The Practice of Creativity

Archive for the ‘column’ Category

One of my writing joys in 2020 was producing a monthly column on creativity for the Chatham County Line. It’s always been a strong publication and great community resource, but under the recent leadership of Randy Voller and Lesley Landis it has flourished. The layout and design is fantastic.

In the summer, I began a three part series about how publishing and writing will change during this decade. The last installment of the series spotlights diversity and is now available. Documenting the ugly things about publishing and its lack of diversity was painful. For a while I had writer’s block (which is atypical for me) because I had to relive and remember the ways I’ve been affected by the cumulative effects of multiple ‘isms’ in publishing’s history. In the end, I found a way to strike a balance between talking about the structural obstacles and point to the tentative positive direction of change. That felt like a win as it gives the average reader a way to understand the issues without overwhelming them. And, I took some of the most charged parts of my experience out to explore in a future long-form essay, so that’s a win, too. Writing always leads to more writing!

You can read it (and parts 1 & 2) on the updated website. I look forward to writing more columns this year. And, if you’ve got a topic you’d like to see me explore, please let me know!

#WeNeedDiverseBooks: Writing and Publishing in the 2020s-Part 3

Coming of age in the 1970s and 1980s, I never read a commercial novel that featured a character that was anything like me: African American, female, wickedly smart, urban, and geeky. The children’s and young adult market was dominated by white heroes, white heroines and white authors. If I came across an African American character, they were typically described by the color of their skin (in contrast to white characters who were never described by skin tone) and simplistically rendered. They functioned as a sidekick, devoid of cultural experiences that connected them to the rich kaleidoscope of African American life. It wasn’t until college (!) that I discovered commercial (and literary) novels that reflected some of my life experiences back to me. This was a result of two factors. One was the success of small independent presses begun by second wave feminists that published new work by a diversity of women writers. The second was that by the mid-1980s traditional publishing briefly opened up to a few African American female writers, including Toni Morrison and Gloria Naylor.

Read the rest here

***this piece was originally published in the October issue of the Chatham County Line for my monthly column. It is the second installment of a multi-part series of columns on writing and publishing in the 2020s. Here I write about discoverability, “whale” readers and the rise of audio as publishing changes that affect both readers and writers.

Think about the last time you read a book. How did you find out about it? Twenty years ago, you might have seen a book review in the pages of a magazine or newspaper. This is less likely to be true now. More likely is that you stumbled upon an author reading their work on YouTube, heard about a book on a podcast or you’re already subscribed to a favorite author’s newsletter and receive their updates. You could be a Goodreads aficionado and seen a recommendation there about a book, or maybe you’re a member of a book club. You might also have typed phrases into Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple, or Google and searched for the kind of book you were looking for, finding thousands or even hundreds of thousands of results.

And, of course there is still the wonderful word of mouth recommendation by a friend that shares, “I just read the most amazing book! You have to read it, you’ll love it!”

In the last column I talked about how major shifts in publishing, during the last decade, has created new opportunities and challenges for writers. How people find and read books has also changed, dramatically affecting writers.


If you hang around a group of writers long enough, you’re bound to hear them discuss their use of social media and strategies to both find and engage readers. And, it often isn’t a happy conversation. In an ever growing ocean of content, writers, especially emerging ones, have to work much harder to be discovered by readers.

read the rest of the column here.

I’ve returned to monthly column writing and I’m thrilled about it. My first adventure with column writing was with the Chapel Hill News from 2012-2014. I was discovered by an editor at the CHN through a very personal and vulnerable post that I shared on social media. He encouraged me to become a ‘My View’ columnist. See more about that story here.

For that column, I wrote about a variety of topics including the perils of petite fashion, my early life, my mother, creativity and feminism. I absolutely loved it and learned tons including the ability to write to deadline, what kinds of columns move readers and how to cultivate a nonfiction writing ‘voice’.

Now, I’ve decided to write for the Chatham County Line, a refreshed monthly community paper distributed in the county where I live. I took up monthly writing again for several reasons:

-The publisher is a longtime friend and is interested in making sure a diversity of voices are represented in the paper.

-I like that he has updated the paper and I want to be part of the positive and forward thinking changes it fosters in the community.

-Writing a column increases my profile locally.

-I told the publisher I want to focus on topics of creativity and inspiration, areas that I’m passionate about and ones where I want to deepen my publishing record.

