Our Fearless Leader Speaks of “Non-Attachment”

May 2, 2012 § 7 Comments


Brevity founder, editor, and slushpile slave-driver Dinty W. Moore talks of writing and non-attachment at the Inside Higher Ed blog today.  Here’s a portion where he diagnoses John Warner’s recent writing block:

JW: I’m going to take advantage of your expertise by sharing my current personal hang-up. I published a novel in the Fall to marginal acclaim, and I have two other projects very close to completion that my brain won’t allow me to finish, I believe, because I’m concerned that I’ll have a hard time publishing them. I work on them all the time, but the finish line gets further away as I rework and rethink. I generally enjoy the process, but I fear the completion. What do you think I should be mindful of with these projects?

DWM: That goes back to the essential Buddhist teachings of non-attachment. You, John, are attached to a particular outcome – something beyond “marginal acclaim.” Trust me, I’ve wrestled this devil myself, time and again. Well, remember this: you can’t control publishing and all of the industry madness. You can’t control the New York Times Book Review. You can’t control bookstores, or Amazon, or readers’ whims. So what can you control?  You can control your own reactions to these outside forces. If these realities drive you up a wall, remember that it is a wall you can choose to disassemble. Just take it down, brick by brick. You can’t control whether your next book is the sort of success defined by big sales, splashy parties, glowing reviews, and industry buzz, but you can control whether you define success in those terms. If you define success outside of these external forces, you can achieve that success within your own control: a book that you are proud of, a book that speaks truth, a book with elegant sentences. Easier said than done? You bet, but if success for every author is only achieved when we hit #1 on the bestseller list and have agents fighting over our next novel, then by definition 99% of us are going to be miserable and dejected all of our writing lives. What a waste. So with these two books, be mindful of how you define success, and what you can control.  If you are not attached to a very particular outcome, you are more able to enjoy and appreciate whatever outcome comes along.

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§ 7 Responses to Our Fearless Leader Speaks of “Non-Attachment”

  • diane travers says:

    this came along on the day I finally submitted my first essay to a popular new york times column. i’ve been slaving and stressing over its every word for months. a non-attachment reminder is just the thing to really let it go. thx – diane

  • kateflaherty says:

    So astute in more ways than you know–I’ve spent the last been two years revising my first book, and while I know in some ways it’s definitely better for the revision, I also realized I was using the idea of revision to postpone the rejection letters I was anticipating. (And also postponing the process of sending the book out in the first place, which is just hands-down a really big job.) I’m thinking the idea of “Non-Attachment” can also help keep me focused on doing the work of sending it out rather than getting lost in the paralysis of obsessing over what might happen once I do. Thanks Fearless Leader!

  • Beautiful. And compassionately explained. Thank you.

  • Lori says:

    Boy did I need to hear these words this morning. Thanks for the wise and well-stated words.

  • mardij says:

    Good gravy thank you Mr. Slushpile Slavedriver. I do know this vampire named Attachment, but let myself forget his ability to reappear and reappear again and your reminder was a balm. Even after a work’s completion, after the continuing rounds of revisions, after the contract, after you’ve turned the wretched thing in again, you can’t control what else is on your editor’s desk, or how much ink is left in his/her red pen. I’ll start something new today, and suffer over that instead . . .

  • matt says:

    Great advice. One other thing I like to do for wrapping things up or getting over it, is to think that no matter what you do it’ll never be perfect nor is it meant to be. But rather it’s meant to be more of a stepping stone, leading to your next writing or endeavor but of course you can’t start that until the current one is done.

    Or maybe another perspective, one way to get rid of a bad habit is to replace it with another one, but hopefully it’s at least slightly improved, ie you’re building from a new plateau. Something like that.

  • Julie Farrar says:

    I started writing because I love words. But now that I’ve decided I want some kind of real writing life this attachment thing has raised its slimy head. I have a computer filled with pieces I can’t finish revising and send out because I think too much about how the world will treat them down the line. I need to attach to the words and detach from the after-words.

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