Ensouling Language: On the Art of Nonfiction and the Writer's Life

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Overview

Approaching writing as a sacred art, Stephen Buhner explores the core of the craft: the communication of deep meaning that feeds not just the mind but also the soul of the reader. Tapping in to the powerful archetypes within language, he shows how to enrich your writing by following "golden threads" of inspiration while understanding the crucial invisibles essential to the art of both fiction and nonfiction: how to craft language with feeling and vision, employ altered states of mind to access the writing trance,...

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Ensouling Language: On the Art of Nonfiction and the Writer's Life

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Overview

Approaching writing as a sacred art, Stephen Buhner explores the core of the craft: the communication of deep meaning that feeds not just the mind but also the soul of the reader. Tapping in to the powerful archetypes within language, he shows how to enrich your writing by following "golden threads" of inspiration while understanding the crucial invisibles essential to the art of both fiction and nonfiction: how to craft language with feeling and vision, employ altered states of mind to access the writing trance, clear your work by recognizing the powerful sway of clichéd thinking and hidden baggage, and intentionally generate duende-that physical/emotional response to art that gives you chills, opens up unrecognized aspects of reality, or simply resonates in your soul. Covering some very practical aspects of writing such as layering and word symmetry, the author also explores the inner world of publishing-what you really will encounter when you become a writer. He then shows how to develop a powerful and engaging book proposal based on understanding the proposal as a work of fiction-the map is never the territory, nor is the proposal the book that it will become.

This book, written using all the techniques discussed within it, offers a powerful, experiential journey into the heart of writing. It does for nonfiction what John Gardner's books on writing did for fiction. It is one of the most significant works on writing published in our time.

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Editorial Reviews

Daniel Vitalis

"Ensouling Language is Stephen Harrod Buhner at his most spellbinding and enchanted. Every sentence is infused with a livingness that is rare in today's nonfiction. More than simply a book about writing, it is about wielding power--and responsibility--of language itself. Stephen encourages us to breathe the Breath of Life into the words we write, to call forth such a deep richness of meaning that it transmits feeling from the writer to the reader like some otherworldly telepathy. If you can feel you can write, write in this way, turning otherwise empty leaden words into golden Ensouling Language."
Akshay Ahuja
"Buhner's book describes how any writer, even one writing about, say, adobe walls, can achieve the sense of expansion—of traveling into larger worlds—that has always marked the best art. And although the subject is nonfiction, what Buhner has to say applies to serious writing of any kind."
Herbie Brennan

“The most subversive book on writing I have ever encountered--and the most important.”
William Howarth

“If Lao-tzu and Emerson could have a dialogue on writing, they would welcome the company of this remarkable book.”
Charles Bowden
“Stephen Harrod Buhner has produced a manifesto and guide to bring American writing back from the cages of the academy and release the power of language into the streets and wildernesses where the wild things live. If you love to read, if you like to write, you have finally come to the right place.”
Kim Stafford
“Stephen Buhner’s Ensouling Language invites you to sit down for 23 cups of coffee and talk about the mystic journey of the writer, the solitary pilgrim, the witness yearning to tell the world indelible stories that cannot be known by any other voice than yours. If you are a teacher, a writer, a friend of a writer, this book will offer companionship in this life quest. This book harvests lessons from a writer and helpless lover of books who is old in experience but young in perennial devotion.”
John Elder

Ensouling Language is a fierce and generous meditation on the writer’s life. Fierce, because Stephen Buhner goes right at prevailing commercial and academic assumptions about literature. For him, writing is above all a portal into vividness, compassion, and discovery. Generous, because he weaves his own quest as a writer into his reflections about the art of nonfiction. Books, in both the reading and the writing, have absorbed him for a lifetime. And the connections he conveys here are always arresting, sometimes extravagant in their intensity, and very often funny. As a writer and a teacher, I’ve learned more from Buhner’s book than from anything I’ve read about writing since the works of John Gardner and William Stafford. I’m truly grateful to him for having written it.”
David Abram

