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Writing as Meditation

Rachel Landau reading at an early age.

There’s this parable about a man who, lying on his deathbed, reminisces about his life and comes to the conclusion that he wished he had made different choices. As a youth, he always tried to change the world, but adulthood sobered him up and he decided to change his country instead. Old age lowered his expectations once again and he decided that he should make an effort to change his family. Finally, near death, he admits that he should have started out by changing himself before making any sort of motion to influence others. Trying to remove his own defects would have inspired others to do the same, and from there, his influence would have maximized itself over the course of generations.

As a writer, I often feel that my desk is equivalent to the deathbed of the man in the parable. Writing gives me the best hindsight of anyone I know. With a paper and pencil, a notebook and a pen, or access to Google Drive, I can easily describe all that I have learned. Writing is the self-changing step on the path to prominence; I would argue that it’s also the most important step.

When I am writing, choosing words and stringing sentences, my head is finally clear enough to think about the world. It’s a sort of prayer-filled meditation. The click-clack of the keyboard is my mantra, the dictionary my divine altar. The reflection that I associate with even the most banal writing assignment is necessary to self-improvement and understanding. If I notice my writing turning to worthless banter, I don’t feel guilty taking a moment to pause, a hesitation normally avoided in a busy day. If I notice repetitive word choice, I uncover the box of synonyms I store in the back of my mind, letting the words invite themselves to the tips of my fingers and onto the page.

The actual process of writing forces me to turn inwards, simply because writing is very, very difficult. When writing essays for my English class, I am always sure to devote more time to editing than to writing because it is only after the early drafts are done that I finally uncover my main idea. Blogging, on the other hand, presents an entirely new set of challenges to crafting words into sentences and sentences into logical paragraphs. I especially struggle with content because I doubt my ability to be an expert on anything other than myself. Still, despite its difficulty, writing is beneficial through its reflective properties, the sort of enlightenment that makes my heart flutter and my typing fingers feel as though each sentence is a brushstroke on the writing equivalent of the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

Anyway, with school ending, the academic year vanishing, and, most upsettingly, my time as a Rising Voices Fellow coming to a close, I figure I might as well retell the parable about the man on his deathbed as it applies to my experience:

“Rachel Landau, crossing out the last day on her 2014-15 school calendar, sits at her desk alongside the various journals crowding the floor. On a clean piece of paper, she jots down:

“When I first started writing, I thought people would want to read my writing just because I had written it. I was wrong. If I have learned anything about being an adolescent writer, it is this: first, you have to read a lot of books. The books don’t all have to be Crime and Punishment but Dostoevsky does a good job with storytelling and Raskolnikov is quite the character, so at least one of the books should be Crime and Punishment. Then, you have to write to please and change yourself. The rest—the good stuff, the readers, the joy, the recognition—comes later . . . but there is a good chance that you will be so happy with what reading and writing brought you in the first place that you will not even notice.”

This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.

Topics: Writing
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How to cite this page

Landau, Rachel. "Writing as Meditation ." 12 June 2015. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 11, 2023) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/writing-as-meditation>.

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