Published Work

Discovering a Best Writing Practice

I find that if I’m too relaxed in my chair, slouching or sinking down, I automatically enter a relaxed state of mind, a kind of fuzziness that might aid the flexibility of my thoughts but hinder my focus. I want my words sharp and precise, well-chosen and passionate. Despite the stories of famous writers who did most of their writing in bed, I find that a strong posture stimulates stronger writing.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? After all, attorneys don’t deliver their impassioned arguments sitting down. Dancers focus their attention into creating specific body imagery. Even painters – perhaps the closest artistic analog to writers – work with very conscious movements that foster a brain-body connection.

I’m not saying I want to write standing up, but having my feet firmly on the ground, my head in a relaxed yet alert position, and my attention focused as sharply as possible on my words, without distraction, is essential to my best writing. Sometimes I write by hand, scribbling out my first drafts in a journal, and this creates a better brain-body connection for me than typing. I must focus more on the movement of my fingers, on the visceral feeling of the pen gliding on the paper. Even with the distraction of writing in a cafe or other public place – perhaps even more with this distraction forcing my focus closer to my work while providing visual stimulation when I need a kick – writing in a journal connects my self to my words in an immediate way.  I’ve made these words appear on real paper, not as scattered electrons that disappear when the monitor goes off.

I like to set a timer when I write, challenging myself to write for ten minutes without stopping, putting all this focus to a true test. When I feel blocked, I look up to grab a color or movement from around me, putting that into my rough draft. It might even find its way into the final version later.

Try this: Set a timer for ten minutes and just go, let it all your feelings, thoughts, fear, and anxiety go, and write as quickly as possible, not letting your hand off the page. Sometimes you’ll verge into dangerous territory, because when you let it all go your unconscious may explore ideas and memories that make you uncomfortable. It’s okay, write it all down without stopping. You’re training the censor to stay away from your creative process. The more often you practice this, the better you’ll become at generating wonderful surreal juxtapositions of imagery, and at exploring the shadowy underside of subjects, at looking at life completely. As you train yourself to take risks, your mind will begin to just go there by itself.

As long as you have that focus and effort, your writing will flourish. You will know you’re improving as a writer when your mind starts automatically generating more unique and complicated imagery, when you more easily make connections that unify your theme. But this takes practice, good form, and concentration. Consider yourself an athlete. And don’t forget the brain-body connection in terms of health and exercise as well. A good physical exercise routine helps the body grow stronger and stimulates the mind with serotonin and dopamine, so exercising just before a writing session, or as a break in the middle, can really help you focus on creating those sharp words.

For the next three days, try creating variety in your writing routine, and end your writing sessions by journaling about how it felt.

Day One: Exercise just before writing, find a comfortable sitting position with your feet firmly on the floor, and begin and end your writing with a ten-minute freewriting exercise during which you’ll write as much as possible, not worrying about quality, only quantity, using a word of your choice as a prompt. Don’t forget to end by journaling about your experience.

Day Two: Exercise in the middle of your writing routine, preferably taking a break while the writing is really flowing, not when you feel blocked. Your mind will already be full of the imaginary landscapes and characters of your fiction, and the exercise will allow you to see more angles. For posture today, try something new – stand for a while, or sit in a lotus position, write in a journal if you’re used to typing; try something that might help your focus and attention. Again, remember to journal about your writing experience itself.

Day Three: Change your regular writing time (or set a specific time if you don’t have a regular one yet). Now try to do something you enjoyed or found challenging from Day One or Two, but do it longer. Stand for ten minutes while writing, or freewrite for twenty minutes. When you journal about your writing practice at the end of Day Three, settle on a routine that will work for you in the long run, one you can do every day as you focus and develop your craft through mindful practice.

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