10 tips for mindful writing

October 15th, 2013

How to keep your mind on writing.

Read more. Words are the food of lively writing. Read everything you can get your hands on. Be greedy, but not picky. You never know what will flavor the meal you ultimately cook.

Think less. The kind of writing you want to do does not come from contemplation or analysis, not from self-judgment or second-guessing. It comes by itself when you stare blank-headed at a blank page.

Practice. Writing is a job. Writing is a discipline. A famous author once said that discipline in a writer was overrated. That’s clever, but wrong. Overrating is overrated. Without stopping to judge, just keep going. Everything done well takes practice.

Have no goal. Other than to write. Examine your motivations and be clear. There are easier ways to become famous. Sing, dance, run for high office, make a sex tape. If your goal is to become rich, I have no career advice for you.

Use a net. A butterfly net. Words and phrases will alight in their own time and place, and not always on a keyboard. Keep a pen handy. Journal. Jot in the fog of a mirror or shower door. Catch what comes.

Write for yourself. Write to yourself. Writing for others, to satisfy other people’s opinions and expectations for your writing, is folly. No one is as interested in your work as you are. You are already your worst critic. Now be your number one fan.

Know the reader. Approach your reader with fearlessness. Be honest. Be open. Say everything. Say anything. (Hint: the reader is you.)

Don’t know the reader. The world is vast and wide and does not fit on a Facebook page or Twitter list. Your true reader, like your true friends and fans and followers, is in the real world beyond social media. Let this comfort you, and redirect you to your real work.

Do not confuse talking for writing. Writing about how to write is a waste of time for you and everyone who reads it.

Go back to it. There are no tips for writing, only tips to avoid writing. I apologize.

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  1. Bravo! Couldn’t have said it better. Now I uh, guess I better get to work doing that writing thing.

    Comment by Mary Castillo — March 4, 2010 @ 6:59 pm

  2. Do you actually “write,” i.e. longhand, or type? When I was writing my dissertation, I found that I slogged through the most difficult parts by hand and then transferred them to the computer. There was something, for me, for my thought processes, about the slow process of handwriting. I still write by hand in my journal, even if the same incidents are also blogged–but it’s never the same experience or result.

    Comment by J, Connecticut — March 4, 2010 @ 7:04 pm

  3. I love your writing. I was going to ask you how to become my own biggest fan, but something tells me I already know.

    Comment by Sheryl — March 4, 2010 @ 8:14 pm

  4. the last tip. priceless.

    Comment by mb — March 4, 2010 @ 11:20 pm

  5. Make a sex tape, lol. No one’d want to see it.
    Just stopped by to say hello – surely that’s not overrated?
    You already know I’m a fan;)

    Comment by Kaishu — March 5, 2010 @ 3:11 pm

  6. Thanks for the encouraging words. I could never be a writer without being a reader. I loved # 1. I once lived in a town of 800 people. The town library was limited. I read whatever was on the shelf and discovered that was just fine.

    Comment by 6512 and growing — March 6, 2010 @ 3:02 am

  7. I Just read your article The Dharma of Barbies. Brilliant help for what is sure to come.

    Comment by 6512 and growing — March 6, 2010 @ 3:24 am

  8. So, I should put the sex tape on hold?

    Comment by Mama Zen — March 7, 2010 @ 11:40 pm

  9. Brilliant list – I love it!

    Comment by Swirly — March 10, 2010 @ 2:21 am

  10. Thank you so much! this was just what I was searching for.

    Comment by maya — March 10, 2010 @ 2:54 am

  11. This is gorgeous — makes me want to grab a pen!

    Comment by Rebecca in Switzerland — March 10, 2010 @ 7:39 am

  12. I love all these with the exception of “Write for yourself,” though my dislike may have to do with subtleties of interpretation of that or personal spin. My own feeling is that the best writing is in some way an offering to a fellow being, crafted to convey heart to heart, mind to mind. My own best stuff has that feel to me. The writing I hate most feels like ego-explosion.

    Comment by Dave O'Neal — March 10, 2010 @ 7:14 pm

  13. Thank you. I’ve started taking “write for yourself” to heart.

    Comment by Adam — March 29, 2010 @ 11:05 pm

  14. I’m so glad that you wrote that for yourself, and we got a chance to peek at it.

    Comment by Neil — February 5, 2013 @ 3:12 pm

  15. Yes, thank you. All good.

    Comment by Kurt — February 5, 2013 @ 9:32 pm

  16. Ah. The perfect post as I stare two deadlines in the face. Thank you.

    Comment by Alana — February 5, 2013 @ 10:47 pm

  17. Brilliant! Just what I needed to read this morning. xo

    Comment by Jeanine — February 6, 2013 @ 1:38 am

  18. Beautiful. I so needed to read this today. Thank you. xox

    Comment by Lindsey — February 6, 2013 @ 3:43 am

  19. The apology at the end was terrific! I get discouraged when my writing habits don’t match the list of an author I admire. Sometimes, those lists make me feel like maybe if I did #18B, I’d get control of this writing thing. Hah! No matter how much I might try to squish it into what writing right looks like, it oozes out the sides, and becomes something weird and wonderful. I end up with writing, but have no idea how I got there.

    Comment by Dawn Downey — February 6, 2013 @ 7:18 am

  20. I’ve read so much about writing and writers all of which hasn’t made much difference in my own efforts except, I’ve really enjoyed most of it. But then there’s that piece that “sticks”, and that time when someone who’s really walking the walk gives you the gift of clarity and you can “see” as now I see when I read “write for yourself” that all those years after The Artist Way I still do those morning pages like a religion and that sometimes I pick up some pages and I wonder “Wow who wrote that?”and that maybe it’s time to see what will come out of gathering a bunch?? But then anyhow, it has saved a lot of money at the therapist, it is good medicine…….Such a good post!!!! Thank you.

    Comment by Daisy Marshall — March 13, 2013 @ 8:05 pm

  21. Change a word here and there and this is also good advice for the visual artist. Thank you, Karen.

    Comment by Clare — October 16, 2013 @ 3:18 pm

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