Friday, February 17, 2006

Deep Writing Retreat in Paris

I would like to invite the writers among you to join me in celebration of the writing life by coming to Paris in July. I have mentioned my Paris workshop several times previously but today I want to describe it a bit and explain how it differs from other writing workshops you may have previously attended. You can find the “official” description here, at the sponsoring WICE site:

Mine is actually very different from the customary writing workshop. A customary writing workshop operates in one of two ways: you “workshop” writing with the instructor and the other participants, critiquing each other’s work, or you engage in exercises and activities meant to educate you about some aspect of the writing process. Mine operates a third way: you write deeply.

First I invite you to decide what important writing you want to accomplish during our time together. That might be reconnecting with a book (or article, essay, short story, screenplay, etc.) that you’ve put aside, tackling the part of your current piece that’s been giving you trouble, beginning a new piece that’s been on your mind for some time, or engaging with an idea that has arisen on the spot. Having chosen your focus and made your commitment, you then write. My job as you write is to be still, model intention and presence, and hold the integrity of the writing space. To someone peeking in, it would look as if I were doing nothing—but it is a very special kind of nothing.

There is no critiquing of or commenting on each other’s writing. I find that the common three-step workshop routine of writing, sharing the writing, and commenting on the writing causes people to leave the deep place they were in when they wrote and breaks the spell that arises when a dozen people write together, each on his or her own important work. In my workshop, writers have the opportunity to share what they have learned during the preceding writing stint but that sharing is very different from putting their newly-hatched writing on the table. The absence of critiquing allows people to stay connected to their writing throughout the days of the workshop.

I invited Gary Holdgrafer, a creativity coach who helped organize my Deep Writing Workshop in Edmonton and who participated in it, to describe the experience from a participant’s point of view. You can see what Gary and his wife Mary do as creativity coaches by visiting:

Gary wrote about the Edmonton workshop:

“Fifteen writers gathered in Edmonton for a Deep Writing Workshop. We ranged from beginning writers to published authors, with participants working on fiction, creative non-fiction, personal essays, memoirs, spiritual reflections and stage plays. Eric presented principles and practices of deep writing throughout the week but the lion’s share of the time was spent actually writing. We wrote often and for varying lengths of time, from 15 minutes to over two hours. By so doing we had the visceral experience of ‘honoring the process,’ a fundamental principle.

“There was little ceremony. ‘Return to your writing,’ Eric said simply after a concise delivery of content. That directive is fundamental to being a writer and is what we would need to do at home. We learned how much writing we could do, even in a small amount of time, when we were able to ‘drop everything that interferes with writing’ and have our whole brain available to us. We were challenged to dispute our negative self-talk about ‘not having enough time to write’ and learned that when life gives you a moment, ‘return to your writing.’

“We were encouraged to ‘to do the work in front of you’ and not flee from it because of the anxiety that naturally arises when you try to make new meaning. We learned that being a harsh critic of our work is, paradoxically enough, often a way of fleeing from it.

“Unlike many writing courses, we did not read our writing aloud. There were no critiques. We were encouraged to write in order to honor our own process. We made our writing matter to us. We checked in regularly to report what shifts we were noticing in ourselves and in our writing. Eric reminded us that if we do not always do exactly what we had planned, ‘self-forgiveness’ is essential to keep from sinking into a stew of self-blame and stopping the work.

“Eric asked us to be the exception as he guided us through the world of publishing. ‘Give yourself permission to be rejected many times,’ he said. It is better to focus on a single instance of acceptance than on all the rejections. Participants left tired—the good tired of having really written—and pleased with what they had experienced. A community of writers had formed in that week and some of the connections made there are likely to continue.”

Here is a picture of the Edmonton group.

Come be a part of the Paris group!

You can register at:

If you’re on the fence about coming, pick up a copy of A Writer’s Paris. That will tip you right over! Read more!

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Ari's Oasis. 5. The Literal Man

One day a Literal Man came to see Ari. Few Literal People ever visited, as they tended not to have much use for creativity coaches, especially one hidden away in the desert. But every so often a Literal Man or Woman had a vision or epiphany and quizzically sought Ari out.

This particular Literal Man came early, spent time in Maya's shop, and learned what he already suspected, that the prices of her books were not as good as the prices he could get on the Internet. This made him smile. He always liked it when he knew a better place to buy something, whether or not he had any intention of buying that thing. He knew the best place to buy vacuum cleaners, the best place to have business cards printed, the best place to buy Irish linen and Icelandic sweaters. There was nothing in Maya's shop that looked to be a good price.

