The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘Eric Maisel

I want to thank you for subscribing to my blog. Welcome to new subscribers! And, to those who have been followers (and readers) from way back, thanks for sticking with me!


In 2011, I decided to devote myself to writing weekly on my blog and to support creative community. From that intention, so many great things followed: community building, more writing, opportunities I couldn’t have imagined, new friendships, etc.

I’m inspired by all that you do, seek and create. I want to continue to walk this creative path with you. Let’s keep inspiring each other.

On that note, I wanted to share several inspiring conversations I’ve had with some of the most talented writers, coaches and transformational experts from my Creativity Bonfire Series. My Creativity Bonfire Series brought together 12 leading writers, authors, visual artists and thought leaders to talk about creativity—how to sustain and maintain it.

Each conversation is about an hour long. Let yourself soak in their wisdom about staying true to the creative process and eliminating distractions.

Conversation with SARK, artist, creative entrepreneur and author of Juicy Pens, Thirsty Paper: Gifting the World with Your Words and Stories and Creating the Time and Energy to Actually Do It

Conversation with Eric Maisel, creativity coach and author of Coaching the Artist Within

Conversation with Amanda Owen, consultant, motivational speaker and author of The Power of Receiving: A Revolutionary Approach to Giving Yourself the Life You Want and Deserve

Links will stay live until Oct 15.



This is the season of gratitude and I am so grateful for *your* support of my blog during 2014.

I have a treat for you. If you participated in my Creativity Bonfire Series telesummit last spring then you got the distinct pleasure of hearing one of my favorite creativity mentors – Dr. Eric Maisel. The telesummit gathered together 12 authors, artists, coaches and visionaries to share their expertise, passion and insights about how to develop and sustain creativity so that it benefits every area of one’s life.


I was so happy that Eric accepted my invitation to participate. He is the author over 40 books (!) on creativity and has so much wisdom to share about the creative process.

I’m so excited, because Eric has written yet another fantastic book – Life Purpose Boot Camp: The 8-Week Breakthrough Plan for Creating a Meaningful Life (New World Library). The book provides an eight-week intensive that breaks through barriers and offers insights for living each day with purpose. Below, Eric answers a few questions about the book in a mini-interview.

I discovered Eric’s work in 2001 and his approach was instrumental in helping me to move forward with my intention to write. More than thirteen years later, I’m still applying his insights in my work as a scholar, writer and creativity coach. I’m also a graduate of his creativity coaching program.

In honor of Eric’s book, I’m gifting you with our conversation from last spring. In it you will discover:

-How to fight back against the great silencers of creative expression-fear, doubt and anxiety

-How to create ‘in the middle’ of your busy life

-How to manage difficult emotions that arise as you pursue a creative life (e.g. jealousy, envy, fear)

-How to create more

Get your recording here. I know this conversation will keep your creative fire stoked all during this busy month and into 2015. It also provides a great introduction to Eric’s work. And after listening, you’ll probably want to grab Eric’s latest book, too.

Enjoy and thanks!

  1. Can you tell us a little bit about your reasons for writing Life Purpose Boot Camp? There are a lot of books about life purpose out there already—why did you think that another book on the subject was warranted?

Most traditional books on life purpose argue that life purpose is a kind of alignment with the universe. You discern what the universe wants from you—that information passed to you via books like the bible, via gurus or experts, via meditation practices, spirit quests or desert treks, via preachers and their sermons—and then you align yourself with that wisdom and knowledge. Life purpose is seen as something you must seek out and, if you are lucky, find. This is our long-standing vision of life purpose and connects to all sorts of religious, spiritual, and philosophical traditions.

It is time to change our mind about this and make the profound paradigm shift from seeking meaning to making meaning. If you believe in ideas like evolution and if you have a secular orientation, then it follows that there is no life purpose to find because the universe has zero life purposes in mind for you. Nature is not interested in offering you life purposes or in commenting on your life purposes. Rather, life purposes are decisions you make about what you value, what feels meaningful to you, what principles you want to uphold, how you want to represent yourself in life, and how you want to make yourself proud by your efforts and your actions.

Life Purpose Boot Camp presents a systematic program for doing exactly that: identifying your life purposes, articulating your life purposes, and making plans for holding your life purposes “close” so that you actually get to them on a daily basis. Growing up, you never learned these ideas, skills, or strategies: skills like writing life purpose statements, creating your life purpose icon, starting your day with a morning meaning check-in, and so on. Might be a good time to start <smile>!

  1. You do a lot of work with creative people—in fact you’re widely regarded as America’s foremost creativity coach. Do creative people have some special troubles with life purpose?

The majority of people today have trouble with life purpose but creative folks have special problems with life purpose for the following two reasons, among many others:

+ It is hard to succeed in the arts, so while you may feel like you are following your life purpose by performing or creating you are likely thwarted at every turn and may end up in unfulfilling day jobs, in arduous second careers engaged in to support your creative life, and so on. The challenging nature of the creative life makes it hard to sustain the effort of holding creating or performing as a primary life purpose.

