There are many books dedicated to the craft of writing. Most give detailed specifications about proper form, grammar, dialogue, or what have you. The Tao of Writing, by Ralph L. Wahlstrom, is unique because it approaches the craft of writing from a totally different perspective by applying the principles of Taoist philosophy to the craft of writing.
What does that mean? In brief, connectivity and flow. It is not a book about stylistic details. Instead, it stresses approach over mechanics. A writer must draw on many different ideas, making connections from a variety of sources. She must understand that writing is as much an act of discovery as it is a task. According to Wahlstrom, writing must flow naturally; it must be viewed as a natural extension of ones consciousness. Much of the book is an attempt to describe this feeling of “flow” as an application of detached creation. It cannot be forced. It cannot be driven. But it can be encouraged. To that end, this book contains many exercises and examples to help the writer delve within in order to create writing with impact. More significantly, a number of techniques are presented to help writers deal with that most hideous of hobgoblins: writer’s block. These range from simply keeping a dream journal, to scheduling sessions of free-writing where one simply writes as one wills, letting oneself drift from topic to topic free of worry regardless of the quality of the work. When one is blocked, even crummy writing sometimes can be a blessing: at the very least, it gives something to work with and improve upon. From my own experience, I know that staring at a blank page is far more intimidating than staring at a page filled with words, albeit words in the wrong order.
The Tao of Writing provides a handy collection of exercises and techniques for even the seasoned writing. Additionally, it serves an inspirational piece for those seeking a deeper meaning from their craft. It draws on the wisdom of eastern philosophy to find an almost spiritual approach to writing where writing is understood as an extension of one’s morality. It also provides pointed advice on topics ranging from setting up one’s writing space, to using the appropriate tools; it even dips into the topic of Feng Shui insofar as it applies to authors. Mr. Wahlstrom claims that a writer may be more successful, if she optimizes all aspects of the writing experience from a Taoist perspective. Does she write best freehand or on a keyboard? Does she have a special type of pen or ink that she feels most comfortable with? Does she perform best in an open room with wide windows or in the privacy of a secluded corner of a library? To a certain extent the answers to these questions may seem trivial, but to Wahstrom they are significant to the writing experience as a whole. The relaxed writer safely ensconced in an atmosphere conscientiously designed for her, will be more productive and will find greater enjoyment from her work.
Ultimately, The Tao of Writing provides wonderful insights into the psychology of writing through a Taoist lens. It is an excellent book, and well worth the read.