"Write from the Heart: Unleashing the Power of Creativity," Hal Zina Bennett

Pros: Honest, intimate writing; useful advice; interesting exercises
Cons: Lack of balance
Rating: 4 out of 5

First published 7/9/2002

The back cover of “Write from the Heart: Unleashing the Power of Your Creativity (Revised Edition)” offers a “deeply personal, spiritual approach to writing.” The title promises a means to write about the things that matter to us. Above all, the title indicates that this is a book about writing. But is it really?

Format

You’ll find plenty of interesting material in this book. 13 chapters are included, each beginning with the obligatory cool quote and ending with a single detailed exercise. Many include a paragraph somewhere indicating the “core concept” of the chapter, set off with a gray background. Finally the book ends with a bibliography – which doubles as a rather nice reading list.

Content

Some of the material in this book is fairly standard to books on writing and creativity, but you’ll definitely find a handful of unusual things in here. A fair amount of time is spent on the emotions and feelings involved in writing, which is entirely appropriate to a book with a title like ‘Write from the Heart’!

You’ll find handy material on making peace with your inner critic (a subject discussed in Pencil Dancing but dealt with in greater depth here). There’s a chapter on creating a system of supportive critiquing with other writers, and a chapter on getting happily published that deals with the subject of small, independent book publishers – something I haven’t seen talked about in many places. What I wasn’t expecting, however, was Write from the Heart’s deep focus on spirituality.

Balance Problems

While I do very much like this book, it did suffer from some balance problems. As indicated, it’s an instructional book for writers. In large part, however, it’s a memoir. It’s also an instructional book on spirituality. I felt as though Mr. Bennett lost the focus of the book now and then – forgot what its main topic and audience were. While personal experiences can be a fantastic way to get across the ideas we have, I sometimes felt as though the bits of memoir scattered throughout weren’t adequately related back to the topic at hand and went on for longer than they needed to.

While Mr. Bennett did make fascinating connections between elements of spirituality and elements of writing, sometimes he failed to connect them well enough. A few chapters seemed to focus almost entirely on spirituality with writing concerns added as an afterthought. Also, while the “core concept” sidebars might at first seem handy, I felt that they should have been unnecessary. If the writing had been clear and focused enough we wouldn’t need them.

For Us Skeptics…

I tend to think of myself as an “open-minded skeptic” – I know, oxymoron-land. What I mean is that I like to explore new things and keep in mind the idea that there are things out there that we can’t explain. Partially I just like the idea that there are still magics and mysteries left in the universe! However, I do tend to balk when “heavy-duty” mysticism, religion, or spirituality is inserted into a text on a different subject. I am a bit skeptical by nature, and when this happens I feel as though there’s been a bait-and-switch. It’s like having a friend invite you out to lunch and then try to convert you to his religion while he has you trapped at the table with your ham sandwich.

In certain chapters of this book I did have a little bit of this feeling. Not terribly so, but just enough to make me a little less happy with the book. If the book had been subtitled “Spirituality and the Writing Life,” or something similar, the material would have felt less out of place. It also would have felt less out-of-balance, because it would have been clear up front that the topic of the book was both spirituality and writing in equal measure.

The spirituality of this book is not what I would consider offensive. It delves into such topics as spirit guides and the “invisible world,” but is (usually) careful to remain grounded in reality and anchored to the topic of writing. It will make the more skeptical among you feel uncomfortable in places, but it is interesting, and some of the ideas are worth a try. They might indeed suggest new ways in which to approach your writing.

Ultimately?

I do like this book, and some of its ideas are quite good. For example, the exercise on making peace with your inner critic is particularly worthwhile. So is the exercise on creating your “ideal writing space” – a place of solitude that doesn’t even have to be real in order to be of value. There’s plenty of valuable information on getting in touch with and making use of your imagination.

The author has some interesting and unusual ideas, and while I wish he’d balanced his text better, I do feel that I learned a lot from him. His writing wandered a bit more than I’d like and sometimes failed to stick to the point clearly enough, but it was a matter of degree – if you’re less nit-picky than I am you might not even notice it. This is a very helpful book, and I highly recommend it for people who would like to achieve more with their writing than commercial success alone.

Posted in Reviews, Writing

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