Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Writing Mindfully

My brain tends to run very fast (most of the time) and mental multitasking is more than common for me. It's the norm. Even now as I'm writing this, I'm also eavesdropping on two different conversations, thinking about my to-do list for the rest of the day, and mulling over a blog post I just read about the importance of moderating internet comment sections.

In an effort to slow things down in my head, I recently started practicing mindfulness meditation. For those who are unfamiliar, mindfulness meditation is centered on narrowing your concentration down to your existence in the exact present moment. The method I use focuses on following my breathing and quieting the chaos in my head. I acknowledge thoughts as they pop up but don't let them draw my attention away. Eventually they get bored and leave me alone.

One of the effects of this type of meditation is that maintaining a clearer focus becomes easier throughout the day as well. I'm training my brain out of that habit of mental multitasking so I can be more appreciative of things as they happen. I've found that not being constantly distracted by the noise inside my own head has done wonders for my stress levels.

I'm trying to bring some of this mindfulness into my writing now too. I used to write very messily. When the time to write came around, I went in with only the vaguest idea of what I was doing. I'd just splatter words all over the page, dumping all the bits and pieces I'd come up with out of my head. I'd get lost in the process, not truly paying attention but just following whatever plot bunny hopped into my path and hoping that something salvageable came of it.

Writing is a joy for me and I find it very fulfilling. The need to tell stories is a huge part of me. I should be paying attention, appreciating the process as much as I can. And so I'm trying to practice mindfulness while I work, focusing on what I'm doing instead of just throwing a bunch of stuff at the wall to see what sticks.

I set a goal at the beginning of my writing time and I focus on that goal. Sometimes it's a technical goal, like a specific number of words or pages or whatever. Other times it's a more general goal about the work. Block out this fight scene, advance that character's motivation, or develop the relationship there. If I get distracted or find myself wandering off on a tangent, I acknowledge that line of thinking and then gently pull my focus back to the goal.

What I've noticed is that this lessens my anxiety quite a bit. (It's not completely gone, as the Inner Editor pointed out on Monday, but it's a bit more manageable.) My talent never felt quite real before. Impostor syndrome, inferiority complex, whatever you want to call it. If I did manage to find something good mixed in with all that meandering nonsense, it didn't feel like it was good because of something I'd done. It was an accident. I just happened to stumble on it.

Now my projects are mine. For example, I'm getting ready to start submitting "Fishwife", and I'm not terrified of that. Anxious, sure, because it's still a very vulnerable process, but not terrified. I didn't create this story by accident. I created it deliberately. I gave it my best effort. I'm proud of it and I want to share it with others. And even if I never sell it, I think I'll still feel good about it.

At the end of the day, this means more structure and less wild abandon, but it feels like a more peaceful process. Something I can sustain long-term. I've brought my writing back into focus and I find it's more fulfilling now, a stress reliever instead of just another stressor.

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