Total Immersion

If you’ve ever worked on learning a new language, you’ve no doubt heard about the benefits of “total immersion,” when you intentionally put yourself in an environment where that language is spoken by everyone around you so you can’t wimp out of using it. I experienced near total immersion as a college student and found it extremely effective but also very stressful, at least for the first month.

But today I’m thinking of a different kind of total immersion–immersion in a story. As a reader, I’ve been immersed many times, living the world of the story in my waking hours and dreaming about it at night. One of the most memorable instances was when I read Rosemary Sutcliff’s Arthurian legend retelling, Sword at Sunset. I was a newlywed at the time, and for three days I lived full time in post-Roman Britain, much to the bemusement of my husband.

The book ended tragically, which of course was inevitable given the source material, and I grieved as if I had suffered an actual loss in my life. For two days I was an emotional basket case, bursting into tears almost every time I tried to speak. In a way, I had lived that life with the characters in the book, and I grieved the string of tragedies in the story as if they happened to me.

That’s the mark of a good story, though, isn’t it? When you feel that you’ve gone beyond reading it and have actually lived it, you are in the presence of a true master of the storytelling craft. I would love to reach that level of mastery in my own storytelling.

This past weekend, I received a request from a publisher for a full manuscript of my fantasy novel, The Chelladreen Hope. It was tied up at another publisher for a long time, so I felt I really needed to go through it and see if I could whip it into even better shape. I am constantly learning and improving as a writer, and can now recognize some of my mistakes much better than I could in the past.

Of course, I had to do this revision as quickly as possible, which led to a total immersion experience as a writer. For two and a half days, I lived full time in the world I had created. The good news is, I enjoyed it. Sometimes spending so much time immersed in your own writing can make you hate it! When I finally sent it off, though, I felt bereft. It was hard to walk away from my imaginary world and back into the real one.

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