A review of Write From the Heart by Hal Zina Bennett

Bennett uses many of his own and other’s real life examples to show that anyone can write well by tapping into their own unique experiences. In a very humble way, he takes his own work and shows that he is unremarkable and that being a prodigy or having some kind of special talent is not a prerequisite for writing well.

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

Write From the Heart: Unleashing the Power of Your Creativity
by Hal Zina Bennett
New World Library
Feb 2001, Trade paper, 272 pgs
ISBN 1-57731-177-9
RRP US$14.00

Write From the Heart isn’t the kind of writing book that will tell you how to create characters, develop plot, set suspense or pull together a premise. Nor is it genre related – the book is relevant to writers whether they are writing poetry, novels, fiction of all varieties or non-fiction. Any and all of these things may arise out of the kind of work that Bennett advocates, but this is really a book about tapping into your innate creativity, experience and spirituality. Author Hal Zina Bennett sees the writers role as a big one – linking the human and divine, and creating a bridge between individuals. Drawing on Jungian theories, Bennett creates a picture of a universal muse or deep spiritual well from which the all writers can draw. Whether or not you are comfortable with this broad vision of the writer’s role, Bennett’s ideas, exercises and techniques are very effective, and Write From the Heart is an inspirational book.

Bennett uses many of his own and other’s real life examples to show that anyone can write well by tapping into their own unique experiences. In a very humble way, he takes his own work and shows that he is unremarkable and that being a prodigy or having some kind of special talent is not a prerequisite for writing well. At the heart of all good writing, Bennett stresses, is personal experience and the way in which that experience can illuminate human experience as a whole:

Writing is a spiritual act because it invites us to look beyond the surface of life, to attempt to capture the essence of love, grief, joy, fear, wretchedness – in short, the whole gamut of human experience. (33)

There are chapters on creating an ideal space of solitude for writing, on writing with the reader in mind through the creation of an imaginary reader, on dealing with the inner critic, on mastering the use of sensory description, on the importance of writing in the present, on identifying and utilising “peak experiences,” on identifying and utilising the “essential wound,” on using dreams and visions, on obtaining and giving supportive critiquing and tips for getting your work published. Each chapter is followed by an exercise which vividly illustrates the lessons of the chapter and also helps writers to begin working more intensely, deeper and producing more honest, and powerful work.

The final chapters on getting published are brief and touch lightly on topics like querying, obtaining publicity and self-publishing which are better covered in other books (some of which are referenced in the bibliography) but otherwise Write From the Heart is a highly original and important key to the most critical component of writing – the impetus. The chapters on “peak experience” and “the essential wound” are particularly good, and if I think of much of the great literature I have read, from Joyce’s Ulysses to Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, I can see that Bennett is right – we write our best when we delve into what is most meaningful for us as humans. These critical moments in our lives provide some of most important material, and it is by transforming these moments into something universal that we do our best work. Bennett is always pushing the writer to fidn the deeper, more universal meaning in the personal experience:

They [these moments of working to our full potential] occur when we confront the outer limits of our abilities, that is, the limits of that human vision we’ve constructed of the world from the vast accumulation of our life experiences. We find at such times that life is always greater, more expansive, richer, at one and the same time, simpler and more complex than anything we can ever hold in our minds. To tell t he story of those moments when we’ve suffered and then healed our essential wounds is to reveal a universal insight that extends far beyond the particular. (132)

Throughout the book are inspirational quotations from a range of famous writers, and the exercises are clear, easy to follow and will yield a wealth of useful material. This book will ensure that you are never blocked or at a loss for serious writing subjects again. The secret to great writing, is, as Bennett shows in this well written and inspirational book, within.

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Write from the Heart : Unleashing the…

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