How Meditation Helps Me Write Better (And Overcome The Dreaded Blank Page)

Woman sitting at a balcony meditating during the sunset

Do meditation and writing go hand in hand? Yes. Are there any real benefits? I don’t know.

The general consensus is that meditation isn’t a silver bullet you can scrounge up in moments of need. Think of it as exercise, another tool that’s scientifically proven to benefit you, but it’s not as if busting out a hundred push-ups will instantaneously bestow you with a sculpted chest.

Both these practices have to be applied long-term before you’ll be able to see any benefits, and even then, you’ll probably notice an overall wellbeing versus a spike in mood of any kind.

I’ve had an on-off relationship with meditation since I started about two years back, and my recent stint involves an unbroken practice for five months or so.

So I guess a revisit is in order, and this time, we’ll be looking at things from the perspective of writing.

Sometimes you gotta just do it

Let’s start with the elephant in the room: actually getting around to meditating takes effort.

There’s nothing exciting about it, and every time you sit, you have to prepare yourself for at least fifteen minutes of nothingness. Not exactly the most interesting thing to do.

But I’ve learned that when it comes to doing beneficial things in your life, you have to just put your nose to the grindstone and just drag your ass through it. Go through the motions if you have to.

Some days it’s easy. Other days, not so. But that’s life for you, isn’t it? I, for one, have learned that if I dare use my feelings as a gauge, I’d never get anything done.

It’s the same with writing. I’ve read posts about how your some bloggers here like to keep their creative time sacred, only showing up at the blank page when their muse beckons.

You know what’s the best way of not writing the 80,000 words you need for a novel? Waiting for your muse. Because assuming said muse visits once a fortnight (which is very generous), and that you write three thousand words every time they arrive (also very generous), that would mean you finishing your first draft in slightly over a year.

I’d much rather pick a relaxed pace of 500 words per day and finish my drafts in five months. That’s because rewriting is also a thing, and while your muse works great with inspiration, they’re pretty shit when it comes to line edits.

So just do it. I know I have meditation to thank for this lesson.

Man in a field staring a a beautiful sunset and blue skies

Doesn’t matter if your goal is to stand in the field every day. Just do it. Photo: Benjamin Davies

The actual work is boring AF

Try googling ‘meditation’ and you’ll be graced with a plethora of how-tos and praise for the practice.

So nobody’s going to mention how five minutes can painfully feel like thirty, huh? Nobody’s going to talk about the aching back, the sleeping leg, the quivering thighs? Who knew that just sitting would qualify as a form of torture?

I went into meditation knowing it’d be boring, but nobody told me it was going to be painful. But you know what they say, success begins outside of your comfort zone, and sitting still is definitely way out of my comfort zone of mindless scrolling through social media and watching series on demand.

Because what do you do when you want to win a sport? Ace an exam? Learn a new language? You put in the time, and that time is never as eventful as you’d expect it to be.

Sure, in the movies there’d be a training montage, and the character growth you’d see in thirty seconds might seem inspiring, but boy does the daily work suck when you actually get to it.

Likewise, just because you show up to the empty page on Tuesday doesn’t mean you’ll have usable words by sunset. Even if you did churn out something beautiful, it’d take you months before you see how those pieces slowly made up the bigger picture.

Having a finished novel feels wonderful. Banging away at the keyboard, sentence by sentence, oftentimes feels the opposite.

Meditation has taught me that there’s no getting around it. I just have to get used to it.

Ideas are easy, execution is hard

When you really focus on your thoughts, you’ll realise that your mind is always on. Sometimes it may even seem like a separate entity. How else do you explain thinking about meditation one second, and pizza the next? No? It’s just me?

Okay then, let’s try this experiment. Close your eyes and imagine an object. It could be anything. Your remote control, your mouse, your pair of socks. Hold that image in your mind. Rotate it. Look at the details.

Now keep doing that for five minutes. Don’t tell me that pizza doesn’t intrude your image at least once. Or the dishes you’ve yet to do. Or how Kelly from accounting is always on your ass for your high paper usage.

That’s what I’ve realised through meditation. That I don’t really control what appears in my mind’s eye. But I can control what I do with said thoughts.

I can tell myself to be more patient when I’m stuck in a queue and feel the restlessness rising. I can stop seeing critiques as attacks on who I am as a person. I can choose to eat a salad even though my mind has this unexplainable craving for pizza.

How does this apply to my writing? Well, you guys ever heard of the shiny new idea disease? The one where writers will abandon their WIPs for the promise of a better idea?

Yeah, that’s never going to end. New ideas turn up every day, and they’re all going to sound much better than the one you’re currently working on.

But you know what’s more important? Actually doing the work. That’s where all the value and learning comes from. So write down your new ideas somewhere if you have to, but when it comes to your work, make sure you finish your shit.