+ Creatives tend to put all of their meaning and all of their life purpose into their creative pursuits and end up taking too few other meaning opportunities and pursuing too few other life purposes—for instance missing out on love, intimacy and relationships. It is fine to have a primary life purpose like creating but we really need multiple life purposes, not a single life purpose. Putting all of our meaning and life purpose in one basket is a dangerous thing!

In Life Purpose Boot Camp I spell out how to identify—and then juggle—multiple life purposes. Really, nothing is more important to learn.

On Monday, I appeared on a radio show called ‘The State of Things’ hosted by WUNC, our local National Public Radio (NPR) station. This was the most vulnerable interview I’ve ever done. I discuss my early childhood experiences of creativity as connected to resiliency and survival. I publicly discuss my experiences with sexual assault and trauma in honor of National Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The role of speculative fiction for writers of color, creativity coaching and women and creativity were also topics the interviewer and I discussed with great delight. I thought you might like to listen to it as it gives you a glimpse into why I am so passionate about the subject of creativity and empowering others.

You can listen here.


P.S. I’m thrilled to announce that I an running an encore replay of the ENTIRE Creativity Bonfire Series through Wednesday. So many people wanted to listen but didn’t get a chance to hear ALL of the incredible speakers. Some people didn’t get a chance to register. Was that you? If so, register below and get your week off to a GREAT start.

The list of participating speakers is AMAZING! They include Amanda Owen, bestselling author of The Power of Receiving, SARK (aka Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy), creativity expert and author of sixteen bestselling books, Diane Ealy, author of The Women’s Book of Creativity, Kimberly Wilson, author of Hip Tranquil Chick and yoga studio owner, Dr. Eric Maisel, creativity coach and author of over 40 books on creativity, Hay House author and transformative coach Michael Neill and MANY others.

They provide tips, techniques, resources and wisdom on the issue of creativity–how to access it and how to sustain it.

Register here! It’s FREE!

Dear Reader,

How are you? Are you stuck on a creative project? Have you lost momentum on something important to you? Are you struggling with fear, doubt, procrastination and perfectionism? Are you ready for new approaches in dealing with inner critics that block you from taking the next step on creative work?

As a scholar, coach and creative writer, I know how challenging it is to continually nurture one’s creative impulses.

That’s why I’ve created the CREATIVITY BONFIRE event for YOU. I have asked 11 of the most amazing artists, writers, coaches and visionaries to come together and provide insights about how to ACCESS and SUSTAIN your most amazing renewable resource-CREATIVITY.

Get Ready for a powerful SPRING RENEWAL and an Inspiration blast off!


You are going to LOVE these 11 powerful conversations in Sustaining Your Flame-Secrets from Wildly Inspired Creators!

The list of participating speakers is INCREDIBLE! They include Amanda Owen, bestselling author of The Power of Receiving, SARK (aka Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy), creativity expert and author of sixteen bestselling books, Diane Ealy, author of The Women’s Book of Creativity, Kimberly Wilson, author of Hip Tranquil Chick, Dr. Eric Maisel, creativity coach, Hay House author and transformative coach Michael Neill and MANY others.

I believe that creativity is our most vital renewable resource and I felt guided to deepen the conversation about our rich treasure.

We will gather around the virtual CREATIVITY BONFIRE during April 3-April 6th. Whatever you are trying to do–empowering others, thinking up solutions to climate change, finishing the next revision on a novel, being a better parent-accessing your creativity will help.

This is YOUR SPRING RENEWAL and it’s all FREE + speakers are providing GIFTS! That’s right, GIFTS for you!

Ignite your spring by grabbing your seat around the Creativity Bonfire! Register here



We all need encouragement and support for our writing lives. And, the beginning of the year invites us to try out new ideas. Here is a list of strategies that have bolstered my writing life.  May they support and inspire you.

1) Plan a Submission Party


In my first writing group, more than fifteen years ago, I learned about the power of holding at least one ‘submission party’ during the year. A submission party meant that we planned a date and we all brought our polished manuscripts, manila envelopes, our bundle of SASEs (self-addressed stamped envelopes –yes, back in those days you had to send manuscripts via snail mail and with a SASE!), and food and drink to someone’s house. We helped each other write query letters, find new markets to submit work, develop submission charts, and triple check final copies of stories. And, the best part of all, we’d each leave with several stuffed packets ready to mail to magazine and anthology editors and contest judges.  These parties uplifted us and took the fear, dread and challenge out of submitting. And, they helped us get a batch of stories into the mail at one time.

At your next writers’ group meeting, suggest hosting a submission party during the first quarter of the year. And, if you’re not in a group (Well, you should be! When focused friendly people come together to support each other, they can produce incredible results!), then ask a writing buddy, if he or she would be interested in executing this idea on a smaller scale.

2) Practice Being a Writer in Publicdscn2986mcintyrereading31

Reading your work in front of an audience is an invaluable experience for a writer. We can see when people lean toward us, laugh (one hopes at the appropriate places), and get a sense of how our words affect others.  Readings help us to become comfortable with our work no matter what the reaction. We meet new friends and learn about the work of other writers. I did three readings last year (two of which I helped to create). In most places there are many opportunities to read your work in public—open mics organized by writing groups, in bookstores and cafes, writing conferences, and informal gatherings with friends.  Practice, practice and practice some more.

