Tag Archives: mindfulness

Meet the Doodling Duchess

Doodle by Vicky Lorencen

You do know I like to doodle, don’t you? It helps me concentrate, listen more intently and relax. Today, Frog on a Dime is delighted to have the Doodling Duchess–children’s author Monica Harris–as a special guest. If you too doodle, you’ll enjoy it. If you do not yet doodle, you’ll want to try it once you’ve read what the Duchess has to share.


Doodle by Monica Harris

I have always been a visual person.  Colors, shapes, and patterns intrigue me. When I was in school, I often found myself doodling on the edges of my papers. This was especially true when sitting through a lecture that didn’t challenge me visually.  You know, those lectures that keep the same slide up for 15 minutes before changing to the next one. Ugh!  By doodling, I found my mind better able to focus on what was being said.

During my teaching career, I learned how visual cues and colors helped students recall materials better. I encouraged my students to doodle and use different colored pens to take notes.  It was quite entertaining to see what teenagers came up with! 

More recently, I participated in a Zentangles© workshop. It’s a technique of creating black and white doodles using structured patterns. While intriguing, I felt it lacked the playfulness of color that my mind needed. That’s where my journey into meditative doodling began!


As I tell my workshop participants, doodling is different than art. With art, there’s a preconceived image in your head. The process involves getting the image onto some sort of medium like canvas or paper. Where people get frustrated is when the art they create does not match the image in their head. This does not create relaxation or mindfulness! Doodling, on the other hand, does NOT start with a preconceived image in your mind. You create an image on the paper organically – step by step without a specific goal. This frees the participant from pressure, anxiety, and self-doubt.

For meditative doodling, I ask participants to close their eyes. A question, emotion, or situation is described for them to contemplate. They are to imagine colors that come to mind and shapes – nothing more. Then, we dive into the doodle session! 

Doodle by Monica Harris


For me, doodling is a meditative state. The rest of the world seems to melt away as colors and patterns fill the page. It’s a conscious choice to put my brain in ‘time out’; to breathe and only focus on colors and shapes.

I also doodle when I have a problem that I cannot figure out. Science has shown that the average person has 60,000 thoughts per day and 95% of them are exactly the same!  The brain spirals through an endless loop looking at the same ‘possible’ solution over and over again.  By occupying it with doodling, a solution often presents itself.


Absolutely not!  I’ve had several participants say, “But I’m not artistic” but, in the end, are completely surprised at the images they create.  Doodling is for fun mindfulness, not for submitting to the Louvre!


Try it!  Take out some markers, colored pencils, and paper. Try a simple starter exercise by scribbling big overlapping lines on the page. See how you’ve created small little pockets of space?  Choose one pocket and doodle in a pattern. Then, go to the next pocket. Before you know it, you’ll have filled up the page! And, just like yoga, it’s YOUR practice – do not judge it by what others can do or even what you hope to do in the future. Enjoy that one moment in time.


Freeing your mind in a doodle has multiple possibilities. It could allow a new story line to ‘pop’ up. It might offer a solution to your protagonist’s problem. Doodling might offer insight on a character’s psyche. If you have a protagonist that’s filled with angst, go into their mind and doodle.  A character that’s suffering through a sad time would have a totally different doodle. If your main character is a penguin, it would be extremely entertaining to consider how it would doodle and what design it would create!  (Okay…this entertains me…I’m going to go doodle!)

Thank you for your time today, Duchess. Happy doodling to you!

Monica Harris is the author of 30 children’s books and more than 200 articles for children. She also teaches guided meditative doodling under the name The Doodling Duchess.  You can find her on Facebook and Instagram.
Her writer website is:  monicaharrisbooks.com   

When you draw and pay attention to what is, it’s a form of being present. This inspires the mind, makes it happy, and the heart wants to express more. ~ Natalie Goldberg, Living Color: Painting, Writing, and the Bones of Seeing

mindfulness and the writer’s mind


Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

You’ve heard of mindfulness, yes? Okay, so maybe you’ve “heard” of it, but your understanding is a tad fuzzy. If I give you a link to a delightful introduction via the lovely Anderson Cooper, can I trust you to come back to Frog on a Dime to read the rest of this post? Oh, you know I can never deny you anything. Okay, my little gum drop, have a look.

