As part of my academic life, I recently attended a wonderful presentation about “Mindful Learning.” My initial expectation was that this would be another talk about how to teach, primarily centered on pedagogy and research methods. But as the speaker began his discussion, I was delighted. What he spoke about had great significance to teaching, but also on how to live your life. And yes, on how to write.
If you’re interested in a full discourse on mindful learning, the presenter gave us some great resources about the topic, including the highly recommended book called Mindful Learning by Drs. Craig Hassed and Richard Chambers. As a sampling, here are three of the bigger points that I took away from his presentation on mindful learning:
Mindful learning is a way to increase attention to and engagement with our surroundings. Maybe it’s simply by paying attention to the scenery during your drive into work or to the feel of the steam on your face when you take that first sip of tea in the morning. By using our full senses to engage with our surroundings, we immerse ourselves in the experience, and those experiences become much more memorable.
Mindful learning can greatly reduce stress by blocking out stimuli that competes for our attention. In today’s socialized structure, our attentions are drawn to many competing activities that draw from our focus. Developing personal strategies for managing those stimuli and potential sources of distraction is essential.
Mindful learning is a way to get past surface understanding and ultimately achieve deep understanding. True mindfulness means going beyond what you “need to know.” Being able to make connections and apply what you know to real-world situations requires experience, exposure, and practice. Above all, keep practicing!
As the presenter went on, he asked us whether anyone could think of ways in which we already apply mindfulness in our lives. Ooh, Me Me! I immediately thought of all of the connections to writing, but I did not actually raise my hand and jump up and down in my seat, as I wanted to sit and reflect upon these things some more. I did approach the presenter after his talk to share my thoughts, and he enthusiastically agreed that writing allows for an excellent chance to be mindful.
My thoughts about mindfulness and writing.
Mindful writing is a way to increase awareness and engagement with your story. Writing mindfully means allowing yourself to sink deeply into a character’s mind so that you truly understand their needs, hopes, fears, and motivations. To do your characters justice, you must tap into their voices and tell their story in a way that makes your reader care. I’ve personally found that meditation exercises or engaging in a directed visualization exercise for writers can help access various aspects of my story, whether it be for world-building, characterization, dialogue, or plotting.
Mindful writing can greatly reduce pressure by blocking out stimuli that competes for our attention. Mindfulness requires focus. What’s that, you say? Avoiding distraction is impossible due to the many demands which may or may not involve writing with children underfoot or writing while on-the-go? Take baby steps, my friends. Maybe blocking out stimuli may start turning off your Wi-fi or stepping away from social media. Or if that’s too frightening of a prospect, limiting yourself to a time period at the end of the day to catch up on your social networks. Or making sure you have your headphones to connect to your characters via a writing playlist. Or escaping to a cabin in the mountains. (Hey, anything is possible, right? Writing retreats are wonderful. Here’s a post on how to plan a dreamy one.)
Mindful writing is a way to get past surface understanding and ultimately achieve deep understanding with your craft. Gaining a deeper understanding of the writing process means seeking new ways to immerse yourself in the craft. A good critique group can teach you how to critically and constructively evaluate writing (and I have learned much about writing by reading the stories produced by my talented group). Reading just the right book about craft can light the fire under you if you happen to be low in motivation or inspiration. Attending writing conferences can expose you to new techniques, experiences, and opportunities to interact with other writers. ABOVE ALL, KEEP WRITING!
What are the ways that you have been mindful with your writing?
Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both urban fantasy and contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of YA urban fantasies MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, THE ETERNAL, and NA contemporary romance LOSING ENOUGH. You can find out more about her at www.helenboswell.com.