Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés


In "The Creative Fire" manuscript by cp estés on July 13, 2010 at 2:52 AM

Over these many decades, I find unequivocally that each person has a unique one-of-a-kind way to speak/write in their own voice, from their own experiences and fantasies.

“In this sense, each person decides to go whichever way they like, or feel called to, in whatever pattern… depending only on what they themselves wish to accomplish or feel most fulfilled by in speaking, performing or/and writing.

“There is a long tradition of original voice. For instance, like their written works or not, Bret Easton Ellis has his own voice, as does Stephen King, as does The Buke, as does DiPrima and Ginsberg, Sexton and Teasdale and Dickenson. One would not mistake one for the other.

“My friend, the late Kurt Vonnegut, had a charism of personal voice and imagination. Alighieri’s voice is different than Yeats or Blake. Rumi is distinct from Kabir (Persian poets) who is distinct from Mirabai (Northern Indian poet).

“Stafford is different than Bly, though both are prairie poets. Alegria is different than Paz, who is different than beautiful Opal Whitely, who is different from the masterful Koch or the rebellious Sor Juana. Jung is way different than Freud, and Toni Wolff is differently voiced than either.

“I give you only a tiny sample above to speak of those who strove for/ dared to speak and write in original voice… this coming about by their investment, immersion in their personal interests, by way of speaking/writing in wild ways that came to them naturally, by truthtelling, by not sequestering knowledge or imagination, by leaving the constraints of ego, by speaking/ writing from their own life experiences and quandries, and by following through a dark woods, something that is sure-footed.

I often see that one of the proofs of wild and natural voice seated well, is that though whatever we write or speak takes craft and is hard to do, even so, often also what we write or speak surprises us in some useful way each time we truly unleash.

“Then is when we think things, say things, write things we never could have thought of solely from ego… or when we were closed down, or trying too hard.

“I’d mention too one of the great secrets of writing and speaking… one that most writers and speakers either never speak of, or else only allude to, and that is:

“Sometimes, if we allow the gates that ego and culture pound down over most all creative freedoms… if we allow those gates to open (recommended), or blast them off their hinges (also recommended as needed ) an inner teacher, or a winged creature, or a little monastery of monks or nuns appears (choose your own image as you see it/them).

“These represent heightened intuitions about how to/what to write and/or speak next. These energies are deep in the work ‘with’ us. The old fashioned word for them is daemon: guide. There are other words as well, some less of spirit and more of earth.

“You will hear some novelists, for instance, say ‘the character took over the writing.’ This is code, for the writer being in wild voice and thought… being gateless. This is code for a daemon came near and thus became co-creator with the writer.

You can perhaps see why some artists might not want to speak at length about such truths of spirit that they themselves have directly experienced. For some who have not yet been to hell and back nor seen angels, might think us all mad, or that Miss Millicent drinks a bit.

“Yet often only in heaven or in hell or from heaven or hell, does one get the bones to write with and upon, the clothing with which to fill out the characters. Yeats was our fellow traveler when he wrote, “Now that my ladder’s gone/ I must lie down where all the ladders start/ In the foul rag and/ bone shop of the heart.” With emphasis on rag and bone shop of the heart, where so many of us create from.

“So, stalwart and onward we go.

“These many ways of writing/ speaking/ creating are within the reach of all. But, for a price. The price is pulling away from ego and the overculture’s mufflings, and instead practicing creating without unreasonable restrictions in place that confine one’s creative potential to only ‘safe,’ manageable, acceptable somehow, not too risky outputs.

“I once was fired from a small neighborhood newspaper that had hired me to cover the arts beat in town. I only published one column before I was kaput. The editor and I remained friends all these years after ( and he was bowled over by subsequent publishing of wwrwtw a couple years later. “Didnt know you were a real writer,” he said in sweet/sincere apologetic voice.

“But, before that, when I had brought in what was to be my one and only column, he told me that my um style did not ah, match with uh, a small neighborly newspaperly er newspaper.

“So, I was ‘let go’ for writing about a so-fine jazz guitarist I’d just covered… that he churned his gut (strings) to butter, and made people jump and dance right out of their clothes.

“Ok, ok. It’s a little over the top for a neighborhood in which lived at the time more than a few upstanding elderly hairnet people, some blessedly smart and sweet, and ah, some not. I hope you are laughing with me. But within a couple weeks, some of the neighbors had buttonholed the editor on the street saying things like, ‘Hey who is that new voice, never heard anything like her writing before, more more’… well, safety, limiting risks somehow won that day.

“But nonetheless, stung and sad for a time, I managed to at least halfway buckle on my pistolas again, and took a deep breath and vowed, though probably not with as much confidence as Miss Scahhlett,  ‘I live to fight another day.’