“I can’t easily imagine a more useful book on the craft of writing. Covering all the steps--from glimpsing a first, furtive idea foraging in the mind’s brambles to tracking that idea and coaxing it to unfurl on the page, from finding the right words to securing the right publisher--this volume also, in the process, transforms your take on the universe. For Buhner brings all his inspired lunacy to bear, illustrating his passionate insights with lively stories and poems and with glimmering nuggets from other authors, fashioning this instructive, how-to book into a breathing compendium of word magic.”
Rachel Pollack
“Stephen Buhner writes with passion and perception about the entire range of the writer’s experience. He shows us in detail how to write, issues of craft and art, but also how a writer lives—the commitment, the dreaming, the business, the way a writer uncovers secrets on many levels, even how a writer loves and hates.”
Donna Seaman
"Provocation is Buhner's mission in this unusually passionate and delving writer's guide. The author of books about plants, healing, indigenous culture, and the environment, Buhner not only tackles the art of writing with conviction, vigor, expertise, and a touch of devilry but also outspokenly advocates for the maligned form of "genre nonfiction.". . . Buhner sagely covers technical matters and the pragmatic business of book proposals and such, albeit not without lambasting corporate publishing. But his is a heroic view of writing."
David Cremean
“Stephen Harrod Buhner has counted ‘beacoup coups’ in penning Ensouling Language. As history almost unanimously attests, writing well about writing is at best a rarity, perhaps mythic, a yeti of sorts. But Buhner’s flair, sage advice, and most of all his passion for writing touches every sentence. The book brings writing to life and will add life to any author’s own words.”
John Felstiner
“If you want a kind of deep ecology for nonfiction writing, a practical guide ingrained with the spirits of William Stafford and Federico García Lorca too, Ensouling Language is your book. Its pages, studded with samples and suggestions, come via the author’s fresh and liberating voice, opening up the ‘imaginal world’ we cannot do without.”
Small Press Review

"For readers and writers who are tired of hearing the same advice that writing instructors and editors have been handing down through the ages, however, Buhner's mystical (some might say touchy-feely) approach to writing may well be what the doctor ordered."
Irene Watson
" . . . Ensouling Language is an important book that encourages inner reflection before and during writing as well as focusing on the feelings of the reader. The technical proponents of publishing are addressed and intertwined throughout giving the writer a glimpse into the 'heart of writing'."
East West Bookshop

Ensouling Language is a richly engaging book written for everyone who has been deeply touched by something they have read and wishes to write like that too.”
The Lampeter Review

“The American writer, Stephen Harrod Buhner, author of the iconic Ensouling Language: On the Art of Non-fiction and the Writer’s Life - and an inspiration to our editors - also appeals for openness to these wellsprings of creativity. He challenges the arid and mechanical quality of much non-fiction writing, and the danger of much creative writing being afflicted in the same way, because of the formulaic teaching on American MFAs in particular. For Buhner, as for Edward Bond, there is urgent need in our time of writing, in any genre, that - to adapt Buhner’s own words - attempts to extend awareness “further than society wants it to go” - a view strongly endorsed by our editors.”
Jonathan Dawson

“Writing as a mystical experience, a transcendent art-form, is presented by Buhner with all the mystery and inspiration of a personal passion. As he writes about the ability of language to take life on the page, so his own writing quickens, transporting the reader to the realms of poetic spirit. This book is both a tribute to the craft of language and example of the same at its most delicate level. Buhner guides the reader through the process of accessing the necessary mind to write from the heart, and he does so from his own heart-felt devotion to the art. It is both a practical hand-book and mystical treatise, instilled with the spirit of many of the subtlest writers, poets and critics whose approach to writing and life brings to mind the faint scent of incense on the still desert plain”
Karl Schlotterbeck

