The Practice of Creativity

Hi! This summer I’ve been thinking about my blog and you, dear reader. And, how I can serve you even better.

In 2009, I began this blog. I wanted a place that I could share insights about how people can practice their creativity ‘smackdab’ in the middle of their life. What a journey it’s been!

By 2010 I was an enthusiastic though inconsistent blogger. In 2011, I made a promise to myself to posting once a week. This commitment transformed my experience of blogging and writing generally. And, I have loved every minute of it. I’ve enjoyed conducting interviews with creative professionals and sharing them here. I’ve loved connecting with other bloggers and folks on the creative path (i.e. you!).

So, this brings me to a request. Moving forward, I want to continue to write about creativity and what is of most interest to you. Therefore, I’ve developed a fun, one question poll to find out what you might be wrestling with in your creative life. Would you take a minute and fill it out?

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Thanks in advance! Thanks for your support and engagement over these many years.

And, feel free to drop me a line here, or at mtb@creativetickle.com if there are specific topics you’d like me to explore.

Hi dear reader! I’ll have some exciting news to share with you in just a few days! And, other creative surprises, too! Working hard until then.

No matter how lumpy or faded or boring you feel, your creativity is of value.
SARK

Creativity author and mentor, Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy (aka SARK) has written a lot on inner critics and how they can sabotage our creative work. Inner critics are the sharp-tongued internal voices that often prevent us from writing and/or creating. They speak to us with the seemingly definitive voice of KNOWING ABOUT EVERYTHING CREATIVE. Our inner critics, judges, and evaluators are uninvited guests during our writing sessions. Inner critics usually know how to do just one thing and have long outlived whatever protective role they once had. They won’t leave until we imaginatively assign them a new “job”.

I’ve had great fun reassigning many inner critics to new jobs*. One inner critic was called ‘Relentless Ruthie’ and no matter what I did, according to her, I wasn’t doing it fast or good enough. My accomplishments were only as good as yesterday. She was methodical, meticulous and intense. In dreaming up a new job for her, I wondered where her qualities might be really valued. SARK suggested that Relentless Ruthie would be perfect in being security detail on Air Force One. I agreed! Since being reassigned in my imagination, I haven’t heard a peep from RR in years.

SARK notes that a typical inner critic is the ‘comparer’. This critic is hyper focused on comparing us to others. I’ve been thinking a lot about the role of comparison in one’s creative life and the word COMPARISON.

comparison

Have you ever read a novel (or your creative equivalent) and thought, ‘This sucks. I can write SO much better than this’ (and felt quite good and superior about it)? Then, perhaps in the same week, have you ever read a book by a different author and thought, ‘God, I can NEVER write like this. This is brilliant’ (and felt quite inadequate)?

One can go between these extremes in the same week or even day!

A few days ago, I started doodling the word ‘comparison’ and I saw that is has the word PRISON contained in it. This made me think of how often we put our writing/creative selves in prison when we spend too much time comparing. Our job, as creative folk, is not to swing between feeling superior and feeling inadequate, but is to just do the work and honor our own process. Most of the time this is easier said than done! I wondered why I never noticed prison in the word comparison before, but was glad I got the message!

 

Do you notice when your ‘inner comparer’ gets activated? How do you respond?

 

*Two wonderful SARK books that have long discussions about (and great exercises for) dealing with inner critics is Make Your Creative Dreams Real: A Plan for Procrastinators, Perfectionists, Busy People, Avoiders and People Who Would Rather Sleep All Day and Prosperity Pie: How to Relax About Money and Everything Else. I highly recommend them.

This has been a good week for celebrating women artists; both their individual and collective achievements.

Not having a community of supportive peers and not seeing yourself represented in artistic expression is something many creative women face*. She Writes and Misty Copeland remind us of the importance of community, perseverance and staying true to one’s vision, even in the face of bias.

Six years ago, writer and visionary Kamy Wicoff began She Writes (with Deborah Siegel), as an online home for women writers to understand “the rapidly changing, head-spinningly complex world of publishing.” They felt that “women writers in particular–needed a place to come together to share what they were learning, be inspired, and gather information about the craft and the business of writing.” As she has said recently, they “created what they most needed.” They began with 40 members and now have 26,000 enthusiastic members around the world. They are the largest community of women writers online. Both emerging and well-established writers find She Writes to be a thriving and significant hub.

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During the past six years, Kamy and her team have worked hard to demystify publishing and empower women to value their words and develop confidence in taking those words into the publishing marketplace.  She Writes has grown up alongside the increasing acknowledgement by many that there are gender equality issues in contemporary literary culture (see VIDA: Women in Literary Arts for research and history).

