Books to Enhance Your Writing
“People forget that books are the original internet.” — Maria Popova
There are certain books that — if you give yourself to them as a reader — can help you write your own book. Not only in terms of writing craft, important as that is, but also from musicians, psychologists, healers, and others. And so I have brought together four groups of books for your benefit:
1. Books directly about the writing process. These include:
Becoming a Writer, by Dorothea Brande
Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, by Natalie Goldberg
Starting Your Book: A Guide to Navigating the Blank Page by Attending to What’s Inside You, by Naomi Rose
From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction, by Robert Olen Butler
Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing True, by Elizabeth Berg
2. Books to help you be with yourself in a good, true, self-trusting way (all of which will affect how you write and who you are as you write). These include:
Make Peace with Your Mind: How Mindfulness and Compassion Can Free You from Your Inner Critic, by Mark Coleman
Living from the Heart: Heart Rhythm Meditation for Energy, Clarity, Peace, Joy, and Inner Power, by Puran Bair
Cherishment: A Psychology of the Heart, by Elisabeth Young-Bruehl and Faith Bethelard
3. Books that can help you cultivate your artistry, though they are not specifically centered on writing. These include:
The Listening Book: Discovering Your Own Music, by W. A. Matthieu
What to Listen for in Music, by Aaron Copland
4. Books by some of my clients whose wisdom and discoveries can bear fruit in your writing. These include:
Gifts of the Mandala: A Guided Journey of Self-Discovery, by Clare Goodwin
Essential Speaking: The 7-Step Guide for Finding Your Real Voice, by Doreen Hamilton
In all cases, they are nourishment for your being, in some form or another. As Natalie Goldberg writes in Writing Down the Bones:
“If you read good books, when you write, good books will come out of you. Maybe it's not quite that easy, but if you want to learn something, go to the source. . . . Dogen, a great Zen master, said, ‘If you walk in the mist, you get wet.’ So just listen, read, and write. Little by little, you will come closer to what you need to say and express it through your voice.”
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Books about the Writing Process
IN THIS SECTION: Becoming a Writer, by Dorothea Brande / Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, by Natalie Goldberg / Starting Your Book: A Guide to Navigating the Blank Page by Attending to What’s Inside You, by Naomi Rose / From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction, by Robert Olen Butler / Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing True, by Elizabeth Berg
BECOMING A WRITER, by Dorothea Brande. (New York: MacMillan; 1934, reissued 1996; Foreword by Malcolm Bradbury) / Genre: Creative Writing (Fiction — but I think it can help to enliven your nonfiction writing, as well)
NOTE: Although I link to a free PDF version of this book on my “Resources / Inspirations” page, I think it is well worth owning your own print copy of this classic book on writing. First published in 1934, it has stood the test of time, as fresh now as ever it was when the author penned it in all her wisdom and optimism.
The aspiring writer, writes Dorothea Brande in this evergreen book,
“. . . may never dare to bracket himself for a moment with the immortals of writing, but the disclaimer that genius cannot be taught, which most teachers and authors seem to feel must be stated as early and abruptly as possible, is the death knell of his real hope. He had longed to hear that there was some magic about writing, and to be initiated into the brotherhood of authors. This book, I believe, will be unique; for I think he is right. I think there is such a magic, and that it is teachable. This book is about the writer’s magic.
This is a gentle yet bracing, encouraging book that requires our commitment to our writing. But it gives us nourishment for making the commitment. In distinguishing between creative genuineness and pose, Brande draws — in the section called “Cultivating a Writer’s Temperament” — a line between “false and real artists”:
“There is an earlier and healthier idea of the artist than that . . . of the artist as a monster made up of one part vain child, one part suffering martyr, and one part boulevardier, [which] is a legacy to us from the last [19th] century, and a remarkably embarrassing inheritance. [This healthier] idea of the genius [is of] a man more versatile, more sympathetic, more studious than his fellows, more catholic in his tastes, less at the mercy of the ideas of the crowd. . . . The author of genius does keep till his last breath the spontaneity, the ready sensitiveness, of a child . . . the ability to respond freshly and quickly to new scenes, and to old scenes as though they were new; to see traits and characteristics as though each were new-minted from the hand of God instead of sorting them quickly into dusty categories and pigeonholing them without wonder or surprise. . . . This freshness of response is vital to the author’s talent.”
