An interview with Judy Reeves, author of Wild Women, Wild Voices — Writing from Your Authentic Wildness

Judy Reeves is a writer, teacher, and writing practice provocateur who has written four books on writing, including the award-winning A Writer’s Book of Days. In addition to leading private writing groups, Judy teaches at UC San Diego Extension and at San Diego Writers, Ink, a nonprofit literary organization she cofounded. More information can be found at

What is meant by the “wild” in Wild Women?

When I first began gathering material for the book, I scribbled down a list of words that came to me in a spontaneous writing session: something in the body, the color red; smells earthy; fierce in love, in caring, in connection; deep dreaming, farsighted; body knowing, heart singing, love making; the poetry of breathing; hears ancient echoes; solitude and community in equal measure; cycles moon-shaped, nature connected; feels blessed by the sunrise, anointed by the moon. All of these words, phrases, and images speak of wild woman to me.

When I asked other women what was conjured in them with the words “wild” and “woman,” they responded with: “Freedom, curiosity, a great capacity for delight and feeling at home in one’s skin.” Creative was a word used often by other women. They used words such as free and strong, natural and fierce, boundlessness, energy, risk-taking, brave, wise. One woman said, “Sometimes this fierceness deep inside … amazes me.”

Wild in Wild Women is linked through memory and experience to our authentic selves.

What is “Wild Voice” and how is it different from other writing voices? 

As its name implies, wild voice is untamed and unbounded and holds the possibility of great beauty. It goes deep, like roots. It is not domesticated or restrained. Wild voice can be dangerous; it can be outrageous. Wild voice is what gives a writer the sentence or phrase that seems to come out of nowhere. Language erupts spontaneously with wild voice. Wild voice is writing that surprises both the writer and the reader. Wild voice is when the writing comes freely and easily, intuitively. The language is of the writer’s own making and the rhythm is the beat of her own drummer.

Other writing voices (and I’m referring to process rather than end product) may be more restrained, more hesitant; there may be more thinking or planning going on before the words get to the page. Some writers edit as they write; they consider what should come next, rather than getting out of the way and letting the writing find its own form. There may be much scratching out and rewriting in the process of writing.

Not that our writing shouldn’t be edited; it certainly should be, but for wild voice to have its say, the editing should come after the words are on the page, not as they go (or don’t go) down.

The word “authentic” gets used often these days, how do you use it in the book? What is “authentic wildness?”

Many of us live our daily lives doing the next thing, rather than being present in the Now moment. We follow “shoulds” and “ought-tos” rather than making choices based on an internal, intuitive knowing of our true nature. Instead of living and speaking and writing according to this deep knowing, we allow ourselves to be defined and shaped by our culture, our family, our religion, and other rule-making, limit-setting entities.

When I write about our authentic wildness, I don’t mean breaking all the rules and living rebelliously outside society, I’m referring to the deep, innermost, vibrant, responsive, creative self that we may have lost touch with or set aside in our efforts to be liked or accepted or to “get along.”

How is “writing from your authentic wildness” different than, say, taking a writing class or studying creative writing?

Wild Women, Wild Voices invites anyone — experienced writers, journal writers, non-writers — to respond in her own language and her own voice to what wants to be expressed in whatever form it wants to take. Studying writing means following the directives of someone else — a teacher, a workshop facilitator, exercises in a book — to learn the craft. I believe in writing classes; I teach writing. I think if you want to become a better writer, you do study the craft, take classes if you can, join workshops and learn from others. But this book isn’t about teaching the craft, although some tips and guidelines are included. It’s about inviting writers to write from a deep, free and wild voice.

Instead of writing exercises, you invite writers to go on “Explorations.” How do the Explorations differ from writing exercises?

These explorations refer to following a path laid out by the voice and the language to a destination that isn’t fore-planned. One of the ways of being authentic is to maintain an ongoing dialogue with oneself. Ask a question, follow a memory, explore an image and respond from that place of deep, intuitive knowing. So we don’t write to learn a certain method or technique; we write to discover our story.

In the book, you write that “story,” can be anything from a long-ago memory to a grocery list. How are you defining story?

Story has more to do with sense-making or understanding than with structure. A grocery list can tell a story about an individual at a certain time and in a certain place as well as a more thought-out narrative with a beginning, middle, and end. Story is the bones, the skeleton, the dots we connect to find shape and meaning.

What’s the importance of writing our stories?

We tell stories to give shape to experiences, to entertain, to process, to grieve, to heal, and to share our perspective on the world. Telling stories is how we relate a memory and how we identify ourselves. Stories show us the consequences of our actions, they reveal ourselves to ourselves and can lead to deeper understanding of who we are and our place in the world. Stories are a way of connecting, one human being to another and enlarging our world.

One of the early chapters is “Claiming Wild Woman.” What does this mean for the reader/writer?

For many of us, our kinship with the wild feminine has become, in the words of Clarissa Pinkola Estes, “ghosty from neglect, buried by overdomestication,” and “outlawed by the surrounding culture.”

