Meditation can be a healthy and productive method for overcoming writer's block. Here, Dr. Julie Rosenberg walks you through the steps for meditating your way through that creative slump.
Every writer has, at one time or another, confronted the dreaded literary foe that is writer’s block. You’re clipping as usual until one day you sit down and: nothing. Your mind is blank.
As any writer knows, It’s far from easy to write creatively and with inspiration on a regular day. Some days, it is a losing battle just to stay focused and on task. Writer’s block makes all of that worse. Your mind wanders from the moment you sit down. You lose focus as thoughts pop up about past mistakes or envision future challenges. You can’t stop worrying about your ongoing to-do list. Before you know it, several hours can pass with your page still as blank as it was when you started. We’ve all been there with writer’s block—and modern technology only exacerbates the problem, as we have infinitely more ways to digitally distract ourselves.
Writer’s block is not only frustrating, but it can also be a major roadblock on the path to success. It’s a time, too, when our inner-critic takes over, which can also lead to self-criticism and self-sabotage—not exactly a recipe for creative output.
There are many suggestions out there about how to overcome writer’s block—taking a walk, changing your environment, taking a break, free-writing—but my secret to successfully overcoming the challenge of writer’s block is meditation.
I dealt with writer’s block while writing my first book, Beyond the Mat: Achieve Focus, Presence and Enlightened Leadership Through the Principles and Practice of Yoga. I have a full-time job as a pharmaceutical executive, a family, friends, and several hobbies other than writing, which means there is a lot on my mind most of the time. And that’s where meditation comes in.
All of us have continual mind chatter—about jobs and responsibilities and social commitments and that ever-present to-do list—which makes it challenging to focus on writing. In meditation, the goal is to focus our attention on our breath or a mantra. Thoughts will intrude, but we are able to let them pass rather than indulge them. In so doing, we learn to tame our mind chatter.
A short daily meditation practice won’t work miracles, but it will help to discipline your mind. This will lead to better focus, concentration, creativity and productivity, which is what you need to write with greater ease, confidence, and clarity. With a consistent meditation practice, it will become easier for you to get “in the zone” so that your full attention is focused on the task at hand; your writing will seem effortless and your words will flow with ease. In these states of flow, I have found my writing itself to be a form of meditation. I can write for hours on end, and time seems to stand still.
Here are six easy steps to get you started on a meditation practice:
Turn off your cell phone, shut down your computer, clear the papers off your desk, and give yourself a few moments of quiet. (Even if you only achieve this step, you’ll feel an immediate physical impact: your brain activity will almost instantly be less frenzied.)
2. Find a comfortable seated position in a quiet place.
Find a comfortable yet firm chair or cushion and sit upright with a straight spine and your chin level to the floor. Don’t stiffen your back; your spine has a normal curvature, so let that curve exist. Relax your shoulders away from your ears. Position your upper arms parallel to your upper body, with the palms of your hands on your legs.
3. Set a meditation timer for 3 to 5 minutes; you may gradually increase time in meditation to 15-20 minutes. (Note: More time may not be required to ensure a positive result).
There are a number of meditation apps that can be downloaded to assist you with this process. Another option, especially for those more experienced in meditation, is to use guided meditation techniques where you listen to CDs or podcasts, typically for 15 to 30 minutes. (And don’t distract yourself by spending too much time researching the “best” option. Just do it!) You can also keep it simple and just use a kitchen timer.
4. Focus on your breathing.
Start your timer. Gently close or hood your eyes. Breathing through your nose, observe the in-and-out of your breath. You may want to repeat the words “inhale” and “exhale” silently to yourself as you take each breath. You can also use a mantra, a phrase that you repeat during the meditation. For example, on the inhale say, “I am” and on the exhale say, “a great writer” (or something similar of your own choosing). Be patient and try to observe your thoughts without reacting to them. When your mind wanders (and it will), return to your breath or mantra, over and over again, without judgment or expectation.
5. Gently lift your gaze or open your eyes.
Take a moment to notice how your body feels and observe your thoughts and emotions. Has there been a shift? Perhaps write a few notes about how you feel in your journal so that you can return to them later and see how far you’ve come.
6. Preserve your post-meditation state.
Stay in the zone and begin writing as soon as possible after your daily meditation.
Remember: Meditation is a practice. It is like training any other muscle—you need to keep at it for it to work. You should aim to practice every day, but your time in meditation needn’t be overly lengthy or long—even just a few minutes per day. While there is no “magic formula,” you may begin to notice the benefits of your practice within a few days, which will keep you motivated to continue. Invariably, you will miss a day or two. Don’t worry about it; just forgive yourself and meditate the next day. Before you know it, you will have trained your brain to combat the dreaded writer’s block and begun a short daily meditation practice with the power to truly unleash your writing potential.
Julie Rosenberg, MD is a physician executive and experienced healthcare leader who oversees global drug development programs in the pharmaceutical industry. In addition, Julie has devoted the last 15 years to the in-depth study and practice of yoga. She received her advanced teaching certification from Down Under Yoga in Boston in 2015. She teaches yoga primarily “beyond the mat,” helping individuals and groups to apply the principles and practice of yoga to their daily lives. In 2017, she was selected by Number 1 executive coach and leadership thinker Marshall Goldsmith from among 16,000 applicants as one of the MG 100 coaches. Her first book—Beyond the Mat: Achieve Focus, Presence, and Enlightened Leadership Through the Principles and Practice of Yoga—is published by Da Capo/Hachette Books. For more information, find her on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, or visit her at www.julierosenbergmd.com.
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