-I also want to take risks in what I write about creativity. That feels pretty vulnerable. Writing a blog can be an intimate experience, but readers are spread across the globe. And, subscribers to blogs generally have an affinity for what a blogger is sharing. Writing for one’s community, knowing that you might run into someone, that read your column, in the grocery store is a different feeling.

I’m excited though about this adventure and I hope you’ll check it out, too. This month’s theme was ‘Get Out of the Basement:  Cultivating a Writing Community.’

I’m a creative writer. It’s taken me a long time to publicly claim and affirm that designation.
There is no one path to being a writer or embodying a writing life. 

You can find the rest here.

Remember, small local papers always need interesting writers with something to say. Consider pitching yourself as a columnist!

This piece originally appeared in the ‘My View’ column for The Chapel Hill News, June 13, 2014.

Like many other people, over the past few weeks, I have been remembering Maya Angelou and mourning the loss of such a tremendous creative force.

Dr. Angelou was a teacher, writer, healer and lover of life until the very end. I discovered her work in college and remember performing her poems “Still I Rise” and “Phenomenal Woman” with other powerful women at various gatherings. As a young woman, I found her work accessible, rich with positive female imagery, sensuous and often jubilant.

Maya Angelou’s death has made me think about aging, writing and being a creative “late bloomer.” What many people don’t know about Angelou, and I take great comfort in, is that she didn’t publish her first book until her early 40s (although she longed to do so before this).

She was an actress and performer for many years and then left the United States in 1960 to live in Cairo, Egypt, where she served as editor of the English language weekly The Arab Observer. Her next stop, a year later, was to Ghana where she taught at the University of Ghana’s School of Music and Drama. She continued honing her writing there by working as a features editor for The African Review and also wrote for The Ghanaian Times.

She used her years abroad to great advantage by studying and taking classes in French, Spanish, Italian, Arabic and the West African language Fanti. After her return to the States, with encouragement of her mentor, the esteemed James Baldwin, she started work on her famous memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which became an international bestseller. And once those creative floodgates opened, she didn’t stop, writing seven memoirs in total (with an eighth underway at the time of her death), a cookbook, television and film scripts, music scores, and more.

Angelou’s writing trajectory that began later in life makes me grateful about manifesting my creative work in my early 40s. It’s only been recently that I’ve come to appreciate that the path to your heart’s desire is rarely straight and narrow, or progress easily demarcated strictly by one’s age.

Enchantment with child stars and people who seemed to achieve big things early in their careers used to fascinate me. And, it’s true that as an academic, I’ve had solid and early professional success, so I can’t complain on that front. I’ve written creatively all my life, but it is has only been in the last decade that I’ve made more space for that identity to flourish. When younger I was convinced that something needed to happen at a particular age – 20, 25 or 38. I’m now less worried about age being a gauge of inner or outer success. If they have been blocked, by midlife, people often open to inner prompts, urgings and guidance about fresh directions. This leads to new commitments to pursue buried or unrealized dreams.

I am also cheered by examples of writers including Sapphire, Amy Tan and Toni Morrison that didn’t start their writing careers until their late thirties and early forties. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is a remarkable memoir. The skill and focus it took to craft it might not have been there if Angelou had not lived a full and complex life (i.e. sex worker, sexual assault survivor, performance artist, world traveler, and teacher), and faced her internal demons and doubts as a mature woman.

A writing life in middle age, though, demands mandatory self-care. The average life expectancy for American women is 80 years. It will take all the mental and physical courage I can muster to meet the page every day for the next 30 or so odd years; I want a supple mind and a healthy body. I have embraced a preventative regimen: a weekly schedule of yoga, exercise (to counteract all that sitting), meditation (to counteract loud inner critics), eating right and easy on the alcohol.

Watching Dr. Angelou over the years, it seemed that she found a balance between work and deep pleasure. She taught until 2011, but had plans to go back into the classroom later this year. Angelou appeared to be as delighted by the language of aspiring poets as she was by the writers she deeply admired including Shakespeare and Paul Lawrence Dunbar. And, her dinner parties in Winston-Salem were legendary.

If I die at my desk, at 80, with a pen in my hand, a gorgeous journal in my lap, surrounded by my published works, I’ll be a happy woman.

And, if I can get a few fabulous dinner parties in before I go, I imagine Maya would be proud.

Like many people who have lost a loved one, I find ways to remember and celebrate my mother during this time of year. I especially think of the time leading up to the holidays where she made a courageous choice.

