Posts Tagged ‘women and creativity’
Guest Post by Fi Phillips
Most writers will have heard of how the seed of the creation that became Frankenstein came into being. In 1816, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, her lover Percy Bysshe Shelley, their son and Mary’s stepsister Claire Clairmont spent the summer near Geneva in Switzerland. Holidaying with them were the poet Lord Byron and his doctor John William Polidori. At this point, Mary was calling herself Mary Shelley although she would not marry Percy until later that year after the suicide of his wife.
Renting villas close to Lake Geneva, this should have been a summer of boating and sunshine but Mary Shelley wrote that,
‘It proved a wet, ungenial summer… and incessant rain often confined us for days in the house’.
Conversation turned to the experiments of Erasmus Darin in his attempts to re-animate dead matter, and ghost stories, the group often talking late into the night. It was Byron who suggested that they write their own supernatural stories.
In what Mary called, ‘a waking dream’, she came upon the idea for ‘Frankenstein’. At first, she thought it would be a short story but with Percy’s encouragement she expanded her idea into the novel we now know, published in 1818.
Mary was never going to be a follower of the norm. Both of her unorthodox parents, Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin were philosophers and writers. Her mother died when Mary was only days old but she cherished her mother’s memory, her writings and her lifestyle. This individuality and following of her heart (and her creativity) has always drawn me to the character of Mary Shelley.
At a time when the majority of formally published authors were men, Mary published her novel anonymously. It was assumed that as this was not a story of romance and the interior sphere of the home the author must be male. The fact that Percy wrote the novel’s preface and dedicated the book to his hero (Mary’s father) William Godwin caused many to believe that Mary’s husband was the author. The novel was received well and viewed as an intellectual piece of writing rather than a horror novel.
Mary was a strong, individual woman who would carve out a career in writing, eventually being recognised as the author of Frankenstein although it was not the only novel she wrote, or indeed her only piece of writing. After her husband’s death, she would hold fast to her writing as a means to support herself and her son, editing her husband’s poetry, writing her novels, assisting friends in writing their memoirs and other literary endeavours.
Mary Shelley has always been an inspiration to me in her individuality, her strength as a mother, her refusal to succumb to society’s judgements, and her commitment to her writing. Intelligent and forward thinking, she created many works but her novel Frankenstein would produce a figure of stage, screen, comedy and tragedy, bridging the divide between the canon and popular fiction. Mary Shelley would be remembered.
Fi Phillips is a mum and wife, and currently writes murder mystery plays
for her small business Murdering The Text. She is a literature graduate,
originally from York but currently living in North Wales.
For many years, she worked in an office environment until the arrival of
her two children robbed her of her short term memory and sent her hurtling
down a new, often bumpy, creative path. Writing is her passion and she
finds that getting the words down on paper is the best way to keep the
creative muse out of her shower.
(Photo Credit Wikipedia)
Guest Post by Barbara Ehrentreu
The two women writers who have influenced me wrote in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Jane Austen and Edith Wharton both wrote about every day life during their respective time periods. Both of them had feminine main characters and showed how a woman’s life was dependent upon her getting married. Yet both had very independent heroines who went against the established norms for society at their respective times.
What I like about Jane Austin’s writing is the way she was able to tell a story, yet she described her scenes in such a way you felt you were there. She brought you into everything and you felt like you were part of each scene. When I first read Emma I was unable to stop reading and though my teacher had only a few chapters assigned for us to read I found myself reading beyond them to the end of the book. The story was so compelling and although I had difficulty with some of the situations, I wanted her to end up with the dashing hero.
I had to read Edith Wharton for a graduate college course and again I became fascinated by her attention to detail. Like Jane Austen she described each scene as if it were photographed and her characters were so real you wanted to go and put an arm around the poor woman in The House of Mirth. In The Age of Innocence the missed chances and the sadness of unrequited love are played out in such a lush setting you find yourself wanting to live their lives. The writing is so outstanding. Of course, today, some or a lot of both Jane Austen’s and Edith Wharton’s work would be considered too much telling. However both are classic authors and we can learn a great deal from their writing.
