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One Continuous Mistake: Four Noble Truths for Writers

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  241 ratings  ·  29 reviews
Based on the Zen philosophy that we learn more from our failures than from our successes, One Continuous Mistake teaches a refreshing new method for writing as spiritual practice. In this unique guide for writers of all levels, Gail Sher—a poet who is also a widely respected teacher of creative writing—combines the inspirational value of Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way wi ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published April 1st 1999 by Penguin Books
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Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
I can play chess nonstop for twenty-four straight hours without rest or sleep. My sparring partner in this insane activity is a court sheriff named Arnold. We have done this several times already and even if we are really no longer young, we have managed to survive. So far.

We start playing on a Saturday noon, before or after lunch. Time control is usually twenty or fifteen minutes per player per game using a digital chess clock. I cannot speak for him but I guess our experience is the same: I ce
...more
Deborah Biancotti
Dec 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
"Writing saved my life. Before I found writing I had exhausted all the other ways of being in the world that I knew about. But, as with anything that one makes entirely ones own, I had to reinvent writing. I had to unravel everything I had been taught and wind it back up again, my way.
Before I found writing, I longed for writing. In my earliest memory I am four and frustrated with my inability to have my words all gathered together on a piece of paper. Over the years frustration endlessly reinv
...more
♥ Ibrahim ♥
Oct 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: writing
Gail is so human and inspiring at once, and her Zen spirituality enriches her recommendations for the writing process. Her book reads so lyrically. She pretty much shares what I have already enjoyed learning from Julia Cameron, Natalie Goldberg and others who are highly qualified on teaching us about just showing up there and nothing should every be a valid excuse in our minds for not writing. I enjoyed learning the following also from Gail:
Be there but out of the way

It is important to write eve
...more
Rob
Jan 05, 2011 rated it really liked it
This book offers some very useful perspectives on the act of writing. Although possibly more applicable toward creative writing, I found it useful for some of the more technical writing that I engage in (I know how boring technical writing can be, and it certainly would hurt for it to be influenced a bit by creative writing techniques). As indicated by the title, the basic idea is to borrow from the valued zen philosophies which have been universally applied by mankind, and direct them toward ho ...more
Jody Casella
Dec 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I've been reading a chapter or two of this brilliant little book every day for the past several months. (This is actually my second read through.) Kind of zen-like and New Agey and not every chapter is helpful, but most have a glimmer you can use when you start your day's writing. My favorite quote--which I keep taped to my laptop-- is this:

Four Noble Truths for writing

1. Writers write.
2. Writing is a process.
3. You don't know what your writing will be until the end of the process.
4. If writing
...more
Amy Houck
Oct 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mfa
This book had great little bites of inspiration for writers working at establishing a daily practice. I especially loved all of the quotations she brought in from other poets and authors. It's the kind of thing you can pick up and get something off of any page. I'll certainly keep it around to leaf through for occasional re-inspiration.
Nikki
Dec 13, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: write-now, ww
Zen philosophy interests me but not when applied to writing. I liked a few of the exercises scattered throughout, but the only part I'll definitely remember is this: "If writing is your practice, the only way to fail is to not write."
Khulud Khamis
Jun 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
One Continuous Mistake is a short book about the art of writing inspired by Zen practice. Some of it was insightful for me, it made connections that I previously only intuited. Other parts were quite obscure, but I have a feeling that when I reread the book, which I will soon, they will make more sense.

I do have to say there was a paragraph that disturbed me, as it was victim blaming rape survivors.

The four noble truths about the art of writing, according to Gail Sher, are:
1. Writers write
2. Wr
...more
Simon Böhm
Oct 03, 2017 rated it it was ok
The exercises are useful. Aside from them this book didn't tell me anything I shouldn't have already known as a writer. Some chapters seemed "empty" to me. Stylistically okay, but nothing special. Sorry!
Jenna Hazzard
This book had some really solid points, especially the idea of creating a writing practice. However, it had a lot of fluff and unfocused moments. Would recommend for skim reading.
Rachel Holmes
Jul 29, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: writing
Some real moments of beauty. Good advice, lovingly given, though I think my own style is less poetic than this book encourages!
Heidi Olinger
Dec 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This work has had a place on my writer's shelf for nearly two decades. It is indispensable for everyone who wants to write or create a place in life for a writing practice.
Callathump
"NOT KNOWING

There is no need to have a deep understanding of Zen, Suzuki-roshi used to say. When you read Zen literature, you must read each sentence with a fresh mind. Writing is the same. The real work of writing is, day after day, to discover how to maintain freshness.
'Not knowing' is a way. It is very respectful. 'Not knowing' assumes that the object of your curiosity is always new and worthy of your entire attention.

