Zen, Agile and Positive Psychology

Part Two

How to Complete a Novel

Zen is a religion. Agile is a software development methodology. Positive Psychology is an area of clinical study. For the purposes of this series, I am treating each of them as a practical philosophy with applications beyond any individual niche.  Zen, Agile and Positive Psychology illuminate guiding principles that I have found helpful in accomplishing my goals, including completing a novel.

Writing is meditation.

Image by Maggie Osterberg via Flickr

The practice of Zen emphasizes meditation. The meditation can be done while sitting, while walking, or while contemplating a koan. In fact, meditation can be done during any activity by being mindful of what is happening, both in the external world and within your own mind. Deep meditation sharpens the focus of the mind to one single, bright point that paradoxically expands outwards to enclose the totality of existence. This single focus+enclosed totality is my admittedly clumsy and inadequate way of defining enlightenment, which is one goal of a Zen practitioners. Zen and many other Buddhist varieties also focus on the idea of the Bodhisattva, or one who has reached enlightenment but remains in this physical plane to help other beings attain enlightenment. For me, writing is a form of meditation. My mind becomes calm and I tap into resources beyond my small circle of experience. When I finish, if I have done my job honestly and with mindfulness, I will have something of that experience to bring back and share with others. Zen not only helps me define the terms of what occurs during the process of creation, but also gives me a way to understand that the purpose of creation. What is a written work without readers, and what is a true story if not the enhancement of our humanity and a step towards enlightenment?

The leap from Zen to Agile sounds a little like mixing patterns with stripes, but we can do that because we’re moving beyond appearances to essential truths. Agile is a process designed to ensure a manufacturing process produces only what is needed when it is needed. For example, if the customer requires a website that allows Paypal payments, but would also like another specialized widget, start by building a website that has PayPal. If you have time in the development cycle to add in the “Customers Who Bought This Also Bought …” widget, build that, too. The important point is to concentrate on what is required and, when that is delivered, add what is nice to have. You take the pulse of the project as you go, judging what can and cannot be accomplished by constant communication between customer, project management, and the development team. When properly managed, the Agile workflow ensures  that at any given point, there is a shippable product that can be delivered.  Writing can be viewed as an Agile process. When you write a novel, you need to be careful to include what readers need to be transported, and be careful not to include details that will only confuse. Write what is needed, and you will tell a complete story. As you revise your work, you are participating in communication with the essential nature of the story, the people who have given feedback, and your own judgment as the author.

In the first post of this series, I suggest that the starting point for any large project should be to visualize what you want to achieve. I lifted this idea right out of Positive Psychology. The goal of Positive Psychology is to help people live hopeful, optimistic, and productive day-to-day lives. While traditional psychology focuses on identification and treatment of negative mental states, Positive Psychology attempts to identify and cultivate positive mental states. I have found that altering my viewpoint away from pessimism and nihilism and towards optimism and vivacity has helped me at work, at home, and in my writing. As antithetical as it seems, you can be a happy person and write horror.  In fact, I contend you can be a happy writer, regardless of genre!

Without further ado, here  is the second suggestion in the series:

Let Others Know What You Want

Share your dream and intention to write a novel. Let people experience your excitement. Not only will you receive a psychical transfusion of energy, you will also have people who will, wittingly or not, hold you accountable to your dream.

Check back soon for more posts in the ‘How to Complete a Novel’ series!


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