Last night I went down to our friendly neighborhood Borders and I bought a journal. Yep, a blank-book type of journal. Got a really pretty one, with a cover design straight out of the book of Kells, it looks like this:

Book of Kells Blank Book

So why did I invest my shekels into something a low-tech as a journal? Well, I’m conducting an experiment. I’ve been struggling to find my voice in the book I’m currently writing, which is the story of my sojourn in the neopagan world and my eventual transition from practicing Pagan to postmodern Catholic. I wouldn’t exactly say I’m suffering from writer’s block: it’s not that I can’t figure out what to say, but rather that I’ve got too much to say and it’s all clamoring to come out at once. There’s so much I want to do with this book: I want to honor what I loved about neopaganism (and why it appealed to me originally) even while being honest about all the ways it didn’t work for me as well; I want to be frank about falling in love with Catholicism without simply casting this as a “darkness-to-light” conversion story; in other words, if I’m going to write honestly about my conflicted feelings in regard to the Pagan path, then I owe it to myself and my readers to be just as candid about my ongoing struggles with Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. Finally, I want the book to be “fun” and an enjoyable read, which means availing myself of literary devices like narrative tension and even (gasp) suspense.

So every time I sit down to the computer and start working on it, a torrent of images and ideas and anecdotes come blurting out of my subconscious, all clamoring for attention and narrative form. Which means that every time I write, I end up creating a new outline, a new file with yet newer notes, another stab at the direction I want to take the arc of the storyline… bottom line: I haven’t found the voice for this book because I have too many voices within me, each one jockeying to be “the” voice of the book.


So here’s my experiment: what would happen if I try to  write at least part of this book the old fashioned way: using pen and ink? Would real paper force me to discipline the many points of view that my subconscious mind continually and gleefully keeps throwing at me? Is the best way to forge a narrative like this to simply sit down and tell the story, in as best a narrative form as I can muster, trusting the editorial process to introduce focus and organization and literary polish?

I don’t know. We shall see. But tonight, as I sat before the host in the adoration chapel in my church, I wrote a page in my journal. Wow. Just like the old days.

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Seamus Heaney reads "St. Kevin and the Blackbird"
  • zoecarnate

    Keep us posted…what a great experiment!

  • Carolyn

    That’s just the book I was hoping you were writing! Can’t wait to read it, Carl.

  • http://quakerpagan.blogspot.com/ Cat Chapin-Bishop

    I know that I do write differently with pen and paper and on a computer… I doubt very much that the low-tech model would be helpful for me, in dealing with too many ideas all at once (since one of the things I make best use of on my computer is the delete key). But I’ll be very interested in this line of writing of yours–for obvious reasons.

    Selfishly, too, I hope that you do not write solely from a Christian perspective, as it will have less to say to me, then. It’s the part on wrestling with ambiguity, and following Spirit wherever we’re led (even if we’re led in directions that, like you, may threaten our livelihood or reputation with some we love) that speaks to me.

    Incidentally, the point at which you chose to break your post on the front page of your blog did not speak to me strongly enough to keep me engaged–FWIW, I almost missed this post, despite the fact that, when I did return to it, it actually had something important to say to me. Of course, I can only admit that I’m pretty odd–not anybody’s “target audience”, I should think, so my reaction may not be important… But I’ll let you figure that one out!

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

    Yeah, the break ought not to happen until readers are given enough information to hook ‘em… this post was odd, in that so much real estate was given over to graphic (and it’s so pretty, I couldn’t not feature it). Thanks for taking a chance and reading on. And I should also say, Cat, in general: thanks for being here. Just yesterday I was lamenting to an editor that Pagans don’t read me anymore (it’s my own fault, of course, since I keep blathering on about Christianity). In other words, I hope with this book – and my future writing in general – that I’ll write enough stuff to keep both my Christian and non-Christian readers happy, and with that hope in mind, thanks to you (and all my other non-Christian readers) for showing up. Your point about wrestling with ambiguity is right on the money, I think that will be largely what this book is about. Stay tuned…

  • http://poorexcuse.wordpress.com Heather

    I can’t even tell you how much I’m coveting that journal. Covet, covet, covet.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

    Just click on the graphic and it will take you straight to Amazon where you can buy a copy all for yourself… :-)

  • http://frimmin.wordpress.com/ frimmin

    Handwritten journaling is the core discipline Julie Cameron teaches in The Artist’s Way. It’s a great discipline.