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The I Ching for Writers
Finding the Page Inside You
By Sarah Jane Sloane
New World LibraryCopyright © 2005 Sarah Jane Sloane
All rights reserved.
* * *
I always do the first line well, but I have trouble doing the others.
I put the words down and push them a bit.
— EVELYN WAUGH
This is an auspicious hexagram. The six solid lines indicate yang, the sign of power, possibility, strength, and reaching for the heavens. To cast such a hexagram indicates that rewriting your beginning could be auspicious.
When you take a new approach to the project at hand, you will enjoy great success.
The advice is to start afresh. You must begin a new project, take a fresh perspective on an old one, or begin to write a piece again. Recast a poem into a new form; add another scene or act to a play; invent a new character that enters your work of fiction or creative nonfiction as a baby. Or cast the voice, point of view, plot, or character afresh.
Also, recognize that the start of any project involves indecision and fear. Relish the uncertainty. Embrace the possibilities. Face the fears head-on and rise above nagging doubts.
FOR THE WRITER
Write from a point of view you have never tried before. You are an old man, a foreign-exchange student, a horse, a cad, an unhappy first-grader.
Nine at the beginning means there is a hidden obstacle.
Write from the point of view of a dragon.
Nine in the second place means there will be a special electric charge to your writing today. Write from the point of view of a superior, such as a boss.
Nine in the third place means there may be some danger to your writing today. Write today, if you can, while it is light outside. Write from the point of view of a magpie.
Nine in the fourth place means you will have to face important choices today — choices that will force you to decide where to put the transitions. Write from the point of view of a creature that regularly slips between water and air (e.g., a porpoise, a turtle, a diver).
Nine in the fifth place means that your influence is spreading. Write from the point of view of a very successful writer.
Nine at the top means you have gone too far; you have lost touch with reality in your work. Write from the point of view of an ordinary person, someone you would see eating lunch in the park.
If you have cast all nines — all moving lines — it means that the whole hexagram is in motion and you will achieve strength. Continue to write in the way you have been.
As you start to write, take on one of the following challenges: begin a new friendship with another writer; create a new way of dealing with interruptions to your writing; take a short walk and end up somewhere you have never been before; make a fresh cup of tea; take a hot bath with salts, bubbles, dried milk, or oils that you have never tried before; begin, or begin again; change the subject. Seek the fresh and the new in all that you write. As the point of view of your writing changes, seek to change yourself as well.CHAPTER 2
* * *
All the soarings of my mind begin in my blood.
— RAINER MARIA RILKE
Art is the only thing that can go on mattering once it has stopped hurting.
— ELIZABETH BOWEN
This hexagram is auspicious. It is rooted in the feminine — the yin — and finds its greatest strength in earth, the soil, the ground. Do not be afraid to face the darkness. Creativity is strong under this sign.
If the right woman guides you, you will find your creative spirit rejuvenated.
You and your writing will grow. The darkness of yin is fertile. It invites you to do a kind of writing that is slow, considered, sensuous, deep. Listen to the rivers, hear the language of the blood. Write that which is rooted in truth, meaning, and elemental being. Seek earthy companions on the way.
FOR THE WRITER
Paint the darkness. Use words as a flashlight.
Six at the beginning means pay attention to the first signs of decay in your writing. Beware writing that is not tied to the ground. Turn your imaginary flashlight on a stark winter scene, and find the place where hoarfrost turns to ice. Write about that place.
Six in the second place means that you are writing in circles. Pay more attention to balancing the creative and the receptive. Turn your flashlight on a new scene, one that you have never imagined before, and write.
Six in the third place means you should bring part of your writing to a close soon. Have your writing mature in the dark, then bring it to a close. Turn your flashlight onto a part of a landscape where field meets forest.
Six in the fourth place means you should write in solitude, anonymous, away from any immediate recognition. Hide. Turn off your flashlight and stand wherever it leaves you. Write what you can see in the darkness.
Six in the fifth place means you will be successful in this piece of writing only if you don't talk about it; don't even mention it, unless you are asked. Maintain discretion. Turn your flashlight on yourself and note the places where vanity shows. Write about it.