You’re back! [Trying not to look surprised] So, this mindfulness-ness thing, now you know it’s really about being aware, about being present–about being. Am I a pro at that? Oh, you little snickerdoodle. You do know how to make me chuckle. All I know is practicing mindfulness is a good, life-enhancing thing that I believe can and will enhance my writing (and yes, yours, too).

I came up with a squatty list of ways mindfulness may do you (and me) good as a writer:

  • Mindfulness improves your ability to focus. Instead of being a mind-wandering writer, you can be present for the project at hand (literally on the keyboard).
  • Mindfulness makes you aware of life’s simplest moments–waking, showering, eating, walking, breathing. Relishing and being present in even the mundanity (sure, that’s a word) of every day enriches the way you are able to translate simple, sensual experiences into words for your readers.
  • Mindfulness may unplug writer’s block – when you’re blocked, it makes you stressed and being stressed keeps you blocked. Mindfulness helps to calm and center you so the ideas can flow. Because who among us wants to be wordstipated?

No doubt, this is not an exhaustive list. Let me hear your ideas. I am aware. I am present. I am ready to listen. I am headed to the kitchen . . . (see, I need more practice).

Want to know more about the benefits of mindfulness? Here’s some fine information from the good folks at Harvard Medical School. Enjoy.

I am a human being, not a human doing. ~ Dr. Wayne Dyer

dealing with distractio . . . oh, look a pumpkin!


DSC02086My train of thought tends to run, not on traditional click clack track, but something more akin to a corkscrew roller coaster, swooshing down tunnels and circling back on itself to the point of distraction. (Does your choo choo drive you cuckoo too?) But it’s not only in my brain, I have external attention snatchers too. I’ve got innies and outies!

See, I used to think all of my distractions were primarily outies–you know, phone calls, people, social media, the refrigerator . . . and I fantasized about escaping to a little cabin all by myself. What bliss to sit alone with my thoughts and focus solely on my writing.

A few years ago I had such a fanciful opportunity thanks to the Highlights Foundation. There I was in a darling cabin–yes, in the mountains in early fall–with someone to prepare gourmet meals for me, and a group of encouraging writers to enjoy them with. No phone, no household chores, no job, no reason not to focus. I was working on a middle grade novel in the peace of my idyllic sanctuary, and then my brain said, hey, I wonder if I can get Internet access up here . . . and off I went checking email (this was long before I joined Facebook or I would have been looking at that too). [Insert eye-rolling red face here.] Yes, I got some real writing done, but that experience taught me that I can’t blame external forces alone for feeling distracted while writing. Internal distractions can be just as powerful (and sneaky).

Here are some suggestions to help combat internal distractions:

Buy a kitchen timer–set it for an allotted writing time, or do what I do–write for as long as you can sustain your focus, and then set a timer for 15 minutes to take a break. When the rooster timer dings at my house, it’s back to work. Do not use your phone for a timer. We both know why, right?

Keep a notepad and pen next to your computer. When stray thoughts bubble up–find shoes to go with that dress, get toothpaste, invent a way to make cellulite look cool–jot it down so won’t have to worry about remembering it or worse–jump up and do it.

Set regular writing appointments (because being irregular can be a drag). Promise to honor, cherish and protect those appointments in sickness and in health til the end of the writing project. How does this help with internal distractions? Just like establishing a regular sleep schedule helps you achieve a rest-promoting rhythm, so too, regular writing times get your brain in the writing zone more quickly and your muse will know when and where to find you. (Right, Enid? She’s my muse!)

Exploit your natural resources. If you have other writing friends, ask one of them to be your accountability partner. It’s miraculous how much better I focus when I know someone is going to check up on me. You can also use your critique group for this purpose, if they set regular deadlines for submissions.

Take a writing class. I was so frustrated with my lack of forward momentum and inability to stay focused that I actually signed up for a class through the Institute of Children’s Literature. That’s right, I’m paying someone to keep me on track. And you know what? I’ll be finishing my second novel this year, finally, all thanks to the deadlines set by my teacher.

Follow the one hour rule. Okay, so it’s not really a rule. I made that up. But the idea is to sit down to write one hour before you ll have to be somewhere else. For example, some days I go into the office at my day job one hour early for the sole purpose of working on my own writing. Knowing I will need to shift gears at exactly 8:30 a.m. makes me stay on track. (I’m not a morning person, so I don’t want to get up early and then waste that time.) This could also work if you know your kids will be home in an hour or if you have one hour for your lunch break. We know high school kids who work and go to school tend to get better grades because they know they have to make good use of study time when they get it. That same idea holds true for writers. If you have a little window of time, don’t wiggle through it. Use it!

