Tao Te Trig: The Flow, the Muse and the Working Writer’s World

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011 marks the day I started writing my very first book, The Tao of Crowdfunding for Filmmakers, for Michael Wiese Productions. Thirty days later, I’m about a hundred pages into my 200-page guide focused on helping indie filmmakers raise funds for their films on IndieGoGo and other crowdfunding platforms.

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Checking off chapters and counting pages on my table of contents.

So what have I learned so far traversing this uncharted terrain of my personal writer’s journey? First and foremost, writing is hard! It’s funny because that’s usually the first thing I tell my writing students at each of the universities where I teach, but I never fully understood how true a statement it is. As a poet for most of my writing life, I’d become very used to waiting for inspiration to strike, for my faithful muse’s hand to brush the back of my neck, the way Doris Dowling’s does to Ray Milland’s in The Lost Weekend, and leave behind a fresh idea in the airy form of a mysterious scent that lingers long after her touch.

But once you get to writing an actual book, whether it’s nonfiction like mine or the great American novel or even a feature-length screenplay, you really can’t sit up waiting for inspiration to come strolling in any ol’ time she likes; you have to inspire yourself, and that’s been the single most challenging part for me while writing The Tao of Crowdfunding for Filmmakers so far. Writing about a topic like this, and in such a short span of time as six short months, I’ve been relying heavily on myself, not my muse, to conjure up the magic words necessary to concoct an informative, entertaining and inspiring bit of literary thaumaturgy.

And I have been fortunate so far. I’m working my way through these white unlined trenches because I’m writing about my own crowdfunding success with Cerise on IndieGoGo, as well as detailing the success stories of many other campaigns as examples to further illustrate my points. Plus, I’m incorporating a bit of the Tao Te Ching into each chunk I churn out, and this reinvigorates me whenever I fall into a spell of writing very straightforward, factual information, since it’s a philosophy I subscribe to in every aspect of my life. After all, when you write what you know, you’re able to flow.

Doris Dowling, muse to Ray Milland's tormented writer in The Lost Weekend.

Then, something wonderful happens. Once I work myself into that “Zone,” at about an hour or so into the key tap and space bar hustle, my muse will occasionally sneak over to my writing desk and massage my creased temples, help me find a way to elevate a rather insipid concept of crowdfunding up into the ranks of the almost poetic. The other day, for instance, I waxed metaphoric my concept of eliciting versus soliciting funds which I first brought up in my second Tao of Crowdfunding post “A Practical Guide to Crowdfunder Etiquette” by comparing it to a steak dinner:

Here’s the difference in a more practical setting: You see your friend going to town on a piece of steak, cooked just the way you like it. It’s dripping with juices and smells unbearably delicious. So you ask him, “Can I have a piece of your steak?” to which your friend now has the option to say yay or nay. They have the power over you. Now, if you look at that steak and salivate over it –– well, that won’t work either ‘cause that’s just sad. But if you look up from that magnificent bit of medium well goodness and say to your friend something along the lines of “Man, that steak looks and smells delicious!” as a statement, you will elicit a reaction from your friend, which will most likely be “It is… (wait for it) “…Do you want to try a piece?” Now you’ve got the power and soon after, a tasty piece of steak.

I was in “The Zone” and then this chunk of elaboration flowed seamlessly out of my fingertips. It was inspiration’s finger sliding across the back of my neck; all I had to do was keep up with the flow of words flooding into my mind and write.

It took me a full three weeks to build up the discipline and get into the swing of what it means to be an actual working writer (and receiving my first check in the mail from MWP made that realization all the more solid, of course). To be perfectly honest, being a writer is something I didn’t really think I could do. I realized that I had too many misconceptions about it, all of them fabrications with no real footing in the real world. For years I believed that if I wrote something that wasn’t necessarily as creative as my poetry or as high concept as my screenplays, I simply wouldn’t enjoy it, and in turn, it would become the worst thing writing could ever become to me: A job.

Bruce Lee's Jeet Kune Do symbol, reflecting the everlasting flow of yin and yang.

My over thinking this for all these years has worked against what the universe had written down in the penmanship of the stars as in my best interest, and I know as well as anyone that when you work with the universe, all is right. Taoist sage Lao Tzu calls this wei wu wei, or “doing without doing.” By not over thinking something, everything gets done. In that way, The Tao of Crowdfunding for Filmmakers is meant to be written, and I’m the one who’s meant to write it.

I’m going with the flow now, like a stream flowing in one direction: forward. When a stone stands in my way, I simply stream around it and discover new ways to say something on my own because when you’re a working writer, you can’t wait for your muse to saunter in at whatever hour of the day or night she pleases (deadlines be damned!) to inspire every sentence you write. You must rely on your own flow, and trust that your own words will be the right words.

But, of course, it doesn’t hurt to leave the porch light on, too.

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3 thoughts on “Tao Te Trig: The Flow, the Muse and the Working Writer’s World

  1. Marcella says:

    Fascinating written, so inspiring and motivating… excellent, an absolute pleasure to read! Thank you for enriching my life, John! Best of luck for the book and some inspiring times of writing! 🙂

  2. Taylor says:

    Most impressive.

  3. […] turn in to the editors at Michael Wiese Productions. Back in December, I wrote a post called “Tao Te Trig: The Flow, the Muse and the Working Writer’s World” about what I’d learned during my first month of being a working writer, so I thought I’d […]

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