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Archive for March, 2009

        This morning, on his daily radio show “The Writer’s Almanac,” Garrison Keillor quoted Gloria Steinem, who once said, “Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.”  This is a sentiment I’ve heard echoed over the years by many other writers and one that I resonate with in my heart and guts. Difficult as writing at times may be, there arises this deep sense of satisfaction that, for some of us, is uniquely reached through writing.  This type of resonance, this type of yearning satisfaction, seems to be one of the defining qualities that indicates whether your true calling is to be found in writing.

        I’m not trying to make “writing” out to be some sort of precious, lofty grail or some type of either/or, on/off, life-defining declaration of commitment.  In other words, don’t undertake writing in order to be saved; don’t look to writing to give “meaning” to your life. Actually, I find it more helpful to approach writing as a simple, common process.  Just write.  Keep it simple. You wanna write, then just write.  “Writers write.”  Very simple and clean.  And to become a writer, all you have to do is write. As soon as you enter into the process, voilà, you are a writer.  And if you get called away—to answer the phone or get lost in some years-long tangential sidetrack—that’s okay; the river of writing is always waiting for you to wade in again, always ready to sweep you away.

        Let other people worry about whether or not you’re a dilettante or professional, serious or casual, consistent or sporadic writer.  In the end, the only person who has the right to take that measure is you.  And I recommend that you be easy on your self.  But in the meantime, it’s reassuring to be reminded—writer speaking to writer—about the deep satisfaction to be found in writing.  And how it’s always so accessible, so close at hand.

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Listening is one of the qualities that lies at the confluence of writing and meditation. In the practice of open awareness and mindfulness—the type of meditation where you’re not relying on a specific technique—part of the process is allowing the mind to quietly settle and be with whatever arises; to simply listen.  Not just with the ears, but with eyes, nose, body—all the sense-doors awake and open to whatever spontaneously manifests.

        Likewise, one can access the creative in writing through simply listening—by quieting the chatter of discursive thought, of cutting through the surface of what you already know or think you know, and dropping down a few notches deeper, into the unknown.  Resting in silence invokes the freedom to be fresh, receptive, newly attentive to subtle images, to the quiet voice that may have been hovering and waiting for some spaciousness in order to appear.

        Sure, this can be scary.  The mind likes to be busy with people to see, things to do, places to go. And in writing as well, we tend to be more comfortable when we know where the story is heading, what’s the next step on the outline, who’s on first.  And isn’t it great when we’re immersed in a project and it’s almost like dictation—the words flowing, images popping, characters talking, ideas taking shape and form.

        But don’t forget to occasionally leave room for the space to just stop and listen to the silence.  And let me ask you this:  “Is there ever really silence?”  Or do you find that there’s always at least a background hum to the universe. That there may be a word, a voice, an image, a fragment from a long-forgotten dream, just waiting to emerge from silence.  So don’t forget to listen to the silence . . . then write.

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