Writing as Seeing with Soul: An Interview with Marilyn

This week’s article is an audio recording interview with me by Jeanne Schlesinger on her radio program “To See with Soul.” After taking my course “Excavate Your Truth/Free Your Voice,” Jeanne found that much of the writing we did was, indeed, soul work. In this interview, I talk candidly with Jeanne about the excavation process in writing, voice as both craft and identity for women writers, writing beneath the condition of silencing to discover the underlying themes and emotional truth of your memoir story, and the personal experience that led me to found Writing Women’s Lives.

 

Listen to audio of this interview (29 mins.) here.

 

Read the (slightly edited) transcript below:

 

Welcome to the radio show “To See with Soul,” brought to you by photographer and soul explorer Jeanne Schlesinger.

 

JS

On this week’s episode of “To See With Soul,” you all have a treat in store. You will get to meet fellow soul seeker Marilyn Bousquin, founder of Writing Women’s Lives™. Marilyn’s mission statement is the following: “I show women writers who are done with silence how to free their voice, claim their truth, and write their story with confidence, craft, and consciousness so they can finally be who they really are in their writing and in their life.” I for one found this fascinating the first time I heard it and I imagine you all will as well. So I’m going to stop talking in just a moment and let you hear from Marilyn.

 

Marilyn, on this show we talk about ways to see with soul, and in your classes you help women to “excavate their truth.” How does excavating your truth help you to see with soul?

 
MB

That’s such a great question, Jeanne.

 

First, let me say a few words about what I call the excavation part of the writing process. The word excavation refers to a process of discovering or uncovering something valuable. In my writing classes, during the excavation phase of the writing process, you write to discover or uncover your voice, which is who you are on the page. Your voice, then, is a priceless artifact that holds your deeper truth—what I call the emotional truth, your emotional truth—of your experience.

 
This deeper, emotional truth is the driving force of any story. It’s not the visible part of the story, the “what happened” part of the story. It’s the deeper, thematic glue that connects memories and experiences beneath the surface. It’s the substantive, underlying meaning of your life story.

 

By writing beneath the surface of our lives during the excavation process, we come to see ourselves and our material with clear vision. We transcend the limitations of our personal story and begin to see its universal truths.

 

I often say that stories have souls. This deeper, universal truth is the soul of your  story. To write at this level is to SEE your deeper truth, which carries your authentic voice.

 

In my classes, I teach that writing is about seeing. As you write you begin to SEE the deeper truth of who you are. So in this way, writing beneath the surface of your experience—excavating your truth and freeing your voice—is seeing with soul.

 

JS

Oh, Marilyn, I love that. At Writing Women’s Lives™ you focus on helping women free their voice and claim their truth. Why women writers in particular?

 

MB

It really goes back to who I am as a writer and who I’ve become as a teacher. When I look back I can see how an experience I had set me on a path to teach women writers how to free their voice and claim their truth.

 
When I was in an undergraduate creative writing workshop, my professor, who was a well-known novelist, held up a story I’d written and said in front of the entire class that he didn’t hear a voice in my story, and he went on to say that if you didn’t have a voice you weren’t a writer. So of course I concluded that I wasn’t a writer and that I didn’t have a voice.

 

This was the mid-1980s, before there was any cultural awareness about women and voice. So I left college convinced that I wasn’t a writer and that I didn’t have a voice. But the thing is I couldn’t stop writing. So I became what I call a hidden writer. I went on to become a writer in my profession. I wrote professionally for magazines and educational publishers, but I kept my personal writing private and hidden, which I think a lot of women—we do come to writing in diaries and through the tradition of women’s writing, so there is an element of privacy early on in our writing.

 

JS

I would have to agree.

 

MB

So what happened for me was, because I couldn’t stop writing and I had the desire to become a writer in the sense of telling my own story, I set out to discover for myself—first of all to discover my voice, or find my voice—but also to figure out for myself what the issue of voice in writing was because I didn’t come out of that creative writing class understanding that for myself.

 

What I discovered after doing extensive reading and research into women’s literature, women’s history, and women’s psychological development was that you cannot separate women’s lives and women’s writing from a deep-seated cultural history of silencing that is entwined with the female identity.

 

It was very eye-opening for me at the time, in my twenties—I came across the studies of Carol Gilligan—I don’t know if that name rings a bell for you—

 

JS

Yes, it does.

