The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘Carolyn See


Why is it so easy to believe the awful and never believe the good?

—Carolyn See

The use of affirmations has come a long way. An affirmation is a short, simple, positive declarative phrase that as Eric Maisel says, in Coaching The Artist Within, “you say to yourself because you want to think a certain way…or because you want to aim yourself in a positive direction.” You can use them as ‘thought substitutes’ to dispute self-injurious thoughts (as a cognitive behavioral approach), or to provide incentive and encouragement when those seem to be in short supply. Now that many psychologists, mental health workers and coaches advocate the use of affirmations, they’ve become respectable. Gone are the days that affirmations made you think of Shirley MacLaine, flouncy scarves, and quartz crystals. (Though for the record, I’ve liked each of the above at different times in my life.)

Writers can benefit from using affirmations as our inner critics, judges, and evaluators are often uninvited guests during our writing sessions. Carolyn See is one of the few writers who writes about using affirmations, saying that they make “a nice counterpart to the other wretched noise that gets turned up in your brain when you write, or even think about writing: “Look at Mr. Big Man!” (in Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers)

She uses them to defeat the din of naysayers and to help her students think differently about their writing challenges. Here I’m quoting from two different passages in Making a Literary Life:

“Everybody’s seen it: nobody wants it,” my own very sweet editor said to me about the (then nonexistent) paperback of my memoir, Dreaming. “Everybody’s seen it; nobody wants it.” Yikes! Ow! The pain! It’s a good thing I remembered that I deserve the very best and now is the time for it” and thus got up the courage to call a friend of mine at a university press. The paperback is still in print, doing very nicely, thank God.”

I can’t tell you how many times my writing students have said to me, “I can’t do dialogue.” Or, “I have so much trouble with plot!” Or, “I don’t know what to put into this story and what to cut. I can’t seem to figure out what’s important.”

I say to them, “How about if you could do dialogue?” Or, “You have the perfect plot, right there in your brain.” Or, “You’re a perfect editor; you just don’t know it yet.”

They don’t buy it; they can’t buy it. So I suggest they say, out loud, in the car, at home, “Up until now, I couldn’t do dialogue, but now I love it I can’t wait to type in those quotation marks and see what my characters have to say!” And, “Up until now, I had some trouble with plot, but now it’s my greatest strength. I’m a fiend for plot.” And, “My natural good taste and fine subconscious mind naturally know what to put in and what to cut out of a story.”

Using affirmations about writing (and creativity) have helped me over the years. I sometimes write a few affirmations as a warm-up to a writing session.  I also keep a few posted in key places in my home office. I’m currently reviewing some of my stock ones and seeing if I want to keep them for 2013.

What’s your experience with using affirmations to support your writing? Do you already use affirmations? Do you write them down and/or say them aloud? I’d love to hear what has worked for you.

If not, can you use some affirmations for your writing life for 2013?

I’ve provided some affirmations below culled from Julia Cameron, Eric Maisel, Carolyn See and myself:

My heart is a garden for creative ideas.

My ideas come faster than I can write, and they’re all good ideas.

Revising is the best part of writing.

My writing dreams are worthy ones.

Anxiety comes with the territory. I can manage and even embrace my anxiety.

If I grow quiet, the writing will happen.

To write is to improvise. I will become jazz.

My creative work is highly valued.

I trust my resources.

I honor my writing by keeping the right words and setting the rest free for another day.

For books that combine writing prompts with affirmations, see Susan Shaughnessy’s Walking on Alligators: A Book of Meditations for Writers. Julia Cameron’s Heart Steps (Prayers and Declarations for a Creative Life) is a small but potent book that comforts and uplifts.

Photo Credit: Belinda Witzenhausen (see her site for more great photos of writing affirmations)


I know…I’ve been away from my blog way too long. I have been “cheating” on this blog by writing occasional blogs at She Writes. She Writes is a great organization devoted to supporting and encouraging women writers.

Below, is a revised version of what I posted on She Writes about coping with rejection and creating rituals. Enjoy!

It’s happened again. I was minding my own business, thinking of myself as a writer, keeping to deadlines and then a rejection letter came in an email. I keep track of where I send pieces but sometimes I forget that something of mine is out floating around in the literary universe. When a rejection email arrives out of the blue it feels like my head has been plunged in cold water. I’ve been writing and submitting long enough to know that rejection is part of the writing process. A very big part of the process. It’s just that I realized that I don’t have a rejection ritual yet. Do you?

For me, rituals are part of my creating process. There’s the way that I sit down with tea or when I turn on the computer or the self-affirming words that I say when I start a piece. I tend to stock up on rituals, go to routines for different aspects of the creative life. But, I haven’t developed one for dealing with rejections. I think I should.

I started thumbing through my writing books-all of which talk about the inevitability of rejection-and was surprised to find that few gave concrete advice or guidance about how to take care of yourself when you get a rejection letter. Most just say that you should immediately write a new query letter and send the manuscript back out–very perfunctory.

If you don’t have Carolyn See’s Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers, you should. It’s laugh out loud funny, poignant and she makes a lot of analogies about sex, relationships and the writing process. Her take on rejection is that one should write a handwritten thank you note, to the editor, immediately after receiving a rejection. She swears that writing is a type of “spiritual aikido” and helps one stay sane. She also tells a great story about landing a writing assignment after being rejected by an editor over many years. He knew her well through all those nice notes she had sent back to him and gave her work!

I’m in an online writing course with creativity guru SARK (author of many books including Juicy Pens, Thirsty Paper: Gifting the World with Your Words and Stories, and Creating the Time and Energy to Actually Do It). I asked her and the other participants about dealing with rejection. SARK suggested that after getting rejected you write an email *to yourself* from them (whoever has done the rejecting) that you would LIKE to receive. She also liked the idea of sending a nice thank you note—by email—to the editor or agent. She also reminded me of her quote: “If you’re not getting rejected, it means you’re not reaching far enough.”

I like both See’s and SARK’s encouragement to reroute what feels like negative energy back out to the literary universe for transmutation. I can see myself sending a nice email back to the editor thanking them for reading my piece and that I’ll submit again. I’m also intrigued by the idea of sending myself the email I would have really liked to receive.

My writing teacher, Marjorie Hudson (author of the new short story collection Accidental Birds), has encouraged her students to think about rejection as a process. She said that we should all strive for 100 rejections letters; 100 rejection letters is part of developing our chops as writers. When I first heard this, I frankly thought that she was a bit insane and also somewhat smugly thought that I was already up to a 100 rejection letters. As it turns out, I’m only about half way there! This sobered me up and got me back to work. Next time I see her, I’m going to ask what to do when I get to 100? Maybe throw a party?

So, I’m curious, do you have a rejection ritual that helps you? Is it fun and light or dark and melodramatic? Do you keep the rejection letters in a special file or immediately throw them away? How do you navigate the world of rejection?

Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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