Friday, July 9, 2010

The Writing Process

Writing is at once a religious and a spiritual experience: religious in the sense that its practice is pursued with zeal and conscientious devotion; spiritual in the sense that the process involves intangibles that affect the soul.

As I introduce and develop my characters I find a parallel to what Karen Armstrong speaks of in her book, The Spiral Staircase, My Climb Out of Darkness. For those who are unfamiliar with the author of A History of God, the author failed to find faith in a convent, but discovered God in her study of world religions. Some of her observations in the final chapter of Staircase can be applied to writing.

...editing out ego is—I now realize—an essential prerequisite for religious experience.

We are most creative and sense other possibilities that transcend our ordinary experience when we leave ourselves behind.

How true. The process of bringing my characters out of darkness is indeed a spiritual experience. I have to leave myself at the door when I enter the places they inhabit, and that has been a joy.

But the ability to sense those possibilities also requires the writer to leave personal bias at the door.

If you are bent on proving that your own tradition alone is correct, and pour scorn on all other points of view, you are interjecting self and egoism into your study, and the texts will remain closed.

Here the author is referring to the ability of a scripture or a poem to speak to a reader, but she may as well be describing the terms under which a character will develop and grow and tell his story to the writer.

On the four hour drive home from my retreat, I studied my character and allowed him to reveal his next move, which had far more integrity than what I would have written for him. That’s the beauty of the art.


Laura Lee said...

I had this kind of spiritual experience writing my most recent novel. (I've written two unpublished novels prior to this one.) I have heard writers talk about this idea of sitting back and writing down a story as though it existed fully-formed outside them. I had never experienced it myself before this. Ever since finishing the novel-- and it has gotten some great feedback from my agent and a few others-- I have felt empty and I miss the religious experience of writing in flow. I am "between" stories right now, and it is a bit of an empty feeling. I also have been hearing discouraging news from my agent, who likes the book but is trying to "mitigate my expectations" about it selling in the current publishing climate. It is a tremendous let down, and depressing. It is hard after these ups and down to keep the faith that it matters that I keep writing. I don't think you can conjure transcendent experiences at will. I wish you could.

YosemiteSyd said...

Laura, I'm working on a novel also, but I continue to do writing practice, which affords me the opportunity to write in the flow. In fact, that's why I started this blog. Many entries begin their life as flow writing. I had the pleasure of hearing Natalie Goldberg speak at Write on the Sound in Edmonds, WA two weeks ago. It was her books, Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind that got me started. Thanks for your comments, and may God bless your work and keep you writing.

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