My last blog discussed mindfulness and how to get into the writing zone, where we’re able to write without the distraction of what has been before or what is likely to happen in the future.
This time I’ll highlight other ways we can apply mindfulness in our writing lives.
Be mindful to make writing part of every day. Like a pianist practising scales or an athlete training each day, it is advisable for writers to make writing part of their daily activities. Even if you’re unable to actually engage in the practise of writing for some reason, find some other way to advance your work. You might do research online, conduct an interview, brainstorm an idea or simply write down your thoughts.
Mindfully choose when and where to write. Many writers use Free Writing to clear their minds and help them open up to what is to come. This is sometimes called Stream of Consciousness Writing or Internal Monologue, and instructions for one such exercise can be found in my Writing Exercise – Free Writing Beyond Your Desk. Free Writing is often considered devoid of parameters, and the writing itself can be, however each time we settle to Free Write, we choose the place, subject, perspective, starting point and how long we’ll write. Hence it is within the framework of mindfulness and can benefit from the writer being fully focussed when making these decisions.
Clarify your intention before you begin. What is it you want to write? For whom? Ask yourself what the story/poem is about and jot down a broad answer in just one sentence. Then ask yourself what it is really about… what are the themes/issues that run through the story? The answer here will just be a few words, for example ‘trauma, isolation and courage’. Consider what message in relation to these themes you want to leave with the reader.
By the time you’ve clarified the answers to these questions you’ll have the essence of your intended work, and will also be able to identify the demographic of your intended readership.
This information will assist you to mindfully plan and structure your story/narrative in the most productive way.
Make mindful decisions in relation to research. Doing research isn’t just about numbers and quotes to verify what you write. There is a need to explore further than this… to question yourself about your method. Begin with a clear, focussed mind and ask yourself what research you need to undertake for your project. What research has already been done? What has been written on your subject? Who do you need to interview? What questions will you need to ask? What is the most productive way to collate and compile the results? What connections can you make and what conclusions can be drawn? And so on…
Mindfulness can enrich and expand every aspect of the writing process. Some examples are:
- Characterisation – The clear mind and deeper creative ability that come with mindfulness will enable you to develop authentic characters, appropriate for the role they will play in your story. By asking questions of/about your characters, you will get to know them intimately.
- Writing through the senses – Everything we experience comes through our senses and becomes connected to memory. How often have you been transported to an earlier time/place when you caught a whiff of something or heard a voice behind you? Or… perhaps you saw a pair of aqua jeans the same as you wore when you were seventeen, or you may have seen an advertisement for BEX powders on a run-down building that was once a corner store, and automatically swallowed at the memory of the taste… Tune into the sensations/responses your characters feel – what they hear, smell, taste, see, feel (touch) – through your own sensations/responses and memories surrounding them.
- Dramatisation – Dramatised writing is that which shows the reader what is happening, rather than telling them. Its purpose is to evoke sensations in the reader and make the imagery in your writing more vivid. In the words of Anton Chekov, ‘Don’t tell me the moon is shining, show me the glint of light on broken glass.’
- Dialogue – is a major factor in both characterisation and dramatisation. Be mindful of who your characters are in the particular world you’re writing, so you can step into their shoes and write realistic dialogue. This will allow readers to get to know individual characters and understand their approach to life in given situations. It will also bring your story alive by deepening and expanding scenes.
- Attention to detail – There is great power in precision, especially when it can be utilised to give a sense of place, the ethos of the times and the reactions of characters. The caution here is to use detail sparingly, appropriately and to best advantage. For example, landscape poetry can be boring if it is merely a series of details, but it becomes interesting and experiential if you hold back on straight detail and add other elements such as changing light, seasons, moods, weather, a sense of history, the narrator’s connection to – and/or experience of – it. Sometimes a word, small phrase or one sentence is enough to give a sense of place, the times and the reaction of characters. This line from my forthcoming memoir could have read, ‘I was in the laundry doing the washing when I heard his voice.’ Instead, I added some time-specific details and it became, ‘When I heard his voice at the front door, I was wringing nappies through the rollers on the blue and white Pope washing machine Dad bought from a travelling salesman.’ The image this gives is far more comprehensive and draws the reader into the scene.
Mindfulness is the state of being fully focussed in the present, with full attention on your in-the-moment actions.
Whenever your activities are writing-orientated, consider doing mindfulness exercises before you begin. Techniques such as closed eye processes, attention to breath, and guided imagery can transform your writing.
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