Tuesday, May 19, 2015

DNP Ep 2 - Zen Mountains and Regaining the Joy of Reading

I've been hearing again from writers who bemoan the fact that they can't enjoy reading like they once did.  That, and an interaction about the folk/rock singer Donovan on Twitter, inspired me to write a blog post about how you will get it back.

You can listen to the audio version here, or read the text below.

Download link: Daring Novelist Podcast - Episode 2 4:00 min

Here's a famous quote from a zen master that really applies to writing:

"Before a man studies Zen, to him mountains are mountains and waters are waters; after he gets an insight into the truth of Zen, through the instruction of a good master, mountains to him are not mountains and waters are not waters; but after this, when he really attains to the abode of rest, mountains are once more mountains and waters are waters." - Chingyuan Weixin

What's that quote about?  Well, I think it's about something we all experience in learning our craft.  Everybody who learns a new skill, especially creative skills, has a moment when they cease to enjoy the thing they are learning about.

So when you are a reader, you love reading, and you experience the story as a story.  It's not complicated, the story just is what it is, the way a mountain just is what it is.

Then you start learning how to write, and how to make your story work as well as those other stories you love, and suddenly you find that you can't read for pleasure any more.

Suddenly you don't see the story any more -- you see elements. You see how it works but not what it does.  Or if you see what it does, you no longer feel it in yourself.  You are too aware of the mechanics and parts.

Many writers fear reaching this point.  Some give up in despair, because they think the magic is gone. Others shut their eyes tight and back away, determined to recapture their "innocent" state, and stop learning. 

Yet others sigh, and continue on, mourning the loss of the magic of the story, but happy to have achieved a different happiness through creation.

Now and then you'll hear someone quote a poet about how if you analyze poetry it's like dissecting a frog -- you might learn something but you kill the frog in the process.

But that's utterly wrong.  That's not really how literature works.  Because you can't kill a story by understanding it -- not any more than you can kill a mountain or water.  It's just that while you study, you become blind to the life or soul of it for a while.

Once you've mastered those distracting elements of story, the story becomes available to you again.  They will no longer distract you.

However, before you can actually see the story again, you have to do one more thing:

You have to let go.

That's the thing that will bring the magic back.

The only reason you can't see the story is that you trained yourself to be compulsive and see every error, every device, every trick.

So the last lesson, is to master yourself, and your need to correct everything.  You need to train yourself to see the story in spite of the errors.  You have to let go of your acquired need to correct those errors. 

When you have mastered yourself to the point where you can mark an error or not as you choose, then you will be able to see the mountain again.

See you in the funny papers.

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