Sunday, April 08, 2007

Six Essentials

For the last couple of months I've been slowly reading and re-reading Wabi Sabi for Writers by Richard R. Powell. It's the first writing how-to book based on eastern philosophies I've found that doesn't make me think the author is simply rewording the Tao. Actually half the time I don't know if I'm reading it as much as contemplating it. If books were pottery, this one would be enigmatic, Japanese and on display at the Morikami Museum.

Powell also (loosely) defines wabi sabi, a Japanese phrase which originally meant "poverty" (wabi) + "loneliness" (sabi) but now seems to mean something more like "simple stuff found and appreciated during beneficial solitude." I actually like the original phrase better, because writing for most folks is a poor, lonely business, but there you go.

In Motivation, the sixth section of the book, Powell cites six of artist Vincent Van Gogh's life traits that he believes writers should cultivate for themselves:

1. Perseverance
2. Wabi Sabi
3. Simplicity
4. Expressiveness
5. Independence
6. Courage

I noticed that Vincent's insanity and the self-mutilation didn't make the list, and those traits are also worth considering, in the don't-even-go-there sense of things. Van Gogh's life sucked too much for me to personally endorse as a role model, and probably started all this nonsense about suffering for one's art.

Despite my grumbling, I agree with the list for the most part. All six things are traits writers should think about developing, especially #5 and #6. I wish the author had put camaraderie or friendship with other writers as #7, though. Vincent definitely could have used some friends, and so can most writers. It's a lot of trial-and-error at first, and not all the friendships will stand the test of time and career direction, but the one or two writers you befriend and keep as friends can enhance your writing life. I don't think you have to sacrifice the sacred writer solitude for them, either. Writer friends understand when you need space and quiet time, usually better than your family.

Do you agree with the Van Gogh list, or would you add or change something on it?


  1. Yep, I'd agree with them all, but I would add Patience. To be an author, you need to have patience with those who surround you, not just the industry.

  2. I'd add Balance to the list--a life outside of writing; friends, family, other interests.

  3. Anonymous10:51 AM

    Good sense of humor. That, and trying to stay healthy.

  4. Anonymous10:54 AM

    I think it's a good list, and agree with the additions people have suggested. I was struck by the link you posted and the idea of the poetic in writing. This idea reminded me of another book, Crossing the Unknown Sea by David Whyte. It's about work in general, but another of those books you contemplate as much as read. You might like it.

  5. I was going to write a clever riposte with the punning plants I'd cultivate in place of the virtues, but all I could come up with was Borage for Courage.

    My doctor tells me this will all be explained when the blood test results come back.

  6. Since you are interested in Vincent’s life and work, you might want to look at the Notes section on I am the writer and director of the new independent film on his life.

  7. Anonymous7:28 PM

    I agree, but I also think you need something else - the ability to fail. I'm not saying an acceptance of failure, because I think that ranks under perseverence, but the ability to spectacularly fall on your face in public, with all of your friends and family watching. It's a grounding in reality, I think, and something secure to hold onto when other people want to tell you you've failed. When you know you can do so on your own, it isn't so bad. *-*

    Not to mention, I've had some fantastic stories come out of other failed stories - a lot fewer than I'd like to have!


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