Writing, and other Mystical Experiences

Writing is often a mystical process. Elizabeth Gilbert wrote a whole book about this (Big Magic), and her TED talk features a long inventory of authors through the ages who have formed partnerships with a Muse.

When the Muse beckons, it’s hard to ignore. For seven years, I had talked about writing children’s books without writing a word of them. When I decided to try my hand at it, the dreams started coming. In one of them, I was shown a calendar and a week I could take off from work, reserve a room somewhere, and start learning the craft. In terms of divine instruction, it doesn’t get more direct than that.

A year and a half later, it still feels like words are being whispered in my head whenever I sit down to work on my middle-grade novel, Cat Tales from the Cape Verde Islands (there’s a synopsis here). As Gilbert advises, I always start by thanking the Muse in advance for her kind cooperation.

This weekend, I’m going to attend my first ever conference with SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) in LA. I decided to research some of the keynote speakers, since these are Authors Who Have Made It.

One of them is Carole Boston Weatherford, an award-winning author of poetic children’s books about pioneers from African-American history. Her subjects range from the familiar (Billie Holiday, Jesse Owens, and both Obamas) to the unsung (Arctic explorer Matthew Henson, who trekked with Peary to the North Pole, and Fannie Lou Hamer from the Civil Rights era – I blogged about that book here).

I was inspired by Weatherford’s writing process for a book called Moses, which is about Harriet Tubman. In an interview called “Three Voices,” Weatherford says the inspiration for the book’s 3-part narrative structure came out of nowhere. After it was published, Weatherford could hardly believe she had written it. According to her, “something magical and mystical was going on” when she wrote the book.

And why not? If a story can stir its readers so deeply, it makes sense that the author is merely a channel. Or as Weatherford says, “another hand was at work” in the writing.

Maybe you also have a Muse pleasantly haunting your dreams. If so, you can catch the highlights from the SCBWI conference in LA this weekend on the official blog and by following the hashtag #LA16SCBWI

Registration for the LA conference is closed, but don’t fret: there’s another SCBWI conference in New York in February!

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