Writing: four noble truths

Sitting at my desk at the end of a busy day. I’ve had too much client work to get through lately, but now I feel like I’ve got a bit more space. One thing that’s fallen by the wayside is my daily experiment with Mary Oliver’s instructions for living: pay attention, be astonished, tell about it. I’ve continued with the first two parts, but not the third. When I have made some time to write, to do some ‘telling about it’, I’ve found myself drawing instead, or doing more client work.

One thing that’s astonished me is how quickly the writing becomes difficult, once neglected. Although I shouldn’t be surprised. For years, I’ve noticed a three-day rule: If I stop writing, if, as my poetry hero William Stafford might say, I ‘let go of the thread’, it takes me three days to find it again, three days to get back into the flow. It’s true, for me, that the only thing more difficult than writing is not writing. Sitting here, I can feel the weight on my shoulders of all the things I was going to write about over the last few days, and they would all have been so much better than what I’m writing now, but… well, it didn’t happen. All I have is this.

And all of this makes me think of the Zen writer Gail Sher and her ‘Four Noble Truths’ of writing. Do you know them? 1.Writer’s write. 2. Writing is a process. 3. You don’t know what your writing will be until the end of the process. 4. If writing is your practice, the only way to fail is not to write. Yes indeed, those are more instructions to live by, but inadequately so. Writing, she says, like life, is one long and continuous mistake. You do it, you get it wrong – inevitably. And then you continue.

#11 of 30. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.

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