“This is a book I can highly recommend, not only for aspiring writers, but for anyone who wants to engage the world deeply and recognizes the value of words in the exchange.”
Lisa McSherry
“The point Buhner is making is vital: that whatever genre we’re writing, whether we’re a graduate from an MFA program or not, writers must never dissociate from their feelings or the feeling of their words. Given the passionate spirit in which Ensouling Language was written, it is sure to resonate with many readers, and is certainly worth a read by anyone who wishes to become a published author.”
September 2010 Small Press Review
"For readers and writers who are tired of hearing the same advice that writing instructors and editors have been handing down through the ages, however, Buhner's mystical (some might say touchy-feely) approach to writing may well be what the doctor ordered."
April 2011 East West Bookshop
Ensouling Language is a richly engaging book written for everyone who has been deeply touched by something they have read and wishes to write like that too.”
May 2011 The Lampeter Review
“The American writer, Stephen Harrod Buhner, author of the iconic Ensouling Language: On the Art of Non-fiction and the Writer’s Life - and an inspiration to our editors - also appeals for openness to these wellsprings of creativity. He challenges the arid and mechanical quality of much non-fiction writing, and the danger of much creative writing being afflicted in the same way, because of the formulaic teaching on American MFAs in particular. For Buhner, as for Edward Bond, there is urgent need in our time of writing, in any genre, that - to adapt Buhner’s own words - attempts to extend awareness “further than society wants it to go” - a view strongly endorsed by our editors.”
Holisitc Network Ireland Jonathan Dawson
“Writing as a mystical experience, a transcendent art-form, is presented by Buhner with all the mystery and inspiration of a personal passion. As he writes about the ability of language to take life on the page, so his own writing quickens, transporting the reader to the realms of poetic spirit. This book is both a tribute to the craft of language and example of the same at its most delicate level. Buhner guides the reader through the process of accessing the necessary mind to write from the heart, and he does so from his own heart-felt devotion to the art. It is both a practical hand-book and mystical treatise, instilled with the spirit of many of the subtlest writers, poets and critics whose approach to writing and life brings to mind the faint scent of incense on the still desert plain”
The Henge of Keltria Karl Schlotterbeck
“This is a book I can highly recommend, not only for aspiring writers, but for anyone who wants to engage the world deeply and recognizes the value of words in the exchange.”
June 2010 Daniel Vitalis
"Ensouling Language is Stephen Harrod Buhner at his most spellbinding and enchanted. Every sentence is infused with a livingness that is rare in today's nonfiction. More than simply a book about writing, it is about wielding power—and responsibility—of language itself. Stephen encourages us to breathe the Breath of Life into the words we write, to call forth such a deep richness of meaning that it transmits feeling from the writer to the reader like some otherworldly telepathy. If you can feel you can write, write in this way, turning otherwise empty leaden words into golden Ensouling Language."
New York Times bestselling author of Faerie Wars Herbie Brennan
“The most subversive book on writing I have ever encountered—and the most important.”
author of Walking with Thoreau William Howarth
“If Lao-tzu and Emerson could have a dialogue on writing, they would welcome the company of this remarkable book.”
author of Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmolog David Abram
“I can’t easily imagine a more useful book on the craft of writing. Covering all the steps—from glimpsing a first, furtive idea foraging in the mind’s brambles to tracking that idea and coaxing it to unfurl on the page, from finding the right words to securing the right publisher—this volume also, in the process, transforms your take on the universe. For Buhner brings all his inspired lunacy to bear, illustrating his passionate insights with lively stories and poems and with glimmering nuggets from other authors, fashioning this instructive, how-to book into a breathing compendium of word magic.”
From the Publisher
“Stephen Buhner writes with passion and perception about the entire range of the writer’s experience. He shows us in detail how to write, issues of craft and art, but also how a writer lives—the commitment, the dreaming, the business, the way a writer uncovers secrets on many levels, even how a writer loves and hates.”

“Stephen Buhner’s Ensouling Language invites you to sit down for 23 cups of coffee and talk about the mystic journey of the writer, the solitary pilgrim, the witness yearning to tell the world indelible stories that cannot be known by any other voice than yours. If you are a teacher, a writer, a friend of a writer, this book will offer companionship in this life quest. This book harvests lessons from a writer and helpless lover of books who is old in experience but young in perennial devotion.”

“Stephen Harrod Buhner has produced a manifesto and guide to bring American writing back from the cages of the academy and release the power of language into the streets and wildernesses where the wild things live. If you love to read, if you like to write, you have finally come to the right place.”

“Stephen Harrod Buhner has counted ‘beacoup coups’ in penning Ensouling Language. As history almost unanimously attests, writing well about writing is at best a rarity, perhaps mythic, a yeti of sorts. But Buhner’s flair, sage advice, and most of all his passion for writing touches every sentence. The book brings writing to life and will add life to any author’s own words.”

“The American writer, Stephen Harrod Buhner, author of the iconic Ensouling Language: On the Art of Non-fiction and the Writer’s Life - and an inspiration to our editors - also appeals for openness to these wellsprings of creativity. He challenges the arid and mechanical quality of much non-fiction writing, and the danger of much creative writing being afflicted in the same way, because of the formulaic teaching on American MFAs in particular. For Buhner, as for Edward Bond, there is urgent need in our time of writing, in any genre, that - to adapt Buhner’s own words - attempts to extend awareness “further than society wants it to go” - a view strongly endorsed by our editors.”

“The most subversive book on writing I have ever encountered—and the most important.”

“The point Buhner is making is vital: that whatever genre we’re writing, whether we’re a graduate from an MFA program or not, writers must never dissociate from their feelings or the feeling of their words. Given the passionate spirit in which Ensouling Language was written, it is sure to resonate with many readers, and is certainly worth a read by anyone who wishes to become a published author.”

“This is a book I can highly recommend, not only for aspiring writers, but for anyone who wants to engage the world deeply and recognizes the value of words in the exchange.”

