How Meditation Can Help Your Writing Career

SAMSUNGI’m a neurotic writer.

Well, I’m basically neurotic overall, but my anxieties tend to come out most strongly in the areas of my life that I feel most passionately about…like writing.

A week or so ago I posted Secrets Your Inner Critic Would Kill to Keep and received such an incredible response from other writers. Many commented that they, too, worried about not being good enough, or struggled with the editing process, or questioned their writing choices. I realized that there are a lot of other writers out there like me. And I thought about the tools I’ve discovered in recent years to help me quiet my mind and dissolve fear.

The number-one, most powerful skill I’ve learned is meditation.

I didn’t start my meditation practice to help my writing. In fact, I had no idea it would impact me creatively at all. I sought out meditation because I used to frequently wake up at 3am with racing thoughts about the state of the universe and everything in it, and needless to say, it was not really conducive to getting a good night’s sleep. I was also attracted to Buddhism because it seemed so quiet, and for most of the past 15 years my life has been very loud and busy.

I started going to Zen meditation sessions at the San Francisco Zen Center, and then when I felt comfortable, I started meditating on my own. At first I tried to meditate for an hour, and when that didn’t work I aimed for 30 minutes. Now, I do 15 minute chunks in the morning and evening. I also skip some days. I am not strict with my meditation practice at all, and yet I still notice significant changes in my thinking patterns.

So what does this have to do with writing?

Meditation cleans out the brain clutter. It gives your mind space and energy to encompass a wider field of consciousness. And writers—as modern-day artists in an online world—need the most spacious field of consciousness they can possibly command.

Practicing meditation can…

Focus Your Creative Eye
Writers are never short on ideas. The difficulty is in picking one and sticking with it. An experienced writer knows that one little idea can stretch into months and years of writing, editing and promoting a book. It’s essential to pick the few solid ideas that you really want to work with long-term, out of the million crowding for attention inside your head.

Meditation trains your mind to let your heart speak up once in a while too. By strengthening your connection to your heart, your intuition will kick in more powerfully than ever before. You’ll get solid gut feelings about which creative ideas you should pursue, and the inner bedrock of spiritual confidence to support the follow-up work on them.

Clear the Path Ahead
Writers these days are constantly questioning. Self-publish or get an agent? Start with short stories or launch a novel? Facebook or LinkedIn or Twitter or all of them? Asking for advice from other writers is sometimes helpful, but can also add to the confusion. Each person has an individual process that works for them. Part of discovering yourself as a writer in this modern world is figuring out your own unique process.

Meditation teaches you how to slow your mind down. Devoting more time to your thought processes results in more thoughtful choices. The rapid, and often frantic, pace of our online world can pressure us into making choices based on what we think of others in some idealized reality we’ve found somewhere on the internet. But you don’t have to make impulsive decisions stimulated by information overload. By thinking things through slowly and clearly, you take back your power to be a unique human being and find your own way.

Open Your Life to New Opportunities
Every successful writer has one thing in common: They can point to good opportunities in their past that they jumped on, and recognize how those opportunities shaped and fueled their career. Where are your good opportunities and how will you know them when they show up?

By slowing your mind and listening to your heart, you open the door for other little gifts to arrive. Like the re-framing of old perspectives. Regularly practicing meditation enhances your inner vision, and after a while you can “see” the opportunities to be found in new people, relationships, and situations, that you might have missed before.

Meditation practice teaches us about “taking the one seat” as Jack Kornfield calls it in A Path With Heart. This means you imagine yourself sitting in a chair in the middle of an empty room. People come in and out of the room, conversations happen, maybe someone opens the window, maybe someone crawls through it. Many things happen and catch our attention, but we remain seated, watching and observing and true to ourselves. If we apply this clear thoughtful energy to our writing life and our writing career the whole process becomes less overwhelming, more interesting, and a lot more fun.

You can look into going to practice sessions if you have a nearby Zen Center in your area, or you can Google “Zen Meditation” or “Zazen” to learn how to do it on your own at home. You don’t have to know what you’re doing, you don’t have to be religious in any way, and you don’t have to do it perfectly to start practicing and seeing results.

Take your one seat, open your heart, and grow your writing life.

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  • Reply christophermwilt 9 July, 2013 at 9:12 am

    Just out of curiosity, what are the names of your books and where are they available?

