ZAZEN (honor your muse and it will serve you)

I write at home in my office in my green chair.
…in my car parked on an ocean bluff.
…at Kreutzberg Cafe (San Luis Obispo, CA).
…while waiting at a doctor’s (or other) office.
…in any coffee shop or equivalent around the world, especially if it has comfortable seats.

I used to write in big city newspaper and wire service offices amid the clatter and clamor of typewriters (I’m of that age), wire service tickers with their bells, phones, amid shouting and threats (the empty variety, mostly), beneath the meaningless wind of cross-talk and curses and mindlessly spewed trivia.

The one condition in which I can’t write is the presence of one crying child. Two or more I can tune out. Children being children don’t bother me, nor do any number of barking dogs, nor our constantly clucking wild turkeys in mating season.  I suppose in the presence of crisis such as fire, flood, war, or riot, I would necessarily have a hard time writing.  I’ve been lucky enough to avoid those, although as a newspaper and wire service journalist, I’ve had to write during strike marches, court cases where boredom is the major danger, even at sports events from Little League to high school and university to major league contests.

My own sometimes-wandering mind gets in the way of a story’s progress more than almost anything external. But I’ve learned to control even that (generally), because these wanderings tend to be less engrossing than the story I’m writing.  If not, that tells me that something’s wrong with the story.  It’s a happy condition that working on a story—short variety or novel— even if only a few minutes, five to seven days a week, keeps my mind in the story in some gray corner, even while doing other stuff, such as exercising, sleeping, etc.

The trick to this is knowing and feeling that even five or ten minutes a day grabbed between other obligations or distractions is sufficient to keep me “in the story.”  I start to lose the story, voice, characteristics of the characters, etc. when I don’t touch the story for several days…or weeks.

What else should I expect if I neglect my story?  That whoever or whatever gives me the words will continue to visit when I ignore it? Merely thinking about the story is not enough.  The Muse requires ink or lead on paper (or electronic images on a screen).  It requires moving forward on the story, even if it’s merely a baby step. Which can be erased tomorrow if it turns out not to be good enough to keep.  Erasures or trash-canning is not lack of progress.  It is progress, though of the private kind at this point, just between you and your Muse.  What He/She/It requires is that you make the daily tangible effort.

I’ve focused on the brief end of a day’s writing time, five or ten minutes. What’s a “good” amount of writing time in a day? The answer is as much as you can.

I no longer define myself as a factory worker, student, journalist, baseball player, teacher, or laggard, all of which I’ve been. What I am now is a writer. I’m lucky that way. What stops me writing is severe pain in my back or butt or an unavoidable obligation or my beloved’s siren call. Also, fatigue from these things. Fatigue must be recognized and accepted. But as long as I’m sitting anywhere with pen and pad (or at the computer in re-write mode), I can and do write. I trust that ideas about words will come, and they do. They’ll come when you honor your Muse, which some writer/artists call “zazen.”

The following is from the Dharma Rain Zen Center:
Zen is the school of Buddhism that emphasizes the practice of meditation as both the means to, and expression of, awakening. “Zen” is the Japanese transliteration of the Chinese “Ch’an,” which derives from the Sanskrit “dhyana,” which means ‘absorption.’ This is the state of stable, focused concentration that grows from repeatedly bringing the mind back to the present. Dhyana is the form and method of zazen http://www.dharma-rain.org/zazen/whatis.html; the practice of letting go and returning to the present. Cultivating this prevents distraction, but it is not a way to escape or ignore the conditions around us.  Zazen happens in and with the world, not apart from it.

This rendition of zazen is somewhat askew from the traditional and eastern.  But the act of daily writing dwells in the ideas of “focused concentration,” “bringing the mind back,” “absorption,” “preventing distraction,” not to nothingness, but to the core of what you are doing in the moments or hours you make available for writing.  I consider it ‘plunging back into’ my story-in-progress, a daily dip into my favorite stream.  That’s my zazen time.

Can you not find at least a few minutes a day to write on your story?  If you find it impossible, please let us know how and why.  Also, let us know if you have a way to get that writing done in your hectic life.  We’re always learning and adjusting.

3 thoughts on “ZAZEN (honor your muse and it will serve you)”

  1. “Erasures or trash-canning is not lack of progress. ”

    Absolutely. I’ve heard several people say that everyone has one million words of crap inside them. So even when you’re writing crap, you’re getting it out of your system, so the chances of writing better get progressively higher.

    Laurell K. Hamilton said on her blog that when she first started writing, she trashed about 95% of everything she wrote. Now she keeps about 75-80%.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if only 20% of the sentences in the final draft of my first novel match exactly with the first draft–despite the fact that the plot and characters have not changed.

    1. Keri,
      You said that your “plot and characters have not changed.” Do you find that some key characters may sometimes change in the midst of creation? Change 180-degrees, like turn from “good” to “bad,” or v.v.? Mine sometimes do as the story unfolds. Legend has it that Eudora Welty said she never knew where her stories would go more than three sentences ahead.

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