How many readings did you participate in during 2012? Shoot to double this number in 2013.

3) Volunteer to Support and Serve a Published Writer That You Know

I have been privileged to accompany one of my writing teachers, Marjorie Hudson, to several speaking events and workshops. I learned invaluable things watching a working writer deal with the public aspect of a writing life: speaking, promoting, coaching, and book signing.

Writers always need more support. If you have a friend or an acquaintance who has recently published a book, offer to help them promote it in some way. If you don’t know any published writers, this is a great way to connect with a local writer whose work that you admire.

Be a personal assistant, or driver, for a day. If they are scheduled to give readings, see if you can help carry books, set up a display, sell books, and assist with small tasks that would make their life easier. You can learn a lot from watching how other writers handle being in the public eye.

4) Strive for 99 Rejections

Years ago, Marjorie Hudson, shifted my perspective on submitting one’s work and coping with rejection. She declared that as part of claiming the mantle of a writer, one should strive to gather at least 99 rejections. I sat in the workshop feeling pretty smug thinking that surely with all the years that I have been trying to get published I reached that number, no problem. Later, when I reviewed my submission file, I was shocked to realize that I wasn’t even half way close to 99 rejections! This revelation spurred me on submit my work, in a serious and organized way.


I love Chris Offutt’s essay, ‘The Eleventh Draft’, where he discusses how he dealt with the fear of rejection:

“The notion of submitting anything to a magazine filled me with terror. A stranger would read my precious words, judge them deficient, and reject them, which meant I was worthless. A poet friend was so astonished by my inaction that he shamed me into sending stories out. My goal, however, was not publication, which was still too scary a thought. My goal was a hundred rejections a year.

I mailed my stories in multiple submissions and waited eagerly for their return, which they promptly did. Each rejection brought me that much closer to my goal—a cause for celebration, rather than depression. Eventually disaster struck. The Coe Review published my first story in spring 1990. The magazine was in the small industrial town of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, with a circulation that barely surpassed the city limits. The payment was one copy of the magazine, and the editor spelled my name wrong. Nevertheless, I felt valid in every way—I was no longer a hillbilly with a pencil full of dreams. I was a real live writer.”

The common suggestion is for writers to have at least five pieces submitted at any given time.

Are you close to 99 rejections? Every time you receive one, think of it as a step forward in your writing apprenticeship.  (BTW, holding a submissions party, regularly, can help you send out more material faster.)

5) Create Some Writing Affirmations

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.” Writers can benefit from using affirmations as our inner critics, judges, and evaluators are often uninvited guests during our writing sessions.

A decade ago, I made a tape recording of me saying writing affirmations. I was living in California, on a post-doctoral fellowship, not a member of any writing group, and accumulating rejections at rate that made me gnash my teeth daily.  At that point in my life the inner critic often got the best of me. I needed something to remind me of my basic goodness, as a human being, and encourage me as a writer.

Listening back to them now, it’s clear that I don’t have that same inner wobbly feeling about claiming writing as a love, devotion, craft and profession.  Nor do I have the same fears. But those early affirmations (i.e. I am a writer!), spoken with conviction definitely built a bridge from there to here.

Writing, speaking and even recording affirmations creates a powerful state of mind. Here are some to get you started.

6) Commitment Publicly to a Writing Goal and Ask for Accountability

As a coach, I know that to make long lasting positive changes, we need structure and accountability. Over the past year, I’ve seen many writers use their virtual networks (as well as face to face ones) to get support in meeting an important writing goal. Editor, author advocate and She Writes publisher, Brooke Warner publicly announced her intention of finishing a book by a certain date. She also asked for support to help keep her accountable while writing and this request yielded wonders!

What’s one writing goal you’d consider announcing publicly and asking for accountability?

7) Buy a New Subscription to a Writing Magazine and/or Literary Journal

Where do you learn about the field of publishing? How do you find out about new writers? We do this in many ways, through blogs, friends, librarians and visits to bookstores. However, writing magazines and literary journals can also play a key role in our professional development. You’ve probably been thinking about treating yourself to new subscription to a writing magazine or literary journal for some time. Do it! When I finish this post, I’m off to subscribe to Poets and Writers.


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)

During an open mike segment of a reading hosted by Marjorie Hudson, I heard M. Todd Henderson read from his new novella, Shifting Sands, about a mentally ill husband and father. I’m always eager to understand others’ insights about mental health issues. Depression and anxiety are challenges that many Americans face daily. I’ve had close friends struggle with various mental health crises. And, as a creativity coach, I’ve worked with clients who struggle with depressive cycles. I also recently interviewed Eric Maisel about his new book on depression. Intrigued by Henderson’s reading and also impressed that he is donating 10% of the profits of the novella to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, I got a copy of Shifting Sands. After reading it, I knew I wanted to interview him about his experience with depression and exploration of mental illness through narrative fiction.

How did you come to write the novella, Shifting Sands: His Hell. Her Prison.?

