Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Women on Writing : Hillary Rain

I'm so honored to have the lovely Hillary Rain here today for the Women on Writing series. Hillary is an blogger, author, and mystic guide. She speaks so bravely here about the often overlooked dark side of writing and the toll creativity can take on our relationships and selves. I'm grateful for the nuance she has added to this conversation and hope you treasure her tender words as much as I have. You can check out the first four Women on Writing interviews here


Do you remember the first time you really considered yourself a writer? How long has writing been an important part of your life?

I remember sitting on my front porch at six years old holding a pencil and lined sheet of paper, composing poem after poem about anything I could think of … trees, horses, the clouds. Shortly after that I was given a hardcover book filled with pristine white pages—without lines—which mesmerized me. I wrote and illustrated a story filled with weddings and babies and enough big ball gowns to dazzle any little girl. Eventually I wanted to write for the local newspaper which, to my pre-teen delight, published a piece I was exceptionally embarrassed to show anyone a few short years later … and unfortunately no longer exists.

All throughout my teens I kept a journal, wrote love stories, and filled books with poetry. The technicalities of writing began to frustrate me though, and at one point I dramatically burned hundreds of handwritten pages of a disappointing manuscript. Yet even then, in the flushed-cheeks glow of paragraphs gone up in flamesI knew my identity was rooted in language and verse which made it all the more infuriating at times. Creative expression was my lifeline as a child and remains so now, the singular thing with power to lift me to the moon or devastate me with unconsolable pain. Bell Hooks describes this with achey eloquence:
“Writing is my passion. Words are the way to know ecstasy. Without them life is barren. The poet insists, language is a body of suffering and when you take up language you take up the suffering too. All my life I have been suffering for words. Words have been the source of the pain and the way to heal. Struck as a child for talking, for speaking out of turn, for being out of my place. Struck as a grown woman for not knowing when to shut up, for not being willing to sacrifice words for desire. Struck by writing a book that disrupts. There are many ways to be hit. Pain is the price we pay to speak the truth.” ― Bell Hooks, Wounds of Passion: A Writing Life
Photo by Jennifer Upton
What would be your ideal writing environment? How do you make time and space in your life for the practice of writing?

Oh, I would love to be seated in a warm splash of light in a quiet bohemian cafe or pub filled with enough characters to inspire. I'd have my laptop and books and papers strewn about, a pot of french press with a side of cream (or a vodka with cranberry ready to lure words from the deep), the entire scene made just a bit more mysterious by the dancing swirls of incense and smoke. However, reality finds me snuggled with my laptop in bed or seated at my desk with a pot of jasmine tea and a candle or two. I can't not write and must find ways to make it work naturally, but to be honest, I have a love-hate relationship with it. Writing does not come easily for me. Inspired sonnets do not flow like warm honey from my lips. Lately it's a messy, tearstained battle between me and my words. I find myself fumbling for coherent language to hold the numinous concepts I ache to bring forth and each time it feels as laborious as giving birth. After one such debilitating season I gave up and wrote “I Am Not A Writer.” It's kinda how I feel at the moment.

What authors or works most inspire your writing?

While there are many writers and books who inspire me with their content, when it comes to inspiration for my own presence as a writer I look for fresh, brave, authentic voices to fall in love with. I say presence because it's not just about placing sentences. A writer's life is about magic. It's learning to see in the dark and mining the inner bone for what Monique Duvall calls “moonlight and wanton truth.” It's developing intuition and a finely-honed sensual awareness which allows another soul to taste the summery sweetness of the juicy nectarine still tingling on your lips. It's the alchemy of spirit and flesh, wild movement, making love, healing, remembering, transforming. 

My friend and poet Shawnacy Kiker does this for me. So does my friend Mandy Steward who takes my breath away with her ability to stay true to her own voice no matter what she writes… her books, blog, magic mail or 'zine. John Blase and Lakin Easterling inspire me with tender observations of life and their gentle-mystic hearts. I keep Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird close for encouragement.

You have written extensively, on your blog and in your book, Quivering Daughters, about your childhood growing up in Christian fundamentalism. What has been the most challenging thing about writing so openly about these experiences, and what has been the greatest reward?

Let me start with the greatest reward. I've met the dearest, bravest people through my book (now out of print), some of whom remain close and cherished friends. To hear their stories and receive messages of gratitude for how these words helped bring healing is the most humbling and moving thing that I as a writer could ever hope for. There is a cost to sharing openly, however, and the price was steep. It's hard to explain the most challenging thing about it because there were many, many challenges. The backlash from those who disagreed with my message was difficult. The loss of relationships. Not being able to meet the expectations of those who wanted more from me than I could give. 

Photo by Jennifer Upton
You identify as a mystic. What does this mean to you and how does being a mystic influence your writing practice?

A mystic is one who dwells in the nonduality of paradox without demanding an either-or, black or white reality. Instead, she makes space for a grace-based, both-and approach which allows life to be an organic, life-giving process. This mystical perspective allows creative, spiritual, emotional or relational tension to be present without rushing in with explanations, defense, or to ease discomfort for the sake of avoiding pain. These themes are heavy in my writing—overtly, as in my eCourse with The Wild Mystics called Into the Dark Night, and more subtly as I explore the tensions I experience day to day and surrender to their savage mercy. My writing—which I like to note is only one small “h” away from writhing—mirrors the rawness of my struggle to embody a mystic's grace and painfully reveals any lack of it.

When it comes to my writing, this sort of mysticism sharply attunes me to my heart which is crucial for me to trust and follow. My words fall empty otherwise, but Mystery lives in my heart, and life lives there. I'm no longer in ministry or write about topics I once did because I'm no longer in a season to do so. My both-and view of life holds the abuser and the abused in each hand with fervent love, and this message is not necessarily appropriate for those still recovering from deep emotional, sexual, spiritual, or psychological wounds. Yet my heart leads me ever deeper into the wildness of grace and the profound mystery that is God and my spirituality, and my hope is that my writing grows richer, fuller, and more empowered and resonant because of it. 

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

The advice I'd give to budding writers is still the advice I give to myself everyday: be true to your own voice. Write what you need to hear. Don't be afraid—at least, don't let fear steal your voice. Follow your tears. Pain is the price we pay to speak the truth.


Hillary Rain is a writer and artist who believes in beauty, mystery, and grace.  She writes about sensuality, spirituality, and the shadowed nuances of her creative life at spiritsoulearth.com.​


  1. Love reading more about your process. Thank you. <3

  2. How I enjoyed reading about Rain's rawness when it comes to her personal writing journey/process. I love reading her writing as it so inspires me to write (along with a few of the names she mentions). I've had Bird by Bird on my bookshelf since I picked it up at a library sale a few months back. Might be time to peruse it's pages :)

  3. Your honesty is always invigorating + inviting. Thank you for bringing us into your writhing {I mean writing - ha, love it!} process. xo