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The Creative Process: On Writing Magic by Rachel Rueckert

Article by Rachel Rueckert ©.
Posted in Resources (, ).

Hands down, one of the best parts of being Anam Cara’s director is getting to know the writers- and artists-in-residence and their work. They have taught me and each other much about the creative process. Their genre/medium may be similar to someone else’s, but their approach is always unique and inspirational.

As a fundraiser for Pieta House, Anam Cara Publishing is offering Diving into the Mystery: Studies in the Creative Process. For this anthology, 54 former residents and supporters generously contributed their personal essays in which they explore the many aspects and results of their creative processes. The American poet Billy Collins offered his support by writing the Foreword… as well as creating the title! 

Sue Booth-Forbes, Director, Anam Cara Writer’s and Artist’s Retreat.

On Writing Magic by Rachel Rueckert

“You mean we have to kiss it upside down?” I said as I stood in line, shoulder to shoulder, with fellow strangers seeking to be blessed with the “gift of gab” by kissing the infamous Blarney Stone. I cocked my head and looked at the suckers high above me, trembling as they folded their awkward bodies backward to plant their own kiss on the Blarney Stone like Spiderman at the lip of the towering fortress.

“I’m afraid so,” said the older man from England in front of me. “Hope you don’t mind germs. Are you afraid of heights? There will be someone there to hold you so you don’t fall.”

This is insane, I thought. The legend was foggy: millions of pilgrims had come for over 200 years to kiss the stone to obtain the gift of eloquence from a slab of rock dating back to 1314, a stone once believed to hold the prophetic powers to determine Scottish royal succession. The tourist brochure says that “its powers are unquestioned.” But I’m a skeptic.

Here at the mouth of the Blarney Castle, I have a choice: I can stand in line for an additional two hours to participate in this gimmick, or I can go back to my hotel in Cork. It’s not too late to make it to the Butter Museum before they close…

I chose to go into the castle.


Perhaps to say I had done it—this was my first time in Ireland, after all, and for my first writing retreat to boot. But that reason is hollow and insufficient. I am no longer at the stage of life where the accumulation of deeds holds so much evidence of proof that I have lived. Perhaps more embarrassing, but more honest to admit is that, when it comes to my writing, I am not above entertaining superstitions. I believe I cannot write without silence, without being alone, without lighting a candle, without my favorite pen, etc.

After the two-hour slog through the tourist traffic, I made it to the top of the Blarney Castle and inched towards the stone. I squirmed into the appropriate position onto my back, gripped the iron handlebars, arched, then pecked the gritty blackened spot on the slab. A camera flashed. The man working the kissing station pulled me up and ushered the next visitor forward.

I wiped my lips on the collar of my shirt, trying not to think of the millions of mouths before mine. Then I ran my tongue along my lips, recoiling at the taste of unfamiliar salt. I quickly exited the castle, passing the opportunity to buy a portrait of me kissing the stone. The proof wouldn’t be in the picture, but in the writing.

Crazy? Maybe. But sometimes, crazy is what is exactly what writing feels like.

During my writing retreat at Anam Cara near the lush, seaside village of Eyeries, I wrote and wrote and wrote. I wrote like a dam had burst in my mind. I wrote like a dog was chasing me. I wrote like my days left on Earth were numbered. I wrote like I had finally woken up from a deep sleep. I wrote like I’d never written before. And I never have written like that again since. Writing is like that sometimes—we are never quite sure what will come out, but we show up to the desk and hope. The product of hope and work for me can be inexplicable, surprising, baffling, even magical.

So no, I’m not too proud to admit that I might believe in a bit of writing magic, of life’s ability to awe, even in the seemingly obvious clichés. I will still light candles, still crave solitude, still cultivate silence in my writing practice, still seek silly talismans. But perhaps most importantly, I will still say “Yes” to what others may bypass or dismiss. If you asked me to kiss the Blarney Stone again for good measure, I’d be back in line again.

(c) Rachel Rueckert

Author photograph (c) Rachael Cerrotti

About Diving into the Mystery – Studies in the Creative Process:

In support of Pieta House Ireland, whose mission is to replace suicide, self-harm, and stigma with hope, self-care, and acceptance, Anam Cara Publishing has produced Diving into the Mystery: Studies in the Creative Process, an anthology of personal essays written by fifty-four creative people.

In his foreword, Billy Collins writes, “This collection holds an abundance of insights into the lives of artists [from a variety of disciplines] and their approaches to creativity. Many common threads unite their commentaries. Art often happens not when you are looking straight down the path but when you catch something out of the corner of your eye. Poems come “from the fringes of attention.” Making art is a way of “understanding yourself,” or of trying to make sense of a disheveled world. Art is the result of “repetitive awareness.” Art arises out of landscape. Self-expression combines “humility and boldness” or “alertness and surrender.

“Among the many compelling notions, the most essential agreement for me was among those who saw art as a way of finding out what you think rather than just expressing the thoughts you already have. One wrote: “I don’t know what I think until I speak it.” Another gave this: “If I begin… with something I know… the poem quickly curls up and dies on the page.” In creative hands, the pen, the paint brush, the camera are not recording instruments; they are instruments of discovery.”

Order your copy online here. Or contact Sue at anamcararetreat.book@gmail.com, cost: €12 plus postage and please include your postal address.  See here for more information about ordering and postage costs.

All proceeds go to Pieta House.

Rachel Rueckert is a Utah-born writer based in Boston and New York. She holds an M.Ed from Boston University and is an M.F.A candidate at Columbia University with a concentration in nonfiction. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Carolina Quarterly, Sweet, Roads & Kingdoms, and others. Her latest project is a memoir about travel and marriage.