 Other than the ABCs, my first taste of writing was when I was 10. I wrote and edited The Local News, which my Mom, a school teacher, mimeographed copies at the high school for me to distribute. That was before Xerox. The newspaper was actually a combination of school, church, weather, and sometimes international news. It ran sporadically from December 18, 1969 to October 1, 1972. Yes. I keep copies of all the issues and most everything I’ve ever written. They are a big part of me and I can’t seem to part with them.

In high school I mostly read American classics (e.g. Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, etc.) and learned the mechanics of writing. Then I took a creative writing course my freshman year at Indiana University. I won the award for outstanding freshman essay for a story about my Granddaddy’s house. It was a thrill and it compelled me to continue writing throughout college and to submit to creative magazines, including The New Yorker. I failed to publish, but appearing in The New Yorker is on my bucket list.

The next several years I journaled some, but concentrated on my advertising career. Over my almost-thirty-year career I worked for five different Midwest ad agencies, a non-profit, and an international corporation. I wrote extensively – mostly memos, plans, research papers, and direct mail. I also travelled quite a bit internationally (Australia is a must see.) and throughout the US.

The advertising business is definitely exciting, but it’s also extremely intense and high stress. After I got married to Lori and we had our two sons the stress doubled and I ended up with high anxiety and low depression.

Ultimately, I left the advertising business, resumed journaling, and published my first book. Just. Like. That. Well, maybe it was slightly more involved. Much of my journaling was while I was in the dark- unrelenting- clutches of depression and anxiety. I wrote extensively in blue and black Moleskin journals about the effect of mental illness on myself, my family, and our friends. It was the lowest part of my life.

Then my novella emerged. Shifting Sands: His Hell. Her Prison. was born out of my journaling, yet it’s not autobiographical. I chose to write fiction for a few reasons: fiction is my forte, fiction provides room to speculate and embellish, and fiction is simply fun.

Why did I write Shifting Sands? In the end I wrote this story to assure my family, my friends, and my readers that when in the depths of despair they will always have hope for a better tomorrow. Perhaps I was also trying to convince myself.

What is your favorite scene in the book and why do you love it?

I love this scene from the book and really enjoyed writing it. At the lowest point of depression, the main character Scott T. Walters, runs from his responsibilities and drives to the North Carolina Outer Banks.

“Scott hitches up the pop-up camper to his ‘91 Ram pick-up, and heads east on Highway 64. He plans to stay at the KOA in Rodanthe for a few days. Maybe take a drive to Buxton. Or on to Ocracoke by ferry to see the wild ponies. Salty, clear air welcomed him at Whalebone Junction where the truck turns south onto Bodie Island, and crosses Oregon Inlet on a narrow, high-flying bridge alongside gliding pelicans and gulls and onto Hatteras Island.

Scott pulls into the KOA, eases the camper into its site next to the twenty-five foot dunes, and settles in. He has brought along seven bottles of cab, two six-packs of PBR, chips, cheese, salsa, eggs, and bacon. Scott takes his customary first-day-back hike over the dunes and up the beach toward the new Rodanthe pier. It’s a three-beer journey. As it is early in the season, prime sea gifts that waves have tenderly carried and placed on the sand—angel wings, sand dollars, sea stars, and a rare intact horseshoe crab—remain scattered along the beach long after high tide. Amongst all the loot ghost crabs scurry to and fro rearing back with front claws raised in defensive mode as Scott approaches.

This is a familiar stretch of beach for Scott; he walks it at least three times a year. And three times a year the sea oat-topped dunes have a new story to tell. On this go ‘round the dunes tell tales of Hurricane Dennis. Dennis came ashore two times. On the first visit, he danced a slow graceful waltz with the dunes. They inched this way and that till they all rested fairly close to where they took their first step. The second visit was a herky jerky two step. Moving this way and that, the dunes found themselves uncomfortably closer to the breakers with their sea oats tossed to and fro like a bad hair day.

From a front row seat on the dry side of low tide, Scott scans the waters for live sea critters. Out a bit over the water, a grouping of three brown pelicans in a row skims the valley of a swell, looking beyond their reflections for a meal underneath. The most famous pelican to fly over these waters was black and larger than life. Legend has it that the black pelican scanned the shore and the sea from the Core Banks to Corolla, searching for those in peril. Many a survivor described a Black Pelican guiding their ship to safe waters. The savior hasn’t been seen in recent years, but most ship crews and locals believe he will return one day.”

This is my favorite scene because my soul can be found in the Outer Banks. In its salty perfume, its sea oats waving to me from atop dunes, its sand pipers scurrying to snag sand fleas, its breakers washing the top of my bare feet, and so much more.

What does your writing practice look like?

My writing practice starts with journaling. Most days I journal off and on in my pocket-sized Moleskin.  Mostly I journal about interesting people or events as well as dialect and interesting word uses. At the end of the day I rip pages from the small journal and tape them into my large red Moleskin (my color of this month). Then I usually journal more about pocket-sized entries. Since I fill one to two large Moleskins a month, I spend some time in completed journals adding notes, highlighting key thoughts, and entering the best ideas into my current project.

When I’m on a specific project I spend the majority of the time on my Toshiba until the book is in the editing phase. Then the cycle starts all over again.

 Will we see more of your main characters? What’s your next writing project?