Barbara, a retired teacher lives with her family in Stamford, Connecticut. When she received her Masters degree she began writing seriously. If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor, Barbara’s first YA novel, published by MuseItUp Publishing was inspired by Paula Danziger. Her novel is also available on Amazon for Kindle and paperback, Barnes & Noble for both paperback and Nook, Smashwords, Omnilit and of course, The Muse Bookstore. In addition, Barbara has a story in Lavender Dreams, a memorial anthology for which all the proceeds go to cancer research. She hosts Red River Writers Live Tales from the Pages on Blog Talk Radio every 4th Thursday. She is a member of SCBWI. Writing is her life!
Check out her blog: ‘Barbara’s Meanderings’,
Guest Post by Heidi Moore
I’ve just fallen into literary love with a writer I assumed was brand new, Edith Pearlman.When I finished reading her short story, “Tess,” I put down my iPad and sat still for a moment with the intense feeling it left me. It’s a difficult sensation to describe to those who haven’t yet learned to love the short story. The sensation feels as though an important truth about one corner of the whole world has been encapsulated in an exquisite, but simple, jewel that I have just held in my hands, and I want to know how it is possible the author could have constructed something so precious there.
Anyone who wants to know how to write, or even read, a short story would wisely begin with Pearlman. One reason her stories are so remarkable is Pearlman writes amazing sentences; these are sentences that tell a story as much as the plot itself conveys meaning. For instance, in “Rules,” Donna, a woman who works at the day-shelter, hands Ollie, a mother, diapers. Donna knows she urgently needs them; as soon as she hands them to Ollie, she knows that a couple of diapers cannot possibly fill the gulf of need, so then she just hands Ollie the whole box. The narrator explains: “Donna gave Ollie both money and Pampers, and was rewarded by a mammoth embrace that made her grin—it was so easy, so emphatic, so momentarily sincere, so ultimately meaningless” (190). Within a single sentence, we understand the subtleties of an emotionally complex transaction that another writer might take a paragraph to describe.
For those of us who want to emulate Pearlman, it is important to know that this kind of writing does not happen in an afternoon: Great sentences are hard won. Pearlman told interviewer Daniel Jaffee of BiblioBuffet, “Each short story takes several weeks (five days a week, about four hours a day) to write, in many, many drafts, all on the typewriter. The nth draft then marinates in a drawer while I work on the next story or piece. [...] So each story takes about a month and a half in total time.” I will post this timeline near my computer, so I remember not to rush my creative process so much. Pearlman is a great example.
Pearlman’s plots are also worthy to emulate. “Tess,” a first-person account from the point of view of the mother of a severely disabled two year-old child in the hospital on life support is complex. The mother describes circumstances around Tess’s birth and her own life difficulties: “When I had to leave the Sea View a month before the baby because of some law about lifting and stuff, Billie said not to worry. I could come back whenever I was ready” (95). In alternate passages she describes the services Tess requires from her many different health care providers: “[H]er friends know she cannot hear, but they talk to her anyway, for to see faces in action, lips moving, is instructive for Tess, according to the neuro-audiologist” (97). The action leads up to our being convinced that Tess’s mom is a deeply caring parent, who, though she may not be well educated, is doing the best she can to advocate for a daughter who may not have much hope of recovering. Pearlman is masterful at developing the roomful of characters who manage Tess’s care, and at building tension; plainly, Tess is going to die. What is not clear is what will be resolution of the story when the mother goes to the windowsill to retrieve the toy she thinks is Tess’s favorite: “The red floppy dog. They always forgot it. I put it in a corner of the crib.Then I unscrewed the end of the heart tube from the aqua clothespin and slipped it under the blanket so the blood would pool quiet and invisible like a monthly until there would be no more left” (105). It is an emotional ending, but one that causes the reader a genuine heart-stopping moment, a mixture of grief, disturbance, and relief.
This precise feeling brought me immediately back to the title page of Binocular Vision: New and Selected Stories, and I wondered how I could have missed being a fan of this writer who has been publishing award-winning literary fiction for three decades. Then I knew I wanted to share her with everyone I could. What better occasion than Women’s History Month?
