Zen Power Writing: 15 Tips on How to Generate Ideas and Write with Ease

By Mary Jaksch of GoodlifeZen.

Do you ever sit down to write a blog post, article or chapter and nothing, but nothing appears in your mind? This is the dreaded ‘writer’s block’. The good new is that if you use the following 15 tips, you will generate more ideas than you need, love the writing process, and never ever get stuck.

I find that some Zen meditation techniques enhance my writing. Most of the problems that arise in the writing process happen when our mind is at war with itself. At those times our creative energy is scattered, instead of being focused in one steady beam.

As writers, we suffer from a split personality. On one side is the Creator who wants to splash wild ideas all over the page and falls in love with every sentence, and on the other side is the Editor who sits there with pursed lips and ticks off the mistakes. It’s really important to keep these two apart! When you’re finding and developing an idea, send the Editor on holiday. When you want to refine what you have written, stuff the Creator into a cage. The first 10 of the following tips will unleash your Creator, the last 5 will give direction to your Editor.

1. Forge your identity. Say, “I am a writer!” Maybe you feel reluctant to say it because you think you’re not good enough? Well, forget about ‘good enough’! A writer writes. Do you write? If yes, then you are a writer. Plaster your home with notices that say, “I am a writer!” Tell people about it. When you next fill in a form, put ‘writer’ as your profession. Thinking of yourself as a writer will boost your confidence and unlock your creativity.

2. Practice fun writing. If you only write to produce something important, your creativity can become stunted. It’s important to schedule time for fun writing practice. Maybe you can earmark just 10 minutes a day for fun writing. After all, even a top pianist still practises scales each day! Here is a simple way to practise fun writing: take a blank page and set a timer for 5 minutes. Write for 5 minutes – without stopping. Don’t think about it. Just do it. The first minute may be difficult, but then your creativity will kick in and surprise you.

3. Find inspiration. The right place to look for inspiration is – everywhere! Keep your creative mind on the alert at all times. Let’s imagine that you write a blog about blogging. Here is how you could use your everyday experience as inspiration. You wake up early in the morning: “Why early morning is the best time for writing.” You take a shower: “How to come up with 20 great ideas in the shower.” You have breakfast: “15 reasons why good nutrition can make you a fabulous writer.” You get into your car: “10 important things driving a car can teach you about writing”, and so on. Not all of your ideas will mature into articles because some may be wacky. But wacky is good! Because anything out of the ordinary can trigger your creativity. Check out this great article on how to keep inspiration alive.

4. Use an ‘everything book’. Ideas are elusive. Get a distracting phone-call and you may forget the brainwave that struck you just before. I use an ‘everything book’ to retain and collect ideas. It’s a notebook which I always carry with me. In it, quotes, ideas, and cooking recipes are all jumbled together. Not only does an ‘everything book’ help you grab that great idea before it disappears, it can be a source of inspiration when you read past entries.

5. Develop a swipe file. Another good idea is to keep a swipe file. This is a folder in which you collect interesting copy that you find. It can be a fine source of inspiration. Skellie has written a compelling post about swipe files here.

6. Prepare your mind by meditating. The best ideas come out of silence. Try starting your writing time with 5 minutes of meditation. Just sit upright in silence. Notice your breath and the sensations of your body. Listen to sounds around you. Let thoughts go. Even such a short time of meditation can turbo-charge your creativity and make you feel alive.

7. Brainstorm a title. Brainstorming a title before you start to write a piece can kick-start and channel your creativity. Write down a whole list of ideas without discarding a single one. After all, ideas breed ideas. When you have a rich collection, select one good-enough title to start with. You can refine it later on. You can find inspiration for titles by reading some of the excellent articles on how to craft titles listed here.