When I was 8 my mother walked into my room and said, “We’re leaving your stepfather. You have 10 minutes to take anything you can carry and want to bring along.”

Without hesitation, I grabbed my favorite toy, The Bionic Woman doll, and my newly acquired glasses. She dressed my squalling 2-year old sister and shortly we said a teary good-bye to our cat Tinkerbell, the Brooklyn apartment that had been our home and walked out into the wintery evening with the clothes on our backs.

Although at the time I didn’t know what “escalating behavior” meant, I knew that my stepfather was physically and emotionally abusive and was displaying increasingly unpredictable behavior. My mother had tried, unsuccessfully, to leave him after he had kicked her in the stomach when she was pregnant with my sister.

I don’t how my mother got the best of her fear that day to leave him, as he had perpetuated classic abuser behavior for several years: isolation (she had no friends), poverty (he prevented her from working for years) and low self-esteem (making her feel worthless).

The President Hotel

After a short stint with my mother’s elderly godparents, we found ourselves a few weeks before Christmas on a late afternoon waiting in the Brooklyn Department of Social Services. Homeless.

“What brings you here today, Ms. Brooks?” a caseworker asked.

“I’ve been a battered woman off and on for several years and finally decided we couldn’t stay with this man.” I could hear her trying out the truth to this stranger.

With Melissa on her lap, the caseworker produced a mound of paper and pushed it to my mother.

“I’ve left before, but not like this. I am never going back to him,” my mother said as she filled out the papers.

The case worker nodded and cooed at my sister.

“We’re ready to stay in a shelter.” In the 1970s, shelters for ‘battered women’ were new and an unknown phenomena. I knew my mother didn’t really want to be in a shelter. But, what were our options?

“Oh, no, Ms. Brooks. There’s not a shelter that’s empty that will take you with kids.”

My mother stiffened. “I will not have my kids in foster care,” she said.

“But, I think we can help,” the caseworker said raising a hand. “There’s a new experimental program in Manhattan. At a hotel.”

My ears perked up. A hotel? With silky sheets and a doorman? Where fancy people on television shows stayed? Cool!

“The President Hotel. Near Broadway. In partnership with the city, they have devoted an entire floor to housing battered women and their children. It’s a six-month program. You could stay there until you get on your feet. You’re lucky. There is one spot left. Wanna try it?”

My mother looked at me, nodded, “Yes, we’ll try it.”

Everything sped up. Our caseworker went from one supervisor to the next getting the right forms. She got us subway tokens, emergency food stamps, and a small emergency check that could be cashed the next day, and paperwork to take to the hotel.

We arrived at the slightly run down President Hotel, beyond tired.

One of the managers showed us to the room. As soon as he left, we checked out the room. I was excited by the big bathroom, the two queen-sized beds and large television.

“There’s no fridge, not even a hot plate. How are we supposed to cook?” my mother asked. I shrugged and she shrugged. She decided to worry about this issue later.

Too tired to bathe, we slipped out of our clothes and even though there were two beds, we cuddled like puppies into one. I tucked my Bionic Woman in next to us. We were all home and safe.

I am grateful to the unknown policymakers, caseworkers, women’s advocates and others who designed and ran this program. We lived at the President Hotel for six months and it allowed my mother to get back on her feet. She never lived with my stepfather again.

That year, although my mother could not cook her big holiday meal, nor afford any gifts (and my godparents got none of the right toys despite the list my mother sent), I knew that she had given us the best gift of all, freedom from violence.


This post first appeared in The Chapel Hill News  as a ‘My View’ column on December 18, 2013

I truly believe no creative work is ever wasted. I began writing about the dilemma of ‘petite fashion’ years ago, but never found a home for it. I decided to revisit this issue for my column in The Chapel Hill News and also try writing it from a more tongue-in-cheek voice. So far this column has generated the highest response from readers I’ve ever had. I think a ‘petite manifesto’ is in order.


As a 5-foot-3/4-inch petite woman, until recently I’ve always accepted my minority status in the fashion world.

Growing up, I learned through the models that I saw in catalogs and fashion magazines that clothes were made for and the domain of taller women. I’d come to accept some givens of life, like when I shop for clothes 1) I’ll have to alter most of what I buy, and 2) I’ll have fewer stylish selections to choose from and they’ll range from clothing with a girlish ruffle sewed on every possible square inch of material, or matronly sweaters with an overabundance of appliqued fruits and vegetables across the chest.

