The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘inner critics

Hi creative peeps,

This is a reminder that I’ll be on Facebook Live tomorrow answering YOUR questions about writing, creativity, how to outmaneuver your inner critics and much MORE. I’ll specifically be offering tips on how to make the last quarter of the year your best. You can ask me ANYTHING!  I can’t wait to see you there. Just go to my Facebook page over on the bottom right on this page at 6:30 EST.

See my post here for a few more details about where this idea came from and how important the last quarter of the year is.





Hi creative peeps,

We are deep into the last quarter of the year. Wow! It seems like it was just June and I was packing for the beach. A few days ago, I sat down and checked on where I was with my writing goals and creative projects and where I wanted to be by the end of the year. There are several goals that I could see would be met by the end of the year. And, there are a few goals that seem far from their end-of-the year target. I am both daunted and excited about this gap between where I wanted to be in October and where I am. But, there’s also many things that are going extremely well that I couldn’t have predicted in January. And, making that list clarified areas I need to take action in.

You might be in the same situation—wondering how you will make good on some of those plans and promises you made to yourself during the first quarter of the year.

You might be feeling that some of your most important goals are slipping away from you as you look at the calendar and see the end of the year fast approaching. (I don’t think anyone in the U.S. gets much of anything done after Dec 18).

It’s not too late to connect with what you most wanted to accomplish this year with your creative work.

I’ve found a perfect opportunity for me to serve you. I decided to learn Facebook Live so that we could connect about how you can make the last quarter of the year the best!

If you’ve never done Facebook Live it is EASY. You will just go to my Facebook page (on this page, you’ll see the icon to the right toward the bottom of the page—Michele T Berger) at the designated time and I will appear in real time. You can type in questions (please, or else I will just be talking to myself) and I’ll answer them live. Everyone on the page at that time can follow our conversation and join in. It will be FUN!

Next Sunday, Oct 30th at 6:30 pm (EST), I will be on Facebook Live answering YOUR questions.

You can ask me anything about writing, the creative process, etc. I mean ANYTHING. You know I love to provide coaching on how to make more time for your creative life, writer’s block, dealing with inner critics, fear, procrastination, perfectionism, etc., how to submit your work for publication more frequently, etc.

I’ll also share a few tips and resources that are helping me stay on track so I can reach the goals I outlined for myself.

I’d love to see you there. Feel free to go over and ‘like’ my Facebook page now. I’ll also provide reminders about the Facebook Live event during the week.

Mark the date in your calendar—it will be like a free coaching session!

Facebook LIVE: Next Sunday, Oct 30th at 6:30 pm (EST)! I’ll stay on about a half hour, or until there aren’t any more questions.

Affirmations-366Days#107: I remind myself that feeling unworthy doesn’t help my writing. I keep showing up to the page, no matter what my inner critic says.

For new readers, here’s why I’m committing to writing affirmations, about the creative process, during the next 366 days.

Affirmations-366Days#3-I celebrate every writing accomplishment, no matter how small.


This affirmation is inspired by a workshop that I attended, where I discovered the power of a making a ‘writing accomplishments’ list.

I remember anxiety creeping over me in Marjorie Hudson’s ‘Strategies for the Writing Life’ workshop when she cheerfully asked the group to name and claim our writing ‘accomplishments’ so far. People immediately raised their hands and asked questions like: Do you mean publication credits? How far back can we start our list? Does a personalized rejection letter count? What if I can’t think of anything?


She calmly explained that we could count anything and everything that has happened in our writing lives that we believe strengthened or encouraged us. This could include the time our teacher in the third grade chose to read our essay in front of the class to submitting an op-ed to getting a poem published in a literary journal. Our list could include helpful feedback we received from an editor or agent (even if they passed on the book), or reassuring words from a published writer. Most of us undertook the task with a kind of grim determination. And, I felt that I was bound to have a short and uninteresting list.

After about ten minutes, she asked us to read from our lists. The mood in the room softened as people shared. As it turns out until we were asked to reflect on the shape of our writing lives, most of us had either forgotten or discounted many of the positive things that had shown up. Several people did mention publication as an aspect of their accomplishments, but much of it included specific moments of encouragement expressed by peers, teachers and other published writers. Often words of encouragement allowed us to keep going in the face of high self-doubt and flat out fear. We also celebrated the fact that many of us had completed various types of writing projects and with some additional strategic effort, some might eventually find their way into publication. My list included the over 50 journals I have amassed, over my life, that are stuffed with ideas, dream fragments, stories, and chapters of novels. Hearing the lists of the other writers uplifted and inspired me.

Since that workshop in the spring of 2011, I have often gone back to the list in my notebook as well as the longer ‘accomplishments’ list that I keep on my computer. Some of the writers in that workshop posted their list in their writing space for daily inspiration.

It is easy to forget or minimize the ways in which the writing life is sustained. A list is evidence of one’s deep intentions that we can turn toward during moments of skepticism about our progress.

The beginning of the year is a great time to start a writing accomplishments list, if you don’t have one. Or, you can review and wrap up your list from 2015. Remember to be generous in thinking about what counts!



Affirmations-366Days#2: I claim my creative gifts even in the face of envy, doubt and fatigue.

For new readers, here’s why I’m committing to writing affirmations during the next 366 days.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flailing is not failing.

