answer it and give them your complete attention while talking to them. You cannot check social media as they remain connected to you on your headphone; you cannot type as you talk to them; you cannot drive as you are yelling into the Bluetooth; you cannot talk as you are feeding your child. You will have to put aside everything, sit down in a place, give them your full attention and speak to them.
Isn’t that a challenge?
Mindfulness in Life
While I am slowly cultivating mindfulness in conversations and relationships, I struggle in areas like eating, workouts and writing. I love to eat alone slouched in front of the screen or reading a book. Eating is one activity that I have not been able to endure alone. The situation is same with workouts. While I’m more mindful in my Pilates class, I am not while I go for walking/jogging. The latter seems easier to accomplish if I have some music blasting in my ear. As I’m working on slowly changing those habits, I’ve realized that mindfulness in writing can be the best thing that can happen to any writer.
What does a Writer do?
Aa a writer, you live in an imaginary world that you have conjured up in your mind. You give life to your story through words that are chosen with care and purpose.
Do you actually do that?
Usually, when I’m writing,
- I remember a social media post that was due to go out today.
- I remember I must stir the pot that is boiling on the stove.
- I must make that call to the pediatrician for an appointment.
- I must send out that important email to my publisher.
- I must answer the doorbell.
- I must take a bath.
The list is never-ending. Each time, I remember something, I’ve changed tabs on my computer, or I have gotten up from my seat to attend to the ‘emergency’.
I’ve lost focus, concentration, the flow of the story and all. When I get back to writing, it takes me some time before I get in the flow and pick up the string from where I left it. Very soon, I’m distracted again and the process repeats.
Mindfulness in Writing
Ashamed at my lack of focus and overwhelmed with constant distractions, I decided that it was high time I created a habit of Mindfulness in Writing. While there are innumerable articles on how to be mindful while eating, waking up, walking, driving and working, there are hardly any resources available that talk about mindfulness while writing.
With some experimentation, I found out how I could develop my own principles to be present, attentive and give my all to my book while writing.
- Create a small ritual that signifies that you are starting to write.
Before I begin writing, I put on my noise-cancelling headphones. Sometimes, it is plugged to play some ambient music but mostly it is silent. Just the fact that I am wearing my headphones sends a signal to everyone around me that I am not to be disturbed. It is also a trigger that puts me into an ‘undisturbed writing’ zone.
Horses have peripheral vision, which means they can end up running off course unless they are made to remain focused. Blinders are small squares of firm leather that attach to the bridle at the side of the horse’s head and keeps the horse focused on the road straight ahead. My headphones are my blinders.
- Put away your phone.
My phone is never in the same room when I write. My phone only rings for calls. It never pings for any other notifications. Still, I prefer to put it away in the next room because I do not trust myself. When I remember some social media post that I must put up or wonder how many views I received on my YouTube video, I might pick up my phone. However, when it is in the other room, I don’t do that.
Instead, I keep some post-it notes and my planner nearby. Whenever I remember I need to do something, I jot it down there and continue writing. This way, my mind doesn’t need to send me constant reminders and I’m free to concentrate on the task at hand.
- Consider writing by hand.
All my first drafts are handwritten. Somehow, I can think better and fresher when I write by hand. Many writers still write by hand and for good reasons. Quentin Tarantino, the famous director, writes his screenplays by hand. So does Joyce Carol Oates, Neil Gaiman, Amy Tan, Jhumpa Lahiri and many others.
“I always have the sense that the words are coming out of my body, not just my mind. I write in longhand and the pen is scratching the words onto the page. I can even hear the words being written.” – Paul Auster.
Personally, I’ve felt more connected and focused with my writing when I write by hand. I slow down, choose words with care and enjoy the process more when I write by longhand.
- Take Mindful breaks
Despite your best intentions, there will be situations when you need to get up from your seat – either to answer the doorbell or switch off the gas or pacify a crying baby. You also need breaks to drink water, snack or visit the toilet. Instead of abandoning your writing project and rushing off,
- take a moment’s pause to consider the reason you are taking a break,
- take a deep breath
- smile and
- get up.
When you are back from the break, once again,
- pause a moment to consider the portion you had been working on
- take a deep breath
- smile and
- Let go of perfection
Most writers and creatives suffer from crippling self-doubt. It is tough to focus on your writing when a voice in your head keeps screaming that your writing is so crappy and nobody would ever read it. This is the reason why I have this quote taped on the corkboard in my writing room.
“The goal is not to be perfect in everything we do, but to make steady progress on the path.” – Thich Nhat Hanh.
It is only in the last one year that I have started meditating consistently. Meditation can be done in various forms – walking meditation, journaling, guided meditation, body scan, yoga, Zen meditation, etc. Personally, I use the HEADSPACE app. It is a guided meditation app and I find it extremely useful and convenient.
I also journal extensively. Most nights, before going to bed, I spend thirty to sixty minutes journaling about my hopes, dreams, goals, wishes and about the general nitty-gritties of the day.
- Celebrate with Gratitude
Earlier, every night, when I fill in my planner the hours of writing done that day along with the word count, I used to beat myself up.
“You wrote just 500 words today!”
“You did not write today!”
“Why didn’t you complete editing that article?”
Now, when I think back, I’m ashamed about bullying myself. Writing is an art and we cannot force its creation with fixed wordcounts. I still prefer to count the number of words that get written each day as it encourages me to strive for more. However, I never belittle my achievements.
I send up a prayer of gratitude each day for whatever little gets done. I celebrate my achievements. I thank my muse for her never-ending supply of ideas. I am thankful for having a family that is supportive of my dreams and for encouraging readers that motivate me to write more.
Mindfulness can change our writing drastically. It teaches us to notice the world around us and pay attention. It teaches us to write wisely with care and presence.
The author, Heather Demetrios, mentions how mindfulness can help hone the writing craft, in her blog, The Lotus & Pen. She says, “Mindfulness allows us to hone our compassion and empathy, to strengthen this muscle. In part, it’s because we’re paying attention. We start to see things more clearly: not just on the macro, cosmic level, but on the micro. We notice the tired sigh of the woman behind the checkout counter because we are not checking our phones. Because we have decided to be present for the experience of buying our groceries, rather than looking at Instagram while she bags our food. We see her sigh and we feel something for her, a kinship of humanity. We remember that sigh, days later, when we sit down to write and one of our characters looks up from her work, exhausted. We get it down, just right, because we have the perfect moment already stored in our memory.”
If this article interests you and you want to explore further about mindfulness, here are some of my reading recommendations:
- Work by Thich Nhat Hanh
- Make Time by Jake Knapp & John Zeratsky
- A Writer’s Book of Days by Judy Reeves
- How to be a Writer by Barbara Baig
- Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
(The book links above will direct you to Amazon and are Affiliate links.)