On Yin Virtue
By Christine Carron
Have you ever noticed how much there is to do on the writing adventure? Learn how to write whatever it is you want to write. Write. Learn how to revise. Revise. Learn how to critique. Find a critique group. Learn how to keep your equilibrium while being critiqued. Write. Attend conferences. Learn how to query. Query. Write. Learn how to process rejections. Write. Keep querying. Network. Write.
Oh . . . and write!
And all that is before a writer gets a publishing deal. When that happens, the writing continues, along with more skills to learn, connections to be made, and courage to be quickened.
Bottom line: we writers are constantly gathering and accumulating. Skills and words. Rejections and disappointments. Connections and compatriots, and hopefully many celebrations.
All that doing is necessary and important. Writers must write, and writers who want to get published must learn and take action to increase the odds of getting published—either for the first time or again. But the outcome of all our writerly action serves another purpose as well.
It is proof.
Proof of our gumption and our grit. Visible badges of honor for others and for (perhaps more importantly) ourselves to see. I told you! Pages! Rejections! Conferences attended! See! I am a committed writer. No giving up in this corner, thank you very much!
But here is where my brain has been going of late: What if giving up is important, even necessary, on the writing adventure, too?
Giving up? Have you lost your ever-marbly marbles, Christine?!
I know. A part of me recoils from that notion, too. So before I make my case, or lose you completely, let me qualify from the get-go that I am talking about strategic giving up.
Years ago, I was in a class about holistic lifestyle principles. We were talking about applications of the complementary and supportive interplay of yang (action) and yin (release). While talking about yin, the instructor used a phrase that I had never heard before or since. “Yin Virtue,” she said, “is all about letting go of what no longer serves you.”
Letting go of what no longer serves you. That is the kind of giving up I am proposing. Because over and over, I’ve found, as a writer, that Yin Virtue is a powerful and stabilizing practice with some fabulous upsides.
Yin Virtue Metabolizes
Perhaps you came close to getting a publishing deal or a plum residency or such-and-such award and then . . . didn’t get it. Sting. Ouch. Possibly even a little why not me? energy floating around. The reality is that there will be more failures on the adventure than successes. That means we writers—if we want to stay hardy on the adventure—must become disappointment metabolizer mavens.
Metabolizer mavens? Yes. Metabolism, scientifically, is the chemical reactions in our cells that change food into energy. Metabolism, metaphorically, is the emotional processing in our psyches that change disappointments into energy, wisdom and determination.
With that definition, perhaps you are categorizing the metabolizing potential of Yin Virtue as another synonym for positive thinking. That is not how I see it.
Though I am a glass-half-full person, I do not consider myself a positive thinker. At least not in the way positive thinking is sometimes presented, i.e., a forced-cheerful bypassing of real and valid emotions that come up when we are disappointed, upset, or emotionally crushed in any way.
With such a forced bypassing, whole parts of our inner life are labeled BAD and become fodder for resistance.
But when we judge and resist a feeling, emotion or thought, we are actually more deeply engaging with it. And the very thing we desperately don’t want to happen happens. It gets stuck in our systems. Those shunned emotions, feelings and thoughts build up until our natural flow is not so flowy. Think bathroom sink clog.
When that happens, what could have been transitory arcs of ick (had we allowed them to flow through us in the moment) have now coagulated into a grody mass of resentment, umbrage, or uncertainty . . . or some super-clog-combo of all of the above.
If you are anything like me, you want clear flow in your feelings, thoughts, and emotions. In your creativity, too. That’s why Yin Virtue’s metabolizing potential is so powerful.
Yin Virtue is not about bypassing or resisting anything. It is about dealing, and when needed healing, and then receiving the energetic (and artistic) confidence boost that comes when we make space for (and welcome) our emotions, feelings and thoughts. All of them.
Even the cranky, scary, and uncomfortable ones.
Yin Virtue Focuses Us on the Now
Action (the yang part of our adventure, let’s call that Yang Virtue) can only happen in the present. In the now. Our adorable and awesome brains, however, can be a bit squirrely at times, running off into past or the future in ways that mess with our flow.
Perhaps our brains convince us that if something had or hadn’t happened, then our writing career would have taken off already, or more powerfully. But it could be that we actually dodged a proverbial bullet. Once I didn’t get a job with a company, and a few months later that company was sued by the United States Justice Department for fraudulent business practices.
We won’t always get such a clear “told you so” from the universe, but it’s a good Yin Virtue practice to remind ourselves that an alternative timeline would not necessarily be as rosy as our brain might want us to believe.
When it comes to the future, our brains might veer into doom prediction territory. What if no one likes my stories? What if I never get published? What if I do get published but sales are dismal? And on and on. Same thing applies here as when we get tripped up by past possibilities.
Perhaps no one will love our stories. But a few people might. And maybe our stories may change the world. We may never get published. We may get published. Our books may not have great sales. But maybe they will.
We can't know for sure how our writing efforts will play out . . . until they play out.
