Sunday, May 20, 2012

Mindful Swimming

The Mindful Writer is Dinty Moore’s elegant new guide to writing, based in part on his explorations of Buddhism’s core teachings, as well as on his experience as a writer whose work has appeared in such magazines as Harper’s, the New York Times Magazine, Utne Reader, the Gettysburg Review, and Arts & Letters.

In the afterword, Moore, director of creative writing at Ohio University, shares a story that he heard about the way Andre Dubus finished his daily writing sessions.

When Dubus reached the end of the session, Moore tells the reader, it’s said that Dubus noted the number of words that he wrote that day, and, following the number, he wrote two more words: “thank you.”

It’s the kind of story that echos the reader’s gratitude to Moore throughout this book because of the wealth of wisdom about the writing process that he offers on each page. 

“The message,” as Moore writes, “is simple enough:”
First, don’t grasp too hard or you will choke off any creativity.
Second, be open to the moment, the surprise, the gift of grace, or enlightenment. 
If you are not mindful, not attentive, you will fall victim to the first and fail to recognize the second. So be alert. Be deliberate. Take care.
Indeed, the entire book is a reminder to writers of the need to be mindful, not just on the page but in our daily lives.

“In the context of our writing," Moore suggests, "mindfulness means that at those moments when you are focusing on an elusive line of poetry or a stubborn plot obstacle in a story, you are able to remain attentive to the task at hand, 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.”

Moore includes inspiring and thought-provoking quotes as writing prompts for his own meditations on various aspects of writing. You can turn to any page at random and discover a nugget of wisdom, either Moore's own insights or those of another writer, such as:
"Writing is hard, yes. There are days, in fact, when it will seem too difficult to continue, when language and words and ideas will seem to have formed into a sort of cement just moments away from becoming solid, impenetrable. There is no way you can work with that inflexible substance. And yet you do." (p. 30)

“In the stories we tell ourselves, we tell ourselves.” - Michael Martone (p. 42)

“As a teacher, I am often instructing my students to let go of the tight grasp they have on their work, to release the iron-grip of control. The poem wants to go where the poem wants to go, not where you want to take it, I tell them.” (p. 75)

“How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” E.M. Forster (p. 103)
Moore, whose books include The Accidental Buddhist: Mindfulness, Enlightenment, and Sitting Still, has written a guide that will inspire writers to keep writing as we struggle to find words and stories.

And my guess is that The Mindful Writer will remind us to offer a note of gratitude each time we reach the end of our writing sessions, having discovered words on the page that we never saw before.

(Word count: 540) Thank you.

For more information about Dinty Moore and The Mindful Writer, as well as his other work, visit:

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