Membership to SW is free. I discovered it almost four years ago and have found it to be a treasure trove of resources, intelligent discussion and incredible writerly support. On SW, you can blog, network and join over 360 groups representing every aspect of writing and publishing imaginable including ‘Mothers Write!’ ‘Funny Women’, ‘Authors of Interracial/Multicultural Romance and Fiction’, ‘Literary Fiction Writers v. 2.0′, ‘Google Analytics’, ‘Prompt Monster’, ‘You Go Girl Poetry’, etc. I’m a member of the groups ‘Blooming Late’ (women who started writing seriously after the age of 40) and ‘What Did You Blog About Today?’.

Kamy and her amazing team has also recently ventured into publishing and created She Writes Press. Their mission is to elevate the words and stories of women and offer a new model of publishing. Check them out!

Keep up the great work, She Writes!

 

African American ballet dancer Misty Copeland was recently promoted to principal ballerina at American Ballet Theatre. A historic accomplishment and long overdue. Copeland persevered. This recent honor speaks to her extraordinary personal accomplishment, but also her courage in calling attention to the unspoken biases about body size, stereotyping and race that have shaped the world of American ballet.

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Only nine years ago, I remember clipping and ruminating on the article “Where Are All the Black Swans?” in the New York Times. The article highlights how class and race bias show up in the ballet world, from early schooling to professional opportunities. It is very hard to accomplish something creative if you can’t envision it and envision someone who looks like you succeeding at it. Misty Copeland’s dedication to the craft of ballet and her own vision will have ripple effects for many aspiring, young female dancers, especially girls from underrepresented groups.

 

Photo of Misty Copeland: Henry Leutwyler

For the last ten days, I have been spending time with family and friends in WI and MN. Most of the time I was in remote places with no wi-fi or cellphone reception. It felt great to rest, rejuvenate and look up at the stars each night. Summer vacations encourage us to expand and try new things. I tried paddle boarding for the first time and loved it! On a vacation without access to wi-fi, I find that I come up with completely fresh ideas. I often create my own writing prompts based on pictures that I take while on vacation. I set the timer for ten minutes and begin freewriting. Writing to a visual prompt is a great way to get your creative juices flowing.

Here are some fun prompts for you to try. You may use them to flesh out an existing set of characters, or you might find yourself writing something completely unexpected! Enjoy!

 

What is at the bottom of this lake?  What object is at the bottom of this lake? What childhood memories does your character have from visiting this lake? There has been an accident here. How does it affect the POV character and community? What do people remember about the accident? There is a cabin that the POV character passes and imagines was a place they lived. What does this cabin look like? Why is it so appealing to the POV character? What life do they wish they had that the cabin symbolizes?

What is at the bottom of this lake?
What object is at the bottom of this lake?
What childhood memories does your character have from visiting this lake?
There has been an accident here. How does it affect the POV character and community? What do people remember about the accident?
There is a cabin that the POV character passes and imagines was a place they lived. What does this cabin look like? Why is it so appealing to the POV character? What life do they wish they had that the cabin symbolizes?

Someone picked this flower from the lake. Who picked it? Who is it for? What happened right after this flower was given to the intended person? Did the giver and receiver run off to make love? Did the receiver put it down and begin to make breakfast, leaving the giver feeling slighted?

Someone picked this flower from the lake. Who picked it? Who is it for?
What happened right after this flower was given to the intended person? Did the giver and receiver run off to make love? Did the receiver put it down and begin to make breakfast, leaving the giver feeling slighted?

Your POV character is playing the game Risk with some family members and is losing badly. How does he or she respond to losing? Does a sibling use this moment as an opportunity to talk about their childhoods? How does your POV character respond to the story the sibling spins?

Your POV character is playing the game Risk with some family members and is losing badly. How does he or she respond to losing? Does a sibling use this moment as an opportunity to talk about their childhoods? How does your POV character respond to the story the sibling spins?

This is a meal served in an Ethiopian restaurant. Usually, the meal is shared. Your POV character is someone who does not like to share food (they didn't choose this restaurant). But, they are also meeting someone they consider important. How does your POV character act in this situation?

This is a meal served in an Ethiopian restaurant. Usually, the meal is shared. Your POV character is someone who does not like to share food (they didn’t choose this restaurant). But, they are also meeting someone they consider important. How does your POV character act in this situation?

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The clerk that made this sign feels like her creativity is not being used well. Today, she will meet a man that will offer her something that will change the course of her life. Who is the man? What does he have for the clerk?

Deena Metzer’s Writing for Your Life: A Guide and Companion for the Inner Worlds is a cherished writing book of mine. This book helps writers explore their creativity through journals, autobiography, stories, fairytales, dreams and myths. It is chock-full of the most unique self-discovery exercises that I’ve ever come across.

More than 20 years ago, I completed an exercise of hers:

Make a list of everything you must not write about. List what you must not write about because:

  • It is generally not considered important enough from the point of view of literature.
  • It is too private and therefore trivial from the point of view of literature.
  • It would embarrass you to speak about it.
  • It would embarrass or offend your family and associates.
  • It would embarrass or offend the reader.
  • It is taboo.

