The Practice of Creativity

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





Envy is a vocational hazard for most writers. It festers in one’s mind, distracting one from one’s own work, at its most virulent even capable of rousing the sufferer from sleep to brood over another’s triumph.–Bonnie Friedman, ‘Envy, The Writer’s Disease’ in Writing Past Dark

What role does envy and/or jealousy play in your creative life? It’s an important question that we often wish to avoid. For a long time I struggled with the sting of persistent feelings of envy and jealousy toward other writers and creative folk. I felt I was the only one. And, for many years I felt ashamed of my feelings and kept silent about them. As a culture, we rarely seem to acknowledge envy and jealousy in a healthy way.

Two writers have recently provided excellent discussions on envy:

All creative people have to contend with feelings of envy. The question writer David Ebenbach asks is: Can we push with envy instead of against it? He calls his approach envy jujitsu.

Nina Badzin through her advice column on the HerStories Project tackles a question about envy, friendship and success.*

Years ago, when I came across the musings on jealousy by creativity author Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy (SARK) in her book, The Bodacious Book of Succulence, I felt seen and witnessed:

“I wish we would all have more clear, truthful, jealous outbursts. We all feel jealousy. I feel it often, about both odd and common things…Jealousy only points the way towards where we might like to go. It is a gift (an oddly wrapped gift)…Practice saying loudly and firmly I AM SO JEALOUS.”

She notes that most of us believe that we’re inferior if we feel jealous yet when “jealousy is shared consciously when felt, its power disappears”. She also says we try to protect others from being jealous of us by sometimes denying our own good fortune. And that our silence and a sense of scarcity is what “feeds” jealously. Agreed!

This brings me to the ‘Envy Hall of Fame’ exercise. I came up with the exercise, many years ago, in the midst of doing a 40-day yoga practice for anger, grudge holding and jealousy. I came to realize that intense envy and jealousy are often our inner critics’ favorite weapons.

The idea is simple—write or collage your ‘Envy Hall of Fame’ and then move on!

Writing and/or making a collage of folks that one is truly envious of can be therapeutic and can help redirect our inner critics. And, once you release that energy, you can move on. It’s not like you’re never going to feel those feelings ever again, you will, but your inner critics can’t beat you up in the same way.

Over the years I’ve found the best antidote for envy and jealousy is good self-care, a return to my own creative work and creative community. The work waits for us in all its possibilities and imperfections, to be settled into and explored.

Do you admit to your envy and jealousy? Do you write about it? Confide in friends? If you were going to create an Envy Hall of Fame, who would be in it?


*I found these two wonderful authors through the incredible ‘Practicing Writing’ blog maintained by Erika Dreifus. An excellent resource for writers!

I’m sharing more about the magic of the AROHO writing retreat that happened almost one month ago. In the afternoons during the AROHO writing retreat, participants got to hear various writers discuss and riff off of the touchstone books thematically guiding the retreat: Virginia Woolf’s Orlando and Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior. The Woman Warrior at its core is about mother and daughter relationships and secrets. The presenters provided insights, read creative work, shared scholarly essays, tributes and everything in between when talking about these two texts. One of the speakers was Tania Pryputniewicz, a poet, who also writes a lot about motherhood and the creative process. She shared with us an incredibly powerful exercise designed to help us reflect on the nature of the secrets our mothers kept and secrets we’ve kept from them. I am re-blogging her wonderful post where she elaborates on her relationship to The Woman Warrior and shares this exercise in full. She is also calling for guests posts based on her exercise.

Mothers and Daughters: Secret Catharsis in Woman Warrior (and a Secret Door Writing Exercise for You)

 “You must not tell anyone,” my mother said, “what I am about to tell you.” So opens Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior, from the first section of the book, titled, “No Name Woman.” So begins the re-telling of a family secret, where the story of the No Name Aunt moves out to haunt a much wider audience of mothers and daughters. The irony is not lost on us that the narrator, at the outset, in sentence one, is engaged in the act of disobeying her mother.

La Posada Door Robyn Beattie

Many of us would agree that mother/daughter relationships are at one time or another fraught with complicated emotional, psychological narratives and emotional withholdings. But these same complications often come with hidden gifts.

read the full post here


I’ve been thinking about literary mentorship. I have just gotten back from the incredible Room of Her Own Foundation’s week long writing retreat held at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico.


A Room of Her Own’s mission is: To inspire, fund, and champion works of art and literature by women.

Over 100 women: poets, playwrights, fiction writers, essayists, etc., gathered in the desert to write and dream together and to build literary community. It was a thrilling and rare opportunity!

I suspect over the coming weeks, all the bits of wisdom that I gained will pour out of me. Right now, however, I am still digesting one particular experience that yielded up unexpected insight.

Besides the week long master classes that met for three hours a day, participants could also take a one time only ‘Studio Hour’, held for an hour in the morning. The Studio Hours offered sessions on writing development, performance, and the writing life. I decided to check out Dr. Li Yun Alvarado’s Studio Hour on ‘Womentorship’. This session was designed to explore and celebrate “the women mentors who’ve helped pave our way.”

