Writing, Activism, and Right Livelihood

As part of my Zone 00 design, I decided to do another design which looked at how I fit writing and activism into my life. (I’d also been planning a design something like this from the start of my diploma.) On further thought, I realised that this was really about how I fit paid writing, fiction writing (sometimes paid but small amounts), and activism into my three work days per week.

Design goal: consider how I can sustainably and happily build paid work, fiction writing, and activism into the time I have available.

I started out with the design web, but switched to my own design process when it didn’t quite fit:


What are my goals?

  • Fiction writing, and feeling good about the fiction that I write.
  • Earn money (though as right now I’m not the main earner in my household this is flexible) without compromising my ideals.
  • Some form of activism: making a difference in the world in a way which supports my own wellbeing.

Resources & Information

Assessment of the current situation:

  • Fiction writing:
    • I have had several short stories published (and more forthcoming).
    • I am actively working on longer work and more short stories.
    • I feel positive about the way in which my work reflects my values and ideas about the world.
  • Earning a living:
    • I write articles on computer history for Linux Voice magazine. Linux Voice is aimed at the Linux community, puts money back into free software (a cause I believe in), and I am proud of the work and research in my pieces. (I’ve also written other open-source tutorials for other magazines in the past.)
  • Activism:
    • Treasurer of Galleywall Nature Reserve (see also GNR Summer Events design).
    • Parenting: bringing up children is an important part of making a difference in the world, and my co-parent and I are choosing to arrange our lives in part around home educating Leon.
    • Small-scale personal change and habits: veganism, cycling, growing food, solar panels, slow low-carbon travel, etc.
    • Previous forms of activism: involvement with Climate Camp, cycling instructor/admin work with Cycle Training UK, involvement with Burgess Park Food Project (stopped due to lack of time).

Resources and ideas:

  • Idea that “the best thing for the world is for people to pursue what they love”.
  • Ideas around Right Livelihood.
  • Support systems: Absolute Write, writing groups, conventions, home/family support.
  • Practical ways of improving my writing: style books, writing manuals, online advice.
  • Aspects of Zone 00 design which help me to make more time for writing.
  • Ways to work on limiting beliefs (self-help, professional assistance).

Some limits and limiting beliefs I may currently have:

  • Concerns about how ‘good’ or ‘important’ my own writing is.
  • Failure to value the sheer fact that I love doing it; or the idea that creativity is a worthy pursuit in and of itself.
  • Time, energy, other projects and the tendency to take on other projects all generate practical limits. There’s also a negative spiral: lack of self-belief leads to prioritising other projects leads to lack of time to write leads to less self-belief…
  • Fear!
  • Belief that I should be doing the ‘best’ thing to improve the world, whatever that is; but in fact there is no one ‘best’ thing and paralysis helps no one!


I observed that:

  • My time is very limited — this is probably my critical limit.
  • I am thinking in terms of doing ‘more’ activism when in fact I am already doing quite a lot (see above).
  • What I most want to do is to concentrate on writing fiction, at least for now.

I tried analysing the issue in terms of patterns:

  • Stories can help us to make sense of the world, and can be a powerful form of activism / changing the world.
  • I observed above a possible negative thinking spiral. I could interrupt this by deliberately putting more time and energy towards my fiction writing, pursuing and being aware of the possibility of abundance (see also my Zone 00 design).
  • Can I interrupt the hesitation / doubt / second-guessing pattern by working to free my mind up? e.g. finding ways / phrases to interrupt self-doubt.
  • Stacking is not always appropriate: in this instance, the different goals of the things I’m interested in don’t necessarily mesh well.
  • Value diversity: finding ways to simultaneously follow different paths with different things of value; at any given point I may wish to weight them differently.
  • A poly-income-stream doesn’t have to be entirely about money; there are different forms of ‘income’ ((Use edges and value the marginal).

I also spent some time thinking about the idea of ‘Right Livelihood’. This is originally a Buddhist idea, adapted/adopted by permaculturists. Here are some of the ways in which modern Western Buddhists have interpreted ‘Right Livelihood’:

  • Work that embodies love, devotion, and service.
  • Choosing work that is the best of ourselves, aligned with our values.
  • Valuing learning and beginner’s mind.
  • Seeking a sense of vocational wholeness, living authentically.
  • Following a passion; not necessarily following a ‘should’ rather than a want or an urge (though again, confirming alignment with our values).