8. Lay out the bones of a piece. Once you have the working title, lay out the bones of your piece. For example, if your title says something like ‘20 Tips on How to Write Better Posts’, write down numbers 1 to 20 under each other. This jolts your creativity into action. Your brain now knows that you expect it to come up with 20 subheadings. Set the total length of your piece and divide it by the number of planned sections. For example, if you plan to write a 1000 word piece divided into 20 ‘tips’, then you know that each ‘tip’ should be 50 words long. As you write the piece, check the wordcount of each segment. As soon as you hit the required length, move on to the next one. This is more efficient than writing a lot more than you need and then having to prune your piece drastically.

9. Leave end and beginning to the last. We can get stuck if we start at the beginning. The beginning is supposed to introduce the theme. But at the start of a writing project we may not know exactly what we’re going to say. So, it’s best to write the introduction later on. Once you have completed your first draft, it’s time to add an introduction and a conclusion. The intro can be short but it needs to say why your theme is important, or to outline the benefits that follow from reading your piece. The conclusion should tie it all together.

10. Invite your inner Editor to have a look. Wait until you have finished your draft, then let your Editor have a look a your work. Remember that the first draft doesn’t have to be good. All you need is a certain amount of words on the page with a focus on a particular theme. Now the Editor is going to shape and buff your piece.

11. Check: Does your piece deliver on the title? The first task of the Editor is to check whether the piece actually delivers what the title promises. If not, you need to either tweak the piece or change the title to fit.

12. Check balance and length. Check whether the segments are reasonably even in length. If they are too long, you can split them into two. If they are too short, you can meld them into one. Look the overall wordcount. Is your piece too long? In that case you need to do a hard prune. If your piece is too short, you need to add more material.

13. Edit each sentence. Read your piece out loud, sentence by sentence. Our ear is much more reliable than our eye in this instance. Weigh up each word. Can you cut it? Can you say it better? Rewriting is the crux of good writing. Sometimes it helps to defer this important task to another time. A break allows us to gain necessary distance from our piece.

14. Check grammar and spelling. A good way to check grammar and spelling is to read a piece back to front. Otherwise our eye tends to skip over mistakes without alerting us. You can find an excellent article on the virtue of good spelling here http://www.vigorouswriting.net/2008/04/new-writing-economy-typos-are-okay.html

15. Read your piece out loud. Now your piece is nearly finished. To make sure it is the best it can be, complete two last tasks: print out the piece and then read it out loud. Make sure you have a pen handy. You will notice things you wish to change and can make notes.

Zen Power Writing means writing with a calm and unified mind. Most writing problems are based on brawls between the Creator and the Editor. When you keep these two aspects of writing separate, it will boost your creativity and bring ease to your writing.

Mary Jaksch is Editor-in-Chief at WritetoDone.com and Creator of A-List Blogging. After creating two super-successful blogs of her own, Mary has dedicated herself to teaching students to grow profitable blogs that attract attention. Take her fun quiz to see how much you know about what makes a blog successful.

Photo courtesy of kwerfeldein.

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75 Responses to “Zen Power Writing: 15 Tips on How to Generate Ideas and Write with Ease”

Read below or add a comment...

  1. Sebastian says:

    Splendid post, thank you Mary and Leo.

    I’ll be purchasing my ‘everything book’ tommorow!

  2. Farfield says:

    I like these tips. Most of the things you write seem very obvious, but it’s like this a lot of times: you know about them but bringing them into practice is another thing…
    Thanks for reminding me!

  3. Thanks for the good advice. My blog is brand new, so I can use all the tips I can get.

    I wrote a piece called “Little Buddha Walking” for the launch to my site “Zen-Moments.” It’s a fun and simplified way to meditate, clear your mind, and become more deeply aware. I use it often to see what is really important to me, rather then the usual and useless mind chatter. It may prove useful for other writers. I hope so. Have a look.

    Your point #14 is a good one. Reversing the order does indeed cause the mind to see things fresh. I am also a painter, and I always have a mirror opposite my easel. The reverse image quickly shows any imbalance that my normal focus had gotten accustomed to.

