At lunch with my friends Alan and Chris, I was introduced to wabi-sabi.
Rows of exquisite rolls of raw fish sushi-ing enticingly by on a conveyor belt? No. Wabi-sabi isn't sushi. It's the Japanese art of imperfection and impermanence.
The art of imperfection?? I've spent most of my life struggling against it. Haven't you? The concept of wabi-sabi provides much food for thought, and it doesn't come in little parcels. I began to think about wabi-sabi and writing.
I thought of what author Emma Darwin calls 'Ugly Duckling syndrome'. UDS is what strikes after you've completed your first (or second, or third) novel. You've learned a lot. You begin the next novel full of hope and enthusiasm. And then you suddenly find yourself wracked with self-consciousness. Stalled. You know what needs to be done but you feel utterly incapable of doing it. Every phrase you write is ugly, awkward. Every sentence is imperfect. Your Inner Editor sits on your shoulder, swiping you around the ear each time you begin to write.
Adjectives? Adverbs? Pah! the imperturbable Inner Editor spits, whacking a ruler painfully over your knuckles.
Cliche-ridden... The Inner Editor grins from ear to ear. Sure as eggs are eggs, you won't get that one past her.
Present Tense? The Inner Editor picks up her mobile and dials 999 to summon the men in white coats.
Don't Tell - Show!
I have to tell you that the Inner Editor is a pernickety old fart.
Have you ever actually seen an ugly duckling? I haven't. They may trip over their own feet occasionally, and those unformed little flaps on each side can't yet fly, but how cute is that? Only in fairy tales (Grimm ones) do ducklings see themselves as ugly. So why do we, as writers? What if we celebrated our temporary imperfections, seeing that in them lies our originality?
Take the Shitty First Draft. This is wabi-sabi in action. Any preciousnesses about an SFD can be thrown out of the window before you begin. The SFD gets you from here (no novel) to there (a draft) in the twinkling of an eye, and there is much to recommend it. Firstly, it's short on pain and angst. Secondly (as NaNoWriMo adherents know) it's quick. Thirdly, it is by nature unfinished and you can therefore relax and get on with it. Finally, you know it's going to be imperfect. Shitty. Awful. Rubbish. So, the reasoning goes, I can do that. Beautiful.
Wabi-sabi pots are just a little misshapen. Wabi-sabi people are weathered and wrinkled. Wabi-sabi ducklings don't swan around pretending to be something they're not. And wabi-sabi writing is full-on, in-your-face, unashamed-of-itself imperfect writing.
As Ben Okri says: 'Where there is perfection, there is no story to tell.'