So from a permaculture perspective, this can be translated into seeking work that aligns with the Permaculture Ethics:

  • People Care: work that sings to you personally; work that can make the world better for others.
  • Earth Care: work that at the very least does not damage the Earth, and perhaps work that helps it.
  • Fair Shares: work that seeks to value diversity and the sharing of the Earth between all who live on it.

Work need not be explicitly ‘permaculture’ to fit in with living an ethical life, and/or living by permaculture ethics. It’s important to consider not just one’s work life, but the whole of one’s life, as held against those ethics (Integrate rather than segregate).


It seems to me that this is a situation where further stacking is not, in fact, a good idea (Use and value diversity). Trying to deliberately shoehorn ‘activism’ into my fiction is likely only to paralyse my creativity.

Instead, I need to acknowledge and appreciate the work and activism I am already doing, and have done in the past (Use small and slow solutions).

Right now, my time is highly limited (as much of my energy is spent in parenting); over time this will change as Leon grows up, but as we plan to home educate the change will be very gradual. It’s important to acknowledge my limitations and existing commitments right now (Apply self regulation and accept feedback; use small and slow solutions).

Fiction writing is of itself an example of ‘right livelihood’; though it’s also (for me currently) a very small income stream. However, currently I have the advantage that I’m not the main earner in the household, which might not always be the case. It makes sense to take advantage of that to put time into my writing (Catch and store energy) and try to build my career. In the work I’ve done already I am confident that my values and view of the world are reflected, and I believe that stories are an important part of helping us make sense of the world. I have no reason to believe that will stop being the case, but I do have reason to put effort into improving my craft (Apply self-regulation and accept feedback).

My design therefore looks like this:

  • Acknowledge and celebrate the activism I already do (and have done in the past), in all its various forms (Use and value diversity).
  • Acknowledge and celebrate the value of my non-fiction writing.
  • Focus for now on my fiction writing, and work on my unhelpful patterns around this:
    • Work on my sense of guilt about doing something ‘fun’.
    • Go through the book The Seven Secrets of the Prolific, which talks about some of the mental blocks that writers can set up.
    • Remember to refer to my writing as ‘work’!
  • Work on improving my writing: writing more; finding a helpful criticism group; working through various ‘craft’ books if they’re helpful (Apply self-regulation and accept feedback).
  • Use my permaculture design skills to support my local/small scale activism (as with Galleywall Nature Reserve design, the Back Garden design, and much of the rest of my portfolio!), and my self-care (see my Zone 00 design). (Design from patterns to details)
  • Redo my blog to better support my writing.


Specific implementation steps:

  • Finishing this design and publicising it is a useful step in itself in taking my writing seriously! Consider using it as one of my main presentation designs.
    • An exercise a week from The Seven Secrets of the Prolific.
    • Continue looking for a helpful writers’ group (I have two current leads to follow up).
    • Set specific goals for my writing over the rest of the year.

    Evaluate and Tweak

    As this is the final design in my portfolio, I haven’t yet had a real chance to assess it. However, I intend to assess it in a couple of months, and in particular to consider:

    • How much I am writing and how regularly.
    • How I feel about putting more time into my fiction.
    • Whether I have been able to find (or am pursuing) a congenial writers’ group, in person or online.
    • What work I have done around my limiting beliefs.


    Reflections on the design process:

    • Positive: I was pleased that I was able to notice that the design process I originally chose wasn’t a good fit, and to switch to a different process. I also found thinking about right livelihood to be very useful, in particular the direct comparison with the permaculture ethics.
    • Negative: A process combining aspects of the design web (which seems well suited to ‘internal’ designs) and this more linear process might have been an even better fit; it felt sometimes that I was shoehorning my thinking into specific boxes rather than that the process was supporting my thinking.
    • Interesting: The influence of the original ‘design web’ thinking carried over in my emphasis on appreciation of what I am achieving already, and on considering my own internal limiting beliefs.

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