Friday, January 16, 2009

Please Welcome Our Special Guest, Kelly L. Stone!

Kelly L. Stone is a multi-published author whose credits include works in several anthologies, articles in magazines, and two books with a third not yet released. Kelly's book, A Time to Write, was recently nominated for two prestigious awards: The American Society of Journalists and Authors Outstanding Book of 2008 Award, and the Georgia Writer's Association Author of the Year Award. Additionally, her fiction release, Grave Secrets, was given three stars by the Romantic Times Book Reviews. Georgia Romance Writers is proud to have Kelly as one of our own. For more about Kelly and her writing, please visit her website at And don't forget to enter the contest at the end of this post!

The Path of Writing
©2009 Kelly L Stone

Around 1991, long before I became a writer, I began to study Vipassana meditation. This is a Buddhist form of meditation; Vipassana means “insight.” How it works is you sit on a cushion, cross your legs, fold your hands in your lap, and focus your attention on your breath. Within a matter of seconds, you realize that watching your breath is impossible because your mind starts going hog wild: it plans, it sings, it creates stories, it drudges up memories, it makes lists, and so on.

The practice teaches that this is the nature of the mind—its “job” is to create those thoughts, which in turn generate emotions, and that your task is to observe these thoughts and feelings as they arise without judgment, aversion, or attachment. You simply sit and watch whatever comes arise, linger, and finally pass, like clouds floating through the sky.

When I started writing, I had been doing Vipassana meditation for more than a decade, and I discovered that some of the things I was learning on that cushion were also helpful to the writing process. I hope you find them helpful, too.

Sloth and Torpor

Aren’t those great words? Sloth and torpor. What they mean in Buddhism is inertia and resistance to doing anything productive. For me, sloth and torpor come around every morning when the alarm goes off at 4:00 AM and I have to get up to write for two hours before going to my day job. Especially in winter when it’s cold and dark outside, I resist mightily the idea of getting out of bed to trudge off and think up words to put on paper.

So I lay there, telling myself that I really don’t need to get up that day because I’m ahead on my weekly word count goal (which is rarely true), or that I’ll make up the lost time on the weekend (which rarely happens). I almost have myself convinced until I remember a little thing called positive effort for the good.

Positive Effort for the Good

Positive effort for the good means that every day, it’s important to take some action, no matter how small, toward bringing about good not only in your own life but in the life of all sentient beings. It can be something as simple as buying a reusable grocery bag, choosing to be extra courteous that day, or sitting down at your computer and writing for fifteen minutes.

In terms of my daily dose of sloth and torpor, making positive effort for the good means hauling my butt out of that bed and getting to my computer as planned. It means working my writing schedule. It means doing something, every single day, toward my long-term writing goals. Even if I don’t write anything usable, or what I write is never published, the point is—make the effort. Take that first right step in the direction of your dream.

Creating a meaningful life takes lots of positive effort, and becoming a writer is no different. No one is immune to the kinds of things that can totally derail a writer’s plan to succeed. My 78-year-old mother unexpectedly became ill last year. I now spend a lot more time with her—time that I used to spend writing. But it’s okay. My life is richer for it. And so is my writing. I make positive effort for the good with my mom, and each morning I make positive effort for the good with my writing. I write a scene, a chapter, or the draft of an essay. In this way, the small efforts combine over time and become what some people call “an overnight success.” Here’s a secret: there is no such thing as an overnight success. There is only that first right step, and then the next, and the next, and the next.

Becoming a Writer

My meditation teacher tells this story: a woman with a dirty home bought a beautiful vase. She placed it on her coffee table, which drew her attention to how filthy the table had become. She cleaned it. That drew her attention to the dirty rug under the table. She cleaned that. Then she saw how dirty the room was, so she cleaned that next. This continued until she had eventually cleaned her entire house.

That’s how it works with writing, too. You find your beautiful shiny dream of being a writer and bring it home to your heart. But you realize that you have much to learn about the craft of writing. You know nothing about character development, so you learn about that. Then you need to hone your skills in dialogue, so you study that next, and so on. You start by setting small goals—write one paragraph a day-- and you take the first right step toward reaching that goal. Maybe that means you write on your lunch break, or while your baby naps, or after your family has gone to bed.

