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Writing Begins with the Breath
Writing Begins with the Breath: Embodying Your Authentic Voice
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BOOK DETAILS

  • Paperback
  • 9781590304730

Laraine gives an overview of the book:

In this distinctive guide to the craft of writing, author Laraine Herring shows us how to tune into our bodies and connect with our emotions so that our writing becomes an expression of our full beings, rather than just an intellectual exercise. With warmth and wisdom, Herring offers a path to discovering "deep writing"—prose that is unique, expressive, and profoundly authentic. Lessons and imaginative exercises show you how to: stay with your writing when your mind or body starts to pull you away; explore the five senses in your writing; and approach your writing without judgment. Writing Begins with the Breath will open up a whole world of creativity for people who may not have considered themselves writers before, while also providing keen insights into the craft for seasoned writers.
Read full overview »

In this distinctive guide to the craft of writing, author Laraine Herring shows us how to tune into our bodies and connect with our emotions so that our writing becomes an expression of our full beings, rather than just an intellectual exercise. With warmth and wisdom, Herring offers a path to discovering "deep writing"—prose that is unique, expressive, and profoundly authentic. Lessons and imaginative exercises show you how to: stay with your writing when your mind or body starts to pull you away; explore the five senses in your writing; and approach your writing without judgment.

Writing Begins with the Breath will open up a whole world of creativity for people who may not have considered themselves writers before, while also providing keen insights into the craft for seasoned writers.

Read an excerpt »

Excerpted from the Introduction: The Seeker, the Sought, and the Space In Between (c) 2007, Shambhala

 

In the winter of 2003, I was accepted into a three-week solitary writer’s residency on the Oregon coast. The brochure said the cabin was “modern,” but that the resident should be comfortable with solitude in the wilderness. The cabin had electricity, a stove, a shower. The heat came from the wood stove, which came with three single-spaced pages of operations instructions. I could follow directions. I didn’t anticipate any problems. I had lived in Phoenix since 1981 and was eager for water, cold, and clouds.

I arrived on December 21 to sun and more shades of green than I had ever thought possible. The earth was so damp it sunk down under my boot, the softest carpet I had ever stepped on. The unfamiliar smell of damp, decaying wood and leaves awakened something primal in me. Bugs lived in the tree stumps, and salmon still swam in Soapstone Creek, which ran directly beside the cabin. The rush of the winter water was louder than television static. I had not seen moving fresh water since 1980, just before I moved to Phoenix.

It’s hard to explain what living in Phoenix is like. Many people move there for the weather, and while it’s true you won’t shovel snow off your roof, you will soon find yourself trapped in your air-conditioned house or car eight months out of the year. You will find yourself buying very expensive window treatments to keep the sun out of your house. You’ll create your own hibernation den in bright sunlight.

As oppressive as the weather is in Phoenix, one thing it is not is a consideration. Everyone knows it will be sunny and hot, except for the four months when it is sunny and not quite as hot. Weather—the moods of the earth—is not a factor in the lives of Phoenicians.

The third day I was in Oregon, it began to snow along the coast. In those first three days, I had seen more water falling from the sky, rushing under bridges, cresting in the ocean, than I had seen in the previous twenty-four years. Water was amazing. It was every bit as powerful as my beloved fire, yet it had the quiet, patient strength to sculpt rock. Locals told me the snow would stop soon. They told me, “It never snows here!” At first, it was beautiful. I was confident it would indeed stop soon because I had planned several trips to Portland to pay homage to Powell’s, the largest used bookstore in the United States.

Snow still fell the day I planned to go to Portland. An unfamiliar quiet hung in the woods. In order to get to Portland, I had to travel through two mountain passes I later learned were known as “snow zones.” I didn’t think it would be a problem. Portland was only seventy-two miles away and it never snowed in Portland. I decided to go, even though it was snowing, because it was the day I had scheduled to go, and the weather had never before dictated anything to me. I packed my coffee, my cell phone, and my Mapquest directions to Powell’s. On the way to the car, I slipped, for the third time in as many days, on the icy steps. My head led the way, until my feet slipped and I fell, again, forced to remember I walked on the earth by the grace of the earth, not by the will of my Ego.

The compact rental car was frozen. I stood in front of it, gloved hand awkwardly holding my cup of coffee, as if I could will the ice to melt away from the locks. I had never encountered such a thing. I must have assumed the snow would somehow fall around the rental car so my passage would be clear and easy.

By the time I got into the car and onto the winding highway, the snowfall was heavier. “It never lasts by the coast,” the brochure said. I was holding on to that belief, even though I couldn’t keep the wipers moving fast enough to see. I reached the turn-off to US-26 after forty-five minutes. The fact that I had managed to travel only seven miles in forty-five minutes did not deter me. No one else was out. This did not deter me either. I turned right, past a one-stop shop that had closed due to the weather, and headed east to Portland, visions of floors of used books dancing in front of my eyes.

