The Practice of Creativity

Ever look at the words ‘flailing’ and ‘failing’?

One definition of flail is ‘to wave or swing vigorously; thrash’. The word flail always reminds me of Grover from Sesame Street with his blue arms up in the air running around, being dramatic.

Writing often feels easy, until it’s not. We get stuck, hit a bump, and don’t know how to fix it.

I’ve always like the word flail because that is what I feel like I do on the page sometimes when I get stumped.

We can try writing prompts, freewriting, word sprints, delete sections, move the end to the beginning, write six fresh ways to open the essay or story, etc. If we’re being kind to ourselves, we know flailing about in our writing is no big deal. We just keep trying new things.

If our inner critic is awake and cranky, it will tell us that we are ‘failing’. It will tell us that if we were really good writers, we would have figured it out perfectly the first time (or something to this effect). When I was younger, I believed my inner critic(s) and often stopped writing when I got stuck and consequently didn’t finish pieces that I loved.

Now, I know that while flailing on the page looks and feels dramatic, it’s what’s needed to get to the Land of Completion.

Flailing is not failing.

Toni Morrison in her recent interview for the NEA Arts Magazine discusses creative failure and revision. It’s worth a read. Knowing that a great writer like Toni Morrison sometimes has to start over with a piece of writing and go in a different direction is quite comforting. She reminds us that we each have the power to “write and erase and do it over.” And, that there’s no shame in not getting it right the first or fourth time.

When fears are attended to, it clears the way for clear and simple writing that comes from your heart. Even the briefest attention can melt fear. Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy (SARK)

In March, I began a series about spring cleaning for your creative life. There are three steps in the process:

1) You reassess your space, your schedule, and patterns of mind to see what is supporting or not supporting your creative life.

2) You reorganize your space, schedule, and patterns of minds to allow you to create with more ease.

3) After reassessing and reorganizing, you rededicate yourself to having a productive and joyful creative life!

Reassessing your physical space is a great place to start because it is visible and you spend a lot of time there. Another thing to reassess during spring cleaning are your ‘patterns of mind’. By this I mean, the habitual ways of thinking and responding to your creative life. I’ve been looking at the pattern of fear.

Fear can show up in so many ways in a creator’s life. We fear to write, draw, and sing badly, we fear rejection, we fear we won’t reach our potential, we often fear the blank page, canvas, music studio, etc. Fear often causes us to procrastinate.

Recently, I noticed that I was procrastinating on contacting an editor of a magazine that I met in January. This editor encouraged me to send him a story of mine. I’ve known for months exactly the story that I want to send him. Sending him my story has been at the top of my to-do list, but I have had some fear around taking action. Ironically, I’m not afraid of getting rejected. I’ve been writing long enough to not be undone by rejection. I know rejection is part of the writing process. What was it then? It was a ‘taking the next step’ fear. Since I’ve met him, he’s not a faceless editor anymore. Sending my work to him because I met him and he was encouraging made it harder, not easier. I know this sounds weird. Fears are far from rational! And, because he wanted me to send it to his assistant, and not through the regular submission process, it triggered a fear of ‘not getting it right’. These twin fears around ‘taking the next step’ and ‘not getting it right/doing it right’ are familiar patterns of mind that I am paying attention to this spring.

To put fear in its place,  this weekend, I set a deadline for myself. I wrote a very nice email to his assistant and sent my story with it while I was also so sending out other submissions for this month. I keep a submission sheet to record where and what I have sent out to contests and journals.

Fears never go completely away, but I’ve now got these two on the run for at least a few more weeks.

Do you have pattern of mind that needs some attending to during spring cleaning?


Happy Mother’s Day!

Themes about mothering and specifically the relationship between mothers and daughters tend to find their way into my creative work. Several of the stories, in the short story collection I am polishing, deeply explore the continuum of mothering relationships (e.g. biological moms, grandmothers, godmothers, aunties, etc.).

In my recent non-fiction work, I celebrate the courageous spirit of my mother in the just released A Letter to My Mom.


In fiction, I love reading about mothering relationships that are a bit off balance, unusual or difficult. There are some mother characters that have stayed with me long after I put the book down.

I’m thinking of the complex figure of ‘Elphaba’ in Gregory Maguire’s brilliant retelling of the Wicked Witch of Oz story in Wicked. Elphaba didn’t want to be a mother and for most of the book denies that she is responsible for Liir, a young boy. She is an absent, wayward and troubled mother. Although the second book, Son of a Witch, confirms that Liir is indeed Elphaba’s son, I appreciate how Maguire challenges ideas about the ability to mother as innate and easy.

