In a Sudden Writing Muddle: Email to My Therapist
Dear Nicholas, All week I’ve been feeling that I’ve really hit my stride on the book I’m working on. This afternoon my trusty writing group vigorously disagreed with me. They liked earlier chapters and really really didn’t like what I read today. So now I’m in a writing muddle.
How to Write Religious Experience
This is a book I’ve had in process off and on for many years, a combination biography/ memoir about a mystic/Druid/artist who fascinates me. It’s about my search for who she was and what she knew and what I discover along the way about her, myself, and the nature of the spirit world and life after death. A project both quirky and dauntingly ambitious.
How to Talk with Spirits and Not Be a Weirdo
I want to know how this woman managed to be a respected and effective person in daily life, a normal person, a leader, and at the same time to feel herself in regular conversation with Athena, King Arthur and a host of spirits and deities.
As I’ve gone deeper into her story, I’ve started wanting the style of writing to change, to become looser; the structure to become less structured, the voice to sound less “written.” I wanted the narration to lose self-consciousness, to be dwarfed or broken or radically altered by the subject of religious experience.
Not The Reaction I Expected
What I read this afternoon to my loyal critics–I’ve been in this Thursday afternoon group for 36 years–did not go over well at all. Instead they felt it was flat, formless, lacking in a sense of something building up. Certainly that was not my intent.
In discussing it with them, I suddenly remembered an important moment for me long ago.
My Moment with a Famous Critic
It was back in the mid-80s; I had finished a draft of my first novel Revelation–about a troubled minister who hears the voice of God, an event which brings him to a personal and professional crisis. Around that time, I attended a talk at UNC by famed literary critic Alfred Kazin and heard, with excitement, him saying that contemporary fiction wasn’t adequately dealing with religious experience.
My thought: I have just the book he needs to read!
So the next day I went back to the campus with my 300 + pages of manuscript and found the office where he was headquartering as a writer-in-residence. I walked in and found the man himself and told him of my novel of a troubled guy’s religious experience. He looked at the pile of paper I was carrying in utter dismay.
But, bless his heart, he took it and said he’d have a look.
Then The Message Arrived
Days passed and I received a note from him. He said the writing was indeed professional and “fluid.” But he felt it was too fluid, that the style should be disrupted, broken by the subject matter.
I hadn’t thought about that message in many years until it came to mind again this afternoon, when I realized that that was how I was feeling about what I’m writing now. I’d begun to feel that the subject was too important for self-conscious language and a neat structure.
Words Can Express…
I’ve never been one who believed that there are feelings or experiences that “Words cannot express…” I think words can express whatever we feel and think and experience. Quite a few fine writers have proved that to my satisfaction. Words can get across what I’m trying to describe. I have to once again figure out how.
I usually find myself in agreement, in large measure, with my writing group; at least I think that with any criticism they’re on to something. They’re no doubt on to something now: that in these two chapters I haven’t yet pulled off what I’m after. And using feedback is as important as anything a writer can learn.
Oh, well. I will look at it all again–when enough time has passed for me to have more objectivity.
Muddling Perseverantly On…
Right now, I think I must just keep going, muddling along, letting the story be what it will for the moment.
But I sure did think I had hit my stride and that all who heard these pages would be in amazed agreement. What a writing muddle, what a bummer!
Tags: Alfred Kazin, dealing with religious experience, famous critic, fluid, have more objectivity, letting the story be, muddling, neat structure, not be a weirdo, novel of a troubled guy, onto something, personal and professional crisis, religious experience, revelation, self-conscious language, style should be disrupted, talk with spirits, the book he needs to read, UNC, using feedback, what I'm writing now, writer-in-residence, writing group
I am not a writer with your talent but I know that sometimes the muse hits you at strange times and sometimes it leaves you with questions- do not be discoraged just do what my mother always tells me- Keep on keepin on!
I like your strategy, Carole. And you and your mother seem to have done so well using it.
I have no doubt that you will figure it out!! I am not often at a loss for words, but I have had experiences where words failed me (at least at th beginning.) After reflection, the proper words came to me – and they will to you!
This is so encouraging, Judy. It pleases me–and doesn’t surprise me– that the words did come to you.
Great to receive this post Peggy, and do send me the last couple as well. I am so excited about both your subject material and the writing dilemma you are working on! What you are seeking is seeking you! So that if you keep on, answers will appear. That’s both science and religion the way I see it. . . Yrs, Amey PS: this box is making my words very small, is it trying to tell me something?
