I practice meditation daily. Similarly, I practice writing. I have many different practices in my life. In my last post, I talked about how focusing on the next step can help you be more productive. I've also written about productivity killers faced by writers. One of the big things that makes me feel as if I'm failing at times is the thought of all of the projects and tasks that I'm not getting done. In my meditation practice, I use noting techniques that help me with mindfulness. You can use the same noting techniques in your writing practice (or any other parts of your life).
What Are Noting Techniques?
Think of noting in this sense as noticing. It isn't something that you get involved with. Picture standing beside Tumwater Boulevard, right outside the administrative headquarters of my library system. The street is four lanes wide with a divider down the middle, planted with grass (mowed and neat) and small trees. As you stand on the wide sidewalk, cars drive past in both directions.
A pale blue Nissan Leaf—an electric car—passes quietly, heading west down the street. A somewhat grass-stained white pickup follows, towing a clanking trailer full of lawn mowers, leaf blowers, rakes, bags, and other landscaping equipment.
Across the street, an unmarked state patrol SUV, a black vehicle, pulls out into the street and accelerates quickly as it heads east.
What does this have to do with noting techniques? We constantly notice things around us. Not everything, but we notice things. Often we notice something and then let it go. It doesn't hold our attention, like the cars passing on the street. Our thoughts are like those cars on the street, constantly rushing back and forth. Imagine how busy you'd be if you tried to write down the license plate numbers of all of the cars passing on both sides of the street during the busiest times of the day. It'd quickly become overwhelming.
The same thing is true with our writing and other creative practices.
Noting Thoughts and Emotions
It's a question of attention. I wanted to get my new book Stowaway to Eternity ready by the 15th. The thought that "I'm behind" might surface, followed by other thoughts on what that might mean. Instead of focusing on those thoughts, I can make a gentle note of the thought or emotion in the same way I might notice a car passing on the street. I can notice that thought—and let it go on its way. I don't need to expend energy or additional thoughts on it.
The truth is, I can't be late or behind. Any dates I might have imagined are flexible. Cultivating this technique of noting thoughts, recognizing them, and letting them go helps clear my mind. It opens up the possibility to notice my successes. If I finish writing a chapter, say, I might note the satisfaction or thoughts I have about completing that piece.
And then let that go as well.
Recognize the thoughts and emotions without judgement. Notice them pass and fade, allowing your mind to rest peacefully, instead of focusing on the same thought or emotion over and over again.