Without a doubt, Scott T. Walters will be front and center for my next two works. We’ll follow him and his family as they face new challenges and old foes.

 What’s been your experience of being a self-published author?

I would never have had the opportunity to publish and sell my stories if it hadn’t been for online publishers. So, I’m very grateful that they exist. My publisher, iUniverse was very professional and helpful during the editing and production phases. The process was flawless.

 However, after Shifting Sands was published, iUniverse began to push their added-value services, like marketing, printed copies, promotion kits, design, and publicity. Frankly, I found them to be too aggressive in their approach.

In the long run I consider self publishers to be another tool available to me, like my Toshiba, The Chicago Manual of Style, and my Moleskins. I can use some or all of iUniverse’s service depending upon the project.

 What’s one piece of advice you would give aspiring authors?

In my case the key to success is actually two: observation and recording. Look so you can see. Listen so you can hear. Taste. Smell. Pick up on the nuances because it’s often the smallest of observations that are the most telling and interesting.

And, record them into your handy dandy journal (or, sometimes take a photo) for further observation.

M. Todd Henderson was born in Indianapolis, Indiana. He graduated from Indiana University’s School of Journalism in 1981. His career includes nearly thirty years in the advertising and marketing business. In addition he served as an AmeriCorpsVISTA volunteer to help fight poverty in his adopted North Carolina. Todd and his family live near Raleigh, North Carolina. Currently Todd is working on his second book which will continue the story of Scott T. Walters.

He invites your questions and thoughts on writing, your work, and his work at

Find out more about Todd and Shifting Sands through his Amazon page

Over the past two weeks I’ve had the 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. It’s hard to claim a writing identity if one isn’t widely published. If you’re working 9-5 and writing at night (or on the weekends), there’s little time to go to readings, writers’ conferences or open mics where you can be a writer in public. However, a bit of practicing being a writer in public provides a wonderful psychological boost, lessens isolation, helps you understand the business of writing and can form part of your writing education. You can also claim a writing identity without embarrassment and thwart imposter syndrome feelings with a bit of practice. Here are some observations and tips:

Ways to Practice Being a Writer in Public: Attend Writers’ Conferences

I attended the spring North Carolina Writers’ Network Conference. It’s a one day affair that includes craft workshops, lunch with an author, faculty readings, a panel with editors and an open mic reading. I’ve attended this conference before, but this time I was with several members of my core writing community; people who I knew well.  We encouraged each other to embody being a writer in public.

Practice your pitch before you go. Whether you’re working on a memoir or a collection of short stories, you need a 2-3 sentence description that engages the listener and that rolls off your tongue. You need this pitch not only for when you are lucky enough to bump into agents and editors at a bar or in the elevator, but  in order to talk with fellow writers that you’ll meet(who may be able to support you in a variety of surprising ways). This is your way of making a good impression on people, so don’t leave it to chance. More likely than not, you’ll feel tongue-tied, anxious and inadequate if you don’t role play ahead of time. My writing friends and I practiced our pitches on the ride to the conference. For great ideas about learning how to pitch and deal with any fears or anxiety that might arise, see Eric Maisel’s Living the Writer’s Life.

Bring a short polished piece to read for open mic. Many writing conferences feature an open mic program that you can sign up for when you arrive. A writer is always working on something and should always have something to read.  The piece that you read should be short and polished, somewhere between 5-8 minutes.  My friend and writing buddy, Santa Al is working on a memoir about his twenty year career as a professional Santa and he signed up and got to read during the NCWN conference. He received wonderful feedback from audience members and successfully peaked people’s interest in his work. This year, I didn’t read and I was annoyed with myself that I didn’t take time to prepare anything. Reading in public makes it that much easier for fellow writers to walk up to you, introduce themselves and ideally tell you how much they enjoyed what you read.

Visit the book exhibit and chat up folks, and bring mints and use them, especially at the end of the day. At a good writers’ conference everyone is tired at the end of the day. If you’ve had a successful time you’ve met other writers, learned new craft techniques, and heard heated exchanges about the future of publishing. By the end of the day you’ll probably head over to the book exhibit which is where you’ll find editors of small presses (and sometimes big presses), literary journals and magazines hanging out. You want to walk up, fresh-faced, with some energy left and have a friendly chat. The last thing you want to worry about is bad breath.

My writing friend Whitney and I made our way to the book exhibit an hour before the end of the conference. We happened upon the Press 53 booth, a unique small press devoted to publishing short story and poetry collections. Press 53 is also the publisher of the works of our beloved writing teacher, Marjorie Hudson. Kevin Morgan Watson, the publisher greeted us and immediately made us feel welcome. Full of energy, he engaged us quickly. While I was trying to talk about the finer points of speculative fiction and whether he publishes it or not, I couldn’t help but wondering, Wow, is my breath kicking it? Don’t let this happen to you! Bring mints and use them.

Ways to Practice Being a Writer in Public: Writer: Support a Published Writer

I was invited by my writing teacher, Marjorie, to drive and accompany her to a speaking event. We drove to Winston-Salem, visited the offices of Press 53 and hung out with Kevin Watson (I made sure to have fresh breath this time!), and were hosted by Vijya, a local aspiring writer and gracious host.