Six at the top means you are not being properly receptive to the muse, the creative. Wait. Listen. Turn your flashlight onto whoever is trying to talk to you; find the creative spirit and write about that.
When all the lines are sixes, it means to endure. Turn your flashlight again on the darkness, and follow its beam no matter where it takes you. Write especially about all the obstacles ahead, noting them as obstacles you will overcome.
This hexagram indicates the earth. For writers, this means to keep the writing close to what is real. Locate the places in your poem or prose where the writing is stilted or pretentious. Weed out these phrases and any other part of the poem or story that is unconnected with reality. Beware of the tendency to write in a stilted voice to disguise your lack of knowledge. Study your topic until you could explain it to a five-year-old. Put your ear to the earth and see if you can hear what is coming.CHAPTER 3
* * *
I believe you can have constructive accidents en route through a novel only because you have mapped a clear way ... The more you know about a book, the freer you can be to fool around. The less you know, the tighter you get.
— JOHN IRVING
Great artists feel as opportunity what others feel as menace.
— KENNETH BURKE
No path is without wrinkle, no friendship without difficulty, no direction always true, no relationship to writing easy and clear.
Do not avoid the pain of writing well. Then success will be yours.
Find the path that best suits your temperament and talents, and set forth. Ignore the stumbling blocks, the gossips, the envious, the bad days, and stick to that path no matter what others may think.
FOR THE WRITER
Look at a daily newspaper or a magazine. Find a story that involves a person facing some difficulty. Write the interior monologue (see Glossary, p. 279) of that person.
Nine at the beginning means you will be beset by difficulties. Friends or other writing companions can help. Find a story in the newspaper about a disaster, and write a short piece of advice for people who find themselves in such a jam.
Six in the second place means that problems with writing pile up, and you have trouble proceeding. Do not accept help now, however kindly offered. Find a story in your newspaper or magazine that features a person beset by grave difficulties. Write a short account of someone offering help to that person and being refused.
Six in the third place means that if you try too hard, you will be humiliated. Give up on some immediate goal and instead endure through the problems ahead. Read the newspaper or magazine until you find a story of a person in harm's way. Write about how that person might overcome that harm by doing nothing.
Six in the fourth place means that we must act, while carefully conserving the limited energy we have. Take the first step toward a solution. Write about a person in the newspaper or magazine who is persevering against all odds.
Nine in the fifth place means to be steady in your writing. Push yourself to generate new work, but do not push yourself too hard. Take a look at your newspaper or magazine and write a flash fiction (see Glossary, p. 78) about a photograph you see.
Six at the top means that grave dangers lie ahead in your life as a writer. Do not travel; stay close to home. Be steady and clear, and do not persist in a path that goes nowhere. Read an obituary or account of someone's life in your newspaper or magazine. Consider what it means to be vulnerable. Write out some suggestions to yourself about how to survive this immediate danger to you or your manuscript.
Be clear in conversations; exercise your conviction at all costs. Address difficulties in your art, in reaction to your art, and in the process by which you create your art. Be open and clear. Say what you think. Write what you feel. Beware the difficulties to come, but be honest. By all means, keep yourself safe in the face of unspecified dangers.CHAPTER 4
* * *
A good novel is possible only after one has given up and let go.
— WALKER PERCY
I knew it seemed impossible for me to write in the traditional forms. They seemed to have no access to what we experienced. If we enclosed that in characters, personalities, a plot, we were overlooking everything that our senses were perceiving.
— NATHALIE SARRAUTE
You are used to seeking insight in the full glare of the sun. Now you must turn your back on the light and go deep within the world of the self. Do not ignore the animus, the dark side of self that is generative and wise and bold. Let loose your creative energy that may at first seem too primitive or instinctual. Find the darkness within you and let it into your stories, your poems, your characters, all the writing you do. Be young, and even a little foolish, as you explore your writing afresh.
If you seek what is dark in your writing and let it express itself, your poems and stories will be the source of real brilliance, for you and your readers.
Admit those hopes that are dangerous or gloomy; admit those feelings that are in disrepute. Let your voice within your writing be full and round, articulating the dusk. Do not be afraid of self, of the sky when no moon shows. Find the dark truths that lie beneath the cobwebs.