For a writer, 'not knowing' means giving over the part of you that knows to
...more
Katie Pollis
Sep 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
One Continuous Mistake would be particularly useful to anyone who experiences a great deal of anxiety about writing, or perhaps feels unsure about pursuing that path. It is also very motivational at times. As she puts it, if you take on writing as your practice, the mentality must be "write or die."

I didn't consider myself a writer before reading this book, because I don't share most of my writing, and I certainly don't publish it. However, I have written every day since childhood. That's the fi
...more
Mark Valentine
Mar 15, 2016 rated it liked it
The Four Truths briefly are these:

1) Writers write;
2) Writing is a process;
3) You don't know what your writing will be until the end of the process; and
4) If writing is your practice, the only way to fail is not to write.

What I liked about Sher's book is how she filled her pages with quotes, allusions, and samples from other writers. This made the reading informational as much as inspirational.
Rebecca Schwarz
Apr 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: about-writing
File under inspirational reading for writers. A Zen approach to writing with a focus on process. Especially good for perfectionist type writers (like myself). A couple favorite quotes: "The greater the depth at which you tap your own personal truth, the greater relevance your writing will have to humanity." and "What is the best way to write? Each of us has to discover her own way by writing. Writing teaches writing. No one can tell you your own secret."
Gail Gauthier
Jan 29, 2013 rated it liked it
"I wonder if these pieces couldn't be considered meditations or something like dharma talks, except, of course, about writing. They're too mystical for beginning writers and too simple for experienced ones. You'll only like these kinds of things if you like these kinds of things."

Excerpt from Original Content.
...more
Megankellie
Easy and gentle. A good guide to writing haikus and the idea of haikus, if you're into that. Also good for mental health type item and the spiritual aspect of writing. If you're looking for someone to yell at you and give you mechanics and "do this" facism, this is not the book for you. Which I mean, duh, she's a zen buddhist.
Marsena Adams-Dufresne
Oct 28, 2007 rated it it was amazing
I love picking up this book and reading it in bits and pieces. A good companion for writers because Sher is thoughtful and encouraging and inspiring all at once. She writes: "Staying focused on who you are (with all your faults) requires maturity, perseverance and tremendous self-compassion." True, whatever your profession.
Peter
Jun 19, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: writing
I found this book annoying, new agey and wet as a damp tissue. I love to read about other people's writing practice and how the work, but I really couldn't finish it. Maybe if you write haikus it is of some use.
Dana Jerman
Feb 10, 2010 rated it it was amazing
VERY refreshing and an incredible beacon of truth in a world of "how-to" writer/self-help boox. A zennist bias only adds to the purity of the message that "writer's write". That's what they do. That's practice and it need only be. Highly recommended.
Glenda
Aug 21, 2009 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book and found a lot of insightful information. Highly recommend it to those who want a more in depth experience of life.
Several weeks later: Just re-read a portion of this book and found it even more interesting and helpful.
Kate
Apr 14, 2008 rated it really liked it
Good little 1-2 page "chapters" with greatly inspiring advice for writers.
Ricardo
Dec 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favoritemusthave
I love Gail Sher's use of literary examples and religious metaphors as they pertain to the process of writing. Excellent book which I will be reading again. This is now one of my favorite books.
Adriana Diaz
Jun 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I read this book years ago, but I go back to it very often. It's not just a good book about writing, it brings writing and life together into the pulsing creative process we are all living.
Martyn Carey
Mar 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Should be compulsory reading for anyone wanting to write anything. Subtle insights, ways of thinking and so much encouragement. Just wonderful.
Fran Szpylczyn
rated it really liked it
Oct 03, 2015
Joanne Marlene Clark
rated it it was amazing
May 05, 2011
Kev
rated it it was amazing
Apr 13, 2014
Christine Wilcox
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Sep 22, 2016
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