How to Use Mindfulness to Write More with Less Effort

    write more with less effort

    Do you want to write more with less effort?

    Many people don’t realize that their greatest resources for writing, creativity, and motivation lie within them already.

    By practicing Zen techniques of mindfulness and “no-mind” meditation you can actually inspire your inner artist into action without doing much conscious work at all.

    That’s right, almost paradoxically, a state of “no-mind” can produce excellent results in your life in terms of creativity and productivity.

    It seems like a paradox, because in our world we’re often told to think things through, and that hard work requires lots of conscious effort. How about inspiration and true artistic expression? How are these factors synonymous with conscious effort? In fact, I’ve found that simply being still and present in the moment can result in some of the greatest inspirations for writing.

    Do you ever find yourself using the below “mental excuses” when planning a new article or project? In this post, we’ll look at how the Mind can bring up all sorts of excuses that limit and hold us back, and how to practice Mindfulness to re-center and re-energize your creativity.

    1. Analysis paralysis

    During the process of writing do you notice asking yourself questions like “is that the best sentence to open with?” “is there a better way to phrase this paragraph?” “have I written this well enough?” The mind can be a great critic and push you in the right direction, especially when carving out superfluous elements in your writing while sharpening pertinent points. However over-doing it can result in the tendency of over-relying on your mind and undervaluing your heart in the writing process.

    Mindfulness Practice 1 – Let your mind calm down for a moment by taking a long deep breath. Once it stops mentally butting in and critiquing your work, listen to your heart by getting a ‘feel’ for what you are writing, rather than merely analyzing the content.

    2. If…

    Some writers find themselves spending more time on thinking rather than writing! “Hmm, If I had more time, I could…” “If I had more knowledge on the subject I could…” “If I had a better computer I could…” If’s are often the mind’s way of expressing uncertainty, and can be a major roadblock for you in learning to trust yourself and your capabilities.

    Mindfulness Practice 2 – Recognize that “If’s” have their purpose, but just ask yourself if you could let go of the particular “if” for just this moment. By doing so, you begin to let go of the thought of “if” and embrace the present moment. By being mindful and present, mentally-imposed limitations can be distinguished from true limitations much more easily.

    3. The need for perfection

    I used to know someone who would edit his work almost to the point of compulsion, revising draft after draft after draft until every word was perfectly placed in his essay. The need for perfection arises from mental standards, it’s often your mind’s way of saying “this is how things should be for your work to be legitimate, interesting and successful.” Once again, I’d like to stress the point that many writers have been taught to write from their heads, not their hearts, and the latter is where I believe all truly inspired writing originates.

    Mindfulness Practice 3 – Instead of demanding of yourself that your work meet a certain standard, ask yourself “what would I like to write if I could write anything in the world?” Become mindful of where the energy in your mind and body flows to and trust in this experience to connect with your inner voice.

    “A good style should show no signs of effort. What is written should seem a happy accident.” -W. Somerset Maugham, Summing Up, 1938

    4. Being good enough

    Letting your opinion of yourself shape the quality of your writing is something we all do but few of us realize. If someone ever told you that “you are a bad writer” or that your work wasn’t up to scratch, you may have held on to that false belief and carried it with you unconsciously, and now it may come out in elements of your work.

    Personally, in this regard meditation has been the best tool I have ever come across for writing, rather than conducting psychotherapy or self-analysis I simply take myself out of the picture when writing and let the writing partake in it’s own creation. To those new to Zen, this may seem almost insane. “How can I take the ‘ego’ or ‘self’ out of the writing process?” some may wonder. However simply sitting in a quite meditation for 20 minutes or so can often allow you to write naturally and seamlessly with little “editing” from your mind at all.

    5. Motivation and rationalization (“I’ll do it tomorrow”)

    One of the major issues with being successful at writing, business, life, as a matter of fact anything, is putting your energy into doing what you plan to do, rather than putting your energy into planning what you plan to do. I think we’ve all fallen into the trap at least once. It’s the one where we spend 3 consecutive days convincing ourselves that the article, or essay, or project, can be put off until tomorrow. In fact we spend more time on this convincing process than we would have spent on writing!

    Become mindful that you are withdrawing into yourself and ruminating, rather than expressing yourself externally. Notice when you begin thinking about a task rather than doing it and ask yourself “would I rather internalize and think right now to no end or would I rather be producing something real right now?” Use mindfulness to catch yourself and transform rumination into action on-the-spot.

