If you are anything like me, you may have a tendency to daydream a lot. To “get stuck in your head”. To have your head in the clouds. And yes, that can be a great thing for an artist. Hey, it shows you have imagination and you live in your own little world. And I agree, that can be a precious thing for all artists. But I’m here to talk about its downsides and how to make sure you don’t drift off in your own delusions.
In fact, before we dive in, I invite you to do a quick body scan right now. Travel through your body, from head to toes or the other way around. Notice how you are sitting (or whatever position you are in), notice if you're clenching any muscles you don't need to (hello, jaw, hello, shoulders), notice how your body feels in this exact moment. Take a few deep breaths.
Great. On with the show.
Don't be Blanche
First of all, what do I mean by saying “get into your body”? What is “getting into your body”? It's simply the practice of observing yourself, of noticing how you feel in your body, and of connecting with your body in general. There are two main reasons writers benefit from this: general mental wellbeing and becoming a better writer. Let's talk about the former first.
If you have been on the internet in the past [insert any period of time really], I bet you have encountered the term “mindfulness”. It has become a popular tool for improving mental health, and rightfully so. We live in an age where we are flooded with invitations to disengage with the current reality around us. To detach from our bodies. To do a lot of “intellectual” work, sitting paralysed in front of our computers without realising that your mind and body are two sides of the same coin.
But there is a group of people that have been successfully detaching from reality for a long time now - we are the readers, the dreamers, the writers. And I feel like it's a common thing amidst readers and writers to glorify this kind of detachment. To see it as cool to be in your head all the time. Hey, that makes you an intellectual, right? So cool. It goes hand in hand with romanticising mental illnesses, use of drugs, and other dysfunctional behaviour. Not that any of these (including detachment) are inherently bad, but there is the air of idealising them in artistic circles. And that doesn't really help anyone. In my opinion.
My point is, don't be Blanche. That doesn't mean you have to be Stella either. Or Stanley. Just be you. Cherish your imagination and nurture it but also notice how you feel in your own body. Observe yourself and learn from it. Throughout the day, try to regularly check in with how you feel - how your body feels and moves. Or don't. I mean, you do what you want. But I think it will make you feel more grounded, more connected, and you'll get to know yourself better. Which is like a win-win-win situation.
If better mental wellbeing doesn’t convince you, perhaps this other reason to practice awareness will: it will make you a better writer. Simple as that. Self-observation is an excellent source of material and reference points. It will help you with the good old “show don’t tell” principle.
Observation is one of the most valuable skills for writers. The ability to observe the world around you as non-judgementally as possible. Adding yourself to that will practically make you a invincible. A superhero. Superwriter. So take notes. Journal. Do mental body scans and check in with yourself. Observe yourself. Observe your body, your posture, your voice, your sensations. You yourself are an infinite source of material.
Of course, there are plenty of resources you can use when you write about your characters’ experience and they are all great. But, my friend, it is so much better when it comes from you. When you know how what you are writing about viscerally feels. True, there are things in certain genres that you will write about that you - hopefully - never experience in real life. Like getting shot or stabbed or becoming a vampire or turning into a frog. Of course, you don’t have to actually experience these in order to write about them. But I do sincerely believe observing yourself and how you feel will help your already incredible imagination when it comes to writing those things as well.
It’s not about always writing realistically. It’s about gathering material that you will be able to use, no matter which genre or style you choose. Wherever you are, however you feel, you are always able to observe yourself and that is just such a priceless resource for any artist. Don’t overlook it.
So how do you do it?
I have already mentioned a few tools, but the most important one, for writers especially, is journaling. Journaling is your best friend. I don’t care how you do it - systematically, intentionally, daily, weekly, with journaling prompts, or by random bursts of needing to get something off your chest or needing to note down something you have realised. Experiment with it. Find out what way of journaling works best for you - and even then, don’t be afraid to try different ones. You may find a better one or you may get confirmation that the way you have been doing it works best for you. Either way, it’s something good.
Other than that, it’s great to check in with yourself regularly during the day. Notice how you feel and how your body feels. Observe if there is any tension in your body. Do a body scan. Whenever you move, pay attention to how it makes you feel. You can even intentionally experiment with this through dance, breath work, yoga, or any other movement. Practice the pause - whenever you feel a strong emotional reaction, take a moment to notice where and how you feel that in your body. In general, observe yourself and take note.
But most importantly, and I cannot stress this enough: GET CURIOUS. Proceed with curiosity and wonder. It’s easy to get judgemental, it’s also easy to say “don’t be judgemental”. So often people say “don’t be judgemental” but don’t say what to be instead. So here I am, telling you. Be curious. Replace the judgement with Isn’t that interesting? Instead of, “My legs feel so weak today. Ugh, what’s wrong with me,” go for, “My legs feel so weak today. Huh, that’s interesting.” Allow curiosity to guide you. And allow yourself to have fun with it.
Before you go...
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See you next week!