Into the Heart of Writing: Writing for Your Life by Deena Metzger

by | Apr 29, 2010

I want to tell you about this book, Writing for Your Life, by Deena Metzger. I want to tell you that I owned this book for several years, where it found a spot on the back of a shelf and never came out again.

No, it was after I’d started taking freewriting classes with Suzanne Murray. That first night, sitting around an after-hours office, Suzanne had piled up some books she thought might be helpful to us, books she wanted us to get to know.

That was the first time I saw Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write, a book that was very helpful to me later on. I recognized Deena Metzger’s book right away.

It wasn’t that I hadn’t been writing over the years. I’d written a lot. There were letters, brochure copy, fundraisers, things that appeared over someone else’s name. I’d even written and published a book.

Research, writing, rewriting. It’s not easy, but you know what? I hadn’t really enjoyed it very much. But I kept coming back to writing over and over again.

It was like a love affair from far away. I could act as if I was in a passionate relationship, but the other party was nowhere to be found.

The “Crushed Creative”

That’s what Suzanne called me, a “crushed creative,” someone who has a creative urge but the expression of it has been crushed out of them. She’s a specialist in bringing these little flames to life. And that’s where Deena Metzger came in.

I dug out my copy when we got home and started to read it. It was like I’d never read it before. I was coming into contact with parts of myself I hadn’t even seen before. Metzger, a writer and a therapist, has a unique view on writing as deep exploration into the self. Here’s some copy from the back cover of the book:

. . . Metzger enables us to heal what is fragmented, injured, or suppressed within us, and experience the wonder of self-knowledge and the joy of creation.

Metzger uses journals, autobiography, writing exercises, quotes from Thich Nhat Hanh, Rumi, stories, fairy tales, dreams and myths to get the reader moving into herself. She says

Under the best of circumstances, the process of writing allows one to give oneself over to the imagination, trusting that it will act in one’s best interests, trusting that the use of the creative, the descent in language into the self, the rigorous scrutiny of the psyche, the inclination to dare the unknown will seriously enhance one’s life.

And rigorous it is. It may sound like a lot of airy-fairy new-age hocus-pocus, until you actually try to do it. I determined to start at the beginning of the book and stop each time Metzger gave an exercise, and not continue until I did the exercise myself. deena metzger writing for your life

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I gradually developed a routine. Each morning I’d go park my car in a parking lot in the Presidio of San Francisco. I had a spot behind a 7 foot high grassy berm. To the left I could make out the structure of the Golden Gate Bridge. To the right, if it wasn’t too foggy, I could see a bit of the city tumbling down to the Bay.

With a mug of coffee, I’d read until I got to an exercise then get out my book and start writing. In this way, slowly, I moved through the book. Here’s an example of one of the exercises:

When you think you have nothing to say, when your life feels dull and tedious, try writing: Things I didn’t see today.

Here’s another one:

Imagine that you are at the end of your life. Without hesitating, without thinking, record the story you have lived in five sentences.

There were so many of these exercises that were devastatingly revealing. In the times when I could let go and trust the unconscious processes of imagination to go their own way, I was constantly surprised, taken aback, horrified at what I saw, stunned. Each day became an exploration into unknown territory.

Four Parts

I think you can tell how I value this book and the role it can play in aiding your own exploration of yourself and the way it can breathe life and joy into your own writing. Here’s a little more about the book.
It’s divided into four parts:

  1. On Creativity
  2. On Story
  3. The Larger Story: Archetypes, Fairy Tales, and Myths
  4. Writing as a Spiritual Practice

Throughout the book Metzger communicates her love for language and for the land, and uses the many students she’s had over the years as illustrations and inspirations. She provides guided meditations, a variety of creation myths, and much deep meditation on how story affects the soul.

She points out that there is a fundamental difference between creative practice and spiritual practice because the creative arises from deep within, is different for each person, is accompanied by rituals unknown to others, and it must be reinvented by each artist who seeks the creative way.

To me, this insistence on the personal journey into oneself is at the heart of Writing for Your Life. Deena Metzger shows us that writing can be a way to heal and to redeem ourselves through our own creativity. And that, in the process we can redeem the world.

Takeaway: I love Deena Metzger’s Writing for Your Life. It saved my writing life and showed me a way to regain contact with my own imaginal realm.

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  1. Scott Loftesness

    Joel, love the part about reading and writing in the Presidio while amidst the trees, the bridge, the bay and the City! It doesn’t get any better than that kind of setting to help get the mood right! For both writing, and I might add, creative photography!

    • Joel Friedlander

      The Presidio is a treasure, and I’ve been very lucky to have a reason to go down there so often the last few years. Even with the construction going on, it’s a magnet for people and continues to enchant me with its moods and views. Thanks for reading, Scott.

  2. Joel

    Hey Joel, thanks for that. Art & Fear is new to me, but I’m going to check it out. Nice to have your comment here.

  3. Joel Haas

    From one Joel to another, thanks for the recommendation of Deena Metzger’s book. One other I recommend to people who ask me what it’s like to be a full time professional artist or “creative,” is a slender volume of 112 pages in large type. Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orlando. Somehow, these guys read my brain or my psyche or just my mail. Anyway, they’re dead on about what it’s like. It is the only book I keep by the bed, referring to it when I am stuck. Somehow, the parts I have highlighted in the past seem to be irrelevant and whatever I need to know now, just seems to pop forward. Like reading Mao, Lenin, or the Bible, you can pretty well find a quote to fit just about any place you suddenly find yourself in, only with a lot fewer words.
    Joel Haas, sculptor
    Raleigh, NC
    [email protected]



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