By Dana Gornall
I was sitting on the bed in my bedroom folding an overflowing basket of clothes, when I heard my son in the other room talking to his friend.
Kids don’t really talk on the phone these days—they text and snapchat—but he was playing a video game remotely on the computer with another kid, and talking back and forth on a headset. Between the instructions of whom to shoot and warnings of zombies approaching, I heard part of a conversation that went something like this:
“My dad? Oh, he works in a hospital transporting patients. My mom? Well, my mom does a lot of things. She’s a sign language interpreter and a massage therapist. Oh, and she’s a writer.”
I stopped in the middle of folding a T-shirt and beamed. My son called me a writer.
I have been a writer from as early as I can remember—as early as I could string together a few sentences into a paragraph. It has been an insatiable urge; I have always come back to pouring my heart out through a pen, and then later a keyboard. The first time publishing was like a dream come true. Yet, even with my passion for it, there are those tiny, dark uncertainties that creep out and nibble at my conscience—insecurities, writer’s blocks, comparisons to other writers, you name it.
When The Mindful Writer, by Dinty W. Moore showed up in my mailbox wrapped in a yellow-brown envelope, I felt my skin perk up into goosebumps.
You see, Dinty W. Moore wrote the very first book on Buddhism that I have ever read: The Accidental Buddhist. I immediately fell into his open, honest and humorous style of writing and connected with the fact that he had also grown up Catholic, calls himself a skeptic and eventually became Buddhist. So being presented with the opportunity to read and review a book about being a writer, written by the author of my first book on Buddhism, was serendipitous.
As a professor of creative writing at Ohio University, a published writer and a self-subscribed “lousy Buddhist,” (tongue in cheek) Moore seems to be the perfect person to pen this book.
One of the first things I really liked about The Mindful Writer, is that the chapters are short—making it easy to pick up and and put back down again—and each one is headlined with a quote. Honestly, I have never seen so many amazing quotes about writing and being a writer in one place like this, and those quotes alone made this book pure gold.
Moore then parallels mindfulness concepts to the practice of writing in each chapter. Sectioned into four parts: The Writer’s Mind, The Writer’s Desk, The Writer’s Vision and the The Writer’s Life, it is followed with a series of writing prompts that are not the prompts one would typically find. Rather, they focus on looking outside of our minds and work by noticing, similarly to what one would do in meditation.
Throughout the book, he touches on the drafting process, which can be one of the more vexing parts of writing.
Haven’t we all crumpled up our virtual drafts with the delete button at some point? Haven’t we all felt the frustration of facing another re-write?
“Lousy first drafts allow you to have a base, something to which you can respond. Those lousy first drafts are not carved into marble; they are carved into soft clay, and they can be formed, and reformed, and reformed again, endlessly. As they should. So give yourself permission to write that lousy first draft, or let that first sentence ‘be as stupid as it wishes.’ Don’t fall for the illusion.”
He highlights the need to sit back and look at our purpose as a writer, our work, when to let go and when to keep going.
“The true work of the writer is the true work of all artists: to take risks, to lean far out over the edge of the accepted truth, to see what can only be seen from that vantage point. Ask yourself every once in awhile: Am I in over my head? Am I posing questions in my work to which there can never be satisfying, final answers? Am I trying to tackle a project here that is well beyond my capacity as a writer? Am I just a little afraid of the direction that all of this is going? If the answer to each of these questions is yes, then you are heading in the right direction. Steady on.”
One of my favorite parts of this book was a story he told toward the end about a manuscript that the had been working on diligently, for quite some time. After four years of a lot of back and forth and steady work, it was suggested that he give the book a break. I can only imagine the frustration he felt after so much work had been put into it.
“I wanted to throttle my agent right then and there, and I might have if I were not a believer in nonviolence (or if the receptionist had not been in such close hearing range). This had been years of hard work, and my agent wanted me to set it aside just like that?”
He then describes the weight that had been lifted off his shoulders and the sense of relief he felt when he finally let it go. How many of us have experienced this, not only with our writing but in life itself? That thing that we press toward so hard, nose tucked down, face forward and blinders blocking out everything around us? And the moment we truly drop it, we look back to see we have simply been spinning our wheels right into the ground.
Moore isn’t suggesting that we give up when things get tough, but that there is time to press on and a time to let go, and knowing this makes a world of difference.
He goes on to say:
“Within weeks, unexpected doors had opened. By that autumn, I was writing a new book, the one, in fact, that I am proudest of so far in my career.”
This tiny little book on being a mindful writer fit right inside my purse, and it went with me everywhere for a couple of months. I read it on breaks at work and in waiting rooms at appointments. It has folded page corners of my favorite sections and the cover has already begun to show a little wear and tear.
It has been a source of inspiration ever since I received it in that yellow-brown envelope in my mailbox and will be resting quite comfortably within easy reach on my bedside bookcase.
“We do not write to be understood. We write in order to understand.” ~ C. Day Lewis
Photo: Wisdom Publications
Editor: Ty H. Phillips