How To Become A Better Writer By Breathing Properly
Inhale, exhale, and a bit of creative magic in between.
Good writing is like breathing deeply.
When you breathe, you suck air into your lungs, your body processes the oxygen, and you exhale carbon dioxide. When you write, you ingest new information, your brain does a little bit of creative magic, and you vomit your words on the page. If you only use 70% of your lungs in sports, you leave potential on the table — and the same is true for writing.
World-class athletes practice proper breathing to increase their performance and if you want to become a better writer, you have to hone your technique as well.
As someone who published over 250 articles on Medium, of which a few went viral and hit 10,000 claps, I’ve done a lot of creative breathing at my keyboard.
Here’s what I learned from it.
Improve Your Thoughts By Improving Your Input
If you don’t inhale regularly, you run out of oxygen and new stories to write.
I’ve had this happen to myself before. At one point I got so busy writing and building my business that I didn’t spend much time reading books, thinking about life, or simply watching its beauty unfold around me like the plants growing on my cupboard. I ran out of fresh stories and my writing got stale.
New impressions feed your creativity like oxygen fuels your muscles.
Writer’s oxygen is everywhere around you. The other day, I wrote an article about a pint of ice cream I saw at the grocery store. Observe your surroundings and you’ll never run out of stories.
Breathe air that is…
Fresh — filled with new insights
I’ve read close to a hundred personal development books. After a while, you realize most of them talk about the same things. Mindset, habits, 80/20 principle, values, and waking up at 5 am so you’ve got enough time to contemplate whether you should drown yourself in a big cup of morning coffee or go back to sleep. If you always breathe the same air, it gets stale — just like information does.
Look for new sources from time to time, like an unknown podcast, a controversial writer, or a thought-provoking newsletter.
Breathe fresh air instead of the same old, same old.
Oxygen-rich — packed with information that’s important to you
One of my friends is very interested and informed about national politics.
He can talk about it for hours. Sometimes he does and I listen eagerly because I can get enthusiastic about anything except brussels sprouts and After Eight. Yet, all this info adds zero value to my articles since I’d rather stick my private parts into a toaster than write about the mud-slinging contest that politics often are.
Don’t lose yourself in distracting thoughts — focus on information that’s related to your writing.
Mixed well — it contains a little bit of seemingly unrelated stuff
Humans run on oxygen, but it only makes up around 21% of the air you breathe.
At first glance, the rest isn’t of much use to you. Your lungs don’t care about the 78% nitrogen and ~1% of argon, carbon dioxide, and other gases floating around. Yet, all this stuff is important for Earth’s atmosphere and climate as a whole.
You’ll often find information that proves useful in ways you don’t know yet. Even though I write about personal development, I sometimes tell stories based on Greek mythology, famous scientists, or even termite mounds. A little spice adds flavor to your dishes.
Wherever you get your creative air from, make time for a few deep inhales and learning sessions during your week.
“Good writing is remembering detail. Most people want to forget. Don’t forget things that were painful or embarrassing or silly. Turn them into a story that tells the truth.”
— Paula Danziger
The Magic Happens Between Inhale And Exhale — But Only If You Let It
Breathing is simple. You inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. But just like with writing, the real magic happens in between.
If your brain doesn’t form new connections with the information you consume, your writing won’t be of much value. You’ll simply repeat what others have said before and we already have answering machines for that. But the richer your creative process, the better your writing.
When you breathe in, your lungs absorb oxygen and the roughly 160,000km of blood vessels in your body transport it to even the most remote parts. That’s where the magic happens — your body’s 30 trillion cells burn the fuel and spit out carbon dioxide, which your lungs then release into the air.
The moral of the story is this — just like your blood doesn’t flow to one cell only, there is no one creative process, but multiple ways to get your juices flowing.
Nothing is something worth doing
Did you know around 72% of people get their best ideas in the shower?
The reason is this is often a time of peace, solitude, and doing nothing — a break from our fast-paced, colorful, and ever-demanding world. Before you inflate your water bill like Kylie Jenner her lips, keep in mind the study was done by Hansgrohe, a showerhead manufacturer. Yet, there’s substantial evidence that doing nothing can boost your creativity.
Sandi Mann, a Senior Psychology Lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire, says boredom is a great way to stimulate creative processes — but only if it’s active.
“Destructive boredom leads to people smashing and vandalizing things. Active boredom is more creative.”
Shifting from the former to the latter is rather simple.
“The first thing to do is actually allow yourself to be bored. A lot of people are frightened of boredom. People swipe and scroll boredom away as soon as it threatens.”
In today’s world, distractions come a dime a dozen. Netflix, social media, and the mother of digital rabbit holes named YouTube. There’s very little time in our days when we do nothing.
When you inhale, your body needs time to turn the oxygen into carbon dioxide and the same goes for your mind creating patterns from information.
Every Sunday, I give my brain an hour to do exactly that. I sit on my window board, stare holes into the air, and do nothing but watching my thoughts. It takes a few minutes to get used to but often serves me tons of new ideas on a silver platter.
When I write, I often take a short break to juggle some balls or look out the window. Once I finish an article, I let it sit for at least one night before I edit it. It’s during these periods of rest that I get the best ideas for how to put my thoughts into words.
Do nothing for a while and let the magic unfold.
“A writer is working when he’s staring out of the window.”
— Burton Rascoe
How To Unclog Your Brain
Exhaling is just as important as inhaling.
If you don’t dump thoughts from time to time, they clog your brain like the pound of raclette cheese I have on New Year’s my digestive tract.
I often think about an article for weeks, trying to find the perfect introduction, structure, or stories to tell. The more I ruminate, the harder it gets to string all my ideas and thoughts together. There’s only one thing that helps — writing anyway.
Here are two important things to keep in mind for your literary exhale:
- Practice different types of writing
Just like you exhale in different ways — panting, sighing, or sometimes yawning — there are many ways to put your thoughts into words.
You don’t have to conjure up an article about every topic you can’t get out of your mind. Sometimes I just write two lines for an Instagram post, jot a paragraph in my journal, or compose a short message to send to a like-minded friend.
Different forms and constraints are a great way to exercise your creative muscle.
- Breathe in more than you breathe out
You inhale O₂ but exhale CO₂. The oxygen fuses with the carbon atoms in your food, which means that when you lose weight, you lose most of it through breathing. Since CO₂ is heavier than O₂, you always exhale more than you inhale — follow this principle in writing, too.
Many writers argue reading a lot will make them better at their craft. While rummaging through books can enhance your literary style repertoire, this is a lousy excuse to skip the work. An hour of practice is worth more than 100 hours of theory, so get going.
“I only write when I’m inspired, so I see to it that I’m inspired every morning at nine o’clock.”
— Peter De Vries
Wrap-Up For Better Writing
Breathing is one of the most interesting processes of the body because it works even if you don’t pay attention, but you can also change the pattern if you want to.
Just like athletes practice their breathing patterns, you have to practice your literary inhales and exhales if you want to perform at your best.
Here are the three ways to do so:
- Inhale information that is fresh, valuable, and contains a little bit of seemingly unrelated stuff.
- Allow your creative processes to unfold — practice active boredom and let your articles sit for a while.
- Exhale more writing than you inhale information and play around with different forms.
“Reading is like breathing in and writing is like breathing out.”
— Pam Allyn
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