Among the many resources available to writers seeking to improve their craft, Laraine Herring’s Writing Begins with the Breath: Embodying Authentic Voice stands out. When so much advice—from Web sites, blogs, books, conferences and workshops—seems focused on helping writers produce marketable books, it is refreshing to find someone who sees writing as something more than just an end product. The process of writing, according to Herring, is tied deeply to our bodies, to our breath. If we learn to live more fully within our bodies, then what we write will be deeper, more original, and more authentic.
Writing Process Versus Product
The book is divided into three sections, each one focusing on a different stage of the writing process. Readers are encouraged to dip in to whatever part of the book most fits their current needs. In the first section, which deals with the pre-writing phase, Herring offers ideas for opening up for inspiration and developing ideas into stories.
The second section tracks the process of deep writing, and emphasizes consistency and attention to detail. In these chapters, writers who seek more concrete advice for improving their craft will find more help than they might expect, especially in the areas of characterization, structure and description. But at the heart of all the advice comes from the same place: writers must be conscious and self-aware during the process of writing, or the product will never be fully satisfying.
The final section of the book deals with the rewriting and revision process. Herring offers sound insight on how very necessary revision is, though many might balk at her recommendation that the entire first draft should be set aside, and draft two begun from scratch. In these pages she also offers insight into dealing with the solitude of the writer’s life, and how to move on once a writing project is completed.
Breathing Exercises for Writers
The core of Herring’s process is tied to the principles of yoga. In this, she is not unlike writing guru Natalie Goldberg, who’s phenomenally successful Writing Down the Bones has helped countless writers develop a deeper relationship with their writing. Goldberg suggests approaching writing as one would meditation, which she studied extensively in the Buddhist tradition.
Herring takes it one step further, by providing exercises—called “Body Breaks”—that invite readers into a deeper relationship with their bodies, and most especially with the simple act of breathing. “Returning to the rise and fall of breath, bringing a level of conscious awareness to a predominantly involuntary action, reins in the scattered nature of our thoughts and grounds us in our bodies, squarely in the present moment where we must remain if we are to write deeply.”
Body Breaks range from simple breathing and head tilting to more complex yoga poses, all designed to bring awareness into the body. Readers are reminded to pay attention to how they feel as they practice the exercises, and to bring that awareness into their writing. Touchstones, questions and writing prompts that conclude each chapter, offer further encouragement to develop a thoughtful, conscientious relationship with one’s writing. The Body Breaks provide a unique tool for writers who have realized that another book on plot structure or dialog isn’t going to push their craft to the next level. Only by developing a deeper awareness of themselves can they open that window that leads to a more expressive, profound writing. For the writer who is looking for more from their writing, Herring’s book offers the perfect combination of insight and exercise to achieve it.