Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Women on Writing : Mandy Steward

Today I am delighted to announce the first installment in a year-long series I'll be doing here on the blog: Women on Writing. Each month, I'll have the pleasure of interviewing some of my very favorite female authors on the practice of writing and then sharing their words with you. If even the tiniest sliver of your heart identifies with the title of writer, I hope you'll follow along. Each of these women has so much wisdom to offer on the practice of writing.

Photo by Jennifer Upton

My very first guest is the beautiful and brave Mandy Steward, blogger, artist, and author of Thrashing About With God: Finding Faith on the Other Side of Everything. As a fellow doubter who has found life on the other side, her journey has been incredibly illuminating for me. Her writing is raw, vulnerable, and inviting, and I hope you find her responses here as inspiring and truth-filled as I did. 


When did you know you wanted to write Thrashing About with God? What led you to write about your thrashing experience?

It was while reading Emerson’s Self-Reliance that I had a hunch that writing my own manifesto would allow me to hear my own thoughts clearly. I wanted to know where I stood on the living of a life. My life. What I found out is that to even begin feeling as if I was allowed to write my own thoughts I had to get out from under the religious conviction that I was not allowed to make my own decisions or feel my own feelings or think my own distinct thoughts or use my own voice. So what was to be, at outset, a messy manifesto very quickly became Thrashing About with God.

What would be your ideal writing environment? How do you make time and space in your life for the practice of writing?

Ideal writing environments are a hoax. I don’t believe they exist. Or perhaps I can’t believe they exist because then I would always be pining for one instead of just writing. Writing happens because I say it’s going to happen. For my book it was a set time everyday on dark winter mornings before my family was awake. It has to become a priority. I have to take it and myself seriously if I’m going to fight for the time to give to it. (And it does feel like a fight sometimes.)

David Whyte says, “If you tend to the things that are most important to you first, you don’t actually need to spend much time. You can spend even just twenty minutes or half an hour, an hour as you get further into it, perhaps a couple of hours. The rest of the day, and all the other chores, including getting the curtains cleaned and cleaning out the refrigerator and getting the car to the garage to be worked on--all of those things actually can take on a kind of delight instead of something that is standing in the way of your real life.”

What authors or works most inspire your writing?

Whatever book I’m reading at the time, it inspires me. No one author has single-handedly changed me. They have all changed me. I am a lifetime reader, a collector of that which makes my heart beat faster, my cheeks blush redder, my fevers grow hotter, my breath become heavier. Writers, poets, artists, mystics - it’s a deep well and I drink from it regularly. I’m not elitist when it comes to my intake, but I am terribly picky. The secret message has to be timed with precision and synchronicity for me to engage, but if it is, I will become gloriously obsessed until the next rabbit trail beckons me to wander. 

Photo by Jennifer Upton

How has the writing process changed you? How has your faith changed or evolved since your book was written?

Writing has always been about the business of re-introducing me to myself. I can’t get away from that. Maybe the times I wasn’t writing was because I needed a break before I could meet more of myself. It is a hard, hard thing to let the words come out that want to, to let all of yourself expose itself.

My words in my book came at a cost, but not necessarily because people read my book. It came at a cost because in writing the book I realized more of who I was (and who I have always been down deep) and this transformed the outer way I lived my life. The more vulnerable my writing, the more it asked me to start owning who I was. My manifesto may always start with words, but then it demands to become flesh. This has proved interesting.

I went through a Dark Night of the Soul to write Thrashing About with God and I went through a second Dark Night of the Soul soon after publishing it just this past October. That second Dark Night continues and it is stripping me of all unnecessary identity. It is harrowing. But it is as if it plucked me out of someone else’s preferred story for me, and plopped me down into my own. So I feel at home now, even if for the rest of my life I’ll be figuring out what that means to me and what to do with all this difficult waking up.

I would say my faith has grown by leaps and bounds. I would say that I am always evolving. Always.

In addition to being a blogger and author, you are also a talented artist and art journaler. How have these practices influenced your writing? 

Being able to call myself an artist became possible for me in my mid-20’s I wrote about that in this little eBook called Messy Canvas. Calling myself an artist first was necessary for me to then be able to call myself a writer. The permission to creatively express myself gently led me into authoring a book.

The sort of “no rules” art journaling I have fallen in love with was introduced to me by a fascinating woman, StarGardener, and is explored by many women now in a beautiful community called The Art Journaler. It has become a spiritual practice for me in that it helps me see my mundane life as sacred and holy and wild and throbbing. It gives me a place to blurt and collect the dots of my living. It is another way to see me and live with myself. The art and the writing go hand-in-hand. Each feeding into the other.

If you could give one piece of advice to budding writers, what would it be? 

Know that every single piece you write is necessary. The words, many of them, will be hard to love, but learn to invite them in. All of them. It is the only way to make space for your own living. Writing vulnerably and truthfully now, at your own edge, for yourself will impact your reality in astounding ways. I do believe through writing we create a way (for ourselves) where there seems to be no way. Do the writing for you. Always, always, always write what you most need to find. 


Mandy Steward is an artist and author of the book Thrashing About With God—Finding Faith on the Other Side of Everything. She blogs her messes regularly at MandySteward.com and with a band of incognito rebel sisters at Secret Rebel Club. She also creates custom painted and inked Secret Messages for individuals and self-publishes a subscription based ‘Zine of gypsy journalism. She co-creates a way for others to thrash through their own spirituality via The Wild Mystics. She finally has a Self and finds that breathtaking. Find her on Facebook here.

1 comment :

  1. You bring in the deep + wide + rich of life and make it sacred-meets-flesh writing. I love all of your responses, Mandy, there is a sort of fearlessness to all you say. xo