Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Starting at the tail

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Lafcadio Hearn

I was startled some years ago in Kyoto while watching a Japanese artist drawing horses. He drew the horses very well; but he always began at the tail. Now it is the western rule to begin at the head of the horse; that is why I was surprised. But upon reflection, it struck me that it could not really make any difference whether the artist begins at the head or the tail or the belly or the foot of the horse, if he really knows his business…

Now the very same thing is true in literature. And the question, “How shall I begin?” only means that you want to begin at the head instead of beginning at the tail or somewhere else. That is, you are not experienced enough to trust to your own powers. When you become more experienced you will never ask the question; and I think that you will often begin at the tail—that is to say, you will write the end of the story before you have even thought of the beginning.

The working rule is this: Develop the first idea or emotion that comes to you before you allow yourself to think about the second. The second will suggest itself, even too much, while you are working at the first. If two or three or four valuable emotions or ideas come to you about the same time, take the most vigorous of them, or the one that most attracts you to begin with, unless it happens to be also the most difficult. For the greater number of young writers, I should say, follow the line of least resistance, and take the easiest work first. It does not matter at all whether it is to belong to the middle or to the end or to the beginning of a story or poem. By developing the different parts or verses separately from each other, you will soon discover the astonishing fact, that they have a tendency to grow together of themselves, and into a form different from what which you first intended, but much better.

Lafcadio Hearn, Talks to Writers

Written by nevalalee

May 9, 2015 at 7:30 am

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