I’d even gotten used to a blasé kind of treatment by sales personnel. Last week I went to a well-known women’s clothing store chain. I hadn’t been there in a few months and I couldn’t find the petite section. I asked a salesperson if she could tell me where they had moved their petite section. The salesperson looked at me and pointed toward the misses section. I said, “You’ve mixed the petites in with the misses? That makes a lot of retail sense, huh?”

She shrugged her shoulders.

I added, “So now, for petites, it’s fend for yourself clothing?”

She didn’t seem to understand why I was irritated and frankly, insulted. I believe it’s the underlying belief that the industry holds about petite shoppers: that those harmless, docile, slightly embarrassed small women will take anything that we give them.

But we won’t or we shouldn’t! Not anymore.

After the shopping incident I did a bit of research and discovered that I’m actually in the majority!

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the average woman’s height is 5’4”. Some estimates suggest that there are approximately 100 million petite women in the United States that are categorized as “fit, curvy and plus-sized”! Another shocker I discovered is that the fashion industry-preferred standard size of women at 5’9” and taller only represent 3 percent of women.

And, according to analysts, petites are a $9 billion industry. So, why do I often come home after a weekend of shopping feeling vexed, disrespected and downright disappointed? The fact is that retailers haven’t caught up with this new reality and that tradition, inertia and lack of consumer organizing all play a role.

There is a glimmer of hope as several new online sites feature designers offering limited lines for petites. Also there is the lifesaver that provides up-to-date links to name-brand designers and stores that sell petite clothes. But this is just a drop in the bucket and does nothing to combat the lack of equity of representation in major department stores. Several years ago Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale’s all made news when they downsized their petite departments.

I know the retailers have been in the “big girl” pride moment for the last decade, focusing on the plus-size market, and that’s great. Monique, Star Jones, and Ricki Lake, you go girls. But, where’s our contests, catalogs, or dare even I say magazines? As a girl I use to dream of entering the Miss Petite America pageant (yes there was such a contest, you had to be 5’ 4” and under to compete in it).

Retailers and pageant hosts, where’s the love?

Maybe petite women need our own reality show to get noticed, a hybrid of “What Not to Wear” meets “Survivor” where fashion designers are brought to an island and forced to come up with stylish lines of clothing with nary a ruffle or piece of appliqued fruit in sight. Or, maybe the trick is to get a hip-hop song promoting our needs.

If pop culture is not the way then effective organizing might be the key. I’ve been thinking about the following: Petites United for Fashion. So, the acronym would be PUFF, probably too cutesy – but it’s a start. Our chant would be, we’re here, we’re petite – dress us!

A version of this column recently appeared in The Chapel Hill News.

PS: I only found out about this resource after the column went to press: conducts a model search and also produces a print magazine. They say the ‘petite movement’ in fashion has begun. Yay!


We all want to feel more grateful. The powerful benefits that stem from a gratitude practice are ones that science now validates and that spiritual traditions have always claimed. More than a decade ago, Oprah introduced us to the idea of keeping a gratitude journal and recently social work researcher, Brené Brown has highlighted the importance of gratitude in her interviews with resilient people. But what gets in the way of practicing gratitude? I’d say grudges. Grudges are often not part of polite conversation. But, in order to become more grateful we have to work on our grudges.


To live a creative life is to encounter frustration, jealousy, envy and to hold grudges. Grudges are a feature in our emotional weather system. They can be deep seated or have happened just yesterday: the biting comment from a trusted mentor that occasionally surfaces, the friend who doesn’t invite you to submit to her ‘zine though she’s invited all your writing buddies , the shopkeeper who says that your greeting card line looks ‘amateurish’. Having grudges is not the problem; it’s how deep they go and how long we hold them. And, that we forget there can be sweet joy in releasing them.

Getting off Grudge Island

In The Bodacious Book of Succulence creativity author Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy (aka SARK) talks about a place that many of us reside– the place in our consciousness where we replay, repeat, and sift through old hurts, grudges, resentments, and slights. She imagines this place as Grudge Island. All the inhabitants on the island are stooped over from carrying the weight of their grudges. SARK says that holding grudges “allows us to be right and live in the past” and that they “are companions of struggle and blame.”

In my creativity workshops, I often ask people to describe what their Grudge Island looks like, the nature of their grudges and the length that they’ve hung on to them.  After reflecting on this exercise, a participant once exclaimed, “Goodness, I don’t just visit Grudge Island, I’ve built condos there!”

