The Practice of Creativity

Happy post-Thanksgiving!

I am delighted and honored to have been chosen as the ‘Creative Genius of the Week’ by creativity coach and author Susan C. Guild. I met ‘Suz’ two years ago through a life-changing online writing program called ‘Write it Now’ (WINS), hosted by the brilliant Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy aka ‘SARK’. Every time I read something by Suz or heard her speak on the class calls, I was inspired and felt that I had met a kindred spirit. We share a similar approach to exploring creativity as a path to self-discovery. Suz is an author, entrepreneur and creator of ‘Wake Up Your Magic’. Through WUYM, she hosts an amazing monthly teleshare where she interviews creative professionals, hosts workshops and offers products and services focused on connecting people to their creativity. I love Suz’s fun approach to life and living her purpose through teaching the transformative power of creative practices. And, I am very appreciative that she has been a great believer in my work.

Suz is featuring some of my best and juiciest blog posts as part of the ‘Creative Genius of the Week’ series on her Wake Up Your Magic Facebook page (see Nov 23 onward). Also explore her Wake Up Your Magic website.


This week a colleague of mine sent me an article about productivity, “7 Super Common Habits That Productive People Ditch (Because Who Has Time for That?)

This is a great article as it highlights behavior that can derail us at work. The author presents compelling research and evidence that the habits listed below make us less effective. However, I also looked at this list and thought that many of these habits can hamper creative work, too. I used the categories as a jumping off point for thinking about how these habits affect our creative aspirations and how we can change them.


1. Checking Email Constantly

Guilty! When I’m not fully committed to writing or I don’t know what to write next, email becomes a constant temptation. It’s so immediately rewarding.

Solution: Take 5-7 minutes at the beginning of your writing session to outline your goal for that time. And make the goal manageable and specific. So, instead of, “I’ll work on Chapter 3,” try instead, “I’ll add sensory details to the second scene in Chapter 3.”

2. Waiting for Things to Be Perfect

Perfectionism is a type of inner critic. Often perfectionism is about delaying anticipated possible rejection or disapproval of one’s work.

Solution: Let others know that you intend to submit your manuscript (or whatever you want to get accomplished), by a certain date. Post it on Facebook or social media where people will hold you accountable. Savor the experience of letting something go. Remind yourself that if something of yours is rejected, that’s OK. You’ll survive.

3. Multitasking

I find that I multitask when I have anxiety about doing the next aspect of a task, especially if I don’t have a clear sense of what I need to do. Or, if I think that the task is going to be very difficult. It’s easier to do several things to avoid the challenge of deeply focusing on one thing. Multitasking is often a creativity killer. Creativity needs our focus and presence.

Solution: Ask yourself, are you multitasking because you haven’t efficiently budgeted the appropriate time for your creative work? Are you multitasking because you are stuck? If you need help with something, reach out to your creative community.

4. Inviting Interruptions

Don’t you hate when you are in the flow of your creative work and someone interrupts you? It’s imperative that you set up the optimal conditions so that you won’t be interrupted.

Solution: For some people that means putting a sign on their door letting others know that they are unavailable for a certain period of time.

5. Being Disorganized

Being disorganized according to many organizational experts is when you can’t get your hands on needed information within 2 minutes. I like to give myself a bit of a broader time period. I should be able to find something within a half hour or less. Can you find things in your studio? Do you have a record of where you are submitting your stories? Do you capture your great ideas in places where you can easily find them later?

Solution: Schedule quarterly cleaning and organizing sessions. Need more tips of how to get started getting your creative space organized and not get overwhelmed? See my spring cleaning for the creative life posts.

6. Failing to Delegate

This is a hard one as most creative professionals are juggling multiple jobs, a family and other commitments.

Solution: More support is always a good thing.  Are there things on your to-do list that you can trade with someone else, even for a short period of time? I’ve known writers who detested writing query letters and so traded this task with another writer. They then completed a task that their writer friend found difficult.

7. Never Saying No

Creative work takes time of all sorts, including incubating, developing and implementing. If you habitually say yes to things that don’t support your creative life, you’ll find yourself frustrated and resentful.

Solution: Practice saying no ten different ways. Eliminate what’s not essential and things that drain your energy.


Do you have any of these habits? If so, how are you working on them?

See the full article here.