(Kevin Watson and Marjorie Hudson)

We had dinner, got settled and were off to the event at the public library (part of the ‘Road Scholar’ program of the North Carolina Humanities Council that helps bring writers to local communities). Marjorie’s talk focused on mosaic writing in nonfiction that incorporates historical detail, memoir, and fictional interludes as her Searching for Virginia Dare does brilliantly. We came back to Vidya’s house and got to listen to Marjorie and Steve Mitchell (a new Press 53 author) talk about the writing life and the challenges of book promotion. The next day, we were up and on the road to Barnhill’s Books, a thriving small bookstore that also sells local wine and art, where Marjorie did a lunch with author event. During this trip, I felt privileged to glimpse a working writer living the writer’s life: speaking, promoting, coaching, and book signing.

Volunteer to support a writer that you know—Writers always need more support. If you have a friend or an acquaintance who has recently published a book, offer to help them promote it in some way. Be a personal assistant or driver for a day. If they are scheduled to give readings, see if you can help carry books, set up a display, sell books, and assist with small tasks that would make their life easier. You can learn a lot from watching how other writers handle being in the public eye.

When you sell books, bring a nice tablecloth—Marjorie brought along a white tablecloth to cover the ordinary table set up for me to sell her books. That simple item elevated the feel of the room.

Chat up bookstore managers and owners. They are a wealth of knowledge! They sometimes are also writers. Ask them about their work and tell them about yours.

(Marjorie doing a book signing, and above-hanging out with the manager at Barnhill’s)

Ways to Practice Being a Writer in Public: Read Your Work to an Audience

And finally, Marjorie held a reading for her students at the wonderful McIntyre’s Fine Books. Since June 2010 writers have been meeting with her in a variety of venues to generate new writing from prompts, work on revision and make their writing dreams come true. She printed up a program, brought food, and invited the writing community. It was an elegant, professional and supportive event. Few writing teachers would make the time to support students like this and her students are incredibly lucky. I read two poems. They were both poems I read before but not to a big formal audience. I enjoyed reading and hearing the compelling work of other aspiring writers.

(me, reading my work)

If you get to read your work in public, be gracious if someone compliments you on your writing. Don’t say that you’re not really a writer because you’re not published yet (or published widely), or let any negative comments about your work leak out. Shine in the moment.

So, how have you been practicing being a writer in public?

(Photo credit Jesse Akin)

If you’ve ever explored how to develop your creativity, then you’ve probably heard of Eric Maisel. Eric Maisel is a pioneer in the field of creativity. As a coach and therapist he specializes in confronting the psychological challenges of creating. His significant body of work tackles the myriad external and internal dilemmas that creators face.

I met Eric, at a book signing, when I was a postdoctoral fellow living in the Bay area. I knew and loved his no nonsense approach to creativity from his books, so I jumped at the chance to see him in person. He announced an experimental program that he was starting—creativity coaching. His new program was a 16 week, email based training designed to teach people the principles for supporting others to create and explore issues and tensions in their own creative lives. The coaches in training would simultaneously coach volunteers online (screened by Eric), for free. Hearing about this innovative program electrified me and a year later I took him up on his offer and loved every minute of the training. My training was almost a decade ago and it sparked my coaching practice, The Creative Tickle®. His work continues to influence, inspire and surprise me.

His new book, Rethinking Depression, tackles the complex subject of depression and is for anyone that struggles with finding meaning in their life. Do you have a life-purpose vision? And do you engage in self-care? Rethinking Depression “is dedicated to helping readers create.” This book does two important things: 1) challenges the view that depression is a disease 2) provides the reader with a complete program for addressing human sadness.

Following is a short article that introduces Rethinking Depression followed by a Q & A.

Rethinking Depression
By Eric Maisel

There is something profoundly wrong with the way that we currently name and treat certain human phenomena. When we call something a “mental disease” or a “mental disorder” we imply a great deal about its origins, its treatment, its intractability, and its locus of control. The mental health industry has its reasons for calling life’s challenges “disorders” but we have few good reasons to collude with them.

In fact, the word depression has virtually replaced unhappiness in our internal vocabularies. We feel sad but we call ourselves depressed. Having unconsciously made this linguistic switch, when we look for help we naturally turn to a “depression expert.” We look to a pill, a therapist, a social worker, or a pastoral counselor — even if we’re sad because we’re having trouble paying the bills, because our career is not taking off, or because our relationship is on the skids. That is, even if our sadness is rooted in our circumstances, social forces cause us to name that sadness “depression” and to look for “help with our depression.” People have been trained to call their sadness “depression” by the many forces acting upon them, from the mental health industry to mass culture to advertising.

Chemicals have effects and they can alter a human being’s experience of life. That a chemical called an antidepressant can change your mood in no way constitutes proof that you have a mental disorder called depression. All that it proves is that chemicals can have an effect on mood. There is a fundamental difference between taking a drug because it is the appropriate treatment for a medical illness and taking a drug because it can have an effect. This core distinction is regularly obscured in the world of treating depression.