The first time I did this exercise, I started out with two pieces of paper and a pen. I thought, oh, this should only take a few minutes. As I got in touch with recent and old hurts, I found myself reaching for more paper and markers. As I wrote, I began reliving and experiencing the anger, hurt and loss of the events that shaped my grudges.

By the end of the process I had filled 25 pages (front and back) of my grudges and ego wounds! I was indeed a longtime resident on Grudge Island! I held a thirty year grudge against a six grade teacher who had forgotten to give me information so that I could compete in the city wide spelling bee and a fifteen year old grudge against a young man who told me that getting a PhD was useless and would not serve the African American community. I wondered what new energy could emerge from releasing these grudges.


The medical community’s interest in the connection between anger, grudge holding and well- being has increased dramatically over the last decade. Dr. Luskin, director of the Forgiveness Project at Stanford University, has lead pioneering research about how grudge holding affects our capacity to live a thriving life. Dr. Luskin notes, “Dwelling on a past conflict and the damage inflicted by another person, doesn’t hurt them, but it hurts you like heck. They own your nervous system, and they ain’t good landlords.” Studies suggest that grudge-holders tend to be sicker than their peers who are able to release grudges and forgive more quickly. If a person is a chronic grudge holder they can expect more visits to the doctor, cardiovascular disease and gastrointestinal distress.

I decided to destroy my grudge papers. I ripped them into teeny tiny shreds. This felt incredibly satisfying. Then, I began to knead them (also oddly satisfying). I then promptly took my ‘grudge dough’ and dumped the pile in the garbage. After I dumped the grudges, a very calm and peaceful sensation ran through my body. Feeling cleared of these grievances was a powerful return on my time and attention. The funny thing is that now, many years later; I can’t even recall the specifics of most of those grudges.

The more we share about our very human capacity to hold grudges, the more support we can receive for releasing them and experiencing the joy and vitality available to us in every moment. This energy becomes fuel for new creative projects.

Dealing with grudges first, makes way for gratitude.


A version of this article originally appeared on September 25 in The Chapel Hill News.

Photo credits include Thinkstock

Claiming Creative Space

How does one find and cultivate good ideas – from big thrilling ones to small stepping stone ones? This is a constant question for people who seek to be more creative.

Part of the answer rests in the power to claim physical space for our creative endeavors and to become aware of the types of metaphors we use to describe the psychological experience of generating those “aha” moments. To help creativity flow with the power of a waterfall, as opposed to an occasional trickle, requires us to dedicate physical space to support our efforts and cultivate new ways of imagining an inner repository for our good ideas.

Let’s start with physical space first.

A central question that I pose to clients is “Do you have a space where you create?” I receive a range of answers that include “That space is now where I fold my kids” clothes to “It’s cluttered” to “There’s no space that I can call my own.” I find this especially true for mothers with young children. Mothers often struggle with finding time and support for their creative lives. They routinely have to fight the feeling of being selfish versus “self-focused” when they claim time and space to create.


Designating space for one’s passion is a key creativity enhancer and important for two reasons. First, many people do not feel entitled to a creative life. To allocate space makes one’s work (and desires) real, visible, and enables a person to create from a feeling of worthiness.

Space affects us emotionally and cognitively. Psychologists, architects and neuroscientists are in conversation with each other and are developing studies that assess how to design spaces that promote creativity in buildings and micro spaces.

Second, when you claim a space it means you don’t have to recreate the wheel every time you want to work on your short story, collage series, ideas for planning a beautiful garden, or collection of songs. If you have designated space (or spaces), then you can go to it and work. Plain and simple. A specific space eliminates 75 percent of the challenge to creating.

Chris Cassen Madden, designer and author of “A Room of Her Own: Women’s Personal Spaces” reminds us that we don’t even need an entire room to begin claiming creative space. We can “carve out a corner, if you have to, in your living room or bedroom, with a chair and a basket filled with things you love – books, pictures, CDs…etc., If you don’t create the space, you might not take the time.”

I’ve had clients claim creative space in a secret garden, a barn, a window seat, an office in a newly remodeled attic, and on the table top of your dresser. Designating a physical space cultivates an inner authority to continue capturing and acting on ideas.

Potato holes

How do we cultivate metaphors for the “inner space” where musings are captured and brought to our attention?