Because if we’ve learned anything about writing (or meditation), it’s that it’s going to be boring AF.

Girl in vans listening to old FM radio

Are you tuning in to your thoughts? Because they might not be yours. Photo: Eric Nopanen

Pain is a damned good teacher

Let’s go back to the backaches, the sleeping legs, and the quivering thighs for a minute. And for this analogy to make sense, I’m going to take you back to my muay thai days.

I used to drop my other hand when throwing a punch, despite my instructor’s pleas to ‘answer my phone’. But habits are hard to cultivate, and words can only sharpen my technique so much. So my instructor punched me in the head.

Yup. That’s why you always have your hand up when punching. It didn’t hurt per se, but the world definitely shook for a bit. You know how many times my instructor asked me to answer my phone? Probably a couple hundred. You know how many punches it took before I started actually answering my phone? Three.

Sometimes pain is the best teacher. That doesn’t mean we like it though.

So back to the meditation pains. When I first started the practice, I’d shift at the slightest sign of discomfort. I’d scratch an itch. Even yawn to moisten my dry eyes (I have no idea why my eyes always dry up during meditation).

But that’s only delaying the inevitable pain that follows soon after. Alleviating the pressure on my ankle? Now my knees hurt. Slouching because of the backache? Now my shoulders are burning. After some time, you start to learn that life is pain, and sometimes it would do us well to be with it, not avoid it.

And what has that taught me about writing?

Well, I know there’s a lucky few that actually enjoy the writing process (I envy you), and there are even people who love editing (you monsters). But me? I find it hard to enjoy the actual work. Yeah, I don’t even know why I write sometimes.

But going through the pain of just sitting has taught me that I shouldn’t avoid the uncomfortable feelings that come with a blank page. Instead, I should do what I need to do, and make sure that I make the most out of each day. And the less I resist, the more enjoyable things do become.

Paradoxical, really.

Goodness is a lifestyle

You’ve seen this type: the people who tell you how they’re trying to lose weight by asking for no whipped cream on their Frappuccino. Never mind the fact that they’re going home to gorge on a pizza (I still can’t let this go) and live out another sedentary day.

I’m not going to speak as if I don’t do the same either. Here I am, thinking I’ll find literary renown, but I know I’m underwriting every day, and I’m shortchanging myself in terms of true growth.

My kryptonite? Freaking YouTube videos and mindless scrolling through social media.

At some point, we need to view results as a byproduct and not an end goal. So instead of thinking that avoiding whipped cream would trim our waistline, we need to examine our lifestyle in general. It doesn’t matter what our goals are.

Is the Frappuccino really necessary? Or is it wasted calories? Which is the more beneficial choice? Going out for a walk, or watching Netflix?

So maybe I’ve sold you on meditation, and you’d like to give it a go. But that won’t really matter if you’re still drinking every other night and sleeping late.

In the end, we need to design the lifestyle that fits our goals. There’s no aiming to finish an Ironman while also keeping cocaine as a hobby. You can’t spend all your free time on YouTube and expect to publish novels on a regular basis.

Thanks to meditation, I now see it as part of my lifestyle, one that I’m constantly tweaking to best help me realise the life that I want.

Ultimately, it’s not what we achieve that really matters. It’s who we become through our habits.

Art brushes and pens in a mug

Some crafts require you to redesign your lifestyle. Photo: Fallon Michael

There’s no magic formula, especially when it comes to meditation and writing

In the end, I think this is my biggest takeaway of all: We need to become, not attain. Once we realise that, it’s easy to keep grinding, and to shun the ‘life hacks’ that some gurus seem all too eager to sell.

Meditation has taught me that the present is where I have the most power, and even though my novel will take me months to write, what matters most is that I use this moment right now to bring me one step closer to my goals.

So I might go through ten manuscripts and still not write a bestseller, but that’s okay because I’ll be a much better writer—and hopefully, someone who’s gotten his pizza fix—by then. And you know what? That’s good enough for me.


Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

47 thoughts on “How Meditation Helps Me Write Better (And Overcome The Dreaded Blank Page)

  1. I agree that it’s better to do 500 words a day and be done in 5 months vs doing a ton and having to do massive line edits. This is partly why I’m not really heavy on NaNoWriMo. I’m quasi-doing it and focusing on quality over quantity. My biggest thing is to simply write daily. I’ll have to try meditating. I haven’t been doing that lately and need to.

    • In the end, we all have our unique processes to discover. The most important realisation for me is that if I’m going to do something, I’ll definitely have to push through the moments when I don’t feel like it. Thanks so much for your comment. I really appreciate you stopping by!

