One of my favourite books about personal growth is The Four Agreements by Shamanic teacher and healer, Don Miguel Ruiz http://www.miguelruiz.com/ Based on a philosophy learned from his Toltec ancestors, this unassuming book offers an everyday code of conduct that, at first reading look simple and even obvious but is surprisingly hard to live by. When I reread this book recently, it occurred to me that the four agreements can be applied directly to writing, leading to clearer, more direct communication and a happier experience for both writer and reader.
1. Be impeccable with your words
Don Miguel Ruiz says with your “word” but I’m adapting here. Just as he urges us to speak with integrity and use our words in the direction of truth and love, we can use the words we write with the same intention. If we write our meaning clearly, without trying to impress an editor or reader, it’s far more likely the message we want to send will come across clearly as well. In line with the original agreement, we should avoid using our writing to do harm, to spread malice or to add to the weight of gossip already in the world. Instead, we can write as simply and directly as we can, telling our stories with integrity and the intention to entertain, inform or educate without doing any harm.
2. Don’t take anything personally
According to Miguel Ruiz, what other people say and do is a result how they see the world and has nothing to do with us. We save ourselves a lot of needless hurt if we refuse to be affected by what others say or do, especially about us. This even extends to our own thoughts, which are often more critical than helpful. I call this the “critic over your shoulder”, the small voice coming from inside that says your writing is terrible, no-one will want to read it, and you may as well give up. We can choose not to listen to these voices and write our stories anyway.
Writers can apply this principle in two more ways. First, when we show our work to others, we can refuse to take on board any comments or suggestions that aren’t helpful to where we want the writing to go. We can thank the giver of the comments for their help and look at how their suggestions might improve the work but we don’t have to feel hurt or bothered because they didn’t fall in love with every word we wrote. The same applies to reviews we might receive after our writing is published. One reviewer may praise the work because what we wrote coincides with their own beliefs, or is what they wanted to read at a given time. Another review may be harsh or critical. If we refuse to take anything personally then good or bad reviews have nothing to do with us. We have written the best work we can with the best intentions and that’s all that really matters.
In my next blog, I’ll explore the third and fourth agreements as they apply to what we write. Let me know what you think.