I’ve been listening to an audiobook conversation between Natalie Goldberg and Dosho Port called Zen Howl recently. There’s a lot of good stuff on there, especially for people like me who are interested in both writing and zen, but I was particularly struck by a section on discipline.
They were saying that it seems counter-intuitive, but that using discipline is a great route towards finding freedom. In their experience, the only way to get DEEPER is to use Tstructure. The structure of zazen (sitting meditation) leads to greater insight. The structure of regular writing practice leads to better writing.
This is certainly my experience too. I work as a therapist, and the particular frame of the sessions (starting on time, meeting at the same time each week etc.) allow us to plumb the depths. We get closer to the truth.
Since starting my meditation and novel-writing again, thoughts and feelings have been shifting about in me like a nest of baby hamsters. I think it’s because I’ve created a strong enough container for them. The meditation and writing is steadying me, which is allowing me to be more wobbly.
Here’s to wobbling. It gets us to all the interesting places.
Writer Shanta Everington is taking part in my blog tour for ‘small stones‘ during July, and so I’d like to return the favour and let you know about her latest book – ‘Give Me A Sign’. It is aimed at teenage girls, so it wasn’t too much of a leap for me to get into the spirit!
The book follows Liz as she struggles through college, bullied by the Russell twins and misunderstood at home. It’s only when she meets Doug that she starts to think she might be OK as she is. But Doug is from a very different world…
I liked the way this book immersed me in the world-of-the-teenager, complete with text messaging and ‘omigod’s. I also liked the non-sickly-sweet ending. I’d recommend it for any daughters/god-children/teenagers-at-heart!
You can find out more about Shanta at her blog, Give Me A Sign, and buy the book from the Flame shop here.
This morning I managed to meditate for the first time in months.
I’d got into a nice little routine for a while – get up early, twenty minutes on the cushion, write a little chunk of novel. No emails. No Facebook. Not til AFTER.
I haven’t managed this for a while because I’ve been in a funny kind of space. I’ve been launching my new writing consultancy, lauching my new book, lauching my new blog, launch launch launch. I’ve been meeting new people, letting them know who I am, thinking about whether they like me or not.
This morning when I sat still on my cushion I listened to myself think. ‘Why don’t you send your article there?’ ‘Don’t forget to reply to that email!’ ‘Oh, you could write a post about this on your blog!’. I watched myself think, and then let the thoughts go. I watched myself grab them again. I let them go.
Then I sat down and wrote a small chunk of my novel.
Then I wrote this.
I have readers! Hello readers. Lovely to have you here.
I was interested that Jen Lee said she was tempted to start another novel project before her last one was finished. The same thing happened to me last week. I’m about to start work as an affiliate with Jacqui of The Writing Coach, and something she said sparked a bolt of inspiration right through my middle. Within hours I’d started gathering relevant quotes, structuring it, designing the cover…
By the next day, I’d calmed down a little. I’d been feeling distant from my novel. This new book would be fun to write! It’d be easy! It would be the best book in the world! It would make me a millionaire! There was no time to waste, I needed to get started immediately!
Being ‘interrupted’ like this isn’t always a red herring. Whilst writing my 2nd novel, I did ‘interrupt’ myself to put A Year of Questions together, and looking back I’m still happy that I did.
But I think I need to spend some more time with my current novel before I do anything rash this time. The next book will wait. My current novel (or rather my current character, Joe) waited patiently to be written about while I got on with other things. It’s his turn now.
There – I’ve just opened the file containing my novel manuscript for the first time in a couple of months. I bribed myself by saying I’d only open it and then close it again, and then I thought I might as well read the last few pages while I was there, and then I asked myself to write a sentence – just one. I wrote a paragraph in the end. I got my character Joe into his aunt’s kitchen and gave him a cup of cocoa.
That’s how novels are written – one sentence at a time, one cup of cocoa at a time. I know this, and yet I forget it over and over.
I haven’t meditated for months now either. I seem to have got it into my head that unless I do two half-hour sessions every day, I’m not a ‘proper’ zen student. What’s the point in being half-hearted? Listen carefully, Fiona – being half-hearted is better than being absent-hearted. Five minutes of meditation every morning is a good place to start. I’m going to turn off my PC and do it right now.
One cup of cocoa. One sip.
For a few weeks now I’ve been getting ready to launch my new book, small stones: a year of moments and my new writing services (there – plugs over). This means my novel has been sitting patiently in its ‘draft’ file for more than a month, wondering when I’m going to give it some attention.
I am in the priveliged position of not having a deadline for this novel, because I’m still looking for a publisher. I’m writing it because I want to. But not having a deadline raises an interesting question. How hard do I push myself to get it done?
I’ve always found it challenging to think about the difference between ‘not-writing-because-it-isn’t-the-right-time’ and ‘not-writing-because-it’s-easier-to-avoid-it’. It’s a bit like exercise, I suppose (I only suppose because I don’t do exercise). We’re rarely DYING to get to the gym, but when we’re there it’s actually quite fun, and we feel much better afterwards.
I’m happy (for now) to give myself some space. I’ve hoovered my little office. I’ve put a deep pink peony in my desk-top vase. I’m thinking of my character every-so-often, like a good friend you haven’t been in touch with for a while. Maybe writers-who-aren’t-always-writing are still allowed to be writers.
So here I am, in this brand spanking new place. I’m starting this blog as a companion for my new writing consultancy at www.plantingwords.com. But what will it be?
I have two choices. I could make it consciously ‘helpful’, enticing a regular readership by offering ‘free stuff’ – writing exercises, helpful hints, suggestions and encouragement. Or instead I could use it as a space for myself – to explore my own writing process, the ups and the downs, the good days and the dark nights. Hard sell, or the risk of talking mostly to myself?
I do want people to buy my books and consultancy services (and pay the mortgage), and I do want to have readers. Maybe the first blog would be a more sensible way of achieving this. But it has to be the second choice.
In recent years I have tried more and more to write what I want to write – and to be less concerned with whether people might like it. I don’t mean that I’ve become more lazy about my spelling. A good carpenter doesn’t sand down the underneath of a table top because they think someone will see it, but because they take pride in their work. They want to create something beautiful, or as beautiful as they can manage.
I’d like to use this space to ponder what it is to be a writer. I’ll probably post poems by other people. I might use it to ponder what it is to be someone-who-wants-to-sell-books-but-doesn’t-like-selling, or a novice grower-of-vegetables, or someone-who’s-interested-in-zen.
I’ll make a start by planting one word after another – the words I want to use, not the ones I think other people might like. Let’s see what grows!