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6

Writer. Artist. Painter. Photographer.

I am

What makes you feel like that, like the thing you want to be?

The usual response to this is: If you want to be a writer, write, then you're a writer.  (Same holds true for painting, photography, etc. I'm just going to use "writer" as my example here.)  This is good advice.  Writers write, so to be a writer, you should write.

I think there's more to it, though.  Doing the work will help you feel like what you want to be, but there are things that you can do and be part of that can maginify that belief in yourself. Sometimes you have experiences that plunge you deep into that I AM feeling.  It may be for just a moment, but for that little space of time you feel your writerliness down to your bones.

One of these experiences happened for me several years ago.  I had the wonderful good fortune to get in on a writing workshop led by Charles de Lint, my favorite author.  It was a small workshop, only fifteen of us.  And we sat at a table all together and talked about writing and fantasy stories and characters, and later we talked about the business of being a writer.  And we spent some time writing and then read our works aloud and Mr. de Lint gave us feedback.  And I floated out of there on a cloud, and I knew-- KNEW --that I am a writer.  I felt it!   I lose that feeling sometimes, but remembering this experience helps me bring it back.

Other things that help me grab hold of that feeling--writing in a coffee shop (actually writing, especially on a story, and not just free writing and not planning or character work or any of that); attending writing conferences; talking shop (plotting, characters, all of that) with a small group of active writers.

So my recommendation?  Do your thing, of course.  Write, paint, shoot, bake, knit, whatever it is.  But also seek out experiences that feel to you like what a "real" writer would do, and do as many of those things as you can.  Build up that feeling in yourself of I AM.  Carry it with you to help you ride through the dry spells that come to all of us.  Take it out into the world and let everyone know what you are.

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6

Fireworks Behind Tree
Happy New Year!  Yes, I know we're almost two weeks into it.  That's okay--it's still pretty new.  And I've been getting things in order in my house (seriously, where's that robot maid?) and in my planning.  And now I'm finally feeling together enough to write something up and really get this year rolling.

What do you do for the new year? Do you make resolutions?  Pick a word for the year?  Skip all of that?

I skip over the resolutions for the most part.  For one thing, I'm always making plans, tweaking them, setting new goals.  Resolutions just feel redundant.  The past couple of years, though, I have been setting experience goals.  In 2013 it was to try a new restaurant every month.  That one was great fun, and we found a couple of favorite spots that way.  Last year the goal was to try at least one new recipe a month, and that was a pretty big success, too, even though I wasn't as on top of keeping a list of what I tried so some of the recipes are off in the ether somewhere.  This year, I'm going to go on a photo walk every month. I love doing them, yet I hardly ever make the time.  I'm going to go someplace new each month and take photos (I may allow myself to include a couple of favorite spots I haven't been to in years because it's been so long that they're practically new).

Now about that word.  I tried it out several years ago when doing it became really popular.  I loved the idea of it!  I picked a word, wrote it in my journal, forgot about it by January 3.  A couple of years later I decided that the problem was that I didn't have any reminders of my word, so I decided to create these fun prayer flags.  I picked three words for that year and made flags for each one.  I hung them in my study, and occasionally I remembered to pay attention to them, but the exercise still seemed pretty pointless to me.  I quit doing the word-of-the-year for a couple of years.  But so many people I really like and respect were doing this word-of-the-year thing that I wanted to give it another go.  I knew, though,  that I needed to do something to keep my word fresh in my mind so it could actually be a guiding light, so I held off until I could figure out something that felt like it would work.

This was four (I think?) years ago.  At the same time as deciding to give the yearly word another go, I got an UnCalendar.  And a great idea was born.  Every week before I fill out plans and dates for the week, I write my word at the top of the left-hand page.  It makes me focus on my word each week if even for a moment, plus it keeps the word right there in front of me every time I open my calendar.  I won't say that I live by my words constantly, but writing it and seeing it every week does help me keep it in mind and make some decisions with that feeling in mind.

This year my word is "expansive."  I have "devotion" and "bigness" alongside it to keep it company, just to see if having multiple words changes anything for me.  This word, this idea of expansiveness, feels huge to me.  It feels like a stretch.  It feels a little scary and like living an expansive life might be something I don't know how to do.  It's a good word.

