In my continuing quest to learn stuff, I have been reading about Buddhism. One of the primary tenets of Buddhism is the idea of letting go. What does this mean for writers?
The basis of Buddhist thought is the Four Noble Truths. Basically, these are: 1. Life is characterized by suffering, 2. The real cause of suffering is attachment: our desire for things to go the way we want and our dismay when they don’t, 3. There is a way out of suffering, and, 4. The Buddha’s teachings are techniques to relieve this suffering. One of the most familiar of these techniques is sitting meditation. The idea of meditation (at least according to Shambhala Buddhists) is to practice letting go by focusing on the breath and not getting attached to the thoughts that spring up.
In the last year, I learned the usefulness of this technique. My writing and the sale thereof had hit a serious slump. It got to be so bad that I was thinking I would never write or make a sale again. And if I wasn’t a writer, then what would I be? Here’s the problem, in Buddhist terms – I was attached to my identity as a writer, and I was so upset by the loss of this identity that I was causing additional problems for myself and couldn’t see a way out of them. Once I figured this out, my brain relaxed a little, I came up with some new ideas, made some new career plans, and started writing again.
But this success was followed by new problems. Now my brain is going like crazy. What should I do in the next chapter? How should I develop this character? What should I do in the sequel? How should I market my books? Is it better to self-publish or go with a traditional small press? How should I promote myself? And what will happen if Amazon gets their used e-book marketplace going? My brain is starting to look like this again.
So this is the irony of being a creative person trying to follow Buddhism. I think it’s especially problematic for writers, who – unlike other artists – have no way to approach their art without using words. The challenge is to find a balance between working with those words, letting them fill up your mind and overtake it, and letting go. This makes me wonder if any other writers have thoughts on the issue. Has anyone else faced this dilemma and come up with an answer?