Powerful. Dynamic. Tender. Truth-teller. In my first few interactions with Dr. Laurie Cannady, all these words went through my mind. We were suitemates this August at The Room of Her Own Foundation writing residency. We have several overlapping interests including academe, the health and well-being of African American girls and women and creative writing. Throughout the residency, we would stay up late into the night talking about books and life. I felt lucky that I got to spend so much time with her. I was thrilled to discover that Laurie’s new memoir Crave: Sojourn of a Hungry Soul was being published this year. I shared with her my observation that there are too few memoirs written by women of color. I believe it is vital that women of color write about the context of our lives. When she read, during her allotted three minutes provided for each participant, the audience was entranced by the rhythm and power of her words. It was an unforgettable reading, marked by a standing ovation.

Dr. Cannady has published an array of articles and essays on poverty in America, community and domestic violence, and women’s issues. She has also spoken against sexual assault in the military at West Point. Her new memoir, Crave: Sojourn of a Hungry Soul debuts in November with Etruscan Press. Dr. Cannady has as MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

I’m delighted to welcome Laurie Cannady to The Practice of Creativity.


-Tell us about your new book Crave: Sojourn of a Hungry Soul. What inspired this book?

Crave: Sojourn of a Hungry Soul is a coming-of-age memoir that chronicles a young girl’s journey through abuse and impoverishment. The effusive narration descends into the depths of personal and sexual degradation, perpetual hunger for food, safety and survival. While moving through gritty exposés of poverty, abuse, and starvation, Crave renders a continuing search for sustenance that simply will not die.

-What is your biggest hope for Crave as it meets readers?

My hope is that it will resonate with those who, like myself, have had to journey through one difficult situation after another, those who don’t always feel like they have a tight enough grasp on hope, but they work toward a healing anyway because they know there is a way out of the mess.

-While you were writing Crave, were there authors that you mined for inspiration?cannady03-210

I read so many books while crafting Crave. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls served as a constant source of inspiration. I especially focused on the way in which her narrative moved across space and time. Rigoberto Gonzalez’s Butterfly Boy made me brave as I told my story and the stories of those who shared life with me. His honesty kept me honest and he demonstrated the skill it takes to weave a narrative that includes the voices of family members and friends. I revisited several times Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes, studying his voice and the way in which he depicted the tragedies he and his family faced. His lyric voice made some of the most painful scenes palatable.

– How do you handle the moments when you have to write a painful scene?

Oftentimes, I’ll put on music, songs that remind me of the scene I’m writing. The process of writing painful scenes is especially meditative for me. I try to place myself back in that situation so that I can write from the POV of who I was then, not as the woman I am now. (That comes during the revision process.) I usually have to be alone and I need silence. During really tough scenes, I ask my husband to check in on me in about an hour or so, just to make sure I’m not going too far and too deep. There have been times that I just needed him to hold me after the writing. His embrace reminds me that I’m not in that situation anymore and I am in a safe place. There were some scenes where that writing seeped into my waking world or into my dreams. For that reason, I have people in my life with whom I can share my fears and sadness. Much like a child, “it takes a village” to raise a memoir!

-What’s next to your bed (or in your Kindle)? What are you reading now?

Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness by Jon Kabat-Zinn. While writing memoir, I think it’s important to practice self-care. Full Catastrophe Living not only reminds me of that, but it also gives me the tools to do so.

-What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

Write a page every day, no matter what, and don’t be afraid to allow your narrative to reveal things to you. When I first began writing memoir, I thought I had to write everything, as accurately as I could remember, to some self-imposed end. It took years to realize that my narrative had its own end and its own way in which it wanted to be relayed. So, writing a page a day was a relief. I allowed the scenes to unfold as they pleased and once that writing was done, I was able to shape all that I had written into Crave.


Laurie Jean Cannady is a professor of English at Lock Haven University, where she spends much of her time encouraging students to realize their true potential. She is a consummate champion of women’s issues, veterans’ issues, and issues affecting underprivileged youth. Cannady resides in central Pennsylvania with Chico Cannady and their three children.

Find out more about Laurie Cannady here.

Checkout Crave’s amazing book trailer:



If you wish to live a self-directed life, you have to change your relationship to time.
–Marney Markidakis, author of Creating Time: Using Creativity to Reinvent the Clock and Reclaim Your Life


In July, I asked readers to take a one question poll and answer the following: What is the biggest obstacle you face in your creative life?

