The Flame in My Head: How Sensory Awareness Helps With Writing

There’s exactly one month left of my summer break *cue violins,* and I’ve been trying very hard to be mindful of my everyday experiences and with my writing. I’ve had fair to moderate success with this. Last spring, I attended a lecture on the art of mindful learning (in a nutshell, this is a way to be more engaged with one’s surroundings and experiences) and from that I began thinking about how to apply this to writing. But with summer break, kids, day trips, and all of the constant activities, being mindful has been more of a challenge than I anticipated. However, I have come away with certain (small) accomplishments, or at least some things I now know need to be my focal points. In particular, being aware of my own sensory experiences has been extremely helpful. Here are some of the take-home points from my rather bumpy journey thus far:
Seeking Quiet (or Dark Slide) Moments. This summer, I spent numerous afternoons with my kids at our local aquatic center, and WOW. Talk about overstimulation. Crowds, echoing, screaming, splashing, whistles blowing, and loud, loud, LOUD. After several weeks, my youngest son asked if I would go down the large tube slide, and as he was being brave about it, I said sure, trudged up the six flights, and went down the slide. The journey down that slide was less than a minute long, but it was less than a minute of darkness and quiet and solitude that was extreme in comparison to that world just outside that slide. In those fifty-or-so seconds, I had a minor story epiphany. I went down the slide about 6 more times that day to firm up the story idea in my head before I went home and wrote it down. And I always go down the slide now, and sometimes I get another story idea. (Methinks the slide is magical.)
Recognizing the Overstimulated Version of You. When I’m overstimulated, I get this crackly pressure behind my eyes that scatters my thoughts and inhibits my creativity. I call this feeling the “flame in my head.”  Maybe it’s my reaction to the collective emotions that often run rampant on social media. Maybe it’s because I’ve had an overwhelming or stressful day for other reasons. Whatever the reason, and whenever possible, I try to unplug from the source of this overstimulation (e.g., turning off the internet or hiding out in my room for twenty minutes or going out for a smoothie or going down that wonderfully dark tube slide). This is not to say that I don’t find equal value in venturing out into that busy, crazy world and keeping up on happenings. Sometimes I’ll even peruse social media (FB more likely than Twitter) and stumble across an article that inspires me for writing-related purposes. Perhaps I’ll find an image that serves as character inspiration or a post that reminds me of a character’s struggle, and then I’m eternally grateful for finding it. Like anything, it’s all about attempting balance — seeking out stimulation or inspiration without getting too much. 
Capturing Emotions of the Moment. I’ve started paying more attention to how interactions make me feel. This is actually a thought that came about in part by a conversation about kids (and how hard it is to raise them) that I had with my awesome CP Megan Paasch a while back. Babies express themselves by smiling, cooing, and crying, but learning how to express your feelings in words is a learned practice. When my sons get their feelings hurt, I now try to get them to explain in words how the other person made them feel. I’ve experimented with this too, trying to describe my own emotions from simple things like seeing an old friend for the first time in a long time, or my feelings after I have an awkward encounter with someone (it happens a lot). This practice has been helpful for me in expressing those same feelings for my characters. This is just an example of something I wrote on the fly based on one of those awkward moments:
She skips into the coffeeshop wearing a flowing green dress, her presence much larger than her five-foot-two. Eager brown eyes sweep through the crowded sitting area, and a grin flashes on her face as she waves at me. Do I know her? I chance it, lifting my hand and waving back, only to watch her walk past me and hug the person behind me. If I adjust my headphones immediately, maybe no one will notice the burn creeping into my cheeks. But a momentary lull in conversation is like a spotlight shining down on me, and I wish I could sink into the floor.
Being mindful about your own needs and your emotions takes practice, but I’ve found this venture to be worthwhile for writing-related purposes. It also comes in handy for overall emotional health, or when you need to quash the flame in your head.

How do you cope with overstimulation? What are ways you can work on being mindful? 
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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 the urban fantasies MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, THE ETERNAL, and contemporary romance LOSING ENOUGH and SCARS RUN DEEP (coming soon). You can find out more about her at www.helenboswell.com.

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