Friday, 13 March 2015

Writing Laozi Style

Laozi was a Chinese philosopher. Consequently his choicest thoughts are largely mis-attributed to Confucius; the only Chinese philosopher most people (including myself before this article) have heard of. I guess it's a compliment in a way but in another it would probably not have helped him get the girls. Nobody likes a whiner.

He's not a one trick pony by any means but the only trick which I care about is his thought nugget...


which can be translated as "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step". I've also heard it in the form of a question "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time." Like most people, I happen to know the Han character for elephant is  and it's not in there. 
So I'm thinking maybe the elephant thing was just a little joke Laozi told one day. 

I imagine Laozi is out wandering around trying to get his head right because, back at home, Confucius is impressing all the Han's with "It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop." which is a total rip-off of Laozi's "single step" proverb but nobody's seeing that. They're just all like, "Confucius, you spit the illest proverbs", drop some more truth on us!".

Anyway, back to Laozi who's strolling here and there, looking at trees and butterflies, trying to get some fresh proverbs together when he happens upon a village in the grip of a terrible famine. Coincidentally, at the same time as he arrives in the village, an elephant also shows up. Unlike Laozi though, it almost immediately keels over dead. 

Now, everyone's just sort of staring at the thing because they're pretty sure dinner just showed up. There's a problem though: nobody's seen an elephant before, let alone cooked and eaten one. 

It's at about this point that one of the villagers notices Laozi standing there. Laozi's looking all morose, kicking at imaginary pebbles and muttering under his breath because, once again, he's the second most interesting thing going on. In fairness to the villagers though, despite being fairly recognizable, by any measure he's less interesting than a newly dead elephant

Still, Laozi's supposed to be wicked smart, so maybe he knows a thing or two about cooking exotic animals. So the villager yells out to him  "how do you eat an elephant?" and Laozi who's still sulking yells back "one bite at a time".

And this is just one of the reasons why Laozi was not as popular as Confucius.

So writing.. I don't generally have trouble starting and I've heard a lot of folks say they start strong and then sort of lose impetus. This is generally followed by the lamentation that they have a closet full of partially completed things they should "dust off".

I'm hardly prolific but I do get around this by looking at each piece not as a thing I'm starting but a piece of something I'm working on. Or, to use one of the things the hip kids are doing as an analogy, I look at my work as a torrent file. I trust that everything's going to arrive eventually it just may not be in the order I would expect. 

To be fair I feel like I'm downloading a lot of different pieces at the same time but I'm also surprised that sometimes quite disparate pieces seem to suddenly fit together. In the interests of full disclosure I also reread unfinished things in some kind of a schedule to maximize the chances of some synergy being recognized.

I guess this is also useful for avoiding writers block too. I write what I want when the mood takes me and just trust that it'll will be useful eventually. It's not always going to be the case but if you're fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to write for a living it might at least make things a little more enjoyable, at least, it does for me.

No comments:

Post a Comment