Laurie Wagner Makes Writing Accessible
Laurie Wagner encourages her students to run wild with words.
To learn more about Wagner and 27 Powers, go to www.27Powers.org.
Photo by Chris Duffey
Alameda’s Laurie Wagner is a writing teacher, writing coach, author, and artist, but she is probably best defined by her extraordinary creative spirit that permeates everything she does. Above all, she likes to tell true stories and encourages her charges to do the same.
Tell me about your Wild Writing classes.
Wild Writing is at the heart of the work I do with writers. I teach it five days a week, and most of the people in my classes have been working with me for years. Because it’s a writing practice, like yoga is a practice, you don’t take one class to learn yoga; you take it ongoing; you practice it. Wild Writing is the same. It’s a wonderfully creative method of writing that allows writers to unleash lots of ink on the page, bypassing critical voices and self-doubt. It’s super creative and terribly right-brained. I encourage people to write as poorly as possible, to let go of the way they want to be seen by other people. Of course, this is the antithesis of the way we’re taught to do most things, which is to lean hard into something and try your best. Instead, I ask people to remove their armor and their edifice and to show up on the page as naturally and beautifully as they are. It’s really tremendous work, and it has another benefit, which is that when you show up on the page like that, you start showing up in your life like that.
What I care about is making writing accessible for people. I want to take the drama and the mystique out of it—that whole conversation about whether someone is talented or not and whether they really are a writer and instead help them to open a door, walk through it, and simply start writing. The practice I teach is so simple, but it’s astounding how many people I work with rely on it for everything they write.
You teach online as well?
I teach Wild Writing on a video platform three mornings a week so that people around the country can work with me, and I teach a more traditional personal essay class online at Writers.com. I also teach a class called Telling True Stories, online through my website. Because I’m not an academic and am not affiliated with a school, I’ve had a lot of freedom to create my own “school” as it were. Building a website, writing a blog, creating writing classes for people have come from a super creative, intuitive place. The Internet has been fundamental to my growth. I’m sure I wouldn’t be as far along in my career, and I’m really talking about my online presence, if it weren’t for my younger friends who were working with social media and who had created a lot of online presence for themselves. I was teaching live for years, but now half of my business and teaching happens virtually. A lot of the people I work with are people I’ve never met in person.
Being an artist isn’t easy. What advice do you have for aspiring artists, including writers?
Humble yourself. Don’t think about publishing tomorrow. Think about what you want to write about. Ask yourself what interests you, what you want to explore. Get curious about the world around you. Take a class. Join a group. Create some accountability, a place where you have to show up and turn in work. A friend of mine and I sent each other work every Friday morning just to give ourselves a deadline. See if you can sit down for 15 minutes twice a week and write. Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way has a great process called Morning Pages that a lot of writers find helpful. I heard the writer Andrei Codrescu talk about writing once, and he said that writing was just thinking on paper. I honestly believe it doesn’t have to be any more difficult than that.
Your home, with the address 27 Powers, is more than just a home, I understand.
Well, it’s a beautiful location at the end of a dead end street in Alameda. The property is surrounded by trees, and the house is 100 years old. When you walk through the old metal gates, you really do enter another world. We’ve got a fire pit in the yard, and the whole vibe of the place is raw and wild. It turns out that 27 Powers has become a vibrant learning community. Besides the weekly writing classes, I run weekend writing workshops here, as well creativity and art classes. It’s grown organically as I’ve grown. About eight years ago, I had gotten to a place as a teacher where I felt like I’d given my students everything I had, and if I could have done anything, it would have been to travel and study with my writing heroes—people I didn’t know but whom I admired from afar. I had little kids at the time, Ruby and Zoe, who are in college now, so I couldn’t disappear to travel, but I did get plucky and invite my writing heroes to the house to teach, and they came and are still coming. That’s partly how I grew my business, offering my community access to these incredible writers as well as how I grew myself as a writer and teacher, sitting at the feet of these amazing people.
So what are the 27 Powers?
Good question. I know a few: Staying close to what you love, telling the truth on the page and off, being brave, using language that is true for you, surrounding yourself with people you respect and admire, the power of the fire, music, and community. That’s only a few; there are so many more. I’ll be unpacking these powers for the rest of my life.