Mostly the things I do to set up the new year are designed to give me a feeling of possibilities, fun, and a clean slate.  I think those are great things to start a year with and much lighter than resolutions and plans to give things up and all that.

And you? What are you doing? How are you starting this new year?  I'd love to hear all about it.

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2

Things have been kind of busy around here what with the holidays coming up (Thanksgiving is already over!), the end of the year racing toward us, and lots of planning going on for noveling and coaching and classes.  I haven't had nearly as much time as I'd like for creative projects outside of novel outlining, but I know keeping my hand in the creative ring is really important for my general outlook on life.  So while I'm busy with a lot of in-my-head stuff right now, I've been making a point to do some photography.  Lucky for me, Mother Nature has really been helping out with this fantastic, constantly changing fairy ring right next to where I park my car at work.

Mushrooms 1

Mushrooms 2

Mushrooms 4

Mushrooms 5

Mushrooms 6

What about you?  What do you do when you are busy but want to keep your hand in the creative game?  Leave a note and let us know--we all like to add ideas to our stash.

 

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10

August Challenges

I love August!  I have loved August since the first year I went to school (in the Chicago suburbs where I grew up, school starts in August rather than September).  There's always been so much promise in the start of a new year for me, kind of like in January, but for me I feel that new year vibe even stronger in the Fall.  I love new classes and subjects and schedules, all bursting with good new things to learn and try and practice.

I think my love of that back-to-school wave must have been seeping in even though I didn't realize it, because this week I signed up for three creative challenges for August--one for writing, one for journaling, one for photography.  I should find plenty of new things to try with these!

Writing: I'm signed up for DIY MFA's Conquer the Craft challenge, which is actually a 29-day challenge.  I'm going to use it in conjunction with a group I signed up for called My 500 Words that focuses on--I bet you know this one--writing 500 words a day.  After August I plan to do it only one weekdays/work days, but for August I'll use if for the 29 days of Conquer the Craft.  This might even fit in with my #Just10Minutes practice, at least on some days.  If I'm on a roll, I can write 500 words in 10 minutes, so I might try to push for it a few times just as an extra challenge.

Journaling: I'm also jumping back in on Lisa Sonora Beam's ROOT 30 Day Journal Project.  I sort of participated in January, but I was still heavily in a Lull phase and didn't get all the way through.

Photography: And finally I'm doing the Life in Black and White challenge. Thirty-one days of black-and-white photography.  Since getting a digital camera, and then an iPod Touch, I never shoot b & w anymore, and I used to love doing that with a film camera.  I'm looking forward to focusing on some photography plus getting back to black-and-white.  I even got two new apps for my Pod (Noir Pro and Hueless) to try out for the challenge.

So what about you?   Do you get the same kind of vibe I do when it's back-to-school time?  Any plans to start something new this August? Tell me all about your plans--I'd love to hear them!

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10

Crazy Face Jack
An original worth copying

We all get stuck sometimes.  That painting won't come together, the next part of that story won't flow.  We can't get anything new started.  What should we do?!

Copy.

No, really.  Copy something you like.  Draw the Mona Lisa in crayon, rewrite "The Raven" using other words.  Copy, but add a twist.

Why? Because it gets you moving, it stirs up your creativity.  You connect with something creative that you like and you engage with it, and this helps your own creativity get up and moving.  And it often happens that once you get the brush/ pen/guitar pick/camera moving, your own thoughts and ideas start coming through loud and clear again.

How do you do this so you don't end up just copying and never getting to your own work?  First, I don't think that will happen.  We're creatives, so eventually our own voices are going to make themselves heard.  But to help avoid delaying the message, try this:

  • Use elements of the original in something brand new of your own (like a fan fiction story, for example).
  • Examine the original for things it would be easy to change--colors, genders, number of people in a story or objects in a painting, time period, location, etc.
  • Pick one thing from your list and start making that change.  If you started your copy before thinking about changes, just start adding the changes from where you are.  No need to start over.
  • Pick another thing from the list and start making that change.
  • Think about other works you like and see if you can incorporate elements of one or more of those into your copycat work.  It doesn't have to be something in the same genre or even the same medium.  A sketch of a favorite book character in the background of your Mona Lisa?  Of course!  "The Raven" flying off to a music store and playing a violin?  Why not?  Mix and match--it's a fun game and very freeing.  Be as silly as you can!
  • Take your favorite elements from your play time and try them out in whatever you were feeling stuck on.  (It's okay if you can't find anything that will work--just take a look to see if there's something there.)

