on February 9, 2010
The other day, Wabi Sabi for Writers arrived, and wow--it's really hard to read. For some reason I expected one of those bubble-gum books, like 10 Easy Ways to put Zen in your Work. Instead I got a literary treatise on Basho, the history of haiku, and a whole bunch of people I'd never thought would show up in a craft book together. It's...way cool and more than I expected. I've been dragging it with me everywhere. Reading a little here and a little there, spaced out so I can think about what I've read before reading more.
It's odd and pretty much proves out my theory that certain teachers assume everyone knows what they know. Chatman with his assumption everyone in the world has read Lagos Egri and Aristotle, McKee thinking everyone knows what he means when he references the "well-made" play.
I'm a big Basho fan and have at least a semi-understanding of what Powell is talking about, but if I'd been clueless the book would have been a great big, "huh?" It's not exactly reader-friendly. There are a lot of references to obscure articles, Chuang Tzu, Taoism and bits and pieces of just about everything from Van Gogh to Alexander the Great. It's a magpie book, full of hidden gems and odd insights. Absolutely brilliant, and totally non-commercial...in a cult favorite kind of way. It's not really a writing book, but rather something to carry on your journey.
on January 5, 2007
Wabi Sabi for Writers is a philosophical source of inspiration for intermediate to advanced writers. Author Richard Powell, who studied at the Kootenay School of Writing under such acclaimed authors as Margaret Atwood and David McFadden, Wabi Sabi for Writers emphasizes that while perfection is great to strive for, the struggle to create flawless beauty is in essence a false idea in an imperfect universe - absolute "perfection" is impossible, yet imperfection contains within its own sense of timeless beauty. Written in a soothing style of narrative flow, Wabi Sabi for Writers applies ancient Japanese aesthetic to modern practical principles and suggestions, and is filled cover to cover with tips, tricks, and techniques for improving one's writing production rate. From the value of personally experiencing and connecting with nature, to applying the concept of "yugen" in hinting at depths below the surface and engaging the conscious mind to puzzle over the unseen, Wabi Sabi for Writers is an invaluable and inspirational tool for promoting personal fulfillment as well as improved quality in one's writing.
on April 17, 2008
I found this book in the most unlikely places-- a local new age store. I own Powell's other book, Wabi Sabi simple, which provides a broader and more introduction to this concept. I was amused and amazed that here was a book on a subject that I am growing more and more interested in, encapsulated inside a well written, personal account on writing.
According to Powell, writing lends itself well to the ways of wabi sabi. For it is through exploration, simple natural elements, connecting and sharing with others the passion for writing, and the test of time that turns an item into something wabi sabi. The same can be said about writing. Good writing, has to have certain universal elements, explore some "element of nature" (natural or humankind), and withstand the test of time. Writers also need a reader, for without the act of sharing, the story cannot be complete. The rest of the book, then, uses inner dialog with the haiku poet, Basho; personal tales of experience that help to illustrate how one achieves points while being on the path of wabi sabi; and examples of writing, contemporary and canonical, that he considers wabi sabi to show writers how to apply this to their own works
The book is broken down by topic chapters, these being: Wabi Sabi for Writers, Inspiration, Education, Wabi Sabi Beauty, Enlightenment, Motivation, Community, Wabi Sabi Elements, and Craft. Powell sets the theme of each topic with a small inner dialog question and answer session between himself (the writer) and the great haiku poet, Basho, who he questions about why these elements are important to both wabi sabi and a writer who desires to attain the idea of finding the truth through the craft of words. He then goes into the heart of each chapter discussing how writers can get more out of their daily and lifelong practice of writing if they applied these concepts and ideas to their work. While Powell focuses most of his examples around his love of haiku and other Japanese poetic forms, he says that any writers can benefit from the knowledge of wabi sabi.
And I agree with him. Already this book has awoken a new perspective in me. The chapter on Community, for example, discusses how we writers aren't really meant to practice our craft in a vacuum, but rather share and get help from other writers. We are not meant to write alone. Only one half of the story gets told, the other half... unfolds when someone else reads and interprets our words. Not to mention all the writing groups (like NaNoWriMo) which encourage writing with partners, in groups and sharing ideas and pitfalls so that others can help us gain more insight into our own works.
The book also helps shape your words and your voice as you write. It's a constant reminder that writing takes time to develop and uncover the right words to use for the right scene. It is okay to not get things down right the first time, that you can go back and add more complexity and layer more meaning onto the draft as time goes on. In the chapter on Wabi Sabi Elements, Powell suggests that instead of passing off time or seasons in your work, you should describe the world around your characters, the smells in the air, the way that leaves fall of trees or snow sprinkles to the ground to instill a sense of natural beauty and wonder into your written work.
I also like how Powell breaks down each chapter into smaller chunks and snippets of things we, writers, can do to add a greater dimension and spirituality to our works. We're not just carefully crafting stories but we're breathing real life into the works. It's easier to break apart this large ambiguous concept into more concrete chunks and makes a lot more sense. Which could be one reason why I have never really finished Wabi Sabi Simple, even though I enjoyed reading it as well.
The book ends with a glossary of common Japanese terms and a small (but comprehensive) appendix of Suggested Reading which contains contemporary works, alongside some good books on haiku and history on Basho. The reading list alone is an added bonus to view works of wabi sabi writing in practice.
I highly recommend this book for those who are into wabi sabi philosophy, writing haiku or just wanting to maybe add another layer of dimension onto your writing crafts and want to expand and explore new writing techniques.