And in the section called “The Two Sides of a Writer,” Brande offers us a way to work fruitfully with what might otherwise be conflicting pulls within us by including the artist’s necessary opposite polarity:
“But there is another element to [the artist’s] character, fully as important to his success. It is adult, discriminating, temperate, and just. It is the side of the artisan, the workman, and the critic rather than the artist. It must work continually with and through the emotional and childlike side, or we have no work of art. If either element of the artist’s character gets too far out of hand the result will be bad work, or no work at all. The writer’s first task is to get these two elements of his nature into balance, to combine their aspects into one integrated character. And the first step toward that happy result is to split them apart for consideration and training!”
This book helps us become conscious of these two sides of a writer and learn to use them appropriately and well. As the Foreword to the book by Malcolm Bradbury puts it:
“This isn’t a book about How to Write a Novel, nor how to write any particular kind of book at all. It’s about what must happen before that: the mysterious process of first becoming a writer, acquiring the writerly instincts. . . . Making the unconscious conscious, and making the conscious tap the elements that are less than conscious — is an essential part not just of the process of writing, but becoming a writer in the first place. . . . One of the most truthful thoughts in this very truthful book is the repeated implication that only part of the business of writing can ever be consciously taught. Most has to be discovered, from within. . . .
“Writing is will and imagination; it depends both on unbidden impulses and on careful, considered dedication to the tools of language, the techniques of composition, the powers of art. . . . The hardest, the loneliest, the most uncertain time is at the beginning, when we are trying to become a writer. As a wise, sensible and honest guidebook to that — and the continued problems and possibilities of writing, once becoming has turned into being — Dorothea Brande’s book simply can’t be bettered.”
Becoming a Writer is a marvelous book, redolent with its author’s wisdom and presence. Just consider the contents of this book.
1. THE FOUR DIFFICULTIES: The Difficulty of Writing at All / The “One-Book Author” / The Occasional Writer / The Uneven Writer / The Difficulties not in Technical Equipment. //
2. WHAT WRITERS ARE LIKE: Cultivating a Writer’s Temperament / False and Real Artists / The Two Sides of a Writer / “Dissociation” Not Always Psychopathic / Everyday Examples of a Dual Personality / The Slough of Despond //
3. THE ADVANTAGES OF DUPLICITY: The Process of Story Formation / The “Born Writer” / Unconscious and Conscious / The Two Persons of the Writer / The Transparent Barrier / Keep Your Own Counsel / Your “Best Friend and Severest Critic” / The Right Recreation / Friends and Books / The Arrogant Intellect / The Two Selves Not at War / The First Exercise //
4. INTERLUDE: ON TAKING ADVICE: Save Your Energy / Imagination Versus Will in Changing Habits / Displacing Old Habits / A Demonstration / The Right Frame of Mind //
5. HARNESSING THE UNCONSCIOUS: Wordless Daydreams/ Toward Effortless Writing / Double Your “Output” //
6. WRITING ON SCHEDULE: Engaging to Write / A Debt of Honor / Extending the Exercise / Succeed, or Stop Writing //
7. THE FIRST SURVEY: Reading Your Work Critically / The Pitfalls of Imitation / Discovering Your Strength / A Footnote For Teachers //
8. THE CRITIC AT WORK ON HIMSELF: A Critical Dialogue / Be Specific in Suggestions / Correction After Criticism / The Conditions of Excellence / Dictating a Daily Regime //
9. READINGS AS A WRITER: Read Twice / Summary Judgment and Detailed Analysis / The Second Reading / Points of Importance //
10. ON IMITATION: Imitating Technical Excellences / How to Spend Words / Counteracting Monotony / Pick up Fresh Words //
11. LEARNING TO SEE AGAIN: The Blinders of Habit / Causes of Repetitiousness / Recapturing Innocence of Eye / A Stranger in the Streets / The Rewards of Virtue //
12: THE SOURCE OF ORIGINALITY: The Elusive Quality / Originality Not Imitation / The “Surprise Ending” / Honesty, the Source of Originality / Trust Yourself / “Your Anger and My Anger”/ One Story, Many Versions / Your Inalienable Uniqueness / A Questionnaire //
13. THE WRITER’S RECREATION: Busman’s Holidays / Wordless Recreation / Find Your Own Stimulus / A Variety of Time-Fillers //