So when we find ourselves spinning over imaginary amazeballs what-might-have-beens or defeatist what-might-bes, then it’s time to gently reset ourselves to the present moment.
I wish there was a cookie-cutter Yin Virtue process for such moments that I could share with you. But if there is, I haven’t come across it yet.
That said, just the first flash of awareness is huge, i.e., catching ourselves in an ere-or-anon fixation. Once we catch ourselves in the spin, we can gently and compassionately remind ourselves a little Yin Virtue is in order. And then trust that will find our way back to our center, back to the now. And from that grounded center—free of the past and the future—we can allow inspired action to flow again.
Hey, wait . . . maybe the above is a cookie-cutter’ish process: A.R.T.I.A.: Awareness- Remind-Trust-Inspired-Action.
(Always nice when an acronym comes together.)
Yin Virtue Has Range
One of the best upsides of Yin Virtue is that it has range. Sure, Yin Virtue can play in the profound, helping us release deep-seated patterns that no longer serve us. But the more practical, tactical end of Yin Virtue can be transformative, too.
Perhaps one writer needs to let go of hitting the snooze button and get to his early morning writing sessions. Another writer may need to let go of a character that is serving no real purpose in her story. Another writer may need to let go of a writing partner or a critique group that is no longer helping the writer move forward with confidence and joy.
Releasing any of the above could create a huge boost of forward momentum for a writer.
The beauty (and power) of Yin Virtue is that it can be applied to pretty much anything: beliefs, habits, situations, behaviors, individuals, groups, organizations, ways of thinking about writing, emotions, judgements, etc.
Whatever isn’t serving you is a candidate. I bet you already have a few possibilities in mind.
Now that we have some of the upsides identified, let’s move to a couple tricky bits about Yin Virtue.
The Tricky Bits
While I hope you are already buzzing about the possible applications of Yin Virtue on your writerly adventure, please be aware that it is not necessarily a super popular approach.
Our culture is manifesting-oriented. This tendency is definitely related to Yang Virtue’s act-and-accumulate mindset. But left unchecked, the manifesting aspect of Yang Virtue can get a bit . . . odd.
Manifesting mentality says, If you want it enough, it will happen through the sheer force of your will. Publishing deal, dream agent, sales that skyrocket past the Harry Potter stratosphere. Yes! If you want it hard enough, deeply enough, purely enough then . . . It . . . Is . . .Yours!
And if it doesn’t happen then YOU short-circuited yourself. Probably due to some random negative thought or emotion that you let in. You, bad manifestor, you!
Yin virtue is not interested in make believe. Acting as if it is actually humanly possible to not have one negative thought or emotion for any extended period of time. Nor is it interested in making us feel bad.
Yin Virtue invites us to embrace what is—both the outer reality and our inner truth—at any given moment with compassion, courage, and grace, and from that place of connection release what no longer serves us.
The deal-in-reality path of Yin Virtue isn’t always easy or comfortable, but, hey, it’s what Neo did when he chose the red pill. So it can’t be all bad.
(Note: I am not suggesting you banish any inner manifesting tendencies you have—as those are part of our inner truths, too. I am, however, suggesting that you consider not letting those tendencies sit in the driver’s seat on the writerly adventure.)
Another tricky bit about Yin Virtue is that letting go can be unsettling, even scary. It can be hard to release what is familiar, even when we know something isn’t serving us. We are used to it. It is known. And what is known always carries an aura of security with it.
Perhaps the inspired action in moments when we are feeling scared about letting go is simply to acknowledge the discomfort, metabolize it, and let it go, i.e., yin-virtue our own discomfort with yin virtue.
The Tricky Bits Aside . . .
We do live (and write) in a cultural context that rewards action, striving, bootstrapping, and success—preferably of overnight variety. There is no doubt about it. The world loves Yang-Virtue’s Let’s Do It! nature.
Yin Virtue in comparison gets a lot less airtime. A lot less love. It is less direct; its impact on our writerly bottom lines less measurable, less clear. But that means integrating it takes courage and chutzpah.
So never forget that, while Yang Virtue rightfully gets the cred for all our derring-do, every time we practice letting go, Yin Virtue confers upon us its own powerful boons: subtle dauntlessness, quiet dignity, and grounded flow.
(Hmmmm . . . maybe I haven't lost my marbles. Letting go, here we come!)
The Goodjelly Prompts of the Week
- Post-in-Action Prompt: What is a Yin Virtue candidate that, if released, would likely create a positive boost for your writing adventure? Use with the A.R.T.I.A (Awareness- Remind-Trust-Inspired-Action) process to support a joyful, easy, and playful letting go.
- Scene Prompt: Write a scene where your character resists letting go of something that isn’t serving them. Let them go to the moment of choice, and instead of letting it go, they double down on their attachment to it.
- Journaling Prompt: How did the idea of Yin Virtue land with you? Did you experience any charge, positive or negative, about Yin Virtue or any of the ideas presented in this post?
- Connection Prompt: Connect with your writerly peeps about the power of strategic letting go on the writerly adventure.
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