Interview with Hal Zina Bennett

The author of Write From the Heart talks about his latest book, the interactive writing exercises, how everyone has a story, about “peak experience” and the “essential wound,” the spiritual nature of writing, Jung, self-esteem for writers, working with small presses, his next book, and the sacred power of language.

Magdalena Ball: Tell me how Write From the Heart came about?

Hal Zina Bennett: Over the years of writing my own books, as well as coaching other writers, I became fascinated by the creative process itself, and saw that all successful authors had certain things in common. I began looking for ways to bring those creative elements to other writers. After many years of doing it in private consultations and workshops, I decided to put it into a book.

MB: Tell me about the exercises. Where did they come from?

HZB: They all came from my own writing practice, things I’d come up with in the process of years and years of writing–over 30 books of my own. And they have all gone through the test of trial by fire, with hundreds of coaching clients and thousands of seminar participants.

MB: Why do you call them interactive?

HZB: They are interactive because by doing the exercises, the reader actually integrates those skills into their own writing process–or at least into their own creative practice.

MB: Do you think that everyone has a story to tell?

HZB: Absolutely. In a recent workshop, one of the participants said that the main thing she learned was that it is our ability to tell our personal truth, whatever it might be, that makes our lives and our stories interesting, no matter how mundane or shocking they might seem to us.

MB: Talk to me about “peak experience” and the “essential wound.” Did you invent these concepts?

HZB: The idea of peak experiences is drawn from the work of Abraham Maslow. He was a psychologist in the 1960s who, instead of studying the pathological side of human life, focused on what occurs for us when we are operating at our optimal levels. Essential wounds, so far as I know, are my invention. Both are what I call “Portals of Creativity,” that is, if we look to our own life experiences, and find these in our own life, they are where we will find the passion that drives the creative process for us. And it’s from working with these that we find our gifts as writers, as well as what we have to contribute to others–our readers.

MB: You’ve published 30 books (!) on a wide range of topics from self-help to fiction, poetry, writing books, and health. Do you sometimes feel like you have multiple separate selves, or is there something connecting these works?

HZB: Not really. There is a common theme in all that I write–the discovery of our own humanness and how to fully realize what is unique and simultaneously universal.

MB: In WFTH, you say that writing is a spiritual act. This seems to me to be the key message of your book. Can you elaborate on that a bit? Why is it spiritual?

HZB: For me the spiritual is that part of ourselves which connects us with a reality beyond the ego and beyond the purely physical plane. The spiritual includes both ego and the physical, however. As we see ourselves in light of a larger truth–that is, beyond ego/physical–we begin to ask very different questions: What is my relationship to the Earth, to the Universe? What is my relationship to other living beings? What is my relationship to myself? What is my relationship to a Higher Power–by whatever name I might give it? And something Ram Dass asked, “How can I be helpful?” Writing is useful in answering those kinds of complex questions since it forces us to go inward as well as to create bridges between ourselves and others’ consciousnesses.

MB: Talk to me about the influence of Jung on your work. Do you have other great masters/mentors who have helped you develop your ideas?

HZB: C.G. Jung’s work helps to validate my belief that much of what happens in good writing occurs between the lines–not in the actual words. Jung gives voice to the transcendent, allows us to accept the great Mysteries of life.

MB: What would you say is the most prevalent issue which confronts writers in your workshops?

HZB: : For most American writers, self-esteem is a huge issue, in part because our society has no respect for the creative person–unless it can be exploited for making money. I have found very different perspectives for people from other cultures. Europeans have a seemingly inherent respect for the creative process as a valuable aspect of human life. Writing is a lonely profession, and our own inner critics, taught by society from the time we are very young, plague us. All of these need to be addressed by the writer herself/himself. WHile I am able to teach techniques for doing that, it is an ongoing practice for every writer to learn how to confront these issues and move beyond them.

MB: Your work is generally published by small presses. Is this a deliberate choice?

HZB: : Actually, I publish in both venues–have had books with the biggest publishers, like Random House and Harper, as well as small presses. In recent years, however, the larger houses have become increasingly commercial. The bottom line rules with New York houses. This is less true with some–but not all–smaller presses. I also like the more personal and collaborative relationship publishers that is sometimes available with smaller houses.

MB: Are you working on something new that you can tell us about?

HZB: : I’m presently working on a literary mystery. It’s a genre that I deeply enjoy both as a reader and as an author–especially when it pushes the envelope of the genre to deliver a larger message.

MB: Is there anything that you would like to “talk” about that I haven’t asked you?

HZB: The power of language to share our lives with others is sacred, and we should never lose sight of the fact that whether we publish books or write for ourselves and our friends, we are making a contribution to the evolution of human consciousness. Never underestimate your own creations, be they a few private poems or the Great American Novel.