The Mindful Joys of Writing

“A writer, I think, is someone who pays attention to the world.”

-Susan Sontag

I have found, through trial and error, that the healthiest diet for my mind involves both mindfulness and writing—often, both simultaneously. For me, writing by hand slows my mind, allowing me to see the loops and shapes of my thoughts spilling out onto the blankness of the page. This is one of the reasons I became an English teacher: to share a love of words, and the power they have to increase our happiness.

The power of both writing and mindfulness is that you have to pay attention. As you read this, can you notice the prickling sensations in your body? The murmurings bouncing around in your skull? The outside world of light and sound and sadness and joy? The more you notice, the richer the palette of your experience, and the range of colors you can paint with your words.

Anyone can become more mindful, or a more effective writer, simply by paying closer attention to the granular details of the world: the slightest shudder in a friends’ facial expression, the dazzling blue tail of a bird flitting overhead, the mathematically distributed roots of a new-growing weed. In these specific details, strong sentences are born. In these specific details, too, we can lose ourselves and feel a sense of unity.

Many wonderful authors have found both their inspiration and their sense of inner peace while paying close attention to the natural world. (One of my favorite poems, called “The Peace of Wild Things,” by Wendell Berry captures precisely this feeling of satisfaction and calm through specific, carefully observed details.)

Some advice I wish I’d been given, but that I give now to anyone who will listen, is this: Whether keeping a journal, or jotting thoughts down on your phone I encourage everyone to put aside some time each day to observe and describe, in real-time, your surroundings. Record what happens around you. Your experience is yours alone to be noticed. Perhaps, in those moments of observation, you’ll find you can stop time. Perhaps, in that space, your next idea will be born, and take on a life of its own.

-Ms. Cassani Davis

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