 

MB

She wrote a book called In a Different Voice and what she discovered was that as girls’ bodies develop at adolescence, their voice and sense of self diminish. I like to quote literary critic J. Brooks Bouson. She wrote a book called Embodied Shame: Uncovering Female Shame in Contemporary Female Writings, and in her book she calls this [female] conditioning “a prolonged immersion in shame.” I think that sums it up beautifully, especially if you think about shame as a toxic emotion, then you can start to see how a prolonged immersion in shame as part of your conditioning as a female can erode your sense of self and disconnect you from your voice.

 
JS

Yes. I totally agree.

 
MB

What happens is that despite—we grow up and despite our best efforts to stay in tune with our deeper selves, which of course naturally we are wired to do, we carry this internalized silencing into adulthood. This takes a toll on our writing and on our lives because we begin to see our stories and our subjects as unworthy of literature. In other words, we don’t really see the truth of our own experiences, the worthiness of them. As a result, many women’s stories go untold.

 
By writing beneath this conditioning, we reconnect with the essence of who we are and re-ignite the power of our voice.

 
I eventually came to understand that I’d had a voice all along and that as women we never lose our voice but that as a result of this conditioning, we get pinched off from our voice.

 
As women, we learn early on to keep quiet about our experiences as females. And it’s not like we even realize we’re doing this. It just becomes a normal way of being in the world. So when we sit down to write, we often censor this material before it hits the page. Not sharing who we are is so ingrained that censoring ourselves seems “normal.” This learned silence becomes an obstacle we then have to  overcome in order to write our truth in our authentic voice.

 
JS

You speak such truth there. (laughter)

 
MB

My courses are designed then—I have all of this in mind when I design my courses, and my courses are designed to help women write beneath this conditioning of silence to the truth of who they are as opposed to who they learned they were supposed to be so they can become the writers they were born to be and, ultimately, put their stories out into the world.

 
I have no doubt that stories carry the power to shift the awareness of a culture because stories themselves raise our awareness. They tune us into the truth. The truth has the power to change how we see things so that we see with what I call our true eyes. Each time a person sees through true eyes the culture itself begins to transform and see in a new way. The world needs women’s stories because women’s stories are human stories.

 
Voice, then, for women writers is not only a craft issue. This is why I design my classes for women. I’ve come to understand that voice is also an identity issue. In one of my courses “Craft Your Truth/Claim Your Story,” I devote an entire module to Voice as Identity because I find it that important for women to have an understanding of who they are as females and as writers so that they can really show up as who they are on the page.

 
JS

This is such powerful stuff and I should probably mention at this point that I did take your course recently and it was life changing. That’s why I wanted to interview you because what you offer to women is so powerful. It’s almost indescribable, but we’re going to try to describe it anyway. (laughter) You’ve been teaching for a while, is that correct?

 
MB

I taught my first formal creative writing class back in 2006.

 
JS

Have you been teaching online very much or was the course this summer the first time you’d done that? And if it was, what was it like compared to teaching with people in person?

 
MB

This summer I did launch my first online class through Writing Women’s Lives™, and I will admit that at first I was skeptical. It had been a long time coming, but I was skeptical because I didn’t want to lose that connection, that warmth that I found women were having when we met locally together in person.

 
JS

I for one have to tell you that it [the connection online] was there in vast amounts. The connection was there more than I ever could have expected, and it’s continued since the class ended.

 
MB

I was so pleased about that, Jeanne, I’ll say for your listeners that I use a  teleconference platform so that when we actually have our workshops and our classes we’re together on a conference line. We all call in by telephone onto a conference line. So we can hear each other and we can read and respond to each other’s work in person so to speak on the phone. And then I also have a private Facebook Forum so that people can support each other and post their writing between classes. And I was really, truly—I could not have been more pleased with how women connected in the class that you were in this summer from places far and wide. From other countries. What I came to realize is that it’s not so much about the format as it is about the level of trust that happens within a writing class—

 
JS

Yes, I just got goose bumps. (laughter)

 
MB

Isn’t it amazing? And the thing about women is that we are so good at connecting. We find ways to connect and that really became clear to me because of the deep bonds women forged in this class and the levels of honesty and vulnerability and truth the women were willing to share with each other. I think there’s something about coming together and writing as females and sharing our experiences that we have for the most part spent our lives not sharing—

 
JS

Right.

