How to Improve Your Writing Practice Using Mindfulness Concepts
Writing above all is a practice — it may be the ultimate mindfulness practice — let me explain.
I have been a mindfulness enthusiast for the past several years. I have previously written about mindfulness; essentially, as I understand it, mindfulness is about becoming aware of one’s experiences. It can involve developing an awareness of our breath, body, our thoughts, our feelings, and our actions.
Briefly, our mind and body work together to help us adapt to our surroundings, and there’s a constant drive for our brain to connect the dots of our moment-to-moment experiences. It is undoubtedly beneficial to understand our present experiences as they connect with our past and to imagine their impact on our future. Similarly, we can learn from our past and plan for our future, and this internal drive to understand and make sense of the world can’t be overestimated.
In fact, it may be the most compelling sign of the adaptive and prosocial nature of our unconscious mind. It also explains our bursts of creative insight and our remarkable ability to feel, for example, our close friend’s unhappiness when she’s having a hard time.
However, this unconscious drive also keeps us from living in the present — The practice of mindfulness then can be seen as essentially a practice to live fully by separating moments — living in the present, learning from our past, and preparing for our future. So, mindfulness is, in a way, a process of intentionally reconnecting with our prosocial nature, and it is a somewhat personal practice developed over time. I have found four concepts that are critical in developing a mindfulness practice: Commitment, Consistency, Context, and Community.
Commitment to return to your practice everyday maybe the single most important helpful way to improve your practice. Consistently finding time to meditate daily, setting up a context in the form of a meditation altar definitely strengthens my practice. I have also found that the experience of being a part of a community with a group meditation is very helpful in keeping me committed to practicing in a regular manner.
How does this relate to writing — Recently, I was invited to co-host an experimental Prosocial Writer’s Workshop. Over this past year, I have come to love writing, and nothing appeals more than a chance to sharing my love of writing — so I jumped at the opportunity to help create a way to share this love.
Briefly, the Prosocial Writer’s Workshop involved working with a group of individuals who feel passionate about human nature and its innate need to create, connect and share, and designed around the “4Cs” that I have come to learn from my mindfulness practice as being important to developing any practice, namely: Commitment, Consistency, Context, and Community.
Commitment — simply put — you just have to commit to doing it, be it meditation or writing — today! Humans are born storytellers, and once you accept this part about yourself, you can commit to telling your stories, and writing follows. The only commitment that you need is to keep getting started. As long as you can keep getting started, the end will take care of itself. Start a new endeavor each day if you have to; one of these beginnings will have an ending you desire, and when it happens — bingo — success!
Consistency — once you have made the commitment to write, next comes consistency. As simple as that, write daily — it doesn’t matter how little but just every day. One thing we know about creative ideas is that consistency matters. In a study designed to identify factors that were important to generating creative ideas, researchers found that consistently scheduling time to write, in fact, led to a more frequent burst of creative insights — countering the belief that inspiration leads the way to write genius — in fact, writing more will lead to more creative ideas.
Context — much like working out at a gym gets you a better workout, setting aside a context to write can greatly enhance your writing itself. An effective writing space that is protected, organized, and inviting can really help writing practice. It can be a desk set up which is only used for writing, or perhaps, it is a room where you can close a door and prevent interruptions, whether generated by ourselves or by others, and truly connect with the writing project.
Community — personally, I find that this is probably the most important part — we write better when we write together. Finding a writing group may be your secret weapon to writing well, and this is where the prosocial writing workshop came in! For the past few weeks, we have been getting together to write, inspire each other, help break some seen and unseen barriers and find connection and community in sharing a writing space.
In a true to COVID pandemic fashion, the workshop was held over zoom video conferencing. For the past four weeks, a group of us has met weekly at the same time to — you guessed it — simply write.
And then, quite like magic, something remarkable happened — even though all the participants were at different stages in their writing practice, everyone found the time to write more than they initially thought they might — somehow, the commitment, consistency, and context led to a community feeling and helped us all write better and more.
In an intriguing way, the experience of writing in a group has inadvertently helped my mindfulness practice. In a way, using simple tools such as a keyboard for writing and a humble meditation cushion, both practices simultaneously allow one to experience grounding and open up a world of possibilities. With the space created and intention setting, one can remain open to what comes. And what comes is constantly changing —line by line, breath by breath. Like, meditation, in writing, there is no past, no present, no future, only change.
There is rhythmicity to both noticing your breath and similarly to words in a sentence — type, delete, add and repeat — focused attention and then watching the mind wander, only to bring it back to the action — be it a typewriter or focus on the breath.
Be it alone or in a group, writing like meditation requires becoming mindful of attention — When the mind quiets, and attention is on hands and the keyboard, the world opens, just noticing — the soft sound of keys clicking, touch, texture, and light — to experience all things, to feel present and connected. In its essence, both writing and meditation teach us that in learning to be present, there is no thinking, simply a sense of wholeheartedness felt and experienced.
Both writing and meditation practices share similarities, too — Showing up consistently, learning to let go, devotion to the practice are key elements of both. In an intriguing way, writing and meditation practices also strengthen each other. Writing can help it easier to clear our minds and therefore make it easier to be present in our meditation practices.
Like in mindfulness, Showing up fully and completely counts in writing practice— I hope you will give it a try!