In Beauty, Sheri Tepper’s stunning mythic novel, the main character Beauty is half fairy and half human and is the important player in an elaborate effort to save humankind (although she does not know this at the beginning of the novel).

Beauty is on a quest to find her mother (a fairy) who abandoned her when she was a baby. The novel begins in the 15th century and her journey propels Beauty through multiple time periods including the 20th century. Through Beauty’s quest, Tepper is able to have Beauty experience and shape key ‘fairy tales’ including Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and Snow White. When Beauty finally finds her mother, she must confront her mother’s divided sympathies. This book takes up questions of loyalty, love and abandonment.

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver tackles the question of: How do different people view an unusual event in nature? Is it a disaster? Is it a miracle? Is it a sign of life out of balance? Kingsolver explores these questions through the prisms of class, region, science, love, loyalty and family.

Kingsolver’s main character, Dellarobia Turnbow, is someone who has been let down in many parts of her life. She got pregnant young, married the wrong guy, is tolerated by her in-laws, doesn’t like church and is constantly overwhelmed as a housewife and mother. The novel opens as she is about to take a drastic step to escape her unfulfilled life when she comes face to face with an experience that will shape and redefine her in unimaginable ways. This book provides some of the best descriptions of the physical and emotional labor of raising small children and how that often allows little time for self-introspection. I also love how trust and rapport develop between Dellarobia and her mother-in-law, Hester, who begins as an unsympathetic character.

Do mother figures and/or themes about mothering show up in your creative work? If so, how? What are some of your favorite mother figures in fiction?


Camille Armantrout was born in 1954 on the East Coast, first born and only girl followed by five little brothers, which is where she got her sense of humor. She began keeping journals and corresponding with pen pals in grade school and has traveled the world with her soul mate, Bob.

Like so many who live in Chatham County, N.C, she is passionate about local farming and food cultures, sustainability and building community. I’ve been a friend of Camille’s, for many years, and a fan of her blog: ‘Plastic Farm Animals’ that threads together community news, personal reflection and travel stories. She and Bob host an annual ‘Hoppin’ John’ potluck party on New Year’s Day. They are greats host and I look forward to this event every year. This year at the party, I held in my hands the recent fruit of Camille’s labor, a co-authored book, Two Brauds Abroad: A Departure from Life as We Know It. Camille and her co-author Stephanie De La Garza document the maladies, epiphanies and tragedies of their collective wisdom gleaned from traveling the world and writing to each other about their discoveries. They loved the challenges of living abroad and inspire readers to go on their own adventures. Although I knew Camille blogged, I had no idea that her passion for writing was deep in her bones. I had to invite her here to learn more.

I am delighted to welcome Camille Armantrout to ‘The Practice of Creativity’.




Tell us about your new book, Two Brauds Abroad: A Departure from Life as We Know It. Why did you want to write this book?

My year and a half in Africa was epic. When I returned to the U.S. everyone was eager to hear about the trip, but would quickly become confused when I tried to sum up my experiences. Inevitably, I would end the attempt with “I could write a book…” and so I did.

My co-author Stephanie and I had discussed writing a travel book a few times. While I was in Ghana, she was experiencing her own travel adventure in Central America, having sold her house, cars and nearly everything else to move abroad. We thought our stories would inspire others to follow their dreams.

Stephanie came up with the title and I liked the alliteration. She chose the alternative spelling of braud, a word Urban Dictionary defines as “Fearless female; an adventurous, daring or independent woman.”

How did you get bitten by the ‘writing bug’? Did you always wish to become an author?

The writing bug bit me early on. My father was a writer and I began keeping a journal in grade school. I don’t think there’s been a day of my life when I didn’t write something. In the back of my mind, I always thought I would one day transition from writer to author, and now I’ve gone and done it.

What was your relationship with your co-author Stephanie before this book? What did you learn about each other in the process of writing Two Brauds Abroad?

Stephanie and I are longtime email buddies. We met in Nicaragua ten years ago when she came to stay at the lodge my husband, Bob and I were managing. We enjoyed each other’s company and have been corresponding ever since. Over the years, we have shared all aspects of our lives and know each other well.

Stephanie and Camille (right)

Stephanie and Camille (right)

Interestingly, we are two very different people. I’ve been married for twenty years. Stephanie is sixteen years my junior and still playing the dating game. I’m a vegetarian and Steph dislikes pretty much all vegetables, she’s more willing to take risks than I am, I’m more of a morning person than she is and she’s an only child while I come from a large family.

