The Sacred Art of Writing

On the plane to Cincinnati, I’m reading Writing, The Sacred Art: Beyond the Page to Spiritual Practice by Rami and Aaron Shapiro. I read this paragraph that made me want to jump up and down with joy. But that’s frowned on in an airplane.

Here is one on how we edit our stories to become innocent:  “The problem s that as we absolve ourselves of our transgressions, we too often excise them from our self-story, constructing a new story that allows us to say, ‘I am no longer the person that committed these acts.’ This is a form of othering.  [Italics mine.] We are othering ourselves, othering the parts of us that we do not wish to acknowledge. In so doing, we create a shadow self.”

In the next paragraph Shapiro makes this suggestion: “We will meet with the version of ourselves that lived in that moment, the self that committed those crimes. We. . . will meet this self without condemnation, because to condemn it is to objectify it, to buffer our current selves by imagining that this horrible thing, this enemy, is other. It isn’t. We are the other. The enemy is us.

* * *

This is the heart of anyone’s life–constructing a story that we can live with, that we, in fact, live. This kind of story-writing is what makes us whole. The purpose of journaling. The secret to the peace that comes from journaling. We meet the parts of ourselves we don’t like and continue to live anyway.

When we bring this practice to writing, or art, or dance, or any creative practice, we understand the power of doing our art again and again to get better–better as artists, but also better in the sense of healing, stopping the pain of life and making mistakes.

Later today, I read the perfect companion piece to this growth. It’s by Ira Glass, the creator of This American Life.


-Quinn McDonald is a writer and deeply glad that her story is one told in words.


14 thoughts on “The Sacred Art of Writing

  1. Have you ever noticed that the stories of people’s lives and experiences we are most drawn to are the ones that are written with complete honesty. These are the ones that make the characters real to us because they do and say things that are not perfect…like us.

  2. Hmmm . . . I agree with the sentiments but fall on Pete’s side of the continuum on a number of points (I seldom see in absolutes as there is too much I don’t know). So to put it a little more succintly
    1. We narrative our lives in order to live with what we’ve done or had done to us.
    2. No one ever attained excellence, in their own eyes, over night.
    I’ve known these things for a very long time but struggle with both at times and always delight to see/hear/read other’s thoughts about them.
    Happy travels Quinn – enjoy the excitement and stay warm!

    • You hit on something important–when we recognize something that is true for us, we delight in reading the other person’s insight. I quoted out of a chapter that had a lot of great insight, and one sentence, lifted out, never has the flavor of the full chapter.

  3. I can feel your good energy here in OH! May I ask where you found the Ira Glass passage? Wonderful! Really struck home, too. Have a productive session in Cinci. and safe trip!

    • A friend of mine found the Ira Glass quote and posted it on Facebook. It reads like Ira Glass, and I must admit, I believed her attribution without checking it myself. It made so much sense to me!

  4. Quinn, I’ve done both kinds of writing mentioned above. It is the latter that frees me. Taking on the “real me” has opened new doors. Thank you for this blog.

  5. You probably would not be surprised that I would almost certainly never even pick up the Shapiros’ book. There are several reasons for this: even if I’m looking for a book that one would be in a category that’s pretty far down in my interest ranking, the title kind of puts me off, and I just bet the cover illustration…well never mind; I just looked it up and it’s not as bad as I anticipated.

    On the other hand, I try to occasionally make an effort to read something that I would *never* read. My experience, like with this (at least with the little bit you quoted) has been that there is often (or at least sometimes), in writing I would usually avoid, ideas I don’t find absurd or odious, and logic that might be pretty tangled, but can be followed even if it’s needlessly difficult. Nope, what I hate, what really puts me off, is usually the writing itself.

    Where the Shapiros invent constructions like “otherness” and “shadow self” I see needless embellishment that obscures the point they’re trying to make. Ira Glass is different, he’s just taking a whole paragraph to express a decent sentence or two. I sometimes teach technical writing, and while there are specific tools, processes, and techniques that can be helpful, the most important thing about writing, to me is: “brevity good.”

    • Yeah, this is not the book for you, Pete. The language he uses are familiar to me, makes sense with my background and experience. What you find “needless embellishment, I find “subtle distinctions in different people’s behavior.” As my French mom used to say, “One man’s poisson is another man’s poison.’

      • I know a few more versions of that!
        “One man’s mead is another man’s Poisson” is a line from _Riders of the Purple Sage_ by Philip Farmer, having vaguely to do with Poisson distributions and drunkenness. At least I think it does. It’s a strange book.
        “One man’s Mede is another man’s Persian” is, I believe, very old, the Medes and the Persians being peoples at one time (in fact the same people)
        I’ve also seen “One man’s Meade is another man’s Poisson” in the context of math, and I’ve always assumed there was someone named Meade on the faculty of some math department somewhere.

        And speaking of Poisson distributions, oddly enough, they can be used to describe subtle distinctions in a series (such as people’s behaviors), and is kind of the way I think of things like that, although I suppose that’s not at all PC.

  6. Hi Quinn, can almost see you going up and down jumping in the airplane LOL, but I know the feeling……when I am writing it’s hard to stop sometimes because I get in a sort of flow…….often giving myself the answers I already know! It feels so good to write and I do it not so often…..the part of the ‘enemy’ I recognize also, I think there is just one way and that’s to embrace your shadow because only with love things will be ok like they are!
    creative greet, Miranda

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