The overwhelming response was ‘finding consistent time to work on projects’. Time is always an issue for creative people.

What’s your story about time? Not the predictable one that you say on autopilot, but the one that is authentic.

We often tell a well-rehearsed story about how little time we have and why we can’t get to our creative work. I find that fear, lack of focus, unwillingness to prioritize (especially if it means we will disappoint someone), and procrastination keeps people locked into a story of ‘time scarcity’.

Here are some questions to help you dig underneath what is perhaps a familiar story:

-What’s something that you love that you never have time to do?
-What do you always make time for that you don’t want to do?
-Where is there ease and richness of time in your life?
-What kind of time does your creative life really need (e.g. daily creating time, dedicated weekend time once a month, a two week retreat)?
What needs to change about your allocation of time in order for your creative project to flourish?
Do you have models of creative people that you know (or have read about), that have inspired you by the way they use time?

These questions can bring to the surface thoughts and feelings about your experience of time and suggest new possibilities about how to use your time. As creative people, we must learn to manage our time and energy like a top level athlete. As author Marney Markidakis says in her wonderful book Creating Time, “the beast of time can never be fully tamed, but it can be disciplined, nourished, and cared for.”

Here are 3 ways to create more time:

1) Schedule it in. Yes, time for your creative project needs to be in your calendar.

Getting your creative projects to migrate from the bottom to the top of your to-do list is no easy feat. Ariel Gore makes this point in her witty book, How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead. She says that most of us believe that making time for creative work is selfish, so we put it at the end of our to-do lists:

“And then we kick ourselves because the novel isn’t written. We look down at our laps and blush when our writing teacher asks us if we got a chance to write this week. Of course we didn’t get a chance to write—it was the last thing on our list. We had a glass of wine with dinner. We got sleepy. I’m going to tell you something, and it’s something I want you to remember: No one ever does the last thing on their to-do list.”

I write every day. For me, writing every day keeps my momentum going. I typically do an hour of academic writing in the morning and an hour of creative work in the evening throughout the week. My academic writing is scheduled in my calendar. My creative work is scheduled in my calendar. It’s what keeps me sane.

If creating every day doesn’t work for you, find consistent periods of time that do and then schedule them into your calendar.

2) Develop a better reward system. Over the long journey of creating, producing good work becomes its own reward. However, for those of us just starting to pursue a creative path, may need motivation and encouragement to keep saying yes to our projects. Reward systems can be big or small and can be connected to time and/or output. This year is the first year that I have kept an active rewards list for meeting writing goals. About every few weeks, I’m checking that list to see what I have earned. The rewards list can keep me going through the really tough periods where writing doesn’t feel like its going well.

3) Work in smaller blocks of time. Creative people often pine for days of uninterrupted time, but as a coach, I’m often in the position of pointing out to clients that what time they have is not always used well. Creativity expert Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy (aka SARK) uses the concept of micromovements to break tasks into manageable segments of 5 seconds to 5 minutes. Very effective! She believes that creative people often assign themselves too big of a task. And, then when they don’t meet that often impossible task, their inner critics come leaping out to point out their lack of completion.

What can you do in smaller bursts of time?

You can do a writing prompt; draw/sketch, assemble your packets of seeds for the beautiful garden you are planning. She refers to micromovements as an ‘ignition system’. Once you are able to get yourself started, you can keep going after the short amount of time is up. Check out her books  The Bodacious Book of Succulence and Make Your Creative Dreams Real for lots of information on micromovements technique.


Do you have some favorite ways to create time? I’d love to hear.

Last November during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), I took on the daunting but exhilarating task of writing a 50,000 word draft of a cozy mystery. I finished with a 50,000 word ‘baby’ draft that I loved. More recently, I’ve been revising that baby draft toward a real first draft. Cozy mysteries are ones that typically involve humor, an amateur sleuth and are set in an intimate social setting (usually a small town). They tend to downplay violence, sex and police procedure. As part of my research I’ve been reading a lot of cozies, paying attention to ingenious plotting, and keeping an eye out for new authors. I’m happy to have discovered the work of Karoline Barrett.

