Podcast Answers – Day 2: Transformative writing

As I mentioned on Monday (here, you remember), I’m going to post longer, more well-thought-out (maybe!) answers to the questions that Britt Bravo posed to me during our Arts and Healing Network podcast conversation last week. Here’s our second installation!

The second question on the list:
2. On your site, you describe [your workshops] as “transformative writing” workshops. How are they transformative?

Monarch emerging from its chrysalis Transformative writing is writing that changes you in the process of its creation. A dictionary gives one definition of transform as “to change completely for the better.” Another definition: “to convert one form of energy to another.”

And for the word transformation one of the definitions is: a complete change, usually into something with an improved appearance or usefulness.” Another? “A sudden changing of a stage set that takes place in sight of the audience.” Yes – that’s what we’re talking about here.

(In looking these up, I’ve just learned that there’s such a thing as transformational grammar, a phrase I find extremely exciting but which I’m not (necessarily! I can’t actually say for sure) talking about here).

Writing that’s transformative is writing that surprises the writer as it’s emerging, either with respect to form, content, structure, or some other element. It’s writing through which the writer maybe learns something about hirself* on the other end (even if the writing is fiction—that teaches us about our capacity as writers/artists). In my experience, there’s much writing that’s transformative – freewriting as a method works well for me, when I can let the writing come, can get the editor out of the way and discover after I’m done what it was that I was trying to say.

Dara Lurie, a writer and workshop leader in New York, describes transformative writing as, “a process of refining and clarifying ones own thoughts and actions through the conscious use of language.” ( from her website). I like this a lot! Transformative Language Arts NetworkI initially met the word ‘transformative’ in conjunction with writing when I learned about the Transformative Language Arts program at Goddard College, which describes itself as being “is for students interested in the intentional use of the written, spoken and sung word for individual and community growth, development, celebration, and transformation.” (more info here…)

There’s also writing that, because of its structure/creation, is transformative for the reader: this is writing that gives us as readers the chance to discover something about/for ourselves as we take in the work. (I’m going to name two names here, for me: Gloria Anzaldua – Borderlands/La Frontera; Jeannette Winterson – just about anything).

This all ties into my understanding of an erotic writing practice or process: writing that is risky, genre-defying, full of metaphors, stream of consciousness, deeply connected and unconsciously-driven. An erotic writing process is distinct (though not always separate from) writing that is erotic in content (sex stories & the like), a writing session in which one engages in the erotic/organic process of freewriting, an experience of writing that brings one well into the paths of one’s inner labyrinths. Over time, through the use of this practice, we are not only able to improve our writing, but we are also able to witness ourselves in the process of changing. “One of the main aims in writing practice is to learn to trust your own mind and body…We must continue to open and trust in our own voice and process. Ultimately, if the process is good, the end will be good. You will get good writing” (Nataile Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones).

Audre Lorde's Sister Outsider, which contains the essay, Uses of the Erotic - The Erotic as PowerI’m talking about the fact that the process of writing itself can be an erotic experience, if we can engage a definition of “erotic” that’s closer to Audre Lorde’s (“I speak of the erotic as the deepest life force, a force which moves us toward living in a fundamental way. And when I say living I mean it as that force which moves us toward what will accomplish real positive change.” About Audre Lorde) or Alicia Ostriker’s (“Metaphor is the erotic element in language.” Ostriker, Alicia. “A Meditation on Metaphor.” By Herself: Women Reclaim Poetry, edited by Molly McQuade.).

Transformative writing is rich and risky – it takes chances – it’s not driven by our inner editor. It lets the hand, the writing, do the writing and gets our head out of the mix, at least for the first draft—the head comes in later! (No pun intended – let’s move on.) Sometimes the results of this kind of writing are very linear. Sometimes the results are an almost surreal conglomeration of verbs, nouns, and adjectives with no distinct structure, conjugation or form—often the resulting writing is somewhere between these extremes, and every time, every time, though, this is writing that brings listeners to the edge of their seats, emotionally resonant, writing you don’t want to end, even if the content, the topic, is difficult or hard.

The AWA workshop method, as defined by Pat Schneider, is an especially good container for, especially encouraging of, transformative writing: writing that takes risks, that rides on the edges of control, that opens us to the possibility of change. It’s what makes possible us writing ourselves whole!

What do you think about all this? What might “transformative writing” mean to you? What do you think of or envision when you hear/read that phrase? Let me know!

* hir/ze – these are gender-neutral, all-encompassing pronouns; more aesthetically-pleasing (and broader!) to me than “him/her-self,” etc,

2 thoughts on “Podcast Answers – Day 2: Transformative writing

  1. Hi Jen! We’ve met briefly once at the Power of Words conference 2007 – I’m currently a student in IMA program.

    Just wanted to let you know that I thoroughly enjoyed your blog post and I hope it makes it into some of the TLA publications – thanks so much and I hope that we can chat one day soon!

    Cheers,
    Amanda

  2. Jen,

    I’m excited to have discovered your blog. I’ll be back everyday to read and learn and probably agree with much you have to say.

    When I hear the phrase “transformative writing” I think of the type of writing I do.

    That is, I’m honest to the point of pain, and sometimes I really hate the risks I take as a writer, how honest I’ll go on the page. But I’ve given myself permission to do so, and that in itself is empowering. Writing is where I’ve experienced the most self empowerment, the most self realization, and the most empathy too.

    Peace,
    A

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