I’m so glad you got this, Amey. And thank you so much for telling me that my posts hadn’t been arriving. I made a big change in how it goes out. A lot of people weren’t getting them, it turns out. If you go to http://www.peggypayne.com/blog, you’ll see the list of links to recent posts you may have missed. I’ll email you some also.
On the size of the print, I’m think it shows up normal size when it posts. The small print may be the standard size for the new distributor I have. I recently made the print of the posts themselves a lot larger. I recently had to start using a magnifying glass for the Sunday Times crossword puzzle, a major life milestone.
Aah, the artist’s life has artistic challenges – in my art of psychotherapy there are constant challenges moment to moment: whether to say/do anything, and if so what/how to say/do the most useful direct &/or indirect suggestion intended to lead a client to their own personal truth, their best path toward safety, contentment and peace. I’m good enough at the interplay of my own conscious and unconscious minds that most folks find their own best way. And I make mistakes which’re mostly forgivable and forgiven by clients and myself.
But sometimes my choices aren’t comfortable/acceptable/timely for my clients, and rarely but painfully, we lose the positive rapport/assumption of my good faith and good intentions. I do my best to work through those hard times, and sometimes clients stop therapy wth me, with or without discussion. Whether and what I say and how I say or don’t say are important, and timing can be even more important.
I sure think a lot about those untimely ends to therapeutic relationships, and discuss with another trusted senior therapist the most distressing &/or least understandable [to me], unfortunate incidents. Like my challenges, your writing situation and options seem equally analogical, not digital – no simple, clear right or wrong, but many possible options that may become right-enough given time and trusting your experience and intuition. I expect you’ll find a way that works best for you, and send you courage and forbearance as you explore and experiment toward resolution.
Wow, Bob, very thoughtful and such interesting parallels. I sure always trust your good intentions.
Mine your muddle. If you think you are onto something I’m betting you are but it just isn’t all there yet. Trust your instincts, trust your group, and trust your muddle. There is a greater truth and bigger story somewhere in there, and you will find it. You always do. And I, for one, cannot wait to read it.
Oh, Frances, I do appreciate this. You’re very kind. And I continue to enjoy your beautiful work! I’m going to hang onto the term “mine your muddle.”
Is it possible you are “muddled” because you haven’t really come to terms with your feelings for your Druid lady? If you have ambivalence, it seems that might account for your group thinking nothing is building up. She can be ambivalent, but I question whether you can be ambivalent about her..
Interesting,Ron–she’s not ambivalent at all. I’m going after her like an extremely determined reporter to find out what she knew and how she knew it.
You have always connected with your readers, your groups, or they wouldn’t bother commenting or responding in the personal group setting. The problem seems to me, even tho’ we may get our point or our plea or our most urgent feelings across to any reader, we have absolutely no control over how they take it, what they think we’re saying, how they will accept it, or if they really care, as much as we care. Just this wk, I contributed to an online forum with info I had, having worked for a lawyer for some yrs, and actually having experience with the topic at hand, something many of us fear-fire. Not only was my simple attempt to pass on some knowledge and some fire “rules,” locally, two men just wanted to tear me apart. I was clear, concise, posted some statites. Absolutely got the responses I didn’t want and never expected. When you’re writing on the subject you are, it seems to me it may be too scary for a lot of people. Having had my own exper., twice, with what may have been a spirit, a relative, the concept terrifies me, as does anyone who attempts to contact or interact with “other beings.” The worst thing about this is, it shows me my always, lifetime open mindedness and interest in all things about religions and spirits and other ways of living, ex: wiccans, or things that may not exist for all of us, but do honestly exist for others, makes me think that my open mindedness and eagerness for new, wide open experiences is eroding or lessening, truly a horrific realization to me. It is often the problem with the reader, not the writer. If you’re reaching anyone with your writing, you are so far ahead. Sometimes you have to ignore your group, your critics or friends, even if you’ve been with them for 36 yrs. Trust your gut. Your bks have encouraged me, impressed me, and always been good about delivering a wallop I didn’t expect or see coming. They’ve also shocked, which is good for the system & the soul. Thanks for letting me add my 2 cents.
I’m so pleased that my books have had such a strong impact for you, Robbie Lane. Thank you for telling me. I share your unease about the prospect of confronting a spirit. I’ve always wanted to, but the thought of it also scares me.I hope that’s not getting in the way. Thanks too for your encouragement about this book I’m working on. I do muddle on….
I do keep that in mind, Bob, but the revision was definitely stronger.