Wabi Sabi for Writers

Wabi Sabi is a way of looking at the world with a kind of quiet insight;
to find beauty, even in imperfection.

More than any other writing book, Wabi Sabi for Writers by Richard R. Powell has given me a unique way of looking at the world and translating it into words. Here is an excerpt:

     This paradox of building a life on change scares me. It feels reckless, dangerous, and foolish. But what it does for a writer is create a sense of expectation, a sense that each moment may contain the experience that will open up something bracing and real, or something warm and meaninful, or something bright and sober, something worth sharing, something readers will not be able to put down.
     This way of being is like carrying a hidden doorway in your pocket through which you can smuggle impressions, silent apprehensions, and private observations moment after moment because you are not expending effort to get anywhere. You can focus on the moment because each moment takes place inside your stillness, inside your own home. Being present in the motion, moment after moment, provides that secret chamber of awareness and gives a writer the chance to notice what is passing by before it is gone.

As you can see, the philosophy is “Zen-like” and may not be for everybody. But as a writer, as an artist, it has made me look at the world differently, and has changed the way I translate what I see into words.

Here is an excerpt from Broken Dolls that I wrote after reading Wabi Sabi for Writers. It takes places in the small town of Rohwer, Arkansas, where Nobu and his family have been sent to an internment camp from their home in California. This scene takes place on a day Nobu and his friends have been sent outside the camp on work detail to clear brush in a field outside the camp. They have just been “captured” by some local hunters who believe they “got themselves some Japanese spies.” I tried to use wabi sabi to express the fear Nobu felt as he and his friends wait for the sheriff to arrive:

     The boys huddled in the darkening shadows as the blue-gray sky turned to black. A porch light across the street blinked on and someone peered through a tiny gap in dingy curtains. The slam of a screen door echoed down the empty street.

     Even the sun deserted them. But a cold wind arrived in its place. Its frigid fingers searched Nobu’s body for warmth, and stole what it found. The boys huddled together.
     Abunai! As Nobu recalled Mama’s warning—dangerous-he wasn’t sure what shuddered through him, the cold wind or fear.

What book on writing has impacted your writing most?

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6 Responses to Wabi Sabi for Writers

  1. Anonymous says:

    Interesting post, Jan. And it's hard to say which book influenced my writing the most. There are so many that helped. But if I had to pick, it would be Anne Lamott's BIRD BY BIRD. For me, that book took away writer-intimidation.Hugs, Jackie KingAuthor of THE INCONVENIENT CORPSE

  2. Russell says:

    Here's three that made an impact on me.1. They Shoot Canoes, Don't They? – by Patrick McManus 2. When You're Engulfed in Flames by – David Sedaris 3. On Writing – by Stephen King.

  3. Duke Pennell says:

    I'm going to take this in a different direction. The book that influenced my writing the most would be "The War of the Worlds" by H. G. Wells. It introduced me to possibilities beyond the present, whole worlds and societies that could come from the mind–and pen–of the author. Nothing can take the place of the two magic words. Not abra and cadabra. The real magic words are "what if!"

  4. I always said Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain was the best all around book for any genre or nonfiction writer, but On Writing by Stephen King comes at the writer from a whole new direction and is terrific.

  5. Jan, when you asked what book has changed my writing, I had to laugh and post again. Reading my own early published books made me stop and think how my writing has changed since those days. No book, just a bunch of writers who get together every week and work on their craft. That's what's changed my writing.

  6. Jan Morrill says:

    @Jackie, I have to agree with you on "Bird by Bird." I love that book – maybe it's time to read it again!@Russell, never heard of the first two. I'll have to look those up.@Duke, you're right. "What if" — magical words, indeed!@Velda, you are so right. Our writers group has done more than any book to improve and change my writing – and to keep me motivated!Thanks everyone!

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