The Tao of Writing, of Geography, and of Clutter

Tao of writingWhile browsing in my local library recently, I saw the book, The Tao of Writing, by Ralph L. Wahlstrom. I don’t know much about Taoist principles or philosophy, but I thumbed through the pages, and it looked interesting. Anything that might immerse me more deeply in the writing life I am trying to craft would be worth considering, so I checked the book out.

After reading the book, I can attest that the “twelve principles of the Tao of Writing,” as Wahlstrom denominated them, are worth thinking about.

But he lost me on page 41 when I read the line “When Mount St. Helens erupted in Oregon in 1980 . . . .”

Mount St. Helens, picture from Wikipedia

Mount St. Helens, picture from Wikipedia

Wait a sec! I said to myself. Mount St. Helens is in Washington. I’m a Washingtonian; I know this. My dad almost got trapped in the ash cloud driving from Richland on the east side of the Cascades to the Seattle area on the west side the Sunday morning when the volcano blew.

After I saw Wahlstrom’s geographical error, I read everything else in his book with some skepticism. What else might he have gotten wrong?

His mistake reminded how important it is for writers to be absolutely accurate in what they publish. When I am working on my historical novels, almost every day I have to stop to look up date or fact. If I can’t verify what I want to say, I cut it out of the novel.

Even so, I get caught occasionally by my critique group—particularly by the guys in the group when I’m writing about gun battles, or by the horse lovers when I’m writing about riding.

Still, I fought through my bias against Mr. Wahlstrom’s geographical sloppiness and read the rest of the book.

His twelve principles of the Tao of writing are:

  1. Writing is natural
  2. Writing is flow
  3. Writing is creation
  4. Writing is detachment
  5. Writing is discovery
  6. Writing is change
  7. Writing is unified yet multiplied
  8. Writing is clarity
  9. Writing is simplicity
  10. Writing is personal
  11. Writing is universal
  12. Writing is open-ended

All good points for writers to think about.

I won’t reveal any more about Wahlstrom’s book. You’ll have to read it yourself to see what he means by each principle and how he connects the Tao and writing.

My desk, as I write this post. Note how I file on the floor. It's worked for me for 35 years.

My desk, as I write this post. Note how I file on the floor. It’s worked for me for 35 years.

Wahlstrom also has a section on writing activities designed to foster creativity and provide some momentum to your writing. This section is also useful for writers who are experiencing writer’s block or who want to develop new ways of working.

And he talks about feng shui. In the chapter promoting a neat work space (“the Tao of tidiness”), he lost me again. It’s not that I believe offices shouldn’t be neat, it’s just that I’ve never been able to achieve the order he advocates.

Clutter may be extremely bad (“shar chi”) for a writer, but I’ve learned to manage it. I don’t even see it most of the time, as my husband would attest.

What principles do you use to set a path for your work?


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  1. Thats pretty much my filing system although I also liked Wahlstrom’s book. When I read the glitch re: Oregon instead of Washington, I wondered if he knew more abt fallout in Oregon for some reason. But that kind of glitch is also a copy editors job … so if you think about the number of hands that manuscript went through before publication, well, ya gotta wonder.
    On another note, you might like The Plot Whispered by Martha Alderson. She addresses right and left brain writers and also the idea of writing as a spiritual journey. I even created a plot line – the first-ever time I’ve understood how to do that. I’m so right brained I have a mushroom growing out the side of my head the size of a swimming pool to get lost in. Metaphorically.

    • Thanks for the recommendation, Janet. I’ll look for Alderson’s book. I’d like to get more planful in my writing. I’m pretty left-brained, but I still find myself spinning my wheels as I write.

  2. We must be related, Theresa…the filing on the floor has worked for me for many years as well. It can make vacuuming a little more difficult, but my navigating skills have come a long way.

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