As we plunged into our project, we were happy to find that we have similar work ethics and that our skill sets dovetailed nicely. I submerged myself in editing as she launched a comprehensive marketing plan. Stephanie discovered that I’m a perfectionist and I found out she has a compulsive, “Let’s do!” streak.

The second half of the book is about how someone can transform his or her self into a world traveler. Where does this person start?

Planning begins with a financial safety net. Decide how big your cushion needs to be and either start saving or begin liquidating assets. Next, check out the possibilities via the Caretaker Gazette, Help Exchange, World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (Wwoof) or similar resources. Pick a location and start reading up on the culture and climate.

It’s worth noting that our transformation tips are not limited to world travel. You can reinvent yourself right here at home with a career or other lifestyle change using the same tools we offer in part II of our book.

What’s on your bookshelf, next to your bed (or in your Kindle)? What are you reading right now?

I am reading George Monbiot’s Feral: Rewilding the Land, the Sea, and Human Life, Little Altars Everywhere by Rebecca Wells and have just finished Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend by Susan Orlean.

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

Pay attention to your writing patterns. If you discover, as I did, that your words flow in the morning, clear your am calendar to take advantage of that creative burst. Keep pen and paper handy at all times, in your pocket or purse, on your bedside table, and in the car.


Camille Armantrout has lived and worked all over the world. She is usually traveling with her co-conspirator and husband, Bob. Camille has worked in kitchens, on construction sites, driven taxi and groomed race track thoroughbreds. She bakes for fun, trains horses, and writes about the world as she sees it, here.

Check out Two Brauds Abroad on Amazon!


Michele Tracy Berger:

It’s the last day of National Poetry Month and I couldn’t let the day slip away without giving a shout out to my writing group buddy, Ashley Memory. This past Sunday, she attended one of the local events I look forward to all year-Vision and Voice Poetry Project hosted by the local gallery Joyful Jewel. During the month of March, writers are encouraged to visit this amazing gallery and choose a piece of art to write about (they sell everything from jewelry to paintings). Then the V&V event pairs up the writer to read his or her work and the artist to talk about the piece. I have participated in the past and have found great inspiration in all sorts of art objects. Ashley participated and you’ll see a link to her poem. I’ve learned so much from her keen sensibility and poetic ear.

Originally posted on Ashley Memory:

Ashley_vision1Ashley_vision2Yesterday, Sunday, April 26, I had the honor of reading a poem at the 4th Annual Vision & Voice Poetry Project at the Joyful Jewel in Pittsboro, a local art gallery specializing in original arts and crafts. Once every year, they open their doors to local poets who, in the style of poetry known as Ekphrasis, write a poem inspired by a piece of art. I chose as my inspiration the beautiful photograph of a snowy egret by Gerald Dukes (kindly held by local artist. D.G. Chandler). If you like, you may read my poem here.


Pictured above is the poet Candace Falloon reading a poem inspired by proprietor Mariah Wheeler’s (also pictured) lovely work of mixed media titled The Muse Calls.

A number of other local poets read, including Mary Barnard, Judith Fisher, Tim Keim, Judith Stanton, Patty Cole and Judy Hogan, who emceed the event. In addition…

View original 173 more words

April has almost slid past me without a nod here to National Poetry Month. I want to correct this oversight. In honor of NPM, I am sharing a poem that was recently published in The Red Clay Review: The Literary & Arts Magazine of Central Carolina College. Every year, this literary journal solicits submissions for a themed issue. And the issue that my poem appears in is food themed. When I saw the call for submissions, I knew I wanted to submit something unique. Given that I live in the South, I figured there would be many excellent pieces extolling the wonders of Southern food traditions. I wanted to go in a different direction. So, I sat down to write about fortune cookies. A few years ago I became obsessed with fortune cookies and learning about their history. Fortune cookies are in many ways, a uniquely stylized American phenomenon (like U.S. “Chinese” food). In doing research, I discovered:


  1. Fortune cookies are not Chinese in origin.*
  2. General Tso’s famous chicken is based on a real life scholar-warrior: Zuo Zongtang (also spelled Tso Tsungtang…and “Tso” should be pronounced more along the lines of “Zuoh” or “Jaw”)
  3. There are more than 40,000 Chinese restaurants in the U.S. That’s more than the number of McDonald’s, Burger Kings and KFC’s combined!
  4. The Powerball held on March 30, 2005 had a record number of winners, across multiple states. And, the winning numbers were all traced back to numbers found on a fortune cookie. All of the winners had visited a local Chinese restaurant at some point before the Powerball and played the numbers found on a fortune cookie.
  5. One of the largest fortune cookie factories on the West Coast is Peking Noodle, founded in 1922.


