Creative Process: “How to get on the inside of the inside,” by Hal Zina Bennett

I’ve been writing a series on Creative Enemies for my Creative Catalyst column on Telling Her Stories–the blog for Story Circle Network. I took on the topic of believing we have the power to know and the power to look inside for the answers.

Three of my merry band of creative friends (Hal Manogue, Eden Maxwell, and Hal Zina Bennett) wrote extensive comments to make for a lively dialogue. Here’s what Hal says. I invite you to read the Creative Catalyst post, and the comments it generated. Hal’s extensive bio is below his article.–Janet


Creative Process: Getting Inside the Inside

by Hal Zina Bennett

The bugaboo of “it’s inside you” is locating where that is. I remember reading “The Alchemist,” by Paolo Coelho years ago. It’s an entire book about discovering the heart (the inside) with many adventures and lots of discussion between the boy and the Alchemist about what that meant.

Similarly, when I taught workshops I had people do an exercise called Writing in The Present. For some, it was instant connection with the inside, for others it was a frustrating puzzle. But what always amazed me was that even when writers had done it–connected with the inside, and almost instantly–they didn’t recognize it or didn’t know where to go with it.

Why? Partly because inside is scary. We expend a huge amount of energy in our lives trying to stay away from it because “there be the demons, the shame, and crawly things.” But it’s not really that simple, either. Sometimes the inside just seems too banal to us. It’s too familiar. We live with it everyday. Why would anyone else be interested? Where’s the poetry? Indeed.

But when you get into that place, or your pen or computer takes you inside, it’s electric for the reader and for you. I reread Hemingway a couple months ago, The Sun Also Rises: he’s banal, in one sense. He’s just telling how his days are going with his bunch of drunkard friends wandering aimlessly around Europe trying to figure out what their generation’s war was about and what the hell bullfights are about, and who Brett is screwing now and why Jake Barnes is such a pain in the butt. Not much goes on but what goes on is close to Ernest’s heart.

We miss the point of what he’s about if we think he is reporting what’s really happening in his life; rather, he is doing a crackup job of shaping the memories of his with words. He’s touching that place that Yeats talked about, when you cannot tell the dancer from the dance. And he was an awful good wordsmith.

Between the lines the book is about the words, his love of the words, a certain simplicity that takes him and the reader not so much into what Brett or Jake or any of the rest of them are doing but into the ecstatic place of a man writing a book, the love of the craft that Ernest had and that mattered to him more than anything else.That’s where his heart was.

And, incidentally, if you look very closely, and you also read your Bible–King James and his band of scurvy scribes–you’ll discover where bold, brash Ernest got his rhythms of language, the simplicity for telling a story, and a good part of his existential angst, in the process.

Look at a passage like this (from Oxford Bible: Mark 5:35): “That day, in the evening, he said to them, ‘Let us cross over to the other side of the lake.’ So they left the crowd and took him with them in the boat where he had been sitting, and there were other boats accompanying him.” Finding the inside isn’t about bleeding onto the page or about flowery language or clever metaphors. It’s more about being present with what you’re doing right now, especially how it feels as you’re putting words on the page–or rewriting for the 17th time. That’s where the beauty of the writer in the act of writing and touching that inside place.

The long and not so short of it is that touching the inside is the most elusive part of our craft. After publishing more than 30 books, there are maybe a few pages I love in each of them when the inside drives the writing. I like to believe that every writer knows it when they touch that place. It lifts you, literally, and is as difficult to explain as orgasm.

Chaucer said, “The life so short, the craft so long to learn.” That’s pretty much the story, isn’t it?


Hal Zina Bennett has been my unofficial writing mentor. He offers writing classes, individual coaching and publishing expertise.

Hal’s writings, workshops and lectures have reached millions of readers and writers the world over. With more than 30 successful books of his own, he also coaches upcoming writers, helping them with everything from initial conceptualization to finding agents and publishers.

His gifts as a teacher and writing coach have proved invaluable for the more than 200 authors he has helped toward successful publication. Several of his clients have become national best-sellers and Oprah guests. His client list has included: Phil McGraw (Dr. Phil), Judith Orloff, Shakti Gawain, Jerry G. Jampolksy, Dharma Singh Khalsa, Stanislaf Grof, Michael Samuels, MD, and many others.

Hal’s own list of published works includes novels, poetry, magazine articles and non-fiction-writings that open hearts and minds to the expanding range of the human experience. You have a great treat in store, whether reading one of Hal’s books or taking one of his workshops.

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