Sent by Susan Colleen Browne
We writers are always looking for the magic pill to raise our game, aren’t we? If you’re like me, you often feel that you’ve got to pile it on—do more. Write more, market more, join the next new social media platform.
But what if you could enhance your writing life by doing less? Letting go? A little mindfulness can help you do exactly that.
So…what exactly is being mindful? And what can it do for you? Mindfulness is basically using the breath to focus on the present moment and to cultivate your self-awareness—tuning in on what’s going on in both your mind and body. I recently learned the average human has 40,000-70,000 thoughts per day—think of all that inner chatter about your job, your family, your to-do list and the perennial ups and downs of modern life. If you’re a fiction writer, you might also be thinking about your characters and their thoughts! But you can start managing this veritable tsunami of mental activity by something as simple as the breath.
There are lots of mindful breathing/meditation techniques out there, but the simplest is…well, simple:
Close your eyes, relax and release the tension in your body. Breathe slowly, and try to let go of whatever you’re thinking.
Focusing on your breathing instead of your thoughts is probably the most challenging part of the process, but with practice, you’ll find it gets easier and easier to allow your thoughts to simply pass through your mind.
Here’s an easy technique that works for me. Slowly inhale, and imagine your breath starting from your feet, and flowing up to the top of your head. As your exhale, visualize your breath flowing from your head back down to your feet, and so on—your breath flowing upward, then down again. You can do this sitting up or lying down—and it’s a great way to help you go to sleep.
You might be thinking, I don’t have time to meditate! I don’t even have the time to write! I hear you, sister! That’s where we bring in that oxymoron known as time management. This term apparently shows up in 100,000 Google searches each month—which tells me no one has really figured out how to manage time.
We writers can try: there’s loads of advice out there on ways to prioritize your writing. Or how to develop the discipline to pump out those 500 or 1,000 or 5,000 words each day like successful authors do. Sometimes, though, you need a more organic approach…a way to fit writing into the flow of your days and your life.
Don’t get me wrong—on the days I get my 1,000 words on the page I feel like Wonder Woman. But the other days…I try to focus on simply being more intentional about my writing.
For instance, you can find a little mental space to focus on your story by taking one breath, relaxing your shoulders and asking yourself, “What can I let go of right now?” (Thanks to Margaret Chester, author of Chocolate Yoga.)
Going for short and sweet can be helpful too. If you’ve got only 5-15 minutes, please don’t tell yourself, I can’t get any writing done in so little time! How about:
- Opening up your document and plunking around with your story for a few minutes. This can create a pathway for new ideas.
- Setting a timer for 5-10 minutes and writing as fast as you can. Speedwriting can be hugely energizing, even if you create material unrelated to your work-in-progress.
- Writing just 100 words—it’s only a paragraph!
- Telling yourself you’ll write for only 5 minutes—the “5 Minute Trick.” You’ll often get to the end of your time and discover you don’t want to stop!
But we all have times when life gets especially crazy. What if you don’t have the energy to be at your computer, much less to create new material? Here’s where simply hanging out with your Work In Progress can keep your mind and heart on writing. Or as author Jim Lynch says, “Think about your story every day…spend time with your project every day.” You can:
- Daydream about your story
- Cluster your story, or scribble a few story ideas
- Review some research materials
- Re-read any ms pages or story notes
For the essence of organic, non-time management for writers, consider this from poet Naomi Shihab Nye:
“Walk around feeling like a leaf. Know you could tumble any second. Then decide what to do with your time.”
Start with a little mindful breathing, and you might find yourself stepping into the creative flow of the story, poem or book you’ve been longing to write…and then finishing it!