Monday 12 October 2009

BOOK REVIEW: “Writing Begins with the Breath: Embodying your Authentic Voice” by Laraine Herring

If I had to describe this author’s approach to teaching writing in one word, that word would be “unique”. And fascinating. And unusual, practical and useful.

By combining oriental spiritual principles and western writing techniques, Laraine Herring has produced a writing book that finds the perfect balance between craft and creativity.

Perhaps because I do meditation (regularly) and yoga (desultorily), as I worked through this book, the meaning of my authentic voice became real for the first time. The author articulated all the difficulties I have with writer’s block (which some authors say don’t exist) and gave a sensible explanation for it: as writers, every time we write authentically, we brave the depths of our very souls [Pg 16]. Writer’s block is thus a fear-based pattern because, as we write, we don’t know what we’re going to find in our deepest psyche. Writer’s block is that discomfort arising when our writing takes us to places inside ourself that we’d rather avoid [Pg 154]. Too true!

Each of the three sections of the book deals with a critical part of writing. Part 1 describes the tools for growth; Part 2 explores the craft of writing and Part 3 shows us how we must let go our old work and move on to our next story if we are to progress as writers.

The chapters are short and easy to read. There are “Body Breaks” and “Touchstones” scattered at crucial intervals. The former are quick and simple yoga exercises, many of which can be done in the chair, and we are told how these exercises will benefit our writing process. The latter are writing exercises listed at the end of each chapter. But, as with everything in this book, these are not just ordinary writing exercises. They also challenge us to grow as both writers and as individuals.

If you hold onto the goal of publication as the hallmark of your success as a writer, you are giving away your power. [Pg 73]

The above quote is one of the many drops of wisdom the author offers her readers. She also guides us to various sources of writing: the earth, our ancestors and our body. Her advice to listen to voices of our ancestors particularly resonated with me for I, too, hear the call of the ancestral spirits crying down the ages.

Ms Herring’s successful blend of Western writing technique and Eastern philosophy is both innovative and appealing. I can’t help but feel that it has positively transformed both my approach to writing and my view of myself as a writer. This book is a gem well worth adding to your writer’s reference shelf.

If you will enjoy this writing book, you may find my writing tip “The Way of the Warrior” of interest.

Author Laraine Herring’s blog can be found by clicking here.

Buy “Writing Begins with the Breath” at Amazon or Shambhala


Laraine Herring said...

Gosh, Ann! Thank you so much for writing this review! I am glad the book spoke to you. May I link it to my blog?

Just FYI, the follow up to Writing Begins with the Breath is called The Writing Warrior, and will be released in August 2010 from Shambhala.

Thanks so much -- you truly made my morning!


Ann Victor said...

LARAINE: Great to see you here! I'm so excited to read that "Writing Begins with the Breath" has a sequel coming out. "The Writing Warrior" sounds fabulous and I'll definitely keep an eye open for it as it'll be an automatic buy for me! And please do link to the review - I had to restrain myself from gushing, because it was a marvellous experience reading it. I envy your students their teacher! :)

Judith Mercado said...

"every time we write authentically, we brave the depths of our very souls."

Wow. That's what makes writing fun, especially when the resulting revelation is not just for the reader but also for the writer.

A Cuban In London said...

Not only did I find the combination of styles interesting but also the book cover. It conveys so much calm and tranquility. Many thanks for the review.

Greetings from London.

Anita said...

"I can’t help but feel that it has positively transformed both my approach to writing and my view of myself as a writer."...This is the sentence that really sold me. I'll let you know, when I get my hands on this book.

Ann Victor said...

JUDITH: Yes, I know what you mean. My writing often surprises me with what it teaches me about myself.

CUBAN in LONDON: The cover is a good reflection of the content. There is a thread of calm acceptance running through this book which is a nice change from other writing books which sometimes make me despair at ever being published because, after reading them, the task seems monumental. This book makes me feel that - small step by small step - I can improve my writing and let it go in peace.

ANITA: I'l be interested to hear what you think of the book. It reflects a very interesting approach to writing.

Robyn Campbell said...

Good to see you back. I missed you. :)

Letting go is the hardest for me Ann. I want to stay and stay until I finally have to make myself work on something else. Thanks for a great review. This will become a treasured part of my library. All because of you. :)

Ann Victor said...

ROBYN: Letting go is a problem with me too. Hope Christopher is doing well!!

Marilyn Brant said...

This sounds like such a fabulous book, Ann! Thanks for bringing it to our attention. I really like the part about how we're giving our power away if publication is our only goal. I do think writing has to be about something more--about wanting/needing to express something so meaningful to us that we'll fight all the demons of vocabulary and memory and emotion to get it out. I actually think publication is a distraction from that. Makes it harder...

Congrats on the work you've done on your writing/voice while reading this! You've made me really want to get a copy of it, too :).

Ann Victor said...

MARILYN: It's interesting that you point out that beng published makes it harder for an author to focus authentic witing. Makes me realise that being unpubbed does have it's advantages - one has the freedom to write what one wants to!!

A Cuban In London said...

Ann, I don't know whether you read foreing newspapers online, or maybe get the hard copy in SA. I read The Guardian and The Observer regularly - the latter comes out on Sunday and it is the former's sister paper - but at The Observer there's a very good columnist called Robert McCrum who writes about literature. I recommend him. I haven't got any link here to give you but if you go to and click on Observer, or maybe, or just google it. It is a pleasure to read his columns every Sunday.

Many thanks.

Greetings from London.

Ann Victor said...

CUBAN in LONDON: Thanks for the heads-up on the Robert McCrum column in The Observer. We do get hard copies of foreign papers here, but they're horrendously expensive (the forex rate doesn't favour the ZAR) so we tend to keep up to date with foreign news via BBC World, Al Jazeera, Euronews etc on TV and as I can't stand CNN (irrational,I know!) I get the New York Times on-line. Will definitely bookmark the Oberver for future browsing though! Thanks again! :)