Once the list is complied, she directs you to choose “three or four subjects, images, or experiences that made you the most uneasy or that hold the greatest emotional charge for you. Then momentarily set aside your inhibitions and concerns and attempt poems on these subjects.”

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This was a powerful exercise for me because I got to identify ideas, feelings and experiences that I wanted to explore but was afraid to. Over the years I have thought about and reviewed my list, and the things that still haunt me, though I haven’t found a way to write about all of them. I have spent a lot of time trying to understand the craggy, difficult, ugly and painful things that are on my list.

On my list is a very cruel thing that my mother did to me during my childhood. When I write about my mother, I usually keep to subjects that affirm her courage and compassion. But all these years, I have been circling this significantly cruel event trying to find a way to write about it.

Finally, two weeks ago, I was able to sit down and write a poem titled, ‘The Shells of Pink Bodies’ that drew on aspects of my experience.

I knew on a visceral level that this poem was emotionally true and very powerful. Although I have written poems and had a few of them published, I always say that I am an untutored poet. Still, after writing it, I had a strong sense that this poem was one of the best ones (if not the best), I had ever written, in both craft and content.

I met with my writing group recently and the response I received from them, about the poem, was very affirming. One reader was moved to tears. Others told me they were able to touch and investigate their own sadness and despair through my poem.

I probably couldn’t have written that poem 10 years ago, or even 5 years ago. I had to write a lot of terrible unformed, half-baked things. I had to circle this incident on my list, hide from it and try again. I had to look at my list and keep probing.

Someone in my group shared that she wanted to ‘go to that vulnerable place and write from there’, but she was scared.

I told her, I’m scared too. But, my desire to map the painful places and write through them has become stronger (in some moments), than the fear of disapproval. And, Metzger’s exercise helps to remind us that as creators, we get to decide what material is valuable to us, despite what imagined and real critics may say.

I wish I had told her about Deena Metzger’s exercise. I will the next time we meet.

What are you circling? What have you been waiting for years to write about? What would your list look like? What are the things that keep haunting you?

I invite you to set a timer for 10 minutes and try Metzger’s exercise.

Dedicate v. 1. To set apart for a special use. 2 To commit (oneself) to a course of action. 3. To address or inscribe (e.g., a literary work) to someone. (Webster’s II New Riverside Dictionary, 2nd ed.)

Spring possibilities are about to cede to summer pleasures. I’ve been ruminating on the importance of spring cleaning for your creating life and have covered the first two steps—reassessment and reorganization. The third step is the most powerful one—rededication. To rededicate ourselves to something we deem as special in our lives strengthens and amplifies our commitment.

Rededicating ourselves to our creative life sends a joyful message to our ‘Creative Self’. Our Creative Self loves to be wooed. Its language includes ritual, ceremony and demonstrative acts of appreciation.

 

What aspects of the creative life would you like to rededicate yourself to as you move into summer’s rhythms?

Here are some to consider:

I rededicate myself to knowing that my creative work will matter to someone, so I must finish it.

I rededicate myself to owning my creative impulses, even in the face of naysayers and saboteurs.

I rededicate myself to claiming my creativity despite bouts of envy, doubt and fatigue.

I rededicate myself to curtailing the diet of my inner critics, who feed on fear, and instead nourish my Creative Self with periods of rest and play.

I rededicate myself to appreciating my Creative Self’s firework moments and subtle whispers.

I rededicate myself to taking incremental steps to finish my creative projects.

I rededicate myself to looking for support, for my creative work, in new ways. [i.e. critique groups, mastermind groups, creative buddies, mentors, etc.]

 

Here are some aspects of the writing life that I’m rededicating myself to between now and fall:

I rededicate myself to sending more of my work to professionally paying venues. [I am aiming for paying semi-pro and professional speculative fiction magazines.]

I rededicate myself to naps, a restful schedule, and daydreaming, all of which nourishes my Creative Self.

I rededicate myself to cultivating time for reading.

I rededicate myself to remembering that I am here to seduce and delight the reader.

I rededicate myself to finding ways to make writing fun and feel like a game.

[I discovered word sprints during last year’s NaNoWriMo. I find them to be so fun. How many words can you type in 10 or 20 minutes? Last November, I wrote 7,000 words in about 5 hours using timed sprints (100 words=10 minutes, 200 words=10 minutes (2x), 300 words=20 minutes, 100 words=10 minutes…at the end of an hour, you may have written anywhere from 700-1,000 words). This works very well for messy first drafts.]

I rededicate myself to looking at revision as a way to honor my writing by keeping the right words and setting the rest free for another day.

I rededicate myself to spending time honing my social media presence.

Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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