If The Buddha Wrote A Novel

I’ve been practicing meditation for almost ten years, and I’ve realized Buddhism, and many of its teachings, relate not only to life, but to writing, which for many of us is synonymous.

First off, please don’t let the title of my post scare you away! Buddhism is far more about psychology than religion; even the Dalai Lama is known for saying his “religion” is compassion; and meditation, the cornerstone of Buddhism, can be practiced by the religious and non-religious alike. Think of it like that hot trend right now—yoga. Yeah, yeah, I hear you saying. So what does all this have to do with writing? That’s why we’re here, isn’t it?

Well, I’ve been practicing meditation for almost ten years, and I’ve realized Buddhism, and many of its teachings, relate not only to life, but to writing, which for many of us is synonymous.

Equanimity

A couple of years ago, while meeting with my meditation instructor, I said something along the lines of, “I love Buddhism—except for the whole compassion thing; that part sucks. Most people get on my nerves and I have zero compassion for jerks!” My instructor, who’d read my first novel, and knew about the novel I was working on at the time, stared at me pointedly and asked if I ever felt my characters were jerks—if I ever lacked compassion for the people who inhabited my stories.

I think it helps as writers if we treat our characters like people—complex, living, breathing people. Instead of labeling your characters as good or bad or whatever, consider remaining curious.

Granted, the heroine of my first novel sleeps with her best friend’s husband (d’oh!), and the narrator of my second novel battles alcoholism and the habit of sleeping with strangers. Still, I felt defensive. I love my characters. I think they’re complex, broken, spirited and funny. When I told my instructor as much, he reminded me about the importance of equanimity: the practice of keeping curious and open without grasping hold to a fixed opinion.

I think it helps as writers if we treat our characters like people—complex, living, breathing people. Instead of labeling your characters as good or bad or whatever, consider remaining curious. Even if a certain character’s backstory doesn’t make it into the novel, you should know why and how they became who they are. If you write your so-called “bad” characters with no sense of insight, or compassion for that matter, you just might end up writing them as flat.

Discipline

In Buddhism, discipline is a key “paramita” or practice.

It’s tough to write a novel—to keep our momentum as writers—period—without discipline. When I first started meditating, I felt as if the random thoughts swirling in mind would surely drive me crazy, and sitting on my cushion became the last thing I wanted to do every morning. So I switched things up. Instead of aiming for twenty minutes, I set a more doable goal of only five minutes a day. I wanted sitting to become as routine as brushing my teeth. After I became comfortable with five minutes I aimed for ten and eventually twenty.

Discipline comes from “practicing” more days than not. Make writing part of your routine.  Nothing special, just part of your routine. Consider not counting pages or words and simply make showing up the goal. Sometimes I write for an hour, sometimes only thirty minutes, but it’s amazing how much you can get done when you keep your goals low and achievable.

Humor

Q: Why don’t Buddhists vacuum in the corners?

A: Because they have no attachments.

(Ha ha. I found that joke online.)

In Buddhism there is an emphasis on humor and the practice of not taking ourselves too seriously.

What if we laughed a little at our stinky scene or chapter? What if we lightened up?

What if instead of beating ourselves up for not sounding like Faulkner or Morrison every time we sit to we write, we give ourselves a break and even have a chuckle over our worst line or passage? Frankly, the amount of cheese I’m sometimes able to generate when I write can be pretty hilarious. Why take writing so seriously that writing becomes torture? What if we laughed a little at our stinky scene or chapter? What if we lightened up? No one is expecting perfection in a draft. No one wants you beating yourself up over a sentence—or beating yourself up period.

I’m guessing that’s what the Buddha would advise.  So my friends, pat yourself on the back. Smile. Stick to it!

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(First appeared in Writer’s Unboxed)

recipes in a “pinch”

I’ve  always wanted to learn to bake, but I also had some kind of phobia around it. I remember watching my great grandmother and great aunt bake like women born with that gift, you know?  No cookbook in site, the kitchen counter covered with cookies, bread or whatever they were baking that day. But that seemed like something they did. They grew up baking.  I’d grown up making cake by mixing water and oil with the ingredients from a box then opening a can and slathering the cake with “icing.”10580119_894893397192155_5844544541622239116_n

When I was in my twenties I dated a guy whose mother baked and those memories of my great grandmother came back. Plus, the reminder of how nothing equal something made from scratch coming from the oven. And my ex-boyfriend’s mother baked things like cream puffs!  Over time, I started collecting  cookbooks. I mean, I collected them for years, but I was too afraid to try the recipes!

