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[SWP: Behind the Book] Mindful Editing and Revising
Written by
Diana Y. Paul
November 2015
Written by
Diana Y. Paul
November 2015

A  term used for a particular stage in  Buddhist meditation practice, Mindfulness is referred to as sati, a  form of remembering, perhaps suggestive of  “memoir” which also derives from “remembering".

In a state of Mindfulness, the meditating individual checks in with herself to just listen and see, in order to reconnect with her mind and feelings, ensconced in the world around her.  A state of active, open attention to the present, Mindfulness is an engagement in observing from a distance, a gradual observation without judgment.

How does a state of mindful meditation work, and what does it have to do with writing?  One of the earliest Mindfulness exercises is to ask:  What shape is it?  Where exactly is it located?  What color is it?  What texture?  How is it changing?  What is the feeling of this object?  Try it, while looking at rainfall, for example.


As writers, we raise some of the same questions when we revise and rewrite. What form does a particular character have?  What textures enhance the scene’s authenticity? How does a character change? How does he or she feel? That’s editing and revision. [Elsewhere I have discussed my Zen style of writing spontaneously, in the zone, unaware of the ending. –“Zen Mind, Writer’s Mind”, San Diego Book Review, August 5, 2016]

Editing and revision are a different state of mind, not Zen-- spontaneous, non-goal-oriented,-- but involving a sort of space between the writer and the draft so we can see what’s there, in order to let it go.  While the first draft is fluid, perhaps explosive and streaming, the Mindfulness required for editing and revision is a process of actively noticing new things about the first draft.  If the writer is truly in the present moment, there is only the text, its context, its perspective.  It’s energetic because the observer is non-judgmental,  reading and noticing words, images, feelings, as if they were written by another.

Some writers feel that rewriting, editing, deleting one’s “darlings” is stressful and exhausting. What is exhausting is thinking that you’ll find problems you cannot solve. We want to hold words as they are, so we can control them and be finished. But everything is always changing, and  if you fight it,  you lose the opportunity to thrive with the change. What mindfulness nurtures, especially for me as a writer, is a gentle attention to what is on the page without the rigidity or single-mindedness of the words as immutable. Not easy, but definitely achievable. We need to read  our own writing as an organic, fluid object changing in the present moment, a moment changing into the next. I needed to release my writing and ideas, not confine them.

In the end, what can I say about “behind the book”, in writing Things Unsaid, my debut novel?  I revised and rewrote Things Unsaid at least six or seven times. Did I enjoy the journey?  Not until I  really was mindful of  what I was looking at: what I was  writing and what I was reading. Really notice. Really observe. Look at your book as if you’re seeing it for the first time. Then you’ll know when to move on.


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  • Diana Y. Paul Writing

    Thank you for your comments, Nancy H and Nancy C-B!  Happy to hear my post may be helpful to both of you in your writing.  It was easier said than done, however.  Mindfulness is hard to sustain, so I kept slipping into old habits, but I finally settled in to letting go.  What a relief that was!

  • Nancy Hinchliff Writing

    Diana, This is wonderful advice. It's exactly what I have been trying to do with my first memoir, which is in it's second major revision/rewrite. At first it was difficult, but I found that if I stuck with it and got into the "zone" so to speak, I began to be able to let go of what was clearly not working. Thank you so much for this piece. It's just what I needed to support what my gut kept saying was the right thing to do.

  • Nancy Chadwick Writing

    Great post, Diana.  I love the your thoughts behind mindfulness and writing, separate and together.

  • Diana Y. Paul Writing

    Thank you, Mardith, Jenni, and Caryn, for commenting.  Yes, Jenni, I walk away for a while too, before reading the entire draft as if I were a reader, not a writer.  It is a powerful tool for me!  

  • Mardith Louisell

    Excellent. "What is exhausting. . . . "

  • Jenni Ogden Writing

    "Look at your book as if you're seeing it for the first time." This is more easily achieved for me by putting it away for a while and then coming back to it, perhaps as a pdf on an iPad or printed out when before you had only read it on your computer. It is exciting reading it as an entity of its own, seeing it as a whole and not sentences and words you've sweated over. The poor writing is easier to see, but the good bits can bring forth exclamations of "Wow, did I write that!"  

  • Caryn Riswold

    "What is exhausting is thinking that you’ll find problems you cannot solve."

    Thank you for that.