The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘mindfulness and writing

 “Meditation is push-ups for the mind.”- Rachael Herron

As some of you know, I’ve been a long-time advocate of meditation. I use meditation as a tool in my life and I have often taught secular meditative techniques to writers.

Clinical research supports the claim that meditation helps to strengthen the mind, increase concentration and slow our thousands of thoughts down. This is so helpful for writers!

Why do meditation techniques work? Because all human minds, despite their great diversity and capabilities feel and experience the same basic emotions that include joy, fear, rage, happiness, sadness, etc. We also tend to experience similar thoughts both positive (‘I’m great!’) and negative (‘I’m horrible!’). We all also get distracted, frustrated and irritated on a routine basis in relatively the same ways (though about different kinds of things).

There lots and lots of meditation styles and techniques out there from a variety of secular and spiritual traditions. You’ve probably heard a lot about a type of meditation called ‘mindfulness’, so let’s start there.

Mindfulness is a practice of maintaining an awareness of your thoughts, feelings and environment in the present moment. Slowing down and paying attention to the present moment allows us to be more available to what’s happening right now, instead of living in the past or racing ahead in the future. Mindfulness also involves getting some distance from your thoughts and mind chatter without judging them.

Cultivating mindfulness can mean focusing on one’s breathing and being quiet.

Mindfulness can support your writing in a few ways:

-Mindfulness can get us back in the body

“Whatever stories we have, they are organically connected to our physical bodies. Cultivating that connection—that pathway between our heads and our bodies—creates deep writing.”
                                                                    Larraine Herring

Ever have that experience where you don’t know where time went and not in a good way? Ever realize that you’ve been on autopilot and not in the moment? To write well, we have to be connected to the body, our experience, the pain and joy of being alive. Taking a few minutes to recognize we are in a particular place in time and space and we are actually breathing is quite helpful when writing. Sometimes I’m working so intensely, I have hunched my shoulders, clenched my jaw and have tightened up all my muscles. It’s good in that moment to stop, breathe and readjust my body. Mindfulness can open us up to sensations in the body that we tend to ignore. And, indeed in slowing down, we can connect as Herring notes we can open ourselves up to greater bodily knowledge in service of storytelling.

– Contributes to Writerly Equanimity

Mindfulness helps us stay the course. Bad writing day? OK, we all have them…tomorrow will be better. If we have cultivated equanimity, when we hit an impasse in our writing, we’re more likely to be open to tapping our resources (including connecting with writing buddies, groups, etc.,), trying out other techniques (like taking a walk, freewriting) as opposed to thinking we have to solve it all ourselves or because we can’t figure it out, or that we’re bad writers.

Don’t Worry about What You Can’t Control

Practicing mindfulness allows us to see when negative thoughts arise, but also let them go (especially helpful when trying to write!).  It helps us recognize what we can’t control. If we overemphasize what we can’t control, over time that leads to stress. The only thing we can control is what we create, how much we create and over time, the quality of what we create. We also have a say in how we show up and interact with industry professionals. We can’t control an audience’s response to our work, nor the shifting and fickle interests of the publishing industry.

-Quieting the Inner Critic

A practice of mindfulness helps keep us connected to our inner creative self. I don’t know about you but I have gone through cycles of having a very active inner critic. For me, I’m less susceptible to believing the words of my most upsetting and vicious inner critic if I’ve been practicing mindfulness. Also, if I start to have an attack of the inner critic, if I soften my breath and tell myself, OK, I’m going to take a five minutes and watch my thoughts. Do this can give me the perspective I need to return to the work after the five minutes is up.

Less Easily Distracted

Mindfulness cultivates a resistance to being easily distracted. Practicing mindfulness teaches us about distraction and keeping with something, even when difficult.  If we are to succeed as writers, we have to develop both our attention and our intention. Then over time, we become better able to resist the false siren calls of distraction that are always around.

Something to Try:

One easy way to start to practice mindfulness is to start with the breath. You can practice the following before you write. Breathe in and out a few times (breathe in through the nose and exhale through the mouth a few times to get relaxed). Then breathe in through the nose for a count of four, pause for a moment at the top of inhale and gently breathe out through the nose to a count of four (over time you can do a longer exhale to six or eight counts, which tends to relax the nervous system). Continue this breath cycle for a minute or more and then build up to 3 minutes or more.

Don’t try to stop your thoughts, notice them and then keep returning to the breath. Visualize thoughts as passing clouds over your mental landscape.

Another way to practice: You can place one hand over your heart and one hand on your belly and observe your breath. Ask yourself the following questions:

-Where am I breathing? (meaning where do you feel the breath the most—the belly, at the nostrils, in the expanse of the lungs)

-What’s the quality of my breath? (Slow? Shallow? Tight? Rapid)

Observe without judgement and then take a few more deep belly breaths.

You can also begin by pausing to notice your breath for a minute and then the next week, up it to two minutes and so on.

Interested in learning more? I particularly like Dr. Sara Lazar’s Ted Talk about meditation—she is a neuroscientist at Harvard who started studying the brain changes in people who meditated regularly.

There are lots of apps (many are free or at least free for 30 days) and places on line to investigate mindfulness and meditation.

I’d love to hear your experiences with mindfulness or meditative techniques in support of your creativity!

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I’m so excited to introduce readers to novelist, therapist, and coach Fiona Robyn. Fiona has just completed her 4th novel, The Most Beautiful Thing. Fiona writes, teaches and specializes in an attention to mindful writing practice. She helps people slow down, pay attention, and “reconnect with ourselves” in order “to understand and love the world around us.” Her and her husband Kaspa teach e-courses and inspire people through their online community Writing Our Way Home. I met Fiona on She Writes, where she is a regular contributor, and noticed our overlapping interests in coaching, Buddhism and writing. I wanted to find out how she combines these passions in service of her teaching and writing.

