10. The Map vs. The Compass: A Writing Therapy Session w/ Author & Psychologist Susan Schnur


Susan Schnur has been the senior editor at Lilith Magazine–her “paper pulpit”–for 26 years. Susan has written for the New York Times, Time Magazine, and USA Today. She holds a masters from Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars, a rabbinical ordination, and a doctorate in clinical psychology. Her private clinical practice is full of writers and writers’ issues, and this work has inspired her to sit on a number of different panels and teach a variety of seminars designed to support authors in their pursuit of a pure, inspired, creative experience. Today we’ll speak with Susan about the psychology of writing, and she’ll share some basic strategies each of us can employ in our writing lives. Bring on the writing therapy! (29:20)

On the 1200-word essay and the constrained form

“Like a pantoum or anything else length is also a constraint. If you discipline yourself to work within those same boundaries over and over and over you will start to internalize what rhythm is specific to 500 words, 800 words, 1200 words.”

On writing with a partner

“I get people to write in pairs. You are never to study the Talmud alone. The way you do Jewish study is always with a chavrusa, with a partner. It’s always dilectical, really a beautiful thing, back and forth. You’re constantly feeding on each other to get to stuff.”

“When people go to write, they get stuck. They get paralyzed. If [they] can do it verbally, diotically, just talking it out, they have written something without realizing they’ve written it… When it’s a white page, it’s completely unknown and uncontrollable. If you can talk someone through the first paragraph, they can keep going on their own.”

“Get a partner.  This is why people go back for MFAs, so you’re being partnered and writing and being listened to and hearing people. Get a partner, talk through the first paragraph and you’re off and running.” Continue reading