How To Write Visionary Fiction

Writing visionary fiction requires three simple steps:

  1. Have visionary experiences
  2. Learn to write
  3. 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.”

dreams2He replied, “Do you have to rob a bank to write about 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


SandyABOUT THE AUTHOR:

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.”

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16 Responses to How To Write Visionary Fiction

  1. vicsmith0123 says:

    Thank you, Sandy, for sharing some excellent guidelines. I would like to add to your first point, "Have visionary experiences," a personal observation for discussion. I sense some aspiring VF writers will find your requirement a bit too stringent. Point is: we all can have visionary experiences, maybe all the time. To have a visionary experience you have the see the magic in your experience. A walk in the woods may be a pedestrian exercise, or it can be mystical journey through light, energy, and life in constant kaleidoscopic transformation reflecting here below a myriad of marvels from the realm above. All depends on the way you look at it.

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  2. I always enjoy your perspective. Sandy. You are down to earth, knitty-gritty, and at the same time so articulate in your mystical experiences and how you convey their magic in your novels. Love your sense of humor as well!

    Yes, Vic – visionary experiences need not be sitting on a mountain cross-legged. The divine, the mystical, is indeed in the physical lives we live… is in every moment, every experience, there for the taking.

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  3. Admin - Eleni says:

    I find that it isn't only my transcendent experiences that connect me to my writing. The environment I live in helps me connect to my inner-spirit, allowing what's inside me to flow out unabated. I'm hoping the same process will work for the papers I'm going to have to write in school!

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  4. crowsfeet says:

    🙂 Very nice article.

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  5. crowsfeet says:

    PS… I use music a lot when writing. I hadn't thought of whether my personal experiences affect my writing, but then I never knew of the genre of Visionary Fiction till recently. I never could figure out what kind of fiction I wrote… till now. 😉

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    • vicsmith0123 says:

      Nice to see you here, crowsfeet. Come visit more often. Would like to know more about your visionary fiction.

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      • crowsfeet says:

        Thank you, Vic.
        Well… I've written two books. FIRST LIGHT and WISDOMS OF THE LIGHT. The second is a sequel to the first, but it was actually written 15 years after the first and is a lot more intense (and big. Yikes… it's a doorstop!). Someone reviewing my books said I wrote the Hobbit and then Lord of the Rings. Very flattering! 🙂

        My books aren't typical fantasy. The story''s set on another planet, but probably falls more into steampunk, since the society is low tech. No electricity, no flying machines. No elves or dragons, just emmals and crested-skiffers. lol The stories are both about the loss of hope, how people pushed into absolute despair can reach a stage of being forced to act in ways of great courage that ultimately leads to miracles. Wow, that's a run on sentence! I shouldn't write after two cups of coffee and no breakfast. 8-|

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      • vicsmith0123 says:

        Thanks for the update, Michelle. (Found your name via your website, which is quite nice.) Will put a book of yours on my rather lengthy reading list. Would love to know how other authors keep up with all the reading its seems we ought to be doing to keep up. For me, speed reading is out: it's like wolfing down a gourmet meal.

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  6. Thanks for the tip on Bill Miller. I'll visit Amazon and check out his music soon. I agree that writers need to figure out ways of getting themselves to the transcendent when it isn't coming to them. Music often does this for me. As well as long walks in nature away from distractions.

    I read an excellent book FROM WHERE YOU DREAM in which Robert Olen Butler talks about "the descent into the dreamspace of the unconscious" that must "be surrendered to and cannot be willed." Others call it "the zone," "flow state," or "white-hot center." Art, he says, comes from the place you dream. Yes, Butler is talking about all fiction, but it I believe it especially applies to visionary fiction. Literal memory is our enemy when it comes to writing any, but especially visionary, fiction. We need to get out of the analytic flow and into the sensual flow of experience from the unconscious, that's where we connect to spirit and, if we're lucky, reach a spiritual high. I think that's what you're referring to as transcendent experience. It's not hearing the booming voice of God, talking to spirits, or taking a shamanistic journey (if so, I would most definitely not consider myself a visionary writer), but recording the stories that emerge from our deepest selves.

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    • vicsmith0123 says:

      Thanks for the tip on Robert Olen Butler. One of my favorites from awhile ago (99) on "the zone" is Writing in the Flow: Keys to Enhanced Creativity by Susan K. Perry. It's still available through Amazon though not on Kindle. Perhaps we should add some of these titles to the Resources page.

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    • Admin - Eleni says:

      Music definitely opens me up. I listen to different styles depending on what type of scene I’m writing. Some bands and performers have a lot of energy that I connect to. Yes, there is visionary music! I also love space and noise music. When I hear it, I get this this vast borderless sense of consciousness, yet at the same time, I feel isolated. It’s a most peculiar dichotomy—space and isolation. But it works for me.

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  7. Hi, everyone! Thank you for your great comments. Unfortunately, they come at a time when I'm flat on my back with the flu. My brain is not working. Not working! I'll get back to you when it picks up a bit. The doctor says, "Only four or five more days. Did you get a flu shot?" Not that I recall.

    Here's a funny anecdote: I was in the doctor's office this afternoon. He touched my nose or something and I flew into a coughing fit. He shot out of the office and came back looking like he was part of a bio-hazard team. All suited up. I guess I'm contagious. Then they shuttled me out the rear door so I didn't go near any of the other patients. But I didn't take offense . . .

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