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One Continuous Mistake : Four Noble Truths for Writers Paperback – April 1, 1999


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Product Details

  • Series: Compass
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (April 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140195874
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140195873
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 4.5 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #371,403 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In One Continuous Mistake, Gail Sher applies the teachings of Zen Buddhism to the creative-writing process. Though there are a few writing exercises here, this is less a workbook than a series of meditations on how to be a writer. "When you read Zen literature," says Sher, "you must read each sentence with a fresh mind." And so should you write. "The real work of writing is, day after day, to discover how to maintain freshness." To do so, Sher advises (among other things) a single-minded focus, a daily writing period, sitting with a straight spine, and "letting words fall freely, without editing or censuring." By doing so, says Sher, your body "gives birth ... to what you never expected, predicted, could have thought up." Only then, adds Sher, should you revise. And when you do, revise boldly. "As Suzuki-roshi used to say about getting up when the alarm rings," she says, "'Never make the same decision twice.'" --Jane Steinberg

About the Author

Gail Sher is the author of eight books of poetry and one book on breadmaking, in addition to her books on writing. Awarded Teacher of the Year by the combined educational faculties of the University of California at Berkeley, Stanford University, and San Francisco State University, she has taught graduate classes in writing, psychology, and Zen for many years. She lives in Berkeley, California.

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Customer Reviews

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See all 19 customer reviews
The book is clever, practical, and fun to read.
P. Warren
There are practical suggestions for writing practice that support me as a writer.
Sheila Klein
Her truths all echo 'write' which is a message well sent across in the book.
Himri

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By R. Griffiths on January 31, 2001
Format: Paperback
Gail Sher is a master baker, author of the inspirational 'From A Baker's Kitchen', which like the better known 'Tassajara Bread Book' describes less a set of recipes than a way of life.
The same can be said of 'One Continuous Mistake'. With writing as with baking, what is offered is not a set of prescriptive guidelines, for this is not a simplistic 'how-to' manual. Rather this is a highly accessible and attractive collection of insights into what it is to be a writer.
Sher is a member of the San Francisco Zen Center, and her approach is guided by an interpretation of Zen principles. For her, writing, like meditation, is a 'practice'. The path is itself the destination.
I would take issue with the Amazon review posted here, which says, 'Though there are a few writing exercises here, this is less a workbook than a series of meditations on how to be a writer.' Actually there are plenty of 'exercises' if you want them. For instance, the book is particularly helpful in guiding the reader through the writing of haiku (short poems)as a way into writing. Sher's approach is intensely practical. She proposes 'four noble truths' of writing, of which the first is 'writers write'! However, rather than haranguing readers into despair over the paucity of our own written words, she invites us to see how exactly the writing life can become for us immesurably enriching.
Actually, there is another book on a similar theme - writing as interpreted by a Zen perspective - and it's called 'Writing Down The Bones' by Natalie Goldberg. Don't ask me to choose between them. Read them both. After all, writers need all the friends they can get.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 25, 1999
Format: Paperback
This book is concise and insightful. The truths it illustrates are applicable to, not only writing, but almost any other creative endeavor imaginable. Simply replace the word "writing" with "painting" or "design" or whatever interest captivates you. While I read, I found I had to keep my journal beside me to record passages that I didn't want to forget - there were many.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Alicia Trees on November 1, 2001
Format: Paperback
I was so inspired after reading the first couple pages of "One Continuous Mistake" that I had to stop reading to go about the business of writing (of all things).
Gail Sher has merged her years of experience as a writing teacher (who has clearly listened to the issues her students confronted) with her years of practicing, studying and teaching Zen Buddhism to make a very simple demystifying guidebook to a writing life. If you are looking for a workbook, there are wonderful exercises and a very useful guide to writing haikus in the appendix. But even more, if you aren't looking for ideas about the specific "what" or "how" of writing, but are concerned with the continual challenge of maintaining a writing life, this is a great book to have on hand. I plan to re-read this book throughout my writing life and give it as a gift to all my writerly friends.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 20, 2002
Format: Paperback
I opened this book intending to browse the first few pages. Instead, I finished the book and went right to work writing. I've never thought of myself as a an actual "writer," but now I do! She blows away the concept of "writer's block," inspiring the reader with clear and simple suggestions for writing as a daily process. Even if you are NOT interested in writing, chances are that you will be after reading this book. Her prose resonates like poetry.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Shannon on May 20, 1999
Format: Paperback
This short, pithy book will guide you on a journey of thought and exploration. The principles within can be applied to more than your writing skills. This book is, in brief, a brilliant work of art. Buy this book today and become the writer you were meant to be! Highly, highly recommended.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Himri VINE VOICE on June 4, 2006
Format: Paperback
All writers apart from writing their 'magnum opuses' should make their 'key to their art' available in the form of writing or records for interested readers who wish to know what writing meant to the authors, how they went about ideas etc.

Gail Sher has done a good job of letting us know not only the above things but also how other authors like Woolf, Thoreau and so on interacted with writing.

While writing about the four truths for writers, she also tells us how writing a haiku has got her stated on writing, the common fallacies like getting discouraged by feedback,how to deal with the well known writers block and well sated 'writers anorexia' that writers are bound to get stuck with, how much of reading is good or bad for writing, the importance of a making a habit of writing.

Five Pillars of writing is an excellent chapter on how to start with 'flat writing' of everyday events and trying to build something out of it in phases.

Her truths all echo 'write' which is a message well sent across in the book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Book Reviewer 2009 on January 5, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Somewhat coldly cerebral in a Zen Buddhist kind of way - and also because the author used little or no personal anecdotes. She and Natalie Goldberg are both Zen Buddhists and both teachers of writing, but otherwise they couldn't be more different: the strict introvert and the effusive extrovert. This book came across as more intellectual than most writing books and more interested in the psychology of creating rather than in giving you beginner's exercises (Goldberg) or in offering you an endless pep-talk (Julia Cameron). It had some unusual insights and I like its focus on writing as a spiritual practice, as a process through which you refine yourself, rather than pushing at us all to try to get published. Recommended!
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