The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘songwriting

I’m winding down from a terrific and transformative week co-leading a workshop called ‘Opening the Writer’s Heart’ with the amazing Marjorie Hudson. We integrated yoga, mindfulness, breath work and prompt writing.

We were at the Table Rock Writers Workshop in the mountains. It’s held at the Wildacres Retreat Center. It’s a special place that encourages generosity of spirit, conviviality, and community. Loved connecting with our workshop participants, the many writers and creatives in attendance and the faculty. Gratitude to organizers Georgann Eubanks and Donna Campbell for saying yes to our proposal.

I’ve been to a number of writing retreats and residencies and this one is incredibly special and I totally understand why it is both beloved and kind of a secret!

The Prep

Showing off our blue toes as we get in the car to drive up to TR. We didn’t even plan on having the same color!

Marjorie teased me about how much stuff I was taking, but I reminded her that I was taking workshop materials, my own work, books to sell, clothes (didn’t know how cold it was going to be–turns out it wasn’t cold at all), and snacks!

Great stop in Little Switzerland for a bite to eat on the way up to Table Rock. I told Marjorie, I’d have to restrain myself if I went into the used book store. I have a ‘situation’ at home with books piling up behind the door in my office. It’s a fantastic bookstore though!

What Makes Table Rock Special?

I had heard about Table Rock for years, but knew little about before Marjorie and I pitched our workshop. It is a week-long retreat that many writers attend year after year. When we arrived everyone made us feel welcome and told us how much we would love the experience. People were pretty emphatic that we would love TR. I nodded, smiled and thought, OK, people are really into Table Rock. Not that I didn’t believe them, but I needed to just allow the experience to unfold. After just a few hours there, I felt a shift and by the end of the first full day, I knew what everyone was talking about!

Here are some things that struck me about Table Rock:

-The workshops are kept small, both in class size (no more than 12 people; we had 6 participants) and overall number of people. The size leads to an intimacy over meals and gatherings. It also contributes to community-building.

The wonderful dining hall where connections deepened over meals. And, what a gift to not have to cook for a week!

-there’s a daily social hour and people hang out and really get to know each other

-the faculty have been teaching there for many many years. These are people working at the top of their craft and teaching at an extraordinarily high level. Participants raved about their instructors, and many participants come back and take the same workshop with their favorite instructor. That’s high praise! They also enjoyed experiencing new teachers (such as myself and Marjorie). We were the new kids on the block. The faculty made us feel so welcomed (as did everyone)! They also shared tips about the writing life and their own journeys. We were so honored to be part of this group and add our own special sauce, so to speak. One of participants, Cyndy gave us the nickname M-squared!

This year’s Table Rock faculty (left to right): Philip Shabazz, Joseph Bathanti, Abigail DeWitt, me, Judy Goldman. Back row: John Claude Bemis, Dawn Shamp (editor in residence), Marjorie Hudson (photo credit: Judy Goldman)

-The Table Rock ethic is to support each other’s writing and to recognize we have a lot to learn from everyone in the room, not just faculty. It’s not about competition. Established writers and newbies get to mix it up at TR. People are interested in who you are, not just what (or where) you have published. People are encouraged to listen deeply to each other.

-Participants get to read their work and so do faculty. Folks in the audience are attentive and supportive.

-It’s a beautiful space that both inspires and restores.

A wonderful space to read, write and enjoy the natural beauty.

-It’s a creative hub. Not only are fiction, poetry and memoir writers at Table Rock, there are also a dozen or so songwriters attending their own workshop. Both groups get to hang out, cross-pollinate and the songwriters also perform for the community on Thursday eve.

A rocking concert by performers who had written and scored songs just that week!

Our Workshop!

Our participants were fabulous! They were a mix of emerging and experienced writers. All had prior yoga experience (though that was not a requirement). All opened their hearts to each other. We were blown away by the quality of their writing and how deep they went with the prompts we offered.

The table was set! The space we taught in was spacious and we had plenty of room for yoga. Flowers from Marjorie’s garden adorn our table.

Our sessions were from 9am-12pm and we opened with yoga and gentle movement, a brief meditation and then launched into writing exercises (people would write anywhere from 5-15 minutes). Folks would read aloud from what they wrote and the group would note what struck us and where they could go next if they wanted to develop the piece. Sometimes, Marjorie and I would read selections aloud from poetry or a novel in preparation for a prompt. We’d provide another prompt, take a stretch break midway through, do another exercise, read aloud some more and offer homework to continue with the prompt. They were always free to scrap the prompt and write something else.

Our themes for opening the writer’s heart and qualities you need on the writer’s path included:

-practicing courage

-practicing connection

-practicing gratitude

-practicing silence

We also allocated some time for ‘instant coaching’ about the writing and publishing life.

A prompt for you!

We spent time talking about what kinds of things open the heart (e.g. courage and dealing with fear) and what closes it (e.g. lies, secrets). This is one of the prompts I offered:

“I didn’t tell the truth for the first forty years of my life. I thought that reason I lied was that I thought I was protecting other people, but the truth is, it was to cover my own behind. I lied to my kids to get them to do what I needed them to do. I lied to my friends to get whatever it was that I needed. I lied to myself but I would never have known they were lies…This is what I realize: Being able to tell the truth makes being able to write the truth easier. And writing the truth is the beginning of healing the heart.” (emphasis in original) —
–Nancy Aronie

-Write about a lie you have told (5 minutes)

Then for homework, I suggested the following:

“Take a situation or topic or an event that you haven’t talked about honestly yet; something that is still stuck in your throat, like a tiny fishbone, small enough not to choke you to death but big enough to let you know it’s still there.