FOR THE WRITER
Write a poem that is a dramatic monologue (see Glossary, p. 277) from the point of view of a very young character who is about to kill another, older character — but doesn't know it yet.
Six at the beginning means that to continue in this vein will lead to real foolhardiness. You are acting too young and need discipline. Write a short poem about an accident with a gun.
Nine in the second place means to be kind to your own foolish, dark tendencies. Replace those tendencies with resolution and mature vision — but be gentle. Write a short poem about a contemporary version of "the boy who cried wolf."
Six in the third place means you should not throw yourself after a teacher who has not offered to advise you. Come to terms with your own darkness alone. Write a short poem about a girl who, in her youthful foolishness and lack of clarity, throws herself at another person.
Six in the fourth place means to pull back from foolish imaginings. Get your feet back on the ground, and do not be attracted only to the mysteries of the darkness. Grow up. Write a short poem about an immature boy who has an experience that forces him to maturity.
Six in the fifth place means you will find a way through, simply by being yourself. Stay in touch with the darkness inside you, and do not fight it. Write a short poem about a girl who wakes up to the idea that she can survive the darkness all around her by simply being herself.
Nine at the top means you will be punished for not observing the correct approach to darkness. Your only hope is to restore an intelligent order to your work. Write a short poem about your own work to date, concentrating on what changes you can make to it that both acknowledge the darkness and bring order to it.
Who are you when you write? What do you do in that state? Who can you talk to when the drawbridge won't go down, the casino has taken all your money, your car has no brakes, and you are speeding toward the edge? As a writer, you need to embrace the darkness that is already there, finding truth in a mirror that shows darkness all around your reflection. Seek a wise teacher.CHAPTER 5
* * *
The daydreamer, the procrastinator, the flaneur — these are people who understand the pace of writing. Writers know the white space between words, the pause between each beat of the heart. They know that sometimes they need time to do nothing more than contemplate their own breathing and dream.
— SARAH JANE SLOANE
... we ourselves are like a very sensitive engraving plate, and we don't know what marks us. In fact, everything marks us in a way.
— EDMOND JABES
You are moving too fast through the world. You are in too much of a hurry as you seek recognition and success. Pause. Look inside yourself. Are you doing all you can to make yourself feel nourished? Stop right where you are and appraise the situation.
If you continue to work at such a breakneck speed, you will not find the graceful solitude that you need when you compose.
Be honest with yourself. You must pause and breathe deep, letting the air enter the arches of your feet, both hands, and the crown of your head, circulating through your entire body. Ask yourself what you need to realize your most creative self. Ask yourself the way home, the way to your real home, the place where your body and soul feel alive. Ask yourself what you must do to find equanimity on your path to becoming a writer.
FOR THE WRITER
Draw a picture of the writer inside you. Look at the picture for a while, then write what it would say to you if it could truly speak.
Nine at the beginning means to stay still, exactly where you are, and no harm will come. Do not waste your strength on unnecessary struggle. Write a description of yourself as a writer who waits, meditates, stays cool and calm no matter what arrives.
Nine in the second place means there may be some mean-spirited gossip about you. Do not honor it by responding. Write a portrait of yourself as a writer who ignores all idle words spoken around (or about) you.
Nine in the third place means that to wait too long is to invite sloth, hesitation, or worry to arrive. While staying still and calm is beneficial, to stay that way for too long is to lose ground. Write a short sketch of yourself as a writer who awakens and takes action.
Six in the fourth place means that the situation around you is extremely dangerous. The only way out of this danger is to wait, to be still and calm. Imagine yourself sitting cross-legged in a very peaceful surrounding. Watch your own breath come and go. Write a short piece about yourself in this posture. Stay still.
Nine in the fifth place means that there will be peace for you if you continue on this path. Not all will be peace in the long run, but for now you will find contentment. Imagine yourself as a writer walking through desolate hills (e.g., Wyoming or Alaska). Write about what it means to be someone who has found peace through writing steadily and well.
