The Writing Spirit: A short video about the writer’s soul

bookTake a look at this short video, and consider some of the things these writers say about the nature of the soul and the force inside of you that pushes you to become a writer.

Some of the ideas are, in their way, a little disturbing, because once again (as in the mythos of the ‘divinely inspired writer’) we get the sense that the urge to write is somehow outside our conscious control, that it’s forced upon us by something deep within us.

Some would call this our ‘soul,’ while others just accept ‘the voices,’ as one writer in the video calls them. When we divorce the urge to write from mystical-sounding metaphors, though, what remains?

Writing to Persuade Now Available on Kindle!

Making Aristotle and Plato palatable!

Making Aristotle and Plato palatable!

My big news today is that my little writing how-to book, Writing to Persuade, is now available on Kindle. One of the big advantages to this is that the book is available internationally (in over six countries, including Japan and India). International sales are difficult, because it costs so much for an international buyer to receive a paper copy, that it makes the overall costs for them prohibitive.

Therefore, to find a way to reach the Kindle-iPad-reader device audience, Kindle is the way to go. Did you know that even if you do not have a Kindle reader (made by Amazon), you can still download the app, and use the app on most reading devices?

I use my iPad a lot for book-reading, so the fact that I didn’t have a Kindle seemed to be a hurdle, until I discovered that Kindle provides a free app which even non-Kindle buyers can use. According to Amazon, readers are buying (and reading, presumably) four times as many books now that they have electronic reading devices, than we did prior to this phenomenon. The reader-phenomenon makes certain kinds of books natural transfers to a Kindle-type reader, especially self-published books, in my opinion. 

If you have any questions about self-publishing, I’d be happy to let you know what I know. Just contact me at! I chose Amazon’s product, CreateSpace, to self-publish with. I just couldn’t imagine a publisher being interested in such a small book, nor did I want the hassle of going through a publisher, which can take months, if not a year or more, to get your book to market. I might try Bookbaby for my next self-publishing foray, however.  

Bottom of the Box Books

All my books must go!

I have opened an Amazon storefront to begin to sell the library of books I’ve collected over the course of my life. These books have been sitting in boxes for years, but now it’s time to send them to people who will give them good homes.

I have literally hundreds of books, and although I’ve donated as many as I could, I’ve decided that if I’m ever going to become a bookseller, the time is now. It’s a first step toward possibly being a bricks-and-mortar bookseller one day.

Bottom of the Box Books will be dedicated to selling books in pristine condition, since I’m very gentle on my books. Plus, I have a tendency to buy books and then never read them; so they are, to all intents and purposes, new. Most have been flipped through, and that’s about it. My first word was ‘book,’ so it appears that I must pursue this path to its conclusion, which includes selling books I originally intended to keep forever, which is not really practical, I’ve decided.

My stock will be made up primarily of academic texts; history, mysteries, non-fiction, and fiction/literature. There will be some hard-to-find books, and a lot of books that are in perfect condition and can be given as gifts. I will never ship a book I’d be embarrassed for you to receive. I have extremely high standards for the kind of books I sell; I would never sell a book to you that I myself would not be proud to receive.

Many books I paid quite a tidy sum for, and I’m now selling them for a greatly reduced price. There are books I chanced across while perusing the shelves of some obscure used-book shop somewhere in the world. You just never know where you’re going to find a great book that you then never read. This is why the time has come to help these books find their true owners, and you might be one of the people who properly owns these books, rather than me!  

Jade Splinters

Cover of "The Art of Writing: Teachings o...

The Art of Writing: Teachings of the Chinese Masters

I used The Art of Writing: Teachings of the Chinese Masters while writing my dissertation about why people feel uncomfortable thinking of themselves as writers. My thesis is that writers are taught by society to think of themselves as writers (or not), and that society’s definitions of what a writer is or is not are constructed by our collective values.

