April Dávila: How Meditation Makes You a Better Writer

At least once a week, I try to make it to A Very Important Meeting. It’s a daily writer’s retreat that kicks off with a guided group meditation followed by an hour of solo writing time. At the end of each session, there’s an optional fifteen minutes of social time where you can chat and connect with fellow writers. During routinely hectic weeks, it’s a little oasis of calm — and a great way to get some writing done.

Its co-founder, April Dávila, is the author of 142 Ostriches, a novel that takes place in April’s home state of California, and her writing has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. April leads many of the meditation sessions at A Very Important Meeting, and here, she details the importance of meditation in her own writing practice.

Hi April! Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’m a fiction writer based in Southern California where I live with my husband and two children. I’m also a practicing Buddhist, half-hearted gardener, and occasional runner. 

How did you get started as a writer and what do you write about?

I had a little bubble of time back in 2007 when I was unemployed and waiting for my husband to finish up grad school at Stanford. We knew we wanted to move to Los Angeles after he graduated, so I wasn’t looking for work. Left with no demands on my time, I started writing short stories. They weren’t very good, but I loved it. That was the first time I seriously considered that I might want to make writing my profession. When we finally did move south, I applied to the Master of Professional Writing program at USC and spent two glorious years practicing my craft. 

After graduation, I worked as a freelancer for a while, then landed a job at a PR and marketing firm. Those were the years when I woke up early every morning to work on my novel before sunrise. In 2016 I quit the day job and am now writing full time. I’m drawn to stories that are just a half-step off the beaten path. That is to say, I’m a fan of plot and tend to write stories that are traditionally structured, but I like settings and characters that are unusual in some way. I like a little bit of wonder and magic in a story. So far, all of my stories have been set in California. There’s just so many wonderfully strange people and places here. I feel like I’ll never run out of material. 

Tell us about the role of meditation in your own writing process.

Meditation changed my writing life. I spent so long writing in circles and not really getting anywhere, but once I started meditating regularly, I finished the novel, found an agent, and signed my first publishing deal. I was accepted to attend the Squaw Valley Community of Writers (after having been rejected two years before). A short story I wrote was not only published, it was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. I wrote a second, more complex novel in a fraction of the time it took me to write the first.

“There are several concrete, teachable ways in which meditation can help us be better writers, the most basic of which is quieting our minds.”

At first, I was skeptical that meditation had anything to do with those successes (correlation is not necessarily causation), but when I thought carefully about how my writing had changed, I kept coming back to things I had learned through my meditation practice. There are several concrete, teachable ways in which meditation can help us be better writers, the most basic of which is quieting our minds. This is what led Paulette and me to organize A Very Important Meeting, a place for writers to come, meditate for a few minutes, and then write in the company of other writers. It’s a wonderful community. And for those interested in going deeper with the meditation practice, I’ve established the 6-Week Mindful Writers Challenge. This is an intensive, 6-week, 6 days a week program designed to help writers who are ready to get serious about their craft.

What’s been your proudest moment as a writer?

I will always remember how much fun I had at the launch party for my first novel, 142 Ostriches. I worked so long and so hard to bring that book into existence, and the launch party was a chance to celebrate with all the friends who had encouraged me along the way. There were kids running all over, and ostrich-shaped cupcakes, and so many copies of my book in the hands of people I loved. I just felt so much gratitude. It also happened to be just a week before the COVID-19 shutdown, which made it particularly special in retrospect. 

Your novel, 142 Ostriches, tells the story of a woman who has inherited an ostrich farm in the desert. Tell us how you conducted research for this book.

Back in 2010, there was an ostrich ranch called the OK Corral in the tiny town of Oro Grande in the Mojave Desert. It felt like the middle of nowhere but was only about an hour’s drive from my house in Los Angeles. The first time I went out for a tour I was just testing a gut feeling I had that this might be an unusual place to set a novel, but the minute I got there I knew it was perfect. Doug Osborne, who owned the place, was so generous with his time. Most of the turning points in my story come directly from stories he told me about running the ranch. I went out several times over the years. Sadly, Doug passed away before I finished the novel and the OK Corral no longer exists. 

“Sometimes people think they don’t have anything new to say, but the value of a blog is not so much in what you say, it’s in how you say it.”

How can new writers get started when they don’t have much experience?

A favorite teacher of mine once said that the only thing you have to do to be a writer is write.

In terms of building a career as a writer, I always recommend that writers start a blog. When I was freelancing, almost every client I had said they read my blog before contacting me. Later, when I finished my novel, the blog became my home base for promoting it. Sometimes people think they don’t have anything new to say, but the value of a blog is not so much in what you say, it’s in how you say it. 

What do you love to do when you’re not writing?

Is it too cliche to say reading? Because reading, but I also have two kids who keep me busy with things like driving them to soccer practice and making dinner. If you can’t find me, odds are pretty good I’m hanging out in the hammock in my backyard (usually with a book, but sometimes just staring up at the trees).