Will this exercise always directly help your current work?  No, not directly.   It will always help shake things up, change things around, get things moving.  Sometimes you'll find something that helps move your current piece along.  Sometimes you'll find that you just had a good time, and that's worth plenty all on its own.

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2

I love a grand gesture, a giant cake, a huge display of lights at Christmas.  I do!  I love big, shiny things.  But you know what I love even more?  Tiny, sparkly little treasures.  They gleam and glisten and entice you to draw closer, focus in, get still and attentive.  They're mesmerizing and full of wonder.

Small Things 1

So what does this have to do with creativity coaching or a creative life?  So much!  Small things are beautiful and powerful and full of everything we love.  And Small Steps will get us to those dreams we love.

In Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coaching™ we're all about small things--Small Steps, Small Questions.  We love them!  Why?  Because they do so much while being so easy to wrap your brain around.  This also has to do with a creative life because being a creative doesn't happen in a vacuum.  We live in a busy world.  We have a lot going on.  Things that fuel our creative dreams and fit into the rest of our lives are priceless!  Small Steps are the way to get there without letting everything else fall away.

Convinced?  It's okay if you're not sure.  We've been taught to believe that we need to do big things, make huge changes, do something dramatic to change our lives.  (Have you seen some of the things people do when they want to ask someone to marry them?!)  So Small Steps may seem weird at first.  That's okay.  Try them out anyhow and see what you can do.  Here's how:

First things first.  Pick your dream.  What's something you'd like to get started or make progress on?  What creative dream would you like to come true?  Write that down.  Put the note someplace you'll see it often.  There.  That's a Small Step and  it's a reminder of what you want to do.

Next, ask yourself a few questions.  Write down the answers if you like (it's okay if you don't have answers right away or only have a few), but most importantly ask the questions.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • What could I do in just five minutes? Two minutes?
  • What would feel good to do right now?
  • What is the smallest thing I can do that is connected to my creative dream?

Now, pick one of those small steps and do it.  Do it again tomorrow, or the next time you have five minutes (or two).  Try this out for a week, maybe two.  Then look back and see what you've done, one Small Step at a time.  Give yourself a pat on the back!  Then make a new list of things you can do and do one.  And now you're on your way to your creative dream!


There's still time to sign up for the MuseCraft™ Explorers' Club (starts July 9).  We'll talk small steps, we'll walk them together.  We'll have fun and make our way toward those creative dreams together.  Join me?

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10

This is a reprint, with slight alterations, of a newsletter article I did a few years ago.  I'm reposting it after several recent conversations with people telling me that they don't like to-do lists and schedules and things because they feel restricted, boxed in, constrained.  But there's also a lot of talk about not getting much of anything done, and I really think the two things--resistance to structure and lack of progress--are connected.

I've noticed something about we creative types. We like to feel free and wild, flying around the
aether with our creativity spreading behind us like wings. Structure? Bah! We don't want structure!
We're free. You can't put us in a box!Jellyfish

The thing is, without structure we often lack focus and direction. We float along, shapeless, like
jellyfish pushed and pulled by the tides. I don't know about you, but I don't want to be a jellyfish.

Here's an important secret—structure is not our enemy. It's more like the skeleton we hang our
creativity on, the underlying form that helps us determine what direction our work will go in. At an
immediate, project by project level, structure is deciding that you'll work on a painting today instead of
a novel or work on photo editing instead of an art quilt. It helps us get things done by keeping us from
trying to do everything all at once.

There are also greater structures in our lives that help us feed and nurture our creativity, things that
make it easier to create when we want to. Some of these are the same things that help us get to work on
time, get ready for bed, buy groceries for the week. Our daily, weekly, monthly routines can become a
structure to help us shape our creative time and space.

