First Steps and Chinese Throw-Aways


Chinese philosophers always take the easy view of life. They shrink challenges that freak out the rest of us down into pithy one-liners. Take Confucius. Forget the legendary ‘Go To Work On An Egg’ and consider:

  • ‘Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.’

  • ‘Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.’and the perennially useful:

  • ‘Never give a sword to a man who can't dance.’

The other guy, Laozi (c604-c531 BC) said: ‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.’ One of his first steps should have been to get the line copyrighted since pretty much the day after poor old Laozi said it, the line got wrongly accredited to Confucius (he say: ‘Why invent own line when somebody else can do it and you take the credit for the next two and half thousand years’).

So, inanities like… ‘Before you can awake you must sleep.’ (I think I said that) Notwithstanding, how did that ‘First step’ slice of tosh stand the test of time? Like, which way do you step first Laozi? Left, right, straight on?

When you set on the romance writing journey do you head straight for the conflict, the anticipation, the drab lives being lived before the moment of magic or do you sculpt your protagonists painstakingly well, so that they can talk for themselves, make their own decisions, commit their own mistakes, and listen to useless advice from people they choose to get it from?

A journey of fifty thousand words, or more, or less, starts with a thousand steps. Every step will be in the wrong direction but every step has to be taken. You’ll create characters you find don’t resonate, plots that skew off into backwaters and drown, locations you can’t quite make come to life. You will have false starts and more personal upsets and frustrations than would ever gain credibility in a novel. But you need to carry on.

The most important step isn’t the first one, it’s the thousandth one. That’s when things take shape. Good luck on the journey and take my advice: don’t take any advice. It’s your bed, you’re gonna have to lie in it; hopefully accompanied by the man of your dreams, but that’s another matter.

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