Writing Begins with the Breath:
Embodying Your Authentic Voice

by Laraine Herring

Shambhala, 2007. ISBN 978-1590304730.
Reviewed by Mary Ann Moore
Posted on 11/26/2007

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Creative Life

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 discover what that is. You may already know about craft, grammar, and storytelling. If you don't know about the "how-to", I say start with this book to get in touch with the process (opposed to the product). Herring is a gentle and wise guide through the process of opening your mind and heart to the world and your work with wonder and awe.

"Deep writing comes from our bodies, from our breath, and from our ability to remain solid in the places that scare us," Herring says. The term also refers to the connection or pathway we cultivate between our heads and our bodies. Herring offers breath and body exercises throughout the book to help readers find the space between the inhalation and exhalation where deep writing lives. That place, she says, is "between the doing and the dreaming, our place of power, of mystery, and of authenticity."

Part I is about "Focusing the Mind" and begins with a chapter on "risk." From my own experience, I know there needs to be some urgency in a piece of work to keep me going. There must be something I need to uncover. Herring describes writing as "passion and discovery." How true! She ends each chapter with "touchstones," which are lively prompts for your own deep writing practice.

From the one-word chapter titles of Part One such as risk, authenticity, humility, curiosity, empathy, acceptance, and relationship, Herring moves on to Part Two and "The Deep Writing Process." The section begins with "Self-Awareness." This is a pre-writing stage of asking yourself why you write or don't write. In her chapter called "Process vs. Product", Herring says writing is not a task to be accomplished; rather, it is a relationship to be nurtured and cultivated throughout our lives. I think that is the most important aspect of this book—that writing and all forms of creativity really become a continual process of uncovering with the constant practice of showing up.

Herring is a writer of fiction and non-fiction and has experienced what she writes about. Along the way, she shares anecdotes from that experience, some of which is from the classroom as she has been both student and teacher. I especially enjoyed her touchstones at the end of the chapter called "Shadow-Boxing." Most of them are about your creative work and what themes emerge in it. Herring makes many references to novel writing. When she gets to Part Three, she helps readers get in touch with that state of having finished writing a novel. This is a place of being in between projects and involves a process of letting go.

Writing is a sedentary practice, or has been until now. The many "body breaks" Herring offers for calming, imagining, and letting go are constant reminders to come back to the breath and an awareness of the body where so many of our stories live.

Laraine Herring teaches creative writing in Prescott, Arizona. She holds an MFA in creative writing and an MA in counselling psychology. Herring has developed numerous workshops that use writing as a tool for healing grief and loss. She is the author of Lost Fathers: How Women Heal from Adolescent Father Loss, and Monsoons, a book of short stories. Her fiction has won the Barbara Deming Award for Women, and her non-fiction work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. You can learn more about her on her website.

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