I was away from home, trying to maintain some semblance of a writing life while helping family. It was a precarious juggling act and one with mixed results. There were glimmers of joy (my mother-in-law was improving; I scored some amazing dim sum at an Asian grocery store one afternoon) but there were challenges I couldn’t escape: a concrete hard bed, relentless rain, and – worst of all – a new manuscript that wouldn’t behave.
Never mind behave – the story was only embryonic but it was already on life support. The harder I worked, the less satisfied I became. Pinning this particular story down was like trying to catch a minnow by hand. Slippery, elusive and frustrating.
Before I left for home, I decided to stop at a bookstore and spend some time browsing. I’d probably miss a ferry because of this, and possibly even dinner, but I needed to be surrounded by books. I needed the physical reminder that stories do get started and finished, they do find readers, they do bring pleasure. Surfing an online bookstore wouldn’t cut it. I needed to smell the ink and flip the pages. I needed to hold hope in my hands.
Funny thing, after looking at the first few shelves of fiction – and reminding myself that some of these authors surely struggled at one point in their manuscripts too – I meandered into non-fiction. I checked out metaphysics, biographies, cookbooks, travel. And, as a matter of routine, I glanced at the section on writing. I didn’t expect to find anything (my library of writing books is vast; I don’t need more). But when I saw the title Mindful Writer I pulled it off the shelf.
A friend has been talking to me lately about mindfulness. About breathing. About staying present. About loving detachment. Her advice has concerned life circumstances rather than writing but I don’t believe in coincidences.
I opened the book to the quote on page 33: What crazies we writers are, our heads full of language like buckets of minnows standing in the moonlight on a dock. Hayden Carruth.
In his discourse under the quote, Dinty Moore says that the exact thought we have, the precise phrase or adjective we want, can be just as elusive as that minnow, just as frustrating to catch. We know what we want to say – all we have to do is say it. How hard can it be? Of course, he says, it’s often harder than we’d like it to be, and certainly harder than most non-writers would believe.
In case I needed more, in the intro Moore talks about the power of releasing control of a story, of letting the words and the characters take us in unexpected directions. “The less I grasped at my writing, the more it seemed to expand into areas that surprised and pleased not just me but the reader as well,” Moore says.
Needless to say, I bought the book. The Mindful Writer ~ Noble Truths of the Writing Life by Dinty W. Moore. A collection of thoughts and inspiration for the writer. Or as I like to think of it: hope in my hand.