I’ve very much appreciated the wisdom and insight of Dinty W. Moore for a long time. His books The Truth of the Matter and Crafting the Personal Essay are standard texts or references for all the classes I teach. So when I heard he had a new book coming out, I was excited. Then, when I saw he was looking for reviewers or places to guest blog, I was thrilled. His newest book The Mindful Writer employs quotes by other writers as a way of exploring how the practice of Buddhism overlays with the practice of writing. It is one of those books that I have put on my shelf as a reference and a reminder of what it is to be a writer. Now, I give you, Dinty, in his own words.
My first introduction to the concept of mindfulness came to me through the books of the Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. His message is so simple: if you want to promote peace, he said, be peaceful as you walk across the room; if you want to promote love, love yourself and those around you; if you want to reach enlightenment, be entirely focused on the present moment, even if merely washing the dinner dishes.
It seems at first a contradiction to think that anyone can be writing and not mindful, not “in the moment.” Writing after all is an act of extreme concentration.
The cartoon image of the writer with his forehead wrinkled deep in thought, trying to choose the perfect word, is commonplace for good reason. Writing feels like that. But while many of us deliberate hard on word choice and sentence construction, we often remain inattentive to the deeper issues of why we are writing.
Let me just speak for myself: there are times that I’m worrying too much about what magazine will publish my work, or if my work will be as well received as that of a writer who is gaining wide acclaim, and so on and so forth.
Buddhists talk about “right intention,” another name for having the proper motive. Doing something—writing for instance—not for money, not for fame, not for lording your achievements over others, but for the joy of it, for the discovery that comes from fresh insight, and to see where it takes you, is not just the proper way to act, but it is what will best sustain you.
In the context of writing, mindfulness means seeing the words that are before you, hearing the possibilities in your mind, not succumbing to the thousands of other willing and ready distractions. More than that, mindfulness means being aware of why you want to write, who you are writing for, and how to balance your desires for recognition with the demands of clear-headedness and honesty.
Finally, mindfulness includes a conscientious and thorough consideration of who you are as a writer, where you are in your life, what you are feeling, and what is inside of you that wants (or needs) to be written.
Keep these in mind, and your writing will never let you down.
Dinty W. Moore is author of numerous books, including The Mindful Writer: Noble Truths of the Writing Life, Crafting the Personal Essay: A Guide for Writing and Publishing Creative Nonfiction, and the memoir Between Panic & Desire, winner of the Grub Street Nonfiction Book Prize.