Minimalism and the Writing Life


Minimalism keyboard.

Just me and the keyboard.

If you’ve arrived here via my former blog, The Minimalist Woman, you’ll be familiar with the pared-down simplicity that forms the heart of a minimalist lifestyle. If you’ve arrived here via my novels, you might be mystified. Either way, this is a good time for me to share why it is still relevant for me to practice minimalism in my everyday writing life.

Minimalism, as a philosophy, is basically having enough and not more. The precise amount varies from person to person. Some are capable of being quite ascetic–everything they own, from clothes to computers, can fit into a backpack and they’re happy and productive. Others need, at a minimum, to own a house, a car, and things like kitchen equipment, toys for the kids, and a dedicated wardrobe for work, etc. But these two extremes can share the same principle, which is not owning several of something when one will do. By extension, it also eliminates clutter, the influence of marketing, and the wasted time, money, and resources from unneeded shopping trips. The end result is less stress, more serenity, and more mindfulness.

It’s pretty safe to say that if I hadn’t embraced the minimalist lifestyle a few years ago, I wouldn’t have three novels published and a fourth underway. Now, this does not mean that my home is completely uncluttered, or that things don’t get duplicated now and again or wasted–but it does mean that time-wasting and spending were brought under control, and that focus is now possible in ways that were formerly elusive.

Like a lot of middle-class Americans, I had a bad case of want-this, want-that, and ooooh, that looks good. I was a sucker for advertising, for cultural pressures to be Superwoman, and to put a rather lot of stock into at least attempting to appear to have it all. By the time the Great Recession came, I was forced to completely rethink things–along with a lot of other people. Many of them were online, and they called this rethinking of their lifestyles and value system “minimalism.” It resonated with me.

This isn’t the place to go into the specifics–you’ll have to explore The Minimalist Woman archives for that–but by the time I reassessed my possessions, my spending, and my overall lifestyle, it wasn’t a huge leap to reassess what I was doing with my time. I was in the second half of my sixth decade–if I was really, truly, honest with myself, what did I most regret about not having done with my time? One of the top answers was not having fulfilled my promise to myself when I was young, which was to be a writer, and specifically a novelist. It was what I was doing for the first ten years out of college, before divorce, single motherhood, and entrepreneurial necessity took center stage. Was there any way that I could now shift things around and go back to writing?

I could. And I did. But the focus and mindfulness wasn’t without a price. I had to give up a lot of hobbies, for one thing, as well as a serious avocation, my art. I gave up serious gardening, decorating, gourmet cooking. I’d already given up recreational shopping; many temptations were now kept at bay. Gave up magazines that bounced my overactive mind into far too many directions. Wrote a few small books related to minimalism. Wrote a very small collection of very short stories. And then I realized I was ready to write what I really wanted to write: mysteries.

So now I have a routine, and a working life, that I once thought was just a pipe dream. It turned out that it was more a problem of focus and priorities than just about anything else. (There was also a lack of life experience to draw from back in my 20’s, but that is yet another story.) Having this one main focus and interest outside of my family doesn’t completely cancel out others–I still dabble in the garden, and I’m an avid knitter–but it keeps them in scale to this One Main Thing, the writing.

A lot of minimalists practice yoga, or meditation, or other forms of centering and focus. Getting up to write is mine. It’s my practice. Whenever I have to set it aside to put on my Author hat, the publishing and outreach side of writing, I get antsy to get back to the days of just writing itself. When I do, things seem to calm down, to become centered and focused again–and I look forward to it every single day, often getting up before dawn.

Because it’s enough–and I’m glad that I gave myself a chance to learn just how ideal that can be.

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