Mindful Writing

The 5-4-3-2-1 Method of Writing Detailed Descriptions

While working through symptoms with my cognitive behavioral therapist, I happened upon the 5-4-3-2-1 Mindfulness Method and fell in love. Suddenly, I had a tool that helped me breathe through anxiety attacks and panicked moments. As I began to incorporate this method into my daily life, using it in every anxiety-ridden situation I might find myself in, I found myself adding it to other aspects of my life. Specifically, I found that the Mindfulness Method could be applied to my writing. Not only did it enhance my scenes, but it became an easy checklist for every scene I wrote.

For those who don’t know, 5-4-3-2-1 is a coping mechanism used to help during anxiety attacks. It comes from the 5 senses—taste, touch, sight, hearing, and smell—and allows the sufferer to acknowledge the reality around them. You assign each sense a number and find x number of things you can feel, taste, smell, see, and hear.

For example, I’m sitting in Starbucks as I type this. I see the white countertop in front of me, the two women talking to my right by the windows, my computer screen, my backpack to my right, and a mobile order sign in front of me. That’s five things that I can see. I can feel the keys of my surface keyboard as I type, the earbud in my right ear, the cardboard sleeve on my coffee mug to my left, and the cover of the book I’m reading. That’s four things I can feel. I can hear the people sitting in front of me on the left talking, Lauren Daigle’s You Say in my ear, and the sound of coffee being made to my right. These are the three things I can hear. The number two is assigned to smell in this situation; I can smell my coffee and the rain in the air. The one thing I can taste is my bitter mocha.

This is the 5-4-3-2-1 method. Of course, numbers don’t necessarily have to be matched with a sense every time. There are times when I can hear five things, but finding even three things that I can see is difficult. The same can go for writing; this is a great way to challenge yourself to describe a scene with more than just what can be seen.

This method helps to create a scene around me. Even though you aren’t here, at Starbucks, with me, you can see the room around me. You know that the countertops are white, that the windows are on my left, and that I’m typing on a computer. You can picture and feel the cardboard texture of the coffee sleeve. Your mind is already thinking through the lyrics of You Say. All of these senses create a room around me. While it helps bring those with anxiety attacks back to the present, it can also bring the readers of a story into the scene.

I don’t know about you, but describing details has never been my strong suit in writing. This has helped. What I notice about the world around me, and what my characters can notice about the world around them, gives you a mental image without ever stepping foot in the place being described. So, next time you sit down to write (whether it is a blog post, a piece of nonfiction, or a fantasy novel), try using the mindfulness technique.

Have you tried this method? Drop a comment and let me know if you use 5-4-3-2-1 in your daily life or in your writing!

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