Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Women on Writing : Esther Emery

Welcome to the third installment in the Women on Writing series, in which I am interviewing some of my favorite female authors and writers on the practice of writing. I am so pumped for you guys to read Esther Emery's wise and powerful words here today. Esther is a writer, blogger, and runs a homestead at her yurt in the woods with her husband and three kids. When it comes to writing, and creativity, and art, and life, Esther faces it all head on and inspires others to do the same. If you like her words here, you'll love the free inspirational e-book she's written for you. And be sure to keep up with the rest of the series for more powerful feminine writing wisdom. 


Why did you decide to start a blog? What led you to create your e-book? 

My blog began as a very transparent – I think, anyway -- act of returning to the public eye after a long period of hiding. I had been telling stories for audiences, usually in theatres, since I was a teenager. But that relationship went wrong for me. There was self-obsession. There was too much need for validation. The creative work was contaminated, and I dropped out.

I started the blog very gently, in the same week that my third child was born, with a message and feeling of rebirth. I had come to realize that my creative self had survived and even thrived: that what I was now experiencing was a season in a wholly creative life. That was a really beautiful discovery. And it was really beautiful to share it in real time with a small but loving audience.

I wrote the ebook, Unleash Your Wild, a year later, and it’s just a short manifesto claiming this wholly creative life. It’s based in my experience: that authentic life and the creative impulse are so bound up in one another as to be almost indistinguishableAnd that this freedom – both to be your most authentic self, and to be a channel to the spark we call creativity – is available to all of us in a profound way. The freedom is there. It’s on the other side of all our obstacles. But it’s there.

Photo by Jennifer Upton

You live in a yurt in the woods with three children and a homestead to run. How do you make space and time in your life for the practice of writing? 

Right. What’s harder to come by than the keyboard time is the thinking time. What I’ve done all this winter is get up in the middle of the night. Somebody has to get up and add wood to the fire anyway, and I found, quite accidentally, that my writing brain is very alert and sensitive at that timeSo I often stay up for an hour or so and then go back to sleep.

In some ways my life in the woods is very monastic. That fits well with the creative life. The part where I have three kids who want attentionand food and clean clothes is not that part. But my husband and I have made a pact in our lives that we want to both get to do the things we really want to do. Whenever it is possible – and of course it isn’t often enough! – my husband will keep the kids so I can have the thinking time and staring-into-space time and tromping-around-the-woods-by-myself time that makes it possible for me to write.

How has the writing process changed you? How might you or your life be different if you were not a writer?

I can’t even imagine. If I weren’t a writer I would be a dancer. If I weren’t a dancer I would be a painter. If I couldn’t paint I would tell stories around the fire. It would come out of me, somehow. But writing is the only thing I’ve done 10,000 hours of, and that matters.

There’s a relationship between the creative impulse, which is not tied to any particular medium, and the creative craft, which is. When you have a craft, you become humble to the creative impulse. There’s a wisdom and humility that comes with having made a bunch of mistakes in a certain medium. I have made a bunch of mistakes as a writer, and a playwright, and a storyteller. Which makes me humble. And also confident, because I know I can survive making these mistakes.

Being a writer keeps me in relationship to sacred reality. I don’t slip into numbness or spiritual starvation myself, because I’m constantly looking for sustenance that I can deliver to my readers. It keeps me listening to my own heartbeat.

Photo by Jennifer Upton

What authors or works most inspire your writing?

Annie Dillard is my spiritual ancestor. HelénCixous is my familiar. James Joyce is my obnoxious and truly genius big brother who sparks my competitive spirit. Shakespeare is where I go to steal.

Do you ever struggle with the balance between the hands-on work of living your life and the more introspective practice of writing about it? How do you create harmony between these two parts of yourself?  

Of course. I have a memoir, that I’ve been working on for over four years, which is just now almost finished. (true story) I pushed as hard as I could to get it done before my third child was born, but I simply didn’t make it. I had to set my unfinished work on that proverbial back burner while I gave birth, nursed an infant, and also birthed an off-grid homestead with my husband. For more than a year I made no discernable progress on my book. It felt like dying. BUT. During that year I also healed old wounds and grew up in really important ways.

It’s like two feet walking. The internal work, of becoming the person who is capable of doing the work. And the external work, which is the work. You have to do both.

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

Cultivate inner space. Don’t rush to fill silences, actual or emotionalLearn how to hold that space open, inside, and to trust it. It’s the point from which your authentic voice will rise.


Esther Emery used to direct stage plays in Southern California. But that was a long time ago. These days she is pretty much a runaway, living off grid in a yurt and tending to three acres of near wilderness in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. She writes about faith and rebellion and trying to live a totally free life at www.estheremery.com, and is also the author of the free, inspirational ebook Unleash Your Wild. Connect with her on Twitter @EstherEmery.


  1. I love this whole interview, and especially that last piece of advice. It is so important to create that mind space and accept that it doesn't have to be filled right away to be important. Make friends with the white spaces and they are not so scary anymore.
    I can personally testify that the e-book mentioned is truly inspiring or perhaps motivating is a better word. I highly recommend reading it, especially if you are feeling blocked or stalled out or needing a boost of bravery. Esther, you are wise and you know your craft well. Thank you for sharing, and for inspiring me every single day when that resistance tempts me to walk away. (Or run!)

  2. So much wisdom and beauty here, Esther.

    Love hearing about your creative journey.

  3. I love getting to know you more and more, Esther. This week I'll meditate on cultivating "inner space". Really interesting thought.