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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

What Kind of Meditation Do Writers Need?

Based on the secondary research I’ve done and personal experience, I know meditation is good, in a whole slew of ways, for our brains including enhancing creativity.

Clearly, it matters that writers meditate. It didn’t occur to me that how we meditate might also matter.

Research by cognitive psychologist Lorenza Colzato’s demonstrates that different kinds of meditation have different effects on creativity (cited in Wired to Create by Scott Barry Kaufman & Carolyn Gregoire).

What do you think is a better meditation practice for writers and other creative people?

  1. Focused-attention meditation: where you attempt to maintain your focus on a single thing like your breath or a candle and let go of thoughts and emotions as soon as you become aware of them (more at YouTube Jeremy Sutton Single Pointed Focus)
  2. Open-monitoring meditation: where you observe your moment-to-moment thoughts and emotions without judgement and without attempting to focus your attention on any one particular thing (more at YouTube Jeremy Sutton Open Monitoring)

Which Kind of Meditation is Better?

Participants in Colzato’s study had roughly two years experience in one of the two forms of meditation. Those who did open-monitoring meditation scored higher on a divergent thinking test (for example, think of as many uses for a brick as you can) than those who did focused-attention meditation.

On the other hand, the focused-attention meditators scored higher on a convergent thinking test (identify the single correct solution to a problem).

Divergent thinking is usually considered more “creative” than convergent thinking. According to Wired to Create,

Colzato theorized that creative thinking benefits from weaker top-down cognitive control — meaning the mind is able to jump from one thought to another in a ‘weakly guided fashion.’ Open-monitoring mediation, with its emphasis on subjective experience, might encourage this type of free-flowing thought, while focused attention can do just the opposite.” (p. 118)

In other words, open-monitoring meditation makes it easier for your mind to wander, which makes it more likely you’ll have creative insights.

Open-monitoring Is the Mediation Style for Writers, Right? Not Exactly…

A-ha moments of creative insight, as glorious and gratifying as they are, are only one part of the creative process. Remember those six stages I keep going on about?

You can’t get true Illumination moments without doing the prep-work of asking mind-expanding and problem-defining questions, gathering enough information puzzle pieces to put something new together, and committing yourself to wrestle, then rest, then wrestle again moving those puzzle pieces around until the A-ha finally smacks you between the eyes.

And all the Illumination moments in the world won’t do you a damn bit of good if you don’t diligently, consistently show up and yes, put your butt in the chair to draft and edit and revise and tweak and repeat to translate your A-ha into language that inspires the A-ha in your readers.

Creativity is the product of both divergent and convergent thinking (read more here and here). It seems clear to me that writers will therefore benefit from both types of meditation. The trick is, of course, which to use when. I’ll speculate about that in my next post.

Until then, give whatever form of meditation you don’t usually do a try. Haven’t tried either? Give them both a try. Then test your creativity and let me know what you find.

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5 Comments on “What Kind of Meditation Do Writers Need?”

  1. Glynis Jolly July 29, 2017 at 9:11 am #

    I meditate at bedtime so I will fall asleep quicker. It usually works as preventive medicine for the rolling around and hearing every little sound in the walls. I usually start out with the focused method but eventually, I switch to the open-monitoring one.


    • rosannebane July 31, 2017 at 4:42 pm #

      Thanks Glynis for sharing what works for you. At bedtime, I often use a sort of open-monitoring form of meditation that drifts me into my characters’ lives. I get a lot of fiction inspiration while falling asleep.



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