Use carrots, not sticks. In other words, when your mind starts to meander down a rabbit hole, bring it back to the surface by reminding yourself if you write X number of words (or pages) today,
you can ___(insert reward here)_____.

Practice mindfulness. I’ve already blogged about mindfulness this year. And if you don’t mind, please check out that post to see if this practice would help you to maintain focus and center on the present.

Keep your goals in sight. A writing friend of mine, Rachel Anderson, says it helps her to write her goals out and put them near writing area. “That way, when I get distracted, I see the note and most times turn right around and go back to the computer.” Go Rachel!

Let’s move on to taming external distractions . . .

Yes, there’s an app for that too. Social media is probably one of the primary time munchers, wouldn’t you agree? There are apps you can get that will take up where your self-discipline lags.

Create a “Cone of Silence.” Rachel Anderson also told me, “I write in silence…no TV, no radio, and I cannot have my e-mail or Facebook open or Facebook open–all are distractions to me. My mind works best when it is completely open and the quiet does that for me.” Another writing friend Kelly Barson selected the tiniest room in her home for her office. It’s pretty ingenious–there’s no room for kids or dogs to congregate! Brilliant. Let peace and quiet reign.

Teach your family to recognize what writing looks like. For a long time, my family didn’t clue into what’s happening when I’m writing. They thought that if I was sitting in front of the computer and my fingers were still, that I was not writing and was therefore approachable to answer very important questions, such as, “Smell this. Does this smell okay to you?” or “Have you seen my other sock?” They didn’t understand that writers are writing in their brains before it comes out the keyboard. Now they know because I told them so. I’ve also told them not to interrupt me unless someone is bleeding or something is on fire and there’s no one else who can help. That hasn’t entirely squelched distractions, but it’s made my husband and daughter think twice before asking, “Where did you put the thing?”

Most all of these ideas can also help you overcome distraction’s slutty older sister: procrastination. Oh, she’s fun at first, but she’ll only get you in the trouble. Steer clear of her!

I could not resist . . . I’m breaking with tradition and sharing not one, but three, quotes with this post. If one inspires you, why not put it on the wall in your writing space to help you stay focused.

Sand was dribbling out of the bag of her attention, faster and faster. ~ Sarah Blake

It helps me to set small goals to reduce distraction because I can dance with distraction until daylight.~ Rachel Anderson

At times the whole world seems to be in conspiracy to importune you with emphatic trifles. Friend, client, child, sickness, fear, want, charity, all knock at once at thy closet door and say,—’Come out unto us.’ But keep thy state; come not into their confusion. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

are you out of your mind yet?


frog on a pencilIt’s no secret that we writers spend a lot of time living inside our heads. We write at stop lights and on park benches, in waiting rooms and sometimes at the movies. We may not be putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard every moment, but on that little “screen” tucked neatly between our ears, we’re crafting dialogue, untangling knotty plot twists and musing about our main characters. It’s part of the process for most of us. I know that’s true for me.

Maybe that’s why most writers are often introverts. It’s not that we’re shy necessarily. Perhaps it’s simply that we’re content with our own company. And, at least it seems, we’re happy to sit back and observe. But I’d like to gently suggest that we may not be the great observers we think we are. With all of this writing going on inside our heads throughout the day, it’s easy to miss living in the present. How often do we fail to see or truly hear what’s happening in the here and now, while we’re imagining what our heroine will do next on a far-flung planet or trying to come up with a catchy title for that magazine article?

Mindfulness is a practice I was introduced to through a physician at the health system where I work. In its simplest form, for me, mindfulness means taking time to slow down, to breathe and to “be” in the moment. It’s like snapping out of a daydream, wide-eyed and aware of what’s happening in the here and now.

How does cultivating mindfulness benefit me as a writer? It’s no surprise that living in the moment makes me a better observer. I can soak up details–the smell of garlic and onions sweating in the pan, the peculiar way a receptionist wears her eyeliner, the sound of scrapping chickadees, the rhythm of two teen girls jabbering in the backseat or the sharp tang of Greek yogurt with pomegranate. I’ve come to understand that being present for these little details helps me become a stronger writer, and more importantly, a more avid fan of life.

How about you? Would you mind giving it a try?

Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t). ~ James Baraz