Work on it in small amounts. Truth is all you need to write. No gorgeous phrases, no sparkling syntax, just truth. Write until you’ve written the whole story.” Nancy Aronie

Write for 30 minutes.

Or: write about a major lie told to you

Our group went deep with this prompt! This prompt is adapted from Nancy Aronie’s Writing from The Heart: Tapping the Power of Your Inner Voice (a writing book that has a similar feel to Bird by Bird; also very funny and very poignant; Nancy Aronie came to writing late in life and I really identify with her journey.)

Our workshop participants doing our last exercise where we invite them to dream big about their writing life. They name their accomplishments, writing skills they want to strengthen during the coming year, and identify allies and mysterious sources of support. It involves colorful post-it notes!


Love this picture of Marjorie practicing Lion’s Pose, a great refresher for the face and tension reliever. (photo credit Donna Campbell)

We provided participants with easy, sustainable exercises to support their back, shoulders and hands during the labor of writing. Check out these poses for hands and wrists:

The Last Day

A quick pic with faculty member John Claude Bemis before we get down to selling our books!


Books, books and more books! Faculty and participants get to sell books on the last day. Humbled that my Reenu-You novella was on the table next to so many authors that I admire.

Overall, a very soul-refreshing adventure. I love teaching with Marjorie. And, because we had a week to teach the material (unlike our previous weekend teaching gigs), there was more spaciousness built into the experience. I was also able to stay on my own writing schedule!

And, of course I couldn’t leave with out some books! Can’t wait to dive into these books by the faculty!

I don’t know if we will get the chance again to teach at Table Rock due to schedules, etc. I hope so! I can also see myself taking a class at TR, too. Table Rock definitely made an impression on me.

Doesn’t this look like a really happy face? Taken on the last day of the workshop by the fantastic Donna Campbell.

Check out more about them and their schedule here.









Although I am interested in all facets of creativity and all types of artists, many of my interviews for this blog are with writers. I’m breaking out of that trend by interviewing a friend who is an up and coming musician and childhood friend. I met Kimani through his big sister, Adhana. Adhana and I became friends in the seventh grade. Kimani was like my little brother–annoying, funny, attention seeking and lovable. I particularly liked to tease him by rhyming his name with ‘Del Monte’, and ‘Asti Spumante’. Adhana and I were close friends through high school and have remained in contact off and on for many decades. The magic of Facebook put me back in touch with her and later when I got a friend request from someone named ‘Kimani Star’, I shot back an email and asked–‘How do we know each other?’ I discovered that Kimani had changed his last name to ‘Star’. Well, needless to say, Kimani’s all grown up now! I was delighted to find out that he pursued his passion and is a musician. Kimani’s got a unique sound and perspective and I’m happy that I get to introduce him here on ‘The Practice of Creativity’.




Tell us a story of how you came to music and became a professional musician.

In high school I just started listening to lots of rock bands and decided that I liked music so much that I wanted to play. That led to me trying to teach myself guitar and write lyrics. Years later I decided to start singing and years after that I busked on the train which helped me develop as s singer, writer and performer. Those experiences led to me getting local gigs and promoting my own shows.

What’s your most recent song and how did you get the idea for it?

I can’t say I ever have one song I’m working on. I usually have a bunch I’m working on at any given time. Currently, I’m recording a song called ‘Touch the Sky’ about being guided by God. I wrote it with the idea of sharing with people how close God really is to all of us.

What’s your process like when you’re working on a series of songs?

My process of songwriting starts with harmonic structure that I build out of a melody. And, out of the melody I build some kind of hook and lyrics. Can’t say I ever worked on a series of songs per say, I just play my guitar and if I hear something I like I work on it.

How do you stay inspired?kimani

I find staying inspired pretty easy: watching the news, daydreaming, thinking about the past, talking with people, etc. I’m always inspired. I often get inspired by listening to music.Not a big surprise I guess.

What’s on your bookshelf, next to your bed? What are you reading and listening to right now?

I’ve been listening to this audio book called The 48 Laws of Power about how control and manipulation is a part of everyday human life. Music wise, I’m listening to a lot of Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, Curtis Mayfield, Santana, and Seal as of late. But I love all music. If it’s good I’ll give it a chance.

What’s your best tip about creativity that you’d like to share?

My best tip about creativity is to learn as much as you can about your craft, whatever it is. Become fans of the greats in your field and practice. Also realize you are an artist not an athlete. All artistic scenes can become very competitive. The arts are filled with narcissistic people who want to tear others down. Stay focused on your craft and love what you do. I say avoid artistic scenes all together and just work on your stuff. Develop strong techniques, but also balance it out with feeling. Being an artist, I believe, means inhabiting that middle ground between the heart and the head. If you have too much of one and not enough of the other it’s not gonna be good. Some people say art is just feeling or technique, but I say it’s the marriage of the two. Finding the middle ground is the key.

Kimani Star is a singer and songwriter from the Bronx, New York. He also plays guitar, bass, keys and harmonica. His music is a combination of funk, rock, reggae, blues, soul and folk. He lives in Germany.

Check out his music:

Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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