    • Reply 9 July, 2013 at 9:31 am

      Not published yet! I’ve been querying agents for the last few months and have recently begun checking out indie publishers. I also have many writer friends who are self-publishing and having an excellent experience, so perhaps I’ll end up going that way? But so far my books are only available on my computer desktop 🙂

  • Reply S Earl 9 July, 2013 at 9:12 am

    Excellent post! Touched very close to home. Years ago, I had a goal of learning more about Buddhism and I went to a book store (remember those?). I went to the religious section and browsed a bit, but found nothing on Buddhism. So I switched to a secondary goal of studying a little bit of philosophy and when I got to that section I found all the books on Buddhism. It was truly an Aha! moment for me.

    My metaphor for meditation is the Train of Thoughts. Thoughts fly through our consciousness like cars on a never-ending train. We can focus our minds on one of the cars for a time, or sometimes we experience them fleeting along one after the other. In between each car/thought, however, is a tiny space of. . . no car/thought. When we meditate, we learn to experience that space between.

    I haven’t set aside any meditation time in quite a while and I think I should. Thank you for this reminder.

    • Reply 9 July, 2013 at 9:33 am

      I love the Train of Thoughts metaphor! It makes me realize that when each thought (or train car) is in front of us it seems so important but then–whoosh! It’s gone and flying down the tracks and here come so many more cars.

      Your comment also got me itching to visit some of my favorite little bookstores. I think I’ll do that this weekend and indulge in a delicious couple hours of browsing. Thank you!

  • Reply Christy Birmingham 9 July, 2013 at 9:16 am

    Thanks for sharing such useful tips! So true that we can wake up early morning with inspiration for our writing…

  • Reply Alex 9 July, 2013 at 9:17 am

    I barely got through reading this because my mind is zinging all over the place! Excellent advice. I think I’ll have to add some meditation to my morning routine.

    • Reply 9 July, 2013 at 9:34 am

      That’s awesome! I love the mind-zinging feeling. Good luck with the meditation. I’ve found it to be quite hard work but also quite worth it!

  • Reply heirloomltd 9 July, 2013 at 9:38 am

    Another great post, Lauren. I have tried several times to start a daily meditation practice, but I haven’t been able to get into a regular habit. I love the idea of using meditation to clear my mind and to help me focus on “a few solid ideas.”

    • Reply 9 July, 2013 at 9:46 am

      I struggle with it too, that’s why I’ve used the routine of 15 minutes in the morning and another 15 at night. It makes it seem much less overwhelming with a busy schedule. Thanks so much for reading and good luck with the practice!

  • Reply Susan Bahr 9 July, 2013 at 11:42 am

    Writers are such fickle creatures – we’re carried off in storms of self-doubt and leap to comparisons with all the big names. Or is that just me? I love the idea of meditation – self-centering is a great way to focus on what you can change and learn to tune out the stuff you can’t.

  • Reply matrixilluminos 9 July, 2013 at 12:55 pm

    I wish you the best of luck in publishing, and you are so right-on. As S Earl mentioned in the comment above, it is catching the “in-between” spaces that the magic comes out of, too:)

  • Reply Subtlekate 9 July, 2013 at 10:13 pm

    These are wonderful points. Thank you very much.

  • Reply loamievanrhyn 9 July, 2013 at 11:32 pm

    Reblogged this on paperbackactress.

  • Reply greenmackenzie 10 July, 2013 at 3:48 pm

    What a deliciously honest post….and meditation is such a wonderful life skill I swear they should be teaching it in schools. I find it great for creativity too, and really notice when I skip a few days practice 🙂

  • Reply The Heart-Rose Meditation | this time - this space 10 July, 2013 at 7:34 pm

    […] How Meditation Can Help Your Writing Career ( […]

  • Reply andrewknighton 11 July, 2013 at 12:54 am

    That’s a really interesting perspective. I’ve also been thinking about giving meditation a go for non-writing reasons – the possibility that it might help with my writing may give me the extra nudge I need, so thanks.

    • Reply 11 July, 2013 at 9:15 am

      You’re very welcome. I find meditation quite challenging, but I always feel better for the rest of the day when I do it.

  • Reply aaremo 11 July, 2013 at 11:51 am

    Great blog! I’ve been meditating for years and found it totally invaluable on so many levels – in terms of keeping my mind reasonably (!) balanced and sane, and also creatively…I’m convinced inspiration comes from the silent gap between thoughts and not from the actual thoughts themselves. S p a c e….bliss.

  • Reply writeinpeace583 12 July, 2013 at 7:22 pm

    Reblogged this on coyotesmuse and commented:
    Great post on meditation and how it can influence the writer and her/his writing from Lauren Sapala’s writecity blog….

  • Reply heartflow2013 13 July, 2013 at 5:25 pm

    Very good article! Cheers! tomas ☼

  • Reply Heart Rose Meditation Redux | this time - this space 13 July, 2013 at 8:21 pm

    […] How Meditation Can Help Your Writing Career ( […]

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