Just this month, on March 8, 2012, Pearlman’s short story collection won the National Book Critics Circle award for fiction. Binocular Vision also won the 2011 PEN/Malamud prize for outstanding short fiction and was nominated last fall for the National Book Awards. Individual stories have won numerous awards in the past as well.
Edith Pearlman is a true gem, a woman writer worth modeling oneself on.
Jaffee, Daniel. “Talking Across the Table. Edith Pearlman: An Interview.” (11-13-2011). BiblioBuffet.com.
Pearlman, Edith; Ann Patchett (2011-01-11). Binocular Vision: New & Selected Stories (p. 190). Lookout Books. Kindle Edition. (3-16-12).
Pearlman, Edith reading at the 2011 National Book Foundation Awards.
Heidi R. Moore
Heidi R. Moore is a writer and artist, a former college writing and literature professor who is now working on a memoir and painting watercolor and acrylic paintings. She also writes a blog,
Heidi went to the Goddard College MFA writing program, where she studied with Mark Doty, She earned a Ph.D. in American Studies, with an emphasis in Film and American Popular Culture.
My dear friend and writing buddy Al Capeheart is guest posting today about a woman writer who continues to inspire.
Maya Angelou wrote, “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use the more you have.” Hearing her presidential inauguration poem she calls us all forward by the belief in a just and peaceful future. She lives her commitment, her words are everyday, and in her wisdom she calls to all human kind to be inspired by faith.
My main inspiration came from Ann McRae Kennady, my Mom. She had the most profound influence on me. She insisted that we speak proper English. We might not be rich, but we could talk like we were educated. She finished high school in 1937, but unlike her siblings she did not go to college. She ran away to marry my father. She would say, “I can learn to do anything as long as there is a book written to tell me how to do it.”
She was PR director and editor of in-house publications of a regional life insurance company. She was the second woman in Virginia to earn the title of “Charter Life Underwriter”; she called it her Ph.D. She edited and published the national award-winning “Southern Exposure” magazine of the Richmond Camera Club. She was the first person I knew to use word processing. She studied photography in the city she loved. Her curiosity was about all facets of history from free-standing renovated town houses, to ancestral monuments from the Civil War.
To earn money after retirement, she became a City of Richmond tour guide for the historic society. The green tour type bus/trolleys had regular schedules leaving from the Virginia Museum of Science, the old Broad Street Railroad Station where in the 1940s and 1950s she’d board the train for New York where she was the ‘ready to wear’ purchasing agent for Thalheimers and its mid-south department stores. But it seemed she was always late.
I remember Pop racing the north bound train to Ashland, VA its first stop 18 miles out. She never missed a train that I know of but it always seemed like a panic to catch it. My sister said, “She’d never get anything done, if it weren’t for the last-minute.”
Her reputation as a Historic Richmond tour guide brought her many specific requests. Her description of historic characters was so engaging it was as if she’d had lunch with them the week before. Busloads of tourist and history buffs were her guests. Of particularly note were her ghost tours and knowledge of southern Jewish communities. She always used, encouraged and appreciated proper grammar. She continues to inspire.
AL Capehart aka Santa AL
AL Capehart is a retired social worker and a professional Santa. AL is working on a memoir about his 20 years of Santa Claus work as ‘Santa AL’. Visit him at
The close of a decade offers a time for reflection and taking stock of what has nurtured us, especially in our creative lives. Ten years ago, I had yet to become a creativity coach. I was a few years out of graduate school and adjusting to the relentless demands of professorial life. I was secretly working on a novel while researching my academic books that I needed to write. I have made several intentional and transformative leaps this decade in claiming a life as a coach, writer, and academic. The books below have been traveling companions and witnesses to those changes. They are books that I return to often and encourage my clients and workshop participants to read. As a whole they offer a fountain of ideas, techniques and incentives for accessing and maintaining creative states. Well-written and highly engaging, they provide ladders up from the ditches of self-loathing that creative people sometimes fall into, insights on how to quell doubts about one’s ability to create(at least long enough to get the next thing done), and sport new roadmaps in how we might shape a creative life for ourselves, if we dare.
