How Buddhism made me a Better Writer

First, let me say that I don’t consider myself a practicing Buddhist, not really. To claim that would be demeaning to those who are truly practicing members of their sangha.

I am someone who – like many others – came to Buddhism during a difficult period of my life. I fell into meditation and found it a balm, then I began attending a Buddhist meditation circle every week. At one of these circles, the teacher recommended a book to me – When Things Fall Apart, by Pema Chodron – and I found it to be one of the most beautiful, real explanations I have seen of the human psyche in pain. Since then, it’s stuck.

As things do, the difficult period of my life changed and improved, letting me focus on the other passions driving me forward. Namely, writing.

Far from falling into the background, the Buddhist philosophy I had learned continued to prove itself invaluable. It affects everything now from how I deal with frustration and pain to how I draw (or rather, let it come without the pressure that holds it back) my inspiration for my creative outlet. It has taught me a different perspective of work ethic, granting those things that felt annoying or unnecessary – like chores or work – a valid place in my day to day routine.

As a writer, I have found massive benefits from the Buddhist philosophy. It is of course not for everyone, but I would urge anyone, no matter what their religious (or not) leanings, to at least reach out and learn a little about it, to see if there is anything in the teachings that might improve their lives. If not, then at least you looked. But I believe Buddhism teaches basic principles that fly in the face of Western culture, offering us a peaceful way to examine how we live our own lives.

Here are some of the aspects of Buddhism I reach to every day, which make me a vastly happier person, and a significantly better writer.

Impermanence

I’ve written about impermanence before, but it is a stunningly important – and healing – outlook that can be applied to nearly every facet of our lives.

The basic idea is that everything is impermanent. What is true right now will change. Winter becomes spring. The frustration you feel now from the massive plot hole will be resolved. It will. One way or another, you won’t feel like that and be stuck in that place forever.

For a craft relying so much on constant momentum, the feeling of being stuck is devastating. It can become the moment that makes a writer quit. But the truth is that you just don’t know where to go with your story right now. The more you stress about it, the more the hole becomes the only thing you can see, rather than the details you can fill it in with. The more fixated you are on the fact that you’re stuck, the harder it is to break past the block.

So let it go. Understand that your block is impermanent, and the eureka moment will come. Let it.

Meditation

I have been an avid meditator for a long time. Though I must admit, much less so lately, simply due to other demands on my time and other directions of mental focus. But I still come back to mediation as part of my personal wellness and to keep myself sharp.

As writers, so much of our time is spent in deep, narrow focus, usually sitting at a computer (or in a notebook, if you prefer a pen in your hand). This level of concentration takes its toll. The longer you go without giving your mind a break, the harder it needs to work to keep progressing.

Meditation is a varied practice, with so many different forms and focuses and general goals. I have explored many of these different types, but the kind of mediation I am talking about here is the classic. No thought. This does not mean you are literally not thinking. That’s impossible, unless you’re a bodhisattva, and even then I’m sure they have their moments of distraction.

What it means is that you do not attach yourself to your thoughts. They will rise and fall, and you can’t do anything to stop them. But, you can learn to let them pass as an observer, rather than taking part.

In a culture where we are constantly in motion and working toward the next goal, that time of detachment lets your mind unclench, and lets your thoughts take a well-deserved break, so you can come back refreshed.

Also, a fun side effect is that those random rising and falling thoughts often contain nuggets of inspiration to answer questions that have been frustrating you, or to fill holes in your plotting that you have been struggling to patch. 

The trick is to accept that you will keep thinking, and to not hold yourself to unattainable expectations of perfect thoughtlessness. You will think things and get distracted, and that’s part of the point.

Work Ethic

One of the teachings that I remind myself of all the time is ‘don’t do tomorrow what you can do today.’ This is true in everything. Stop bloody well procrastinating.

There is a simple comfort when your work is done. Yes, you busted your ass for an additional few hours after coming home from work to do the dishes, pay the bills, put away laundry and take out the garbage. Yeah, the laundry would have survived until tomorrow. Sure, you still have clean dishes to eat from. But that moment when you sit down with it all just… done… is a comfort unlike any other.

This is true for writing, too. Writing – especially writing a novel- takes a massive amount of work. An overwhelming amount of work. An amount of work that can make many prospective authors walk away with their hands in the air. Well, work is part of the experience of life. Chores are part of the experience of life. Joy is also part of the experience of life. If you really want to live in the moment and be present in your own life, that means taking an active role in the chores and the work as well as they joy.

As well as the writing.

Yes, it will take you a year, or however long it takes you, no matter how impatient you are to be done. But just sit down and do the work. Be present in the experience and love the struggles as well as the gains as you put your pen to paper. It’s all part of the process and the experience.

You’ll get to that end goal, but not if you don’t do the work.

Buddhism can be different for every practitioner. To some, it’s closer to a religion, whereas to others it is a philosophy that teaches how to live with wisdom. Either way, I’ve yet to find anything in the practice that is harmful. Take the points that resonate with you, work them into your life and around the beliefs you already hold. They’ll fit better than you might realize.

Or at least have a mind open enough to learn a little and decide they don’t after all.

There is so much more to Buddhism than what I’ve highlighted here, so if you’re interested in learning the scope of the practice, please do give it a look. What I’ve presented are some of the practical applications of a deeply peaceful study. But I’m confident they can offer you a glimpse into something that might fill a gap, to make the most of yourself, your life and your craft.

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