In the Buddhist tradition, the purpose of taking refuge is to
awaken from confusion and associate oneself with wakefulness.

Taking refuge is a matter of commitment and acceptance and, at the

same time, of openness and freedom. By taking the refuge vow

we commit ourselves to freedom.”

--Shambhala Sun, “Taking Refuge: The Decision to Become a Buddhist”

In Buddhism, a follower commits to take refuge in the Three Jewels: the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha. You take refuge in the Buddha as someone to emulate; you take refuge in the dharma (teachings) as a path; you take refuge in the sangha (community) for companionship on your path to enlightenment.

While writing is not a religion (sure, sometimes it feels like it is), I think these three commitments are useful for wordsmith practitioners as well.

Take refuge in your writing Buddha. As writers we have so many great masters to emulate: Fyodor Dostoevsky, Jane Austin, William Wordsworth, Phillip Roth, Anne Sexton, Toni Morrison, Jonathan Franzen, Elizabeth Short, or whomever we adore as a writer. I love reading what established writers have to say about how they approach their work, handle first drafts, set up their writing space, think about characterization, find time to write, edit, and open the door to their writing muse. Today, there are countless interviews with writers on the Internet, and we can eavesdrop with just the click of a mouse. The Paris Review collections and a myriad of journals and magazines also provide a door into current and previous generations of writers working lives and thoughts. It helps me to know that Truman Capote loved to recline while writing, because that’s my most creative position as well, though I’m not usually sipping martinis while I write.

Take refuge in your writing dharma. Hundreds, if not thousands, of books, articles, classes, and conferences about writing are out there for those of us studying the craft. And study we must. As the old adage goes, we must learn the rules before we can bend them to do our will. And don’t forget to read everything you can get your hands on. Faulkner said, “Read, read, read. Read everything – trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window.”

Take refuge in your writing sangha. A sangha is a community, and as writers, we really need to find our own writing sangha. Most of us are rather introverted and prefer to spend lots of time alone so we can write. But a community of writers offers us companionship and encouragement and lets us know we are not alone in our struggle to believe in our efforts to convey our vision of the world. Your community may be one other writer with whom you share your work. It may be a critiquing group, a writers’ association, an online group, or even the community that grows around a blog. What is essential is to be in communication with other writers. Find a place where you can ask questions, share opinions, see how others manage, locate helpful information, gain and offer support, and immerse yourself in a writers’ environment.

Take the vow. Committing yourself to the practice of writing and immersing yourself into its community will enrich your life. You will come to understand it is the process, not the accolades, that enhances your quest for wordsmith Nirvana.

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