Wei Wu Wei: Doing vs Trying

As a writer, I enjoy watching a person think, among many actions. One way I love to jump start that process is by discussing religion and faith. Myself, I am a Taoist. When people begin conversations, especially in the Western world, they many times automatically assume that the other person is a Christian, or at the very least a Monotheist.  MyImage provided by Hisk's Freeimages reply that “I am a Taoist”, begins an interesting chain of events. At first, the other person will nod and smile. As the world begins to swish around in their consciousness, many people begin to realize that they do not understand or even know what that means. As this realization sinks in several different scenarios play out. The person becomes curious about Taoism, the person begins to press their beliefs in earnest to convert me or the conversation ends. Watching them consider the information and make these decisions speaks volumes about a person rather than their choices.

My intent here is not to press my beliefs nor convert you. Rather, I would like to simply pass along a thought, a bit of information, something that perhaps you can use on your path of writing. Some reading this, may have heard of Taoism through numerous books such as “The Tao of Pooh” or others like it. In its’ barest meaning Tao means “Way”. The titles refer to “The Way” of something; its’ path. Everyone and everything has their own path, their own way. All of those myriad numbers of ways lead to the Tao. Taoism is, at its’ heart about finding your way. It looks to nature as an example. Many teachings will point out the way of a tree, or the way of a river. Each has its’ own path and follows it to completion.

These examples point out a very significant fact. A tree does not try to become a flower. A river does not try to become a desert. A tree is a tree; it grows to a regal height, dies and returns to the earth. A river is a river, it winds, following its course and empties into a larger body of water; joining with it to become one. Taoism has a phrase for this: Wei Wu Wei. Translated literally it means action through non-action. When I spoke of the tree, I stated that it does not try to become a flower, it is a tree and it grows. The essence of Wei Wu Wei is just that: leave behind striving, trying for something that is not, perhaps cannot be, and do what can be done.

What does this mean for a writer?  How can you as a wordsmith put Wei Wu Wei to use?  Let me put it in words that perhaps are more familiar to you. Take it from the wise, Jedi Master Yoda “There is no try, only do or do not.”  As writers, we make many plans for our stories. We plot, hammer our character descriptions and chart timelines. All of those things are tools of our craft. The difference between trying and doing comes in when the natural course of the story separates from our plans.

Have you ever gone on a trip, taken a journey or simply gone for a hike where you have planned every detail and accounted for almost every contingency only to have something unexpected happen that changes your path?  In that moment, you had a choice to make. You could follow your plan or you could follow the natural course of events playing out before you. My hope in explaining the concept of Wei Wu Wei for you, is that you will follow the path of the story. When your main character suddenly springs it on you, the writer, that not only does she not want to attend college, but she’s fallen in love with a guitar player and is three weeks pregnant with his love child, that you will eagerly follow her down that path. You can always come back to your plan. It will still be there, I promise. Take the time, follow where the story is leading you and you might just find a pleasant, unexpected turn of events that unfolds a beautiful story you never planned for.

As a writer, I challenge you to give up your control. To stop trying to force your story in the direction that you’ve planned. Do not try, do. Write the story. When it veers from your plan, follow it down the rabbit hole and see where it leads. You never know where it might take you!  Cheers!


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