Six at the top means that danger has already arrived. It is no longer avoidable. But to help you escape the danger, aid from an unexpected source will arrive. Write a self-portrait of you as a writer overcoming the toughest challenges of your work.
Think back to the last time when you were truly relaxed. What were you doing? Who were you with? Check in on your shoulders even as you read this. Are they scrunched up and tight? Observe your breathing. Is it shallow or deep? Take a little time every day to cultivate calm and stillness, to nourish the writer inside you. Feed the imagination; rest the body; clear the mind. Meditate on what gives your life real meaning.
Excerpted from The I Ching for Writers by Sarah Jane Sloane. Copyright © 2005 Sarah Jane Sloane. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
INTRODUCTION The I Ching and the Trouble with Writing,
Feeding Your Imagination,
Coming to Terms with Your Fears,
Why I Wrote This Book,
A Short History of the I Ching,
The I Ching Today,
How This Book Works,
Eureka! Heuristics for Writers,
Using This Book,
How to Consult the I Ching,
The Rest of This Book,
1. Ch'ien Begin Again,
2. K'un Grounded Writing,
3. Chun Address Difficulties,
4. Mêng Embracing Darkness,
5. Hsü Pause,
6. Sung Writing Dangerously,
7. Shih Be Strong,
8. Pi Seek Harmony in the Whole,
9. Hsiao Ch'u Pay Attention to the Details,
10. Lü Find the Writer's Path,
11. T'ai Write in Peace and Quiet,
12. P'i Obstacles Are Opportunities,
13. T'ung Jên Be Aware of the Creative Voices Inside You,
14. Ta Yu Acknowledge a Great Vision That You Already Possess,
15. Ch'ien Develop a Humble Attitude,
16. Yü Enthusiasm,
17. Sui Follow the Writer's Path,
18. Ku Revise Your Work,
19. Lin Overseeing the True Way,
20. Kuan Observe,
21. Shih Ho Persevere in Your Work,
22. Pi Put in the Delicate Touches,
23. Po Strip Away Illusion,
24. Fu Return to the Work (Turning Around),
25. Wu Wang Write Spontaneously,
26. Ta Ch'u Hold Firm to Art's Exquisite Path,
27. I Nourish the Life of a Writer,
28. Ta Kuo Crisis in Writing,
29. K'an Danger in Writing,
30. Li Enlightenment,
31. Hsien Find a Writing Partner,
32. Hêng Endurance,
33. Tun Turn Away from Those Who Would Weaken Your Writing Practice,
34. Ta Chuang The Power of Great Style,
35. Chin Progress,
36. Ming I Overcome Writing Difficulties,
37. Chia Jên Write What You Know,
38. K'uei Revision,
39. Chien Move Ahead Despite Obstructions,
40. Hsieh Work on the Ending,
41. Sun Shorten Your Writing,
42. I Expand Your Text,
43. Kuai Writer's Block Overcome,
44. Kou Beware of Misfortune,
45. Ts'ui Form a Writing Group,
46. Shêng Achievement Is Near,
47. K'un Take a Short Rest,
48. Ching Face Your Writing Demons,
49. Ko Work on Transitions in Your Writing,
50. Ting Auspicious Refinement,
51. Chên Seek the Muse,
52. Kên Listen with the Inner Ear,
53. Chien Gradual Progress,
54. Kuei Mei Gradual Improvement,
55. Fêng Abundance,
56. Lü Free Writing,
57. Sun Edit Lightly,
58. Tui Celebrate Your Work,
59. Huan Gather Up the Pieces,
60. Chieh Face Your Limitations,
61. Chung Fu Be Authentic in What You Write,
62. Hsiao Kuo Play with Your Punctuation,
63. Chi Chi When You Are Done,
64. Wei Chi Before You Are Done,
MORE PRACTICE FOR THE WRITER,
Hexagram Exercises for Each Stage of the Writing Process,
Alternative Exercises for Each Hexagram,
FOXES AND DEER OF THE IMAGINATION,
The I Ching and the Imagination,
Putting In the Delicate Touches,
Final Words of Advice,
GLOSSARY Definitions of Literary Terms,
KEY FOR IDENTIFYING THE HEXAGRAMS,
ABOUT THE AUTHOR,