So, if you’re a long term reader of the blog, then you might be aware that I am interested in spirituality. I’m not a magician or anything like that, but I do take an interest in certain philosophies, mainly Eastern but I do appreciate stoicism and have been reading Marcus Aurelius and Seneca but the one set of tenets that I do return to quite often is Buddhism. I like it’s rooted in human behaviours, that there’s no external deity to worship and I draw comfort from the attempt to aspire to an ideal. There are buddhist bigots out there, Myanmar is a sad example of such but nothing and no one is perfect, which Buddhism allows for. I also like Taoism and Zen as well, most religions are fascinating to me, and there are rich seams of poetry and sensuality within each of them.
So, I have been listening to an audiobook by Jack Kornfield which talks about The Ten Perfections, virtues of the religion, all delivered in his soft, warming voice, interspersed with parables, jokes and illuminating stories. I would recommend it to anyone, regardless of faith because there is a lot you can learn from considered and informed voices without a dog in the fight.
I thought about how it would apply to the practice of writing and how they might be intertwined with the Ten Perfections. Here are five or so, that might be interesting.
Equanimity – A balanced, even mind applies in respect of how you portray your characters. If you can understand that no one considers themselves a villain, that ‘good’ people are flawed and duplicitous without diminishing their goodness. Establishing and practicing this is a good way to achieve depth in your stories.
Compassion – Unsentimental is the caveat here. You show your love for the characters by making them suffer, setting them challenges between them and their goals. Their reaction, their desire is what fuels the engine of your story.
Generosity – To yourself, in terms of caring for you, physically and emotionally is a form of generosity. When you’re giving everything away, be sure to keep something for yourself in order to maintain and empower yourself. In terms of your writing, take delight in what you are creating, it’s the cheapest form of entertainment to tell yourself a story and yet the most powerful. Be generous to your characters in how you tell their story, protagonist and antagonists alike.
Morality – Your passion and genuine emotion are what will draw the reader in and keep them there. We can forgive clumsy writing, inconsistent plotlines and bad cover art if we sense that we are reading something genuine and heartfelt. Your morality informs your writing, either in opposition or consolidation. Explore that on the page – write about a homophobic nurse forced to care for a dying gay man, or a white nationalist who finds themselves working alongside a Puerto Rican. Depending on your point of view, try to explore different viewpoints with the same passion and insight that you would confirm your own.
Renunciation – I characterise this as the fear of missing out or chasing trends in writing. Renounce the voices of others only when you have found yours, be the best version of you on the page that you can be. Don’t be JK Rowling or Stephen King, they’re already out there and they got there through hard work , luck and determination. Be the best version of you. It can also refer to the discipline of a writing practice, or making sure that you read more, and to do so consciously.
Wisdom – Your life is source material. If not the objective experiences, then the emotions that you have experienced or the things that you have learned from them. The life you have lived and live has all the colours you need to paint a masterpiece, sometimes you will need blend colours and nuances to get the shade that you need. You have lived, and learned, the difficult part is in the translation sometimes. Imagination is that path, but it is the wisdom of experience that will give you the strength to walk along it.
Effort. There is the effort required to write, or develop a sustainable practice of writing and maintain it. There is the effort required to research and improve your craft, the effort to read rather than watch television or play videogames. There is the determination to market your work as well. Effort is important to the development of an approach to writing.
Patience. Writing for a reply to an email that may offer success or feedback. Replies to enquiries or about submissions that seem to take their sweet time in arriving. Seeing people get deals, retweeting fan art and glowing reviews whilst you’re still waiting to find out if what you’ve written is actually any good. Patience is important but do not be passive about it. Work on your material, seek to improve in some small way to ensure that the time spent in patient anticipation was not wasted.
Truthfulness. Honesty on the page is everything. Yes, writing is a series of entertaining lies interspersed with truth. Tell the truth through the observations and actions of your characters. It is free therapy, and earnest, unvarnished truth resonates with readers in a way that the most elegant, glorious language never could. If it is uncomfortable, keep a straight face and say that it is just fiction. Stick a hobbit or a ninja in there to distract them. Yes, you’re making things up and having a fine time doing it but hold some measure up to the light of the truth within and about yourself.
Determination. Better work than yours will be ignored, lesser works than yours will be feted and celebrated. Some people will do less to get further and faster than you. Your work will sometimes feel like a trudge through a muddy path. Your family will demand more of your attention, at exactly the point that your second act falls to shit and phone calls will interrupt your most sublime reveries. This is where determination comes in. It applies regardless of whether writing is a hobby or a career for you. A strange fact is that the more effort you put into something, the better you will get and then your enjoyment of the hobby will gain depth and find new meaning. There’s something almost perverse in developing a level of aptitude for no other reason than your own pleasure. We’re encouraged to get better for the salary increase, the title but when we do it for the soul’s reward, there is something truly sublime in that.
When your heart is breaking, writing makes sense. It takes determination to write through your pain but it makes it easier to bear it all.