A Two-Second Mindfulness Trick To Battle Writer Overwhelm
Like anyone who juggles multiple roles in a given day — author to coach to wife to teacher and back again — I’ve got a lot on, and it’d be pretty easy to feel overwhelmed.
Our super computer brains are revving and we think we can do all the things, all at once and then suddenly we wonder why we’re anxious, stressed, irritable, depressed.
People say meditate or do yoga, take a nap (or a hike). And that’s all fine and good except everything takes twenty minutes and you add up all those things you’re supposed to do and then you start really panicking because WHERE IS THE TIME.
While I very much think meditation is extraordinarily helpful, I’ll let you in on a little mindfulness Jedi trick passed down to me by one of my meditation teachers. Takes about two seconds.
You got two seconds?
Meditation teacher David Chernikoff says that when you’re in an overwhelm spiral and you don’t know where to start and you’re on the verge of a nervous breakdown, stop everything and ask yourself:
**** What’s the next right thing? ****
That’s all. You don’t need to be ten or even two steps ahead. You just need to be firmly in the present and ask yourself what the very next right thing is. Maybe it’s to get a glass of water. Okay, so get a glass of water. Now drink the water. Done? Okay. What’s the next right thing? And so on.
It reminds me a lot of what Anne Lamott says in Bird by Bird, where she explains how she came up with the title for this seminal book on writing. Her brother had been overwhelmed by a school project about birds and their father had said to just take it bird by bird. And Lamott took this same advice for her writing. Rather than look at the whole book and see the million problems you have with it, just take it bird by bird. First, fix this scene. Then the next one. Then the next one. Or you can go sentence by sentence. This works for any stage in drafting, from early exploratory work (the dreaded blank page!) to revisions.
Th question What’s the next right thing? is useful in any life situation, and especially when you’re feeling really uncertain about what your next move should be with your writing career. It can be easy to see all the million things you could or should do. Or to constantly be veering out of your own lane to see what everyone else is doing.
If you stay focused, stay present, and just do the next right thing, then the next, slowly the rubble of your overwhelm will clear away and a path will form.
Here’s to your next write thing.
Breathe. Write. Repeat.
If you’d like to explore meditation and mindfulness for writers, you can find my guided meditations for writers on the free Insight Timer app. Sign-up for The Lotus & Pen, my newsletter, for downloads, worksheets, and more.
Heather Demetrios is an author, writing coach, and teacher for scribes. She lives in Durham, NC with her writer husband and very imaginative Devon Rex cat. Her novels include Little Universes, I’ll Meet You There, Bad Romance, as well as the Dark Caravan fantasy series. Her non-fiction includes Code Name Badass: A Feminist Pop Biography. She is the editor of Dear Heartbreak: YA Authors and Teens on the Dark Side of Love. Find out more about Heather and her books at heatherdemetrios.com and visit her on Twitter: @HDemetrios. Her newsletter, The Lotus & Pen, provides resources for the writing life.