When Frodo told Gandalf he would rather not have to deal with all the hardship of taking the one ring to Mordor, Gandalf’s response was, “So do all who live to see such times…All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
Living through a pandemic, forest fires, murder hornets, climate change, and political division is not likely something any of us would wish to endure. But we should take Gandalf’s advice and decide what to do with the time we have.
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably decided to use at least some of your time to write.
But if it’s been hard to put pen to paper during the pandemic, if you’ve found yourself in a rut, how do you pull yourself out?
In our last post, we took the path of least resistance and watched some inspirational videos to get the creative juices flowing. But that was just the first step. In this post, we’ll help you leave that rut—COVID-inspired or not—behind.
What if You’ve Never Meditated Before?
We get it. New activities can be difficult to start because…what if it doesn’t go well? What if you’re doing it wrong?
The good thing about meditation is there is no wrong, not really. It’s one of those things that’s an art and a science, and you can start small. As long as you’re relaxed and mindful, and forgiving of yourself when your mind wanders (because it will), you can achieve a meditative state.
But if you’re a total newb when it comes to going zen, don’t worry. We’re going to guide you through some meditation exercises for both the amateur and the meditation master.
Meditation Exercise 1: Breathe it Out
Sometimes all it takes is to breathe. Really breathe—mindfully. Breathing is unique because our bodies will do it on their own, but we can also regulate it. Can you think of anything else our bodies do that are both involuntary and voluntary? We can’t.
The benefit of being mindful about breathing is you will continue to breathe regardless (unless you’re holding your breath), so you can rely on it happening. But by focusing on your breathing, you become mindful of what’s happening in your body.
This exercise is good regardless of your expertise with meditation. The goal is to focus on your breathing only. If other thoughts crop up—and they will—acknowledge them, let them go, and take another breath to refocus on what’s happening in your body.
- Make sure you have somewhere comfortable to sit or recline. You want your muscles to be able to relax. If you’ve never sat in a lotus position, don’t start right now—you can meditate without contorting yourself. (If you can sit in a lotus position, you have our admiration!)
- Make sure your environment is quiet. (If it’s not, a pair of noise cancelling headphones or a white noise machine can help.)
- Keep your eyes open, but let them un-focus at a comfortable middle distance.
- Breathe in through your nose for a count of three. Breathe out through pursed lips for a count of six. If you’ve meditated before, focus on how the breath feels entering and exiting your body. If this is your first meditation, just focus on counting and breathing. Repeat twice.
- Breathe in through your nose for a count of four. Breathe out through pursed lips for a count of eight. Repeat twice.
- Breathe in through your nose for a count of five. Breathe out through pursed lips for a count of ten. Repeat twice.
- Repeat step 5.
- Repeat step 4.
- Congratulate yourself for meditating! How did it feel? Write a brief reflection or journal entry about your experience. What did you notice? Was it challenging or easy? Did you like it? Why or why not? Will you try it again?
This first exercise can help you get used to meditation. It can help clear your mind. It can help you focus on the present, on your body, instead of what’s been going on out in the world—or what might go on out in the world. It takes your mind off your writing.
Wait, that sounds counterproductive, doesn’t it? Aren’t we supposed to be getting our minds on our writing?
If you’re in a rut, thinking about the thing that put you there isn’t going to help you out. Have faith in yourself, in the process, and in meditation.
When you’ve stopped thinking each day about how you should have been writing through the pandemic, you’re ready for the next exercise.
Meditation Exercise 2: Affirmation Mantra
What’s an affirmation? You may already know, but in case you don’t, an affirmation is a statement of positivity about yourself and/or your abilities. Sometimes it’s designed to express gratitude or attract more of what you desire. An example of an affirmation might be:
I have the right to call myself a writer.
It’s brief, positive, and easy to remember.
Now what about a mantra? A mantra may be repeated during meditation to help the mind focus on the ideas presented by the mantra. So if you’ve guessed that you’re going to create an affirmation and repeat it—either aloud or silently while you meditate—then you’re right on track.
Without further ado, here’s your second meditation exercise:
- Create your affirmation. Make sure it’s positive and brief. If you’re having trouble, try focusing on something you’re grateful for, or a feeling or thought you desire more of.
- Perform the first meditation exercise to help you reach what’s known as a liminal state. Basically, it’s that place where you can be mindful.
- Repeat your affirmation mantra at least ten times.
- Perform the first meditation again.
You can repeat this as often as you need to. You can write new affirmation mantras to work with as well.
The next exercise will help you find inspiration, hopefully, to carry you out of your writing rut.
Meditation Exercise 3: Visualization
Visualization is slightly different from meditation in the same way that a square is always a rectangle but a rectangle’s not always a square. What? A math reference? In a blog about writing?
But it’s true—visualization requires meditation skills but you can meditate without performing a visualization. So what’s a visualization?
When you visualize, you use your imagination to create a spatial setting and the objects in it. Sound familiar? Visualization should be easy for writers because it’s like creating a setting in a story.
For this exercise, you’re going to perform the first meditation exercise and then visualize the following:
You’re standing in a bookstore. It’s early morning or close to closing, so the store isn’t terribly busy. You wander over to the bookshelf of your genre and scan the spines. You run your fingers over them and take in the letters. Note the colors, the fonts, and their sizes. As you continue to peruse the shelf, you see a book given precedence. You can see the whole front cover. On the cover is your name, the title of your book, fitting imagery, and blurbs. There are several copies of your book in stock, but it’s also clear that some have sold already. Visualize yourself picking up the book. You hold it in both hands. It’s a hardcover. You let the book gently fall open to a random page. You raise the book to your nose and inhale. You can smell the pages, the glue, the ink—that new book smell which is as aromatic and pleasing as the old book smell. You hold the pages in your hand and thumb through them, letting pages fall onto the other half of the book. Gently, you close the cover. On the back you see a description of your book, more blurbs, a barcode and ISBN, and your photo with a brief bio. You hold in your hands the culmination of your creative efforts. You feel a swell of happiness warm your entire being. Like the climax of a story, you feel like this moment is one you questioned the possibility of many times, but at the same time, it feels inevitable. It feels like no matter your path to publication, you were always going to finish this story. You were always going to complete it, and every hurdle along the way only increases your joy in having done so. You carefully replace your book on the bookstore shelf.
You can adjust this visualization to be more specific to your goals as a writer. The point is to sense yourself having met your goal while acknowledging the struggles along the way, accepting them, and realizing they are a part of the process.
This rut you’re in—it’s just one hurdle in a long run. When you reach your goal, you’ll be able to look back and see that every step brought you to that moment. The purpose of the visualization is to feel that end point.
How’d it Go?
We’d love to hear about your meditation sessions, if you’re willing to share! Did you try these exercises? Did you try others? There are plenty of writing-related meditations available and many of them are free. We encourage you to keep up the meditation habit, even when you start writing again.
Author & Author Accelerator Certified book coach Margaret McNellis holds an MFA in fiction, an M.A. in English & creative writing, and a B.A. in art history. She writes historical fiction for adult and young adult readers. Her debut YA novel, THE RED FLETCH, will be released on 9/18/21. Margaret’s short fiction has been published in several markets, including Assignment Magazine, where she was the 2019 student fiction contest winner. Margaret loves the beach when it’s empty, the forest in the fall, blasting Mozart’s piano sonatas, and baking bread.