The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘Matthew Fox

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

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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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