Mindfulness for writers

Sensitivity, I’ve come to appreciate, is a real gift (though chronically undervalued by our culture). Without it, I doubt that anyone would be able to write fiction or poetry.

Sensitivity can also be painfully challenging. Exposure can feel overwhelming. Criticism can feel mortifying. Rejection can feel devastating.

As things have turned out, I came to fiction writing after a number of years practising and teaching mindfulness, which nurtured both my sensitivity and my resilience.

I’ve collected below a selection of the blog posts I’ve written over the years which may be particularly helpful to other writers. They cover approaches that I rely on when I get tangled up in the less comfortable aspects of being a human, a writer and a sensitive person.

(You’ll notice that they are published on sheilabayliss.com, where I write about mindfulness under my given/married name; Dawn Siofra North is the pen name I use for fiction writing).

‘Enoughness’ as True Happiness

Self-Kindness and the Power of Less

Creative Mindfulness for Reluctant Meditators

Imaginative mindfulness

Shrink Your Stress – Live Smaller

Un-shaming Ourselves

How Mindfulness Soothes ‘Red Alert’

Reclaiming Our Natural Wellbeing

Mindful Journaling For More Awareness

Creative Practice as an Anchor

There are lots of free resources on my mindfulness site, including guided meditations and poems, plus the Mini-Programme – a collection of self-study resources on key aspects of mindfulness, including emotional confidence (resilience) and embodiment.

I’m really interested in the connections between creative writing and emotional health, and as I learn more myself, I plan to share a series of posts about reading (and writing) for wellbeing, so I’ll share the links to future posts on this site.

A huge thank you to Retreat West and Mary-Jane Holmes

This will take a little while to sink in… my novelette-in-flash The Girl Who Survived has won third place in the Retreat West 2021 competition. I can’t wait to read the first and second prize-winners from David Rhymes and Hannah Sutherland.

As a very new writer (and a fairly sensitive type of person in general), it’s no surprise that I got rather overwhelmed – and a little bit tongue-tied – at the announcement event.

It means such a lot that the Retreat West team and Mary-Jane Holmes took the time to read my work, and then to select it to be shared in the upcoming anthology.

Last year’s Retreat West anthology of novelettes-in-flashentitled Homemade Weather – was a strong inspiration for me in the early stages of incubating the story that became The Girl Who Survived.

You can find out how to buy this and other books from Retreat West on their website.

The power of vulnerability

Some years ago, I first discovered the power of witnessing each other in our vulnerability. And I suspect that fiction can play an important role in our ability to do that.

I believe that reading (and writing) fiction is one of the deepest ways to learn about being human. As a reader, we get to see characters in their full messy vulnerability, and we can be so enriched by that. Through their struggle, we learn to feel compassion and admiration for them, to see ourselves mirrored back, and be inspired to see ourselves differently – perhaps also with more compassion and appreciation.

What if we allowed this way of relating to permeate our real-life human relationships too?

I say ‘real-life’ because we commonly talk as if the people in fiction are not real. But to me they are real people, in that they do exist. Just because something exists in the imaginative realm does not mean it ‘exists’ any the less, unless we absorb the cultural conditioning that persuades us to view stories and the imagination as silly and childish.

In a book on gothic fiction entitled Love, Mystery and Misery, Coral Ann Howells observes that Jane Austen ‘was never so simple-minded as to believe that on the one hand there are novels and on the other is life; rather that there is a complex interrelatedness between living and imagining and that readers and novelists should both cultivate a lively awareness of their interplay’.

As a child, part of the comfort I sought in books was that they welcomed me just as I was. This isn’t always so easy to find in other relationships or environments, and so I’m always encouraged when I find groups or communities that feel truly supportive.

As writers, when we start sharing our work with others, we are also allowing ourselves to be seen in our vulnerability, though each of us will have comfort zones that look slightly different.

It can take so much courage to be willing to be seen in this way, but it’s worth it – because it allows us to connect as fully-alive human beings, not as mere machines performing ‘perfectly’ in our roles.

Little Splashes of Yellow

I’m so happy that the editors at Free Flash Fiction have given a home to my story Little Splashes of Yellow.

This emerged as a free-write while I was trying to get to know a character better. I forgot all about it, and then stumbled across is while tidying up my notebooks. When I came back to it, I felt like it wanted me to finish it off.

You can read it on the fantastic Free Flash Fiction website.

National Flash Fiction Day Anthology 2021

I was delighted to be included in the National Flash Fiction Day Anthology 2021, entitled Legerdemain. The theme of this anthology is ‘magic’, and my story Frozen Child explores our everyday attempts at conjuring the life we want.

This collection introduced me to micro fiction, which I had little exposure to previously, and reading these really inspired me to try writing some of my own flashes to a much shorter length.

There are some brilliant micros in here. They showed me that sometimes a very short piece can get to the essence of an experience – or memory – in a very impactful way. I especially loved Tea Time by Susan James.

You can buy a copy directly from the NFFD shop.