“Writing as a mystical experience, a transcendent art-form, is presented by Buhner with all the mystery and inspiration of a personal passion. As he writes about the ability of language to take life on the page, so his own writing quickens, transporting the reader to the realms of poetic spirit. This book is both a tribute to the craft of language and example of the same at its most delicate level. Buhner guides the reader through the process of accessing the necessary mind to write from the heart, and he does so from his own heart-felt devotion to the art. It is both a practical hand-book and mystical treatise, instilled with the spirit of many of the subtlest writers, poets and critics whose approach to writing and life brings to mind the faint scent of incense on the still desert plain”

From The Critics

“Stephen Buhner writes with passion and perception about the entire range of the writer’s experience. He shows us in detail how to write, issues of craft and art, but also how a writer lives--the commitment, the dreaming, the business, the way a writer uncovers secrets on many levels, even how a writer loves and hates.”
John Elder
Ensouling Language is a fierce and generous meditation on the writer’s life. Fierce, because Stephen Buhner goes right at prevailing commercial and academic assumptions about literature. For him, writing is above all a portal into vividness, compassion, and discovery. Generous, because he weaves his own quest as a writer into his reflections about the art of nonfiction. Books, in both the reading and the writing, have absorbed him for a lifetime. And the connections he conveys here are always arresting, sometimes extravagant in their intensity, and very often funny. As a writer and a teacher, I’ve learned more from Buhner’s book than from anything I’ve read about writing since the works of John Gardner and William Stafford. I’m truly grateful to him for having written it.”
David Abram
“I can’t easily imagine a more useful book on the craft of writing. Covering all the steps—from glimpsing a first, furtive idea foraging in the mind’s brambles to tracking that idea and coaxing it to unfurl on the page, from finding the right words to securing the right publisher—this volume also, in the process, transforms your take on the universe. For Buhner brings all his inspired lunacy to bear, illustrating his passionate insights with lively stories and poems and with glimmering nuggets from other authors, fashioning this instructive, how-to book into a breathing compendium of word magic.”
Herbie Brennan
“The most subversive book on writing I have ever encountered—and the most important.”
William Howarth
“If Lao-tzu and Emerson could have a dialogue on writing, they would welcome the company of this remarkable book.”
Daniel Vitalis
"Ensouling Language is Stephen Harrod Buhner at his most spellbinding and enchanted. Every sentence is infused with a livingness that is rare in today's nonfiction. More than simply a book about writing, it is about wielding power—and responsibility—of language itself. Stephen encourages us to breathe the Breath of Life into the words we write, to call forth such a deep richness of meaning that it transmits feeling from the writer to the reader like some otherworldly telepathy. If you can feel you can write, write in this way, turning otherwise empty leaden words into golden Ensouling Language."
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594773822
  • Publisher: Inner Traditions/Bear & Company
  • Publication date: 8/28/2010
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 463
  • Sales rank: 700,261
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephen Harrod Buhner is the author of 13 books of nonfiction and 1 of poetry. His books have been translated into 14 languages and have been nominated for 11 awards, winning 8. A member of PEN and the Authors Guild, he lives in Silver City, New Mexico.

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Read an Excerpt

Ensouling Language

On the Art of Nonfiction and the Writer's Life
By Stephen Harrod Buhner

Inner Traditions

Copyright © 2010 Stephen Harrod Buhner
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781594773822


Chapter Eight
Following Golden Threads


I feel ready to follow even the most trivial hunch.
--William Stafford

The term “golden thread” was coined by William Blake but developed as a theme in writing by the poet William Stafford, someone whose poetry I like very much.

To the alert person, a golden thread may emerge from any ordinary thing and open a doorway into the imaginal, and through it, the mythic. Because no one can know when or where or from what it will emerge, the writer remains attentive to everything that is encountered, always paying close attention to how everything, even the tiniest little thing, feels. Light pours through a window in a particular way, a person moves their body slightly, you enter a summer field and experience it as a property of mind. Something inside those things brushes against you. . . . Ripples flow up from the depths of the unconscious and touch your conscious mind. A particular feeling envelops you and you stop and focus your whole attention on what is right in front of you. Notitia. The touch of a golden thread.

You can begin to follow it then by simply writing down as concretely as you can what you are experiencing, what you are feeling, what you are seeing, hearing, sensing. Bly describes this, brilliantly, as “following the tiny impulses through the meadow of language.” It must be done slowly. Carefully. Feeling your way. Tiny movement by tiny movement.

It is the feeling equivalent of catching the hint of an elusive scent. You lift your nose to the slight breeze, a delicate touching. Seeking. Ah, there. Your feet move of their own accord as you trail what you have sensed through the meadow in front of you. You twist and turn slightly, following where the scent leads, adjusting your movements to the rise and fall of the land through which you walk. Following the scent home. Finding the core that gives rise to it. Following tiny impulses through the meadow of language.

