Last weekend I attended my third San Francisco Writer’s Conference, a wonderful event for “dreamers” with the vision of writing a book and having it published. As one of those dreamers, I attended classes to learn how to accomplish my goal of becoming a published non-fiction author. I highly recommend this conference for any and all serious writers, and the quality of the lectures improves every year.
After three days of socializing with fellow writers and learning from experts in the world of publishing, I left the conference, which was held at the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins Hotel on Nob Hill in San Francisco. A friend of mine had told me to stop at Grace Cathedral, which sits at the center of Nob Hill, and walk its labyrinth. Since I had never done so, I thought it a fitting ritualistic ending to my conference experience. Plus, the weather was beautiful and it was a perfect day for this activity. (On rainy days, you can walk the labyrinth inside the cathedral instead of the one outside.)
As I entered the labyrinth, I tried to quiet my mind, which was still filled with the excitement of meeting with agents, learning how to promote myself as a writer and stories of successful writers. I walked slowly, focusing on my footsteps. I must have looked a bit strange, since I was carrying a large vase of flowers, which I had “purchased” from the dining room with a donation towards the conference student scholarship fund. I imagined myself as a priestess carrying her offering towards the center of the labyrinth. As I progressed little by little, moving steadily toward the center, then doubling back and moving away, then meandering along the outskirts of the maze, then back again towards the center in a snake-like fashion, it dawned on me that the labyrinth provided a perfect metaphor for the publishing business. To many writers — myslef included, it seems that success is hidden somewhere (at the center) but the path to the goal of a published book sometimes take strange twists and turns and seems to lead us away from our goal. Sometimes we seem so close; in fact, we can see the center (a published book) as we walk just along the goal’s edge, but then wefind ourselves led far away again to the edges of the labyrinth. And sometimes we are too far away to get a good look at the center. Plus, it seems to take perseverance and patience and determination – traits necessary to succeed in publishing — to make your way ’round and ’round the labyrinth to the center point.
I did make it to the center of the Grace Cathedral labyrinth. There, I paused. I waited. (In the center, you are supposed to get a message or the answer to a question posed at the start of your walk.) I hadn’t posed a question; I’d asked too many during the last three days. In my head, the Still Small Voice said, “There’s nothing to do once you go in but to go back out.”
“Ah…just like writing,” I thought. You have to go inward to discover what you will write, to formulate your thoughts and assumptions, to find the inspiration for your ideas and the insights for your unique angle. And then, you must look and move outward. You have to begin writing and do whatever it takes to put that writing into the world for others to read.
I began walking again, this time away from the center of the labyrinth and back towards the entrance – now the exit. I retraced my steps, something I’ve done more than once during many a writing process. I made myself look up, not at my feet. I had to see where I was going, as any writer must. I had to look ahead. I walked now with anticipation and eagerness, like a writer in the flow, knowing what I want to say, how to say it and how to get from the beginning of the article, chapter or book to the end.
Yet, sometimes the writing process takes us in a different direction than we plan…just like the labyrinth. We think we are almost done, and then we turn a corner and head in another direction. We think we are close to the end, but we find ourselves as far away from the exit (the last words of the writing project) as we can possibly get. So we keep on writing, editing, revising, rewriting, until we weave our way out of our writing and into the world of published books. It seems the labyrinth represents a perfect metaphor for writing as well.
I left a carnation in the middle of the labyrinth…my offering to the publishing god or goddess or maybe to my higher self (the Still Small Voice), who always leads me in the right direction or to my inner priestess, who can not only invoke the Divine into a sacred space – like the center of the labyrinth – but also help me manifest my heart’s desire – a published book (or books).
When you are finding it difficult to write, or need an answer to a problem, take a trip to your nearest labyrinth. Pose your question or request before you begin. When you reach the center, see if an answer comes to you or an inspiration for your project. If not, keep walking and the answer will meet you on your way out. For more information on labyrinths, check out my article on the subject: http://www.consciouschoice.com/2002/cc1501/localgardens1501.html.
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