Ebb and Flow
All is flux, nothing stays still.
- Heraclitus (535-475 BC)
Flotsam, Jetsam and the Primordial Soup of it All - A planksip Möbius
The ebb and flow of the titled responsion above is an agreement of fact and universal law. Awareness of the transient, ephemeral nature of our Universe doesn't negate universals like the Pythagorean theorem or the Third Law of Thermal Dynamics. Expand on these realities and how the absolutes anchor reality.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that every writer has their unique process, and trying to emulate other's people's styles will only lead to disaster. You can't be bothered to bring a journal with you and document every thought in your head, but you also don't want to pull a George R.R Martin and sit around for years never releasing a book. So what steps can you take to help improve your writing overall?
Well, we're glad you asked. It's time to break down the philosophy of ebb and flow and show you how it can give your writing a serious boost!
But enough preamble, right? Let's dive right in!
The Origins of Ebb and Flow
Pinpointing the exact origins of the philosophy is almost impossible to determine, but the best guess is that the belief originated with Taoism, a religion that sprung up across China in the 3rd and 4th centuries (and onward). Taoists believed in following the natural flow of life and not trying to force events to happen in a certain way.
For example, let's say you were trying to sail a ship across the water. If you resist the direction of the wind, your ship will go slower and you'll spend unneeded tie and energy fighting it. If you go with the wind instead, you'll have a much easier time and move faster.
The concept also does not reach the extreme of stating that all things are subject to the whim of the world. Certain universal constants (like proven mathematical or scientific formulas) do not shift in ebb and flow, but individuals (who do not exist as constants) are subject to these curves.
Following the philosophy of ebb and flow also tends to involve the need to know oneself. This is because to let yourself go with the current of life, you need to have a sense of assurance with yourself so that you don't second-guess your actions and fight the tide.
Ebb and Flow Vs. Modern Ideas
That said, ebb and flow often conflict with the philosophy we're set up to believe since birth. One example is Henry David Thoreau's adage that the cost of anything is equivalent to the amount of time you invest in something (or viewing time and life as a currency of sorts). And considering we live in a capitalistic society that emphasizes personal gain above all else, we're left with one resounding question.
If you're not working all the time, are you truly living?
The philosophy of ebb and flow also involves embracing change in full, something that's difficult for almost everyone. After all, change can make you feel like things are out of your control or give you more work to overcome than you want to deal with.
The Application of Philosophy to Writing
So if this "ebb and flow" mindset clashes with our pre-disposed societal beliefs and our base instincts, why try to follow it? Well, this philosophy will help to bring you a sense of clarity and peace you lacked before. Rather than brush off emotions and store them for later, you allow yourself to feel them at the moment and let them pass so they don't bottle up inside you.
When you do this, you'll find that your writing improves a whole lot. But how does that happen?
1. Great Writing Rarely Comes From Pressure
When developing the 2016 blockbuster movie known as Suicide Squad, an inside source claimed that David Ayer was given six weeks to write the script before they moved to production. Since its release, the movie has received tons of bad reviews criticizing the weak plot and dialogue and helped sink Warner Brothers' dream of creating a cinematic universe based on DC Comics properties.
Why is this important? Well, this serves as a perfect example of when writing suffers because it is rushed. Sure, your writing probably doesn't have a bunch of studio executives banking millions on the output, but forcing yourself to write when it's not clicking because you feel like you "have to" is a recipe for mediocre writing at best.
This is not to discount gritting your teeth and pushing on. Sometimes that's the only way writing gets done. But if that becomes your only solution, you'll burn out your stamina over time and end up right back where you started.
So take the time to do something you find relaxing and/or inspiring. Try to refresh your batteries so that when you do go to write, you can do so with a clear mind and lots of material.
1.5. Know Your Limits
This goes hand-in-hand with knowing when you've hit your limit. If you've written a solid amount and suddenly the creative well comes up dry, take a step back and stop. Confusing your limits with weakness or lack of skill will only drive you further down the path of writing inability.
It's also important to keep in mind that writing takes time, and many great authors took years and years to create their best works. Heck, it wasn't until 17 years later (after the release of The Hobbit) that Tolkien finished The Lord of the Rings.
2. Don't Expect Perfection the First Time
How many times in life do things go the way you want them the first time you do them? You didn't learn how to ride a bike the second you climbed on or understand a foreign language after a day of study, right?