14. THE PRACTICE STORY: A Recapitulation/ The Contagiousness of Style/ Find Your Own Style / The Story in Embryo /The Preparatory Method / Writing Confidently / A Finished Experiment / Time for Detachment / The Critical Reading //
15. THE GREAT DISCOVERY: The Five-Finger Exercises of Writing / The Root of Genius / Unconscious, Not Subconscious / The Higher Imagination / Come to Terms with the Unconscious / The Artistic Coma and the Writer’s Magic //
16. THE THIRD PERSON, GENIUS: The Writer Not Dual but Triple / The Mysterious Faculty / Releasing Genius / Rhythm, Monotony, Silence / A Floor to Scrub //
17. THE WRITER’S MAGIC: X Is to Mind as Mind is to Body / Hold Your Mind Still / Practice in Control / The Story Idea as the Object / The Magic in Operation / Inducing the “Artistic Coma” / Valedictory //
18. IN CONCLUSION: SOME PROSAIC POINTERS: Typewriting / Have Two Typewriters / Stationery / At the Typewriter / Write! / For Coffee Addicts / Coffee Versus Mate; Reading / Book and Magazine Buying //
Wouldn’t these chapters add both wings and gravitas to your writing life? This is a great, evergreen book. I deeply recommend it.
WRITING DOWN THE BONES: Freeing the Writer Within, by Natalie Goldberg. (Boston: Shambhala; Anniversary edition, 2016) Genre: Any.
In this now-classic book on writing, Goldberg brings her characteristic honesty, humor, and Zen perspective to the act of writing. She addresses getting free of the inner critic in part by keeping the pen moving fast enough to outrun the internal and premature editor (staying with your “first thoughts”). A strong advocate of writing as listening (“90 percent listening," to be precise), she connects the grammar of writing with one’s inner state (e.g., using verbs for sentence-energy). As for the doubts around writing that arise almost inevitably, she counsels: “Doubt is torture; don’t listen to it!” In addition to writing to bring forth a desired project, Goldberg views writing as a practice that helps us comprehend the value of our lives. The chapters titles suggest the tone of the book — for example, “Writing Is Not a McDonald’s Hamburger,” “Man Eats Car,” and “Be an Animal.”
This is a good book for developing writing muscles and a more spacious way to hold the process.
STARTING YOUR BOOK: A Guide to Navigating the Blank Page by Attending to What’s Inside You, by Naomi Rose. (Oakland, CA: Rose Press, 2011) / Genre: Any
Did you ever wish you could wave a magic wand and end up with a book you’ve written (that you love)? You can. The magic wand is your compassionate awareness of the treasures that lie in wait inside you. Starting Your Book will activate this magic wand.
This is my book; of course I want you to read it. Initially, I wrote it because for many years, the only kinds of books on writing I could find focused on the craft alone. I wanted to find out how to pay attention, fruitfully and respectfully, to what was in me — to learn to know it, trust it, make good use of it. As often happens when someone needs a book that doesn’t exist in the way they need it, I ended up writing it myself. Its wisdom has become a touchstone for me, and for others as well, based on reader feedback.
The essential message? Writing your book is not a formula you need to learn. It’s an organic growth that can only come out of you. Being present to yourself and coming to know yourself as a creative person (and the kind of creative person you naturally are, what opens you) infuses your experience of writing and the writing itself. As you become more acquainted with what’s inside you, writing your book will flow more easily, surprising and frequently delighting you with what — and who — you find.
Starting Your Book will:
Encourage you that there’s a way to write a book that actually provides joy and satisfaction as an intrinsic part of the process.
Assure you that if you are called to write a book, you already have within you what you need in order to do it.
Connect you to your own unique creative pathways: those inspiring openings native to you, which ~ once you make room for them ~ you can cultivate and turn to again and again. (For you are a creative being by nature.)
Inspire you that you are essential to writing the book rooted in your heart, and that this presence is your real gift to yourself and your readers.
Support you to take this profound inward journey, which will produce a book that you will be glad to have written and to offer as a treasure to the world.
