Significant literary works can evoke a multitude of emotions yet can also nourish people’s hearts. But how does one create great books or articles? And how does a writer find the inspiration to create them?
To find the answers to these questions, we asked Chinese-language columnist Wang Guanming from The Epoch Times, who began writing for the newspaper and the web in December 2005. Wang Guanming has much to say about the journey toward better writing.
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Reading is the basis of writing, while writing is the extension of reading
According to Wang, whether an article has depth and substance is determined by the author’s moral quality and depth of thought. He says the key to the depth of thought is how much one reads and how much life experience one has. A famous Tang Dynasty poet, Du Fu, wrote: “Only after reading over 10,000 books can one write like a saint.”
Wang gave a few simple examples to illustrate the importance of reading. Beginners in calligraphy must practice by imitating others until they can develop their own style. Beginning actors must also learn from others before finding their particular style. Therefore, beginning writers must start by reading others’ works.
Wang said: “Reading is the basis of writing; writing is the extension of reading.” Wang gave a few simple examples to illustrate the importance of reading.
Of course, one must be selective about what to read. Wang recommends books with depth, such as the four Chinese literature classics: Dream of the Red Chamber, Journey to the West, Outlaws of the Marsh, and Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
If a person is interested in history, Wang said, they should read Records of the Grand Historian by Sima Qian and Comprehensive Mirror to Aid in Government by Sima Guang. Moreover, 24 Histories provides a good overview of China’s history.
Wang also recommends reading one’s favorite books and books that are beneficial to writing many times “to develop one’s mind power and to apply what’s in the books to real-life scenarios” and also “to stimulate the hidden wisdom in one’s mind and promote innovation to be successful eventually.”
Reading must be accompanied by experiences
Reading without real-life experiences is not enough to broaden one’s horizons, said Wang. He thinks traveling to inspirational places can be very enriching. Wang said: “If you travel with a lofty goal in mind, you will learn a lot from experience.” As an author, Wang has always obtained a deeper understanding of life by admiring the mountains and the ocean.
As a human being, one should be as steady as the mountains and tolerant as the ocean, said Wang.
“Others can say that you are good or bad. Others can help you or hurt you,” he said. “How do you handle all these? As a human being, one must tolerate others’ mistakes. One should not dwell so much on minor mistreatment that one can’t sleep well. One should have a big heart.”
Great teachers in Chinese history, such as Confucius, Lao Zi, and Mencius, had similar experiences traveling and teaching. Such traveling is an excellent opportunity to learn and to test one’s thoughts. Therefore, “traveling 10,000 miles” is as essential as “reading 10,000 books.”
Improvement of the heart brings writing success
Great articles are “written by the heart.” This seemingly simple statement has a multitude of meanings. While reading, one must be able to distill the essence from the reading and accumulate these essences as long as possible. Then, before writing, one must obtain an overall view of the event, the atmosphere, and of the aftermath of the event. When all these are met, one can start writing from the heart.
A person must also pay attention to the quality of the article. What is the quality? Wang said:
“A genuinely good article can nourish one’s heart, guide one to brightness and save one from degeneration. Of course, genuinely good articles are hard to come by, because they are distilled from months and years of accumulating knowledge.”
Great articles already exist; we ‘just happen to catch them’
Regarding inspiration, Wang said: “Even though one has a good literary education and writing skills, without inspiration, one cannot create any original work and can only copy others’ work.”
The great poet Lu You said:
“Articles are Heaven-sent; I just happened to catch them.”
Wang thinks that when someone cultivates him or herself according to China’s traditional spiritual disciplines, that person’s article has pure kindness and pure beauty. Readers are most likely to be moved by such an article and say: “That is a real masterpiece!”
Since ancient times, Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism have all taught “promoting kindness.” Wang says:
“If an author makes promoting kindness his mission, his articles will be most beneficial to the world. The author will have great accomplishments, because Heaven will help those with kind wishes.”