“And so and thus we go on, we all go on… all us stubborn, liquored up on soul and riding the mustang of wild voice, go on.

“In some ways, there is no more to say than that, for practice, practice, living on the edges, creating past the edges is the writer/ speaker’s center of work.

“Thus, the next step in the practice is to practice, and daily.

“And how one does that?  Truly, those decisions come under the category: ‘to each her own’, ‘to each his own.’ You know your own way best, and if you’re lucky maybe sometimes too, you’ll come into contact withsome decently wise and kind curmudgeon or crone who lives at the side of the poetry road, and they might, if you sign up seriously, walk with you for a while. And yet, only if you see fit.

“Writers, speakers, actors, performance artists, storytellers come to study with me because they want to learn and/or deepen ‘original voice.’ I dont teach ‘motivational techniques’ to make a person stand out… Nor do I teach original voice. I conjure it instead, I push, pull, draw, evoke it out of others.

“How? Ah, therein lie the secrets. Cackle, cackle.

“Uno secreto: I offer a vision and a mirror, ways and means to teach the instrument that each person has been chosen by… or taken up… or been given… ways and means that take the learner to the nth and most finessed degree possible… the intention on all sides, only being this: to reach other human beings, to truly communicate with at least one other soul.

For many who study original voice consistently, there is desire and destiny, both. But first lessons? Layers of overculture’s overlays covering original voice often have to be peeled away, sometimes hard chipped off with gentle but firm chisel of confrontation… for ideas antithetical to free creativity are so tightly glued onto the person’s mind … they are often hardly aware of the insidiousness of them…  yet these glued down laminates inhibit free expression, ways of being and telling… that are far greater than ego alone.

“I’d just gently offer that at college fine art school long ago (when i was young, that is, loooooooong ago lol) that my friends who were students there (while I was going to hairdressing school) were encouraged to paint ‘after’ the hundreds of masters whose works were hung at the Chicago Art Insititute.

“This was honest endeavor… their paintings would be signed, by so and so, ‘after Rembrandt,’ or ‘after Goya,’ or ‘after Velasquez.’ We used to laugh together with good will, because most of the time, one may not have had to sign ‘after’ anyone as many student paintings in no way approached the finesse of the masters.

“So, students were/ are encouraged to make derivatives to learn brush work, to pay attention to caravaggio lighting, or scumbling, or pointilistic technique or whatever else, but only to a point, and only for a limited period of time, while at the same time doing non-copy/ non-deriviative works of their own that come purely from imagination and one’s own odd and wondrous inspiration, developing their own one of a kind style and mastery.

“So too, with my own students these many years, I hold to similar time frames. Learn someone else’s phrasing and voice if you like, but only for a period of time. After that, give yourself over to study original voice.

“In that study, I will want my young/midage/ elder writers and speakers to step to the high dive, no safety net, just their own senses and angels, taking flying leaps, many climbings and leapings. I will not ask anyone to dive from altitudes that I have not dove from in graceful and bellyflop ways myself.

“But it’s in taking the dives, that the form of free voice unbound at last, is learned; the exhiliration of it, the originality of it. I drive home time after time this singular question:” How do I know what I think til I see what I say?” Write/say… anything, take a chance, go high and wide and deep. Let us see what you really think by seeing what you say when you are in free fall, rather than on walking along on relatively safe ground only.

“I teach exercises I’ve developed re original voice, these in the main having to do with paying attention to one’s body, and one’s angels… that is, one’s subtle psychic impulses… and literal practices to unseat censoring, the judging of content or process, worrying about impact whilst creating in dead heat.

“Also, when I’ve taught small groups, the other writers are able to say immediately if another writer has hit it en puente, or sounds in content, process or voice, like x, rather than like themselves. This is valuable, kind and supportive mirroring to all concerned, not just the person doing the ‘floor work’ at the moment.

“I have never found that souls learn best by being abused, or treated harshly, being carelessly critiqued ‘for their own good.’

“Rather, I think by guiding with hard truths and soft kindness– when asked– and that is critical, ‘when asked’ …people make far more progress in whatever they’ve set for themselves in bringing forth new life that is one of a kind, with its own temperament, architecture and voice.

“I make it a practice not to comment on people’s content, never tell people their work is good, bad or indifferent. I only comment on process, ask questions, ask people if they are being true to their angels, asking who they hear in their souls,  and deepening the relationship to the guiding Self. This is not only enough, it is way, way more than enough. The effort has to be put into doing the work while doing the work.