Western writers can access this book most easily through terminology used in the poems, which refer to writer’s block, revision, inspiration, and other subjects of concern to all writers everywhere. Rather than be told what to think, though, each of the inspirational poems illustrate the principle of the writer’s concern, a Taoist approach to writing.

You are being guided, rather than pushed, in other words. To understand how to write, or how to write a poem, for that matter, you are being shown ancient Chinese poems. Then you sit with them, meditate upon them, and find that, instead of being taught in the style you’re accustomed to, which is based on agonistic beliefs of how writing ‘ought’ to be taught, you discover your writing. It’s a gentler, less aggressive way of thinking about writing, one where writer’s block is more about emotional stagnancy than painful avoidance: “…when the six emotions are stagnant/the will travels yet spirit stays put.” (The ‘six emotions’ referred to are sorrow, joy, hate, love, pleasure, and anger.)

If there is a how-to guide in this book, it is to be found in the section called “The Twenty Four Styles of Poetry.” Its twenty four poems illustrate a special style of writing that would have been considered important for the student to know: how to write in the elegant style; the masculine; the potent; the Ancient Heavenly style, and many others that were considered a poet’s highest attainment at the time.  Each of the twenty four styles uses language that illustrates its style, e.g.:

The Flowing Style
It takes in like a water mill
and turns like a pearl marble.
It is beyond words
and these are clumsy metaphors.
Earth spins on a hidden axis
and the universe rolls slowly around its hub.
If you search out the origin
you’ll find a corresponding motion.
Climb high into spiritual light.
Then dive deep into dark nothing.
All things for thousands of years
are caught up in the flow.

This is the essence of poetry, isn’t it? To reify itself within the lines of the poem? Think of Chinese poetry almost like a calligram, and I think you’ll start to realise why this slim volume is so effective. The section called “Jade Splinters” is truly where a new paradigm about writing began for me. The Chinese compared writing to “jade splinters,” meaning that their writings were attempts, only “splinters” left as they carved a gem. Don’t you prefer a metaphor that envisions writing as a process of carving a gemstone, rather than the metaphor of writing as a struggle (the metaphor we’ve learned from the Greeks)? I know I do.

Writing is producing, said the Marxist

Marx and Engels at work together

When you buy a book, you are a consumer. When you write a book, you are a producer. How long has it been since writers thought of themselves as workers, do you think? Thought of themselves as workers first and foremost, that is. I often wonder how many consumers of the written word visualise writers/authors as existing on some kind of gossamer cloud, floating above us all, living up on Mount Olympus at the left hand of the gods, the nine Muses dancing around them.

The reality is very different.

Having said that, I realise I really should produce (that word again) statistics to back up the reality for writers, but I do know, off the top of my head, that fewer than 1% of published writers are making the kind of money that allows one to buy, let alone furnish, a gossamer cloud. Writing doesn’t pay all that well, and the amount of labour that goes into the act of writing, when measured out in hours spent on the product, compared to how much the writer is usually paid, makes the act of writing a labour of love.

Marx was a writer, as well as being a philosopher. All philosophers post-Socrates were writers too. How they got published, the deals they made, the money they might have made, or the times they went broke trying to be a publisher (I’m thinking of Mark Twain here, as well as the father of book printing, Gutenberg, who lost all his money trying to be the world’s first independent book publisher) is another matter.

So when you buy your next book, think about the process, and how expensive it is for the publisher to produce one of those bound wonders that continues to amaze me. I have a real reverence for the printed word. Okay, my first word was ‘book,’ according to my mother. I love books, but more than that, I respect the work that goes into them, and most of all, I respect the writer, who really does slog on against all odds to produce that final copy.

And you know, Marxists would probably label me an elitist, since I do not exactly toil in the fields. That thought makes me sad, because it’s not easy being a writer, I know, but it’s also not exactly salt mining, now is it? So I have guilt for being a pseudo-Marxist, but I am one nonetheless.