Structure adds form and substance and beauty to our creativity.
Structure adds form and substance and beauty to our creativity.

I know the word “routine” sometimes has a bad reputation. We frequently use it as a synonym for
“dull” or “boring.” But having routines keeps us from having to reinvent the wheel over and over to do
the things we need to do. If you create and choose your routines with intention and thoughtfulness,
with an eye to making time and space for your creativity, your routines can become the structure that
lets your creativity thrive.

So how do you build a structure for your creativity? The same way construction workers build a house
—one beam at a time. This is especially important if you are a multi-creative. Don't try to force long
stretches of time to work on all of your creative pursuits every week. Start out either by choosing a
favorite creative pastime and working that into your life regularly or by finding a particular time each
week (for me, it's Thursday evenings) and dedicate that time to doing whatever creative thing pulls you
when the time comes.

Work this new piece into your existing structure—you're building an addition, not creating an entirely
new dwelling. Look at your routines and your schedule, decide what is and isn't working and tweak
things to make them work better, then find the places where adding in creative time will work best. I'll
go back to the Thursday evenings I mentioned as an example. For me, my regular schedule leaves me
with the whole house to myself on Thursdays after work, so this is a natural time to work on creative
projects.

Once your new addition has become a comfortable, regular part of your life, look around for the next
place you can add on to your routine. Eventually, as with building anything, if you work steadily and
thoughtfully, you will have a life structure that will leave you the time and space you need for your
creativity. You'll be able to do the things you want, and your Muse will thank you for it every day.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
There's still time to join in on the adventure in the
MuseCraft™ Explorers' Club!  Sign up today
and start down the path to your creative dreams.

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4

Do you ever read articles or books on productivity?  They talk about time wasters--surfing the internet, checking Facebook and Twitter, playing computer games--and tell you to get rid of them.  There are even apps and software that will block you from the internet or certain websites, things like that, all in the name of getting more done.

Time on My Hands
Gotta keep your eye on the clock

Have you ever tried any of the productivity techniques and apps and suggestions?  I have, and I noticed something odd.  I didn't start creating more.  I think I might have even started creating less.  And I felt stressed and pressured.  Overall I didn't feel like it was a good experiment.

 I think trying to corral myself that way and keep to a schedule and get things done all the time was stifling me and my creativity.  I think creative people (maybe all people, because we're all creative, after all) need more space--mentally, temporally, sometimes physically.  We need time to stare at the wall or off into space, doodle and hum to ourselves and let our daydreams run wild.  And I'm not the only one who thinks we need time for dreaming.  This article by Jonah Lehrer has excellent information on why daydreaming is important.  This one by Susanne Gargiulo is also very good.

Is this license to sit in our pajamas scrolling through Facebook all day?  No.  At least not every day.  We don't want to box ourselves in and smother our creativity with over-productivity, but we also don't actually want to just do nothing.  So what do we do to find a good balance between those?

That's where my creative time wasters come in.  Creative time wasters are things that help me free my thoughts, help me get in some daydreaming down time and feed my creativity at the same time.  They help me get to that mindless state that lets my creativity get going, and they also help stir up new creative ideas.  Here are my favorites:'

  • Coloring.  I especially love Dover's Creative Haven coloring books which are made for grown-ups
  • Dancing.  I do this a lot in the kitchen with headphones in singing at the top of my lungs.  Very freeing, and very stirring, and it really clears the mind.
  • Pinterest. I spend my time there looking at things that are related to whatever my current creative interest is.  Art journaling. Writing quotes. Photography. Surfing.  But spend some time browsing randomly, too, because you never know what will spark something in you.
  • Walking.  Getting out, moving around, letting your body move gently and your mind wander while nature works her magic on you.
  • Reading.  A good novel or two is an excellent way to relax your mind. It moves you away from your own creative projects and lets them percolate in the background while you have grand adventures.
  • Drawing.  Sketching, doodling, Zentangles, anything like that will help your mind relax and your thoughts wander, plus it's creative all on its own.

What about you?  What creative time wasters do you love?  What helps you let your mind wander and get clear so there's room for inspiration to get in?

 

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