I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions, but about three years ago, I promised myself that I would start baking and using all the cookbooks I’d collected.  Since then, I’ve made everything from cakes to pies to tarts. I bake for myself and friends. Along with reading and walks,  it’s one of my favorite activities. It continues to be a wonderful exercise in getting over  any fear about worrying how a recipe will turn out, or if people  will like it. It was also fun to make the narrator of A Pinch Of Ooh La La a baker.  Here are a few recipes that are delicious and easy. Promise!

Continue reading

blog-in-the-round: writers answer four questions and pass it on

I heard about  Ana Hays McCracken’s “blog-in-the-round” from  Tracy Guzeman, who invited me to join in. During the blog hop, writers are asked to answer four questions, then pass the torch the following week to two or three other writers (who then answer the same four questions).  My answers are below.  Thank you Ana and Tracy!

 

What am I working on/writing?

I started a new novel a couple of months ago, but it’s so new I’m not sure of the entire story, and I’m barely getting to know the characters.

Whenever I start a new project it feels as if I’m taking teeny tiny baby steps toward the story and characters, and the characters and story are taking small steps toward me.  At a certain point, we start walking toward each other with a little more trust.

How does my writing/work differ from others in its genre?

I often read books where all the characters are of the same race, except for the occasional minor character.  My characters tend to be all over the place as far as race and sexual orientation.  I also like to write with humor. My characters might go to dark places at times, but humor will always play a part in their stories in one way or another.

Why do I write what I do?

I can’t write poetry or short stories so I guess I’m stuck with novels!  When I first started I had no idea I’d love writing novels as much as I do. I like staying with a story as long as it takes and discovering the people and their world. Usually one character will come to mind along with snippets of a story, and I’ll be curious enough and excited enough to follow the woman on her journey.  I also write what I do because I want to connect. I love reading a book and falling in love with the story, and I hope I can give that feeling to others.

How does my writing process work?

I consider the time when I’m starting something new playtime. I don’t try to write for too long, and I don’t push myself too much.  I do try to show up more days than not, but I see no point in trying to force anything when I don’t know the characters.  You can have an outline, but if you don’t know the characters—their inner emotional lives, especially–your scenes are going to be flat, regardless.   I just play until the story begins to unfold and the characters start to come alive.  The more I show up, the more the story starts to unfold, and this allows me to sit for longer and longer stretches.  Once I’m really into it, I try to put in 1 – 2 hours before I go to work and longer hours on weekends.  But that’s after I’ve found my groove with whatever I’m working on.

 

Next week’s Blog HopMeet two fabulous authors who will answer the same questions I did: Trisha R. Thomas and Jacqueline Luckett

 

In 1999 Jacqueline Luckett left the corporate world to kickstart her writing career with classes she took on a dare—from herself.
 
People Magazine (February 2012) described Luckett’s sophomore novel, Passing Love as “beautifully written and filled with vibrant scenes of Paris in its Jazz Age and today.”
 
Essence Magazine selected Searching for Tina Turner as the January 2010 book-of-the-month selection. The novel follows a divorced woman’s journey to self by way of France. What comes through for the main character is the inspiration of Tina Turner’s personal story: everything we need to move forward in our lives is already within us.
 Learn more at jacquelineluckett.com

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Trisha R. Thomas is the author of Nappily in Bloom, Nappily Faithful, and Nappily Ever After, which was a finalist for the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work. Her debut novel was optioned by Halle Berry and Universal Pictures for adaptation to film. Her latest novel, Nappily Entangled, is available now. Trisha lives in Riverside, California. Visit Trisha at www.nappilyseries.com/blog   1267256_10152214383082519_109937707_o

 

good times at Actual Cafe

Thanks to the folks at Actual Cafe for inviting me to read during the Golden Gate districts “Second Saturdays.”  Piper, the narrator of Shake Down the Stars, lives in the Golden Gate district of Oakland (as do I) and it was fun to read in my “actual” neighborhood.  Get it? Actual? 

I was doubly happy and pleased when the jazz band who performed before I read offered to accompany me.  I can’t stand to look at myself, so I haven’t seen this yet, but I thought it would be fun to post.

Thanks for stopping by.

And thanks to those who attending the reading and to Sal and everyone at Actual Cafe. 

 

 

 

 

Click the links below to check out the video

writer in action: part 1

 

writer in action – 2