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Simplify

February 8, 2009

There are a few books that I revisit throughout my life.  Winnie-the-Pooh, The Tao of Pooh, The Tao-te-Ching, The Name of the Rose.  Each draw me back for different reasons, either because of the pleasure they give me in reading them (Winnie-the-Pooh, The Name of the Rose) or because of the guidance and wisdom I find in them (Tao-te-Ching, The Tao of Pooh).

One book that I came to comparatively later in life than those I have mentioned, is Walden, by the American Transcendentalist writer, Henry David Thoreau.  I only discovered this book in my mid-twenties, but it is one I go back to often for inspiration.

Today I spent the morning in a contemplative silence, and considered something that Thoreau wrote:

Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.

For the past few months, this is a process I have been trying to take myself through.  Getting rid of unwanted or unused possessions, reusing rather than replacing items, swapping and bartering rather than buying and disposing.  Reducing the clutter, the distractions, the attachments.  Spiritually, emotionally, and physically, the emphasis has been on doing more with less, and living a life which, insofar as the 21st Century allows, can be described as “simplified”.

And so too should my writing life be simplified.  There are too many distractions, too many works in progress to flit from, never ceasing, never concentrating.  To simplify I have cut down on these distractions; removed works in progress that are not truly in progress, deleted blogs that lie unattended, yet are still distracting.

Now here too, on this site, changes are coming, and my response to them will be to simplify, simplify.  Too often I find myself stuck for something unique and novel (excuse the pun) to say on the topic of writing – so why not simplify?  Rather than speak for my writing, why not let my writing speak for me.

I am not yet sure what form this change will take, but  I intend to go back to basics.  To write.  Just write.  For over a year I have been saying that I am a writer.  I have worn the appellation, without bringing myself to the application.  Return to the basics, and finish what I have started.  The final words belong to Thoreau,

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.

6 Comments
  1. February 8, 2009 3:04 pm

    I, too, have far too many little ideas and beginnings filed away, never opened, never considered. And just knowing that they are there does stress me. It has been several months since I last purged my files, so I have quite a task ahead of me, but by golly I will purge again!

  2. February 8, 2009 4:03 pm

    What brilliant advice. In terms of simplifying your life – have you checked out The Copmact – a movement in the US that calls consumers to stop consuming – to not buy ANYTHING NEW(other than some basics such as food, socks and underpants!) for an entire year. Instead to recycle, swap, borrow or if needed, buy second hand. I’m fascinated by it. Sadly don’t have a website to share though I do know there is a yahoo group.

    As for simplifying writing – having multitudes of unfinished work ultimately will clutter the head space … I imagine the green room in your head would eventually spill over with some rather horrible consequences. And thanks for reminding me about retiring blogs – there is at least one there that needs to be put to rest … and a few others I need to consider whether I want to be part of them any longer.

    Now – to declutter my creative space (simplify on a practical level) because I’m sure the cobwebs, piles of unread books and general crap are indicitive of other issues threatening to crowd in.

  3. February 8, 2009 4:03 pm

    D’oh – spelling. It should be The Compact

  4. February 8, 2009 7:06 pm

    Wow, interesting thoughts. In terms of real life, it’s amazing how after doing so many things (for me, work, politics, writing etc.) and then stopping and doing nothing for a day can be so enjoyable even if you love doing all of those things.

    I guess writing was also at it’s easiest when you sat down and just wrote, instead of thought of 1,000 different things to do with writing.

  5. February 9, 2009 4:31 am

    @ Susan – on my own website I used to list about a dozen “work in progress” tasks, the overwhelming majority of which I was doing nothing with, but just their presence made me feel guilty and paralysed me – which neglected project should I be working on now? Doubly hard when trying to write one piece, and you’ve got the sequels all in your WIP too. Now I’m trying to focus on just turning up to the task at hand, and not worrying about what might be coming next.

    @ Jodi – I’ve not heard of The Compact before, but it sounds like the kind of thing I’m trying to do now. We’re pretty hardcore recyclers now (and what can’t be recycled gets turned into compost). And I’m a member of BookMooch and a local Freecycle Network, and excellent way to get rid of perfectly serviceable items that would otherwise wind up in landfill, but that other people might want to use. We all of us need far less than we think we do.

    @ Benjamin – isn’t that the truth. Last week my area of Britain got hit by heavy snow, so much that public transport got disrupted. People took the day off work, and played. They did nothing that might be considered “worthwhile”. Free from distractions, worry, everyone was just so happy. We need that more I think. In my internet bookmarks I have a link to a website that lists over 1000 useful items of software for writers. I don’t have the time to explore all of them, and I have to ask – do I really need more than a pen and paper?

  6. February 9, 2009 7:38 pm

    Do I really need need more than a pen and paper – SIMPLE answer is … no!

    I can remember the desire and acquisition of ‘technology’ being one huge hurdle for me as a writer when I was younger. My parents gifted me a type writer for Christmas when I was 16 to encourage me to write (what it did was just stilt me because typing perfectl is more painstaking and slow than write badly to keep up with your ideas!)

    Then I decided I couldn’t write because I didn’t have a computer. Then we got a computer at home and decided I couldn’t write on an ongoing basis if I didn’t own a computer. And then there was years long hiatuts where I didn’t write at all.

    When I did get a computer again (basically my own!) I decided I needed a lap top. Taken to the extreme I could say now – well my lap top if too big and heavy to carry aroudn – I need one of those teeny tiny ones. But I’ve stopped that.

    Acquistion of ‘technology’can be for may writers just another block to actually creating! While my trusty lap top is my preferred option – I still love pen and paper and find it works best when the ideas come slowly of if you have to work with material that’s really tough!

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