Dr. Alvarado had quotes from the edited volume, Women Poets on Mentorship: Efforts and Affections printed out on large pieces of paper, placed around the room. We were encouraged to take one that resonated with us.

I chose:

Jennifer Moxley on Susan Howe:

“I was not mentored by Susan Howe, but I was mentored by her writing, and through this ‘invisible company’ I learned a great deal. I suppose I could have a similar ‘library apprenticeship’ with any number of dead women writers, but I have no doubt that the fact that Howe was living and trying to make sense of being a woman poet at the same time that I was greatly increased the meaningfulness of her advice. I replied to her letter, perhaps too quickly or with too much enthusiasm. I never heard from her again. The thrill of engaging an older poet as countless male writers had done was followed by disappointment and self-doubt when the correspondence did not ‘take.’ I was hurt at the time, but thinking about it now, I’m thankful that Howe refused my overture. The message I gleaned from her reticence has been crucial to sustaining my artistic life: to survive you must insist on your own vision in defiance of both style and the silence of others. An important lesson for any writer, but particularly for a woman” (131).

After we chose our quotes we were handed a strip of colored paper with a prompt and encouraged to write for about twenty minutes.

Here’s the prompt I received:  Describe your first encounter with a mentor, a potential womentor, and/or the work of a womentor. Do your best to ONLY DESCRIBE the encounter, voiding commentary about or analysis of the encounter. Simply paint a picture of the moment.

I sat down eager, thinking the words would come easy. I started reflecting on the first person (besides my mother) who showed any interest in my writing. She was a high school teacher and I wrote in her English class a long narrative poem that had a speculative fiction element to it. I don’t even know if I still have the poem, but I remember working on it for weeks. It was the first long form creative writing I ever attempted. I had just started reading fantasy fiction and wanted to enter into that world. I remember her being kind and encouraging to me. I remember she would ask me about writing for many months after that and suggest books that I could read. She treated me as if I was already a writer and a part of a special club.

And, then much to my surprise, I couldn’t recall having another female (or male) mentor for my writing life until five years ago. I’ve had wonderful teachers, cheerleaders, encouragers, supporters and fans along the way. But, in writing this prompt, I it became really clear to me that I didn’t have a literary mentor, in the full sense of the word until recently. A literary mentor is someone who not only teaches you about craft and the writing life and reads your work, but also shares information about the bewildering world of publishing, introduces you to people, and perhaps nominates you for fellowships and writing residencies. A literary mentor is someone invested in your inner creative live in a deep and profound way.

It seems strange that I hadn’t realized I had been missing a mentor before now. Still, it came as a revelation, one that made me angry and then sad. I think the sadness stemmed from the fact that I am a professor (in women’s studies) and I love to mentor students and am good at it. It is a unique kind of emotional labor. Although the work of mentoring is not easy, it is something I gravitate to.

I think at one point in my life I yearned for a kind of mentoring intimacy that wasn’t available for my creative life. When the group reconvened, we discussed our varied experiences with mentoring. Although I understand that lots of writers are never deeply mentored, it still felt important for me to acknowledge a powerful absence that shaped a good chunk of my writing life.

I am profoundly grateful that a mentoring relationship evolved with my primary writing teacher over the past five years. Although I have thanked her often and publicly, and acknowledged that she saved my writing life, I sent her an email yesterday telling her how much I appreciated her. I met her when I was 41 and I probably would have stopped writing if I hadn’t met her when I did.

What’s been your experience with mentors, especially female ones? Have you had a female mentor that supports your creative life? How did that relationship evolve?

To help you percolate ideas, you may want to try writing any of these prompts that Dr. Alvarado provided:

-Brainstorm a list of potential metaphors that could be applied to you, to your womentor and/or to your womentoring relationship. Now use that metaphor or metaphors as a central element in a poem, a series of poems, or a narrative piece of fiction or nonfiction

-Write a letter from your mentor to you.

-Write a poem or series of poems with the title ‘Womentorship’



Tomorrow, I leave for A Room of Her Own Foundation’s week long writing residency which is being held in Abiquiú, New Mexico at the amazing venue known as Ghost Ranch.


A Room of Her Own’s nonprofit mission is: To inspire, fund, and champion works of art and literature by women. They host one of only about five or so writing residencies, in the country, exclusively for women.

It is a competitive residency and I am thrilled that I was accepted. There will be over 100 women writers attending (emerging writers to well established authors like Janet Fitch and Tayari Jones!), and I will get to take master classes and workshops with a range of amazing writers including Elizabeth L. Silver, Mary Johnson and Cynthia Leitich Smith. We will also spend our evenings discussing the retreat theme ‘Writing Against the Current’ which is a focus on Virginia Woolf’s novel, Orlando and Maxine Hong Kingston’s novel, Woman Warrior–and Kingston will be there in residence!

