The everyday joy of mindful creative writing
Mindful creative writing doesn’t have to involve meditating on a mountain top with a notebook by your side, or looking out across an Alpine lake, with a pen in one hand and a glass of kombucha in the other.
It’s something you can do in a café or during your lunch break. You can write five words or five pages. All you need to do is start.
Writing in a kind and curious way
According to Philip Cowell, the author of ‘Keeping a Mindful Journal’, mindful creative writing is “writing in the present moment in a kind and curious way”.
“It’s about observing your moment-to-moment experience as it unfolds with kindness and gentleness,” he says. “Instead of judging yourself and your writing, you are curious about where the writing is taking you.”
It might take the form of meditation followed by a writing exercise, or it could simply be writing mindfully in the present moment.
Taking pleasure in small things
“Mindful creative writing can help you enjoy your life more fully,” says Philip. “The writing process encourages you to focus on detail. And the more you do that, the more you increase your happiness and sense of gratitude.”
With this practice, you can create small pools of mindful awareness during your day, which provide an antidote to busyness as well as an opportunity to explore your creativity, without necessarily having an end point in mind.
On the other hand, if you do want to write a poem, blog, memoir or novel, mindful creative writing will help you build your writing muscle. Use it to generate ideas and raw material that you can subsequently shape into a creative writing project.
Try a 10-minute ‘free write’
Where and how to start? If you’re new to this subject, Natalie Goldberg’s book, ‘Writing Down the Bones’, is essential reading. Natalie takes a Zen-style approach to writing practice that is incredibly liberating.
She recommends setting a timer for 10 minutes and just writing. Her rules are: keep your hand moving; don’t cross out; don’t worry about spelling, punctuation or grammar; lose control; don’t think; and go for the jugular.
Take your cue from a writing prompt
Classic Goldberg writing prompts include ‘I remember’, ‘I don’t remember’, ‘I want to write about’ and ‘I don’t want to write about’. Start with these words and keep writing. If you get stuck, write “I don’t know what to write” until something comes to mind.
Philip Cowell suggests using the lists in The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon as starting points. Written over a thousand years ago, the words of this Japanese courtier still spring fresh from the page. Try ‘Things that make me happy’, ‘Things that were good in the past but are useless now’ or ‘Things that are rare / infuriating / elegant / unsuitable / awkward / deeply irritating’.
Start with a random word
Alternatively, trust in chance. “Anything that imposes a random structure on your writing can be useful,” says Elise Valmorbida, an award-winning author who runs workshops on ‘Creative writing and the science of positive psychology’.
“For example, take any book from your bookshelf and use the first noun on the first line of, say, page 38 as your writing prompt. But don’t cheat if you see a cuter word next door! Because you’ve chosen the word at random, fresh ideas will emerge and the writing can take you to some very interesting places.”
Aim for playfulness, not perfectionism
And if you struggle with writer’s block, take inspiration from ‘Bird by Bird’ by Anne Lamott. “Perfectionism will ruin your writing, blocking inventiveness and playfulness and life force,” she says.
Her solution? “Go ahead and make big scrawls and mistakes. Use up lots of paper. We need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here.”
The rhythm of ink on paper
On the subject of paper, this is a good opportunity to step away from our devices. Free from their constant bleeps and pings, we can slip into a different, calmer world where we set the rhythm and pace as we capture our thoughts in ink on paper.
Make it part of your morning routine
As with any practice, the more you make mindful creative writing a regular, natural part of your day, the more you’ll benefit.
In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron advocates writing three pages of stream-of-consciousness thoughts every morning. She says that these ‘morning pages’ are a safe place for us to dump negativity, dodge our internal critic and find inner wisdom.
The mindful creative lunch
Lunchtime is another opportunity for you to enrich your day with mindful creative writing.
“Choose one thing from your plate, such as a tomato,” says Tania Casselle, a writer who runs writing and mindfulness workshops in the US and Europe.
“Take five or ten minutes to eat that tomato. Really slow down and notice its colour and smell, the sound as you bite into it, its taste and texture. Then do a 10-minute free write about your experience.”
“This exercise lets us appreciate the simple moments we usually rush through every day, and helps us cultivate a huge sense of gratitude.”
Walking, noticing, writing
You can apply the same principle to walking, wherever you happen to be.
“Pay attention to your body and find a rhythm between your breath and your steps,” says Tania. “Drop into the present moment, notice where you are on this earth right now and open up to your senses.”
“Afterwards, list five things you noticed. Pick one and do a 10-minute free write about it.”
She concludes: “Dropping out of our preconceived notions of life and coming back to life as it is can bring us a great sense of relief and letting go.”
Rediscover your world
Mindful creative writing offers you the chance to slow down and savour the small things that are waiting to be discovered, every second of every day. With this practice, even a tomato can be a miracle!
How to use walking meditation to still the mind.
Sources / references
‘Keeping a Mindful Journal’ by Philip Cowell, published by Sheldon Mindfulness
‘Writing Down the Bones’ by Natalie Goldberg, published by Shambhala
‘Bird by Bird’ by Anne Lamott, published by Canongate Books Ltd
‘The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon’, published by Penguin Classics
Elise Valmorbida, award-winning author and creative writing teacher who runs workshops on ‘Creative writing and the science of positive psychology’
Tania Casselle, writer and writing coach based in New Mexico who runs writing and mindfulness workshops in the US and Europe
‘The Artist’s Way’ by Julia Cameron, published by Pan Macmillan