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The Zen of Writing

Posted on February 11, 2019

This is a Buddhist mala, or prayer bead chain. It has 108 beads made out of seeds, representing the 108 attachments.

The two writing pieces that we read in preparation for the drafting process were “Shitty First Drafts” by Anne Lamott from the book Bird by Bird, and “The Maker’s Eye”, by Donald Murray (originally published in The Writer 111 in 1998). I enjoyed the way that both authors deconstructed the writing process into little chunks and bits that are easy for even novice writers to try to implement. The title for this post refers to Murray’s analysis of the role of the writer’s ego in the drafting process. He says,

Detachment is not easy. It takes ego to write. I need to say, “I am here. Listen. I have something important to say.” Then, after our egos have produced a draft, we must read when our judgement may be at its worst, when we are close to the euphoric moment of creation. Writers must learn to protect themselves from their own egos. (p. 1, Murray)

This quotation reminds me of the Buddhist idea that there are 108 attachments (sometimes translated as defilements or vices. The original word in Sanskrit is kleśas.) to life on the mortal planes, and that if we wish to attain enlightenment, we must learn to forsake all of them. They include aggression, eagerness for power, humiliation, obsession, and above all, the ego [1]. Many of these attachments plague the writer. For example, Lamott describes the role of aggressive voices that all writers have in their heads. They represent worry, the pressure to perform, and self-doubt, all things that keep us from writing what we want to write.

Three things that I took away from Lamott and Murray’s pieces are the following:


1.  Level of development depends on the author, the piece, and the audience. (Or in Murray’s words, the amount of garlic in a dish “depends on the cook, the casserole, and to whom it is going to be served.” [3 Murray]) I had never really thought about this consciously. I’m not claiming that I do this instinctively, but more that I’ve never thought about it. Only recently, in my fiction writing, have I stopped to consider how much development to put into different pieces.

2. I should read my writing out loud. Last semester, Professor Will Chandler had us do this in Creative Writing 202. It made me really anxious the first time I did it, but I do think that it genuinely helped my writing. It helped me find not only stupid grammar errors but also subtle things like wordiness and bad phrasing. Perhaps the reaction I had to this line (see the picture) was not completely warranted.


3. Sometimes, you just need to let those yammering voices in your head yammer a little before quieting them down. This part of Lamott’s piece resonated with me because I’m always self-doubting when I write. Even when I think that I will never show the piece of writing to anyone, I still judge and put pressure on myself. Maybe if I try the technique with the “mice in the jar”, I will finally conquer this.






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Rossignol Dieudonné

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