Another honor is that I will also be a ‘studio leader’ presenting a one hour version of my popular workshop: ‘Tone Your Creative Core: 5 Secrets for Artists’. This workshop offers strategies in areas where most creative people struggle: time, abundance and prosperity, feeling worthy to create and goal-setting. I’m delighted to explore these issues with women writers.

Writing residencies are structured in various ways. Some provide room, board and solitude, offering uninterrupted time to write with no other requirements. Others, like AROHO are much more interactive, including: providing intensive workshops (sharing and critiquing other participants’ work), hosting nightly receptions and readings, offering craft lectures, and encouraging networking and collaboration. I’ve known writers who have attended each type of residency. We often think the hardest part is getting accepted to one, but this isn’t the whole picture.

I’ve spent the last few months preparing for this incredible opportunity and have noticed that although there are a number of wonderful posts about why one should apply to a writing residency (see Jennifer Chen’s musings), and where to apply for one (here’s a great list from ‘The Write Life’), there is almost no discussion about preparing for the residency and making the most of it while there. Besides of course, to write.

Making the most of one’s residency means giving some thought to hidden challenges.

I’ve seen writers come back from a residency deflated because they had set unrealistic writing goals. Most folks are exhausted by the time they get to attend a writing residency. They’ve been juggling work, family responsibilities, community commitments, etc., often at a frenzied place. It can take a few days, during the residency, to decompress and reconnect to deep creative work. I’ve also known writers whose inner critics got the best of them and consequently didn’t get as much writing done. Or they got so intimidated by the other writers and instructors that they weren’t able to make enduring connections or contacts.

Here’s my five tips for making the most of a residency:

Make Your Goals Inspiring, Not Exhausting

Setting unclear or overly ambitious goals during a residency can lead to a big letdown. Writing residencies are also about allowing inspiration and spontaneity, so being flexible with goals can allow for more enjoyment as the writing process unfolds.

For most of the week, I’ll be taking a master class on ‘Emerging Heroes: Diversity in Young Adult Fiction’ with Cynthia Leitich Smith. I know little about writing young adult fiction and am super excited about stretching myself as a writer. Consequently, given the intensity of learning a new field, getting and giving feedback on others’ writing and the possibility having to work on prompts that Cynthia may assign outside of the workshop, I’m keeping my writing goals modest. From the schedule, it looks like I’ll have a daily 2-3 hours of individual writing time. I’m shooting for 10-20 pages a day of writing. That feels doable. I’ll also allow myself  to create fresh material as well as work on current projects.

Give Yourself Permission to Embody Being the Writer of Your Dreams

Writing residencies present an opportunity to practice being a writer in public. Often aspiring writers write behind closed doors and without many opportunities to get publicly affirmed about their writing efforts. This is the time to revel in one’s writing identity. I’m going to take every opportunity to walk, dress and act like I am the writer of my dreams. I’m wrapping myself in an inner shawl of ‘deservingness’. I am holding the intention to attend every nightly reception and meet a few new people. I also hope to meet newly published authors that I’ll want to invite for an author interview for the blog.

Do an Inner Critic Check

Visual artist, Beverly McIver once said at a professional development workshop for artists, “Feeling worthy is a learned behavior.” Inner critics can make themselves known during a residency and derail us. In various posts, I’ve discussed some of the more common inner critics including the comparer, the pusher, the judger, the imposter, the procrastinator and the perfectionist. Inner critics inspire fear, judgement, dread and envy toward our writing selves and writing lives. Spending some time addressing inner critics (and assigning them new jobs where possible), before and during the residency can help quiet draining mental chatter and quell anxiety.

Polish Your Social Media Profile

Social media is often where people will find you first. I’m hoping to make strong connections while I’m at AROHO. I’ve already started to look up some of the people in my master class and have enjoyed learning about them through their social media sites. In the past month, I’ve spent some time updating my bio across my social media sites and beefing up my author Facebook page. You never know when someone is going to look up after making a connection, so it’s important that they can find you. A that what they find out about you inspires and draws them in.

Practice Communicating about Your Work

What is your work like? What are you working on? These are the essential questions to consider when talking about one’s work. Do you have an elevator pitch? Many writers (and artists in general) tend to avoid communicating about their work or freeze up when they do talk about their work. Given the time and emotional investment we have made for our creative pursuits, communicating about it is necessary and part of the creative process. I’ve been practicing my brief elevator pitch and look forward to using it.

Here’s great advice on elevator pitches from the Artist’s Tools Handbook from Creative Capital:

In theater, a rule of thumb is that, for every minute of stage time in a play, you need an hour of rehearsal time–and that’s when the script is already written. So think about spending at least an hour on this. Don’t just repeat your pitch 60 times; it’s more a measure of how long you should concentrate to get something good.


If you have tips to share about your experience at a residency and how you made the most of it, I’d love to hear them.

Photo credit: “Ghost Ranch redrock cliffs, clouds” by Larry Lamsa

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?


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

And, feel free to drop me a line here, or at 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.

Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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