“I'm happy to acknowledge Naomi Rose's important influence on my writing life as I have others in the past: Julia Cameron, Natalie Goldberg, and Eric Maisel, to name a few. I've since come to regard (and treasure) her as a writing mentor.” — Chris Dunmire, Creative Director & Publisher, Creativity Portal (included in “Writers Digest 101 best sites”)
As art therapist Shelley Klammer writes in the book’s Foreword:
“When you read something true, it feels like love, or gratitude, or a connection to something larger. This is how I feel when I read Starting Your Book. The deeper place that Naomi’s words emerge from serve to invite and induct me into a more heart-full and connected place within my own writing. Her book has been a solace and a reminder that I do have something to say. We all do."
Starting Your Book is available directly on this site. Click here to learn more about the book. Or click the button below to purchase it.
FROM WHERE YOU DREAM: The Process of Writing Fiction, by Robert Olen Butler (Pulitzer Prize Winner) (NY: Grove Press, reprinted 2006) / Genre: Fiction (but nonfiction writers can also learn from this approach)
This is a deep, unusual book about writing. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author has been an actor and teacher as well as a writer. This shows, and affords us a fascinating look into inhabiting the characters and situations that we seek to bring to life through writing. Butler’s focus is on fiction, but his counsel also can apply to nonfiction (which often needs an infusion of the kind of detail called forth from a felt sense in the body and the imagination). To be able to move freely from a solely mind-bounded perspective to the bodily experience of what is available in the moment — and being able to call that up in the writing as a lived, felt experience — is the in which direction this author points us. He writes:
“Artists are intensely aware of the chaos implied by the moment-to-moment sensual experience of human beings on this planet. But they also, paradoxically, have an intuition that behind the chaos there is meaning; behind the flux of moment-to-moment experience there is a deep and abiding order.
“There are lots of people who believe there is order in the universe . . . but the artist is comfortable only with going back to the way in which the chaos is first encountered — that is, moment to moment through the sense. Then, selecting from that sensual moment-to-moment experience, picking out bits and pieces of it, reshaping it, she recombines it into an object that a reader in turn encounters as if it were experience itself: a record of moment-to-moment sensual experience, an encounter as direct as those we have with life itself. Only in this way, by shaping and ordering experience into an art object, is the artist able to express her deep intuition of order. . . .
"Art does not come from ideas. Art does not come from the mind. Art comes from the place where you dream. Art comes from your unconscious; it comes from the white-hot center of you. . . . Even if you can by force of will insert some nicely observed sense details into the work, you'll find the work moving toward analysis and description and generalization and abstraction when, in fact, in the work of art the most important moments are the most sensual of all, the most in the moment."
The author gives some very specific guidelines for writing a novel this way. Whether it is a novel you are writing or a book of nonfiction, your range of possibilities — within yourself as much as on the page — can benefit from this sensory-based approach, You may wish to try them out, or not; either way, this book will call up a different kind of intelligence in you, bringing you to the page in a more embodied way, enlivening you as well as your writing.
ESCAPING INTO THE OPEN: The Art of Writing True, by Elizabeth Berg (New York: Harper Perennial, 2012) / Genre: Fiction (but nonfiction writers can also learn from this approach)
Elizabeth Berg, one of my delightedly favorite contemporary novelists, does “write true.” I have read almost every one of her books (she has published over 20, many of them award-winners), and almost always I come away nourished and glad to be a human being. Her novels tend to be intimate and small in scale (though with a wide range of situations that unfold), so her advice in this book about how to write something “made up” is credible, because it springs from her own highly nuanced capacity for noticing. She writes:
“Try to be ever observant, to look beyond surfaces. Let yourself feel everything that you can. When you listen to the way people talk, hear the phrasing, the accent, the pauses, the pacing, the words beneath the words. As a writer, you should have a sticky soul; the act of continually taking things in should be as much a part of you as your hair color.”
And as for being true to oneself:
“But how do you get out of your own way, really, get your self off your shoulder? How do you become less self-conscious and more accepting of your own creative process? I can only describe it as a leap of faith, a process of letting go and giving yourself over to an inner guide. It's a lot like falling in love, that scary letting go and learning to trust in something outside yourself. But once that kind of trust is achieved, something else, something deep inside you, takes over when you write. It is at that point when you really do begin to feel that you are just the typist. And it is at that point when you start to feel terrific, because honestly, it feels like magic. I think it probably is.”