The first thing I learned was that in Phoenix, I must have driven with only half of myself present. Roads are always dry, safe, and well maintained. The second thing I learned is that cars take longer to stop on ice than on dry pavement. I knew this intellectually, but until the awareness moved into my body, it didn’t really sink in. The snowfall increased. I couldn’t see the road anymore. The evergreen trees that lined the highway were heavy with snow of the kind I had only seen in movies. The yellow, diamond-shaped sign with the words “SNOW ZONE” on it was covered with snow, revealing only “S W NE” to drivers. I kept waiting for the snow to stop simply because I wanted it to.
I witnessed my psyche split and my Ego take over all operational activities. It chattered like a monkey and took on the form of a cartoonish reptile. My Ego was going to Powell’s. It chanted the mantra over and over. “Powell’s. Book Mecca. Powell’s. Book Mecca.” It was going whether it killed us both or not. “Powell’s. Book Mecca.” It salivated. Money to spend. Books to touch. The scent of stories to inhale in the dust of the stacks.

Somewhere, in a calm detached corner of my being, I said, “You are going to crash the car, and we are going to freeze to death in a ravine before help arrives.” My Ego responded by following even closer to the car in front of us. The car in front braked. My Ego braked and the car spun. We were facing oncoming traffic. I held my breath. “Turn around and go back,” I whispered. But, ever true to its mission, my Ego turned the car back to the east and kept going.

Apparently, I had entered the never ending snow zone. I looked at my odometer. Four miles. I remembered something my mother said when we would walk along the beach in North Carolina. “Don’t use up all your energy on the walk forward. You have to remember to get back.” If I turned around now, I’d have to go back through everything I had just crossed. How safe could that possibly be? I began to think of the snow zone as the great birth canal. Treacherous. Wet and slippery. But I would emerge on the other side new and fresh and surrounded by three floors of books. The Universe intended for me to go to Powell’s. It had delivered me so far. It would take me to the end.
Another three miles and thirty minutes passed. The awareness began to creep in that I might not make it to Portland that day even if I didn’t have an accident. Seventy-two miles at three miles per hour is a lot of hours. I should turn back. The visions of books dancing in my head took on vocal chords—seductive sirens of the printed page. Their energy—a white light of road safety and skid-free stops—would guide me safely to Powell’s. I had turned the radio off to better hear the machinations of my Ego, so I didn’t hear the news that it was snowing in Portland (which it never does.) I didn’t know Portland had shut down its public transportation system for the first time in twenty-three years so that befuddled DOT employees could find chains for the buses. But even if I had known that, I would still have kept going. I know my Fire.

Then came the elk. He just stood there, frozen like my car had been. My Ego and the elk made eye contact. The elk wasn’t moving. So, I thought, it was to be death by elk. I would have laughed if there had been more time. I slammed on the brakes and the car spun around and around, like swirls of marshmallow in cocoa. I ended up nose out in a snow bank. There was no sign of the elk. My Ego cowered in the backseat, strapped in with both seatbelts. The white light and angelic harmonies of the beckoning books had disappeared. I had a half-tank of gas left. The back wheels spun, unable to find traction in the fresh snow. If I turned off the engine, I would freeze to death. It was twenty-eight degrees. I didn’t know how long it would take a Phoenician in one pair of cheap wool socks, a sweatshirt, sweatpants, and four-dollar driving gloves to freeze to death.

My Ego had gone dead silent. I remembered hearing a story on National Public Radio about a woman found in her car in a snowdrift after the spring thaw in North Dakota. She had written on napkins every day she could until she died. She wasn’t found for five months. I was not going to die sixty-one miles from Book Mecca. Surely no faithful disciple would be allowed to come so far, only to perish in frozen water. Rock, paper, scissors. Or in this case, earth, water, fire. Guess what. Frozen water kills fire.

It was only fifteen minutes before friendly Oregon folks with four-wheel-drive stopped and helped me push out of the drift. I pointed the car west, toward the coast, where surely it was not snowing any more, and inched back to my cabin where I was certain I would not be able to light the woodstove, but at least I would be able to use the bathroom.

I saw in that failed trip to Powell’s how much sheer will I had—how much I thought Earth would alter her weather patterns for me, how much my natural pattern, my habit, was to force forward like a bulldozer, whether it made sense or not. And, I saw how much suffering I incurred simply with my mind. I saw in that day why my novel had stagnated, why I was drowning in a sea of English 101 classes and after-school programs, why I had few intimate relationships. I didn’t know how to surrender. I didn’t know how to “be.” I only knew how to “do,” and I knew in that moment that my writing would never breathe on its own if I didn’t learn how to let go.

Sitting alone in a snowstorm for the first time in my life, I realized how out of balance I had become in my writing and in my life. In Oregon, I practiced yoga every day in front of the woodstove. I listened to my mind. I stayed with the discomfort and unfamiliarity of snow piling up around the windows. I stayed with the discomfort of knowing that I did not have the skills necessary to venture out into this weather. I stayed with my loss of control to see where it took me, and I arrived back at the writing process.

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Note from the author coming soon...

About Laraine

Laraine Herring holds an MFA in Creative Writing and an MA in Counseling Psychology. Her stories and essays have been widely anthologized, and her non-fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She has developed numerous workshops that use writing as a method for...

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Published Reviews

May.05.2008

Book Review
Writing Begins with the Breath, Embodying Your Authentic Voice
By Laraine Herring
Shambala, 2007

Destiny dropped this book in my lap just in the nick of time. When I...

May.05.2008

Laraine Herring's book is about the "being" aspect of writing, not just the brain-centered "doing." The practice she describes is "deep writing," and Herring encourages readers to stop long enough to...