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4 Ways Mindfulness Improved My Writing (and 7 Tips to be More Mindful)

Updated: Jun 3

The other day, I was in such a hurry to get out the door that I turned the hallway light on instead of off, and I didn't turn around to fix it. It irked me that I had done that, but I rolled my eyes, blamed it on Mom Brain, and went on with my day. Later that night, I came across the definition of mindfulness, and I became aware of a better way to do things.

"Mindfulness is being aware of the present moment without judgement." - Jon Kabat-Zinn, the "Master of Mindfulness"

If I had been mindful in the hallway earlier that day, I would have known the light was already off and not touched the switch. But instead, I wasted my energy, not only switching it on, but getting mad at myself for doing so.

Before bed that night, I requested five books about mindful parenting at the library. A few days later, I read Mindful Parenting: Simple and Powerful Solutions for Raising Creative, Engaged, Happy Kids in Today's Hectic World, hoping to gain some insight as a mother and a (part-time) teacher of littles. Not only did it show me how helpful mindfulness is as a parent, but it made me happier! (The book also explains how mindfulness can help decrease depression, prevent suicide, lessen stress, and help kids and adults navigate challenging situations.) This particular book dedicates considerable time showing the effectiveness of mindfulness, providing real-life examples and suggesting ideas for children of various ages.

As a stay-at-home-mom, I juggle many tasks, often more than one at a time. But mindfulness tells me to do things one at a time. This means: no talking on the phone while grocery shopping, no checking Facebook while watching the kids, no planning dinner while helping with homework, no listening to Marco Polos while doing the dishes.

"But Kate, how can I accomplish all my tasks if I can't multitask?"

Here's proof that multitasking is not saving you time:

  1. Pull out the stopwatch on your phone.

  2. Time yourself counting from 1 to 26 and then saying the alphabet as fast as you can.

  3. Write down how long it took.

  4. This time, start with 1, and match it to the first letter of the alphabet, ‘a’. Then go to 2, match it with ‘b’, then 3 with ‘c’, until the end of the alphabet (example: "1, a, 2, b, 3, c, 4, e..."), and time yourself.

  5. Write down how long it took.

I bet it took you at least four times longer to do it the second way. Or more.

So why does counting to 26 and reciting the alphabet simultaneously take longer, despite their simplicity? Because multitasking is bullshit.

"But Kate, what does mindfulness have to do with writing?"

Mindfulness has influenced my writing in four significant ways.

1. I'm not afraid to write.

Ever since I've been practicing being mindful and accepting each moment as it comes, I don't fear sitting down at the computer and editing. It is no longer "editing my novel," and is now, "editing this sentence, and the next, and the next..."

2. My characters become mindful.

Somehow in my mindfulness journey, everything I've learned got transferred to my characters! Now that I'm observing each moment of my life, I can see my character's lives in the same way. I'm no longer "digging deeper" to find my characters' feelings. I'm sitting with them, observing their situation and surroundings, going through it all with them. Then I write that.

3. My senses sharpen with each line.

When I'm in a hurry and the dog decides to walk super slow in front of me down the skinny hallway, I watch his legs and his fur and the direction he points his nose. I'm not judging him or getting mad, and I'm seeing things that are right in front of me that I'd never notice if I wasn't being mindful.

Now that's how I notice things in my novel. When my main character is at a park, not only do I feel what my character is feeling, but behind her, I see a group of birds eating a sandwich that had been left at a picnic table. When she's walking from her house by the lake to the local veterinary clinic on Main Street, she doesn't just notice the green of the leaves and the blue of the sky, she notices how the leaves are the same color green as a comfy shirt she used to wear in high school that her ex-boyfriend gave her.

4. I have more time to read.

As Joette Rockow, my college professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee told me, "If you want to be a better writer, read more." I read every night before bed now instead of catching up my tv shows (because I reserve that for "date nights" with my husband instead), and I'm finally getting to my pile of books I want to read that inspire me to write my own.

"But Kate, I'm so busy. How can I be mindful in my day-to-day life?"

Here are seven tips either from the book or from my own experience that may help!

1. Sticky notes.

If I couldn't do more than one thing at a time, then I needed to find a way to get my to-do list out of my head and set aside a time for it. Enter sticky notes!

This is my most helpful tip, especially for things that need to be done on the computer or my phone. When I have something I need to do but I'm doing something else, I put it on a sticky note and stick it to the headboard of my bed. After the kids go to bed and I've gotten ready for bed, I pull a few of those sticky notes off and take care of them. The kids can't bother me, I won't be interrupted by other daily tasks, and most likely my husband will be there so I can bounce ideas off of him. And I can get a bunch of these tasks taken care of in 5 minutes instead of the 30 minutes it would take in the middle of the day while I'm working, cooking, or watching the kids.

