The Art of Writing No. 20
There is a very appropriate zen tale of the centipede who is asked how he manages to coordinate all those legs and promptly falls into a ditch. Like the centipede we do a hundred things without ever questioning them.
It is very difficult and takes a great deal of diligence and practice to refashion your writer’s mind. Recent developments in cognitive psychology show that the brain is almost infinitely plastic which means that by adopting new habits and rituals we can reinforce new ways of seeing and doing. The other day I watched a documentary as a young man, blind from eight years old, had become a bat. We saw him cycling down a road making a clucking sound and navigating by the echoes. He had realigned his brain so that he could see with his ears.
Think of writing first as an every day activity. We do it. We send emails, letters, fill forms, make lists. We sometimes edit them afterwards, if we feel they are significant enough and would represent us badly should we not do so. In the same way that we might walk down a road and use the experience to give directions to others, the process tends to be shorthand and reductionist. We don’t convey the full experience of walking down the road. Writing can be like that. A sort of minimal communication of a story, bereft of richness and vibrancy. Are there ways of intervening with what has become a knee jerk process? I think so. To change the very structures of thinking involves doing things differently.
I stayed in the countryside one year and while there I became interested in writing a book of aphorisms for management, based upon zen conciseness and depth of meaning. The first took me two days. Days! Ten words. Fifty letters. Pre-Twitter! The second took me a day. The third took half a day and so on until I could write maybe five in a day. Two months and I had produced An A to Zen of Management. The fact was that I began to see words and meaning differently. My brain became retooled. Here are two examples:
Autonomy: an illusion, very material to motivation.
Coach: every king needs his fool.
Since then I started to tweet using the same newly shaped brain. Today, for instance:
Each person comprises many selves but rarely develops more than one; the perfect subsistence culture (@profjacksanger.com)
In Azimuth I adopted a horrendous new punctuation for speech. My editor threw up her hands in disgust. But by using it I found myself studying the nature of dialogue completely differently. Instead of some superfluous conversation, it attained at times (I hope) a touch of zen.
You can check all I say against the proof in my books!
The Strange Attractor by Eric le Sange Kindle Amazon