Accepting the ebb and flow of life as it pertains to writing means not expecting your writing to be at a god-like level all the time. Not that that's an easy pill to swallow. After all, our society has come to perceive the Everyman as unintelligent in the average subject when they are trying to learn it for the first time (i.e, the For Dummies books).
But expecting writing perfection right out of the gate has its set of consequences. First drafts are messy and full of holes for the most part, and that's how they should be. When you shut yourself off to the idea that your writing can be imperfect (and that's ok) you stifle the creative process.
2.5. The Future Consequences
This is because you leave out ideas that could resonate with you later since you thought it out too much or don't spend enough time away from the story to let an idea marinate into something greater.
Not only that, but you make it harder for your work to improve because you will go into edits for your first draft thinking in the back of your head that you've taken care of all the problems, which can shut you off to constructive criticisms on how to make your writing better. Finally, expecting perfection every time you write is a great way to end up staring at a blank page for an hour because you (and everyone else) don't even know what perfection looks like.
3. Uncovering Your Unique Writing Process
Another great way you can incorporate ebb and flow into your writing process is in figuring out how said process goes in the first place.
Remember when we talked earlier about how knowledge of oneself is a critical component to "ebb and flow" philosophy? Well, allowing yourself to write only when the mood strikes you allows you to discover what works best for you.
For some authors, giving in completely to the free-wheeling nature of this philosophy allows them to produce their best work. For some, crunching and going all-in (but with recharges when needed) works best, while others prefer some middle ground between the two. Finding the version that works best for you will help start a consistent flow with your writing, and most authors will tell you that establishing a regular "writing rhythm" is a great step towards improving your work overall.
4. Murphy's Law and Living With Failure
In 1949, an Air Force engineer by the name of Edward A. Murphy stated the idea that if something could go wrong, it would. This idea permeates writing to its core, as growing authors will fall into almost every pitfall of writing somewhere along the way in their journey.
So look the fact that you will make plenty of mistakes along the way in the eye and accept it. Making these mistakes does not mean you are a bad writer or deserve to never write again, they mean that you are learning. If you can accept you are going to make mistakes, not only will you avoid the "staring at a blank page" syndrome, but you'll also be able to look at your writing with a more critical eye.
For example, a common mistake most writers make when they start is in the length of their sentences or paragraphs. They write these long, winding passages that drag on forever and break up the flow of their prose. If you accept that sometimes you will run into this problem, the likeliness of you recognizing and chopping the problem out grows further.
5. The Balance of Story Structure
It's important to note that ebb and flow should be taken into consideration when you are writing a story from a structural standpoint. The more you can allow the story to ride the waves of emotion and tension you've built, the tighter of a story you will have.
Take Star Wars for example. If the movie consisted of nothing more than gunfights between the Rebels and the Empire, it would get boring, right? But the same thing would occur if you stripped out all the battles and left only the quieter, character-building moments in the film too.
When juggling the ebb and flow of your story, it's also important to consider who your audience is. Charles Dickens is one of the great writers of history, but the ebb and flow of his works are hampered by the length at which he chooses to investigate them for modern audiences. By contrast, throwing an audience who wants a quiet drama about the human condition a copy of The Hunger Games will yield similar results.
6. Fuel Your Creativity
Finally, applying the rule of ebb and flow as it applies to your balance of work and life helps to boost your creativity and inspire you in ways that before were less possible. If you're writing a piece about the Wild West, go to a museum and see their exhibit on it. If you're trying to write the next great superhero movie, pop in classics like The Dark Knight and pay attention to what makes the film work.
In doing these de-stressing activities that also help keep your creative mind active, you can re-gain energy to put back into your writing. Even unrelated events could end up fueling your creativity.
For example, let's say you go out to a bar with your friends one night and you have a particularly interesting conversation with one of the patrons there. Maybe pieces of that conversation or something that stuck out to you about it makes their way into your writing.
Go Forward Into the Great Unknown
And there you have it! Now that you know all about the philosophy of ebb and flow and how it can help improve your writing, you're ready to get out there and create the best writing you can!
And if you're looking for even more information on philosophy (or even a place to submit your writing), come check us out!
So until next time, make sure to lie back, breathe, and go with the flow. But if you win any writing awards, we do expect a shout-out in your awards speech (please?).