You are a Writing Coach. Tell us how you help people tell their stories.
I help people get out of their own way and write the story/book that wants to be written versus the one they think they “should” write.
So many people come to writing with an agenda, which at its root literally means, “list of things to be done.” Nothing freezes you up or causes writer’s block more than having an agenda about what you should write. This idea of “should” is also the basis of fear and doubt, and it shows up particularly in women in the form of these debilitating questions: Am I good enough? Does my story really matter or have value?
When you have a desire to write, it really is a desire to nurture the power of your own expression both on and off the page. I start there with everyone—writers, want-to-be-writers, people who write but don’t consider themselves writers. I start by helping people develop a connection to their own expression free from any agenda or idea of what it should be.
I help people access and cultivate a relationship to their creative voice and spirit—the one that is enough, has something important to say, and is valuable simply because it is here, alive, expressing itself through the uniqueness of who you are. When you write what wants to be written, you touch what is precious inside you. You use words as a pathway to reach what lives beyond language.
That’s when the truth pours out on the page. That’s when you stumble upon your voice and are surprised by what it has to say. That’s when your own writing moves you and has the power to truly move others.
For women in midlife and beyond, what do you find are their unique opportunities in sharing their writing?I recently wrote and published an extensive piece on this (which you can read here).
Writing AND then sharing your story allows you to see who you are more clearly, to see the value of the life you ALREADY live, and to have that be the place from which more potential opens up around what is possible for you in the next phase of your life. It clarifies your purpose. It excavates the meaning that your life already has.
Writing is how you give expression to what is already within you. It brings your interior essence into form and becomes a vehicle for visibility, so you can see what’s there. When you write, you naturally tap into and express what you have to offer the world.
Sharing is how you come to see more clearly what your story really means and the impact it can have on others. Sharing allows you to see beyond yourself. As I frequently say, “You can’t see yourself by yourself.” We see ourselves through others and they see themselves through us. When you share your story, you offer a unique reflection of what the world is, and the world offers back to you a deeper understanding of who you are.
What you write, and the deeper insights and meaning you and others see within it, becomes your “content.” This could then be a blog, a book, a workshop idea or even a business, or simply a deeper understanding of yourself that guides you to new people and opportunities. The latter is what I call your “living book.”
Creating and sharing your content is how you live out your value and purpose and get even clearer on what you have to offer the world and what it has to offer you, especially if you feel you’ve lost sight of that.
Do you see unique challenges these women face?
The majority of my clients are women in mid to later life. The biggest challenge I see is overcoming the idea that you don’t have anything to offer the world. This usually shows up in statements like, “Am I really good enough to write?” “Does what I have to say matter?” “Who am I to write a book?” “Who am I to_________ (fill in the blank)?”
The challenge is to reorient oneself at this stage in life—to reorient yourself toward gathering and seeing the purpose, gifts, and deeper value of who you already are and have been in your life. It also includes venturing into areas outside of the care you give to others. Caregiving and professional work is a big value for many women, but it’s not all of it, and many women, especially mothers, have lost touch with the other parts of themselves. They simply want to explore the deeper interiority of who they are outside of the roles they hold on a day to day basis. They want to know what else they are capable of and share it. There is a craving to go to the edges, into the wilds, to touch back into the alive, creative, vibrant, passionate, undomesticated parts of themselves.
And many women don’t know how to do that and are terrified of what it might mean for the lives they have built, which they also want to keep and nurture. The challenge is to bridge the gap between the two. The invitation is to use writing to mend the tear between what to hide and what to reveal, what to love and what to reject. Writing your book invites you to heal the angry split between what is shameful and what is beautiful, and to become whole.
Can you share any examples of women in midlife you’ve helped in their writing?
One of my clients, Jeannie Jarnot, started a business called Beauty Heroes a few years ago based on a concept that was very personal to her—use less and love more. She didn’t consider herself a writer but was called to write a book about this concept and also her life’s journey, which included some very rough patches such as her mom committing suicide when she was 23. In our work together, not only has she completed an e-book for her business and is in the process of finishing a full-length book for publication, she has come to more fully live and embody what it really means to use less and love more in every aspect of her life—in her business, in her marriage, as a mom, as daughter, and personally in her own self-care and self-trust. She attributes this to giving herself the gift and freedom of full expression on the page. Through the journey of writing her book, she has been written into a new way of living and embodying what she before only knew as an idea in her head.
