As writers we are encouraged to pay attention to everything. That snippet of conversation in the supermarket could be great dialogue for our characters; those odd socks worn by the guy in the suit are a character trait; that village we drive through is a brilliant setting; and the way that person strides away from the bus stop after waiting two minutes might be the start of a story idea.
We’re told to write everything down, record those ideas in case they get away from us. Inspiration is everywhere, if only we could capture it. But what happens when this approach becomes too much and it begins to distract us from our current projects? It might well be this attitude that results in many writers never finishing anything – instead starting new ideas and stories based upon the excitement of paying attention to all those possibilities out there…
Sometimes, it pays to be mindful.
Mindfulness can help ground us in the present moment and is believed to reduce stress and allow us to become aware of subconscious thoughts and feelings that might otherwise go unnoticed. If you’ve read my latest blog post, you’ll know that I’ve been struggling with something akin to ‘Writer’s Block’ that could be referred to as ‘burn out’ when it comes to my writing.
Fortunately, I’ve come across mindfulness before and I’ve been using these techniques to try and identify what it is that is preventing me from focusing on the various projects I’ve planned to submit to different places. It is precisely that pressure that is paralysing me: the panic of trying to get too much done and not being confident I can commit to it. Obvious, perhaps, to an outsider but only apparent to myself when I put aside my own expectations and started to listen to those underlying concerns.
As writers we are expected to be observant, to ponder on the state of humankind and use our imagination to explore the breadth of the experiences we share. Yet, we often forget that, on occasion, we just need to be ourselves and give ourselves permission to rest for a moment and revel in our own wonder. Sometimes the creative pressures can overwhelm us and, as a result, we become ignorant to even our own basic needs.
So, I encourage you to try one of these techniques, or explore mindfulness for yourself (http://bemindful.co.uk/ is a good wesbite to begin with) as a means to increase your own wellbeing and allow yourself a few moments of everyday to concentrate on you.
Concentrate on your breathing
Take a deep breath in, paying attention to the air you intake through either your nose or mouth. Feel it travel into your lungs and then slowly breath out again. If you’re breathing is deep you should notice your stomach moving as your diaphragm extends and contracts. Put a hand over your tummy to see if you can feel this and feel the rise and fall of each breath.
When thoughts bubble to the surface of your mind (which they will), acknowledge them and then push them away. You can either visualise them being swept out of your mind, put them in a box for later or even breathe them out on your next breath. Just don’t concentrate on holding them in your mind, the point is to focus on your breathing and nothing else.
Use this technique when you’re feeling overwhelmed and just want a few minutes to yourself. It’s great to clear the mind and to refresh mental acuity.
Listen to your home
Sit quietly and comfortably in your favourite chair. Close your eyes and just listen. Do you notice the pipes creaking? Can you hear the birds tweeting outside? Is that the neighbours T.V.? Concentrate on all the sounds that you usually ignore.
Again, when thoughts begin to penetrate through the sounds, acknowledge and refocus. Even if you suddenly realise the solution to that plot hole you’ve dug yourself into, trust that your mind will bring it back to you and re-establish that you’re just listening for the moment.
This is useful when you need to centre yourself and empty your mind. Focusing on the things you usually don’t pay attention to can often push out all of the other concerns.
See where your thoughts take you…
Get comfortable and close your eyes, focusing on the thoughts that come in and out of your mind. Don’t try to hold onto them, just see how one leads onto another. You might start off thinking about that character in your story, but after a few minutes you might have somehow moved on to the household chores that need doing. Let your mind wander and be aware of how you move from one thought to the next. Don’t try to capture them, just move from one to the next in a relaxed fashion and enjoy the process.
This could help identify just how much your mind is concentrating on a myriad of different things and is also a good starting point for those who just can’t stand to ignore their thoughts as previously suggested!
I’d love to hear if you’ve tried mindfulness practice before, or even if you attempt it for the first time after reading this post. Does it help you, how do you approach a period of creative overload? Let me know in comments, or tweet me.