Creativity: Where the Divine and Human Meet, Matthew Fox: This is a jubilant philosophical discussion about the role of creativity in serving human evolution. Fox, a radical theologian argues for the necessity of creativity for the continued survival of the species. Fox makes a case for the spirituality of creativity, a commitment and practice that renews us and the culture as it fosters social justice, compassion and transformation.
Making Your Creative Dreams Real: A Plan for Procrastinators, Perfectionists, Busy People, and People Who Would Really Rather Sleep All Day?: SARK: How does one achieve a creative dream that feels impossible? SARK answers this question through her helping people tackle internal barriers (e.g. critics) and external realities (i.e. lack of time or money). I probably recommend this book more often than the others on this list. SARK has a gift for helping people overcome obstacles to creating. MYCR offers readers practical guidance about the stages of dream development (i.e. egg, hatched, infant or baby, toddler, child, adolescent, adult). Once you figure what stage your dream is in then you can find exercises to figure out what your dream needs in order to sustain itself. Bursting with color and confidence, this book is meant to awaken the dreamer (and doer) inside of us.
Coaching the Artist Within: Advices for Writers, Actors, Visual Artists & Musicians from America’s Foremost Creativity Coach, Eric Maisel: I’m convinced that by writing this superb book, Maisel wants to put himself and other creativity coaches out of business. He reveals useful techniques that teach us how to be aware of the habits of mind that we use not to create as well as to create. Maisel draws on vignettes from a diversity of clients to amplify the lessons presented. You learn how to be your own coach in a mindful and kind way.
The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use it For Life, A Practical Guide, Twyla Tharp: This understated but powerful book should have gotten much more notice. Twyla Tharp, world famous choreographer, doesn’t believe that creativity is a gift from the heavens bestowed only on a chosen few. Unlike many creativity books, The Creative Habit is intellectual, incisive and doesn’t coddle. There’s no mention of affirmations or positive self-talk in this book. What’s offered up are more than thirty unique exercises for jumpstarting one’s imaginative musings.
On Becoming an Artist: Reinventing Yourself through Mindful Creativity, Ellen J. Langer: I love books that blend neuroscience, mindfulness and creativity because they give us a new window for understanding how to break longstanding habits of mind. Langer presents psychological research that demonstrates how people typically undervalue their perceptions of themselves and the world around them–mindlessly. Mindless living affects our creative lives negatively. Mindlessness when creating might show up as tyrannical self criticism and evaluation, overreliance on social comparisons, and lack of interest in ambiguity. She argues for a mindful approach to creative endeavors that allows us to notice how our choices can arise from the context of our present moment(as opposed to following a mindless automatic script).
The Creating Brain: The Neuroscience of Genius, Nancy Andreasen. This book helps us understand how the brain exercises everyday creative acts (i.e. the ability to have a conversation) and what possibly contributes to off the chart creativity (e.g. the lives of Martha Graham, Thomas Edison, Toni Morrison etc). Andreasean’s writing makes neuroscience accessible for a lay audience.
The Twelve Secrets of Highly Creative Women: A Portable Mentor, Gail McMeekin: If an author puts the word secret in a title, it immediately makes me want to read it. This book doesn’t disappoint as it delivers up the life histories of women who have found ways to nurture and sustain their creativity. This book’s emphasis on finding role models, mentors and allies drives home the point that we need support to accomplish our creative dreams.
An Alchemy of Mind: The Marvel and Mystery of the Brain, Diane Ackerman: Although not a book solely about creativity, Ackerman’s chapter on creativity, “Creating Minds”, is worth several other fluffy books on the subject. She writes with a poet’s sensibility and a journalist’s precision about our amazing gray matter.
Eat Pray Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia, Elizabeth Gilbert: I have taught this book in my undergraduate course ‘Women and Creativity’ for the past few years. I schedule the book to be read during a section of the class I call ‘creativity as life process’ which focuses on creativity as life-making. This book offers many lessons about the power of creative problem-solving, the importance of curiosity and exploration and using the self as a resource for understanding life. Gilbert produces a product—which is the memoir, but it is how she makes a life that is real magic.
The Creativity Book: A Year’s Worth of Inspiration and Guidance, Eric Maisel: This is a go-to resource when you’re out of ideas and bored with your current project. It presents a doable, one year plan for waking up your creative muses.