    I also find that switching the article you’re working on, into another editor can cause your mind to see it fresh. Moving from an editor like Darkroom” to “MS Word” or the other way around can work. And if you haven’t tried Darkroom, Google it. It’s a free download. The screen is black, full screen, with green text. It’s a bare-bones, very simple, mentally conducive environment.

    Ciao,
    John

  4. Jesse Hines says:

    Good tips, Mary.

    I especially like the “everything book”–I don’t have one…I’m usually jotting down notes and ideas on my notepad, slivers of paper, napkins, and that sort of thing.

    Having your bits of inspiration written down while they’re still fresh in the mind makes it so much easier to use that inspiration when it comes to use them for a tangible purpose.

  5. Craig says:

    Excellent post.

    Hints “3. Find inspiration,” “4. Use an ‘everything book’,” and “5. Develop a swipe file.” struck chords with me.

    I use an idea book to note down my ideas and “swipe” concepts. I find inspiration nearly everywhere.

    I am always on the lookout for my next article for my writers group and blog.

  6. @John Rocheleau
    Great idea to switch editors! I’ll give ‘Darkroom’ a try. I find even just printing an article out or sending it to myself in the body of an email can change my perception.

    @ Jesse and Sebastian
    “Everything books” are magical. I think it’s because many different ideas jostle together. For example, yesterday I happened to open one of last year’s ‘everything books’ and saw a recipe for salmon quiche next to an idea for a Zen talk. My brain instantly went ‘click’ and produced
    ‘Zen in the Kitchen’ as a new blog post theme.

  7. Great job, Mary. I’m relieved to say I follow almost all this advice, though I struggle with #8. I always write too much and have to cull back. I realize it’s not efficient, but so far it’s a habit I can’t kick. I also tend to write the introduction in a free writing state of mind so that at least I have something. I find it easier when I go back to finish up. Sometimes I end up deleting and starting again, but rarely. There’s usually something good in there.

    As for #14, I think the problem these days is people don’t know grammar to start with. Word usage is a particular problem and I’ve seen this stuffed up on even the most popular blogs. And don’t get me started about spelling…

    Glad to see you here, Mary. i hope you pick up some new readers for your own wonderful blog.
    :) Kelly

  8. Eric says:

    Thanks for the help! it is great to see you are feeling better!!

  9. Mel T says:

    Hi Mary,

    This is a great article. Your post idea “15 reasons why good nutrition can make you a fabulous writer” inspired me to write on a similar topic on my blog today. Thanks!

  10. Cel says:

    This post is chock-full of useful information. And I would like to note that when I practice piano, scales amount to at least 25% of my practice time; they’re important to keep your fingers ‘in shape’, like fun writing does for writing in general.

    My favourite tip is the ninth. If I have a good idea, fussing over a properly scintillating introduction dilutes the spark of inspiration. So starting in the middle is easiest for me; I know what I’m going to do.

  11. Lindsay says:

    I especially like the tip about creating your identity. I need to start calling myself a writer, an editor and a blogger. Sometimes the hardest person to convince is myself.

  12. Cath Lawson says:

    I was just about to say well done Leo, then I saw that it was you that it was you that had written this Mary. You have some excellent advice here.

    Reading out loud works well for me too. It really helps you to see what flows and what doesn’t.

    I love the idea of leaving the end and beginning until last too. It makes it far easier to start, if you don’t have to start at the beginning. I just went on a course and they said to pretend your story is a carousel and you can jump on at any point. You can even try to jump on at a couple of different points to see what works. And that works well too, because the beginning isn’t always where you expect it to be either.

  13. kerri says:

    hi ,
    great article. i’d like to read the link you put w/ your #3 but it doesn’t work. you might wanna take a look…

    thank!

  14. WriteWayUp says:

    Wow, this post took me on an hour-long roam across the internet. Fabulous, rich piece, thank you!