I also appreciate that — in these days, where writers are exhorted to have a market niche in mind before even starting to write their book — writing a book — she advises writing to please yourself.
“When you're writing, worry only about how you feel about what's appearing on the page, not the opinions of others you've heard talking about writing. Consider only this: What are you trying to say? How does it feel, the way you are trying to say it? Does it feel right? Does it please you? That's it. No one else should be in your head when you write--not your editor, not your lover, not your readers.”
This book has the same intimate, good-humored nature as appears in her novels. And she gives good, specific advice about elements of writing (e.g., plot, voice, characterization) as well as the writing process (e.g., having a daily routine, getting unstuck). If you find writing prompts of use, you’ll have enough in this book to last you at least half a year.
Berg’s view is that writing can — and must — be an act of love. It had been so for her, for years. But then, shortly before beginning this book, she went into a slump, uncharacteristically assailed by fear and self-doubt. Not finding a book about writing that would pluck her from this hole, she decided she needed to write her own. Escaping into the Open is the result. (It worked. She fell back in love with writing again.)
I find this view of writing as love so necessary, and so in harmony with (at my best) my own perspective. Only love can invite the veils to part; can bring the writer to the final words, “the end,” with a sense of having been somewhere valuable, found something ineffably important. Escaping into the Open is a door you may well wish to go through.
Note: To watch a video of Elizabeth Berg on this website, speaking and reading most irresistibly from her work — click here. And to receive the plentiful nourishment Escaping into the Open —
2. Books to Help You Be with Yourself in an Authentic, Loving, Masterful Way
Because who you are within yourself when you write makes a difference to your writing and your being.
IN THIS SECTION: Make Peace with Your Mind: How Mindfulness and Compassion Can Free You from Your Inner Critic, by Mark Coleman / Living from the Heart: Heart Rhythm Meditation for Energy, Clarity, Peace, Joy, and Inner Power, by Puran Bair / Cherishment: A Psychology of the Heart, by Elisabeth Young-Bruehl and Faith Bethelard
MAKE PEACE WITH YOUR MIND: How Mindfulness and Compassion Can Free You from Your Inner Critic, by Mark Coleman. (Novato, CA: New World Library, 2016)
The “inner critic” is the downfall of many a writer, both those who are highly experienced as well as new. Its tendency to rear up at the least movement of excitement or confidence in our hearts about our writing projects can slay the best of intentions, the most beautiful of aspirations. Because we tend to believe these inner, critical voices, we don’t have tools for distinguishing between helpful pointers and demolishing self-judgments. This compassionate, wise book charts the origin and destructive patterns of the inner critic — and gives us ways to diminish its power and connect with the fount of goodness and trust within us that is realer than anything the critic may level at us.
With a lovely, compassionate Foreword by Buddhist teacher Tara Brach, this book’s chapters include:
PART I: THE CRITIC: THE BIG PICTURE: 1. Change Is Possible: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Choice // 2. You Are Not Alone: The Epidemic of Self-Judgment // 3. Impostor Syndrome: If They Really Knew Who I am. . . . // 4. The Thief of Peace: The Critic as the Cause of Low Self-Esteem // 5. You Are Not Your Fault: Not Taking Your Thoughts Personally // 6. How Did I Get Here? The Origin and Function of the Critic // 7. In the Critic’s Defense: Understanding the Critic’s Point of View // 8. From Judgment to Discernment: Mistaken Loyalty to the Critic //
PART II: UNDERSTANDING SELF JUDGMENT: 9. It’s About You, Stupid! How the Critic Attacks Your Innate Value // 10. The Mantra of “Not Enough” // 11. 20/20 Hindsight: How the Critic Fuels Regret // 12. The Inner Boardroom: Understanding the Voices in Your Head // 13. The Critic’s Revolving Door: What Goes Out Must Go In // 14. The Impact of the Critic: How Judgment Affects Us // 15. It’s All Your Fault: Understanding the Critic in Relationships //
PART III: HOW TO WORK MINDFULLY WITH THE CRITIC: 16. Mindfulness: The Power of Awareness // 17. Hello Judgments: Realizing Judgments Are Just Thoughts // 18. Teflon Mind: The Power of Nonidentification // 19. Keep It in the Family: Recognizing the Origins of the Critic // 20. The Joke Is on You: Seeing the Funny Side of the Critic // 21. Reality Check: Are Your Judgments Really True? // 22. Sorry, I’m Not Interested: Living with Disinterest in the Critic //
PART IV: THE POWER OF LOVE: 23. Befriending Yourself: You Are Not Your Enemy // 24. The Power of Vulnerability: The Hidden Strength of the Heart // 25. The Power of Love: Turning from Self-Hatred to Self-Kindness // 26. Transforming Pain: Moving from Self-Harm to Self-Compassion // 27. Giving Up Hope of a Better Past: From Self-Blame to Self-Forgiveness //
PART V: BEYOND THE CRITIC: 28. Inclining Toward Happiness: Paying Attention to the Good // 29. Who Are You? Seeing the Good in Others // 30. Inner Peace: A Life Beyond the Critic // 31. The Critic Toolbox: Defending Yourself against Judgments
Read this book to free yourself from your inner critic and get your true inner Friend onboard with your writing, and your life.
