Follow the teachings, not the teacher.


Follow the teachings, not the teacher.

Recently, another public figure many thought was beyond reproach proved herself to be human. This happened to be a well-respected, best-selling author. I admit to being stunned myself.

But why are we surprised?

If you put something (or someone) on a pedestal, rest assured it will eventually fall. It will either be knocked off, pulled down, or take a tremendous swan dive off on its own.

Eventually, gravity always wins.

In her memoir, The Great Failure, Natalie Goldberg wrote about the sexual misconduct of her beloved Zen teacher, Katagiri Roshi. While she lamented his shortcomings and lost followers for making it public, she did not lose faith in the Zen he taught. In fact, she went on to become a Zen priest herself.

People may disappoint you. They may break your heart.

But you know what won’t fail you? The teachings.

And you know what won’t fall? Principles.

We can love our teachers, see them as human, admire their wisdom and effort.

And when one of them crosses a line, we don’t need to throw out all the principles because of their wrong step. What they have taught is not lost even though they may be.

Trust the principles.

Follow the teachings, not the teacher.

People may fail you. Principles will not.

Writing as Creation and Self-Discovery


“Writing is not just a process of creation. It is also a process of self-discovery.”—Cristina Istrati

Self-discovery draws many writers to the page. We don’t know what we think or feel or even remember until we put pen to paper. Writing answers questions we didn’t even know we had. Some of us lean into this hard.

While I’d always dreamed of being published and had early success writing feature articles in high profile magazines, these finished products didn’t interest me as much as the writing process. As a result, my writing sometimes made it seem as if I didn’t care about the reader.

What about the reader?

When she teaches writing practice, my mentor, Natalie Goldberg, rarely talks directly about audience. It’s not that she doesn’t value her readers. She aims to dive to the bottom of the mind. If a writer goes deep enough, uncovering their own truths, she suggests they will also unearth universal truths—truths that will interest, entertain, and encourage readers.

I had to put that out of my mind while I wrote Depression Hates a Moving Target lest I be so paralyzed I couldn’t write a word. I had to set my white plastic digital timer, go for ten minutes, spill purple ink onto the page.

But as I wrote, my mind returned again and again to a friend I’ve had since childhood. She too struggles with depression, exercise, weight, and self-esteem.

I could see her face.

I asked what she might want to know. How could I explain running to her? What would she wonder about form and shoes and fear? Was there something about anxiety I could share that might help her? Did I know something she might need to know?

The vague notion of writing for an “audience” had left me cold. But imagining an actual person helped me focus. It made me care. I had to write for a living, breathing loved one with a face and a name and a family history. I wrote to her.

As it turned out, she wasn’t the only one who wanted to know.

For more wisdom from authors like Cristina Istrati, please check out You Should Be Writing, the new writing journal from Mango Publishing by Brenda Knight and Nita Sweeney.

Guilt in the Time of COVID-19

Guilt in the Time of COVID-19


Guilt in the Time of COVID19 – Write Now Columbus – April 2020

A friend recently admitted to feeling guilty that she wasn’t writing during what is, for her, a sudden slow time. I could relate.

The second week my husband was in the hospital, after they closed the doors to visitors and implemented social distancing across the country, I thought I might use the suddenly empty days to tidy my office, you know, the one that looks like a bomb went off in it.

But there’s this thing behind my ears. Silent, distracting, like a computer program hogging all the RAM. I can’t see it or hear it, but it’s there, draining my focus. I’d wager many of you feel it too.

Instead of sorting stacks of paper, I moved my laptop into the living room and surfed social media, waiting for his calls and texts. I went into my office to get my sunglasses so I could walk the pupperina, closed the door, and barely opened it for seven days.

I shared this with my friend and told her I refused to feel guilty for not learning a new language or writing a book during this time.

Guilt serves no one.