*these tidbits and more can be found in Jennifer 8. Lee’s entertaining and well-researched book, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food.


I dumped out over fifty fortune cookie messages that, over the years, I had saved and began looking for ideas. Eventually, I came up with the poem below that I submitted. I like that it has a bit of an edge to it. My plan is to write several fortune cookie poems. I’ve already started work on the next one in the series.


Here, Fortune Cookie

Here, fortune cookie, here, sweet cookie
Jump into my mouth and fill me with your wisdom

I’ll listen this time, I promise
A new adventure awaits you this weekend
I thought getting a Brazilian would bring him back

Here, fortune cookie, sweet cookie
Tickle me with your crescent form

I’ll listen this time, I promise
To profit from good advice requires more wisdom than to give it
His wife didn’t understand how much I love him
Her accusing blue eyes follow me in my dreams

Here, fortune cookie, sweet cookie
Crack me open and fill me with destiny

I’ll listen this time, I promise
If you follow it, you realize that insatiable desires don’t lead to happiness
You were right
My married boss is pretty tricky

Here, fortune cookie, sweet cookie
Wait with me while I plot her demise
so we can be free
he’ll come to love me and we will come here
and order General Tso’s chicken and beer
and we will scoop you up, sweet cookie
our ritual complete

You are right
Happiness can be achieved by using your patience

I first met Samantha Bryant online, last November, during the intense worldwide writing challenge known as National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Novice and veteran writers alike try to complete a 50,000 word first draft of a novel in a month. This was my first NaNoWriMo and I was looking for local writers to connect with, who were also undertaking NaNoWriM0, during what promised to be an exhilarating and caffeine-laden month. By sheer chance, I ran across Samantha’s profile on the NaNoWriMo site and saw that we had a lot in common and that she only lived an hour away. We both like to read and write speculative fiction, are great fans of ‘The Magic Spreadsheet’ (a writing accountability tool), and are bloggers. Samantha’s wonderful blog is called ‘The Balancing Act’ and she routinely writes about being an educator, the craft of writing and being a mom. The other thing that I took notice of right away was that Samantha was coming out with her first novel with a fabulous premise—women who through experiencing menopause develop superhero abilities. I could be wrong, but I don’t think that the speculative fiction field has produced many menopausal superheroes. Menopause is such an important social, biological, cultural and even spiritual transformation for many women, yet it rarely receives prime time attention in fiction. In Samantha’s debut novel, Going Through the Change, four unrelated women experience menopause in a way that triggers superhuman capabilities. They must find out how to use their powers and why they have them. Sounds irresistible, right?

It’s been a blast getting to know Samantha and her writing. During NaNoWriMo, she was a kind and encouraging writing buddy. And, we both completed our NaNoWriMo drafts!

I am delighted to welcome Samantha Bryant to ‘The Practice of Creativity’.



Tell us about your new book Going Through the Change: A Menopausal Superhero Novel. What inspired this book?

I’m a long time comic book reader. My mom used to take Little Me to a bookshop on the avenue in my hometown where I could buy old comic books for a dime each and she could get mystery novels for a quarter. I was allowed to spend a whole dollar, so I’d get a lot of interesting reading that way! So, superheroes have been part of my imaginative landscape from the beginning.

Much more recently, through my library, I met a local writer, James Maxey, who was holding some craft and business of writing workshops. James wrote a superhero novel (Nobody Gets the Girl) and an even more awesome side-quel about the villains (Burn Baby Burn). Up until then, I didn’t know the “superhero novel” was a thing. I was so excited to learn that it’s a thriving subgenre!

I’d been writing a women’s fiction novel (unpublished as of yet: His Other Mother). I feel proud of the book, but finishing it was emotionally difficult. So, I promised myself that, if I finished that book, I could write something “fun” next. The actual idea sprang from a long, rambling conversation with my husband about the relationship between hormones and superpowers.

What is your biggest hope for Going Through the Change as it meets readers?

In my wildest fantasies, the book sells a bajillion copies and wins all the awards and I give up my day job and enable my husband do so, too, and we and our girls travel the world solving crimes and saving people like Nick and Nora Charles, but with less inebriation.

