Over the years people have asked about my writing process. Once I got started on an answer, I learned things about being a mystical writer that had not been clear to me before. (If you would prefer to listen to an audio version of this post, click here.)
“Why write?” A question posed some years ago by my husband, Stephen, in a tone implying that one need not record one’s innermost thoughts and feelings. Especially not for publication. The thought of so much personal disclosure made this very private man shudder.
My first answer to this question was not the whole truth, but it was as much of the truth as I knew twenty-plus years ago. I believe I said something akin to, “I want to leave a legacy.”
Not particularly convincing then and even less so from today’s perspective. I had not yet tapped into the passion for writing that would produce what could perhaps now be considered a legacy. But we have to start somewhere. I did continue to write—though, admittedly, by fits and starts—the occasional poem, many journal pages, some blogs and eventually more than a dozen books.
I often wondered about Stephen’s apparent disbelief in the need to write. He was an avid reader of the world’s classics of literature, religion and philosophy—thoughts he was grateful that ancient writers had bothered to record for posterity.
Looking back, I can detect one possible reason for his question. He may have been asking if he should write when he felt no compelling reason to do so. Unlike his wife, he did not need to put his thoughts on paper to understand himself. He was a careful and deep thinker who meditated his way to clarity. It was only during the last years of his life, as the cancer that would take him progressed, that he began to write the thoughts and feelings that welled up from his soul as poetry.
A Possible Explanation
Although we never returned to discussing the subject of why one writes, I believe that entering into the process of deep expression that poetry opens explained to him that at certain points in a person’s life their soul becomes ecstatic and must sing her song or burst.
That is the answer I was unaware of twenty years ago. And it is only in the years since Stephen’s departure from this world that have I come to understand why I have pursued my vocation as a mystical writer.
I use the word “vocation” deliberately because for me writing is a calling. It is not a job or a career. It is a noetic sense—a knowing sense—that writing is my raison d’être, my way of serving life that is soul-enhancing as no other activity has ever been.
These days I can answer Stephen’s question with confidence. I write because I must.
I must express in language the deep things of my soul—the insights, thoughts, feelings and musings that percolate up from within—too bountiful to be contained. I must continually empty myself onto the page to make room for whatever is next and next and next.
When I ask my soul what would happen if I did not write, she sends me an image of my innermost being languishing, shriveling up into a dry, dusty pile of grey ash.
I write to understand myself and to tame the internal chaos that arises as a result of the too-busy-brain of this make-it-happen person. My journal is my relief valve—a way to focus on what is important or that needs to be revealed as unimportant. I write by hand, which slows down the mental gibberish that may be clouding any hope of my achieving clear thinking.
Most of all, I write to learn what my soul wants and what the voice of inner wisdom would bring me as its unfailingly appropriate guidance—no matter the situation.
Where I Know Who I Am
One of the heaviest burdens Stephen bore during cancer treatment was how chemotherapy drugs and pain medications interfered with his meditation.
“When I meditate, I know who I am,” he said despairingly one day when he felt that gift being taken away from him. Perhaps that is one reason he turned to poetry—as an alternate way of maintaining the flow of inner communion.
For me, writing is what opens the portal to that meditative state of authenticity, where I know who I am. Then the word—as the sacred Word that emanates from the internal spark of divinity in my heart—allows me to enter a thin place that bridges the realms of seen and unseen.
On that bridge, the veil between worlds parts and I step into a state of refined consciousness where elements of all that is good and true and beautiful about me shine forth from my True Self.
Story Is the Essence
These days I write because I am a storyteller at heart. In Gaelic the word is seanchaí (pronounced “shan-kee”), which carries with it the bardic tradition of song and imagination and the creative spirit that comes alive when story is shared heart to heart, soul to soul.
Finally, I write mystical romance novels because the characters in them have stories to tell. Many of them are archetypal, possibly aspects of my own psyche. Who knows? What is important is that these stories build up in me and, at a certain point, must be told.
Story is its own reason.
My Writing Process
“How do you write?” Others ask on occasion. Some from curiosity. Some from their own desire to author a book or blog. Some from the obstacle of the blank page that may rise up to challenge any would-be writer.
Putting Pen to Paper
Nearly all of my creative writing begins in a journal, which can be any kind of notebook or even a sketch pad. The key is that I start by writing longhand, which is an embodied process, not merely a mental or mechanical one.
The organic nature of physically writing is pleasing in many ways. The sound of my pen moving across the journal pages is soothing. I enjoy the look of the letters as I form them. And the slight pressure necessary for my hand to grip a pen and form those letters means that my body is engaged.
There is one particular room in my house where initial composition takes place. It has been that way for years. I have tried other rooms and settings, but the sense of sliding into the richly creative atmosphere of the thin place doesn’t quite happen when I deviate from that location.
I edit on the computer in my office. Usually on my desktop with its large screen. Especially when I am writing fiction, I have to develop the story digitally because descriptions, dialogue, plot twists and even new characters start emerging faster than I can write by hand. Fortunately, I am a speedy typist.
Writing What I Hear
Initially, I only write what I hear. I may have an idea in my head for a while, but until I hear the words beginning to form—almost as if the voice of my True Self or Wise Inner Counselor is reading to me—I cannot write a word.
Sometimes, especially with poetry, I need only hear the title or first line. At other times, I need more. But at a certain point, it is as if the whole of a piece has reached a critical mass in my being and then it must be given expression. The experience is often sublime—a partnership with realms of mystery that I do not enter otherwise.
Finishing a piece can be very challenging. Finalizing a book is pure, hard work. But the proof of the pudding is in the final product.
Leaving a project unfinished creates an internal dissonance that I find intolerable. So I work hard to complete one project before beginning the next one. At that point, I am a bit like a dog with a bone. I keep gnawing at the matter before me until the voice of inner guidance—again, that knowing sense—says, “You can stop now.”
Sometimes the journey to completion is a long one. I have written and re-written book introductions more than twenty-five times before getting them right. But the signal that the project is finished does eventually arrive.
An interesting word just came to mind: Unwavering. That feels like the perfect description for me as a mystical writer. I do my best to stay in the mystery and bring it into the physical. And I keep at it, every step of the way.
What I Write
I write what’s next, what’s now, what won’t leave me alone until I do.
That “what” continues to lead me on a fascinating journey that often changes directions mid-stream. I have learned to trust that stream because it has resulted in a body of work I never could have imagined would have emerged during the past twelve-plus years.
The other word that comes to mind now is: Grateful. I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to pursue this calling which, so far, shows no sign of letting up.
The legacy continues…