Zen and the art of writing


I keep a notebook that I write in almost every day, religiously. I carry it around in my purse with a pen, pull it out on the subway ride to work every morning. I use the writing to become present to my surroundings and feelings (what people are saying and wearing, what the weather is doing outside, how uncomfortable my shoes are), but also to open up my creative imagination (where the woman next to me is going carrying a box of bubble wrap). When the noisy thoughts of my day start to creep in to my mind, I silence them and focus my mind on the present.

You might call it a meditation; in many ways, all writing is a form of meditation, a kind of focused presence. And the only thing keeping me sane.

At any rate. Really fascinating thing happened in the course of writing the Jerome Travel and Study Grant application this week -- my novel morphed back into a memoir. I opened up my writing notebook and came across all these essays I've been scribbling about losing my mother, remembering my mother, going back to Nigeria, trying to trace her story. After submitting the latest novel chapter for critique to my writers' group, I just thought it needed far too much work to send out, when these essays fully encapsulated all I was trying to say about memory, loss, language, alienation, identity, tradition, and spirituality (hey, I could add some more :).

The best thing about having a daily writing practice, apart from cultivating an almost Zen-like presence and centeredness, is having a slush pile of odds-and-ends that can be edited and transformed for any creative purpose.

I fully realize that the decision to write a novel was born of the fact that I am not ready to share certain things that these essays expose. But there is something really compelling and honest in them. I will let you know what comes of the application. At the very least, I am going to try and publish a few essays in some literary journals this year. I think it's about time I step up my game and rescue them from where they languish in my marble composition book.

I'm supposed to be working on another application today, for a National Geographic All Roads Seed Grant to do a documentary on my ninety-year-old grandmother. But my head is kind of foggy so I think I might just sleep. I'm home sick with a sinus and bronchial infection, which is far more unpleasant than it sounds.

Hear more on Zen and the art of writing from Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones.

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