Free Your Pen

Buddhist Writing Prompt: Don’t Ponder Others

Don’t ponder others is about not making assumptions about what you think might be going on inside another person’s head. There’s usually more going on than you can perceive or understand.

The original lojong slogan is the same and it follows from the previous slogan about not criticising others. You can never know the motivations of others for certain and will never know why they act the way they do. The chances are, they don’t even know why they do the things they do.

Pondering others is something everybody does. It’s a normal part of being human and is how we try to understand each other. But it’s also a way to compare yourself with others to make yourself feel better when you’re insecure or scared.

As a mechanism for understanding, it’s not very good, but that doesn’t stop us from doing it. Our ponderings feed into the social pecking order as we jostle for position by answering questions like: Where do I fit in the group? Who is on my side, who can I trust? Who is my friend and who is my enemy?

This slogan says don’t ponder others – look at yourself. Look at your motivation for pondering others. You’ll never fully understand others, but you can seek to understand yourself better. And the more you understand and accept yourself, the easier you’ll find it to accept others as they are.

(A great slogan to ponder over the festive holiday…)

Apply this slogan to your writing practice when dealing with criticism of your work, questions about what agents and publishers want, as well as market trends and reader reviews.

Not all feedback and criticism is equally relevant or useful. You have to discern which parts to take on board and which parts to ignore. This is even more difficult if you start deconstructing why somebody has reacted to your writing the way they have. Don’t assume you know why an agent, editor, or publisher has rejected your writing. The possibilities are endless.

The same applies to reader reviews. There isn’t any point in worrying about what others think about your work once it’s actually been published, and you can’t control whether readers will enjoy your writing or not.

Your writing prompt this weekend: Wean yourself off reading your reviews by doing the following:

  • Read the bad reviews for a book you thought was brilliant
  • Read the good reviews for a book you thought was terrible
  • Read both the good and bad reviews for the latest bestseller
  • Keep doing this until you are thoroughly disillusioned about book reviews.
More in the book: Free Your Pen: Mind Training for Writers

2 thoughts on “Buddhist Writing Prompt: Don’t Ponder Others

  1. Except that pondering others is necessary if you plan to write anything with more than one character in it. Unless you use off the shelf stereotypes lifted from the writing of others.

    I’d go further that arguing you can’t know others very well. It’s debatable whether you can ever know yourself very well. As far as fitting the mind of another into your own goes – forget it. ‘Others’ are just the incredibly shallow and doubtless distorted caricatures you build in your own mind. They’re part of you, not someone else.

    I reckon you hit the nail on the head when you said “look at your motivation for pondering others”. Often I think my opinions of others are really opinions I hold about myself that I’ve externalised. Projected. It’s most obvious when I feel someone is reprehensible in some way or another. It’s a pretty safe bet that somewhere in that negative image is something about myself I’m unable to accept so have pushed into my caricature of someone else. But even admiration is often a reflection of something I approve of in myself – perhaps conceitedly – but am unable to own. Maybe even the gods we worship are the same sort of thing.

    Of course my opinion is a function of my mental illnesses. My Asperger’s makes the claim others make to empathy look delusional to me. And my psychotic breaks – which can include hearing voices – makes the notion that perhaps my view of everyone else is just a shadow in my own mind seem more than credible. But just because it’s crazy doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Reality is pretty fucking crazy, in case you haven’t noticed.

    Returning to my obsession of the moment, I just finished Ishiguro’s first novel A Pale View of Hills. The first person narrator is a middle aged ex-pat Japanese lady living in Britain who has just lost a daughter to suicide. But despite her ever-hovering presence the daughter barely gets a mention. Instead we hear about a friend of the protagonist when she was a housewife in Nagasaki shortly before her daughter was born. The friend had a daughter and it becomes increasingly clear she was a lousy mother – both neglectful and sadistic. It also becomes increasingly clear that a lot of the reminiscences about the friend are actually about the protagonist herself – or of what she fears she is. By the end of the novel everything has become so ambiguous you’re left unsure as to whether the ‘friend’ really existed at all or whether she’s entirely a false memory constructed from the parts of the protagonist she is unable to face.

    Maybe that’s how to ponder others as a writer. Use those ponderings to become familiar with the aspects of yourself that you prefer not to identify with. Then use those characters to populate your writing. At least you’ll know who you’re writing about.

    Liked by 1 person


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