Karoline Barrett writes women’s fiction and cozy mysteries. Her first book, The Art of Being Rebekkah is women’s fiction. Her agent is the person who encouraged Karoline to write her first mystery as Karoline notes below. Like any good writer, she heeded her agent’s suggestion. Her new book Bun for Your Life (A Bread and Batter Mystery) is being published by Penguin this month.

I’m so happy to welcome Karoline Barrett to The Practice of Creativity!

Michele, thank you so much for having me on your blog. Appearing on blogs is one of my favorite things to do, and I had lots of fun answering all your questions! KB




What inspired your new book, Bun for Your Life?

I love this question. My first novel, The Art of Being Rebekkah, is women’s fiction. When I finished that, I was floundering around, trying to think of what to write next. My agent asked me, “What do you like to read?” I replied, “Mysteries.” She then replied, “Why don’t you write one?” Then she tossed ideas at me, one of them being a hybrid pepper. From that, grew my premise for the first book in my Bread & Batter cozy mystery series, Bun for Your Life. Only, the pepper she talked about turned into apples!

-Tell us about your sleuth, Molly Tyler. What’s she like?    

Molly owns a bakery with her best friend, Olivia. Molly’s intuitive, funny, an animal lover, and she’s partial to puzzle solving-hence her love of solving mysteries! It doesn’t hurt that she’s a little bit nosy as well. She loves Destiny (most of the time), the small upstate New York town she grew up in, and is devoted to her family and friends. Last, but not least, she certainly wouldn’t mind having a special man in her life to make her forget about her feelings for her ex-husband! Maybe the bachelor auction in Bun For Your Life will introduce her to a new man!

Did you always want to be a writer?fb home picture----

Off and on. I was always a reader, but I didn’t get serious about writing until I was older.

What’s been your journey to published author?

I began writing short stories, which were published. Then decided I wanted to write a novel. My first novel started off as a short story. Once I finished it, I began querying agents. I got a lot of requests for partials and fulls, but no takers. I was ecstatic when Fran Black of Literary Counsel signed me. She was my 121st query!

What does your writing practice look like?  

Quite messy at times! I work full-time in addition to writing, so even though I have a schedule, I don’t always stick to it! I have a little office at home, which is my writing room, so I can retreat and leave my husband happily watching TV. Most of my writing is done in the evening, which is hard as I am not an evening person, and on the weekends.

-What starts you writing a new story? 

Since I’m working on a mystery series right now, the main characters and setting are already in place. I come up with a story, bad guy (or girl), the crime, some new secondary characters, a secondary plot, and throw in as much humor and conflict as I can.

-What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?  

Just one? That’s hard! I’d have to say, Don’t get bogged down with self-doubt, just write!


Karoline lives in a small Connecticut town with her husband. When she’s not writing, she loves reading, the beach, traveling, and her family.

Visit her at

One of the most amazing things about attending The Room of Her Own Foundation writing residency, in August, is that I got to meet extraordinary women writers. Before attending the retreat, the organizers set up a private Facebook group so that participants would have a chance to connect. And, connect we did. I noticed Jennifer Steil right away. She seemed charming, funny, helpful (often answering questions about hiking in the desert, acclimatizing to the altitude of Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, etc.), and passionate about writing. I saw the cover of her new book, The Ambassador’s Wife and was immediately intrigued. I love thrillers. At the retreat, I discovered that Jennifer possessed all of the above qualities and was so much fun to be around. And, she was also a great encourager, generous with her time and an enthusiastic hiker.

Jennifer Steil has lived an interesting life. She’s been kidnapped once, has traveled extensively and has authored The Ambassador’s Wife, a novel that is currently being adapted for a limited TV series. Anne Hathaway has signed on to play the starring role.

She is an award-winning American writer, journalist, and actor currently living in La Paz, Bolivia. Her first book, The Woman Who Fell From the Sky (Broadway Books, 2010) is a memoir about her adventures as editor of the Yemen Observer newspaper in Sana’a. The book received accolades in The New York Times, Newsweek, and the Sydney Morning Herald among other publications. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune called it one of the best travel books of the year in 2010, and Elle magazine awarded it their Readers’ Prize.

Jennifer’s second book and debut novel, The Ambassador’s Wife, was published by Doubleday this summer and is receiving rave reviews. Marie Claire named it one of the ‘9 Buzziest Books to Read This Summer’. The Ambassador’s Wife won the 2013 William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition Best Novel award.