 
MB

It helps us see—there’s a certain way in which a safety is formed that we don’t find in many other places, and through the writing we are able to begin to trust our own minds and to trust that whatever our truth is that’s ready to hit the light of the page—or the light of consciousness as I like to call it—it will emerge. And so in a funny way we get out of our own way during the writing process and begin to discover who we are. Because of that there’s no pretense in the class. There’s a lot of connecting through the writing that allows people to form close bonds.

 
JS

And I would have to say the safety was so profound. We made connections with people and we really care about each other, and it’s such a deep bond. There is no doubt that it’s going to go on and on. We’ll probably be the first readers of each other’s books when they get published.

 
MB

No doubt. And that kind of support and encouragement—you know it’s very hard to write by yourself, even though writing is such a solitary activity. But to sustain a piece of writing, whether it’s a short memoir piece or a book-length memoir, there are times we do slip back and start to believe that internalized piece of shame that [tells us] we don’t really have a story, that we’re not really a writer. It’s almost easy to go there no matter how long we’ve been writing. So to have a community that understands and sees the truth of who each other is as a writer and to support and encourage each other, that can make the difference between telling your story and not telling your story.

 
JS

Exactly. I took a writing class maybe fifteen years ago, and we had a fabulous teacher but there were men and women in the class and for some reason it never reached the level of safety it reached in your class. I got started with excavating some things then I got scared and didn’t follow up. And it was so different this time, and I couldn’t be more grateful that I took your class. What is the next class you’re going to be offering online.

 
MB

I’m going to offer “Excavate Your Truth/Free Your Voice,” which is the class I offered this summer. I’m offering that class again this fall. That will happen in October. Then I’ll offer “Craft Your Truth/Claim Your Story” in January.

 
JS

Okay. And how does that one [Craft Your Truth] differ from the one I just finished taking [Excavate Your Truth]?

 
MB

“Excavate Your Truth/Free Your Voice,” which is the one you just took, for people who weren’t aware of that, is an 8-week workshop that focuses on the excavation process, which I talked about earlier. It’s really about generating your material and beginning to recognize your deeper truth, that deeper thematic pattern of your story, the underlying design of your life. You begin to get glimpses of that and see it so that you start to know that that’s really what the story you’re writing is about, it’s about that deeper truth.

 
The other course “Craft Your Truth/Claim Your Story” is a longer program. I’m recreating it right now, and it’s going to be somewhere between four and six months. It’s got two tracks. One is a craft track and the other is a consciousness or mindset track. On my website the tagline under Writing Women’s Lives™ is “Where craft meets consciousness”—

 
JS

I love that.

 
MB

I firmly believe that you have to know craft in order to write. There’s no doubt about it. That’s the apprenticeship part of learning to write your story and your memoir story.

 
But writing memoir also demands that you live a conscious and reflective life, and the writing process itself is an act of consciousness. You can learn craft and be excellent at craft but until you’re making leaps in consciousness and awareness and getting to the deeper truth of your story, the craft is only going to get you so far. It’s only going to get you to a certain level of reaching that deeper universal truth that your story does contain, and it’s that level of truth that will speak to your readers and that will engage them at an emotional level, which is where they’re deeply touched and something will change in them.

 
JS

And it’s a profound experience for everybody.

 
MB

That program goes deeper into the elements of craft in memoir and in shifting the limiting beliefs and mindsets that I’ve identified as so common to women writers. A lot of the work we have to do as women writers is to become aware not only of those deeper themes in our work but also of the mindsets and limiting beliefs that stem from the conditioning I mentioned earlier, the prolonged immersion in shame. When we begin to see that that’s not who we are but how we have learned to be in the world, we start to write at a whole new level of consciousness.

 
JS

I can say for myself this has been very profound. What is it like for other students who have taken your classes? Have they shared with you what their reactions are?

 
MB

Yes. I hear from my students a lot, and I do love receiving emails from my students.  Again and again women tell me that my writing courses change the way that they show up in their lives. The way they show up in their writing and in their lives. And I should say that one thing I find to be infinitely fascinating is that every class I’ve taught I’ve had a wide range of women in terms of their writing experience. Ranging from high school dropouts to PhDs to published authors to women who have written only in journals. The classes—I believe this is because we write beneath the condition of silencing—we connect at a place where we have that common experience of what it means to be female.

