Zuihitsu: Following the Brush

A week between posts stretched to a month, then several months, and here I am returning to my blog with my tail between my legs. What happened to my good intentions? More importantly, how to get back on track?

Deadlines, even self-imposed ones, are generally the key for me to keep the flow of words going. A promise to a couple of writer friends is enough to unleash a sudden torrent of scribbling so I will have something to share when we get together. A larger, more formal writing group also pushes me to get words down on paper and nudges me to take the time to comb through what I’ve written to get the tangles out.

A blog is different, though. The promise to produce something worth reading is more ambiguous here, and my audience is less clearly defined. I don’t have to look you in the eyes and read what I have written out loud for you (but I can assure you I DO always read these posts out loud – even if only into the quiet air of my empty kitchen—before I click “publish”). Worst of all, perhaps, is how forgiving you are. Even after months without a new post, steady traffic continues through this site. How am I to be held accountable with such permissive readers?

While deadlines help keep me going (and yes, I will have to manufacture some to keep myself on track), a force pulling in the opposite direction is my desire to publish only polished work. I have to let this go. Of course, I want to keep an eye on quality, but when it gets to the point of stifling the flow of words, I need to quiet the inner critic and remind myself this is a blog, not a book.

This brings me to a topic that has been on my mind recently after reading Kimiko Hahn’s powerful book of poetry, The Narrow Road to the Interior. She uses a Japanese literary genre known as Zuihitsu, which literally translates to “following the brush,” in which the writer’s thoughts flow in a seemingly random, diary-like way that is intimate and casual, while still well-crafted.

The concept of following the brush—as opposed to forcing the brush (or pen or keyboard) to follow some preconceived notion of narrative—is incredibly appealing. In fact, the end result is pleasurable to read in a very different way than a story or novel or even traditional poetry is enjoyable. The fragmentary nature of zuihitsu reflects more accurately the flow of consciousness. It is human nature to jump from one topic to another without necessarily tying together our various strands of thought.

So, here is the question. Can zuihitsu guide me in recreating my efforts to maintain this blog? Instead of trying to craft complete haibun (prose pieces with haiku), what if I just wrote whatever happened to be on my mind on a particular day? For now, I will keep the timing flexible and see how it goes. No promises to post weekly or even monthly, just the permission to post whatever strikes me (though I do intend to keep the posts at least loosely connected to writing and haiku).

To help get the flow going again, I have also decided to take part in NaHaiWriMo, in which participants pledge to write one haiku a day for the month of February. So as not to clutter the blog with these daily poems, I have signed up for Twitter and am “tweeting” my daily haiku (see the most recent tweets on the sidebar or follow me @susanantolin).

The other factor I didn’t even mention that really keeps me from blogging is time. Who has time for all this? Right now I am in between deadlines for the newsletter I edit and produce (see http://www.hsa-haiku.org/newsletter.htm), so I temporarily have time to resuscitate the blog, but once the next deadline hits, who knows…

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6 thoughts on “Zuihitsu: Following the Brush

  1. I’m hoping your thoughts here will inspire me to “follow the brush!” I’m been dragging my feet for days (weeks!) now, postponing getting off a blog piece to my writing mamas group….

  2. Dear Susan, I have followed the brush all my life… in fact “fragments” are the basis of the collection I’m putting together. It’s impossible for me to try to impress anyone … I’ve only ever been taking notes along the way…or the path… It’s the only way my writing can be true. I wish you the renewed pleasure you will find when you can just “chat” with us. We also have hectic schedules so news from an old friend becomes even more wonderful when our paths cross.
    Enjoy. Your enjoyment is catching.
    Thanks for letting us know.

  3. Dear Sue, I was so glad to receive your blog. Two weeks ago I heard Maxine Hong Kingston speak. She read from her new book I Love a Broad Margin to My life. It is her memoir in verse, written day by day. I have missed your words. I look forward to seeing them again. Joan

  4. Susan, what a beautiful, well-constructed piece you have written. We all need those inner deadlines (not the inner critic) to help us make our way. You succeed more than most.

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