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Writing in Liminal Time

August 8, 2012

I have been living in liminal time. What is that, you ask, and how does that relate to writing? Liminal time is that twilight space in our lives, when we’ve separated from one situation but haven’t quite arrived at the next.

The term that’s been used is “no longer and not yet.” We are “no longer” where we were, but we’re “not yet” at transformation. We know what no longer works, but the new is not yet clear. We may, in fact, be on the threshold of that breakthrough, but still wandering in the desert – a time of uncertainty and discomfort.

I’ve been experiencing that in my life the last year, having left a full-time job and now writing my novels. The ground feels shaky under my feet and I’m really not sure what’s next – with anything. It’s an anxiety-making time but also an exciting one, as Dr. Joan Borysenko, author of the best-seller Minding the Body, Mending the Mind, recently shared in a webinar.

She applied the idea of liminal time to spiritual growth. But I see that process present in writers as well. We have left behind the safety and security of not writing at all to venture forth. We are “no longer” simply saying we’re going to write our novel, we’re writing it. “No longer” in the first or second or third drafts, but in the thick of it. We’ve committed to finishing our manuscript, to telling our story. We can’t go back.

But what’s next? We don’t know. That’s where the discomfort sets in. For writers, we may feel lost in a wasteland of questions, trying to find that next step. After hours and hours of hard work, there are no guarantees. Will we find an agent, a publisher? Will people buy our book, read it? Will our book find transformation? Will we?

Borysenko advises us to be patient during this “no longer and not  yet” stage. The urge is often to make a premature closure. For writers, that might be giving up too quickly (as I’ve done many times) and not continue to pitch the book after the 25th or 100th rejection. Not finishing the novel. Or hurrying it off to an agent before it’s polished and in the best shape possible. 

As unsettling as it may feel, it’s OK to be in the unknown, Borysenko reassures. Why? For writers, we can see it as a fertile space where we can learn to be resilient. We can approach our writing and the business of publication with mindful curiosity. Liminal time allows us to be open, spacious and flexible, if we allow it, helping our creativity and our writing.

Most of all, during this time of “no longer and not yet,” Borysenko says, we need to be patient. And we need social support. Writing groups are one way we can stay the course and not feel so lost. So, too, is a sense of humor and the absurd to keep us flexible. Writing-related cartoons on Facebook often help me through many mornings when I can’t plow through another word.

The reality is – liminal time can be daunting for most of us. The Israelites understood, wandering in the desert thinking they’d never reach the promised land. Their space of “no longer and not yet” lasted for 40 years! I’m hoping that our collective promised land of publication doesn’t take quite that long. Ultimately, if we have faith – in ourselves and in the writing  journey itself – then the next step will be made clear. And we will indeed get there. Transformed. Published.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. August 8, 2012 10:46 PM

    I feel like you’ve written the story of my writing life. I’m working on two WIPs and can’t seem to commit to either of them.

  2. August 9, 2012 6:48 AM

    I think all writers can relate, Sandy! The good thing about liminal time is that it’s temporary and we do eventually move out of it and commit to writing. And thankfully, you and I have the support and good company of other writers.

  3. August 10, 2012 3:38 AM

    Thanks for your post. As an aspiring writer, you wonder if there will ever be another “phase”. So many are not published. So many never make it out of the phase you’re describing. But some do, and that’s enough reason to make your best effort at making it. It’s a tough thing, trying to balance self-doubt with being self-effacing. You don’t want to indulge in a potential career that you’re not cut out for. The eternal struggle of a writer I think. Thanks again for the post.

  4. August 10, 2012 7:37 AM

    You’re welcome, Dan, and thanks for your comments and stopping by. Just know you are not alone and that as writers, we all face the same struggles. I believe some never make it out of that twilight phase because they stop trying … and they are so close! Many days I’ve wanted to give up but I keep writing because I do believe that if we keep giving it our best, we will eventually be published. Hang in, Dan!

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