Wild Woman and wild voice are deeply connected; consequently, writing in the authentic wild voice doesn’t come easily. We may need to brush away the dust and cobwebs that have muffled that voice to a whisper. So we go to the source to affirm the qualities of our wild self. We do this through a series of explorations that take us back to a time we felt our most authentic. We write phrases and images that speak to our vision of our true nature. We look into what nourishes us on a soul level and what we want and need to feel whole. By claiming our own wild woman, we can write, and live, more authentically.

You suggest keeping a special notebook or journal and having a regular writing practice. What can writers gain from such a practice? Is it important to write every day?

 Though it’s not necessary to write every day to experience the benefits of having a regular writing practice, like any practice — yoga, meditation, tai chi — the more regular our attendance, the greater the rewards. Words come easier and are less forced, we become less self-conscious and as a result the writing becomes freer; we learn our rhythms as a writer and to trust the cycles of ups and downs.

I’ve found that writers take more risks when they have a regular writing practice, they trust their writing more and are become willing to go deeper, to brush against their shadows, to reveal their secrets and become more honest. Writing regularly, we discover what matters to us and what we want to write about. A daily, or almost-daily writing practice enhances our self-esteem: we can say, “I’m a writer,” with no hesitation or doubt because, after all, we’re doing it. Notebooks get filled, stories get written, characters appear, memories find voice — and our writing improves. These are only a few of the benefits.

You also suggest writers create a special place for their work; you even suggest they light a candle during each writing session. Can’t writers just write anywhere?

I think every writer dreams of that converted cabin in the woods, or the serene room with a view of the lake or the river or the ocean. “A room of her own,” Virginia Woolf famously said. Whether it’s a folding table behind a screen in the bedroom or a separate studio with a desk, computer, and a napping couch, we writers need a place to call our own where we can feel safe and comfortable enough to lose ourselves in the worlds we’re creating on paper.

Of course many writers can and do write just anywhere, or they have a favorite location — a café where the barista knows their favorite drink, a library where quiet is honored and enforced. Writers write on the subway, on trains (Amtrak offers a “writer’s residency”) and planes and in cars. I’ve written in laundromats, tents, and ferries going from here to there. Anywhere will do so long as we’re able to enter into that place of sustained contact with our deeper self.

As for the candle, lighting one is a symbolic gesture that reminds us we are crossing the threshold into a time out of time. Lighting a candle as we begin writing is another away to signify we are creating a special time and place and that our work deserves this attention.

The book has such chapter titles as “Wild Child, Wild Girl: Initiation and Forgetting;” “Family: Fact and Fiction, Myth and Mystery;” “Where the Wild Things Are: Illuminating the Shadow;” and “Death, Loss, and Legacies: Wise Woman.” These titles sound like writers might be exploring some pretty deep subjects. Is this the focus of the book?

Wild woman is deep; exploring and expressing thoughtful responses to our lives takes us into soul territory. Our values, our standards, our morals, what we believe in, what we love, our heartbreaks and wounds and losses — all these shape us and shape our experiences. It’s important to give them voice. But this is not to say the focus of the book is always serious. Oh no! There’s no sound in the world like a gathering of women laughing that laugh that has the power and the energy to break down doors and lift buildings off their foundations.

We look at our lives with reverence and humility and, thank goodness, a sense of humor.

There’s also a chapter titled “Artist/Creator: The Authentic Work of Wild Woman.” Do you believe every woman (or man) is creative?

I do. Creativity is a natural part of all human beings, like love and hope. Being creative doesn’t mean we all are artists in the common sense of that word; it means we are responsive to the world. For some it’s the way we prepare and serve meals; for others it’s the way we remodel our kitchens. Throw a party, paint a wall, knit a scarf. Open a business, write a proposal, write a poem. Take a photo, take a trip, give a handmade gift. Dance to the light of the moon. We may not call ourselves creative, we may not acknowledge our creative responses to the world, but nonetheless, it is an inalienable part of our very beings. By exploring the ways in which we are creative, recognizing and acknowledging this in ourselves, we enrich our lives and the world around us. There is great joy in creativity. We connect with our higher spirit and our deepest soul.

What can a woman/writer expect to gain from the book?

Wild Women, Wild Voices is a journey book, written and constructed as an invitation for women to explore her experiences, her beliefs, her memories, and her stories. The chapters are opportunities to remember and experience her connection with her authentic self and to express herself in her wild, authentic voice. It’s a book for memory gathering and story-making. For acknowledging and honoring the wild woman that is part of every one of us.

My hope is that women who read the book will be motivated to write and tell their stories, and to realize how valuable they are. Maybe some will write a memoir as a result of the work done here. Maybe poetry will be created. Or essays or plays or story collections or memory books for family. I would love to learn of Wild Women writing groups formed across the country and throughout the world as a result of women joining together to share the intimacy of their stories and the power of their experiences. I hope each woman who reads this book sends out to the world, her wild and authentic howl.