Naomi Rose : Writing a Book as a Quest
Writing a Book as a Quest
By Naomi Rose
When people think about writing a book ~ if they allow themselves to ~ most often, they think in terms of writing about what they know. Being an expert is really big in the book field, these days. You don't even have to be a writer to be an author who is an expert in something. You just have to put forth your expertise. And conventionally, this means some kind of formula, some kind of "10 steps to health," or "The seven keys to wealth," or some such thing. There's nothing wrong with this; it has its place; and certainly, we are all experts in something. We could all, if we needed to, write some kind of book in this way.
But there is another way of writing, almost the opposite way, that provides both less certainty, to start with, and more deep fulfillment ~ and even, at the end, more expertise. It is the way of writing a book as a quest.
Once you hear the word "quest," you know you are in a different realm than the recitation of facts, or the laying out of already-known answers. You are not even in the realm, necessarily, of ordinary consciousness. You are in the realm of spirit and soul.
This means that your conscious mind will not have the answers, to start with. Indeed, your conscious mind may be relegated to the role of witness, as that which seeks within you takes the lead.
This is both a humbling position, and a vastly empowering one. To start out on a quest with only a seeking, a question (and even that question may not, in the very beginning, be fully formed), and be concentrated enough, be dedicated enough, to be present with what you find, to weather detours and wrong turns, and to develop a "sixth sense" about your nearness to what it is you seek ~ kind of sniffing its presence, making your way through the forest in search of its traces, recognizing its recent footprints quickly fading on the path ~ is to devote yourself to a larger truth: a truth that you hope will, once encountered, illuminate your life, the path you have taken to find it, and all that you went through leading up to the decision (if it was a conscious decision) to go on the quest in the first place. A quest is not an assignment, not a "career move" (though it can have that effect after the fact), not an opportunity to be an expert. A quest is a journey demanded by your soul.
I'm sure that many books have been written in this way, whether the author thought of the process as a quest or not. Some that come to mind include Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (I'm pretty sure he didn't write it to become a best-seller, although it did); Jacob Needleman's Money and the Meaning of Life; Ann Patchett's Truth & Beauty: A Friendship; and many other books that started with a need to set out and find something precious, often the writers initially knowing not what.
There is a special joy to writing a quest, in that you don't know what is around the bend until you get there; you don't know which direction your inner compass will take you until you find your foot on that soil; you don't know what it is that you will discover, nor do you know ~ until you discover it ~ what its larger significance is, what patterns it reveals, what light it casts on your deeper being and journey to that point, and beyond. I say, "a special joy"; but clearly, a sometimes quite uncomfortable joy, not to know for that length of time, not to be sure that you are on the right path, or even exactly what you seek. And yet joy it is, because to be even in sensing distance, even far-flung sniffing distance, of whatever is to you, in the time frame of your writing, your holy grail, is to give such meaning to your efforts, such wings under your feet, that you would go longer and further and round more and more bends if it got you any closer to what it is that you are seeking.
As we all know somewhere in our hearts ~ at least from watching reruns of "The Wizard of Oz," if from nowhere else ~ what we are seeking has been in us all along. We need to travel way outside the familiar pathways, the conditioning that makes us believe we are only a product of our circumstances, environment, family, and so on, in order to approach the holy of holies, the most intimate sanctuary of our own heart. Once we are there, we find that we are everywhere; there is no place closed to us, no one we cannot understand, no one or place or thing outside us. We contain the universe. And we had to leave the known in order to learn what was always here, always true.