How Mindfulness Makes You a Better Writer

Today’s guest post is by Susan Saurel.

Mindfulness. That word is everywhere, right? People who believe in it perceive it as the cure for all ills of wrongs we see in contemporary societies.

But what is mindfulness, exactly? One definition is “maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.”

We know how important it is to live in the present moment. However, we also know how difficult it is to commit to that goal. The mind either processes memories or visualizes the future. It misses the now. We’re missing valuable moments that we’ll never live through again.

How is the concept of mindfulness related to writing, anyway?

I can speak from personal experience: practicing mindfulness makes me more productive.

I become more focused on the work I’m doing at the moment. I can process thoughts and emotions without getting attached to them. It helps me recognize and break the bad habits that are affecting my writing. Mindfulness makes me a better writer in many different ways.

How Mindfulness Can Make You a Better Writer

1. Mindfulness affects the brain’s neural patterns in a positive way

Although mindfulness is often seen as a secular practice, it can still be considered as meditation of the now. When you combine it with actual meditation, the practice can change the neural patterns present in the brain.

A medical study from 2005 showed that the brain regions related with attention, sensory processing, and interoception were thicker in long-term meditation practitioners.

The longer you practice meditation and mindfulness, the more you change. Your brain becomes more focused when processing external stimuli. However, it’s even better at interiorization.

You know what that means for a writer. Whenever we get ideas, we process them in our inner world. Thanks to the practice of mindfulness, that internal storytelling becomes much more powerful.

2. Mindfulness improves your social relationships

Not all writers are introverts, but we might say that all are focused on the stories that come from the inside. When you have worries and responsibilities weighing down your current work, it’s hard to maintain a healthy social life, isn’t it?

Here’s one important effect I noticed as soon as I became committed to the practice of mindfulness: it helped me enhance my relationships. First of all, I started understanding and accepting my partner better than before.

Mindfulness helped me improve the communication not only with my partner but with everyone else as well. I’m no longer focused on my thoughts and emotions when talking to people. I’m focused on them. That makes the social connections much more successful.

And when you improve your social connections, you’ll have more material to inspire your new work.

3. Mindfulness helps you understand and control stress

In the 1970s, Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn from the University of Massachusetts developed the mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program. His main intention was to help people with chronic stress-related disorders and pain issues. However, we know this for a fact: no one is spared from stress. For writers, it’s a state of being. Pouring your soul into a new project and worrying about the reaction from an audience is not an easy thing.

Professor Kabat-Zinn put individuals through eight to ten weeks of daily practice of mindfulness. His findings showed that the practice helped people recognize their thoughts and feelings without judging them. In a way, this practice makes you aware of the things that cause the stress. When you know the cause and you don’t judge those thoughts and feelings, you’re canalizing stress.

This seems too good in theory? It’s even better in practice.

Mindfulness for Writers: How to Practice It

You can’t just say “Okay, from today on, I’ll be mindful” and expect to immediately achieve it. It’s a state of being that requires constant commitment and practice.

I became aware of this practice once I started attending a meditation course. I was fortunate enough to have a great teacher who didn’t mind clarifying all confusion and answering all questions I had. Thanks to him, I realized that there isn’t a step-by-step guide to mindfulness, but there is structure to it.

If you want to practice it and experience its full potential, you have to understand it first.

This was the process that got me into deeper mindfulness:

Learn about it

That was the first goal I set. If you want to practice something properly, you have to understand it. I talked to my meditation teacher, but I also took an online course on mindfulness. There’s a terrific one on Coursera.

It all starts with a simple meditation

You sit in a comfortable position so you won’t feel any pain or discomfort in your body. Then, you breathe. You pay close attention to the way you inhale and exhale. I felt intense emotions during this meditation, but I stayed focused on the breath.

This simple practice makes you notice, really notice, what you’re doing in a given moment. It takes some time before it translates to everything else you do, but it’s the beginning.

Let things go

Do you know why the Dead Sea is dead? It receives the same source of water as the Sea of Galilee—the River Jordan. Yet, the Sea of Galilee is full of life. The difference? That one has an outlet. The Dead Sea, on the other hand, receives water but has no outlet. The metaphor is clear: when you keep everything inside without letting things out, you become so overwhelmed that you slowly die from the inside.

Here’s a simple technique that helps you let things go: before you go to bed, think of everything you did during that day. Start from the morning and see yourself getting up, going to the bathroom, having your coffee, having that important conversation with your partner, writing—everything.

However, do not get attached to those images. Just watch them come and go on your inner screen. Don’t think how you were supposed to react, and do not go through the same emotions again. Just reconstruct the events and let everything go.

Through the practice of mindfulness, you become more focus on the things that surround you, but you become better at processing your inner world as well.

Isn’t that exactly what a writer needs? It takes time and effort before you can see the results of mindfulness in your work, but they will be there.

Have you tried mindfulness techniques? How has it helped you with your writing and/or other aspects of your life?

Susan Saurel is a teacher and beginner writer from Texas.  Follow Susan on Twitter or add on LinkedIn.

3 Responses to “How Mindfulness Makes You a Better Writer”

  1. Leah McClellan June 22, 2017 at 3:00 pm #

    Good article, and I agree. One of the many ways mindfulness helps me is while copyediting or proofreading. Because my awareness is keeping an eye (so to speak) on what my mind is doing (being mindful and alert to thoughts as they flit in and out), I know when I’ve breezed over a sentence without inspecting every word or phrase/clause or “listening” to it properly. I also know I’m capable of reading entire paragraphs, even out loud, without getting the image or picture in my head of what’s going on. And that can mean ignoring errors or opportunities to make improvements. So when I catch myself (usually right away), I backtrack and re-read. Or take a nap 🙂

    Nice to read this.

  2. Susannah MacDonald June 22, 2017 at 3:18 pm #

    An excellent article – thanks Susan. I couldn’t have put these points better!

  3. Josh from edX June 23, 2017 at 10:16 am #

    Hi Susan,

    I enjoyed reading your article. As an additional resource, you or your readers might be interested in edX’s popular class from Berkeley on the “Science of Happiness” https://www.edx.org/course/science-happiness-uc-berkeleyx-gg101x-5

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