J Is for Journey

“A fantasy is a journey. It is a journey into the subconscious mind, just as psychoanalysis is. Like psychoanalysis, it can be dangerous; and it will change you.

That’s Ursula K. Le Guin in “Talking About Writing” which you can find in her Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction (1979). I don’t write fantasy, but I’ve read a lot of it, which may explain why fantasy elements keep sneaking into my real-time fiction.

It may also explain why for me writing is a journey, especially writing fiction, and everything Le Guin says about fantasy applies. The journey I’ve been on for three years now started with a dog running through the woods and a girl sitting on a playground swing. As I wrote my way toward them, I began to understand who they were and how they were connected.

I also ventured deep and deeper into my own subconscious, or memory, or imagination, whatever it is, and found images and questions that preoccupied me in the past but that I’d set aside. Rescue — both rescuing and being rescued — was a big one. In my novel in progress, the rescue of the dog turned out to be pretty easy. The rescue of the girl is still working itself out. I’m still not 100% sure of what she needs to be rescued from, but it’s a lot clearer — and more unsettling — than it was when I started. So are the stories and motivations of the would-be rescuers.

One of my mantras is “Your writing will teach you what you need to know.” It will, but the catch is that you have to keep doing it. My hunch is that a fair amount of what’s called “writer’s block” stems from the cautious mind’s fear of those subconscious places where reason has to relinquish control. The fear is totally justified because, as Le Guin wrote, the journey will change you.

It may change you in ways you don’t expect and can’t control, that may sharpen or blur your vision enough to unsettle your view of the world. It’s a wild magic, writing.

As the letter J drew closer in my passage through the alphabet, I couldn’t decide between “journey” and “journal.” The two words had to be closely related, I thought, and so they are: both stem from the Latin word for “day,” diurnis, by way of the Anglo-French. If you know any French, or even if you don’t, the “jour-” in “journey” and “journal” probably suggests jour, the French word for “day.”

“Journey,” it seems, originally suggested a day’s travel. Now a journey can take much longer, especially if you’re working on a book-length work, but breaking it down into days isn’t a bad idea. The journey may indeed lead into dangerous places, but the closer you get, the less scary they seem — because you’re getting braver with every step you take, every word you write.

The journey continues.

 

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11 thoughts on “J Is for Journey

  1. Love this: .”..because you’re getting braver with every step you take, every word you write.”
    I feel this way, as I journeyed through this acquired American language.
    Sorry for not always liking your posts and commenting, Susanna. This A to Z thingie is quite time consuming, no?

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    • C’est vrai! 🙂 I don’t know how you do it — you’re writing one or two mini-biographies every day. Me, I’ve got most of this stuff in my head already. What I’m really liking about the A–Z Challenge is that it gives me an idea of what thread I should start pulling on. Once I pick a word, I find stuff in my head that I’d forgotten was there.

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  2. Susanna, I’ve been faithfully reading you for a while, and I’m enjoying your current series; but of all your wonderful words that I’ve had a chance to appreciate, these are my favorite so far: “My hunch is that a fair amount of what’s called ‘writer’s block’ stems from the cautious mind’s fear of those subconscious places where reason has to relinquish control. The fear is totally justified because, as Le Guin wrote, the journey will change you. It may change you in ways you don’t expect and can’t control, that may sharpen or blur your vision enough to unsettle your view of the world. It’s a wild magic, writing.”

    I’m currently in a Write Into the Light course with Martha Beck and Liz Gilbert, and I feel as if you’ve channeled the truth we students are experiencing in that class. Here’s to the change, the journey, the magic. Thank you!

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    • Thanks so much for commenting — and that sounds like a wonderful course! If you haven’t already explored them, I think you would like Le Guin’s essays and also her writing book, Steering the Craft. My copies of The Language of the Night and Dancing at the Edge of the World are dog-eared, marked up, and threatening to fall apart. Now that I’m thinking of it, I’m off to buy the newest one, Words Are My Matter.

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      • Thank you, Susanna! The course is taking us into writing unlike any other. It’s unique, in the true sense of the word. I’ll check out the books you’ve recommended; I’m intrigued. And I hope the newest one leads you on even wilder journeys.

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  3. I love your description of writing being “a wild magic!” I’m curious about the way you’ve been writing toward the dog running through the woods and the girl on the swing and allowing unraveling of those which, oddly, eventually pulls together through your writing. Did you initially see these as visual images? Or thoughts? I often “see” images that will unfold into writing and wonder about other writers.

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    • They both showed up as images first. Ursula Le Guin has written about how her classic Left Hand of Darkness began with a distant figure in a landscape. IIRC it was Estraven pulling a sledge across the snow on Gethen. Not until she got closer did the writer learn that Estraven was neither a he nor a she, and that Gethenians are neither male nor female most of the time.

      Once I get an image, my background in community theater kicks in. The characters improvise what happens next, and if they don’t move on their own, I play director or stage manager and give them nudges.

      I’m very much a word person, but when I’m writing fiction, the visuals are usually my way into the story. They’re also how several of my main characters grapple with feelings and situations they don’t have words for yet.

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  4. Coming very late to this discussion, but I also like the connection to another related word – ‘journeyman’, a skilled craftsperson being rewarded for each day’s work. I hope you feel duly rewarded for your daily efforts!

    I live in a tiny village in SW France, and, just as in the UK and in New England you become aware that every village is the centre of a group pf villages, each about 15 – 20 kms apart; the distance that could be covered in a day – a journey.

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    • I like the connection to “journeyman,” not least because I learned the editor’s trade the old way, by apprenticeship to a master. On the island of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, where I live, the older towns are far enough apart that one could make a foot-journey there and back in one day. These days it takes 15 minutes or so by car (more in summer, when the traffic is heavier), but we tend to complain about how far away Edgartown is from West Tisbury and make excuses for not going there. Aquinnah is the smallest town on the island, and the most remote from all the others. Before the age of cars and paved roads, it took so long to cover the 20 miles (32 km) to Tisbury that people did their marketing and resupplying in New Bedford on the mainland — further away in distance but closer in time if you traveled by boat. Thanks for dropping by!

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