More realistically, I just hope I find some readers and they enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. The thing I’ve always loved about science fiction and fantasy in all its forms is the way you can explore life issues without feeling as though you’re taking them seriously. At its best, it’s fun and thought-provoking at the same time. It’s emotionally true, even when you’re dealing with things that can’t possibly happen in real life, like flying women or women who can throw fire.

Through Linda, I got to explore issues of gender identity, racism, and what makes a strong marriage. Patricia let me find out what it might have been like to choose a single life in a powerhouse career instead of becoming a wife and mother. Writing Jessica taught me about inner strength and reinventing yourself when life throws you curve balls. Helen had a lot to say about regret and bitterness and how they can twist a person.

Writing this novel let me live inside each of these women. I love them all and they are all in me in some way. I hope my readers will come to love my superwomen the way I do.

Please tell us how you came to work with your publisher, Curiosity Quills Press.

This will be my first published novel, but it’s not the first one I wrote. When I finished Change, I had been playing submission tag (mostly I was “not it”) for a year and a half with my other novel. I’d gotten some nibbles, but no bites. In the process, I learned that I didn’t have the patience for large publishers. I’m okay with “no” for an answer, but I just wanted to get an answer sooner, so I could move on and try someone else if my book wasn’t a good fit.

So, for this book, I only looked at small, independent publishers. I started paying more attention in my online life to speculative fiction writers who were working with small presses. Matthew Graybosch, author of Without Bloodshed, and fellow user of Google+, had posted a few times about his publisher, Curiosity Quills.

So, I cyber-stalked them a little. I liked what I saw. They seemed to really love what they were doing. Their website had personality. They were transparent about what kind of deal I could expect from them if they accepted my work. So, I wrote up a query letter and sent some pages.

It was a really pleasant surprise how quickly things moved from there. Within a few days, I had a request for the full manuscript. A contract was in my in-box just a few days after that. Working with them has been lovely so far! All my questions are answered promptly and seriously and the entire community of Literary Marauders has been warm and welcoming.



How do story ideas usually come to you? Do you start with character, plot or conflict, etc.?

The best ideas seem to come from something that scares me a little or worries or upsets me. My first novel came about from my unreasonable fear that I would be hit by a car in the grocery store parking lot and that my infant daughter would be left alone. Going Through the Change stems from my anxieties surrounding doctors, going through menopause, and getting older. A short story I wrote recently is, in a way, about how much I don’t like gardening.

Usually, I have a vague idea about a scene and a sketchy outline of a character in mind and I sit down and start writing. I’m very much a discovery writer at first–I write to discover what the story is going to be. When it’s going well, it feels more like I’m channeling a story from some external source than like I’m making it up inside my own brain. I’m one of those writers who wants to kvetch about what her characters did to her today.

If you could be any superhero for a day, who would you be? Why?

I’m not very tall or very strong and am always frustrated by my lack of vertical reach, so I would probably love being Helen Parr (Elastigirl from The Incredibles) for a day. She’s also a great mom and manages, in the end, to balance superhero and family life. That’s quite a role model.

It could also be cool to be Buffy Summers of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. For one thing, Joss Whedon would write my dialogue. For another, I’d be preternaturally strong and fast and athletic. I wouldn’t want her love life though.

In my child’s heart, though, I’d probably be Red Sonja. She was my first superheroine love, after all-from those ten-cent comics days. Because she’s mostly naked all the time, I was sure I shouldn’t be allowed to read her, which, of course, made her all the more appealing. She’s fierce and unafraid, undeniably female and strong. A truly independent warrior.

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

The one thing that truly made a difference for me was committing to a daily writing habit. For me, I did that with Magic Spreadsheet, a gamification tool for writers created by Tony Pisculli, which awards points for meeting a daily minimum word count.

For many years, I struggled to write while meeting all the rest of my responsibilities as a teacher, wife, mother, dog-mom, sister, daughter, etc., etc., etc. I would get a few hours once a month or so, and spend half of them just trying to get back in the flow.

But, once I committed to writing at least 250 words every day, come hell or high-water, that problem disappeared. It’s not hard to find my way back into the story if I’ve only been away twenty-four hours. It made the time I had more productive. Over time, with practice, I became able to write more words in one hour than I used to write in a four or five hour session. I began to finish things. So there it is: write every day.


Samantha Bryant is a middle school Spanish teacher by day and novelist by night. She lives in Hillsborough, North Carolina with her husband, daughters and dog. Her secret superpower is finding lost things.

Connect with Samantha in multiple ways:

Her blog:
Author Facebook page:
Author’s page on Curiosity Quills:
On Google+:

Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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