    6. Distractions

    Distractions are interesting, because they can cause us to question the value we assign writing. How do you mentally regard your blog? How about your business? The value of your writing? A professional writer who gets paid by the word probably regards his work as being of a higher value than someone who writes recklessly with little consistency and tact. How does your writing style speak to how you value the process of writing?

    Becoming mindful of the value you assign your writing involves setting aside time every day to write and treating it as almost a “sacred space.” It is your time to be fully mindful and present while writing, and as you become more immersed and write consciously, you’ll find yourself setting more appropriate boundaries to filter against external (and internal!) distractions.

    “Write your first draft with your heart. Re-write with your head.”

    7. Other mental chatter

    Like with anything worthwhile, I recommend writers give themselves fully to their writing. Immerse yourself in the process and be totally mindful of every moment. For me, writing is a Zen-like state, without a doubt, and I believe that only in this state can the true magic of inspiration happen. It’s not when we think tirelessly and dwell on the best way to write something that inspired writing really flows. Quite the opposite.

    Quick tips for mindful writing:

    • Remember to bring yourself back to the present moment when you find yourself over-thinking about what you are writing.
    • Bring your heart into your writing, don’t just write from the mind.
    • Instead of aiming to write the perfect article, aim to write the most honest, useful, or even “fun” article.
    • Find your source of inspiration and motivation in your dreams, not in your expectations of yourself.
    • Pick up on yourself thinking about doing something when you could really be using that time for†doing that same task.
    • Notice how you rationalize self-limiting excuses, and then let them go, take your excuses out of your writing process.
    • Be fully present during writing, treat it like a Zen meditation state where your focus is immersed and unbroken.

    Learning Mindfulness isn’t just useful for creative writing, it can be a great way of allowing the energy of your inner-heart to permeate all of your daily life experiences. I believe most of us have been †taught to be “living in our minds” to keep up with the world we live in. Too many have lost that connection to their inner wisdom and presence, a source of inspiration that was always there, just waiting to be heard.

    About the author

      Alexander De Foe

      Alexander De Foe is a Coach and licensed Counsellor from Melbourne, Australia.  His e-book 8 Reflections on Following Your True Life Path is available for free download at his website.

    • Steven says:

      Mindfulness is such an important skill for any creative endeavor. When we find ourselves in that state of effortless flow, our spontaneity is heightened, and our imagination has space to run wild.

      I think there is also a need for conscious editing and “analysis,” but we can’t underestimate mindfulness when our thinking minds go into overdrive.

      These are some really good tips to help do that. Sometimes I find just walking away from my computer and sitting in the sun for 10 minutes is all I need to get back into that state.

    • Sarie says:

      I find the article sooooo helpful – but it’s easier said than done. 🙁 Firstly, I would like to practice that mindfulness thing and I bet everything will follow.

      Additionally, is there a course or something where you can be trained at being in that state of “mindfulness” at all times to release that creativity?

      I hope there is. I’d be glad to participate. 🙂

    • I have the most trouble with #6, distraction. Ways I combat this are first of all to get up and get to the page first thing in the morning. I do my best writing early. And second, often what I’m distracted by is all the other things I need to finish. So I gently and firmly remind myself, one thing at a time. Simple, but it seems to help.

    • Another helpful technique that helps me focus is to have a clear goal for the article or piece that I’m working on. Sometimes that takes some scribbling and pouring words onto a blank page until the goal becomes clear.

      Once I have a clear goal in mind, it helps quiet the chatter because the background noise that does not have to do with the goal can fall away.

    • Bri says:

      Do you just get pictures of random people?

    • Ajeva says:

      I think the title of this post should be Zen 2.0 for Writers. I’m loving what you wrote here and they all make sense. Finding inner peace is so hard these days that those who do are truly blessed. There’s just too much chatter around, offline and online, and to make the mind go quiet for even a split second is something that many of us only dream of. I guess, your tips will help me write as a swan would glide. Thanks!

    • Patti Foy says:

      Oh, Alexander, I just LOVED this post! And the irony hasn’t escaped me that I’m here reading it while I am in the middle of writing a post on my own blog. There are dozens of helpful concepts, ideas, and activities in this one post and I, for one, am going to make sure I apply them. Thank you!

