Mindful Writing (without the wafty bits)

mindful writing

Let’s start with a little disclaimer, shall we?

Although we all love a bit of yoga and nature and witchiness at WHQ, we’re not exactly the most mindful bunch. We’re a little more ragey-sweary-gin-swigging-talking-a-mile-a-minute kinda peeps. And sometimes the whole mindfulness movement makes us eyeroll just a little bit (sometimes it’s really super tricky to be mindful when you have a screaming three-year-old hanging off one leg and deadlines coming out of every orifice and overwhelming existential dread at the state of the world giving you stress zits).

HOWEVER.

We do acknowledge that mindfulness is a very worthwhile concept and certainly has its uses – particularly when you hack it for your writing.

Because sometimes you can’t see the wood for the trees. Wait, flip that: sometimes you can’t see the trees for the wood. Sometimes you’re so concerned with the BIG, OVERARCHING CONCEPT of your story that you forget about the little stuff – the small, personal, seemingly insignificant stuff that makes your writing unique.

So let’s use a bit of mindfulness, reel it in a bit, and focus on the teeny tiny miniscule details for a mo, shall we?

Let’s go MACRO.

Looping gif that zooms in on a flat-nosed cat until its nose becomes a whole new cat.

Because as tempting as it is to go for the BIG themes and HUGE life experiences and SIGNIFICANT moments and ALL THE DRAMA ALL THE TIME, good writing is really about the stuff we DON’T notice.

Observing the little things.

Taking note of the seemingly day to day stuff and bringing it into focus.

Highlighting the human.

Being MINDFUL of everything you do, everything that’s going on around you. And using it as writing-fodder.

So. Today (or not necessarily today – but a day when you’re able to try this exercise out) try keeping a little diary of observations. Keep a notebook to hand, or use a notes app on your phone, or send yourself a bunch of random little emails – whatever works for you.

Be motherflippin’ mindful, all day long.

Really tap into everything you do, no matter how mundane, and see if you can note down as many interesting observations as you can.

Observe all your little routines, tics, habits, foibles:

  • Do you always brush your teeth in the same way?
  • Do you have a silly little conversation with your dog when you let them out to pee in the morning?
  • Do you see the same yellow car pass by every day on your way to work?
  • Do you get antsy if someone else makes your coffee because they never get it the way you like it?

Pay attention to all those mindless tasks you do without thinking:

  • Look for patterns in the bubble bath
  • Listen for a beat in the thump of the washing machine
  • Catalogue the smells, sights and sounds of your commute
  • Separate out the steps of cooking your dinner into unique tasks, each requiring a specific set of skills…

Map your emotions and physical senses throughout the day:

  • Did you wake up on the wrong side of the bed with a cracking headache?
  • When did you feel most chilled out?
  • Most stressed?
  • What made you laugh?
  • What was on your to-do list and how did you feel about it?
  • Is there something you’d rather be doing?
  • Who did you connect with?
Gif of Cameron from Modern Family saying "I need to know details"

Remember: We’re not necessarily looking for Big Meaningful Truths here (though they very may well emerge on their own), we’re simply making a series of mini observations, any or all of which could be transferred into your writing as honest little details that will bring an extra dose of realism to your work.

You may find that some sneaky bit of fundamental human truth will come sashaying in to turn the most innocuous observation into a great big metaphor, and that’s all well and good, but there’s no pressure to make connections, or delve too deep, or consider the mysticism of the universe and what it is to be human.

Today, we simply observe.

Take notes.

Be mindful.

Create a list of senses and moments and potential new ideas.

Wallow in the bottomless sinkhole of human existence and the multitudinous amazing, mundane, varied, ridiculous, touching, scary, weird things all around us …

Chances are some of them will make their way into your writing, one of these days.

Taking a moment to be mindful and harvest little nuggets of life for your writing is a GREAT habit to get into. You don’t have to note EVERYTHING down, obviously – just get used to pausing, observing, and making note of all the little things that other people might skim over.

Because THAT’S what makes fiction so wonderful – seeing something tiny and innocuous but oh so familiar suddenly pop out of the page. It might be a gesture or a tone of voice or an object or a reaction or a sensory detail – it doesn’t matter how commonplace it may be – the trick is to discover your own unique way of seeing the world and translating that into words. And like all writing, it takes practice.

So start today.

Keep an observation diary and see what you notice – and just how many details we miss on a regular basis…

Happy note-taking.

Jo Gatford

Jo Gatford

Jo is a writer who procrastinates about writing by writing about writing. She looks exactly like her avatar.
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