Compare their biographies (see below) and authors Rebecca Lawton and Jordan Rosenfeld seem on different journeys as writers, one leaning predominantly toward essays on natural science, the other toward freelance journalism and fiction. Brief biographies, however, are only surface geologies in the strata of a writer’s life. Each has layered her creative life with the power of attracting such a life by writing down her desires. Discovering this power of attraction was significant enough in their evolution as writers that after they met, both decided to share their discovery with other writers, first as a seminar and then through the book Write Free: Attracting the Creative Life (BeijaFlor/Kalupi, 2007). The book’s central idea is that a writer can attract the life he or she wants, and at the same time he or she can be un-mired from negative energy: negative energy, indeed, is the culprit that denies us our dreams. The book helps writers, or any creative person for that matter, focus on what they want by writing down their desires and acting on them.
While reading the book, I had some follow-up questions for Becca and Jordan, which they graciously answered. They also graciously agreed to an interview via e-mail to talk further about the book and their writing lives.
Below is the interview:
You both have diverse backgrounds as writers. Once you met, how did Write Free come together? Did you have different approaches to writing the book?
RL: Write Free, the book, came together as a result of our putting together a writer’s retreat at Wellspring Renewal Center on the Navarro River, California. Writers came from all over the country to share in our launching the Write Free work. Jennie Landsfield arrived from Chicago — in the very moment Jordan and I
met her, she envisioned a book we’d be writing together. The subject: using writing to attract our ideal lives — writing lives, it turned out. We not only set to work on the book immediately after the retreat, we dedicated it to Jennie. We split the work of writing chapters down the middle, reviewed and revised each other’s work, and brought the diverse chapters into one piece. It came together fairly seamlessly.
JR: We had a startlingly easy time writing this book. Before we wrote the book we decided to organize a teaching-style retreat to share what we had discovered was happening in our own writing lives. We held our first ever Write Free retreat at the magnificent Wellspring retreat center in 2006, and from there the idea for the book just flowed. It felt like we were in synch when writing the book, even though, if you read carefully, you can feel tone and voice differences when Becca is writing, or when I am. Certainly we bring different lenses to bear on the subject, but I think Becca would agree we had (and have) a great synergy.
Were the principles of attraction shared? Were there ever any conflicts?
RL: We discovered the principles of attraction somewhat serendipitously — as we say in the book, we noticed that the things we desired for our lives seemed to come into being once we’d written them down, thereby defining them, and held them in a confident space. A friend of mine who already knew of the work
of Lynn Grabhorn recommended we read Excuse Me, Your Life Is Waiting. We read that, and Grabhorn’s Playbook, sharing the journey of learning through weekly meetings either by phone or in person. We only stopped meeting regularly when Jordan’s baby Ben was born, and no doubt we’ll soon be back on a schedule for meeting about our work. It’s been definitely a partnership, very smooth and conflict free.
JR: If you mean did we share the principles of attraction with others, yes we did in workshops and in classes. If you mean did we share the principles among ourselves, that’s a yes too. When we came to the work, we both had had “power of attraction” experiences already in our lives and were drawn to similar
material. We both felt a great connection to the idea for the book and I’m proud to say we really didn’t have any major conflicts.
As I’ve read the book and worked through the activities one word seems to stand out — “focus”. How important is focus for a writer to attract the creative life he or she wants?
RL: Attracting the life you want requires having the clearest possible picture of it you can muster. Focus is essential in that it distills and directs your energy toward having what you want. I believe your focus will change: some things will sharpen as you acquire more information and mature, just as other things will go out of focus. That’s evolution. At any point in your evolution, it’s critical to take time to joyously and intuitively work out the focus for your next steps.
JR: Very. Focus is the way we communicate to the universe (and to ourselves) what we want. Setting an intention requires focus. Getting down to the act of writing requires focus (diverting one’s attention away from the many clamoring aspects of our lives, like jobs and spouses and children). Focus is an important key, and each of us does it differently but I think without it you can’t really get very far toward any creative project.
Thinking of maintaining focus, it seems that a lot of negative energy comes out of distraction? How can writers overcome distraction, especially everyday distractions: jobs, money, children, etc.?
RL: The best response to this I’ve heard yet is the poet Terry Ehret‘s solution for the distractions in a writer’s life: integrate them. If money is an issue, write about it. If children speak to you as you’re working, let the essence of what they’re saying flow on to the page. These everyday distractions are the stuff of life — they’re material you can use, if you remember that you’re a writer first and foremost. For many of us, families top our lists of what’s key to our lives. Remembering that, and finding structure in your time that allows both their loving support and your writing, you’ll integrate distraction.