Stephanie Steyer started out wanting to write a book about branding and marketing and, after working with me, she came to understand that wasn’t the book she wanted to write at all. She wanted to use design as a form of healing and empowerment and is now doing that—she creates beautiful image boards (Muse Boards™) for people to help them develop their visual identity and to be a visual foundation for whatever they want to create for themselves or their business. Her book became a new direction and focus for her business. She still plans to publish the book someday, but for now she simply wants to work directly with people in this way. Writing her book helped her discover that clarity around what she wanted to do in this next phase of her life and career.
I have client who wrote a play and is now working to bring it to the stage, and another client, Cathy Edgett, who is in the process of readying a full-length book for publication that is her story of taking a trek to Nepal and almost dying on the mountainside when she turned 43 and her youngest son left home for college. It is her story of what it meant to be in mid-life and not know who you are anymore after giving so much of yourself to your family. Now in her sixties, it took her some time to actually see and accept that this is the story she wanted to tell. She thought she wanted to write a book for men—something to her sons, but it in fact turned out being more about claiming her own story as a woman.
This is the case for many of my clients. They usually come to me with an idea or a sense of knowing they want to write a book, but they don’t necessarily know what that book is, how to structure it, and where to start. My job is to get them writing and to let the rest take care of itself, because once you start, the writing will tell you where it needs and wants to go—sometimes that is a traditional book for publication, other times it’s not. The reality is that it takes a lot of work to write and publish a book whether you are traditionally publishing or self-publishing. Often people think that’s what they want, and it is, and they do the work to make it happen. Other times, the book really is a pathway for someone to begin a journey to discover and live into more of who they are. The “book,” which I describe as a container of completion or a vehicle for visibility, can take on different forms.
Either way, there are no shortcuts. Books of any kind take time. There are people out there who can take you through a process to write a book in a weekend. That is not the work I do. I am here to take you on a journey of deep creativity, a journey into the parts of yourself you crave and yet are fearful to go. It is a journey of restoring the human spirit one word at a time, and that takes as long as it takes.
What advice do you have for would-be writers?
Write if you want to write. That’s what makes you a writer. There is no “right” way to do it. Writing is available and possible for you whether you consider yourself a writer or not. Writing is a doorway to access the one within you who knows, and to discover a more meaningful experience of who you already are and what new potential awaits you from there.
Writing is a solitary endeavor. You do it alone, but you cannot do it alone. You can’t see yourself by yourself, particularly your own brilliance and the powerful parts of your voice, story and message. You need others for that. You need containers of support—coaches, writing workshops, retreats, writing groups, etc.—to support you on the journey. Support is key to being able to show up on the page, and off it as well.
Last but not least, writing is only half of the equation. The other is sharing it. Sharing is validation. When you write and share your writing you are essentially saying, “I matter enough, my story matters enough to write down and share with the world.”
What resources do you recommend for writers?
There are many resources out there for writers, here are just a few I personally use:
Writing Begins with the Breath: Embodying Your Authentic Voice by Laraine Herring
The Writing Warrior: Discovering the Courage to Free Your True Voice by Laraine Herring
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit by Brenda Ueland
The House of Belonging by David Whyte (a poetry book that encourages the soul to express)
Medium.com (to share your own writing and to read other writers)
Poets & Writers
Literistic (they offer a service that compiles places you can submit your writing, as well as other contests, conferences, residencies etc.)
The Sun Magazine
Writing by Writers
Squaw Valley Writers Conference
For great stories/storytelling: The Moth
For deeper perspectives on life and the work of the soul: Living Myth with Michael Meade
Connect with Samantha Wallen
Website: Write In Power
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Samantha Wallen is a poet, writer, book coach and writing mentor who teaches writing as a spiritual and healing practice. She is the Founder/CEO of Write In Power which offers workshops, residential retreats and private programs to local, national, and international clients. Her work is shaped by her 20+ years of mindfulness practice and her previous work as a faculty member and administrator at Naropa University in Boulder, CO. She has an M.F.A. in Writing and Poetics from the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics where writing as a personal, political and spiritual practice is at the forefront. Her work has most recently appeared in Urban Howl and Bombay Gin, and she was previously named a top writer in the categories of inspiration, creativity and writing on Medium.com She currently lives with her family in Mill Valley, CA.