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KNAU's Southwest Book Review: Laraine Herring's 'Writing Begins With the Breath'


If you've ever decided that you're finally going to sit down and write the novel, article, or collection of short stories you've always wanted to do only to find that months later you haven't written a word, then author Laraine Herring has some advice for you. In her new book Writing Begins with the Breath, the Prescott-based writer offers an almost yogic perspective on the influence breathing can have on writing. It's an idea KNAU's Southwest Book reviewer Mary Sojourner thinks is spot-on.

Nothing blocks a writer's words faster than the belief that the story needs to be mapped out before being written. Laraine Herring, novelist, Yavapai College Creative Writing Director and mentor gives writers a new way to create in Writing Begins with the Breath. "Deep writing," Herring says, "comes from our bodies, from our breath, from our ability to remain solid in the places that scare us." She invites the reader to occupy not just their intellects, but also their flesh, their emotions and the stories they have often carried with them for a lifetime.

Herring begins the book with a story of her inability to "remain solid in the places that scared her" during a solo residency at a writing retreat on the Oregon Coast. She describes finding 3 single-spaced pages of instructions on how to operate the woodstove in her isolated cabin - and knowing she had no idea what to do with them. She confesses to her determination to drive to Powell's Bookstore in Portland during a white-out, freezing blizzard. I was captivated by her openness about her fallibility, lack of judgment and stubborn will to have her way during a 15 mile slog that took 3 hours. Herring was not a best-selling writer spouting blithe self-help vagaries in a Ted Talk. She was a real writer and comrade in the hard, often demoralizing work of becoming a real writer.

If you've ever declared that you were going to write - and found yourself weeks, months, decades later wondering what happened to your beautiful dream - you'll find not just kinship and challenge in Writing Begins with the Breath. You'll find an ally who knows the silencing voice that hides in most of us. And, you'll find practical breath, body and writing exercises that will take you not into Herring's answers, but your own.

Most writers have at least a shelf of books on writing - most of them barely read. In them, one can learn about structure and point of view and narrative arc. In them, one can learn about thinking. Herring moves beyond the mind and deep into the often difficult reality of the body. She teaches that memory resides in the body and that breath is the pathway to unlocking both our creativity and our hidden acts of self-sabotage.

If all she did was to offer theory, she would cheat her premise. Instead, she invites the reader to stop reading and take "Body Breaks": to place hands palm to palm and notice the feeling of skin touching skin; to stop in the middle of forcing words that don't want to emerge - and simply breathe. And, in her "Touchstones" at the end of each chapter, she offers deep-reaching writing exercises to unite writing mind and body.

Herring's warm and uncluttered writing voice is evidence of her own hard work to reclaim breath and story. A character in one of her earlier works says, "Cast off what doesn't serve you before it robs you of your life." Writing Begins with the Breath is a living map through that which can paralyze a writer, an artist, a musician - anyone who longs to create. And it's a map for any of us who want to live a more fully realized life.

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