LIVING FROM THE HEART: Heart Rhythm Meditation for Energy, Clarity, Peace, Joy, and Inner Power, by Puran Bair. (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1998).
There is a simple yet almost miraculous power available through our very own heartbeat! Learning and working with its rhythms can bring about the inner states we long for, and those will enable us to move through life in a way that will bring us the results we desire. This innovative, Sufi-based meditation method for improving daily life can be applied to improve physical health, enhance intuition, concentrate personal power — and, by extension (though not specifically addressed by the author), help you write the book you yearn to bring through. Whether you are a beginning or an experienced meditator, learning to work with your natural heart-rhythm will help you to write from the trustworthiness of your heart.
As the book puts it:
“The one who is led by the breath is the slave of life, and the one who controls breath is the master of life. The words ‘led by breath’ mean that it is the breath, its speed and its change into different elements and into different directions, which conducts all the affairs of man’s life. Man, ignorant of the fact, is led by the breath and experiences conditions in life as they happen to come, and therefore life becomes not his kingdom but his prison. When man becomes aware of this truth he wishes to gain control of his thoughts, feelings, passions, and of his affairs.”
And, quoting the Sufi master Hazrat Inayat Khan:
“Realize that you are a participant in all the situations of your life, and that your participation changes the outcome of everything that happens. Nothing is happening ‘to’ you; everything is happening ‘with’ you. You are fully involved, and your every breath, especially the way you breathe, is one of the forces that determines what happens. Keep your breath flowing evenly to dispel feelings of anxiety, powerlessness, and fear. . . . Life is a flow, like a river. There must be taking in and giving out. This cycle works best when the inflow and outflow are even.”
The book has four parts, each with readable, relevant chapters: Part I: “How Heart Rhythm Practice Works”; Part II: “The Practice”; Part III: “The Elements of the Heart”; and Part IV: Continuing Your Practice for a Lifetime”
What a simple, doable, though little-realized, way to connect to your true nature — when writing your book, and in living your life.
CHERISHMENT: A Psychology of the Heart, by Elisabeth Young-Bruehl and Faith Bethelard (New York: The Free Press, 2000)
A most unusual and deeply readable book about the kind, warm, tender, affectionate love that babies expect before they can speak of it, and that, as adults, we all desire our whole lives long (even though we don't often acknowledge or even understand our need for this "cherishment"). Their book is a rare effort to explore that need, to create a "psychology of the heart."
In fact, the notion of cherishment was not even known to the western world until the authors, both psychologists, discovered it and brought it forth. Instead, it was implicit in the Japanese worldview. And when Bethelard came upon a book, The Fault, by Hungarian psychoanalyst Michael Balint, a contemporary of Freud, and read about the work an unknown Japanese psychiatrist, T. Doi, she (and soon, her co-author as well) recognized that here was something so important that it would be worth years of their life to pursue further and make known. In a chapter called “Primary Love, Balint wrote that, according to this T. Doi::
“. . . there exists in Japanese a very simple, everyday word, amaeru . . . denoting '‘to wish or to expect to be loved’ in the sense of primary love. Amae is the noun derived from it, while the adjective amai means ‘sweet.’ These words are so common that ‘indeed the Japanese find it hard to believe that there is no word for amaeru in the European languages.’”
