Thursday, 21 April 2011

Zen and the Art of Writing

"Just write something." Much easier to say, than to do.  When I run drama workshops I know that the most paraylising instruction I can give to someone is "Just go and perform something". A blank page, or canvas, or an empty stage, can freeze our creativity.

If we have this experience more than once, we can start to believe that we simply don't have any creative powers, or that any powers we did have dried up.

In the theatre it's much more empowering for an actor when I give them a more specific instruction. When their creativity is given limits, it is much more able to produce work. "Perform something, but don't move outside of this small square." Or, "Perform something using these few words." Then magic can happen.

In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Pirsig tells a story about one his writing students. She doesn't believe she can write; faced with a blank page she is frozen. Pirsig instructs her to go into the main street, and to look at the bank there. He tells he to look at a specific brick in the bank's wall, he tells her how many rows in this brick is, and instructs her to write about this brick.

She brings pages of writing into the next class. She had begun writing about this one brick, and it had led her to explore the history of brick-making in the town, and how the demise of the industry had affected the whole society. Starting from this one brick, she had become fired up (excuse the pun) and created something interesting and wonderful.

Someone else starting from the same brick would have written something completely different. Any object, or writing prompt, is like a gateway into our own personal imagination. Wherever we start from, something that is important to us will appear on the page.

This is why the various writing prompts here are so good, they give us a seed and unlock the door to our creative powers. With the same prompt each of us produces something different.

There are prompts all around us in the world as well; the shout of the scrap-man, "Any old iron", opens one worldthe Sylvia Edwards print of Noah's ark is a gateway into another, and I have talked before about just how much there is through the office window.

Pick one thing, and start writing.


  1. This is so true! sometimes we can't wait for inspiration, it will come along the way. Interesting blog and congrats on your wedding.

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