My Favorite Writing Hack: Mindfulness and Meditation Practices
I had nothing left.
My creativity was at an all-time low, I was burned-out from a punishing publishing schedule, and I was scary-overwhelmed by all the marketing and promoting required of an author. Writing wasn’t fun anymore, but that didn’t matter because I had deadlines. It wasn’t like the old days: I was now legally obligated to turn my work in to someone. It didn’t help that I’m a perfectionist, an ambitious workaholic, and one of the most neurotic writers in Brooklyn.
Things turned around after a good friend introduced me to guided meditation. Now that I see how much of that is out there, I feel dumb for not knowing this was possible. All the meditation I’d experienced living and traveling around the world had been hardcore sitting at dawn in silence stuff. I lay on her couch and did what the nice lady on the recording told me to do. Afterwards, I felt more at ease than I had in years. I was hooked.
Fast-forward to now. I believe that meditation and mindfulness practices are so helpful to writers that I went and became a certified meditation instructor myself. I’m here to tell you this: if you think you can’t meditate, you’re wrong. More on this later. I work with the writers I coach to help them develop a strong foundation for a lifelong practice that will see them through writer’s block, the ups and downs of the publishing side of their careers, and any other challenges the writer’s life throws their way. It’s especially helpful for writers who struggle with anxiety and depression, both of which can be exacerbated by the uncertainty of the creative and publishing worlds.
Through my own personal meditation practice (twenty minutes a day), I’ve experienced major shifts in my creative flow. Projects I was crazy-blocked over will suddenly come together. I try to meditate before I write and, because of this, I am much more focused during my writing sessions and can more easily access the flow state. Before, it might have taken me an hour or more to find my groove while I was writing. If I meditate before I sit to work, I can sometimes find that flow in a matter of minutes. If those were the only benefits of meditation, I’d still sign up for life, but that’s only a part of what meditation can do for you as a writer (and a person).
An Emotional and Mental Jedi Mind Trick
Before I started meditating, I’d struggled with severe depression most of my life. It was a challenge to find a medication that worked for me, and my long bouts of particularly bad times were horrible for my writing. I would sit at the computer and just feel lost. A little over five months after meditating, I was able to get off my meds and I felt a mental and emotional clarity that hadn’t been present in my life for a long time.
So how can sitting on a cushion for twenty minutes a day be the best medicine I’d found for lifelong depression? What might help to explain this is to start off with some working definitions of mindfulness and meditation. I really dig meditation czar Jon Kabat-Zinn’s definition of mindfulness:
Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.
Mindfulness is an all-day practice. You can cook mindfully, hang out with your spouse mindfully, and, of course, write mindfully. Basically, mindfulness is the act of being wholly present in every moment. The way to train your mind to do this is meditation. Think of meditation as a ballerina’s barre practice and mindfulness as her performance. In meditation, we train in showing up to the present. We learn how our mind works. We watch it work. Then we put that training to practice when we’re off the cushion.
The meditation I do most days is mindfulness meditation (I throw in loving-kindness meditation on the days I don’t do mindfulness). Mindfulness meditation is simply this: follow your breath. Focus on your breath. If your mind is racing and wandering and doing your taxes (it will, and it always will – the mind’s job is to think), the moment you notice you’re not focusing on the breath is the point of the whole practice. It’s mindfulness: you’re realizing you’ve left your intended focus. This is also done non-judgmentally—gently, even. So you’re also practicing kindness to yourself (a skill most of us writers could use after years of beating up on ourselves, no?). The actual time you’re meditating isn’t anything special. You might feel relaxed, but that’s not the point. You might feel your mind clearing out, but that’s not the point either. The point is to pay attention. Just be. It’s the hardest easy thing to do in the world.
This translates into your everyday life in a million ways. I get less migraines, am less irritable, and am much more aware of my emotions and what’s going on inside me. (For a great practice on working with anxiety and other emotions, you can check out this post I wrote on RAIN, a mindfulness practice that is a total game-changer for humanning). I am more present when I sit down to write, less distracted by the million other things I need to do. I’m nicer. And I’m more aware of what’s going on, both internally and externally. Don’t even get me started on how being able to pay better attention helps in relationships and with the stress of publishing.
You can’t learn meditation from a blog post, so why don’t we do this? Go on over to my sound cloud, where I upload guided meditations for writers, as well as my Mindfulness for Writers podcast. Check out the intro to meditation, a guided meditation for writers that you can do every day if you want. You can also check out the podcast that goes along with it.
You can read more about integrating meditation and mindfulness into your life—and how to start and keep a practice—by checking out my blog, Mindfulness for Writers. I’ll also be teaching a course next month online, so reach out if you’re interested in that. You can also find me on Twitter (@HDemetrios) if you have any meditation questions. And be sure to join my mailing list if you want tips on all things mindfulness for writers. I hope you find this practice as life changing as I have—and I hope it helps you every day you sit down to get your words into the world.
BONUS: Meditation Session
This is a 20-minute guided meditation session in the mindfulness tradition, where we use the breath as our object of meditation. A great intro to new meditators with a nice balance of guiding and silence so that you can build your own practice.