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Tip: Zen and the Patience of Writing

During an interview with John Dufresne, he mentioned something that although far from revolutionary, really hit home with me.

Too often we, as young writers, get caught up in the obsession to publish, to succeed, to make it, to achieve our goals, to get validation for ourselves, to prove mom and dad wrong, to get back at Jenny who dumped us in college, to thumb our noses at those assholes in the workshop who ripped our story, to get our picture on the bookstore wall, to stand out from all of our cubicle-dwelling-Dockers-wearing accountant friends, and to share our vision and our words with the world. We get obsessed with this achievement and forget about the process of writing.

Dufresne said “do I want to be a guy who wrote a story or do I want to be a writer?”

He may not think of it in this manner, but that attitude, and elements of our conversation really made me think of an old Zen belief that the way to find enlightenment is to “chop wood, carry water.” Focusing on the act, completely immersing yourself in whatever activity you are doing, being in the moment, those concepts are all very much a part of Zen practice. But if I extrapolate out Dufresne’s comments, it seems like he’s suggesting the same thing for writing.

Focus on the work. Don’t worry about the end product. “Learn how to finish but don’t think you’re going to finish today or whenever. Learn to be patient. Don’t expect too much from the first draft. It’s going to be bad so relax. It’s not the story in question, it’s the process of writing,” Dufresne said. Whatever you write today is going to inform, influence, and inspire what you write tomorrow.

I’m really not very good at this. I am impatient in my attempts to build a writing career and I always want things now. But Mr. Dufresne really made me think about slowing down, just settling into the process, and seeing where the page takes me.