At the appointed time he made his way down the narrow corridor and entered Ari's consulting room.

"You charge a very reasonable rate," he said by way of greeting. Ari waved him to a seat. "I think you could charge much more, if you wanted,” he continued. “Psychiatrists where I live charge three times what you charge. Business consultants charge five times as much. If they have books published and have been on t.v., ten times more. You've been on t.v.?"

Ari nodded.

"There!" the Literal Man exclaimed.

"You're charging too little."

"Well, but they have different goals," Ari replied. "They are trying to help people. My goal is to disappoint my clients. So I charge less."

The Literal Man stared at Ari for a moment. Then he grinned from ear to ear. "You're making fun of me!" he said. "I guess I seem much less interesting than your usual clients. I have no talents, no dreams, no aspirations. All I really want is a comfortable retirement. Did I mention that my mutual funds are doing very well?"


"They are! They went up eighteen percent last year. I could have done a lot better if I had taken a more aggressive route, but I figured, I'm not a lucky person, so I decided to stay with my mixed portfolio that's on the conservative side."

"That seems wise."

"I'm not greedy. That eighteen percent didn't disappoint me."

"Good. I hope you won’t be disappointed in the future, either."

"Thank you. I've been very happy so far. There were a few bad quarters, but then the market bounced back."

"That was very nice for you."

The Literal Man paused. "You haven't asked me why I came to see you.”

"I presume that you'll tell me when you’re ready."

"And if I hadn't? You would have let me go without getting to it?"

"I would have asked you once or twice, probably."

"Of course! Just a little nudge, because it's my responsibility."


"But just the tiniest nudge? So tiny that I might hardly notice?"

"No. I would have wrestled you to the ground and beaten the truth out of you."

"You're making fun of me!" the Literal Man said, smiling. "I know I'm not interesting like your other clients. That goes without saying!"

Ari laughed. "You take such pride in not being interesting! I'm not sure I've ever seen anyone take such pride in anything! You are a prouder man than my most celebrated clients!"

This confused the Literal Man. He opened his mouth to speak but had to close it, as there were several large flies buzzing about the room.

"You're still making fun of me," he said after a while. Only now he wasn't smiling.

"Only because you like it so much!" Ari exclaimed. "I aim to please!"

"You're still joking. I don't think you're going to stop joking with me."

"Certainly not until you stop joking with me."

The Literal Man put his head in his hands. It was an odd gesture and reminded Ari of Death of a Salesman.

"I'm ready to ask," Ari said. "What brings you here?"

The Literal Man looked up. "I had a dream. In the dream, my older brother was persecuting me. He always did that, so there was nothing surprising there. What was surprising was that in the dream I was potter. I was a Navajo potter on a reservation. I've been there myself, in New Mexico, near Sante Fe, where you go into their houses and they have a little store in the back of their house, where they sell their pottery to tourists. It's not the way to get the best price, but it's very interesting, to see them like that and to talk to them. So, I was the potter, I made those black pots--you know?"


"I had a wife--or maybe a daughter. She tended to customers while I inscribed the pots. It was like, I was doing the inscribing for the sake of the pot, but I was also on display, I was like someone in the window of a department store who's doing something real but who's also there for show. You know what I mean?"


"I woke up very frightened. Actually, nothing much happened in the dream. There was something about the animals I was carving into the pots, the serpents and that sort of lizard--"

"A gecko?"

"Right! And antelope ... it was all very disturbing."

The Literal Man finished. Ari waited.

"Well, what do you think the dream meant?" the Literal Man asked.

"I apologize, but I don't interpret dreams."

"But you do! You wrote a whole book on dream interpretation. That's one of the reasons I came to see you!"

"You're mistaken. I wrote a book about creating while you sleep. In it I said that people had to interpret their own dreams."

The Literal Man looked disappointed, even crestfallen.

Ari smiled. "There!" he exclaimed. "I've managed to disappoint you. You came with very few expectations but I managed not even to meet those!"

The Literal Man made a small sound. "Should I go now? Can I get a partial refund? I mean, it's only been a third of the time."

"No. I'm going to make some tea and you're going to tell me about the great project you want to begin."

The Literal Man recoiled as if shot. "I have no such project in mind! What do you mean? I work for the government. I have a very responsible job. I don't innovate. To try something new I'd have to put in a 2840, that's a form we have for making suggestions and changing procedures--"

"Hush," Ari said. "Let me make some tea. We'll have it with lemon. The lemon is off the tree right there, the one you can see through the open door. You see the lemon tree?"