Instead of trying to write, I’m gathering the sensory details I will forget when I once again have the energy to write. The green rubber gloves with the little nibs on the fingers which, now that Ed is home, I wear to apply Lidocaine cream to his aching back. The whir of the nutrition pump and the slightly sickening vanilla protein shake smell of the liquid food. Stuffed bears or bear cutouts in some of the neighbors’ windows, including our own, so the children can go on a “bear hunt.” Feeling surprised at how much I miss hugs.

I admire people who can work under these conditions and worship the medical professionals and other essential workers out on the front lines. I urge everyone else to just keep their kids alive and try not to scream at that zoom call coworker who turns off his video, but fails to mute his microphone so the entire team hears his toilet flush.

We are all doing our best.

And now, repeat after me:

Wash your hands.

Don’t touch your face.

Stay home.

Set the guilt aside and do your part to save someone’s life.

Write Now Columbus – March 2020

Write Now Columbus – March 2020


Hi Writers:

Meet Frederick, my muse. I discovered him in elementary school.

We read Leo Lionni’s book of the same name about the poet field mouse who observed his world and stored his thoughts and sensations while the other mice were gathering food. His efforts helped his family endure the cold winter.

Every day when I’m at my desk, Frederick is there helping me survive the cold winter of the writing life.

Who’s your muse?

Nita Sweeney
(c)Nita Sweeney, 2020, all rights reserved

EDITOR’S NOTE: This post appeared previously on the blog, but it was March 2020, life was difficult, and I reused a post.

Writing Contests and Competitions: Another Path to Publication – Write Now Columbus – December 2019

Writing Contests and Competitions: Another Path to Publication – Write Now Columbus – December 2019


Writing Contests and Competitions: Another Path to Publication – Write Now Columbus – December 2019

When trying to get a book published, most writers think about agents and publishers. This is an excellent strategy. But there’s another, sometimes overlooked path: contests and competitions.

Many writing contests offer publication as the prize. But even winning or placing in a contest that doesn’t offer publication can boost the book’s status in the eyes of agents and publishers. And, winning or placing in a contest with a different piece of writing lends the writer credibility. Agents and publishers pay attention.

Many years ago one of my poems won the “Poet’s Choice” award in the Dublin Arts Council poetry contest. When I was pitching manuscripts of first Memorial, and more recently, Depression Hates a Moving Target, to agents and publishers, I included this tidbit in my bio.

More recently, an early manuscript of Depression Hates a Moving Target (then titled Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two), was first a semi-finalist and then a finalist in the Faulkner Society Wisdom competition. Those credentials helped Mango decide to publish the book.

A few days ago, the now published Depression Hates a Moving Target was nominated as a finalist in the Dog Writers Association of America writing competition “Human Animal Bond” category. You can bet I will include that credit in the book proposal for the next book I pitch to Mango.

Were do you find these contests and competitions? A google search will bring up many, but here’s a few places to start:
  • Submittable – This service includes all manner of submission options including contests. It is free for writers, but expect to pay a fee to enter each contest.
  • Duotrope – This service charges a nominal fee to subscribe.
  • Poets & Writers Magazine – P&W offers a nice list of submission options in the back of each issue and online.
  • – This online index provides a wide variety of information about publishing including many calls for submissions including contests and competitions.
  • Writers Chronicle – Published by the Association of Writers and Writers Program, this magazine includes a list of grants, awards, and publications.
  • Local writing groups – Here in central Ohio, groups including Ohio Writers Association, Buckeye Crime Writers, Ohio Poetry Association, and Central Ohio Fiction Writers hold contests.
  • Other writing groups – Some “local” organizations host writing contests open to writers from any locale. For example, the San Francisco chapter of the Women’s National Book Association holds competitions from time to time.
  • Competitions for self-published books.

Please research each contest before entering. Unfortunately, scams abound. Check their website for prior winners and don’t hesitate to ask other writers if they have ever heard of the contest.

Send only your best work, but do send! And if you win or place, be sure to let me know. I love spreading the word when writers succeed.