    Anita

  15. Jordan Cheng says:

    Thanks for the great post!

    Very practical and effective ideas that cover both aspects of creating and editing.

    Keep it up,

    Jordan Cheng

  16. Neil Simpson says:

    Interesting post…

    I also find using a pack of post its a really useful way of getting ideas out, without worrying if I am getting them out in the correct or most useful order.

    I jot the random ideas out on individual post its and stick them on my wall. I can then make sense of them and re-order them later.

    Much less pressure

    Many thanks

    Neil

  17. Kery Dexter says:

    the best ideas come out of silence

    indeed. both exteriror and interior silence, though it’s a useful thing to practice interior silence when exterior surroundings may not be so quiet.
    my writing is about music, and the place of silence in creation is as important to music as is the place of sound.
    thanks for the post.

  18. And just when I was wondering if this blog was dead!

    Any writer who has worked as a staffer producing several articles a week knows the value of an idea file – it’s a demanding pace to keep up with. I sometimes envy those writers who have subs that give assignments, but I still much prefer the privilege of choice in my own position.

  19. Jenny says:

    Great tips. :) I’ll be sure to try them next time I sit down to write.

  20. A great article – so many helpful tips. I will certainly be trying them on a regular basis. Step 3 about ‘Finding Inspiration’ will be one I use a lot!

  21. Patricia says:

    I always have to read my piece aloud and then I sometimes get inspired to try my suggestions on another way. My post today was about using my humor to achieve success and I find it helps me lighten up in so many good ways.
    At exercise class, I put the numbers down the attendance sheet and that seems to wake up my brain as does counting laps when I swim and often when I get done with my exercise and am getting dressed an idea will come pressing into my mind and I will need to write.
    What a nice piece and very inspiring to me and reassuring that I am doing and practicing some good skill building techniques. Thank you

  22. Joey says:

    Random question: can anyone tell me where that picture (at the top of the post) is from? I love the tension in it.

  23. Reading it outloud before publishing is a great piece of advice. I wish I would follow it more often.

  24. Patricia says:

    I am not getting folks to make comments on my blog site and am wondering if someone has some more suggestions in that direction. Most of my readers just don’t know how to do Blogs! or they want me to teach them how to do it – I am just learning myself so some suggestions to help us all would be marvelous. I think there is a powerful group of folks who would like to be heard in the over 55 age group and they are just discovering blogs and gaining voice. I believe I have a great niche, but am not sure how to tap into it….

  25. Ellen Moore says:

    Great tips! The “everything book” is a godde-send. I have a medium size Moleskine to capture the great ideas that evaporate without being recorded. It’s actually inspiring me to come up with article ideas, ahd remember snippets and quotations I want to remember. It’s even making me do rough sketches, which I haven’t done in years. With its elastic strap and back pocked and lying so flat–I don’t know how I managed without an everything book all this time.

    Thanks for the tips.-

  26. Navjot Singh says:

    Excellent Post…Mary…I do have a everything book but its too big for me to carry everywhere. I will get hold of a smaller version. Your ideas are excellent. I really need to practice a bit of meditation.

  27. What a way to start the day! I was torn between getting into writing and finishing your article. I made myself sit and keep reading, but I’m rearing to go now, and will come back to read this again.

    The Inner Editor and Creator is a perfect expression of the dilemma of writing – and understanding brings freedom.

    Thank you!

  28. krissy knox says:

    I have an everything book. It took me awhile to think of it. It wasn’t until I had all these posts floating around in my head, and I realized I needed to post them in some kind of timely order, that I began jotting them down. I even schedule the posts for certain days now, now that I have so many posts planned beforehand! This ensures that I don’t leave anything out on any particular day.