"Good! Be quiet for a moment and think about how your brother persecuted you. Then we'll talk about you becoming a great artist."

"I can't--"

"Hush!" Ari said affectionately. "Let me get the kettle up. Then we'll do some real dreaming!" Read more!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Ari's Oasis. 4. The Busy Talk Show Host

Ari gave many interviews, usually by phone sitting at his desk. The things that seemed to bother other writers about interviews did not bother him. He didn't care at all whether his host had read his latest book or any of his books. He didn't care at all whether his host misunderstood his ideas, asked odd questions, or didn't like him. He took each interview as an opportunity to talk to the world, to that part of the world that happened to be tuning in to that particular program. There were things that he wanted to communicate and this was his chance. That was all that mattered.

He knew how to get these things said no matter what he was asked or in what direction the host wanted to steer the interview. Friendly and agreeable, he would nevertheless reframe the question or refocus the host's thought and return to his own agenda. He didn't know about the events of the day, the latest scandal or breaking news, and so he always had to apologize (in his calculated way) when the host referred to anything that might be going on the world. He would apologize for his ignorance and return the conversation to the essentials of human nature, to the things that mattered.

Today the host was a man in Chicago. The time difference was many hours. It was morning drive-time in Chicago but late afternoon in the desert. Ari sat down by the telephone a half-hour early, since often calls came earlier or later than expected. He sat at his desk and thought about what he wanted to say to the world--to Chicago, to commuters heading for the Loop, to people on the Internet picking up this Midwest broadcast in Singapore and Berlin.

After offering up the usual pleasantries, the host revealed his agenda. He wanted Ari to drop names and gossip about celebrities.

"Can you tell us about some of the stars you've helped with their creativity?" the host began.

"No, Tom, I'm sorry that I can't," Ari replied blandly. "I really wish I could. But I can tell you the kinds of things that trouble them and some of the reasons why they come to see me. First, there is almost always some measure of depression. People have been sad for more than a hundred years, trying to figure out if they matter. People who mean to create carry that burden even more, the burden of wondering whether they should live or let nature swallow them back up whole. My work is always the same--I beg my clients, celebrity or not, to try to matter. I ask them to decide to live, to decide to care, to decide to try, to decide to create, despite their doubts and the hardness of the tasks that confront them."

"Dr. Ben Ami, let me ask you. If somebody wanted to be more creative--maybe at work, maybe just in an everyday way--what one or two tips would you suggest? We have about thirty seconds until our first break."

"I would tell him or her that creativity is about self-relationship, not about talent. Tip one: get in better self-relationship. Practically speaking that means bad-mouth yourself less and work on your craft until your hands bleed."

During the break Ari listened to the ads. There was one for cars, one for a dating service, one for a travel agency with great buys on pilgrimages to the Holy Land. Then the host launched into a traffic report, which he completed all in one breath, and then a local weather report, which he managed on a second breath. Then they were on the air again.

"We're back with Dr. Ari Ben-Ami, bestselling author and creativity coach!" the host resumed. "Dr. Ben-Ami, in my own case, I've always thought I had a novel in me to write. Doesn't everyone! But I always felt like I needed to get some training first, maybe do some workshops or go back to school and get a degree in creative writing. What do you think about that? Do people need the kind of training they get in an art school or a creative writing program?"

"No. In your case, Tom, if you wanted to start your novel, all you would have to do is make your world stop. Right now you're too busy to have a thought; and of course a novel starts with a thought. You probably keep yourself so busy that you can’t possibly create. Just the way you've trained yourself to do the weather and the traffic, cramming them in at breakneck speed, tells me that you would have to unlearn your present way of being, which is all about speed, and learn the creator's way of being, which is all about stillness."

"Nobody can slow down anymore!" Tom laughed. "If that's what it takes, only monks in monasteries can create! I don't have a second on any given day to have a thought!"

"But that's dangerous," Ari replied. "Speed kills. We get a million things done that way, but we're undone."

"And that's all the time we have!" the host concluded. "Dr. Ben-Ami, thank you so much for joining us!"

"It's been my pleasure."

Ari waited for several seconds, in case the host or the show's producer wanted a last word with him. Sometimes one or the other would come on the line and express the desire to have him back, which information he would relay immediately to his publicist. But today he only heard that funny silence that meant that they were done with him and on to the next thing. He replaced the receiver very slowly, to make the point that even small things could be done one way or another: mindfully or with the soul absent. Read more!