“Although I’ve not taught small-group performance, writing and speaking for several years now as I’ve been bringing several of my own long works to fruition…. I am gearing up to do so again not too far down the road… and as I look back over my own life, over these years, I see in my learners as in myself, that there are so many ways to move in creative life, including beautiful stylized ways of writing /speaking that hold to strict forms, for instance like ghazals, haiku and many other forms. I love ghazals, even though I’m never sure how to spell the word correctly.

“Yet, too, often the unbound mind, the unfettered soul will create original forms of its own if allowed and encouraged, like the pattern created by the artists before soldering down the brass channeling for a cloisonné piece of jewelry.

“Then afterward, one pours the colorful melted vitreous glass of words and duende (*the goblin spirit of creativity)  into the channels… and at first, some might spill or blur, but young hands, with practice, soon become old hands at arts like these.

the Then, with more and more practice yet, and with freedom to place whatever colors we deem best into patterns we design ourselves, we find our ways in a new and original manner.

“When next I teach, I will return again and again throughout to this groundnote: offering to each learner, that when the time comes in our work together, and only by each learner’s own consent, they will be given gentle prods — until ready, set, go….whoosh– off the high dive they go… into the… swimming pool? Well maybe at first, but ultimately, off the high dive into the oceanic…

“for you see, in addition to clear practices, honed skills and wild courage one learns on dry land and by flying through the air… there is as much, and often far more treasure to be discovered and gathered up …during those long moments under the water.”

Blessing down hard on your creative life,
and with love,   dr.e
(from “Tending the Creative Fire” manuscript by cpe)

Chapter excerpt “ABOUT ORIGINAL & WILD VOICE IN SPEAKING AND WRITING”, from “Tending the Creative Fire manuscript” by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés © 1989, 2010, All Rights Reserved. This particular work may be used non-commercially as long as it is kept entirely intact, not added to nor taken from, and this complete notice including usage, author’s name and copyright notice are clearly printed upon it. Other permissions ngandelman@aol.com

  1. Reblogged this on Anne Rath and commented:
    Love this!

  2. FROM THE HEART of the Learner
    I go visit the doctor everyday now. Each and every morning upon waking, the pain in my head is growing and I am so glad to have found my doctor, who has taken me in everyday and pointed me in the direction of health, inner and outer, round and round, as I fall and flail, and there she is. She stands and she watches, that is her healing mechanism. It’s a puritanical state that she has achieved, and she has done this without even knowing why or how, she just persisted, and as a result she has found and developed this unusual healing power. It is the power to watch over people, many people. She does not give pills, she has strange medicine though, it’s called the truth, something that is unusual today. She changes my reflection, I see myself in her eyes and the eyes have it all, they are the mirror to the soul that speaks, yes, all souls speak, all souls feel, we fear and we hear you. She has the forgotten language and holds the words in her heart, that is how she heals, by opening her heart and inviting the flow of consciousness and humanity. You Beauty. E.

  3. Please explain why WWRWTW is not on Kindle?

  4. Thank you so much for sharing this writing! After too much time of being too busy, too tired, too (fill in the blank), I am happy to say that I am back working with my muses, collaborators, and co-conspirators! It isn’t easy to let go of “will anyone like it?” and other egocentric thoughts, it’s a daily struggle. I’m nearly 65, and at least in my life, there’s no more time for diddling around. I have learned this takes consistency on my part- make the time, shut out ego, consult with the muses and never forget to laugh! EVERY DAY! God Bless you Dr.E!

  5. You share interesting things here. I think that your website can go viral easily, but you must give it initial boost and i know how to do
    it, just search in google for – mundillo traffic increase go viral

  6. Reblogged this on Travels with Mary and commented:
    Well said. Thanks so much for the post!

  7. Dr. E., your writing simply mesmerizes me, and there’s no one more appropriate to pen an article regarding writing with an original voice than you. Whether in written or oral form, your delivery is so wonderfully unique and poetically powerful. You could make a recap of the weather report mesmerizing;) So once again, your writing has been a thoroughly enthralling, insightful, enjoyable read. Thank you for sharing!

  8. Reblogged this on My Blog and commented:

  9. Wow, very powerful piece of reading/writing for me. Recently, on a cold blizzardy afternoon in the midst of great discontent and exhaustion, felt drawn to revisted WWRWW and opened to the chapter on Homing: Returning to oneself and read the Sealskin Soulskin story. The power of story to heal is amazing. Thank you for your deep soul satisfying food you give me to knaw on during the season of darkness. I think I shall find my courage and take up my pen and go below and see what I find. Thank you for sharing your vast knowledge on mythology.