 
JS

Yes.

 
MB

I like to say where a woman is in her writing right now is exactly where she should be, but it’s not where she’ll stay for long. Wherever you are in your writing, the class will meet you there. The course is designed to meet each person where she’s at and to move her writing from there because it’s taking her deeper into her own truth and her voice to free her voice.

 
One thing that people report to me is that they feel more confident and present not only in their writing but also in their lives. This doesn’t really surprise me. If you think about writing as a need and not a luxury, that writing connects us to our voice and to ourselves so that we actually leave our writing desk feeling more centered and calm and present as if we’ve been listening to ourselves, which is exactly what we’re doing when we sit down to write and are open to honoring and hearing our deeper truths, our truth voice.

 
Women also tell me that the writing we do in my writing classes improves their personal writing and creative writing that we do in class, but that it also helps them in their professional writing. So, for example, if they’re in academia their scholarly writing begins to flow smoother. If they’re a blogger, their blogging becomes more effortless.

 
JS

Oh my gosh.

 
MB

It’s really because tapping into your voice and getting the confidence of who you are as a writer, that goes everywhere with you. If you’re an entrepreneur, it goes to your marketing copy and to the content of your web site.

 
JS

So the real you shows up no matter where you communicate.

 
MB

Exactly. Writing becomes less of a struggle because we are becoming less and less enslaved to the internalized conditioning of shame and silencing that previously seemed so true about who we are. That is diminished greatly so that we can just write from who we are.

 
JS

The shame is such a huge barrier. And getting past that is just enormous. Actually, I can only think of one thing that would keep people from signing up for your class and that is being afraid. So how do you deal with that if you’re too afraid to sign up but you still feel pulled to do that?

 
MB

It’s funny that you ask that question because in the class that I offered this summer online, I receive a Facebook message from a woman who wrote I really really really want to take this class but it scares the crap out of me! Ultimately other people started saying, “I’m scared, too.”

 
What I told her—what I wrote back to her—was that the closer we get to our own truth, especially when we’ve been conditioned to not see that truth, to keep that truth quiet and hidden, the closer we get to it the more our fear comes up. So in a funny way you can almost begin to use your fear as a gauge. To say to yourself, “Okay, is this fear like I’m in danger or is this fear like I’m about to move out of my comfort zone to some place I was conditioned never to go?” And so it becomes part of the work of moving through the fear. I also like to say that the bigger the writing dream the deeper the fear.

 
Because the fear does come up for people so much, I do offer a money back guarantee in my classes. I don’t want fear to keep women from tapping into the truth of who they are and recovering their voice and their story. First of all recovering their story for themselves, so they know who they are, and experiencing their own talent as a writer, putting those words on the page and beginning to craft and shape that story. But then, ultimately, putting that story out into the world where it actually becomes a contribution to the world because it’s truth and it’s beauty.

 
So I do offer that guarantee so that women have the opportunity to try the class and discover for themselves if it’s the right class for them.

 
JS

That’s a great way to try it out and know you have a little bit of a safety net. But speaking personally I would say that facing your fear and working through it is one of the most empowering things you can do. I don’t think life is ever free of fear and to know that—there was a book I read years ago called Feel Your Fear and Do It Anyway and your class was a chance to put that in action.

 
If one of our listeners wanted to sign up for your next class, how would they go about doing that?

 
MB

They can go to my web site www.writingwomenslives.com and sign up for my blog and newsletter, which will keep them posted on class dates and registration. People can also go to my Writing Women’s Lives™ Facebook page. I post their regularly several times, anything from what’s going on in my classes to quotes by women writers to publishing opportunities, so that’s a good place to keep up with what’s going on at Writing Women’s Lives™. People can also email me at Marilyn@writingwomenslives.com to let me know they’re interested in a class, and I’ll be sure they receive updates.

 
JS

Fantastic. I have to tell you it’s been a joy to interview you today, and I know my listeners are going to love what you have to say. It’s so important, and it’s life changing, not just for each individual but also for society to have people show up and be their authentic selves. So thank you.

 
MB

Thank you, Jeanne. It has been a joy and a pleasure to talk with you today. Thank you so much for your interest in Writing Women’s Lives™, and it’s been lovely to connect with you again.

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