Posts Tagged ‘zen in the art of writing’

Yes, you are “supposed” to write every day. Of all the “rules” (in quotes because the only rule everyone can agree on is that all the rules can be broken), this seems to be the most common. But there are days when you just can’t. Maybe you’re tied up with inescapable family business. Maybe you’re in surgery. And maybe you just can’t muster the time/energy/inspiration to write. Some days it just won’t happen. The only people who deny that writer’s block exists are people who haven’t experienced it.

So how, you ask, can writing be like not-writing? Is this some Zen thing? No, it’s just…well assuming I can come up with enough similarities, you’ll see. If I don’t, you won’t see, which will prove my point.*

  1. It’s frustrating. Writing is frustrating because it’s slow, and difficult to get anywhere. Not writing is frustrating because you’re at a dead stop, which also makes it difficult to get anywhere.
  2. It tends toward futility. If you don’t write, you don’t sell. If you do write, often you still don’t sell, at least not for some time.
  3. It’s time-consuming. Writing a story takes time, then editing takes more time. Not writing a story takes time away from writing, then noodling around on the Internet in the name of “research” takes more time.
  4. It’s hard work. Until you’ve written a story (or a novel!), you don’t know how tough it is. And until you can’t write, you don’t know how tough it is.
  5. It expands your mind. When you write, you open the way to your unconscious and allows you to say things you didn’t know you had in you.** When you don’t write, you open the way to reading sponsored articles for things you didn’t know you cared about. (See my Internet comment in #3.)
  6. It leads to writing. When you write, you write more. You limber up those mental muscles and they become easier to use. When you don’t write, you feel the need to write more. You bounce around trying to loosen up those mental muscles until you come up with a blog post, at least.

So we come down to it. The Secret. It is simple: If you are a writer, you will write. You may write blogs. You may write children’s books. You may write movies. What you write is up to you, but you will have no choice but to write.

Or not to write. It’s all the same.


*That may be zen, but I really don’t know. Or do I? Would I know if I did?

**Like how two opposing concepts are the actually the same thing.



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Recently I was asked for some gift recommendations for a high school graduate who wants to go to college to become a writer. Of course my recommendation should have been “Don’t,” but that’s no more helpful than saying, “You don’t have to go to college to become a writer, better you should bum your way cross-country for a couple of years working odd jobs and meeting people.” (Which was my original plan, actually, but after college.)

So instead I recommended some books that I have on my shelf, books that stand out among all the writing manuals I’ve collected over the years. There are three: Bird by Bird, Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott; On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King; and Zen in the Art of Writing, Releasing the Creative Genius Within You, by Ray Bradbury. Each is different as each author is different, but each is similar in that the instruction is not limited to writing, but delves deeply into how each writer’s life has informed his writing.

Bird by Bird: I remember two things from this book. First, your first draft can be as awful as you want, because no one is ever going to read it. It can be terrible, atrocious, a pile of dog doo, and no one will ever care, because no one will ever know. Second, don’t try to do everything at once. Build your scenes like you build a wall, brick by brick. This book is essential if you want to learn to write.

(Digression: For basic writing skills, you can’t beat The Elements of Style, by Strunk & White. It’s concerned with non-fiction, critical writing, but the rules are the rules.)

On Writing: I’m not a fan of King’s fiction, but this writing memoir pulls no punches in describing his personal writing journey, and is a valuable look into a writer’s soul. There’s a lot about pulling fiction from your own life, and about discipline.

Zen in the Art of Writing: In my mind, Bradbury should be mentioned in the same breath as Shakespeare. Not for the same reasons, Shakespeare was a stylist, Bradbury a characterist (to coin a phrase), but both were brilliant. I haven’t read as much Bradbury as I ought, for the simple reason that he makes me want to put down the book and go write like that, and at the same time cry for not being worthy. I can imitate a lot of styles, but his escapes me–because it’s not a style, per se. Bradbury wrote the way he lived, and he makes you want to do the same. You won’t, not like he did, but it’s inspiring to try.

Ask a hundred writers for a writing book, you’ll get a hundred recommendations. But ask a hundred writers for the best writing books, and these three will be very high on those lists. If these books don’t speak to you as a writer, you’d be well advised to go to college and study something else.

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