Angela Kelsey

Tell the Story

The Writer’s Five Acts

Filed in Stories, voices, Writing :: January 1, 2011

In February 2010 I attended a weekend workshop with  John Friend, the founder of Anusara yoga, who was teaching at the conference center of FIU, the same school at which I was about to defend my MFA thesis.  I may not have been revising, but I told myself that at least I was on the right campus.

I was completely taken with Anusara, which means “flowing with Grace.” Anusara’s emphasis on physical alignment, a tantric philosophy of intrinsic goodness, and heart-opening led me to pick up a flyer about further study in an Immersion program.  I’ll spare you the details of my months’-long indecision about how much time I could spend in the yoga studio versus at the desk, but I learned a great deal.

Today, thinking about how exactly to organize the five-week community writing course that begins in two-and-a-half weeks (please join me on the “Workshops” tab if you live in Miami), I remembered one of the concepts I learned during my Immersion studies, the five divine acts of Shiva: Creation, Sustenance, Dissolution, Concealment, and Revelation.

Shiva plays the roles, or commits the acts, of all the major gods that came before him.  If you want to know more about Shiva, I recommend Georg Feuerstein’s The Yoga Tradition: Its History, Literature, Philosophy and Practice.  Feurstein writes, “Shiva, as Nata-Raja or ‘Lord of Dance,’ is forever dancing out the rhythms of the universe–the cycles of creation (sarga) and destruction (pralaya).  He is the master weaver of space and time.”  At any moment, any combination of the five acts of Shiva might be happening.

Aha.  My five-week structure appears.

Just as the Lord of Dance performs five acts, so, too, does the writer.

  • Creation. This act might include morning pages, writing prompts, simply believing that it’s possible to write at all, beginning to translate thoughts and images into words on a page or a screen.  The writer in the Creation phase must be willing to throw everything she has onto the page, be willing to step into the unknown and write a “shitty first draft.”
  • Sustenance. In the act of  Sustenance, the writer guards her routines, observes which patterns are working and which are not so helpful.  She overcomes fear and self-consciousness.  She feeds her body and mind with walks, sports, yoga and dancing; nonverbal creativity such as photography and cooking.   Well-fed herself, she feeds her pages with words.
  • Dissolution. When in the act of Dissolution, the writer tears the written draft and herself down to the bare bones.  She leaves no assumption unexamined.  She allows no pet words.  She endures moments of despair and even hating everything she has ever written.
  • Concealment. The act of Concealment can feel like the tearing down of Dissolution, and it may be happening during some of Dissolution’s darker moments.  But the difference is that in Dissolution the blackness is an absence, a hole, or a void, and in Concealment the blackness is a cloak, a covering, for a mystery.  Or it may be that something known has been forgotten.  Concealment goes on underneath, or behind, the writing, and if the writer is like me, she is often impatient and tempted to sidestep this act, to pull the curtain away before it is time.  During this time the writer must continue Sustenance and Creation, and allow the behind-the-scenes work to be enacted in its own time.
  • Revelation. The act of Revelation offers the writer a moment of insight, awakening, remembering.  The writer sees with new clarity how to arrange her words, sentences, paragraphs, scenes, chapters.  Veils disappear.  Sometimes the writer believes that her moment of Revelation will never come, but it always does.

In writing as in all of the rest of  life–relationships, work, every pursuit and event–the Lord of Dance is at work.  I want to be aware and accepting of the Creation, Sustenance, Dissolution, Concealment, and Revelation all around me.  This will be a lifelong pursuit, but five weeks is a start.


  1. Dian Reid

    As I go into dusting off my last draft of 7 Days, I think I’ll see how these words/ideas/actions work for me.

    Thanks for sharing your process =)