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


You never know where your writing is going to take you. In July, Mark Schultz, an editor at The Chapel Hill News reached out to me after reading a Facebook post about my feelings on the 15th anniversary of my mother’s death. He knew me from some previous op-eds that I wrote. He asked to meet with me to discuss my possible interest in doing a trial run as one of the monthly columnists for the ‘My View’ section.  I couldn’t believe my eyes! I had harbored a secret desire to write columns for years.

Of course, an inner critic immediately began shouting at me not to even consider this new endeavor as I knew little about writing a column. It didn’t want me to appear foolish. I dutifully listened to its complaints, fears and concerns and then assigned it a new job– to become a docent in training for the all of the 19 Smithsonian museums—a job that can use a critic with a great memory and perfectionistic tendencies. After I disposed of that critic I set up an appointment with Mark. We met, in September, and he talked about the nature of the column, the current writers who wrote for it (all fascinating folks), and that he was looking for writers with unique points of view that could write about local and national topics in a fresh way. I said yes to the trial run. If I didn’t like the work, or he didn’t like my writing, no permanent damage would result and I’d have at least gotten a chance to work outside my comfort zone.  I got to work first by reading the newspaper’s columnists, then I read some syndicated columnists and proceeded to write many bad drafts. The critic was right, I didn’t know much about column writing and I often worried about whether I would look foolish. But, I just kept writing through these fears; they weren’t immobilizing. I finally hit on a topic that felt deeply personal and that I hoped would touch other people. My first column appeared yesterday and I can’t wait to write more.


 My View: 

The ‘Queen’ grows up

In third grade, kids dubbed me “queen of the class.” I took my intelligence for granted. I could skip school for weeks and still produce 100s.

By the end of elementary school, however, school became synonymous with bullies and boredom. I spent a lot of time cutting classes and instead reading in the public library across the street from my house.

In sixth grade I was just three days shy of being held back due to truancy. Arrogant and undisciplined aptly described me at 16. Everything caught up with me one day when my high school guidance counselor pronounced, “Michele has to leave. She’s expelled.”

The shock on my mother’s face, sitting next to me, revealed she didn’t know how bad things had gotten at school. And, neither did I. I knew I wasn’t the counselor’s favorite, but I never saw this coming.

My mother was always my biggest champion. One of my favorite memories is of her leaning out our third-floor window waving and shouting down to neighbors and passersby about my third-grade spelling commendations. That day, in the office, her gaze pierced me with an unstated question: How could her daughter, a straight A student, with a 12th grade reading score since the fifth grade, now be asked to leave the prestigious Bronx High School of Science?

As an accomplished professor now, no one would ever guess my embarrassing high school failure. Everyone tends to think successful people have always been that way. I was reminded of this tendency when listening to Professor Sir John Gurdon, the recent Nobel Prize winner for Medicine, share that his high school teacher thought science was being “wasted on him.” His teacher thought he showed no talent for science and discouraged him from pursuing it.

Wake-up calls

When mentoring students who are having trouble, I “out” myself about having to do a year over. It’s important for them to know that experts (as in the case of Professor Sir John Gurdon’s high school teacher) can be wrong and that your past doesn’t have to determine your future (as in my case). Sometimes the bumps in the road you face are also wake-up calls.

I arrived at high school, a smart kid with lots of other smart kids. Poor study skills and seven demanding classes later, by sophomore year, I struggled. The biggest challenge wasn’t the work but culture shock! Overnight my primarily black and Latino world of shared cultural norms changed. I hadn’t been a minority in public school since second grade when I lived in New Jersey.

Attending a predominantly white high school meant adjusting to different kinds of students. This alone would have been manageable. The obstacle was that race operated in ways I’d never seen before. How do you deal with a white physics teacher that openly said black students weren’t capable of learning physics? Or that some white and Asian students took their frustration out on some black students because they were routinely beat up, on the way to the subway, by kids from the male (and majority black) vocational neighborhood high school next door? I didn’t have the emotional language to describe the complexity of how racial identity mattered in big and small ways.

By the end of junior year my mother, struggling with depression, was slowly starving and drinking herself to death. I called 911 and had her hospitalized. I was left alone to take care of my sister and developmentally disabled brother for the summer. Not fun. But, by the beginning of my senior year, I was prepared to start anew, so I felt completely blindsided by my guidance counselor’s decision.

Riding the subway with my mother after that difficult conversation, my life options flashed before me. I briefly considered dropping out – how would I ever face my friends who would graduate on time? If I was too embarrassed, to finish school, though, I saw myself ending up bitter, working full time as a department store cashier, helping wealthy women choose clothing to wear on cruise ships. In that scenario, I would essentially remain at my current part time job at Lord and Taylor’s – ad infinitum. It didn’t matter that my mom’s illness and alcoholism contributed to my truancy. It dawned on me then that “being smart” wasn’t good enough. I had to finish somewhere. Smart, poor black girls, who mess up, rarely get a second chance.

Bullies, boredom, prejudiced counselors and family illness aside, I was the one on the spot. I hung on to the one useful thing from that awful meeting – a suggestion that I attend a new magnet school, not as prestigious as the one I was leaving, but 10 times better than my neighborhood school.

Ultimately, successful people recognize potent opportunities and develop qualities of resiliency and tenacity. I did a year over, married my wits to discipline, humbly grew a bigger vision, regained my mother’s confidence, earned my high school diploma and then didn’t stop until I earned a PhD.

(column appeared on Sunday, December 16:

Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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