Where is your mind when you write?
We immediately think that our mind is far away. Away with the fairies. Gone to another world. The world of the story. Our mind is inside the thoughts, feelings and emotions of the characters. Inside another mind.
Have you ever begun to write and realised you’ve been just staring at a blank page for an hour or more? Your mind may have started out in the story, but it was enjoying the sights without noting them down. The it went off all together. Dreaming, scheming and worrying about anything and everything, as minds do. There might even be some words on the page, but they aren’t good ones.
To write well our mind needs to be right here, present and correct in the moment. Because it’s only in the here and now that it can focus on the task of writing itself. All the techniques that help shape good writing – sharp sentences, focussed paragraphs, well turned scenes, insightful narration – all need you to be focussed in the here and now even while you are also inhabiting the story.
Being present in the moment is often called mindfulness. To be mindful of what our senses are showing us moment by moment. Not hanging on to memories of what just happened, or imaging what might happen next. The more mindful you are of the present in fact, the more space you leave for the story, because the less your mind is cluttered with all kinds of other thoughts.
Mindfulness is a habit. You cultivate it by doing it. Lots of people today and through history use meditation to cultivate mindfulness. But that’s a long process, and I tempted you here with a “How to” statement that shouldn’t culminate in me telling you to go and read Jack Kornfeld.
Before you begin to write, set a timer for five minutes. Spend the five minutes mentally listing everything you see, hear, smell, touch, think or feel. If you hear a siren, add “Siren” to your list. If you feel hot add “Hot” to your list. If you start to worry about a work task make a note “Worrying About Work”. You can make the list on paper, or when you get good just make a mental list. The point isn’t the list. It’s that while you are making the list, you have to be mindful of your present, moment by moment as it happens.
For every hour you write, spend five minutes being mindful of the present. Often you will find the other 55 minutes become many times more productive. Try it out, and let me know how it works for you.