Writing through rough waters
Not long ago I was speaking with my spiritual director, Sister Rita, about some revision I was doing to the novel I’m working on. I talked about the beginning of the book, wherein a certain character — a 7th century Irish boy — has a vision and, regardless of opposition, follows that vision. He builds a little boat and sails away into uncharted waters, only to flounder in heavy seas. As he sinks below the water, his greatest fear is that he has somehow failed, that he misread the vision, and/or that God has abandoned him. Needless to say he doesn’t die (or it would be a very short book), but finds himself taken, rather magically, to Ioua Insula (the old name for the Holy Island of Iona). And there his story begins anew…
I told Sister Rita it was an oddly easy bit of writing, that it came, as writing rarely does for me, effortlessly, practically writing itself. Sister Rita smiled and said, “Well of course, Lauren. You’re writing the story of your soul.”
That stopped me. Really? My soul? So we examined it. Yes, it was true recently I had been through a rather bad time, when I felt I ‘d been doing, in spite of certain difficulties, what I was meant to do, what I was intended for, and yet had floundered in heavy (and rather cruel) metaphorical seas. I had been through a depression, in which I felt I’d been abandoned not only by The Ineffable (which is what I call God since I haven’t clue what that word means, beyond Mystery and Love), but by pretty much everyone else as well. I had lost meaning, lost purpose, and it was frightening.
And yet, that experience brought me, rather magically, to a new place of understanding and relationship with that-which-I-consider-sacred.
She was right. I had written a little parable for my soul’s journey. I burst out laughing. Something I hadn’t done in a while.
That, for me, is one of the great wonders of writing. You will, if you learn to write deeply and with a sense of exploration, discover such marvelous new interior worlds. For those of us who are writers, it is the way our soul speaks to us. Our words draw a map of our subconscious. It’s not unlike the sort of dream-work, or inner work, Jungian psychotherapists practice.
I sometimes have students ask me what the point of writing is, especially in these days when publishing is so difficult. Why should they bother to spend hours sitting all by themselves in a little room, surrounded by scraps of paper? What’s the point? The purpose? Well, I think this sort of deep soul-work has enormous personal benefits, making us more whole, more balanced, psychologically healthier people. And even if you never publish, I believe what you learn about yourself and your soul’s journey will positively affect how you move through the world and treat others.
Writing deeply means not simply trying to write the next commercial blockbuster — that might be a nice byproduct, but hopefully it’s not the entire point. Writing deeply means writing from the still, quiet voice inside you, the one that leads you, ever closer, ever nearer, to the center — to who you are meant to be.
Someone once said to me, “Our job is to learn to flounder comfortably on a turbulent sea of ambiguity.” For me, writing is how I do that.
Thanks for this, Lauren.
It’s easy to forget why I write; you just reminded me.
I once asked a famous writer if she ever experienced that sensation that her fingers had disconnected from her mind and instead were being directed by some other Source (I didn’t know her well enough to say “God”). She said “Are you kidding? If I didn’t get that (from time to time), I wouldn’t write.”