The book that laid an egg

Jul 28th, 2014 | By | Category: Articles


by Nimue Brown.

In theory, the author should be entirely in control of making the book. In practice, it’s not an entirely rational process. Inspiration is innately wild and unpredictable and that can have just as much influence on what happens in a non-fiction piece as it does around creating a story. Working out when to steer a book very consciously, and when to surrender to it, is a strange and convoluted process. No one told me about that balancing act when I started!

You can’t write an entirely unplanned, unconscious, unconsidered book – or at least if you do, there’s no earthly reason to imagine anyone else would want to read it. Taking the irrational stuff of dreams and making it coherent enough to be read is entirely necessary. Books need to make sense, and wild flows of inspiration don’t always deliver that.

For me, a book is a process. With the non-fiction, I may well start out with a plan. I’ll research, pull together experiences, figure out a structure and write to that plan. Somewhere in the process, the book itself will undertake to ambush me, turn the plan on its head, throw in random ideas, setbacks and tangents. It then becomes a bit of a wrestling match while I try to gather up all the unexpected legs my book has grown and persuade them to all walk in roughly the same direction.

They do other unexpected things, too. Half way through ‘When a Pagan Prays,’ the book laid an egg: Spirituality without Structure. I really wasn’t expecting that. The two don’t have much in common – there are some family resemblances perhaps. The one came out of the other, with little warning, entirely throwing out the plan for the first one. Sometimes, books seem to have minds of their own.

I learned a lesson with this one: Spiritual practices are not something to try and write about coolly, from some space of dispassionate objectivity. That doesn’t work. Spiritual practices do not make much sense that way – yes, you can ponder them as social and psychological phenomena, but that’s only a part of what they are, and without engaging, there are ways in which they don’t make sense. I was initially attracted to the idea of prayer precisely because I didn’t get it, and because so many people I talked to commented to the effect that asking gods for stuff did not appeal to them.

To write about it, I ended up trying to do it. It was a strange, deeply unsettling process that required me to rethink my entire relationship with reality, and it took more than a year longer than I thought it would to write the book.

So, if a perfectly sensible idea for a book presents itself to you, be cautious. Sometimes they have big families of far less reputable potential book content that would like you to get them in somewhere, too. Some have goose-chases laid out, others will create ambushes. They lay eggs in your life, and there’s no predicting what those might hatch into.


When a Pagan prays:

  • eBook £6.99 || $9.99
  • Jul 25, 2014. 978-1-78279-632-9.
  • Paperback £11.99 || $19.95
  • Jul 25, 2014. 978-1-78279-633-6.
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