Follow the brush

Topic Sentence #12

Dear reader,

I have been collecting little missives about what to do as a writer when you don’t know what to do. Like this one from M. John Harrison (via Robin Sloan’s very good newsletter):

Try to understand the science. Try to tell the truth. Try to find a medium in which to tell the truth. Try to extend the envelope in which you will be permitted to tell the truth. Prophecy is over. Persuasion is over. Action is the last thing left. Rebellion is the last thing left. Stay steady in the face of it all. Do what you can. Write that. Record that. Try to pass helpful messages between practical, determined people.

Because there have been so many moments over the last few months where I don’t know what to do.

It’s been difficult to write with (gestures out the window in an expansive gesture) all of this going on. Difficult to read too. I don’t have an answer except to say, it’s not just you—it’s not just you.

Or this, about the Japanese genre of Zuihitsu:

Zuihitsu (随筆) is a genre of Japanese literature consisting of loosely connected personal essays and fragmented ideas that typically respond to the author's surroundings. The name is derived from two Kanji meaning "at will" and "pen." The provenance of the term is ultimately Chinese, zuihitsu being the Sino-Japanese reading (on'yomi) of 随筆 (Mandarin: suíbǐ), the native reading (kun'yomi) of which is fude ni shitagau (“follow the brush”).

That is, follow the brush.

And the brush leads me to say Black Lives Matter. Now, more than ever, is a time not to signal, but to read and understand. To read books on racism, yes, but also to start to read books by PoC: like Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson, and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, and Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, and basically everything by N.K. Jemisin, and also anything by Ta-Nehisi Coates and so many more. And the time to stop is never.

Or Helen Garner, from Feel of Steel:

“I keep saying to myself, ‘OK — simple declarative sentences. Nothing fancy.’ It’s like exercising a stiff muscle. I’ve written a page. A page is better than not a page.”

If you’re finding it hard, then aim small. Follow the brush. Start with a simple sentence—the rest will follow.

Wishing you courage,


(p.s. I’ve started using Bookshop as a place to link books that supports indie bookstores. I get a small commission if you use the links above, or here for previous Topic Sentence selections.)