Writing before bed: an interview with Blake Auden
Putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and journaling as part of your nighttime routine is one of the best things you can do to improve your mental health. It can help reduce anxiety, calm your mind, improve your focus, boost your career and unleash your creativity within.
Writing can help you process your thoughts, emotions and your relationship with the world around you. It can lead you to insights and epiphanies, help you organise chaotic thoughts and give you an emotional outlet.
We interviewed poet, author and lyricist, Blake Auden, who knows all about the power of writing. In his own words, this is his experience using writing and journaling to improve mental health and sleep.
When did you start writing at night to help you manage your anxiety?
I started experimenting with writing as an approach to dealing with anxiety about 2 years ago, and I’ve really tried to get into the habit of writing before going to sleep.
Although it’s not always effective in removing anxious feelings, I found that keeping to a creative routine has been incredibly beneficial in my writing career, as well as helping me to establish better sleep habits.
For how long do you typically write every night?
It can vary, based on how productive the writing is, how tired I am, etc., but I try and write for at least 30 minutes every evening. Often, this is focused on poetry, but I also keep a journal and sometimes find myself writing prose, lyrics or even working on small illustrations for upcoming books.
What does your journaling practice look like?
When it comes to my daily writing practice, I try not to impose too many rules. I make sure I spend at least half an hour writing in the evening, but I allow that to progress naturally, taking whatever form it wants to.
So, this might mean journaling, poetry, short stories, gratitude lists, even to-do lists for the next day (something I often find helps to reduce my stress levels).
Often, I’ll simply write what I’m feeling, without any kind of judgement on what I’m putting down. I try not to edit or think too much about metaphor, phrasing or word choice, and simply focus on getting words on the page.
I will regularly come back to these entries later, however, and see if I can take words or phrases – or even just the feeling of a piece of writing – and turn them into a poem or usable section of prose. My Instagram captions often come from this kind of writing, and it’s nice to see that my readers are connecting with these passages in the same way they do with my poetry.
What do you love about writing before bed?
For me, it’s the joy of having a creative routine, of regularly engaging with the craft of writing. Writing every day, even when it’s hard, helps me to feel like I’m actively participating in my chosen art, in the same way a musician might practise with their instrument. I believe creativity is a muscle, of sorts, and it improves by constant use.
I feel the same way about reading, which is another thing I try and do every day (although I usually read in the morning). It helps me to feel like a full-time, practising writer, and this in turn gives me a feeling of productivity, which is hugely beneficial in dealing with anxiety.
What 3 journal prompts would you recommend people try?
I don’t use prompts as often as I used to, but they’re undoubtedly useful when it comes to sparking creativity – particularly when you’re just starting out with daily writing. Here are 3 prompts I’ve used frequently to kick off writing sessions:
1. Write a letter
This might be a letter to a lost love, a friend, current partner, or it might even be a letter to yourself. There’s something about the format of letter-writing that allows you to skip past the formalities and straight to the core emotion, and that’s hugely beneficial. I used to do this a lot, in fact, a digital chapbook I published last year (Hiraeth) contains several of the letters I wrote to someone who broke my heart.
2. Finish a poem, or song
Take a single lyric from a song you haven’t heard, or line from a poem you haven’t read in full, and write it in your notebook (they’re easy to find by using Google). Then try and write the rest of the song or poem, using that line as a starting point. This is a great point of inspiration if you struggle with starting points, and it’s a useful exercise in that it immediately gives you some basic rules to follow (the format, the topic, the rhythm, etc.).
3. Daily sketches
I often try and write very short, descriptive poems about the day, in the same way an artist might sketch the view in front of him. These poems often focus on the weather, the temperature, the air and what I can see in front of me, and they’re a lovely starting point and a good exercise in using descriptive language.
I actually try and do these in the morning, and it’s something I’ve been doing for months now. Here’s one from my notebook, which actually made it into my next book, Murmuration:
instead, the month breaks quietly,
falling back into the lulling fog.
the view beyond the oak
is lost to a turning white,
and I wonder if mine
is the only heartbeat left.
Have you found meditation helpful? How long do you meditate per session?
I have tried several different types of meditation, but I have found progressive relaxation and mindfulness to be the most beneficial. I think it’s because they’re easy to do wherever you are, and – particularly with mindfulness – noise and interruptions are less of a concern.
I would always recommend people try a few different types and see what works for them, as well as thinking about what they’re hoping to gain from meditation.
For me, I wanted to be able to get out of my own head and live in the moment more often, as well as trying to find ways to manage or lessen my anxiety. Mindful meditation has really helped with both of these goals, and it’s now something I do every day.
I usually meditate for 20 minutes, at least once a day. For me, keeping it relatively short means I’m always able to fit it in, without being tempted to skip it if I’m having a particularly busy or stressful day.
Do you have any advice for someone who has never meditated before but is interested in giving it a try?
I would absolutely recommend guided meditation, whether that’s through a paid service, a video platform like YouTube, or an app like Headspace. Having someone walk you through it is hugely beneficial when you’re first starting, and it means you don’t have to worry about whether or not you’re “doing it right.”
I would also recommend trying to do it as regularly as you can, to help establish it as part of your daily routine. It’s worth keeping in mind, too, that there are lots of different types of meditation, so have fun trying out several approaches to see what resonates best with you.
Other than writing or meditating, what mindfulness strategies have helped you?
I have found breathing exercises to be immensely helpful in managing my anxiety, particularly in situations where I’m away from home or outside of my comfort zone. Not only do they physically help you to feel calmer, but using them helps you to regain a little bit of control over the situation.
Anything that diminishes the feeling of helplessness when you’re anxious can really make a difference, and I’ve benefitted significantly from mindful, controlled breathing over the last year or so.
I have also found reframing my anxiety to be hugely helpful. There was a time when I felt like anxiety was something foreign – something outside of myself that needed to be retreated from.
All that approach served to do was make me feel helpless, and slowly remove things from my life (for example, socialising with friends, going to concerts and shows, attending sporting events, etc.).
Around 18 months ago I decided to accept anxiety as a part of me and to stop running from it. I got a wolf – a symbol of my anxiety – tattooed on the back of my left hand, where I can see it every day, as a reminder not to run from everything that scares me. This reframing of the way I saw my anxiety has helped me to continue pushing myself, whether that’s publishing my poetry online, seeing friends more often or just doing something new.
Are you as inspired as we are to add writing to your nighttime routine? Take Blake’s advice and don’t limit yourself with strict rules. Write down your thoughts, feelings, and what inspires you. Write something creative, write something real. Just write, and see what it can do for you and your mental health.