Monday, February 20, 2017

Writing by Taoist "Nondwelling"

"All beings work, without exception:
if they live without possessiveness,
act without presumption,
and do not dwell on success,
then by this very nondwelling
success will not leave.

-Wisdom from the Tao Te Ching 

These words struck a powerful chord with me when I read them earlier this week, because I realized I had forgotten how important the concept of "nondwelling" is in the writing process. I will break nondwelling down into four steps:

1. (Write) Live without possessiveness

Sometimes I hold myself back in my writing because I am unwilling to recognize that an idea is not working. I sabotage my own progress by clinging to ineffective plot threads because I want them to work. I have to let go in order to keep learning, improvising, and yes, revising yet again. Sometimes that means letting go of a sentence, or a page, a chapter, or even a whole book.

2. (Write) Act without presumption  

I have been guilty of presuming my own "inherent" creativity will provide enough sparkly thoughts to make a good book. But creativity is just a spark and even that becomes a weak ember when starved of fuel. The creative fire has to be fed, and that means hard work gathering all the kindling: reading other books to nurture my mind, refining my writing craft by learning from other writers (The Writing Excuses podcast is awesome!), and building a fairly consistent writing routine even if that means just one sentence a day sometimes.

3. (Just write!) Do not dwell on success

This is perhaps the hardest part of nondwelling to put into practice, at least for me. I always obsess over each word, wondering if it is inferior, if all my ideas are banal, if I am wasting my time on a novel that will never make the cut. Wondering if I just don't have what it takes: the stamina, creativity, humility, and diligence to polish a lumpy pebble into a scintillating syllabic jewel. Sometimes I don't. And that's okay . . . because I'm never done writing!

The only way to shake off my mental paralysis is to grow a writer's skin as thick as a dragon's hide, one scale of courage at a time. I must allow myself the right to ink my heart out because that is the wellspring of my dreams, while a publishing deal is more of a goal than a dream. If I obsess over whether I will ever become a published author or not, then I will fail my ultimate dream: to become a vibrant storyteller. This truth will make me suffer if I deny it, because then I am dishonest with myself about why I ever started writing in the first place.

4. (Write, and . . . ) Success will not leave?

Maybe success will mean a spot on a bookshelf and a shiny Kirkus Review one day. Maybe it won't. But if I can wholeheartedly commit myself to honing my craft, and make even just one reader laugh, or stay up late at night reading my novel because their fingers and brain are glued to the page, then I will have succeeded. 

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