  2. Not wrong. I’ve got a set word count I need to reach every day. And a deadline that I promised my son that my first draft would be done. So no matter what’s going on I make myself stare at the blank page and put words on it. A few sentences in usually kick starts my brain and I’ve over shot my goal in no time. But I had to make it a regular part of my daily routine and deal with the pain as you put it lol

    • You know what? I’ve realised that the pain is much easier to deal with once you’re IN IT, versus looking from it from the outside (e.g. dreading the blank page and putting it off till later).

      I truly relate to the brain kicking in after a few sentences. Thanks so much for adding your perspective!

  3. I don’t meditate per se but when I’m tense I’ll light a candle and do some deep breathing and call to the muse. There are actual chants that some do but seems a bit much to me. I like the idea of meditation. Great well thought out post as always.

    • I think anything can be meditation. Sometimes I doodle pointless lines and dots in my sketchbook, then I look up and realise an hour has passed. That counts as meditation for me.

      Thanks so much for sharing your perspective, Faye. Great to see you here again. It’s been a while!

  4. The idea of becoming who we are through our habits reminds me of what was said in Essentialism by Greg Mckeown,

    “If we already have too much to think about, why not eliminate some of them by establishing a routine?”

    The chapter was about making our lives easier by way of routine. Wake up, make your bed, brush your teeth, drink some hot chocolate, then move straight onto writing a hundred words, whatever they may be: they set you on autopilot, so you no longer need to muster up the willpower to get up and do something. Although the actions themselves don’t have much of a direct effect, a good routine places you in the right mindset to get around to it.

    • Wow, what a lovely comment and a great share as well. I’m sure this would benefit other readers, as much as it did me.

      And yeah, by their own, these little things don’t mean much, but over a period of time, we actually become what we do. Thanks so much for this!

  5. I have heard many people that say meditation has done wonders for them and even I have tried a number of times but I have always given up too early because it WAS boring and kind of painful as you said.. I think I could give a try agian

  6. solid advice. Stuart. Maybe I needed to hear that meditation is hard work, becuase I’m always up for a challenge. I’ve tried a few times to get in the habit, but it never seems to stick.

    and good luck with your novel!

  7. In attempting meditation, I just can never tell if I’m actually making progress or just sitting there bored and twitchy. But you make an interesting analogy with writing. There’s a lot of practice, sitting, pain, and uncertainty of progress, but with the efforts, things start to happen and improve.

    • Hear hear! I sometimes end a session wondering if I even got anything out of it. But then again, if I’m asking that question, then I know I’ve been looking at the wrong end of things. Thanks so much for this comment, Hetty! I’m sure you know a thing or two about the writing journey, and that sharing will be invaluable to any of the younger writers reading your comment.

  8. Haha…great post yet again! Don’t know how you do it man!! But reading this post reminds me I wish I can have more sleep (the ‘ultimate meditation’ LOL) cos I’m certain my writing will improve by leaps & bounds!!

    • Lol, sleep really is the ultimate panacaea to most ailments, and if you’re not getting enough, you best try and fit it into your schedule! Thanks so much for stopping by, Kelvin. I truly appreciate it.

  9. YouTube is my trigger too!! Once I start scrolling it becomes very difficult to stop and get off!

    I’ve tried meditation before and like you said, it was boring and painful. My mind continually wandered to to-do lists and what I still needed to get done in the day and how little time I had left!

    But ultimately I think you’ve found what works for you and that’s helpful!

    • Gah, and don’t get me started on Facebook vids too. You see an interesting 1-minute video and think it won’t hurt to just check it out.

      Next thing you know you’re 10 videos deep at 10 minutes a pop.

      Looks like I’ll need to go back to the drawing board and figure out a way to stop wasting my time like this. It all adds up.

      Regarding meditation though, I actually don’t mind distracted thoughts, because it’s exactly THEN when I get to practice bringing my mind to the present. Wouldn’t be much of a learning experience if everything went smoothly all the time. Anyway, thanks so much for stopping by!

  10. I am one of the monsters that enjoys editing more than the writing process. Something satisfying about putting red ink on the page and figuring out ways to make something better. Then comes the rewriting part, and rewriting hundreds of pages worth of words sucks! But in the end, it is worth the pain.

    Also, the whipped cream analogy reminds me of when I worked in the restaurant industry, and people would order these huge orders with extra sides, and then ask for a diet coke to go with it.

    • Welcome, you rare writer! Maybe it’s because I’m a pantser, but the thought of having to fix all the broken things in my first draft just fills me with much more dread than writing it.

      And yeah, us humans always find little loopholes that best justify our tiny vices, don’t we? Anyway, thanks for dropping this awesome comment. I appreciate you!

    • And I’ve missed your comments! It’s great that you’ve decided to stop by. Hope all’s going well on your end. Seems like the more streamlined life is working out for you. Good day to you too, and see you around!

