Writing visionary fiction requires three simple steps:
- Have visionary experiences
- Learn to write
- Write about your visionary experiences.
You may feel that this list oversimplifies an intuitive and cognitive discipline that plumbs the heights and depths of the soul. That’s true, but it’s a useful way of looking at the problem.
1. HAVE VISIONARY EXPERIENCES
Years ago, I was researching something, I forget what, and told one of my friends, “I can’t write about that. I’ve never done it.”
A point well taken. If we must do what we write about, the thriller and crime writers would all be in jail.
Visionary fiction is different than thriller writing. Visionary fiction is about making the world a better place. You can write about that without doing it; indeed, our attempts at transforming the world have had sketchy results.
But an equally large part of visionary fiction is the depiction of elevated states of consciousness, unitive perception, and a whole bunch of other inner states, which are described in transpersonal and religious psychology as well as the mystical branches of many spiritual traditions.
Do you need religious or transcendent experiences to write about them? I think so, depending upon the author’s goal. If you want to tell pretty stories about supernormal beings or events, sure, you can write about them without ever experiencing an inner twinkle.
If the author aims at “lift-off”––giving his/her reader the experience of the transcendent state, which birthed the fiction––the writer needs to know that state intimately. He/she needs to experience what she’s writing about and put it on the page.
Long ago, I was researching Native American shamanic experience. I read everything I could find by shamans. (Not about shamans. If it’s lift off and authenticity you want, the words have to come from someone who has direct contact with higher states of consciousness.)
So, I was studying shamans and read a book by a very famous Native American Teacher. He talked about people coming to him very seriously and telling him wild stories of their visions, which contained supernatural creatures, Native deities, and great sound bite “teachings.” Also visions of past lives. Flying buffalo. Kachinas. Wowie, zowie.
The shaman received this information gently, and wrote in his book that it was complete nonsense, the creation of the seeker’s mind and imagination. It wasn’t that these people were being bad and deliberately trying to kick out phony visions to impress him (and themselves) with their spirituality. That they did so was a reflection of their state of being at the time.
Real visions aren’t like that. There’s nothing that can make them come or give them form. They’re spontaneous, powerful, and a thousand times more impactful than a made up story. There’s a ring of truth that only a real message from the other side can have.
My goal in writing is mega-lift off. I want my readers to experience what I do of transcendent life through the words on the page. I want to rock the world. Overambitious, but that’s what I’d like to do.
When I write an elevated scene, I sit in the transcendent state I’m attempting to convey. I’ve included many of my meditation experiences in my writing, trimmed to fit the story. And some I’ve made up, like the tales his followers told to the Native shaman above.
My state as I write is the key. In my new book Mogollon, I have Grandfather, the shaman, give an introductory invocation. The goal of this is to put the reader into Grandfather’s state from the get go.
When I sat down to write that scene, I definitely wasn’t in an elevated state. I was a fallen away meditator who hadn’t done any spiritual practice for a long time. How could I deliver the state of one of the most elevated beings ever to walk the earth?
I knew about Grandfather’s state. How could I pop myself into it?
Here is a secret from the writers’ craft: Use other people to get you there. Bill Miller is a Native American musician, artist, and speaker. He has had more spiritual impact on me than pretty near everyone I know. I used Bill.
I got onto Amazon, played the free samples of one of his albums, and Bingo! I was flying high in minutes. That’s how I was able to write Grandfather’s invocation, which goes to a place beyond time.
We authors need to figure out ways of getting ourselves to the transcendent when it isn’t coming to us. Spiritual practice is best, though a couple of minutes of Bill Miller might do it.
2. LEARN TO WRITE
Back in 1995, I thought I could write. I’d been in school a very long time and had written a number of academic and professional papers that were well-received by my peers. The truth was: I could put together a grammatically correct, intellectually intimidating work. That isn’t writing.
I found out what writing was when I joined a writing group run by a full professor of English. He had eight, charming books of his own in print. He also had an incisive mind and a group of people who were even more pointed in their criticism than him. Despite being traumatized much of the time in the group, I did learn the basics of writing fiction.
The professor retired, leaving me on my own. I discovered an even more effective means of taking a bunch of words and making them touch people’s hearts––the editor. I’ve been working with a very good, very tough editor since the professor retired. My editor does not miss a single detail. When I submit a manuscript to her, I have a fantasy that she will return it, saying, “Wonderful! I didn’t make a single change.” That has never happened.
How do you learn to write? Work at it. In the nineteen years I’ve been writing fiction, I spent eleven years in two writing groups. Then I jumped to the private mauling that only an editor can bring. It’s taken me that long to get what writing is and make a competent start.
I’m talking about me. What do you have to do to write? Your equivalent of what I did.
Hopefully, your hubris will be under control when you’re done with your process and you’ll be a competent workman ready for the task. I like the image of artists as journeymen. In medieval times, members of trades would work for many years to be acknowledged as journeymen. They would be fully educated to practice a trade or craft, but not yet a master. I’m sure that most of us aspire to be masters, but I like the image of that stolid journeyman, humbly practicing his trade, until one day––he creates magic.
3. WRITE ABOUT YOUR VISIONARY EXPERIENCES
This is the “Apply seat to chair” part of the process. Having gotten the basics under your belt, now’s the time to produce the work. This takes time, requires hard labor, and may take many years to produce. I just put a book up for sale on Amazon. I’d been working on it for nineteen years.
The writing phase is a character building exercise. I’ve gone through years of massive writer’s block, all kinds of uncertainty and depression. The feeling that I’d never get my project finished, much less published. In this part of writing, psychological issues come up.
Here is an important truth: If you don’t give up, you won’t fail. As the person who wrote three master’s theses in economics, I can tell you that with absolute certainty.
In closing, visionary writers: Go forth and elevate the state of the world!
Sandy Nathan writes to amaze and delight, uplift and inspire, as well as thrill and occasionally terrify. She’s known for creating unforgettable characters and putting them in do-or-die situations. ”I write fiction and nonfiction for people who like to think and want the unusual. My reader isn’t satisfied by worn out situations and words. I do my best to provide what my readers want.”