Hedgebrook Cookbook Excerpts, Part III: The Backward Step

Zen Buddhist priest and novelist Ruth Ozeki is adept at paying attention to how her mind works. So while she was ensconced at her desk in Meadowhouse, during her Hedgebrook residency a few years ago, she made a fascinating discovery that led to a breakthrough in her novel A Tale for the Time Being. She said she’d come to Hedgebrook for that breakthrough, and if it didn’t happen during her stay, she was going to give it a proper burial, burning it in our bonfire and deleting it from her harddrive. Happily, she did have a breakthrough—and her beautiful novel was a finalist for this year’s Man Booker Prize. Here, Ruth shares her mindful revelation.

From the Cookbook: 

“Before I came to Hedgebrook, I thought I was losing my mind. You know what it feels like to try to make a fist when your hand is asleep? That’s how my mind felt. My journals were peppered with adjectives like slack, scattered, foggy, fuzzy, fractured, fragmented, vague. I spent hours on the Internet researching ADD, menopause, depression, and even Alzheimer’s, the disease that claimed my mother’s life. Distracted and anxious, I watched my mind for signs, all the while mourning the effect this loss of mental focus was having on my writing. I thought I’d lost the capacity to hold complex fictional worlds in my mind. I thought I would never write another novel.

When I was invited to Hedgebrook, in 2009, I almost didn’t come because the cottages weren’t equipped with Wi-Fi. This was almost a deal breaker. With my lousy memory, how could I possibly write without the Internet? All my resources and references were online. My head, quite literally, was in the Cloud. But I overcame my reservations, moved into Meadow House, and started toying with a long-abandoned novel. Before I knew it, I was deep into the fictional world again, only this time, without the constant distraction of email and the Internet, I was able to stay with the story and find a way through to the end. Several years and drafts later, the novel, A Tale for the Time Being, is published and in the world.

What I learned at Hedgebrook was this: there is nothing wrong with my mind that a few weeks of offline writing time won’t fix. This backward step is essential. Hedgebrook gave me back my writer’s mind, and for that I am deeply grateful.”

—Ruth Ozeki (author of A Tale for the Time Being)

Click on the link below to download one of the fantastic recipes from the Hedgebrook Cookbook!


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Comment by Neelima Vinod on January 28, 2014 at 6:46pm
A Tale for the time being is a book I loved....just shows what introspection can turn your book into....thank you for posting this!
Comment by Caroline Davies on January 23, 2014 at 2:49pm

There are so many distractions around us today. This was such a useful reminder of the need to switch off and take that backward step.

Comment by Rossandra White on January 23, 2014 at 2:16pm

"You know what it feels like to try to make a fist when your hand is asleep?" Yes! I just went through a major phase (seemed like forever) of that. And only now realize I'm so much more focused. Must be all the attendant anxiety from the impending publication of my memoir, Loveyoubye, (am I really going to put my naked body and soul out there for all to see?). And then there's all the marketing crap, that's a good focus-sharpening tool--more anxiety. Now, instead of worrying about Alzheimers, I'm worried about keeling over from hypertension. I like your solution better, solitude, unplugging.

Comment by Skye Blaine on January 23, 2014 at 12:28pm

Wow. This helps. Thank you Ruth!

Comment by Vicki Carroll on January 23, 2014 at 12:06pm

Ruth Ozeki...loved your post.  It was as if you were speaking to me personally.  I am working through what seems an unending maze of ideas, but lack of focus and I have lost the ability to be objective...I need a break!  Though I can't get to Hedgebrook, I hope to go to the Southereastern Writers Conference here in June (Epworth by the Sea) and recharge with other writers.  Must get your book! 

Comment by Patricia Robertson on January 23, 2014 at 12:05pm

That sounds like my mind right now, fuzzy, distracted, in a cloud. I actually dreamt that I had Alzheimer's the other morning. I thought to myself in the dream, other problems I've overcome I was able to write about afterwards but with Alzheimer's there's no writing about it afterwards because there will be no writing after a point. Maybe I need to unplug too . . . :)


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