JR: This is one of those answers that’s like a Zen koan — you overcome distraction by doing the opposite of it — which as you point out, is focusing. I think part of the problem many writers have in terms of being distracted from writing comes from fears/beliefs we hold about how hard/scary, or even exciting (thus shameful) it is to write. A lot of people feel guilt for wanting to take time to themselves for something that doesn’t necessarily bring material wealth or immediate results. By doing the writing exercises in our book we hope to help people crystallize their passion for writing so that they see how much is missing from their lives without it. (And you could easily substitute painting, dancing or sculpting for writing).
In Chapter 2, Rebecca relates a story of trying to place an essay with a particular publication, and after letting go of the insistence of getting that essay published, plunged into another essay, and in essence wrote for herself. In one of Jordan‘s interviews she talks about writing for herself. Is writing for yourself essential to the writing life? Is it essential to let go of the notion of writing for an audience or even for publication?
RL: It’s everything. Success and fame are not totally within our control. Writing what we love is. In Thunder and Lightning, Natalie Goldberg recommends writing for oneself — exploring the depth of your well, learning craft — for years before even approaching a publisher. I think this suggestion will move a writer to publication faster than if he or she tries to publish early.
JR: I think writing for yourself is crucial to getting to the writing that is your most authentic material, and therefore most likely to be published or shared joyfully with others. We live in a culture that constantly presses us to achieve and succeed, the measure of which is usually money or some sort of amorphous “fame.” I think we often forget how to pursue our art — in our case, writing — with passion rather than with the idea of becoming rich and famous. So yes, I think all good writers begin by writing for themselves — which to me means mining for gold.
In my evolution as a writer, for a long chunk of time, I proceeded through a rigid plan of how I was going to progress through a career in writing (journalism would lead to publishing short stories and short stories would lead to novels) that only in the past few years have I realized isn’t the only path. The plan was also pretty nebulous. I really had an “ah-ha” moment when reading the section “Actively revising the life you want to live” — I realized specifically that it was OK to reconsider and revise my own path. Did either of you have a rigid sense of how one became a writer? And, how specific do you have to be with the path, with planning and writing out your desires?
RL: I don’t know how rigid my sense about becoming a writer was — I tend to be a dreamer. I just had dreams, waking dreams. I’d read something by Wallace Stegner and say, “I want to write novels like that.” Or I’d read short stories by Rick Bass and say, “I want to master the short story.” Or I’d see a play by Thornton Wilder and say, “I’ll write a play like that someday, too.” I had enthusiasm about doing it all. This is fine — the enthusiasm is the stuff of life — but I find I personally get more done if I then turn that enthusiasm into a work plan (you can even use The Wish List from Write Free) that I can get up in the morning and follow every day. Using attraction to help get some of the work done you might not get to all on your own — bringing you a publisher, finding you the right agent — is an added dimension that Write Free informs writers is available to them.
JR: I don’t think I ever had a specific idea of how one should become a writer — though I did ultimately end up going through an MFA program driven by a feeling that it would somehow “make me” as a writer. It was a great experience but I can’t say that it made the difference in my career ultimately. I had an epiphany one day, as described in the book, that I could leave my job and pursue a freelance life — this came about after Becca and I started meeting and talking about what we wanted for our writing lives (invoking that power of attraction). It was so liberating, and once I realized that I could become a journalist without going to journalism school (though I do have an education), I realized that I had been unnecessarily holding myself back.
As for how specific you have to be with your path, I think some things need to be very specific, such as: do you want to be a journalist or a novelist; do you want to make a living from your writing, or have money come from some other source so you can just be free to write. But the “how” of it — that can be more nebulous. I have noticed though that when I really, really hone in on something I want — to be published in a specific journal, or to write about a certain topic — those things tend to manifest sooner and with more ease than my more nebulous goal “to be a published novelist.”
Recently, this sentence from the book has really stuck in my head: “If you picture things going badly, you are pulling negativity toward you by expecting it.” Admittedly, I’ve been a pretty pessimistic person, especially in my writing life. I feel as if I draw a great deal of negativity toward me and then swim in it. It seems as if it’s easier to get into the habit of negative thinking than being positive. Even as I’ve been reading Write Free, trying to be consciously open to positive experience, I fall into swimming with negativity. How can a creative person overcome pulling negativity toward himself or herself and avoid swimming in the negative?
RL: You’re taking the first important step by recognizing it. Recognize it, re-language it, swim in the positive. It may be as simple as hearing yourself complete a self-limiting sentence and adding an addendum: “at least not yet,” “up until now,” “in the past.” As a wordsmith, you’re in tune to the power and slight shadings to differences in words. Use those to your advantage to bring the life you want.
JR: I agree that “the negative” can be easier to fall into than the positive at times; like anything good for you, being positive takes a little bit of work until you get on a roll. But I’ve found once I fall into a positive flow, it gets easier to build on it. Still, I think the best way that writers can be consciously open to positive experiences is by doing something every day to manifest it — from writing exercises, to actually writing — whatever brings you joy should find its way into your day each day. So it’s being committed, really, but you don’t have to make huge overtures — you can simply journal for ten minutes every morning, or listen to books on tape in your car, or take a class…but daily practice seems to make the difference for me.