It begins with the simplest of things: A tiny, odd feeling in a social interaction or elephants walking, holding each other’s tail. Anything can become a door into deeper worlds. Stafford comments that “the artist is not so much a person endowed with the luck of vivid, eventful days, as a person for whom any immediate encounter leads by little degrees to the implications always present for anyone anywhere.” Golden threads touch all of us, every day, but most often only artists and children take the time to follow them.

The initial touch of a golden thread is always attended by a specific kind of feeling. Experience will bring trust in that touch and the feeling that accompanies it, familiar recognition at its emergence. You feel the touch of the thing, it captures your attention, then you work to encapsulate it in language. Working to describe it, of course, causes you to step back slightly from the experience itself. You write a line, perhaps several, then you stop and begin to compare what you have written to the feeling that has demanded your attention.

You look at the lines, focus on them with the whole of you, ask yourself “How does it feel?” and a certain emotional tone emerges. Then you step back inside the thread itself and feel it. Then you compare that feeling to the feeling of your written words. You are going for congruency, for identity.

You can get an experience of how this works from a simple exercise. Say you are sitting at a table. Place something on the table in front of you, perhaps a cup or a pen. Look at it intently, at its placing, its orientation with the other things on the table, its relation to you in space. Anchor that location in your memory and experience. Now . . . move it six or seven inches, to a different location on the tabletop.

The goal is to move it back to the exact spot it was in originally. But .. . do it this way: first, move it halfway back and then ask yourself, is this in the same spot? Notice the feeling that arises within you when you ask yourself that question. There will be some sort of uncomfortable feeling, a lack of rightness. Some part of you will say no, but it sends the negation as a particular kind of feeling. It’s not in words. Yet, you know at a deep level something is wrong. This isn’t it. You feel twitchy. It’s wrong. Now, move it a bit closer to the original spot and ask yourself again if this is the right spot. No, it’s not. That part of you is still telling you that something is not right.

Now, finally, move it back to the location in which it began and ask yourself, is it the same? The feeling that comes now is specific. There is a sense of rightness, a kind of yes occurs. Instead of an uncomfortable feeling, there is instead a good one, a kind of internal joy or sense of rightness. . . .

When a writer compares a written line to the experience the line is intended to describe an identical process takes place. You write the line. Then, you touch it and compare it to the golden thread you are following. If it is not right, there is a sense of wrongness, an uncomfortable feeling. So, you change the line. You feel into the meanings that are held in the words. You feel how the words sit with each other. You listen to and feel the sound patterns of each individual word and the sentences they create together. And you make slight adjustments, shifting meaning by altering the container. Micromolecular adjustments. The tiniest of shifts. Now, how does it feel? . . . Eventually, a sense of rightness occurs. A yes comes from the deep self. Ah. This one is done.



Continues...

Excerpted from Ensouling Language by Stephen Harrod Buhner Copyright © 2010 by Stephen Harrod Buhner. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Before Buying This Book xi

I The Touch of a Golden Thread

1 The Bookman 2

2 The Secret All Beginning Writers Want to Know 12

II Inhabiting the Word

3 On the Art of Nonfiction 22

4 You Must Begin with Something Deeper in the Self 35

5 "The Road of Feeling" 51

6 "It Burns the Blood Like Powdered Glass" 62

7 The Skill of Duende 79

8 Following Golden Threads 90

III Dreaming and the Journey to the Imaginal

9 "A Certain Adjustment of Consciousness" 115

10 "The Secret Kinesis of Things" 126

11 Aisthesis 138

12 Synaesthetic Writing and the Beginnings of Analogical Thought 149

13 Analogical Thinking 166

14 The Dreamer and the "Secret Room where Dreams Prowl" 183

15 The Imaginal Realm 209

16 Poesis 223

IV On Technique

The First Draft, Revision, Clariv, and Refinement

17 The First Draft and the Beginnings of Revision 233

18 Problems and Further Revisioning 252

19 Clichéd Thinking and Killing the Genuine 264

20 Hidden Baggage 284

21 Some Subtle Refinements of the Art 302

22 Grammar Nazis and Editors-from-Hell 346

23 Some Final Words on the Writing Life 363

Epilogue 375

The Appendices-On the Business of Writing

Appendix A The People in Publishing and the Business End of the Profession 380

Appendix B The Art of the Book Proposal (Training in the Big Lie) 407

Appendix C Further Reading, Resources, and Recommendations 425

Notes 433

Bibliography 448

Index 457

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