Jennifer Steil-1

Jennifer has lived abroad since she moved to Yemen in 2006 to become the editor-in-chief of the Yemen Observer. After four years in Yemen and four months in Jordan, she and her husband Tim Torlot and daughter Theadora Celeste moved to London. She moved to Bolivia with her family in September 2012.

Her work has appeared in the World Policy Journal, Vogue UK, The Washington Times, Die Welt, The Week, Yahoo Travel, and The Rumpus.

I’m delighted to welcome Jennifer Steil to The Practice of Creativity.

Tell us about what inspired you to write The Ambassador’s Wife?

Well, I suppose the fact that I am an ambassador’s wife is partly to blame for the inspiration! But if I may backtrack for a bit of context? My first book was a very different kind of book, a memoir about the experience of running a newspaper in Sana’a Yemen and the wild journey I took with my Yemeni reporters. That first year in Yemen was the most challenging, hilarious, and rewarding year of my life. Writing my first book, The Woman Who Fell From the Sky, felt very much like a continuation of my journalism career. Though it was the longest story I had ever published, I was just as exacting in my research. Al Qaeda experts read my pages on Al Qaeda, Arabists reviewed my transliterations, and I triple-checked all statistics and quotes.

By the time I had written the 79th draft of that book, I was pretty tired of telling the unvarnished truth. I wanted the freedom to fabricate. Also, I had just moved in with the man who is now my husband, who was then the British ambassador to Yemen. I went from living alone in the old city of Sana’a to living with Tim in a vast gated mansion we could not leave without bodyguards. We traveled in armored cars, had hostage negotiators in our guest bedrooms, and regularly dined with the foreign minister. It was surreal. Over our four years there I heard a thousand and one stories I was dying to use in a book. Only because I didn’t want to wreck my husband’s career so early in our relationship, I thought I had better fictionalize everything. I could place an entirely fictional narrative in our odd and fascinating context.


The result is my new novel, The Ambassador’s Wife. Anyone who knows me will recognize certain autobiographical details. Like me, my character Miranda is an American married to a British ambassador. She is a vegetarian obsessed with exercise. And she has trouble keeping her mouth shut. But the rest is all made up! Miranda is an artist, a talented painter. I cannot draw or paint. She comes from Seattle, I was born in Boston. She is an only child, I have a sister. I have also never nursed a stranger’s child, been kidnapped for a prolonged period, or put my husband and students in danger.

There were a number of inspirations for the book. The opening scene, in which Miranda is kidnapped while hiking in the fictional country of Mazrooq, is based on my experience being taken hostage in Yemen. It happened in nearly the same way, though of course with a (happily for me) different outcome.

I was also thinking a lot about parenthood, as I had just given birth to my daughter when I began writing the book. I wondered what would happen if one parent wanted to adopt and the other didn’t, and then a child was dropped into their lives. What would happen? Which bonds would win out?

The more I wrote, the more issues came up. I have spent a great deal of time pondering the hazards of westerners trying to transplant their culture in radically difference countries. This is a key issues in the novel. While Miranda has the best of intentions in teaching a group of Muslim women to be artists, she ultimately places her students in danger. Her passion for her work and her white savior complex blind her. I also became interested in hostage negotiations, diplomatic crises, and the role of artistic expression in societies.

I also wanted to explore the power of Muslim women. Westerners often view Muslim women as powerless. I wanted to reveal some of the ways these women do have power. They have the power of their connections with family, with each other, power in the anonymity of their dress. It is the Muslim women who propel the plot of The Ambassador’s Wife. The ambassador ends up being the least powerful person in the book.

What’s been the most surprising aspect of being a published novelist?

Hate mail. I found it so shocking when I got my first hate email after publishing my first book that I couldn’t eat. I take everything personally, even notes from people who are clearly insane. I wasn’t prepared for the attacks. And the people who sent me hate mail after my first book came out took issue with me as a human being rather than with the book itself. That can be hard to take. And might be another reason I turned to fiction. At least with fiction perhaps people are more likely to attack the book than the author. Though I haven’t gotten any hate mail since The Ambassador’s Wife came out. Who knows what will come!

