Serendipitous Inspiration #4 — The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi

Quite often I am asked by people how I finish the first draft, where I have no guidance or map to follow.  I always had some half cocked answer where I say I just write the images I see, or that I write the movie I’m watching in my mind.

My answers didn’t make much sense to me, and makes even less to them until just a few days ago I realized the answer to this while going through my book collection and found a gem I had almost forgotten about.

The Book of Five Rings or 五輪書 “go rin no sho” as it’s pronounced in Japanese was written by Miyamoto Musashi sometime circa 1645 in Japan.  Like Sun Tzu did with the The Art of War, Musashi distills his skill and experience in swordsmanship into a handbook for swordsmanship.

It’s broken up into five smaller books or rings as he calls them:

  1. Book of Earth – Basics of martial arts.
  2. Book of Water – Focuses on strategy and balance.
  3. Book of Fire – Sword tactics.
  4. Book of Wind – Strategies of the time.
  5. Book of Void – More a philosophical epilogue than anything.

While I have no experience in using the Japanese sword, and do not understand the more sword technique related passages, the one thing I always loved about this book was the over all message of the Book of Void.

In the void is virtue, and no evil. Wisdom has existence, principle has existence, the Way has existence, spirit is nothingness.”

In my opinion, Musashi is telling us in that in Void, or nothingness, when we’re not thinking too hard, or slamming our head into the desk as I like to say it, is when the real magic happens.

To make it easier to understand I’ll draw on Zen Buddhism here.  There’s the mindstate called 無心 “mushin” that martial artists and zen buddhists strive for.  It’s the idea of the mind without a mind.  Where your thoughts flow, and you’re entirely in the moment, forgetting everything that happened before and not paying any attention to what’s coming.

It’s a sense of emptiness, where your mind is nothing more than a void, a vast empty space where all of your instincts and knowledge can come together and drive your body.

That’s when a warrior is at his most skilled and dangerous, and that’s when a writing is at his most creative.  Have you ever gotten that feeling?  A sense of flow?

Where it’s like the words are coming through your fingers independent of your own mind?

That’s flow!

That’s the void!

That’s the nothingness!

You aren’t thinking, you aren’t striving to understand.  You’re just doing and it’s coming out of you naturally.

Now, I understand it’s not something easily turned on and off.  There’s no flow switch in your head that you can flip in your mind.

But, the idea here is to relax and let go of any kind of conscious thought and just write.  Follow your instinct, and ignore everything else.  Leave your consciousness for the rewrites.  The first draft is to be completed from your soul, and your own inner wisdom.

So often, we get stuck on the minutia of what we’re writing as authors.  We’re trying to get this or that perfect, or tweaking something to be as close to perfect as possible.  We totally forget that we’re trying to fine tune something that barely even has a foundation yet.

This is when we need to just let go and write.  Leave the fine tuning, and your consciousness for the editing process.  For the first draft let yourself go and just write.  I promise what comes out will impress you.

So what do you think?  Agree?  Disagree?  Think I’m nuts?  Whatever you’re thinking leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Featured image courtesy of Public Domain

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