- Chop Words, Carry Sentences
Ever since I was a boy, I’ve wanted to be a writer and a golfer. I read The Chronicles of Narnia and scribbled my own stories, hoping one day to write like C. S. Lewis. With my dad I’d watch the Skins Game and see Arnold Palmer stand over a 15-footer worth $100,000, then I’d go out back to chip balls until the sun went down.
After graduating from college with a degree in English, I still thought about writing; but being free from school for the first time in my life, I found myself at the golf course most days and serving tables at night to support my golfing habit. I logged countless hours on the putting green, splashed loads of sand from the practice bunker, and pounded balls at the driving range. When I’d win a match, I felt uplifted and worked the dinner shift bragging to coworkers about my triumphs. When I’d lose, I’d berate myself, replay the mis-hits in my mind, and go out drinking after work. [End Page 189]
The next day I’d be back at the course working on my game. I’d write a little here and there, but nothing serious. I saw no point in sitting down to write until inspiration struck.
Dinty W. Moore’s new book, The Mindful Writer (Wisdom Publications, 2012), argues that writers must adopt a daily writing practice, whether words flow freely or you feel like you’re slicing them into the trees. “Let’s dispense with inspiration from the start,” writes Moore, “because nothing causes more dissatisfaction and disappointment in a writer’s life than the myth of the thunderbolt.” Moore says you must go to your writing workstation (just as I went to the driving range) and allow the words themselves to shape a piece. If you wait for the “thunderbolt,” chances are you’ll be waiting for a while and your craft will lose its sharpness. “Listen to where the writing wants to take you,” Moore says. “Understand that the writing itself will often provide far richer material than your logical, predictable mind.” He’s speaking about the ego here. As a Buddhist, whose memoir is titled The Accidental Buddhist: Mindfulness, Enlightenment, and Sitting Still (Algonquin, 1997), Moore cautions that the ego is a source of suffering for writers—the voice in your head that says the process itself is an inconvenience in your quest toward publishing glory. Embrace the process, says Moore; enjoy the journey.
The Mindful Writer is a collection of 59 short essays, each based on an inspirational quote about writing, mindfulness, or both. Moore puts these essays and adages into four categories, each focused on an aspect of the process: “The Writer’s Mind,” which stays awake and mindful of the possibilities presented by language; “The Writer’s Desk,” where the writer sits, like a meditating monk, and waits for the words to come; “The Writer’s Vision,” which encourages the writer to look to her craft as a way into her self; and “The Writer’s Life,” which is lived by committing to daily practice, accepting failure and rejection, and being present with one’s thoughts throughout the day.
Moore introduces readers to mindfulness, the fundamental tool used by Buddhists to quell the ego: “In the context of writing, mindfulness means that . . . you are able to remain attentive to the task at hand, seeing the words that are before you, hearing the possibilities in your mind, not succumbing to the thousands of other willing and ready distractions.” According to Moore, mindfulness can help all people focus their attention on the work at hand, but [End Page 190] especially writers, for “mindfulness includes...