If in our imagination, we mark those mysterious places where ideas seem to reside, it’s easier to know the path back to them when we’re lost.

I heard Booker T, a noted musician use the metaphor of a “potato hole” as where he gets and keeps his ideas.

Potato hole?

He explained that during slavery, African Americans (and I’m assuming poor whites) didn’t have wood floors in their homes; they had dirt or earthen floors. There was no place to keep vegetables cool. So, enslaved folks dug what they called deep holes in the earth that allowed them to keep vegetables fresh. A potato hole is the central metaphor to describe where he gets fresh ideas from and also where other notions incubate. I fell in love with this unique description of an inner creative space literally rooted in conditions of struggle. His use of the potato hole honors the creativity of everyday folk long gone.


Even though I’m always cajoling people to think outside the box, one of my inner creative spaces that I return to for stimulation is a golden box filled with light. When I get stuck, I think about reaching in this big box of light and pulling out what I need. The writer Stephen King writes about his muse coming up from the cellar and bringing him beer. The image of an “inner cellar” stimulates his fresh thinking. I’ve heard other people say that tapping into their inner space for creativity is like imagining oneself at a great boisterous dinner party. All you have to do is sit back and listen.

This piece originally appeared as a ‘My View’ column for The Chapel Hill News on 8/23/2013

Photo credits: creative space; album cover

Limiting beliefs are often so hidden from our everyday awareness they feel more like inner immutable truths.

We all have a list of things we “know” we can’t do. It’s good to periodically examine a limiting belief and see if we can’t prove ourselves wrong and have fun while doing it.

For a long time, I believed that I couldn’t write short fiction, especially flash fiction. Flash fiction is a complete story that runs about 500 to 2,000 words. In a short number of words, flash fiction has to serve up all the traditional elements of fiction: interesting characters, a sensible plot, an engaging conflict, a setting and a resolution.

That’s a tall order. E-readers and shrinking attention spans have created a renaissance and hunger for high-quality short fiction.

I had good reason to believe that I couldn’t do it. I had never done it before.

As an academic writer, I’ve spent most of my time producing research and long scholarly books. As a creative writer, I’ve spent more than a decade of my time reading and analyzing novels, learning the craft of novel writing and working on a sprawling 800-page novel. The few times that I tried to write short fiction, I instead cranked out a novella (about 50,000 words).

Case closed, right?

After getting feedback from an editor at a small press that he liked my longer pieces, but wanted to see if I had short fiction, I was forced to confront my limiting belief. If I wanted to develop a relationship with this editor (always a good thing), it meant I’d actually have to create some short fiction. Also strategically, a publisher is more likely to take a chance on a new novelist if the writer has a lot of short fiction published, or a collection of short stories.

After a few moments of white-knuckled panic and some reflection, I realized that I had selectively chosen bits of evidence to support my belief and excluded others. In college, I was a dual major in political studies and creative writing. In my writing classes, I wrote tons of short fiction. I had totally discounted all that early writing. Our psyches are pretty clever, huh?

Scratching a bit deeper, I also knew that a fear of writing badly, in this genre, and hence rejection also had propped up my belief. Fear of the unknown keeps most people from attempting new things. It is very hard to “fail” in public. Matthew Fox, Episcopal priest and author of “Creativity: Where the Divine and Human Meet” says when we stop trying new things for fear of looking bad, we can suffer from a type of rigid “adultism.”

Although my writing teacher Marjorie Hudson (author of “Accidental Birds of the Carolinas”) encourages her students to think of claiming over 100 rejections as a path to mastery in the writing life, the thought of piling up more rejection letters didn’t make me feel wildly creative and rush to the computer.

However, once that memory from college surfaced and challenged my long-held belief, I took the next step.

I gave myself permission to try a new activity. I enrolled in writing classes devoted to flash fiction, read the New Yorker and subscribed to several literary journals. And, I wrote a lot of bad short fiction. I played and learned. I kept in mind the metaphor about short fiction that I learned from Ruth Moose, recently retired and beloved teacher of creative writing at UNC-Chapel Hill, it’s like a well-paced dinner party. I stopped trying to get my characters to sleep over.

Although I’m light-years away from mastering the short form, I’ve gained an appreciation for flash fiction and hope to write more. This month, I saw my piece “Urban Wendy” published in Carolina Woman magazine. It won a prize in their annual spring writing contest.