Psychotherapy, too, can help remediate sadness for the simple reason that talking about your problems can help reduce your experience of distress. Psychotherapy works, when it works, because the right kind of talk can help reduce a person’s experience of unhappiness. To put it simply, chemicals have effects and you may want those effects; talk can help and you may want that help. Antidepressants and psychotherapy can help not because they are the “treatment for the mental disorder of depression” but because chemical have effects and talk can help.

By taking the common human experience of unhappiness out of the shadows and acknowledging its existence, we begin to reduce its power. At first it is nothing but painful to say, “I am profoundly unhappy.” The words cut to the quick. They seem to come with a life sentence and allow no room for anything sweet or hopeful. But the gloom can lift. It may lift of its own accord — or it may lift because you have a strong existential program in place whereby you pay more attention to your intentions than to your mood.

What is an existential program? It is people taking as much control as possible of their thoughts, their attitudes, their moods, their behaviors, and their very orientation toward life and turning their innate freedom into a virtue and a blessing. Even if people decide to take antidepressants or engage in psychotherapy to get help with their unhappiness, they will still have to find ways of dealing with their meaning needs, the shadows of their personality, their consciousness of mortality, and the facts of existence.

Living authentically means organizing your life around your answers to three fundamental questions. The first is, “What matters to you?” The second is, “Are your thoughts aligned with what matters to you?” The third is, “Are your behaviors aligned with what matters to you?” You accept and embrace the fact that you are the final arbiter of your life’s meaning. With this approach to life, each day is a project requiring existential engineering skills as you bridge your way from one meaningful experience to the next. By accepting the realities of life and by asserting that you are the sole arbiter of the meaning in your life, you provide yourself sure footing as you actively make meaning.

If we can begin to move from the “depression is a mental disorder” model to the idea that human beings must deal more effectively with the realities of human existence, including the realities of sadness, despair, and grief, we will have taken a giant step away from “medicalizing everything” and toward lives lived with renewed passion, power and purpose.

Q & A with Eric Maisel

The first section of your book focuses on debunking depression as a “mental illness,” which is not to say that sadness and unhappiness cannot be debilitating.  Can you briefly describe the main thrust of your argument?

What I hope to demonstrate is that there is something profoundly wrong with the way we name and treat certain human phenomena. When we call something a “mental disease” or a “mental disorder” we imply a great deal about its origins, its treatment, its intractability, and its locus of control. The mental health industry has its reasons for calling life’s challenges “disorders,” but we have few good reasons to collude with them. I ask that readers who do feel depressed seek help. I hope that this book aids people in understanding what help to ask for from professionals and what help we should realize they can’t possibly offer us.

If there is no “mental disorder of depression,” why are millions of people convinced that “depression” exists?

As soon as you employ the interesting linguistic tactic of calling every unwanted aspect of life abnormal, you are on the road to pathologizing everyday life. By making every unwanted experience a piece of pathology, it becomes possible to knit together disorders that have the look but not the reality of medical illness. This is what has happened in our “medicalize everything” culture. In fact, the word depression has virtually replaced unhappiness in our internal vocabularies. We feel sad but we call ourselves depressed. Having unconsciously made this linguistic switch, when we look for help we naturally turn to a “depression expert.” We look to a pill, a therapist, a social worker, or a pastoral counselor — even if we’re sad because we’re having trouble paying the bills, because our career is not taking off, or because our relationship is on the skids. That is, even if our sadness is rooted in our circumstances, social forces cause us to name that sadness “depression” and to look for “help with our depression.” People have been trained to call their sadness “depression” by the many forces acting upon them, from the mental health industry to mass culture to advertising.

Why is recognizing the role of unhappiness in our lives an important feature of “rethinking depression”?

To acknowledge the reality of unhappiness is not to assert the centrality of unhappiness. In fact, it is just the opposite. By taking the common human experience of unhappiness out of the shadows and acknowledging its existence, we begin to reduce its power. At first it is nothing but painful to say, “I am profoundly unhappy.” The words cut to the quick. They seem to come with a life sentence and allow no room for anything sweet or hopeful. But the gloom can lift. It may lift of its own accord — or it may lift because you have a strong existential program in place whereby you pay more attention to your intentions than to your mood. One decision that an existentially aware person makes is to focus on making meaning rather than on monitoring moods.

How do you suggest people go about creating a life-purpose vision?

You might start by creating a life-purpose sentence or statement. In one great gulp you take into account the values you want to uphold, the dreams and goals you have for yourself, and the vision you have for comporting yourself in the world, and then you spend whatever time it takes turning that unwieldy, contradictory material into a coherent statement that reflects your core sentiments about your life. Your life-purpose vision is the inner template by which you measure life, and it remains that measure until you revise it. When you agree to commit to making meaning you agree to participate in a lifetime adventure. As you live you gain new information about what you intend to value and what you want your life to mean.

