The Shady Side of the Hill

I’ve always liked hearing about other writers’ creative processes. I’ve heard that Faulkner would go into his office every morning at 9 a.m., just as if it was any office job, and write for 8 hours. I’ve heard that Isaac Asimov had his office lined with typewriters, and that he worked a bit on each project until he’d made his way around them all. I, like many other writers, read about Stephen King’s habit of writing a certain amount of words per day – 1,000, I think – no matter what.

I don’t know how many of these stories (and tons of others I’ve heard through the years) are true, but I like them because they all touch upon something that you will probably never hear in a creative writing class: writing is a discipline.

A lot of people have these romantic thoughts about the writer as a sort of bohemian prophet, sitting around and wearing a beret as he or she waits for one of those random visits from The Muse who may or may not shower the writer with a bit of creativity for that day.


I’m not the first – or the fiftieth, probably – person to point this out, but you can’t sit around waiting for inspiration. You have to firmly plant butt in chair and fingers on keyboard, first. Much like meditation, if you sit in the same spot every day and hold the intention to do the thing you say you mean to do, it gets easier to slip into a kind of groove… but you have to wear that groove in a bit first.

So, discipline. Yep.

Discipline, the “doing” part of writing. We’ll put that over here on one side of the equation. Don’t forget about it and don’t dismiss it.

A lot of writers – myself included – like to focus on the idea of discipline whenever talking about writing. I think it’s a way of balancing out that idea of the writer as mystical beret guy that I mentioned a minute ago. Discipline and action are super important and should absolutely be reinforced, especially to new writers and the folks who have an unfinished manuscript that’s been sitting around because they’re waiting for some magical time in the future when their lives will be settled and stress-free enough to sit and finish that puppy at their leisure (*spoiler alert* That’s never going to happen).

But wait a second, you might say…

I don’t want to be like Faulkner (or fictional, writing story Faulkner, anyway). I don’t want to treat writing like any other old office job. I hate office jobs.

Well, follow me over here to the other side of the equation for a moment…

I want to tell you a secret…

All that stuff about discipline? Action? Treating writing (or any other creative endeavor) like a job?

It’s true.

But… You wanna know what else is true?

You are a magician. From the time you were a little kid – scribbling with crayons, making up imaginary friends, or developing elaborate tales about why you couldn’t finish your homework – you have been creating something out of nothing. Really stop and think about that for a second.

It’s pretty amazing.

Now, not all of those attempts at creation were successful, probably, but you have the gift. We all do.

So what separates the people who create from the people who want to create?

A balance. Between these two halves… on the one side, discipline and action. On the other side, dreams and magic.

If we were going to somehow diagram this out, how could we do it..?

If only there was a design that we could use…

Some of you know me and my particular interests. My nerderies, if you will. I’m currently working on writing the second Randall Lee mystery, so my mind is on Chinese stuff (again).

Everybody has heard of Yin and Yang, right? Did you know that the original meaning, in the characters, was related to nature? Yin and Yang related to the shady and sunny sides of a hill, respectively. As the sun made its trip across the sky, the yin and yang changed, shifted, flowed from one to another and back, day after day.

If we apply this to our minds, we might begin to see how the dance between the subconscious and conscious mind can be used to our benefit as creative people. As magicians we walk the circle – like Bagua practitioners – and dance from light to dark and back, always understanding that it’s really all just one thing, anyway…

So dream the dream. And get to work.


For more info on Yin/Yang theory, check out

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