    So the “everything book ensures that I don’t forget a particular topic/post. I suggest everybody get one, so that important ideas/posts/events/memories don’t slip from your mind forever. You’ll be glad you did. It is also less stressful if you work this way — you’ll find yourself less stressed because you won’t have to walk around with posts in your head, extra clutter, trying to hold on to what it is you are trying to remember. That’s just not conducive to good mental nor physical health.

    Thanks for the entry!

    Krissy :) http://sometimesithink-krissy.blogspot.com

  29. axel g says:

    Yes, by keeping it fun the creative process is taken to a new level.

    Great ideas +_+

  30. youtube says:

    ty man nice to you homepage

  31. No. 15 — Makes my wife look at me when I’m reading at night!

  32. Great Article.. very informative and insightful tips.

    Thanks for sharing

    Regards
    Shabbar Suterwala
    Corporate Soft Skills Trainer

  33. avril says:

    I like to read always your article. you did good.http://moneymakemachine.blogspot.com

  34. Great… Mary

    I’m a new blogger to be! and also writing my first book, and what you said is what i was looking for, it seems very applicable and useful.

    Funny enough I started applying No.1 a while back so when I read it here it was deja vu for me… if the readers want to take one key element of your article, it is No.1 that I strongly recommend.

    I will let you know how the implementation went and what results I got…

    Have a great day

    Hussein Hallak
    Writer
    http://www.husseinhallak.com
    http://www.thegreatnessjournal.com

  35. Hi Mary,

    Splended post! Very, very timely for me! I just commented on your post on how to avoid being a boring writer and asked you how as a blogger you constantly come up with ideas. I wrote my first blog post ever last week and was stuck trying to write my second one.

    “Your mind being at war” is so true for me, and not just between the “Creator” and “Editor”, but just thinking of all the things you must get done. My husband actually just said to me this morning “Go medidate” as I was frowning intensely at my monitor while giving orders to my kids. (Yes, I work from a home office)

    I love your tips on brainstorming a title, practising fun writing, dividing up your piece before fleshing it out. Lots of very good tips! Will definitely use them in my writing and will keep checking your posts for great tips and ideas! Thanks Mary.

  36. Very useful, thank you.

  37. dizi izle says:

    ty my admin nice pages

  38. In my history of writing, I have often wondered If I am meant to write, why don’t I do it? It beats physical labor (at least in my mind). But the time it takes me to choose to write and actually writing are sometimes far between. This list may just be the start I need.

  39. William says:

    Great basic tips and general information. A road map for me to follower during future writing projects. Thanks for sharing.

  40. loafer says:

    Thanks for the tips on how to deal with the Editor and Creator in me!

  41. Thanks.Good article. Veryy

  42. Des says:

    Thanks for an excellent post. A few of these ideas like the “everything book” I do already, but other like the separation of the creator/editor is a new approach which sounds most useful.

  43. SID says:

    Really inspiring post. I am a beginner freelance writer and was looking for some ideas on freelancing and i came through your article. Really inspiring. And thanks for posting! Actually I’m wondering to employ your ideas on my writing, if you permit.
    Regards, Sid

  44. What a great article and website. I’m just about to undertake the creation of a new blog about cameras and the hardest thing for me is knowing what to write about.

    I truly don’t feel that I’m authoritative enough to write about my chosen subject but I just realised that I have to consider myself as a writer thanks to this article.

    I’ve already come up with more than 20 ideas for my shiny nikon site that will get me off the mark and allow me to keep my message targeted. Thanks ever so much, what a great piece. Amanda

  45. Jane Plass says:

    Great tips and inspiration. Keeping the writer and the editor roles separate is key!

  46. e.lee says:

    thanks for posting
    it is very inspirational

  47. Alzee says:

    As a beginning writer, no, as a writer, your ideas have been really helpful.Tried the fun writing and it is beginning to work also.Thanks

  48. Fabora says:

    How about “think of what experience you want to share with the reader?” shocking? Sad?life inspirating? How did “back to the future” made everyone feel about going back in time….