  10. By magic this came to me days after your repost. I had experienced an image in an awake state, during a time I was sleepless when I should have been sleeping and angry when I should have been loving. Anyway, the image came in whole to me and I wanted to record not so much the exact image but the way it made me feel. I got out of the bed, since it offered no repose and I wrote it. it is the first time I consciously wrote what I “knew” rather than what I had “done.” it is a fine piece of work, and its depth exhilarates me. Funny, after I wrote it, even before the revision cycles, I was free of the horror of the image. I have been writing for most of my 61 years. I am just graduating from college this year and applying at various MFAs. all of the above post was meant for me, written to me to read, because my writing is not “mainstream.” I have some successes and honors, but I can’t “break in.” I am applying at some schools in Chicago and had to submit my portfolio of unpublished work. If accepted, I get to do over what I left fall away when I was young and stupid. If rejected, at least that new urgent story, has charted a new direction for me — it did not change my voice, but it sharpened my senses.

  11. How delicious! to find this post now, after listening to your voice via audio last night in the car. Once again I am inspired, pulled out of the quagmire of the egos tall tales that discount, destroy my courage to step out, through the writer’s door into the land of infinite possibility, towards publication…to at least believe I can find the cave again, to be wildst off by my inner guides to total freedom, to my soul’s desire, my soul’s longing. Thank you.

    Please add me too, as one who would love to participate in a workshop-class of creative writing.

  12. I’ve in the last year taken my own dive into creative writing, not to write to publish but to write for the sheer pleasure of the creative pursuit it provides. If I publish one day, then I will be overjoyed, but it is not my motivation at present. Your words further inspire me.

  13. Thank you for this post, Dr E! I so agree with you…as a writer, I have NEVER benefited from harsh criticism! Opinions, yes. Suggestions, yes. But I shut down when someone goes after the subject (of all things!) of what I’m writing about. This happened to me several months back at an Oakland writer’s group, and I’ve not been back since.

    Thanks again,


  14. Thank you Dr. Estes for this deep work. I came upon this site by chance, no doubt, by my daemon’s guidance. I am a terribly squashed writer at the moment and am slowly breathing in courage to allow me to open up to, dive down or welcome in my daemon. This work you have posted is just what I needed to “hear”. I have been overwhelmed trying to figure out and work with the Phoenix which/who has been appearing in my dreams and in synchronistic experiences for the past 15 years. To date, I have recorded over 200 of them. Writing this email is taking alot of courage as I fear I will sound like a fool! However, today, I have drawn courage from the deep wisdom you have shared in your article. I am so grateful for you Dr.E – you are a great gift to this world.


    If you have a mailing list for upcoming courses, I would appreciate being added to your list.

  15. This is great Dr. E thank you. Hope you are having a good Autumn.

  16. Thanks for the great essay! A small quibble: Mirabai was not a Persian, but an Indian, poet.

    • Thank you Andy for the head’s up re this oversight. Fixed now.
      with kindest regards,

  17. I am so grateful to be alive now while you are here and sharing a space at the fire. So delighted to see you thriving on your own terms, and so full of fierce grace and fire. All I can think to close with is that exquisite line from one of John McCutcheon’s song lyrics: “I bow my life, and offer grace,” Sarah

  18. Thank you for sharing this! As is often said, “when the student is ready, the teacher arrives”. So true. I’m preparing to launch a new blog after two years of practice blogging and had just about convinced myself that the endeavor is silly…then arrives on the scene, your words of encouragement. Even if I write for an audience of one (myself), to make sense of my drastically altered world, my voice will be out there for others to read, or not!

  19. PS: There is a book called “The Talent Code: Greatness isn’t Born, it’s grown. here’s how.” by a guy named Daniel Coyle. He talks about this business of “talent” as being a result of skill and practice, deep practice; and how practice involves mimicking and copying the masters of your game. He cites Brazilian soccer players, musicians, writers, artists (esp. Renaissance apprenticeship system.) It is remarkable scientifically but also in terms of just teaching the brain to do what it already knows how to do!!!

  20. Please put me “on the list” for the next time you come “out” and teach. I am one of those who have been visited. I choose to believe it was Tolstoy who stood at my left shoulder in a gown of flowing white and gold, who nodded, and filled me with something like love – a love of my self in my work. It is all about the permissions we allow ourselves to believe are there.

  21. wow, this whole post is fantastic and you picked a perfect image to suit it

  22. I so appreciate sharing this writing with us. My writing voice percolates, brews, and pours itself throughout my subtle being and urns for time and space to focus solely on diving deep into the creative world once more, this time fully extracting and sharing the many inner voices of my soul with the world.

    Many thanks and blessings,

    • Gateless, when Spirit floors and the tongue, thought, voice then hand, must speak truth. Thanks for deep inspiring!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: