creativity · writing

Clearing The Cobwebs

Whenever I am away from my writing for a while, I find that it’s hard to return to fictional writing when I’m back at work. Before I’m able to dive back into fiction, I am usually drawn to writing a whole bunch of blog posts. I call this clearing the cobwebs, and I think it’s an important part of my writing process.

Sometimes, it’s been a few days or weeks since I’ve been able to sit down and write, the creative juices aren’t exactly flowing. And usually after that much time away, my thoughts are racing and crisscrossing and bumping into each other – to the point where I have to allow myself to focus on writing personal blog posts. Once I’ve gotten my multitude of thoughts somewhat formulated on the blank screen – only then can I turn to fiction and be both creative and productive.

I often wonder if this is true for other creators. Maybe painters who’ve been away for a while need to do some pencil sketches before they can run back to their easel. Maybe musicians need to jam a little, freestyle, before trying to compose after some time away. It could be true for others; it’s definitely true for me.

My instinct has been to chastise myself for this in the past. “You finally have time to write!  You should be writing the great American novel, not just scribbling about your trip to the beach and a little free library!” These past few weeks, though, I haven’t been beating myself up at all. I’ve accepted that this is part of my process, and I’ve enjoyed it. I think I’m able to enjoy this more because I’m not feeling as pressed for time as I usually am. When I look ahead, I know I will have time to write, even after I return to work in late August. I have a tentative plan, and some flexibility, and some faith.

With my new schedule and the intentions I’ve set, I’m hoping I’ll never be away from writing for too long or too often again. But I know it will happen from time to time, and I’m happy to have this playful, peaceful space where I can come to clear the cobwebs.

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books + reading · creativity · podcasts · thought of the day · writing

Thoughts For Today #mind

Image result for elizabeth gilbert quotesRecently I’ve rediscovered Elizabeth Gilbert’s podcast, Magic Lessons, with which she coaches budding creative souls and helps them to take steps toward their artistic goals.

It is lovely.  I listened to the first season when it dropped in 2015, but I’ve been lazy about exploring the second season, which came out last year.  Now, I am savoring it, and am about halfway through the season.  I’ve found many takeaways so far.

Takeaway # 1: None of this was wasted.

In the first episode of Season 2, Liz talks to a woman named Jo who aspires to be a comedy writer, but has spent years doing social work and getting her PhD.  Their conversation is really fun and entertaining, and I got a lot out of it.

Jo sounds like she is in her thirties or forties.  She’s established in a career, and now is realizing that she wants to be a comedy writer.  She is thinking to herself – as I often think to myself – did I do it all wrong?  Did I waste all this time?

Elizabeth Gilbert, in her gentle, inspiring way, says no.  She says that none of this was wasted.  And when I’m feeling clearheaded and optimistic, I agree.  Every step I’ve taken has brought me to the place I am now.  It was not a waste to become a therapist.  It was not a waste to work with the people I’ve worked with for the past six years.  It’s all part of who I am now, and what I have to offer.

Takeaway # 2: You have to do the work that makes you come alive.

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When people do the work that they are supposed to be doing, they are living in service to the world.

My job is pretty great.  I like it, and I’m good at it.  But lately – I don’t feel like it makes me come alive.  If I want to come alive, I have to do it someplace other than my day job these days.

Liz Gilbert talks about how the people who are most effective at their work are people who are doing what makes them come alive.  And I agree.  I am the MOST effective when I am in the flow – when I’m in a groove and feeling awesome.  There are skill sets, yes, and when I’m not feeling alive, I fall back on my skill set and I’m still a pretty great social worker.

But it takes effort.  And it’s never as powerful as when I have purpose, clarity of values, and flow.

Takeaway # 3: Life is a verb and people are always telling us to be nouns.  

I loved this.  Liz had a conversation with a poet named Mark Nepo, and he talked about the things we say to kids.  “You like digging in the dirt.  You should be a gardener.”  “You’re good at singing.  You should be a singer.”  Life is about DOING THINGS – it’s all about verbs.  And yet, we try to assign nouns to people.

That’s what trips me up currently.  I feel really drawn to writing, but I’m not a full-time writer.  SO WHAT?  Writing is a verb.  Just do it.

Takeaway # 4:  This awesome poem.

I am not that into poetry.  I never have been.

If I tried really hard, I think I could come up with a few poems that I love.  Mary Oliver’s Why I Wake Up.  Wendell Berry’s The Peace Of Wild Things.

I wish I was more into poetry.  Because I know others who find such spirituality and beauty in poetry.  But for me?  Unless someone specifically references a poem, shows it to me, explains to me what it means on a personal level – it all goes way over my head.

This all came up recently because Liz Gilbert talks about a poem that I discovered I really like.  It’s called “A Brief For The Defense,” and it’s by Jack Gilbert.

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It’s about (I think?) pursuing gladness in the midst of life’s ugliness and harsh realities.  Liz references it when trying to convince someone to pursue their art simply because it brings them joy and might bring others joy, too.

I’ll close with another Liz Gilbert quote, because I love every word she writes in her book Big Magic:

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balance · books + reading · creativity · reading

What I Learned From Big Magic #takeaways #mind #soul

The streak of all my famous authors coming out with new books continues!  I picked up Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert from the library on the Tuesday it came out.  (All of these books have been coming out on Tuesdays; I did some googling and it seems like this is a thing, new releases coming out on Tuesdays, though I couldn’t identify the reason why.)24453082

I finished Big Magic on October 5.  I really enjoyed the format; Liz Gilbert divided the book into six sections, and each section is divided into several short pieces.  It reminds me of the format of Eat Pray Love: 108 stories, divided into three sections.  Some of the stories were longer; some were shorter.  And they were all inextricably connected.  I thought Eat Pray Love had a really good flow to it, and I think Big Magic does, too.  Here are my takeaways!

  • What happens to our work after we create is not our responsibility and is not within our power.  If you want to create, you create.  That doesn’t mean you’re going to achieve creative success.  It doesn’t mean you’re going to make a living as an artist.  As Gilbert says in Big Magic, “The patron goddess of creative success sometimes rewards charlatans and ignores the gifted.”  Understanding that the reaction to your work is not under your control and is, frankly, none of your business is, Gilbert says, the only sane way to create.  For me, I get caught up in what other people will say about what I’ve written.  Gilbert has some wonderful words of wisdom for dealing with haters.  (See below.)Quotes-From-Elizabeth-Gilbert-Big-Magic 7
  • Sneak off and have an affair with your creative self.  Gilbert playfully writes about dressing up in your best clothes and sneaking off to have an affair, pointing out that when someone’s having an affair, they never give the excuses like “I don’t have time” or “I’ll do it tomorrow.”  They find stolen moments to devote to their affair against all reason and rhyme.

I try to remember that my writing wants the best of me.  My writing wants me to bring my best self to the page.  My writing wants me when I’m feeling witty and graceful and powerful.  It also wants me when I’m feeling vulnerable and sensitive and weak, of course, but I like the idea of getting ready for writing as if I’m going on a hot date.  Get excited!  Put on your best sweatpants.  Because this writing thing is going to be so much fun.

  • If you can’t quit, you’ll have to keep going.  Gilbert tells a story, relayed from a relative, about the writer Richard Ford.

Ford was conversing at a speaking engagement with an aspiring writer who        was  struggling to make his living with his craft.  The writer asked Ford for advice, explaining that all anyone ever tells him is to do is persevere.  Ford tells him to quit – because writing is killing him and is making him miserable.  Ford then cheekily tells him that if he spends a few years away from writing and finds nothing else that inspires him the same way that writing does – well, then, he’ll have no choice but to persevere.

I sometimes fight off the negative self-talk themes of not good enough and it’s too late.  If I was meant to find creative success via writing, shouldn’t I have found it already?  I’m 32 years old.

Well, maybe I should have.  Maybe I will someday.  Or maybe I never will.  But if I can’t find any other creative outlet that brings me the same joy and fulfillment that writing does – well, I’ll just have to keep on writing.

  • Only when we are at our most playful can divinity get serious with us.  I do a lot of play therapy at my job, so I have a bulletin board full of quotations about the importance of play in my office.  “Play is serious work.”  “It’s a happy talent to know how to play.”  “Play turns out to be so stunningly essential to childhood that it’s like love, sunshine, and broccoli, all juiced together.”  Gilbert argues that our creative energy and ideas come from divine sources, and that we can only open the channel tQuotes-From-Elizabeth-Gilbert-Big-Magic4o our divinity when we are being playful and not taking ourselves so damn seriously.  
  • Value authenticity over originality.  I often have this argument with myself – why are you writing?  All the most wonderful, unique, and original stories and books have already been written.  But anyone who is writing straight from the heart and being truly authentic is adding something original to the world.  (So, don’t try to be original.  Just try to be you.  You are original.)
  • Write for you.  You need to write for YOU – not for money or for popularity or for other people.  Gilbert talks about writing Eat Pray Love for herself – it was a book she felt she needed to write.  And it ended up helping a lot of people in the world who related to her personal and spiritual struggles.  But – I really believe this is true – if you write something TRYING TO HELP OTHERS, it probably won’t help.  It will probably come across as condescending or distant or preachy or inauthentic.  However, if you write from the heart anfullsizerenderd honestly with honesty and you write what you need to write, you may find that your words accidentally end up helping others in strange and mysterious ways.
  • Creativity doesn’t have to be sacred.  If we try to make everything perfect, we end up never creating anything.  Gilbert argues that our creative expression must be of the utmost importance (if we are to live artistically) and it must be completely unimportant (if we are to live sanely).  “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” Voltaire said.  Just keep on going and get things done.