Soon, by making positive effort for the good one small step at a time, you become a writer. And you become something else, too. You become a person who possesses the quiet confidence that grows out of sustained self-discipline; you experience the joy that setting and meeting goals creates; you discover the profound inner peace that only writing can give you. You greet sloth and torpor mindfully, because you know that their nature is to arise, linger, and eventually pass. And you take that first right step toward getting out of bed at 4:00 AM and making your way to the computer, your collective positive efforts nudging you slowly but surely along.


Kelly is gracious enough to give us TWO of her books for a giveaway today: Grave Secrets, her fictional murder mystery, and Cup of Comfort for Sisters:Stories that Celebrate the Special Bonds of Sisterhood, which contains her story "Leaping Year Sisters."

To enter, please leave a comment below. Contest ends tonight at midnight and the winners will be posted tomorrow. Please check back for your name as unclaimed prizes will be awarded in a second drawing after three days. Good Luck!


Debbie Kaufman said...

Great article Kelly but, I must not be dedicated enough. Four in the morning? On the other hand, a little discipline in my life would go a long way!

Marilyn Baron said...

Thanks for the great advice. I intend to put it to good use. And thanks for being a guest blogger.

Sally Kilpatrick said...

Thanks for such an inspiring post. I think we all need to be reminded to take small steps and to take time to meditate, especially. Oh, and I think I might need to go buy a beautiful vase, too.

Nicki Salcedo said...

Yoga has certainly helped me in my writing. Our "Western" style life involves too much multi-tasking and not enough focus. Thanks, Kelly, for the words of wisdom and encouragement.

Connie said...

I agree that there are no overnight successes. This is true in any project we take on in life.

Tami Brothers said...

I love this, Kelly. I have tried meditation a couple of times over the years and have always felt like a failure because I couldn’t shut my mind off. I NEVER looked at it the way you described here. I’m psyched about giving it another try and using the technique of sitting and watching what plays out. Maybe I might even be able to find some solutions to things I’ve been dealing with.

And the overnight success thing really hit home. Sometimes we need to be reminded of this, especially when we hear people touting their overnight success and start feeling like a failure for our lack of ‘overnightness.’

Tami Brothers

Tammy Schubert said...

Kelly, your post is very inspiring. I have to laugh though. Since I get up at 4 a.m. to get ready for work, I don't think I can get up any earlier. My writing time comes at the end of the day. Most days anyway. I need to work on how to focus as you mentioned.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comments everyone. I get up at 4 to write because that's my most creative time. A lot of writers I interviewed for TIME TO WRITE hit the desk after midnight, though. The key is to do what works for you that will get the writing done.

It took me about 6 months to adjust to getting up at 4 (I actually used to get up at 3:30 because I had to be at work earlier than I do now. 3:30 is brutal, let me tell you.) But, you know, you adjust, and now I wake up at 4 without the alarm clock (which probably says something about my social life, too. Hmmm).

As for the meditation, Tami B., not being able to shut the mind off is the nature of mind. The other key with Vipassana meditation is not to get caught up and lost in your thoughts, either. I'm not a teacher on the subject, this is all from my personal learning experiences. Two great books I recommend on the topic are A PATH WITH HEART by Jack Kornfield and A GRADUAL AWAKENING by Stephen Levine.

Thanks again for your comments, everyone. And thanks for having me as a guest blogger. It was fun!


Colleen MacLeod said...

Thanks for the post, Kelly. I now have a name for that invisible force that pulls me back into bed, even though my alarm goes off at 4am already. I keep thinking, "Tomorrow. I'll really get up and write tomorrow." Well, too many tomorrows and you lose out on today. Sloth and Torpor. Ha. Now that I know you by name, I can beat you.


Nancy Bogardts said...

Hi Kelly! I really enjoyed reading your thoughts here, particularly those relating to Positive Effort for the Good. Since we used to work in parallel jobs you know that helping others to effect change in their lives can be discouraging work. We look for the tiniest of efforts to encourage us that we are, "doing good." I look upon this as planting seeds. We don't know when the rain will fall or when the sun may shine but without the seed being present there can be no growth. So...I trudge on, making Positive Efforts for the Good. Thanks again. I miss seeing you, my friend.
Nancy Bogardts, MSW
Rockdale Schools

Dayna J. Sondervan, Esq. said...