I came to the concept of positive attraction reading Henriette Klauser‘s Write it Down, Make it Happen, which is in your suggested reading. How influential was this book on your own insights in Write Free? Were there other books on the Suggested Reading list that had a deeper influence on your book?
RL: I read Klauser only after we’d written Write Free! And I love her work. Write It Down, Make It Happen seemed like a powerful corroboration of what we’d come to experience for ourselves. The Grabhorn and Hicks’ work came to us earlier and so were closer to the roots of our own project.
JR: I think the book that most affected me was Excuse Me, Your Life is Waiting. This was kind of the jumping off place, but both of us felt very familiar with the power of attraction idea, and though we ended up reading other books out of curiosity, I’d say that Write Free is its own creature. The second most powerful influence for me was Ask and it is Given by Esther and Jerry Hicks, which is a bit more esoteric but speaks to me. This book really gave me permission to want bigger and better for myself, and to believe it was possible, just by shifting how I thought, to have what I wanted.
How do you answer skeptics of the concept of the power of attraction?
RL: Well, we’re not here to convince anyone of anything. In our book Write Free, we say whether you believe or not in the premise of attraction, you can still try it. Act as if it were true and go from there.You’ll see results even so.
JR: I don’t answer skeptics because we’re not preaching or proselytizing. It’s been very important to Becca and me that we not come off as gurus. We see ourselves only as guides, and we mean that as humbly as possible. Maybe “sharers” would be a better term. We each have to do what works for us, so if someone doesn’t find the power of attraction to be effective then why would they pursue it? But we couldn’t deny what happened for us when we started working with the principle. However, I will say that you can do the Write Free exercises without believing in the power of attraction at all. Some of them are just really practical, fun and useful for changing how you think about things.
How do you know when you’re attracting positive energy?
RL: I feel alive, in alignment with an easeful life, healthful, and connected to others and my work. Synchronous events happen all the time. I’m living in joy.
JR: There’s a kind of flow to my life. What I focus on comes into being pretty quickly, from job offers to assignments, to good ideas for a story. I also notice that when I’m in the positive side of attraction I just feel better in general. So the goal for me is to get to a place where I feel good first, then I know that I can attract what I want.
What are your current writing projects?
RL: This summer I finished Oil and Water: A Novel of Junction, Utah, which had long been my central writing project. I’m seeking the right publisher for that. Now I’ve started work on a proposal for a collection of essays on various important rocks in North America and their effects on our lives. This year I’ll finish a collection of short stories about people and water. In the years to come, I’m going to learn more about playwriting and working in drama, something I’ve always wanted to do. And I’ll continue to write the Write Free newsletter with Jordan, because sharing the principles of attraction with other writers is now forever intertwined with my life.
JR: Well, I’m a new mother so I’m not doing very much writing, except a few profiles for Writer’s Digest magazine where I’m a contributing editor, and picking out a revision page by page on a novel draft about a family torn apart by a very strange cult.
Rebecca Lawton is an author, editor, and natural scientist whose book about the river guiding life, Reading Water: Lessons from the River (Capital Books), was a San Francisco Chronicle Bay Area bestseller and a ForeWord Nature Book of the Year finalist. Her essays, poems, and stories have been published widely, including in publications such as Orion, Shenandoah, Sierra, the San Francisco Chronicle, and THEMA. She is co-author of Discover Nature in the Rocks with Irene Guidici-Ehret, Diana Lawton, and Susan Panttaja (Stackpole Books), On Foot in Sonoma with Arthur Dawson (Kulupi Press), and Write Free: Attracting the Creative Life with Jordan E. Rosenfeld (Kulupi Press/BeijaFlor). She has earned Pushcart Prize nominations in nonfiction and poetry and won the first Ellen Meloy Fund Award for Desert Writers for work on her novel, Oil and Water.
Jordan E. Rosenfeld is a Silicon Valley-based freelance writer and editor and the author of the books, Make A Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time (Writer’s Digest Books) and Write Free! Attracting the Creative Life with Rebecca Lawton (BeijaFlor Books). Her freelance journalism has appeared in such publications as AlterNet.org, Marin Magazine, Seattle Conscious Choice, the San Francisco Chronicle, the St. Petersburg Times, and Writer’s Digest, for whom she is a contributing editor. Her book reviews are regularly featured on The California Report, a news-magazine produced by NPR-affiliate KQED radio. She holds an MFA in Fiction and Literature from the Bennington Writing Seminars, and a BA from the Hutchins School. For three years, Jordan hosted the literary radio program “Word by Word: Conversations with Writers,” which received an NEA Chairman’s grant for literary projects in 2005, on NPR-affiliate KRCB radio–there she interviewed authors such as T.C. Boyle, Aimee Bender, Louise Erdrich, and Mary Gaitskill.