I also keep sticky notes on my cupboards for things I need to get done during the day (like buy cat food, call the City to reserve a park for an upcoming party, or work on a DIY project with the kids), but you could also stick them to your computer to knock off some to-do items while you are in the space you can get them done.

The book reminds office jobbers that working while acknowledging incoming emails is multitasking. To help prevent this form of multitasking, a person might set a timer for 30 minutes with a subtle "ding" to signal the end, during which they permit themselves to check emails. Once the time expires, they return to their work and only check emails again at their discretion. Each email interruption activates your flight-fight-freeze response, clouding your frontal cortex! So, stop being bothered and get things done faster.

2. Read a mindfulness book, find a mindful class to attend, follow mindfulness accounts on your socials, or listen to a mindful singer.

If you have kids, check out the book above, but there are plenty of other books available! Use a search engine to find a mindfulness class to attend, and if you have social media, follow mindful hashtags or get notifications from accounts that offer mindful tips that resonate with you. I found that local mindful businesses or resources are the best. One for me is Maitri Center on Instagram.

For singers, the artist that comes to mind when I think of mindfulness is John Denver. His opening line for Annie's Song, "You fill up my senses like a night in the forest," instantly grounds me, evoking all my senses in an instant. After a Google search, other mindful artists include Owen Pallett, Cleo Sol, Aurora Aksnes, Satsang, Paul Izak, Mike Love, Erykah Badu, Khruangbin, Yin Yin, My Sleeping Karma, If These Trees Could Talk, The War on Drugs, The Helio Sequence, Thievery Corporation, Ray LaMontagne, José Gonzales, Beirut, Sigur Ros, Florence + the Machine, Porter Robinson, EDEN, Nujabes, and Moody Blues. (I haven't confirmed any of these, BTW!)

3. Decide if some activities/tasks in your day can be eliminated.

Here are a few things that I don't spend as much time on:

  • I don't respond to texts or emails as quickly, but people have acknowledged that and conversations/threads just aren't as long. And that's okay!

  • I no longer update my socials for my writer profiles @katepforrwrites as often, but that's because it's not a huge priority right now.

  • I used to watch Star Trek before bed every night and I don't do that anymore, but I now try to watch an episode with the kids when I can.

These things will change over time, but this is what works for me now. What are some things that you could let go of?

4. Cultivate seeds of happiness and peace rather than those of anger and stress.

This sounds simple but can be difficult! But the cool news is, the more we tend to the emotions and feelings we want more of, it's easier for them to grow. In Mindful Parenting: Simple and Powerful Solutions for Raising Creative, Engaged, Happy Kids in Today's Hectic World, the books explains that when we react to problems with anxiety, our brain becomes accustomed to reacting with anxiety. But if we react to problems with mindfulness, our brain gets used to that, too. Here's the excerpt:

"The more often a pathway is used, the easier it is to zoom down it. With repeated use, certain neural pathways in our brain become wrapped in a layer of myelin (a kind of lubrication). This optimizes these pathways, making them more like a broadband cable Internet connection and less like dial-up. The more frequently your brain engages in a particular way, the more likely it is to do so again... And without some changes, that's the way it will stay."

5. Go beyond just listening; become a detective of body language when people speak.

Instead of crafting your response to what someone is saying, observe their body language. Try to figure out what they're feeling as they speak. Let go of the things you were hoping to say. And if you had an amazing response that you forgot, learn to let it go. It may come back to you, but it may not. That's the beauty of mindfulness.

6. Ration time.

I grouped the majority of my tasks into groups that I could set aside a specific time for. These groups are:

  • Writing (my husband and I coordinate weekly)

  • Date nights (kids go to bed a little early on Tuesdays or Wednesdays and we watch a show or movie before bed)

  • Reading (I quit watching shows before bed and read now instead)

  • Meal plan (I do this every Saturday when my husband is home to be with the kids)

  • Computer to-do list (this is where my sticky notes come in and I do them as I can before bed)

7. Allow myself a moment's pause between tasks.

Whenever I change activities or locations, I give myself a moment to let my body adjust to the change. This was suggested in the book and from other mindful teachers and has been calming for me. It is especially helpful when I get into the car. I take a moment to catch my breath after everyone is strapped in, then I visualize my route in my head. Even if I've gone there 100 times, I visualize it and the trip goes smoother every time.

Good luck on your mindfulness journey!

I'd love to hear your own journey, what you've changed, what you've added, what you've given up, any books or accounts that have been helpful, and how your life has shifted overall. There are many people all over the world, probably in your own community, that are mindfulness pioneers!

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