That is a very inspiring and insightful commentary. I recently started a blog, and people ask me, "How do you find the time to write so much?" Yet it brings me joy to write, so it would be like asking me how I find time to have fun in my life. I make time, though not in as disciplined a manner as every day at 4:00. That gives me higher standards to aim for. I also like the tie-in to meditation, since I attended my first meditation session only a few weeks ago. Thanks, Kelly.

Linsey Lanier said...

I tend to agree with Dayna. We are writers. Even if it seems like we are forcing ourselves at times, something deep down loves what we're doing.

I'm an "after work" writer and have the opposite problem -- I have to make myself stay at the keyboard instead of going to bed. And yet, after I'm warmed up, I can't tear myself away and often don't get as much sleep as I need. :)

This is a great post with a lot of good ideas I need keep in mind. Especially relishing the experience of meeting goals. That's a good one. I need to work on that.

Thanks, Kelly for some deep thoughts.


Cynthia Eden said...

Kelly, this was an absolutely fabulous post! I'll start working on the positive effort for the good everyday.

Such great advice!

lifepundit said...

Sloth, Torpor and getting enough sleep. Oh, me oh my, I don't think I can get up that early for more than three days in a row without crashing and burning. What time do you go to bed?

I really envy you this discipline and your outlook, and you've written much that I can use. But 4:00 a.m.! Once I get over the shock of that concept, I'll see what early hour I might be able to make work.

Truthfully, the only thing I can be sure gets done in a day is whatever gets done first thing in the morning. I just like a much later first thing, but then there's no time for writing.

Thanks for this inspiring and useful post.

Ana Aragón said...

Hi, Kelly,

What a great post! I am one of those nighttime writers who get a second wind at about 11:00 pm. I love writing at night when everyone is asleep and I can almost hear myself thinking!

Positive effort for the If only we all did this every day...can you imagine the good works that we'd accomplish?

Thanks for sharing.


Walt Mussell said...

Hi, Kelly~

Great words of wisdom. I set my alarm for about 4:40 a.m. However, I know I'll wake up before it goes off becuase I don't want to wake my wife.

I'll have to try the meditation, though I don't know if it'll mesh wish my left brain proclivities.


Susan Abel Sullivan said...

Hi Kelly!
Enjoyed your blog. Even though I'm a published writer, I fight sloth and torpor from time to time. Usually when I'm inbetween projects or run into a wall on a current project.

Sometimes I just have to give in to the sloth and torpor for a limited time. I set a firm date to return to writing. That usually seems to do the trick for me. Often times, I'll generate some great ideas and make needed connections while "not writing," even starting back to work before my appointed start date. Whatever will prime the pump, ya know?
your friend,
Susan Abel Sullivan

Saundra Goodman said...

Hi, Kelly. Your blog is truly inspiring now that I know sloth and torpor are not mine alone. I love the clean house story. Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Thanks everyone for your comments. I'm glad that I could be helpful, and it was great fun to be a part of this blog. Thanks for having me.

By the way, my next book is called "Thinking Write: The Secret to Freeing Your Creative Mind" and will be out in October (Adams Media.) It's about how to use the power of your subconscious mind to reach your writing aspirations. It will come with a CD with 4 tracks to help you work with your subconscious mind.

Best wishes for 2009,

Gannon Carr said...

Great blog, Kelly! I especially love your meditation teacher's story about the woman with the vase!

Brava on your dedication and getting up at 4 a.m.!

Glenda C. Beall said...

Hi Kelly,
I can't imagine 4:00 AM. I am a late night writer and sometimes I don't get the sleep I need. I've read your book, Time to Write, and go back to it often, trying to capture the discipline of the writers you interviewed.
I want to try the meditation and see if it will help me. Thanks so much for this post.

Scarlet Pumpernickel said...

Hi Kelly,
I am reminded of the speaker who came to tell us how to overhaul our entire method of curriculum and instruction, her comment was slowly, slowly, small baby steps. Slowly, slowly one small step at a time we can finish that manuscript we've been working on. I found you're blog very inspirational.


Coach Marla said...

Hi Kelly,

I'm a life coach for writers, and I often work with clients on just the issues you mention in this lovely and insightful post.

I appreciated reading about how your meditation experience informs your writing. Positive effort for the good is a powerful I work on daily, as I have a small child at home.

Thanks to Chryselle at The Inspired Writer for leading me to your post.

Coach Marla