Thursday 18 December 2008

The Way of the Writing Warrior

On her blog Editorial Ass: I lost the paperback conversation, the lovely Moon Rat spoke about an editorial decision in which she (he?) was overruled because the less risky path was chosen. Moon Rat’s experience is another example of the publishing industry as a business and, for a moment, I was disheartened. Then I remembered my long-ago (and almost forgotten) days of karate lessons. What, you may ask, has writing got to do with martial arts?

Well, think about it. Writing requires certain character traits. In their highest potential, these traits remind me of the way of the Samurai warrior.

In his book The Zen Way of Martial Arts: A Japanese Master Reveals the Secrets of the Samurai”, Taisen Deshimaru talks of the seven underlying principles of bushido, or the way of the warrior. He lists these as:

1. Gi: the right decision, rectitude.
2. Yu: bravery tinged with heroism.
3. Jin: universal love, benevolence toward mankind; compassion.
4. Rei: right action - a most essential quality, courtesy.
5. Makoto: utter sincerity; truthfulness.
รณ. Melyo: honour and glory without ego.
7. Chugo: devotion, loyalty.

Let’s correlate these to writing.

1. Gi: For a writer, Gi is the ability to write without thought or regret for what will happen to her story once it has left her desk. It is the acceptance that when we must be published, we will be published. This detachment from the need to be published frees the writer’s judgement. She can autonomously reach a well-reasoned decision about her novel and stick to it. In some cases these “well-reasoned” decisions come more from the heart than from the head and it is these which give a novel that extra spark which raises it above the current trends into a class of its own.

2. Yu: Can a writer, published or unpublished, ever afford to take the “less risky path”? As the Samurai warrior did not hesitate to rush onto the point of his sword if it would accomplish the greatest good, so too must the writer warrior make his decisions about his novel without regard to the consequences of that action if it is for the greatest good of the novel.

Yu works hand-in-hand with Gi, for courage without correct judgement is recklessness, and rectitude without courage is impotence. The first will destroy whatever good the writer has hoped to achieve for his novel and the second will paralyse him into taking no action at all.

3. Jin: A writer without compassion is like a sailor without a boat. How can she do her characters justice if she cannot empathize with the feelings of others? Jin extends further than the ability to create universal characters in her novel. It also applies to professional writing behaviour. It is having the ability to be benevolent and understanding when others do something silly or inappropriate or irritating.

4. Rei: The right action for a professional writer requires certain etiquette and the preservation of courtesy. For a writer it means disciplining himself to respect the industry procedures that show an equivalent respect for others. For example, most literary agents have submission guidelines. These guidelines are there not only for the agent’s benefit, but for the benefit of all the writers who have submitted work to that agent as well. The only right action for a professional writer is to respect the procedures and deal courteously with agents and fellow writers.

5. Makoto: Veracity for the writing warrior means an absolute commitment to honesty. A writer’s integrity is the only honourable way of being. It applies to the integrity of her writing (she must write what she loves; anything less is untruthful) and to her professional behaviour (if she runs a competition for her readers, she must honour any promises she made).

Politeness (Rei) without Veracity (Makoto)or Benevolence (Jin) is artifice. Veracity or Benevolence without Politeness, however, indicates a rampant writer’s ego typified by a desire to show superiority to others.

6. Melyo: honour and glory. To the writer who wishes to gain honour and glory at any cost will mean violating any one, or all, of the Bushido principles. Honour to the writer warrior means doing nothing that will bring shame on his name. It is about not disparaging another’s name or writing. It is about respecting the right of a reader to dislike his work. Melyo is about gaining writing glory with humility and holding onto the honours of writing success with a generosity of spirit.

7. Chugo: Loyalty is the adherence to the hierarchy of governance. Decisions should be made in accordance with a predictable, society-wide understanding of loyalties.

There can be no honour (Melyo) if loyalty (Chugo) is not respected, nor can loyalty be true if implemented dishonourably. This does not mean that the writer must sell his soul if his conscience dictates otherwise.

Gi (right decision) demands that the writer must decide for himself what is the honourable action, even if ordinarily that simply means following an editor’s requests for revisions. However, if the revisions will destroy the integrity of his work or violate his conscience, then the writer can – using the principles of politeness, veracity and benevolence - try to dissuade his editor from the problematic course of action.

Unlike the Samurai who had no honourable option but to commit ritual suicide if he could not, in good conscience, follow what he saw as an erroneous decision of his Lord, the writer warrior (thankfully) does not have to fall on his pen to prove his honour every time the publishing industry makes what he perceives as an error of judgement. The writer can, instead, choose to follow the way of the warrior in his attitude and go forward in his career with equanimity and a pure heart. And he will then become the change he wants to see in the publishing industry.

References:Deshimaru, T. 1992. “The Zen Way of Martial Arts: A Japanese Master Reveals the Secrets of the Samurai” Penguin. Pg 13.
Macro-Bushido: A Geoethical Consciousness for an Info-Cultural Age by Martine Rothblatt, Ph.D. from
The Terasem Journals Online. Volume 1, Issue 33rd Quarter, 2006.
The Seven Principles of Leadership (19/02/ 2008) at


Kathleen Peacock said...

Followed you over from BookEnds and just wanted to say that this was a really great post.

I had visions of gorgeous wall scrolls hung in studies across the country.

Ann Victor said...

Hi Kathleen, glad you enjoyed the post! :)