The Mindful Writer
Dinty W. Moore
In “The Mindful Writer,” Dinty Moore focuses not on the nuts and bolts of writing, and not on how to write popular prose–aspiring romance and thriller writers hoping to churn out the next cookie-cutter midlist book may find these words helpful, but it’s not aimed at them–but on how to cultivate the mindfulness and observation necessary for a writer.
Moore is a Buddhist who uses this text to explore the connection between Buddhist practice and writing practice. The conclusion he come to is that, “Rather than seeing mindfulness and Buddhism as shaping my efforts on the page, what I’ve come to understand is that my lifelong pursuit of writing and creativity helped to open me to the path of Buddhism. The innumerable lessons learned in struggling with my writing over the years had made me aware (albeit in an inarticulate, subconscious way) of the the simple wisdom of mindfulness and nonattachment presented in the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths.”
Moore discusses how his attempts to maintain control over his words and force them to follow the desires of his ego only hindered his writing, even in mundane things like business letters. As an aside, one of the most beneficial if hard-won lessons of my own writing practice was churning out job application cover letters several times a week for months on end. I hated it so much I could only do it by separating myself from the writing process and writing out the horrid words as fast as possible, when resulted in a lack of ego control and a hitherto-unsuspected ability to pour words straight out of the subconscious. I can hardly think of a less auspicious artistic medium for unleashing one’s creativity, but job applications were what trained me to bypass the ego and its vain strivings for control, tap into the subconscious sources of my inspiration, and write quickly and, if the gods were with me, well.
The book then presents Moore’s Four Noble Truths for Writers, which are:
1) The writing life is difficult, full of disappointment and dissatisfaction.
2) Much of this dissatisfaction comes from the ego, from our insistence on controlling both the process of writing and how the world reacts to what we have written.
3) There is a way to lessen the disappointment and dissatisfaction and to live a more fruitful writing life.
4) The way to accomplish this is to make both the practice of writing and the work itself less about ourselves. To thrive, we must be mindful of our motives and our attachment to desired outcomes.
The remainder of the book is mainly taken up with quotes about writing that Moore considers to be particularly enlightening, and his discussion of these quotes. Like many Buddhist or Buddhist-inspired works, “The Mindful Writer” is a slight book, made up of short (1-2 page) chapters that lay out a single thought in a few concise phrases. The idea is not to overwhelm the reader with complex thoughts, but to present a few simple but important truths to the reader, who will then go and incorporate those thoughts into their own practice.
In other words, the important thing is, as always, not so much the reading as the writing, and without actually doing the writing, you will not grasp the essence of the reading. You will not find how to achieve commercial success in these pages, or how to do “practical” things, although there are a set of “mindful writing” prompts at the end. Rather, the book is designed to push the aspiring writer out of their ego-focused mentality and their preconceived notions, all of which serve mainly to cause writer’s block and create stale, tedious writing. You don’t need to be a Buddhist in order to appreciate this book, but as Moore indicates, being a committed writer may turn you into a sort of Buddhist anyway.
Amazon buy link here.