1) Do you conceive of a story in the voice of a narrator, or in key images or characters, or in events?

My stories always arrive through my protagonists – they appear in my head one day, usually with a name and a vague physical form, and as I spend some time getting to know them their story emerges. I might ask myself what kind of music they like, where they live, or whether they have a partner. They always come first, and I see it as my responsibility to share their story as accurately as I can through the novel.

2) Where did your current idea for your novel come from? What’s your process like when you’re working on a novel?

Joe appeared in my head! I also knew that he’d be spending time in another country – at first I thought it might be somewhere like Hawaii, which would have been nice for research purposes, but it turned out to be Amsterdam! A bit more practical to go and visit… My process is quite similar for each novel – the first draft is hell (and goes slowly and reluctantly), the second draft is a bit more fun, the third draft is enjoyable, and then the fourth and fifth (when I’m taking out commas and putting them in again) can become tedious. I try to work on the writing most weekdays, and I prioritise the writing above all other activities. I’m getting ready to work on my fifth, and am both looking forward to it and feeling anxious… can I really do it again?

3) You have a very active online presence. You write, teach, and run several blogs. How do these different activities feed into each other and you?

‘Very active’ might be a polite way of saying I spend far too much time online : ) I feel very lucky to be engaged with people in a variety of ways, and all these activities feed each other nicely. The concept of small stones (http://www.writingourwayhome.com/p/small-stones.html) has been personally helpful to me as a tool for staying mindful, and it also helps others to connect with their worlds. We do great work on our mindful writing e-courses (we being me and my husband Kaspa) and it’s a privilege to share our student’s journeys. It all makes a lovely nourishing mess.

4) David Long said that the mind of a story has an attitude, or a personality. Do you have a particular attitude that you find yourself writing?

Interesting question. I guess most of my stories are concerned with telling the truth – allowing one of my characters to be more honest about who they are. I find it difficult to differentiate between my protagonist’s attitude and the attitude of the story, but I can see that there’s a difference… Maybe I’d have to ask my readers about that one!

5) When and why did you start bringing the practice of ‘mindfulness’ to the writing process?

I’ve always been interested in spirituality, and a few years ago I became a Pureland Buddhist. Independently, I started writing small stones in 2005 and have written them daily ever since. Mindfulness has been important to me as a writer, and as a spiritual practitioner. We also use the word ‘mindfulness’ as a bit of a buzz word – something that people can easily recognise and respond to, like ‘Zen’. A more accurate way of saying ‘mindful writing’ might be ‘writing that helps you connect with yourself, others, the world and something more sacred’. With this kind of writing, what’s learnt by the writer is more important than the quality of the writing that’s produced. A lovely side-effect of writing with more of our ‘self’, though, is that the resulting writing is often very powerful and precise and luminous.

6) What’s your best writing tip?

Just one? Hmm… Try to love yourself and love your writing, whatever comes up. Be kind to yourself. Writing is a scary business, and involves opening up layer after layer of ourselves to be looked at and commented on by the general public. Remember, also, that the process of writing will bring you great treasures – never mind publication (although of course you should seek it), keep focus on the process. Oh, that was two.

Reviews of The Most Beautiful Thing

“This book really is a beautiful thing. Enter the world of Joe, 14 years old and spending the summer in Amsterdam with his artist aunt Nel. Beautifully observed, tender, thoughtful and insightful, this book twists and turns in the way that life does…revealing beauty and dysfunction. Fast forward in time to 15 years later when Joe returns to Amsterdam uncovering a tragedy and a secret that will turn his world upside down. This is a memorable book; a truly beautiful thing; a story that stays with you long after you read it. Definitely the best book I’ve read this year.”
~Jackie Stewart, Flower Spirit: Soul medicine for conscious living

“I was surprised by this wonderful novel. I thought initially it was going to be a ‘relationship’ book, but as I became more involved with the characters I realised it was a significant contribution to the literature of ‘The Outsider’. From Dostoevsky to Camus writers have attempted to delve into the psyche of those who behave differently, who are perhaps more creative, more violent, more passionate, more remote, than the supposedly normal person. Fiona Robyn captures beautifully the outsider in gently affectionate prose. Joe is an outsider, an insecure, bookish, distant teenager. In two slices of Joe’s life the author manages to capture the complexity that so many teenage boys and young men grapple with. Sexual frustration, the retreat into books, facts, figures, anything to repel the difficulties presented by a world filled with the puzzle of other people. From the perspective of middle age I can identify with so much experienced by Joe, both as a teenager and a young adult, and am amazed at the perspicacity of Fiona Robyn in capturing it so well.” ~Anthony Foley via Amazon.com

“Lovely, vivid, capturing. I didn’t want to stop reading this once I started. What a wonderful job of capturing the beauty and agony of family!” ~Brandi Trevisan via Goodreads

About Fiona Robyn

I enjoy helping people to honour their muses and find a way of integrating creativity into their everyday lives. I also enjoy working with themes around career, meaning, spirituality and, of course, writing.

I am influenced by humanistic and existential thinking and Buddhist psychology. These theoretical approaches, and a lifetime of my experiences as an ordinary person and as a novelist with different projects and priorities to juggle, all inform my way of working.

I am a published novelist. I hold a coaching diploma with the Oxford School of Coaching and Mentoring, and I’m a BACP Accredited psychotherapist in private practice. I have a Diploma in Buddhist Psychotherapy with the Amida Trust. Before becoming self-employed I worked both in the private and charity sectors.

Intrigued? Visit her and check out her free e-book about writing your way home


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

Author, Academic, Creativity Expert I'm an award winning writer.

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