Far into reading Nightline host Dan Harris’ 10% Happier, a memoir of how he came to the practice of meditation, I realized that his Way of the Warrior list of specific guideposts toward being happier was very relevant to my current process of becoming a first-time author. From the vantage point of a confirmed non-believer, Harris’ engaging romp of a book tells of his “skeptical odyssey” through the world of spiritual self-help and the science around it. He emerges with a practice to reduce stress, improve focus, and rein in the incessant voice in his head that both pushed him to succeed and colluded in some of his seriously destructive life choices.
So here are his steps toward being a better person and my authorial gleanings.
Don’t be a jerk. For an author who writes about family stories, this admonition covers considerations of privacy, feelings of ownership, the legacy of family stories, and the broad range of family members’ emotions, memories, and relationships to stories put into print.
When necessary, hide the Zen. Sometimes you really do have to just show and not tell the reader.
Meditate. Just as meditation can quite the interior chatter and help the writer to become mindful, so can stepping back from a chapter, a plot, a character and clearing away established thoughts bring new insights to the work.
The price of security is in-security. (Until it’s not useful) Things change. Don’t become too attached to an achievement. Writing the book doesn’t guarantee publication, which doesn’t accomplish garnering publicity, which doesn’t guarantee sales, etc. Security lies in embracing the commitment to the work despite the insecurity of the process. This doesn’t mean a failure to put down the stakes and do the hard work when it’s necessary.
Equanimity is not the enemy of creativity. No need to give up the writer’s creative edge, but no need to cut yourself to smithereens on it either. Make space for your whole person, adding energy and staying power to the writing.
Don’t force it. If a sentence or a plot line’s not working, it’s not working. Try something different.
Humility prevents humiliation. Hear criticism and be open to change from a position of strength and belief in your work. See steps 1-6!
Go easy with the internal cattle prod. Every writer does well to heed this advice. Use the censor, the motivator, but only to the extent it’s useful.
Non-attachment to the result. When you’ve done your best, celebrate the results. Let the work live its intended life, even if that isn’t what you expected or hoped for. Your work is your work; it’s not the totality of who you are. Because…
What matters most? It certainly isn’t the book or the story or the blog post even though they matter a great deal.