      I especially love your “sacred space” suggestion. I do actually apply this quite often as I prepare to write… yet I find that once I begin writing, old habits or patterns kick in and before I know it I am caught in your numbers 1, 3, 5, 6 — oh heck, just throw them all in there! 😉

      So, before I get too distracted, I will get back to my post. Fact is, I sort of needed this right now, your wise advice! And wouldn’t you know it, what my post is about is remembering to come back to ourselves occasionally to enter that sacred space you speak of. In some ways, it’s right here, isnt’ it?

      Many thanks and blessings to you and Mary too for providing the space!

    • I think one of the ways I get overwhelmed is thinking about how many articles I have to write for the week instead of…one article at a time. Present moment writing. That’s for me.

      You sum it up here:
      Find your source of inspiration and motivation in your dreams, not in your expectations of yourself.

    • Thank you very much for your article, it was foro my an inspiration. I have found in the process of creare an article a ver precious way to integrate my heart in an action. I fell the conexion betwen the inner infinity and the concrete form…

    • Marci says:

      I have starting writing with my heart and editing with my mind the past few months. I do think my writing has become more interesting and honest. I am a thinker, more than a creator. I can’t force creation, it does come from stillness.

      As for distractions, I have many. While I can only contain my kids with entertaining themselves for so long, my doubt is the biggest distraction. Instead of visiting other websites/reading my email, I have been observing when I want to steer away from my writing. I try not to give into flight when I’m doubting my writing. I’ve found it’s better to stick with it. It will happen when I least expect it.

      While I don’t think my writing is with great ease, or showing little effort, I do love to read authors where this seems to be true 🙂

    • Ken Apple says:

      While writing you must believe with all your heart that your work is a singular work of genius. When revising you must make every single word justify its existence in the piece. This is why writers are sometimes paralyzed, you really do need to be a little crazy.

    • I usually fail for 5, usually in spite of my best efforts (based usually on timeboxing to use my time more effectively).

      My latest post “How to find your inner passion? Your passion is sticky (just like chewing gum)” took me a long, long time from idea to draft to finish, and it is almost usually always like this (and it is not like I don’t enjoy writing!), my idea-drafting-writing-posting takes always at least 3 times what it should (I’ll sketch it tomorrow, I’ll write it better tomorrow, and so on).

      I’ll have to acknowledge my rationalisation, maybe I should write out every time I rationalise some decision to track it.



    • Lori says:

      There are some great insights here! More than one sentence took me out of an internal battle I have been experiencing with writing and shifting my perspective. “Would I rather internalize and think right now to no end or would I rather be producing something real right now?” is fitting for me currently (I’ll be repeating that to myself often, though … hopefully not so much that I repeat that quote instead of work 😉

      Writing from the heart–invaluable advice. How often I forget to do so in my writing, as well as in my life.
      Thank you for the reminder! Crucial!

    • Jay says:

      Thank you for this article. It is calming just to read this post. It affirms many ideas I have about writing, and I really like the “Write your first draft with your heart. Re-write with your head” quote.

      I find if I write the first draft of a post too analytically my writing is stunted and doesn’t flow very well. Once I turn off the perfectionist part of my brain the writing often flows easily and I am often surprised (positively!) by the result.

      I also like the idea of keeping a zen state of mind while writing, rather than having it be a stressful experience.

    • Terrific article, Alexander.

      I tend to fall under #3 and #5. I’m constantly editing my work, which then eats up a lot of my time. I generally edit each paragraph after I write them and then I go through the entire article all over again and edit as I go. After that, I let the article sit for a while and then come back to it, read it and make even more corrections. I’ve been trying to cut back and only edit the article towards the end to speed up the writing process.

      I also have a major problem with motivation, though not so much any more. I’ve started to keep track of my growth as a freelance writer, and following my progress has helped motivate me to keep going.

      Moreover, I’ve found that I’m most productive in the morning. So I’ve been trying to do most of my work in the mornings now before 5pm, rather than later. Starting to write in the morning immediately after my first cup of coffee has helped tremendously. If you’re struggling with motivation or procrastination, I completely recommend finding out the time during the day when you’re most productive. This can only be done if you experiment, but it does help.

      These are all wonderful tips. Thanks for the great read!


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