      • Lol, and I had to google what streamlined means because when a writer responds to your comment you gotta keep the dictionary open. But anyways, it’s been great exchanging comments!
        Seeya.

  11. Hi Stuart, I love your energy and positivity here. I am taking away some of your thoughts with me that I can resonate with. Thank you for reading my article and it’s great that you enjoyed it.

  12. Wow, wish I can meditate. I tried many times before, but I just can’t do it. My mind refuse to calm down and my physical stillness only adds to the mind’s agitation. Wish I can find a way to do it since I know meditation can be really relaxing.

    • Stillness and relaxation is a myth though. I actually find it pretty challenging more often than not, and that’s exactly where I learn to be with my agitation and that in turn helps me face any future agitation.

      But we all have our own paths to take, so if it’s not for you, there’s no point forcing it. Thanks so much for always leaving such thoughtful comments!

  13. You absolutely nailed this! I’m one of the weirdos who enjoys writing (don’t hate me) but I DESPISE editing! I also LOVE meditation, but have a hard time making myself do it. My squirrel brain just can’t handle it, lol. Even when your mind wanders or the pain takes your attention away, acknowledge whatever is distracting you and then let it go. Bring yourself back to the meditation. I also agree with the point you made about waiting for the muse. I’ve always said it was pointless to even bother writing if I was only going to do it when I was inspired. WRITE, even if you don’t know what you want to write about. WRITE, even if it’s hard. WRITE, even if you don’t want to. Then later you can tackle the unavoidable REWRITE! When I know I need to write but can’t necessarily think of anywhere to go with a story, I just open a blank page and start writing. No plan, just write. I’ve had some pretty awesome things come out of that practice and I’ve always just trashed the not so awesome things. But it helped me shake off the brain fog and actually get to work.

    Great post! Thanks for sharing!

    • Whoa, I suspect your comment is way better than the post, because this was a well-thought-out one.

      And yes, no matter what life throws at you, write! I try to live by that mantra too, because I want to achieve things through my writing, and I’m not going to get there by making up excuses every time an inconvenience happens.

      Once more, what a great comment to read. Thanks so much for stopping by, Tiff!

  14. Stuart, thanks for sharing your experience about meditation and writing. ‘Ideas are easy, execution is hard’ Totally agreed. Meditation certainly helps us to still our mind if we actually get round to sit down and just breathe in and breathe out . I’m not as disciplined as you are. On days that I do spend even just several minutes, I do find that it helps me to see things for what they are and be more relaxed so things and ideas do synchronise better. We need to be present all the time ( easier said than done) , it cannot be just for those moments when we actually sit down but it helps to have the exercise daily so we can focus better. A former colleague has lent me The First and Last Freedom by J. Krishnamurti and I read one or two chapters from time to time and I love his quote: ‘Truth is a Pathless Land’. From the little I understand, through meditating, we’ll be more aware of our subconscious mind and find out who we truly are. Meditating so you can understand who you are. Krishnamurti advocates that we should not label our thoughts, but I guess since we write, could it be that the idea is detaching yourself from these thoughts even if you write them down? We don’t own these thoughts per se. Thus I’m not sure if we become better individuals, rather I think we are who we are, and perhaps through meditation, it helps us to become more mindful of our intents hence our actions. Thanks for an interesting post.

    • Whoa, sometimes I see comments like yours and have zero knowledge how to follow up, because this comment is amazing.

      I definitely do agree that we are not our thoughts (some people might dismiss that as woo-woo), and I myself have found more clarity by labelling them, against Krishnamurti’s teachings.

      I don’t think this is a discipline thing though. It’s more of a ‘life is coming so I best prepare for it’ thing. Maybe in some ways, you could see it as fear-based, but I just see it as preparing the plunger before the toilet’s clogged.

      Anyway, thanks for sharing your very insightful thoughts, which would not only benefit me, but anyone else who reads this as well! Always great to have you here.

      • Life is coming so we best prepare for it. Indeed. Perhaps thinkers such as Krishnamurti are trying to tell us what we think are really illusions and is the matrix of our mind. Personally I have to label my thoughts otherwise I will nothing to write about.

  15. Thanks for the affirmation. I have been meditating for about five years and know, yes- know, that it helps me calm, clear, energize and prepare my mind to write. As for the pain, I have used “corpse pose” while meditating and recently taken a liking to and inverted meditation due to an issue with my left leg. It worked for me! Feel free to experiment…

    • Inverted meditation is super interesting. I’ve never heard of it before this, but I guess now I do, thanks to you!

      Weirdly enough, my escape from the pain came from kettlebells, as my entire posterior chain was super undeveloped, which didn’t allow me to hold any sitting posture comfortably.

      But you’ve now given me a new avenue to look into. So do you hang somewhere? Or is it more like a headstand thing? Super curious now.

I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s