Writing to cultivate calm

Writing to cultivate calm_purple text over lightened image of intense storm clouds over a field of tall green grass
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I’m going to be honest: I’m having trouble writing.

As a director of an independent writing organization that endeavors, beyond its courses and retreats, to provide regular writing life tips and advice, I worry that I’m being a bit of a hypocrite.

Try list-making to organize your characters and ideas, I urge you, while my own to-do lists around work and parenting threaten to consume me.

Use these tools, this tip, this strategy, and you’ll see results! I all but promise you, even as they aren’t working for me at the moment.

I’m not being dishonest when I offer writing advice. I’m sharing what has worked for me in the past. All of us Center teachers have our own tips and tricks, methods and means that have sustained our individual practices over the years. We are always eager to share them with you.

Some days, they work better than others. I’m sure you know this.

I’m sure you also know that the pandemic has wreaked havoc on our ability to focus and be creative. Just when we thought we would see sunshine again, the Delta variant emerged. We made our plans, sometimes in denial and sometimes with a wary eye toward the sky, where Delta looms like a late summer storm cloud, broiling into greater, grayer intensity. And this storm isn’t dissipating any time soon.

That’s been a hard realization, one that fills me with fresh anxiety. My writing energy feels depleted; even my old standby, tried-and-true prompts, exercises, and techniques aren’t cutting it. I can’t find the calm I’ve always needed to write.

And then the other day, I thought: I’m waiting for the calm before I can write, like the calm before the storm. But that’s already here, and I’m still not writing. What if writing IS the calm?

So here I am, with a post about not writing advice per se, but a suggestion for reframing the challenges you might be having with writing while the storm brews in the distance.

Instead of waiting for calm to write, use writing to create or cultivate the calm in your life.

Writing to cultivate calm might mean giving up any preconceived notion of what you will be writing about, because the topic doesn’t matter. Your first sentence might be, I don’t know what to write about. It might be, I am trying to create calmness with words. It might a string of expletives about the pandemic, or about anything else that’s bothering you or keeping you from creative practices. Let it out.

Writing to cultivate calm requires you to define calm, and you could do that in writing. Then, voila, you’ve written. For me, calm is mental quiet, however temporary. Calm is the soft teal of a piece of pistachio calcite on a shelf in my home office, the cool feel of it in my hands. Calm is a song from my adolescence that I know all the words to, a song I know in my bones. Calm comforts me like a sun-warm tomato I’ve grown. Voila.

Writing to cultivate calm urges you to get quiet within yourself. That mental quiet I just mentioned—all it asks of you is that you simply breathe. I like to take walks, and something about falling into a rhythm with steps and breath gets me to that mentally-quiet place faster than just about anything else. Yoga has a similar effect. Breath is so vital to calmness. Intentional breathing, equalizing inhalations and exhalations, creating a flow with breath and body movement… To do it well means to be fully present. The mental chatter melts away. Maybe not at first, but as with all things, practice makes better.

I cultivate calm first thing in the morning when I meditate, then turn to a journal where I jot down what I’m grateful for each day. A gratitude practice, the simple act of focusing on what we have instead of dwelling on what we don’t, can be an enormous umbrella in a downpour. Instead of berating myself for not writing or feeling hypocritical for offering you writing advice that I can’t, at present, make work for myself, I write, I’m so grateful for a writing community that keeps me immersed in a creative mindset, even when I don’t feel creative. How's that for reframing?

My “advice” this week is the same advice I’ve been giving myself lately: stop waiting for ideal conditions, the perfect calm, to let your creativity emerge. Make getting to the page on a regular basis—whatever regular means for you—a way you create the calm. Then see what emerges.

How do you cultivate calm in your life? Does writing calm you? Share with us in the comments.

Related reading: Achieve writing clarity with meditation basics

How expressive writing can keep you afloat

Writing is wellness! The process of writing “well”

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