Writing can be a deeply fulfilling spiritual experience, as well as an intellectual and artistic one. Consider: You are using words to convey your deepest thoughts and feelings, either to yourself by way of a diary, to your loved ones through letters, or to the whole world through poems, stories, essays, reportage, plays. Regardless of genre, you are wielding that most powerful, mind- and spirit-enhancing tool that civilization has ever invented, the tool of language, and you are doing so in ways that illuminate people’s lives, sometimes improving their lives in practical ways, while at the same time aesthetically delighting them.
Whether you are working on a collection of poems that provides fresh insight into human nature or the natural world, or a memoir that shows how one person has endured and overcome misfortune, or a novel that takes readers on a thrilling adventure or illuminates a dark corner of the human condition or the vagaries of the human heart, you are practicing a wonderful kind of mind-alchemy: the transformation of ideas into stories; private thoughts into public discourse. To think about writing in this manner is ennobling, soul-satisfying—but it can also be intimidating, sometimes to the point where you dare not attempt such alchemy yourself. What can I contribute to the world of letters that Homer and Shakespeare, Tolstoy, and Emily Dickinson, have not already contributed? It’s the oldest not-to-write excuse in the world: Nobody can criticize my writing if I don’t write!
The Daily Writer is designed to help awaken and nurture the spiritual side of writing through daily meditation and practice throughout the calendar year. A writer needs to acquire a certain degree of mental readiness, of deep concentration and attentiveness, necessary for embarking on a daunting writing task, and then staying on course. Daily meditations are an effective way of reminding you of the care and quality that must go into a writing project. Singular flashes of inspiration do not do the trick; instead, a writer needs to sustain a heightened awareness that must be nurtured from day to day. People write not just because they “get ideas” but because they have immersed themselves in a life of thought and emotional involvement with the world.
HOW TO USE THIS BOOK
There are at least four ways in which this collection of 366 meditations and the writing tasks that accompany each one of them can help you reach your goal of becoming a successful writer:
- It can help you integrate writing into your life. Writing is a way of thinking, a way of seeing and interacting with the world; hence you must give yourself time to make writing as much a part of your life as eating. Tending to your writing on a daily basis will ensure that the writing habit takes hold.
- It can help you get your writing day off to an effective start. Daily reflection on any of the topics represented in this book will help place you in the frame of mind needed for literary creativity.
- It can help you break through writer’s block. Writing is tough work, and it is easy to become immobilized. Concentrating on a topic in The Daily Writer can help you to take a fresh look at your settings, characters, or story progression.
- It can help you gain insight into one of the many aspects of the writing craft. Do you have trouble with openings, narrative progression, conflict, specific details, or character development? The Daily Writer includes entries on these and many other aspects of the craft.
THE IMPORTANCE OF WRITING IN DAILY DOSES
One morning while gulping down my daily dose of vitamins and wonder drugs, I suddenly found myself wishing: If I could write as regularly as I take my pills, I would have completed a gazillion books by now. Then the writing teacher in me spoke up: Well, what’s keeping you from writing as regularly as you take your pills? Writing, after all, is the best medicine for a writer—not dreaming about writing, not talking about the books you plan to write “one of these days, as soon as I find the time,” not grinding your cognitive wheels, convinced that you must map everything out in your head before committing a word to paper or screen—but old fashioned, intense, tongue-between-the-teeth writing … every day. Those last two words are the tricky part. How does one keep up a daily writing regimen? The answer is simple: the same way one keeps up the regimen of taking pills daily: by simply doing it, knowing that not doing it will adversely affect your health—in the case of writing, the health of your novel or memoir.
As your project gradually takes shape, you will probably become more selective in which tasks to work on. The book’s dual tables of contents will help you decide which tasks will be most productive for you to work on, given the present circumstance.
One final note: The Daily Writer is ideal for writers on the move, whether traveling or driving to work every day or running errands of one sort or another or hiking in the wilderness: You can keep this book in your purse or backpack—or on your beside table. You might have carved out a special time of day for writing, but the thoughts about what you’re writing arrive at all hours.
Here’s to a fulfilling literary year and to your long-term success as a writer.
We are creatures with one foot rooted in the natural world and the other in the artificial world of our own devising. We may wax idealistic and wish that we could return to nature, to allow ourselves to become more in tune with the rhythms and harmonies of nature—and these are noble ideals, to be sure. But a great many of us would not feel at home in the wilderness; for better or worse, we have become too conditioned by urban life, which has rhythms and sounds of its own. Of course, inching one’s way through highway gridlock, rushing to a meeting, listening to horns and sirens and jack-hammering may not be everyone’s idea of rhythm or euphony, but they do characterize city life. The rhythms and sounds may resemble jazz more than they do classical orchestral music—but both are examples of music. If you’re a student of modern life, you need to pay attention to the jazzy rhythms and sounds of city life.
FOR FURTHER REFLECTION
Cities offer writers a kaleidoscope of sounds and rhythms that communicate a great deal about modern life. Writers tapping into this frenetic energy will in effect be tapping into the heart of modern life, with all its harmonies and dissonances.
Over the next several days become a student of city sounds. Pay close attention to the subtler urban sounds that may be obscured by the more obnoxious ones: sounds emanating from factories, airports, shopping malls; evening and nocturnal sounds; early morning sounds. Visit a city park and record what you hear there. How do those sounds differ from those encountered in wilderness areas? Maintain a written record of the sounds you encounter in these various urban locations.
ON MAKING CONNECTIONS
Part of the pleasure of creative writing, along with transforming story ideas into dramatically fleshed-out stories, is stumbling upon unanticipated or spontaneously discovered connections that add texture and intrigue to your story. To be able to make such imaginative connections, however, you need to give your story plenty of variables, plenty of loose ends to connect.
You also need to let your subconscious mind to some of the work. Turn off (or at least lower the volume) the logic center of your brain and allow for a certain degree of free associating. Your subconscious is very good at making connections among seemingly un-connectable ideas.
FOR FURTHER REFLECTION
Walt Whitman’s poem, “A Noiseless, Patient Spider” creates a vivid image of how a writer uses his soul the way a spider spins its web in order to connect things:
It launch’d filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.
And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.
Examine a recently completed essay, poem, or short story and pinpoint the connections you’ve established in it. Did you compare and contrast one idea or individual with another?