Changing self-limiting beliefs requires a willingness to puncture the skin of deeply-held beliefs. It requires giving one’s self permission to take the next logical action. And, it also requires a recognition and tolerance for doing something badly or even face rejection.

Crime writer Elmore Leonard’s experience with rejection is instructive: 84 editors rejected his first novel before it was finally published as a paperback original – 84! In 1982, after selling 23 novels, the thriller “Stick” became a bestseller.

This piece originally appeared as a ‘My View’ column for The Chapel Hill News on 7/22/2013

The Chapel Hill News ‘My View’ column below kicks off my new blog series called ‘Jump-start Your June: Reigniting Your Vision Mid-Year’. June provides a great time for us to review the goals, commitments and visions we made at the beginning of the year. Do we even remember the commitments we made in January? Do our goals still take our breath away? Have we already accomplished some of them?

I’ll provide some tips about how to reconnect with meaningful goals. I’ve also asked several amazing thought leaders to write guest posts about how to ‘jump-start your June’ in a variety of areas including health, creativity, and finances.

I’d love to know: What aspect of your life could use a jump-start this June?


June’s a good time to check in on goals

In June most people want to talk about graduations, Father’s Day, and the start of summer. I’m, however, inclined to ask them, “How is the vision that you set in January coming along? Do the goals you affirmed still speak to you six months later? What intentions for your year have fallen by the wayside? Is that vision board or treasure map, representing your dreams, collecting dust in a corner?”

I wish we could label June as “Jump-start Your Vision” Month. Why? Because midyear we naturally turn toward an assessment of how the year has been going for us. Coaches often get a lot of work in June, most of it involving supporting people in creating forward momentum for pursuing a vision and tweaking their goals.

For many, the energy, commitment and intention to pursue a big vision can fizzle out by February. The fitness industry often labels people who sign up for a membership at the beginning of the year, “January Joiners.” Historically, by the second week of February, most of the newcomers won’t be seen again until late May (scared by the approach of summer).

Some people get discouraged if they’ve tried something for 30, 40 or even 90 days and haven’t seen results. We’ve all heard this mantra before – if you want to form a new habit or quit an old one, try something for 21, 28, or 30 days. Despite what we’ve heard from advertisers, some psychologists and self-help experts, there is little scientific evidence to support the idea that effort over any specific time period will automatically produce a positive behavioral change. Now, isn’t that liberating? Sometimes we can make rapid change in a short amount of time and sometimes we have to redouble our effort and change takes longer.

So, I say before we declare that in any given year, we’re going to do “x” for “x” number of days or weeks, let’s check in with ourselves. If the change we’d like make is in an area of life where nothing else has seemed to work, then OK, maybe we should go for an intense 30- or 40-day challenge, but then I advocate asking for support in a public way – solicit friends to help with accountability, or work with a coach. If people want to tweak a positive habit (i.e. something they are already doing, but would like to do more of), then I recommend choosing a smaller increment (10 days as opposed to 21 days), and to enjoy the sweet spot of repetition.

I review three key areas with clients in jump-starting their vision midyear:

•  Design and desire. We look at what’s not working and why. Let’s take the example of someone who created a goal to make a green smoothie every week and then stopped. I might explore how this goal sounded excellent in the abstract, but the design wasn’t very manageable (because of time, cost of materials, and/or motivation).

I’d then discern if the underlying desire for the client is to possess better health and increased energy. If so I’d strategize to see if we can fulfill this desire by designing a more effective pathway, strategy or behavior. The elements of design and desire need to be in sync for effective goal setting.

•  Buffets and three meals a day. In looking at action steps in pursuing goals, I contrast eating at buffets versus planning three healthy meals a day. We can fall into a trap of constantly taking actions (or piling up our plates at a buffet) that don’t really serve us and dissipate our energy. For example, I work with many creative writers who spend so much time developing their platform (i.e. creating a Facebook page, posting multiple Tweets, writing on a blog, etc.) that they have less energy to deepen their craft. We need to plan a series of thoughtful actions (like our daily meals) as a staple for reaching our goals.

•  Questions and answers. Writer, anthropologist and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston said, “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” The great thing about a midyear vision check-in is that enough time has passed to ask deeper questions of ourselves than we could in January. Employing a sense of wonder and gratitude, we can track the insights, synchronicities, and serendipity that has shown up our lives since the beginning of the year. With our environment in full bloom, we can feel supported by physical lushness while digging a bit deeper in our internal gardens.

Column reprinted with permission. Originally published on June 15:

Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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