When I sold my first book, I had dinner with my friend Tom, who helped me find my (brilliant) agent. “You think your whole life will change when you publish a book,” he told me. “But it won’t. You’ll be amazed by how little it changes.” This is true. Publishing a book isn’t like starring in a film; you aren’t suddenly hounded by paparazzi and you don’t usually become an instant household name. You still have to get up in the morning and make your family breakfast, dress your daughter, and then go back to your keyboard and do the work. Keep doing the work.

I read in your bio that in 2012 you were a finalist for the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition Best Novel award. And, the next year, you won this award. Can you say something about what you learned about revising the novel between those two years? And, what gave you the determination to submit again?

Yes, I owe a lot to Rosemary James, who runs that contest! The first year I entered my novel, it had an obscure Italian name and was only half-finished. I entered it in the Novel-in-Progress category. By the time the contest rolled around again, I had completed the book and revised it several times. Largely thanks to editing from my agent and others, it had grown and changed immensely, so I entered it in the Novel contest. This is how the revision process goes for me. 1) I write what I think is a brilliant draft. I then rewrite it four or five times before submitting it to my agent. 2) My agent says that while this will someday be a brilliant draft, it isn’t there yet. She asks me questions, points out problems with the story and characters, and sends me back to work. 3) We do this a few more times. 4) We give the book to my editor, who asks questions, points out problems, and sends me back to work. 5) We do this a few more times. Each rewrite gets me to a new level. And I don’t think I could get there on my own. My editor and agent are essential. They drive me to produce better work. There are many days where I feel like I will vomit if I have to rewrite one more time. But I do it anyway.

I am a big fan of entering contests. If you don’t enter you can’t win. I try not to keep track of which contests I enter, so that when I win something it’s a happy surprise. But at this point in my career, rejections don’t bother me too much. Everyone gets rejected from literary magazines, even brilliant writers. Everyone gets rejected from a writing residency at some point. When I was an actor I read a book that said actors usually receive about 50 Nos for every Yes. “So go out there and collect your 50 Nos,” it said. So you can get to the Yes. I have collected a lot of Nos—and gotten to some Yeses.

Your novel explores global feminist ideas in some fresh and complex ways. Can you tell us about some of the tensions and contractions you played with in The Ambassador’s Wife?

When I first moved to Yemen in 2006, I met a Maltese woman at a dinner party who was raging against western feminists who came to Yemen with naïve ideas about how to “free the women.” You cannot simply take our western ideas about feminism and force them onto Yemeni women. (Or anyone else). You need to consider the context of these women’s lives. What kinds of things will actually help them and make their lives better/easier, and which things might just get them killed? You have to start with a basic respect for the culture, and an interest in learning all you can about it. Only armed with that knowledge can you begin to help anyone who lives in a very different world.

I lived in Yemen for four years, and spent time in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, and the UAE. While running the Yemen Observer newspaper I became very close to my reporters, particularly the women. They taught me so much about their world, their limits, their aspirations. I let them tell me what they needed from me. I also discovered a lot about the things I take for granted in my own life.

One day when I was on my way to work, my taxicab driver began masturbating at the wheel. Horrified, I leapt out of the moving car in the middle of an intersection. I was in tears by the time I got to the office. But when I told my female reporters what had happened, they shrugged. “Oh yes, that happens all the time to us,” they said. “That is just what men are like.” There was a lot of information about the culture in that response.

My female reporters were the inspiration for the artists Miranda mentors. From them I learned how important their families were. That they would never move away from Yemen because they couldn’t imagine living far from their mother or sister or cousins. We Americans move around so much we assume that switching homes is an easy thing. But it isn’t for many people. It isn’t easy at all. This is another thing Miranda fails to understand. She sees a brilliant future for her star pupil Tazkia, but this future could only happen outside of Mazrooq, and Tazkia has no desire to leave her home.

Clearly, I could go on.

What three living writers would you want at a dinner party you were hosting? And why?

Oooh, Elena Ferrante! Because then I would find out who she really is! I am dying to know her entire life story and how much of her books is true and what her writing process is like. Oh, I could question her for days! Definitely Elena.

Caitlin Moran, because she just lets it all hang out. I love people who have no filter, who just say and do whatever the hell they want. She seems fearless to me, and fearless is good at a dinner party! Keeps things interesting.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, because she would call all of us on our bullshit.

