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Zen of the Art of Writing by Anti Kidron

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Zen of the Art of Writing: express your nature and don´t try to say anything special.

Best haikus would be written by a child who doesn´t know yet how to smile, wrote A. Watts.The most important thing in haiku is to see the world directly, unruined by the abstract thought. For that there is a notion of thusness or suchnesstathata, takovostj, So-heit – in Buddhism. E. Fromm finds that the important quality of a person who lives in a way of being, not in a way of having, or acquiring or grasping is openess to the experience, that could be characterized with words like open, receptive, empty. Empty in a meaning of zen. In Zen the notion of mirror mind is used for describing that kind of state. It is an attention that is open to everything without getting stuck to anything. It would be ideal if taking yourself into that kind of state of attention would take place in itsself, and not on the impulsion of attitude that we are going to do something peculiar. Receptive mind and poetic noticing of the usual is the starting point of the art of writing in the spirit of zen.

Following the natural course of writing means saying a goodby to the understanding as if the role of writer would be something special, elite, artificial. Writing should be carried out as naturally as breathing and walking, said one supervisor of the cource on creative writing in one american university. Such approach is also called process writing. Student´s paper, article, monograph or novel could be written so that all the ideas, thoughts and images, associations and allusions, memories and fantacies that come to mind freely will be written down as soon as they come into mind, without the critical estimation or censoring. Returning to writing in a couple of hours, days, weeks or months we always find a chance to improve the text. Process writing is like a stream that carries the author with it. Thus already reading over your own text gives ideas and verve to improve it. Where does it come from. Lets remind Zenon´s aporia: you can´t step into the same river twise. Evidently our own mind has changed meanwhile: an ability to look your own text as someone else has appeared in us. Process writing allows to get over three main obstacles in writing: blank paper fear, perfection cramp and drought of ideas. It also helps us to fish out more and more new associations from our consciousness – where is also rich unconscios area of experience or so-called subconsciousness.

According to Moreno the father of creativity is spontaneity. Zen emphasizes also the importance of spontaneity through many keywords. For example, following your nature, naturalness, simplicity, immediacy, artlessness etc. But at the same time the paradox of the zen is that the desired spontaneity can not be brought out by the will. On the contrary: that kind of aspiration could even be hindering. Lets take an example from life. What good would it be to say to unconfident and nervous person - Be spontaneous! He would even more close up. One principle of the zen in the art of writing is an aspiration without aspiration that is a freedom to express what´s on your mind. This of cause reminds the wellknown principle of Tao – wu wei or do without doing. Ironically it is also not possible to pursue the aspiration without aspiration. Kerauac who wrote about zen in a zen-like seamless and free style became a drunk and never reached to the top of the world´s literature. Salinger who wrote magnificent zen-spirited novels has also been silent for the last 40 years. With that I want to say that subconscious programming of yourself to create natural and spiritual high-quality literature is not always successful. Actually it is not easy to create even the simple story about everyday life. The obsticle is often the desire to say something special and impressive. Especially hindering is the desire to be wise or esthetical. It would be right time to remind Pushkin who had said that poet should be a little bit stupid. By the way I think that wanting to create something esthetically high without a personality to back it up, ends with beautifing. A great part of estonian literature as well as movies is unacceptable for me because of its desire to beautify.


In Zen directness is highly estimated. Desire to be wise brings with it something artificial. I have enviously observed the ability of the opinion leaders and other writers to say important things directly without talking in circles. Businessman Robert Lepikson was good at this art both in speaking and writing. Many people who make succinct remarks in a good company are still puzzled when they start to write down their thoughts. One reason is of cause an understanding that writing is something sublime, great. Which it is not, of cause. In linguistics there is a notion of noble grafomania in use. The best way to overcome the blanc paper fear is to write as much as possible, even just for yourself. Until expressing your thoughts in writing becomes everyday thing.

Understandably there is no time today even to refer to all the possibilities that are in the zen of the writing. I just mention some:

  • Expressing yourself in different states of mind – sulky and jolly, on the impulsse of happy and insultive event, to reflect exhilarating and displeasing things.
  • Meditation
  • Engross into an object, to become one with it.
  • To become free from beautyfing and overstraining way of writing.
  • To pick out the lexiphanic and artificial expressions from the finished text.
  • To find your own style that would adequately accord with your nature.
  • To write down the figures of speech and ideas at once, as some of them may express a small satori – a spontaneous enlightenment.
  • To tune yourself with the flow that elates to paint with words.
  • Consciously keeping a distance with fashionable words and sayings, except of cause the ironic use of them.

If you have made writing your profession, it is necessary to take it as your realization, dharma, without thinking how well or not-so-well you do. This is just your path and expressing your nature is ferial there and the epigraph is unhesitating progression.


Author: Anti Kidron