After the authors made this discovery, the notion of “cherishment” began to pervade both their inner and professional lives as they sought to understand what it is, why it is missing from western culture, the deprivations adults as well as children experience in its absence, and how it might be embraced and integrated. But far from being a “how-to” book, this book reads like the most intimate of stories, including levels of psychological as well as personal, image-laden understandings. Reading it is hardly an exercise in sterile intellectual adventure, but an exploration of the heart. As the Preface puts it:
“What we offer in this book is a way of thinking about a basic human need — a need for affection, for the kind of love we call ‘cherishment,’ a love that goes heart to heart, telepathically. We offer a way of thinking about how the need for cherishing affection appears first in the relation between a preverbal infant and the infant’s caretakers and then, from this beginning, in all other human relations. You already know from your own experience, your own need, what we are gong to be talking about: cherishment, affection. You will have your own definition. It will be tacit in your immediate associations. . .
“Psychoanalysis, until very recently, has not had a place in its conceptual storehouse for this ‘cherishment.’ . . . Both of us started to train for clinical practice in midlife, after other kinds of experience and work. So we do not have a large fund of clinical expertise. But we also do not have the debts and baggage, distortions and controversies of old hands. . . . The journey we took [in writing this book] talking about ‘cherishment’ was not down a paved, curbed road; we were more like the journeyer in Walt Whitman’s ‘Song of the Open Road,’ learning to be in every way we could receptive. . . . Open-hearted receptivity is, we will say, cherishment.”
And from the book’s inside cover-flap:
“Blending the philosophical writing that has won Young-Bruehl international acclaim with Bethelard’s imaginative sensibility, Cherishment is a finely balanced interplay of scholarship, dual-memoir, and intimate therapeutic tales. It draws on ancient wisdom traditions of the East and West, telling many instructive stories of men and women, young and old, who have learned to cultivate the cherishment instinct in themselves as well as in others. It helps readers attune sensitively to the ways people express their need for affection in the details of daily life and relationships. The book narrates a journey of discovery, and any reader on his or her own journey in the realm of the heart will feel cherished by it.”
Exploring the rich field of cherishment and opening yourself to it can only be of service to your experience of writing, as well as living.
3. Books to Spark Your Subtle Awareness and Artistry
"It's a beautiful thing to listen to yourself. Then you write your own book." — Sherif Baba
IN THIS SECTION: The Listening Book: Discovering Your Own Music, by W. A. Matthieu / What to Listen for in Music, by Aaron Copland
THE LISTENING BOOK: Discovering Your Own Music, by W. A. Mathieu (Boston: Shambhala Publications, 2011)
This wonderful book is indeed about music, which may interest you in its own right. But more than that, it is about listening. All singers, whether soloing or in chorus, are exhorted to “listen to the sound” as they sing it; and that attentive listening turns out to be what allows the beautiful sounds to come forth. Listening well is the true foundation of true writing, in my view; and this book helps you explore the limitless dimensions of your own potential listening, here constellated around the focus of music. As the official synopsis puts it, “The Listening Book is about rediscovering the power of listening as an instrument of self-discovery and personal transformation. By exploring our capacity for listening to sounds and for making music, we can awaken and release our full creative powers.”
You could play with what’s in this book and discover or enhance your inherent musicality — what a joy in its own right! And, you can take what you discover in yourself through listening, and begin to listen to what’s in you as you go about writing your book. (A good pairing with my book, Starting Your Book, listed in group #1, above.)
WHAT TO LISTEN FOR IN MUSIC, by Aaron Copland (NY: Signet, 2011 [reprinted])
The great composer Aaron Copland can teach us a lot about real listening. The “author” of musical works such as “Appalachian Spring,” “Billy the Kid,” “Fanfare for the Common Man,” and many other classics of the mid-20th century, Copland had a gift for power and lyricism, and his music evokes a deep and varied spectrum of emotional responses in the listener. Yet as spontaneous as the finished works appear, Copland was an assiduous learner, studying with famed teacher Nadia Boulanger in Paris, and creating his own musical idiom that we are now so used to, thanks to him. Copland’s seriousness about the inquiry into music — what is it, how does it do what it does, and what makes for a good listener — is our gain. Because in reading his authoritative reflections on listening to music, we get to learn about listening itself, and see how it can open up in us through our minds as well as our ears.