What guidance can you give aspiring novelists?

There is no better training for becoming a writer—of fiction or nonfiction—than journalism. Reporters must write every single day, they must write to deadline and to word count, and they learn more about the world with every story. You will develop empathy for people very different from you. You will visit neighborhoods you would not ordinarily explore. You will do things that scare you. What could be better? I say skip the MFA (you don’t want to be in debt the rest of your life) and get a job at a small paper. You will learn which details are essential to your story and which are not. Your writing will improve with daily use. And you will, if you are any good, provide a useful service to the world.

Would you share with us your best writing tip?

Go away. Go far, far away. The best thing any writer could do for herself is to go out into the world and have adventures that will give her something to write about. Take risks. Go to difficult places and do impossible things. If you want a guaranteed fantastic story, give up a comfortable life and move to the most difficult country in the world. Stories will find you. In abundance. Of course, if you already have an uncomfortable and crazy life where you are, you’re all set!

Jennifer Steil completed an MFA in creative writing/fiction at Sarah Lawrence College and an MS in Journalism at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

Since 1997, she has worked as a reporter, writer, and editor for newspapers and magazines in the US and abroad, while continuing to perform when in a country where it is legal to do so. In 2001, she helped to launch The Week magazine in the US, and worked there for five and a half years, writing the science, health, theater, art, and travel pages.

To find out more about Jennifer and how to purchase The Ambassador’s Wife, visit her website.

Have you noticed a slight chill in the air? Have you been marveling at the changing colors of the leaves? Have you started to think about unpacking your fall sweaters?

Autumn is here and it requests our attention.  At each change of season, I turn to Seasons of Grace: The Life-Giving Practice of Gratitude by Alan Jones and John O’Neil. Seasons of Grace traces gratitude through the metaphor of the four seasons, encouraging readers to practice gratitude in new ways.  It’s a remarkable book that has taught me so much about the power of gratitude as a foundational practice.

I have found that gratitude is a creativity enhancer. The more that we can cultivate gratitude, the more we can withstand the ups and downs, the boons and dry spells of a creative life.


They begin their chapter on autumn in this way:

“The fruits of the harvest are gathered and stored. The trees shed their leaves and reveal their true forms. The days grow shorter and darker, reminding us of how brief our time on earth really is. It’s autumn:  a season for reflecting on what it means to be truly alive, and for giving thanks for the gifts an authentic life bestows.

It’s no coincidence that autumn and authenticity are linguistic cousins. Both share the Latin root aut-, meaning “to increase or grow.” Autumn brings the harvest bounty:  the earth’s increase. Authenticity brings the reward of increased self-knowledge and awareness, of a life augmented (another word cousin!) through integrity. As autumn represents the ripening of the crops, so authenticity represents the coming into maturity of our characters. The link is gratitude, which allows us to ground ourselves in humility and recognize our authentic nature. When we live gratefully, we become more truly ourselves.”


Autumn presents us with an opportunity to reflect on our inner and outer harvests. Here are some writing prompts to feed your creative impulses as you explore the gifts of fall:

-Look at the following two words—autumn and authenticity. What connections between these two words do you sense?

-What’s most authentic in your creative work right now?

-When do you feel the most authentic? Alone? With others? At work? In nature?

-Write about the gifts from summer. What came to fruition? What didn’t? What are you letting go of for fall?

-What is your creative bounty?

-Finish the sentence:  If I were living more authentically, I would…

-What are the 10 things you’re grateful for right now?

-Explore the list of seasonal words and phrases below. Pick one or two words or phrases that carry the most energy for you and free write about them for 5 minutes. Then choose one or two words or phrases that carry the least energy for you and free write about them for 5 minutes.

I’d love to hear your reflections on any of these prompts!

Seasonal Words and Phrases

Inner and Outer Harvest


Light and Shadow

Waning light


The out breath

The in breath

Change of color

Change of form





Inner equinox

Wheel of seasons

Going Within



Season of preparation

Fallen Leaves






Joyful completion


Autumn Light

Abundant core

Living in gratitude





The harvest is stored


Lady of the Sunset


Harvest Moon



Letting Go

Seasonal Change

Ripening into autumn

Gathering and storing

Bird migrations

Wonder and Awe

Winds of Change





Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

Author, Academic, Creativity Expert I'm an award winning writer.

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