The challenges presented by how writers talk to themselves while writing are symbolized in the legend of the Buddha after he resolved to sit meditating under a bodhi tree until he obtained enlightenment.
On the third successive night, Gautama was taunted by the demon Māra who was determined to keep him in the cycle of craving with “the last lash of Ego."
Riding in on an elephant, Māra first assaulted him with nine storms and then unsuccessfully with lust, thirst, and discontent, personified as the demon’s attractive daughters. Guatama was undeterred from his meditation.
Māra’s next strategy was to directly confront Guatama and “ask him by what right he sat there beneath the tree." This vexation corresponds with a frequent struggle faced by writers to view themselves as having the authority to write.
How Guatama choses to react to Māra is important because he viewed her with non-violent loving-kindness rather than condescension, in part because he recognized that Māra was a projection of himself, a manifestation of his thinking. Guatama responds by touching the ground with his right hand—a gesture routinely depicted on statues of the Buddha—which then causes Māra to fall off his elephant and his armies of distractions to flee.
An analogous gesture for writers is a placing of a “hand” on their immediate writing circumstance, claiming the cognitive-physical space for their own, banishing audience ghosts, and recognizing the discursive straying power of their own internal talk.
The most consequential illusion manufactured by internal talk is that an audience is present during the activity of writing and has immediate access to a writer’s words as they’re produced. It’s as simple as believing that writers occupy the same space at the same time as readers.
In actuality, any audience noted during a present rhetorical situation is a construction of the writer’s intrapersonal rhetoric: an amalgamation of the writer’s thoughts about the past and best guesses about an interpersonal future.
Intrapersonal rhetoric is the self-to-self interior discourse that assigns a position inside the writing situation to an interlocutor self or a chimeric reader—often both as the experience fluctuates. Usually, much of intrapersonal rhetoric is devoted to maintaining this illusion.
For whatever reason, probably our education, we don’t imagine a reader in our workspace who welcomes a draft from us, who Christmas Carol-like visits us from the future (or the past) to counsel us about a maturing text.
Instead, the imaginary reader presumes access to a polished text: part of the haziness of audience comes from the flickering between two visualized scenes, one in which a reader appears in the writer’s work space expecting a polished piece regardless of its location in a writing process and the other in which the writer’s text acts as the writer’s emissary and goes forward, without the writer, to the reader’s future space.
The problem of course is that the text has yet to be finished—it also is an imaginary entity—and no matter how much time remains for us to complete the task, the impression is that a deadline has already passed. We also continuously denude our actual context for best guesses, conjecture, wishes, and hopes, giving up information we could have gained from the present rhetorical situation, a poor exchange.
Gethin, Rupert. The Foundations of Buddhism. Oxford, 1998.
Lopez, Donald S. The Story of Buddhism: A Concise guide to Its History & Teachings. Harper, 2001.
Trungpa, Chögyam. Meditation in Action. Shambhala, 1970.