Loving-Kindness for Writers

Confession: I’m obsessed with yoga. I took my first yoga class three years ago, and I’ve been hooked ever since.

As obsessions usually do, my yoga practice has seeped into my everyday life in more ways than one. More often than not, I find unexpected ways to link what I learn on my mat with the life I’m living outside of the studio. And suddenly, one saying was no longer just a philosophy I learned about in yoga class. It was guidance for my life as a writer.

I’m talking about the loving-kindness prayer, a traditional Buddhist saying that one of my teachers likes to share at the end of our yoga practice. A quick Google search reveals a few different variations, but this is closest to what I’m most familiar with:

May I be filled with loving-kindness,
May I be well,
May I be peaceful and at ease,
May I be happy.

May you be filled with loving-kindness,
May you be well,
May you be peaceful and at ease,
May you be happy.

May all beings be filled with loving-kindness,
May all be well,
May all be peaceful and at ease,
May all be happy.

Maybe you’re wondering what in the world that has to do with writing. Maybe yoga isn’t your thing. Maybe you think I’m a little crazy. (Aren’t all writers? At least a little bit?)

Regardless of what’s going through your head right now, just stay with me, okay? Loving-kindness. For me, that just means taking a little extra effort to show people that you care. Merriam-Webster calls it a “tender and benevolent affection.” Toward yourself. Toward those around you. And toward the world as a whole.

All in all, it’s a pretty great concept, and I don’t think you have to be a yogi to get in on the love. Sure, it was yoga that taught me how to apply loving-kindness to my everyday life, but it was actually a summer spent working in a magazine editorial department that reminded me that we writers can benefit from the concept professionally too.

Sometimes it feels like we live in an increasingly cutthroat world. A world where one person’s success is another’s lost opportunity. When a friend benefits from a career win, like publishing a piece of writing or landing a rad job or internship, it can be hard to move past your own ego to really share in their success. Of course you’re happy for them, but let’s be honest—chances are there’s a little voice in the back of your head that can’t help but be green with envy. Why them? Why not me?

That’s normal. It doesn’t make you a bad person. I’ll admit to having felt this way on multiple occasions. Being constantly surrounded by other writers is inspiring, but it can also start to feel a little competitive. And that’s where loving-kindness comes in. Because it doesn’t have to be.

A fellow writer’s triumph does not come at your expense. Can it feel that way sometimes? Yes. Do you have to let it get in the way of your own happiness? No.

There’s room for all of our voices. So let’s make all of our lives a little brighter. Let’s give this loving-kindness thing a try.

Give Advice Freely

When you learn something that might give you an edge in the industry, it can be tempting to keep it to yourself. Why share your hard-earned knowledge with the newbie down the hall? What if they give your technique a try and end up having more success with it? What if they rise to the top and suddenly replace you, or get that acceptance letter before you, or land the spot in a program or company that you yourself were vying for?

I get it. It can be scary. But you and that writer that’s just starting out? You have something in common; you both love to write. You care about your industry and you want it to be the best it can be. So help them out! Aren’t there some things about writing and editing and publishing that you wish you’d known when you were in their shoes? Be that cool older sibling with the inside scoop.

Who knows, someday the person on the receiving end of your advice might be in a position to return the favor. And even if they’re not, you can rest easy knowing you might have made a difference in their career. Plus you bettered the writing industry in the process!

Share Your Experiences

As writers, we’re storytellers by nature. It’s what we do. So why not share our stories with the writers and editors around us? And I don’t just mean the stories we put down on paper.

Tell people how you got where you are today. Open up. Ask questions. Share your path. There’s a lot of different ways to make it in the writing industry, and no one’s story is the same. I mean, who would have guessed that the Editor-in-Chief of a food magazine got her degree in art history?

By sharing our individual stories, we can foster a greater sense of community. It’s a way for us to encourage other writers to keep at it, regardless of their experience or age or what have you.

And it can make us better collaborators too! I’ll forever be grateful to L for offering to sit down with me and chat about her career path for just twenty minutes. As an intern, I learned all about copywriting and freelancing and journalism from someone who’s actually doing it. Whether I pursue those particular paths or not, I have a better sense of the work those people are doing. And it’s a lot easier to work with someone when you understand and appreciate how their jobs operate.

Encourage Others

Perhaps the ultimate act of loving-kindness, give genuine encouragement. It can be as simple as reaching out and saying, “Hey, I loved that article you wrote!” Share it on social media. Recommend it to your friends. Ask the writer to sit down and chat with you about it so you can learn more. Chances are they’d love to, and the conversation would benefit you both!

If someone asks you to edit their writing, remember to point out the sentences or elements you loved. Tell them what they’re doing well, and then give them suggestions for how to improve. Writers pour their hearts and souls onto the page. Respect that. Remember how validating it is to hear someone else, especially a fellow writer, appreciate your hard work.

I went through my first really rigorous editing process this summer, and as intimidated as I was to begin with, the whole experience ended up being really enjoyable. And I think that’s because of my editor. She was incredibly kind and encouraging, but she also honed in on the weak spots in my piece. She saw many of the same flaws that I did, but it wasn’t until I had an extra perspective that I was really able to work through them effectively.

In a career that can easily become a string of rejection letters, it’s easy to get discouraged. So be kind. Better yet, be intentionally kind. Be lovingly kind.

“Loving Kindness for Writers” was first published as a guest post for Black Fox Literary Magazine in December 2016.