Jill Jepson is a traveler, professor, and transformational life coach, and the author of three books and holds a Ph.D. in Linguistics from the University of Chicago as well as degrees in writing, psychology, social science, and Asian studies. Using her extensive travels to places as diverse as Guatemala, Syria, Siberia, and Afghanistan, her writing explores spiritual traditions, history, culture, personal growth, and the writing process. Through her business, Writing the Whirlwind, she offers coaching and online workshops for writers, activists, and others. You can visit her website at www.writingthewhirlwind.net.
We interviewed Jill to find out more about her latest book, Writing as a Sacred Path: A Practical Guide to Writing With Passion & Purpose (Ten Speed Press) and her life as a published author.
Thank you for this interview, Jill. Your book is classified as personal growth/writing. Can you tell us how you incorporated both genres into one book?
I see writing as much more than a craft or profession. When writers write, they are touching on something very deep, very profound in their own lives. To write well requires getting to a kind of personal truth, to the essence of who you are as a human being on this Earth. So there is a complex relationship between a person’s inner life and her or his writing. When you work on your inner life, your writing changes—and when you work on your writing, your inner life changes. This is how Writing as a Sacred Path can be both a personal growth book and a book about writing.
Writing as a Sacred Path draws on your worldwide travels and studies of spiritual traditions to present a refreshing approach to the art of writing, using rituals, writing prompts, dream analysis, poetry, crafts, and more. Can you tell us more about this?
The essence of Writing as a Sacred Path is that writing and spirituality are closely tied, that writing is actually a form of spirituality. On my travels, I talked to people from a wide range of spiritual traditions. I’ve also interviewed scores of writers. What I’ve found is that writers talk about writing in the same terms spiritual people talk about their practice. Even authors who don’t see themselves as spiritually oriented talk about writing in terms of transcendence, the search for meaning and purpose, and their relationship to the Earth and to the human community. Writers engage many of the same practices as spiritual people, such as ritual and meditation, even when they don’t label them as such.
Your book unveils the mysteries surrounding practices that shamans, warriors, mystics and monks have honed over the ages. Can you give us an example?
One example is the way of the warrior. Some people might be put off at first by the comparison between writers and warriors, thinking of violence and bloodshed, but the notion of the warrior-writer is very ancient and very powerful. The highest qualities of the warrior are the same as those of the writer: immense courage, discipline, focus, an unwavering devotion to truth, and a willingness to fight for what is right. The honorable warrior shows respect for life, and the highest path of the warrior is not to go to war, but to keep peace. In Writing as a Sacred Path, I show how writers can cultivate those qualities in their lives—and why every writer must be a warrior for truth.
How did you become interested in this subject?
I spent most of my life on a search. I was highly spiritual from a very young age, but found at about 13 that the tradition of my parents, Roman Catholicism, was not the right one for me. Although I gained much from my Catholic upbringing, I wanted to discover how other people envisioned reality, truth, the sacred. At the same time, I have been writing my entire life. I started making up stories at the age of three and never stopped. Writing was an essential part of who I was and how I lived, but it wasn’t for many years that I began to discover that it was also a spiritual act—that it was the sacred path I’d been looking for all along.
You have traveled all over the world. Can you tell us which place was your favorite and why?
It’s hard to designate one place—almost every place I’ve been has enchanted me in some way—but if I had to choose, I’d probably say Afghanistan, which I hitchhiked around in 1977. It was amazing because it was so utterly unlike any place I’d ever been. It was like dropping back in time a thousand years. For centuries, Afghanistan has been a crossroads of many cultures, and it still has this richness of culture, layers and layers of history. However, I could also name the Himalayas, Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, Istanbul, the Greek Islands, many places.
If you had 30 seconds to convince someone that your book is the best book out there in your genre, what would you say?
My book encompasses spiritual traditions throughout the world, from Buddhism to Christianity, Islam to Native American traditions. It is organized around four paths—that of the shaman, the warrior, the mystic, and the monk—that have much in common with specific aspects of the writing life, and it shows what writers can learn from each of those paths. Most importantly, it has over ninety exercises for writers to use. It delves deeply into spiritual issues, but at the same time, it is a very hands-on, very practical book.
Thank you for this interview, Jill. Can you tell us what your future plans are and how people can find you on the web?