Eric Maisel, PhD, is a licensed psychotherapist and the author of Rethinking Depression and numerous other titles including Mastering Creative Anxiety, Brainstorm, Coaching the Artist Within, and A Writer’s San Francisco. He blogs for Psychology Today and the Huffington Post and writes for Professional Artist Magazine. Visit him online at

The close of a decade offers a time for reflection and taking stock of what has nurtured us, especially in our creative lives. Ten years ago, I had yet to become a creativity coach. I was a few years out of graduate school and adjusting to the relentless demands of professorial life. I was secretly working on a novel while researching my academic books that I needed to write. I have made several intentional and transformative leaps this decade in claiming a life as a coach, writer, and academic. The books below have been traveling companions and witnesses to those changes. They are books that I return to often and encourage my clients and workshop participants to read. As a whole they offer a fountain of ideas, techniques and incentives for accessing and maintaining creative states. Well-written and highly engaging, they provide ladders up from the ditches of self-loathing that creative people sometimes fall into, insights on how to quell doubts about one’s ability to create(at least long enough to get the next thing done), and sport new roadmaps in how we might shape a creative life for ourselves, if we dare.

Creativity: Where the Divine and Human Meet, Matthew Fox: This is a jubilant philosophical discussion about the role of creativity in serving human evolution. Fox, a radical theologian argues for the necessity of creativity for the continued survival of the species. Fox makes a case for the spirituality of creativity, a commitment and practice that renews us and the culture as it fosters social justice, compassion and transformation.

Making Your Creative Dreams Real: A Plan for Procrastinators, Perfectionists, Busy People, and People Who Would Really Rather Sleep All Day?: SARK: How does one achieve a creative dream that feels impossible? SARK answers this question through her helping people tackle internal barriers (e.g. critics) and external realities (i.e. lack of time or money). I probably recommend this book more often than the others on this list. SARK has a gift for helping people overcome obstacles to creating. MYCR offers readers practical guidance about the stages of dream development (i.e. egg, hatched, infant or baby, toddler, child, adolescent, adult). Once you figure what stage your dream is in then you can find exercises to figure out what your dream needs in order to sustain itself. Bursting with color and confidence, this book is meant to awaken the dreamer (and doer) inside of us.

Coaching the Artist Within: Advices for Writers, Actors, Visual Artists & Musicians from America’s Foremost Creativity Coach, Eric Maisel: I’m convinced that by writing this superb book, Maisel wants to put himself and other creativity coaches out of business. He reveals useful techniques that teach us how to be aware of the habits of mind that we use not to create as well as to create. Maisel draws on vignettes from a diversity of clients to amplify the lessons presented. You learn how to be your own coach in a mindful and kind way.

The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use it For Life, A Practical Guide, Twyla Tharp: This understated but powerful book should have gotten much more notice. Twyla Tharp, world famous choreographer, doesn’t believe that creativity is a gift from the heavens bestowed only on a chosen few. Unlike many creativity books, The Creative Habit is intellectual, incisive and doesn’t coddle. There’s no mention of affirmations or positive self-talk in this book. What’s offered up are more than thirty unique exercises for jumpstarting one’s imaginative musings.

On Becoming an Artist: Reinventing Yourself through Mindful Creativity, Ellen J. Langer: I love books that blend neuroscience, mindfulness and creativity because they give us a new window for understanding how to break longstanding habits of mind. Langer presents psychological research that demonstrates how people typically undervalue their perceptions of themselves and the world around them–mindlessly. Mindless living affects our creative lives negatively. Mindlessness when creating might show up as tyrannical self criticism and evaluation, overreliance on social comparisons, and lack of interest in ambiguity. She argues for a mindful approach to creative endeavors that allows us to notice how our choices can arise from the context of our present moment(as opposed to following a mindless automatic script).

The Creating Brain: The Neuroscience of Genius, Nancy Andreasen. This book helps us understand how the brain exercises everyday creative acts (i.e. the ability to have a conversation) and what possibly contributes to off the chart creativity (e.g. the lives of Martha Graham, Thomas Edison, Toni Morrison etc). Andreasean’s writing makes neuroscience accessible for a lay audience.

The Twelve Secrets of Highly Creative Women: A Portable Mentor, Gail McMeekin: If an author puts the word secret in a title, it immediately makes me want to read it. This book doesn’t disappoint as it delivers up the life histories of women who have found ways to nurture and sustain their creativity. This book’s emphasis on finding role models, mentors and allies drives home the point that we need support to accomplish our creative dreams.

An Alchemy of Mind: The Marvel and Mystery of the Brain, Diane Ackerman: Although not a book solely about creativity, Ackerman’s chapter on creativity, “Creating Minds”, is worth several other fluffy books on the subject. She writes with a poet’s sensibility and a journalist’s precision about our amazing gray matter.

Eat Pray Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia, Elizabeth Gilbert: I have taught this book in my undergraduate course ‘Women and Creativity’ for the past few years. I schedule the book to be read during a section of the class I call ‘creativity as life process’ which focuses on creativity as life-making. This book offers many lessons about the power of creative problem-solving, the importance of curiosity and exploration and using the self as a resource for understanding life. Gilbert produces a product—which is the memoir, but it is how she makes a life that is real magic.

The Creativity Book: A Year’s Worth of Inspiration and Guidance, Eric Maisel: This is a go-to resource when you’re out of ideas and bored with your current project. It presents a doable, one year plan for waking up your creative muses.

Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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