Wisdom for Writers

I was recently challenged by some advice that anyone who wants to be a writer must be writing. In a way, this latest bit of wisdom was just the finale in a chain of similar remarks I have been hearing. Either way, I found myself corrected in my faulty view that writer was someone who had written something and would write again.

While I dare not dismiss the power of inspiration, writing is not done from time to time but with consistency. Indeed, consistent writing may yield nothing come publication, yet it is the process of writing that allows for a published work to emerge. I find this fascinating and hopefully I will begin to live by this wisdom I subscribe to.

A recurring problem, however, is that my life does not allow time for writing. Of course, the wisdom asserts that you make time for what is important, but on the other hand I feel convinced that writing and art requires space and leisure, peace and patience to be enlivened. Could it be that modern life is antithetical to writing?

Last week I tweeted about Mizoguchi’s film Ugetsu (1953), which criticizes industrial values of ambition and greed for destroying the beauty of simple work. In the film, Genjuro makes beautiful pottery by working patiently with his wife; his greed however ends up destroying their marriage and endangering his art. I am reminded in this of saying 38 of the Tao Te Ching: 

The Master does nothing,

yet he leaves nothing undone.

The ordinary man is always doing things,

yet many more are left to be done.

Thus, saying 3 reminds to “Practice non-doing, and everything will fall into place.” This is the Daoist teaching of wu-wei, which translates something like “action without action.” This speaks to me that simple work is the root of great work; running around busy can be running in circles while Eastern teaching states that a great man takes the time to cultivate a garden in his home.

In planning this post I’ve found I barely have time to blog much less tend a garden. Is it possible that my modern lifestyle is choking my creativity? I’d say it’s probable; I’d also say there isn’t a ton I can do about it. Sure, there are those like Martin Heidegger who choose to live a simple, non-technological life and I respect them for it. If you are reading this blog, however, you are probably like me devoted to aspects of modern life–including its schedule.

To conclude briefly, what can we do? First, we need to recognize the danger of running in circles which presents itself in modern schedules. Further, we need to understand the idea of rootedness and how great things grow from what is simple but rich. Again, gardening is an apt example, yet I would rather draw on the Hebrew concept of sabbath here. In Judaism, sabbath is a time of rest that roots the week of work and re-centers the observer on what is important, namely, God. I think being tied to the Transcendent in some way is essential, for me sabbath has come to mean observance of the Divine Hours, a long-standing regimen of Christian prayer.

Sabbath also, however, means a planned time of rest. I think this is crucial for us young writers. Writing requires some leisure in our lives, yes, and I have been arguing that a form of prayer is an important element in rooting us in the midst of our schedules. Writing also, however, requires an open time in which to write. Carving out such time requires planning, and it is essential that we literally plan time in our schedules in which to hold sabbath and write. In this way, I think sabbath increasingly means planned times of rejuvenating disciplines that occur in different forms on a daily and weekly and monthly basis more than being a single day every week.

My final charge, then, to you and equally to myself: Embrace a sabbath practice of setting aside time weekly to write and only write. Let that space be a time of refreshment and rootedness and see what great things may start so simply.

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