Friday, September 10, 2010

The Zen of Writing


I’m not unlike you: scurrying through life with the keys to the mini-van in one hand and my second cup of (strong) coffee in the other. My children’s voices fill the air (fighting) until it’s replaced by Katy Perry’s “California” blasting through the car speakers as we head out to school, dance, and doctor’s appointments.
Tap into the nature of all things through writing.
            I’m Malena Lott of Many Labels: mother of three, wife, brand and marketing consultant, zumba enthusiast, seeker, Starbucks lover, writer. Ah, there. That last one. Out of all the “I AM” statements, that one speaks closest to the Me-Without-a-Label, the inner sanctum that takes me from everywoman to my divine purpose.
            Just like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, what I needed was within me all along. I’m not sure if writing found me, or I found writing, but I’ve been scribbling stories since I was in sixth grade, filling notebooks with monsters in closets, unpopular girls and journeys big and small.
            I’m also unsure if I find stories or if they find me, but I know if I practice awareness, staying in the moment, I See what would otherwise stay hidden. I do force myself out of my comfortable bubble to explore, including estate sales: you know, when someone has died and those left behind sell off the house and all the contents within. I love figuring out the story of someone’s life by perusing the stuff they couldn't take with them. Every house and every life has a story. This summer, I found a coup on the bookshelves: The Zen of Seeing and The Book of Angelus Silesius, both hand-written, translated and drawn by Frederick Franck, a very talented artist. I snapped them up and have spent many a quiet night in the bathtub soaking up the beautiful language.
            He quotes many Zen sages, explaining that it is not some Buddhist sect or school of thought.
            What then is Zen?
            Zen is: being in touch with the inner workings of life.
            Zen is: seeing into the nature of things, inside and outside of myself.
            Zen is: when all living things of the Earth open their eyes wide and look me in the eye.
            I get there most easily when I’m writing. I’m taken both within myself and outside of it, for I get to explore the nature of things and do my best to articulate it with words. Franck did this with pictures. Every artist has his or her preferred palette.
            The Zen of Writing is not judging, but submitting completely to the characters, to the story. Time and space seem limitless. We are “lost” and only realize where we’ve been when we bring our eyes up and step from one world back into another.
            I’ve had two novels published, both journeys about women, and my next, Fixer Upper, will be an ebook about a woman searching for her purpose long after she’d thought she’d found it. Can we change our minds, change our futures, even if that means destroying the order of the lives around us?
            I’m also working on something completely different: a young adult paranormal that came to me as a dream (okay, nightmare) about four years ago and wouldn’t let go. Stories can be needy like that. Finally, I decided I had to write it down to be rid of it. I’m in the revision process now.
            Another great way to practice awareness is within the pages of someone else’s stories. I read at least a book a week, but I’ll leave you with a sampling of this summer’s delicious fare: our own girlfriends’ tomes: The Life You’ve Imagined by Kristina Riggle; Slim to None by Jenny Gardiner, The Other Side of Me by Sarah Pekkanan, The Secret of Joy by Melissa Senate. Also, I highly recommend An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor for more on the sacredness in the everyday; The Season of Risks by Susan Hubbard (an intellectual vampire series); and I’m completely absorbed in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, which really is as good as everybody said it was. 


  1. Wonderful post. Do you read books which are related to the subject your write about?

  2. Great post, Malena! I love your line about stories being "needy"--that's when it gets really fun for me . . . . when the characters I haven't met yet keep nagging at me that they have something to say and I need to start listening.

  3. Thanks, Man of la Books. I do use non-fiction books as research. For Dating da Vinci, I read about eight books on Leonardo da Vinci, but honestly it was before I realized I would create a modern day character based on him. I just loved him, period. For my first novel, The Stork Reality, I referenced a lot of the pregnancy books I'd already read when I was actually pregnant. And for Fixer Upper, the idea for the book actually stemmed from a copy of the Better Homes and Gardens Handyman's Book from the 1960s my father in law gave me. I got their permission to use several quotes in the book. In fact, that will probably by my post next time! Thanks for visiting.

  4. Judy,
    It does feel like we have more "children" out there that we need to take care of by telling their story. If that makes writers a strange breed, I'm fine with that. :)

  5. Hi Malena,

    What a great piece. I read a lot of books on Zen, favoring those by Charlotte joko Beck in particular. Also Natalie Goldberg is always talking about writing as a practice. It seems if you go deep enough it will inform you on so many aspects of life.

  6. Submitting completely to the characters and the story... I couldn't have put it better myself. Great post, Malena!

  7. I love the Hunger Games! But not the final one as much as the first two....

  8. Thanks for the shout-out, Malena! I've read a few of the books you mentioned and have put the others on my must-buy list. Can't wait for your new one, too. Love that cover.

  9. Lovely post, Malena, and thanks for the reminder to stay "in touch with the inner workings of life"... I could use a little Zen this weekend ;). Great book recommendations, too!!

  10. Sarah, I have heard that about the third one. My son is reading HG for school so it's fun to be able to discuss something other than football with him. I might just scan the third one.

    Melissa, you're welcome. I'm really looking forward to the love goddess cooking book. My fall reading is going to rock. Glad you like my cover, too. Xoxo

    Marilyn, wishing you much zen this weekend. I'm looking forward to tailgating followed by movie club discussing A Single Man.

  11. A Zen post, well done.

    If any of your readers would like a copy of my book, Zen and the Art of Surfing, I would be happy to send them a gratis one. Just shoot me an address at

    Aloha nui loa,
    live in the moment,

    Greg Gutierrez

  12. Hi, Malena! One of my resolutions for the past few years is to be more Zen, only it's hard for a Type A (I'm trying to be more of a Type A-minus). Thanks for reminding us how important it is to live--and write--in the moment. Sometimes that's too easy to forget!

  13. Greg, thanks for the offer. Readers, take him up on it!

    Susan, I used to be Type A+ but wishfully thinking I'm a B+ now. My daughter said the other day, "Mom, you're so much more organized this year. You used to throw our papers in a drawer and now you have a three ring binder separated by child." I'm a complete paper clutter bug so I took that as a good sign that I am slowing down and focusing on the task at hand, even if everyone is yelling at me at once. :) Good luck to you.

    Also, readers, it's not technically a summer read since I read it after the new year, but I wanted to say how much I loved our girlfriend Beth Hoffman's debut, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt. One of my fave reads of the year, for sure. She's a huge talent and you'll thank me once you've read it.

  14. A story that comes to you in a dream...means it came to you when you were awake, you just didn't know it.

    Wonderful post!

  15. Hank, very true! It was so vivid, like all good writing should be.

  16. Malena, that post totally made ME feel zen! Which is not an easy task, I assure you!!

    I love how you say your book came to you in a dream/nightmare!!! Stephenie Meyer says that the idea for the Twilight books came to her in a dream, so here's hoping you have that kind of success with YOUR dream book!

  17. Malena, you always make me smile ... and think! I love how you are so awake and aware. Terrific post!

  18. At the beginning of the year, I challenged myself to read 52 books by December 31 and it's one of the best things I've ever done for myself. I'm way behind, but I have faith I'll get there. I loved what you said about practice awareness by reading someone else's story.

  19. Brenda, pleased I could make you feel zen, girl! I can't wait to tell you all about the YA that I had dreamed about. Hopefully soon.

    Beth, thank you. I'm smiling right back atcha!

    Ernessa, I love that reading challenge! I'm sure you can get back on track. Good luck to you.