What has this to do with deep writing? The writer’s ability to listen is the cornerstone of writing that resonates deep into readers’ minds and hearts. Bringing what we can learn from Copland’s mastery of music to our process of writing, we will be able to hear our writing’s living pulse even as we pen the words.
4. Books by Authors I Have Worked with That Can Help Your Writing Flourish
IN THIS SECTION: Gifts of the Mandala: A Guided Journey of Self-Discovery, by Clare Goodwin / Essential Speaking: The 7-Step Guide for Finding Your Real Voice, by Doreen Hamilton
GiIFTS OF THE MANDALA: A Guided Journey of Self-Discovery, by Clare Goodwin. (Bloomington, IN: Balboa Press, 2016)
In this gorgeous book, studded with jewel-like, colorful mandalas, Psychosynthesis therapist Clare Goodwin introduces what mandalas are, how they have been used over the centuries (by Tibetan monks and Native Americans, for example), and — the point of the book — how we can use them to draw and write our way into wholeness. By following “the four essential guiding principles for creating mandalas” that Goodwin offers, we can articulate our inner conflicts (for instance, the “inner critic” and the “inner champion”) as visual images within a circle, enabling our inner wisdom to bring them into wholeness. These principles are:
Make a circle.
Fill it in.
Let go of Judgments.
Exercises are included, as well as black-and-white mandalas that you can color. (Bring your crayons or paints.)
At one point, the author shares her process of writing this book:
“Knowing that practical help would benefit my process, I began working with Naomi Rose, book whisperer and coach for authors. At one point, when I was feeling particularly stuck, she asked a profoundly insightful question: ‘Have you created any mandalas for how you are feeling about writing the book?’ Now why didn’t I think of that? If coloring mandalas helped to create an atmosphere for healing cancer, surely it would help with writing and publishing a book.”
Bringing us more intimately into her own experience, Goodwin then shares the mandala images she drew to help bring her back into the flow:
The first image: an angry scribble in red and black titled, “‘No Real Color Red’ — book project mired in the swamp.”
Five days later, her mandala shows a mother bird with open wings hovering over an egg in the nest below, with musical notes plinking upward, titled “Call and response. I hear the call of the book. ‘Don’t crack open that egg. Wait for the right timing. You are not alone. Listen to the voice of your muse.’”
Two days after that, the inner process has metamorphosed into a beautiful circle drawing in which a stone wall opens up to grass, sky, and birds flying above; while below is dark, fecund soil, a shovel, and not-yet-sprouted daffodil bulbs. This spacious-, trusting-, fertile-looking mandala is titled “Daffodil Digging Dream. I had asked for dream help with the book. The result: ‘Dig deeper. There is buried treasure. Have faith in the blossoming spring.’”
Your own inner treasures — in relation to writing your own book, and much more — may be helped to surface with the support of this wonderful book.
ESSENTIAL SPEAKING: The 7-Step Guide to Finding Your Real Voice, by Doreen Hamilton, PhD.
I recommend Essential Speaking not only because Doreen was my client, but also because so many of the factors that transform a terrified speaker into a speaker who is wholly present, heart-centered, and generous of intent also apply to writing. When we face the blank page, often (thanks to our “inner critic” — see Mark Coleman’s Make Peace with Your Mind in group #2, above) we freeze, experiencing that blankness as a judgment and commentary on our perceived lack of ability and worth.
Essential Speaking not only takes its readers through the author’s personal journey of stage-fright (more accurately, terror) as a speaker, but also into a whole new approach to speaking in front of people — as a way to be with ourselves (as well as our audience) as we share what’s in our hearts, thereby connecting with those who hear us (you also can translate this to: read us). A deeply helpful book for those of us who yearn to be authentic when speaking, as well as translating this capacity into our writing.
Art credit: The painting at the top of this page is “The New Novel” by Winslow Homer (1877).