Category Archives: Writing
So, I know I’ve been pretty absent around her for the past few weeks. A lot has happened. I’ve sold a couple of small paintings, had strep throat, met a rattlesnake on a hike, and turned 24. My domain even expired while I wasn’t looking! I haven’t been online much at all, and I’m actually ok with that. Sometimes we need to unplug.
Most of the reason I’ve been gone is because I’ve been in a serious creative funk lately. I’ve started a few new paintings but I’ve run into some walls with both of them. Nothing a little modeling paste and rethinking can’t fix, but walls nonetheless. I haven’t worked on my novel much, I haven’t been very active on Etsy, and my studio is such a disaster that I can barely fit in there.
I figured I could either hide behind some fluffy posts or just take a break. I chose the latter, because I knew I’d be in the mood to post again soon.
So, about creative funks. I don’t like to call them “blocks” because it sounds like something outside of ourselves that’s causing us to avoid creating, but it’s really not. Nothing that has happened over the last few months could have inevitably blocked me, but a funk, now that feels more like the sticky, mucky, internal mess that this really is. I picture it as getting stuck in molasses or tar; the gunk that clogs up our creative channels if we don’t clear it out in time. That gunk will always come, but it can either get stuck or pass through fairly painlessly.
In the past few months, I’ve uncovered and run into rejection, shock, the possibility of major change, shame, anxiety, guilt, regret, and all kinds of stuff that loves to gunk up our creativity like a giant hairball in a drain. This all came on fairly quickly and I didn’t really allow myself the time or means to move it out before it congealed. I avoided talking or thinking about it and instead read a bunch of (amazing) books, busied myself with household chores (my apartment is still a mess somehow), organized my ever-growing Pinterest boards so I can access my inspiration easier, and taking lots of walks. I knew that funk was there, but I wasn’t ready to deal with it. I’d let myself think about it in passing moments, tiny bites at a time because the whole elephant just seemed like too much.
I haven’t nailed down a surefire way to get out of these creative funks, but I do know that our spirits and therefore creativity are an ecosystem as delicate and complex as any rainforest, and all the little elements need to be there and working together in order for the whole to function properly. The extinction of one insect, the absence of one seemingly trivial ritual can potentially throw the whole system out of whack. Life is far too messy to balance properly, but we can make sure that the necessary things get taken care of. Creativity is a delicate little creature that needs proper care to survive. ”
Real” artists aren’t exempt from this. All creators struggle to keep their systems balanced, though some may have themselves figured out more than others. So, my solution for my creative funk is to do what I can to restore the environment in which my creativity can thrive. This means different things for different people, but for me it means making space for “creative playtime”, reading inspirational things like Laura Hollick’s blog or The Artist’s Way, and making sure to connect with myself by journaling and daydreaming instead of filling every free second with other reading or Minesweeper.
This morning, I’m planning to take myself shopping for art supplies with the rest of my birthday money and then having some creative playtime before I go to work. The thought of artmaking actually terrifies me at the moment, but I know that bribing myself with some new toys from the art supply store will coax me out of my shell. Whatever happens in the studio today will be ok, even if I completely ruin whatever I’m working on, make something wonderful, discover that I want to go in a completely different direction, bawl my eyes out, whatever. It’s all ok.
People often tell me that they’re not “the creative type”. A lot of those same people tell me how creative I am, as if it were some rare trait that only a few gifted people possess.
Compliments are nice, but I’m here to tell you that creativity is not something you’re born with. There’s no “creative type”. There are people who tend to gravitate towards things like art, dance, theater, writing, and basketweaving. Some people are naturally unafraid to express themselves, while others are more timid. Some people are more visual and emotional and tend to think more creatively without really trying. This really isn’t any different from people who are naturally good at math, or who think analytically, or highly useful people like my husband who can look at any broken do-dad and know how to fix it (I, however, am much better breaking things. Match made in heaven, right?).
We all have a creative streak whether we use it or not. We may not all be inclined to paint or write novels, but everyone is moved by some form of creative expression, and I firmly believe that everyone can become adept at some sort of creative pursuit whether it’s writing operas or creating flower arrangements.
After years of listening to people lament about their perceived lack of creativity and my observations of “creative types”, here are some of the differences I’ve noticed:
- Don’t be afraid to screw up. People who are truly in tune with their creativity aren’t afraid of making lousy stuff. If you’re too afraid of messing up, you’ll never start, and nothing will get made.
- Let your ideas change and evolve as you create. I was talking to my friend the other day, and he told me that he doesn’t like to make art because it never ends up looking the way he pictured it in his head. This is a common complaint. I’ll tell you a secret: I make a lot of art, and it NEVER comes out the way I’d originally imagined it, but sometimes it’s even better. Creativity is not the ability to reach into your brain and pull out your intended creation intact; it’s more about discovering as you create and allowing your work to take on a life of its own. It’s spontaneity.
- Spend some time in La-La land. Though I was a good student, I used to get in trouble for daydreaming a lot in school. I even wrote a poem about it. If you don’t let your imagination wander, you won’t get idea; and if you don’t get ideas, how will you create anything? On the same note, it’s important to let those ideas marinate for awhile before you try to make them real. Yes, some ideas just burst for fully-formed, but that usually only happens in the movies. I recently re-learned this when I got the sudden urge to start working on my novel again. I’d been stalled for month even though I still thought about the story a lot. As the words flowed out during my writing session today, I realized that I hadn’t gotten to know my characters well enough, so no wonder the story wasn’t working! After letting them run wild in my head for a little while, I found out who they were and they were able to take on lives of their own.
I’ve had plenty of creative blocks before, and I’ve found that in each case I wasn’t doing at least one of these things. When I do all three, I find that my creativity flows like a fire hose. Try applying them to your own life. See what happens.
So, do you consider yourself a “creative type”? Do you run into creative snags?
Ok, I’m going to keep this quick because I’m in a mood that I haven’t experienced in quite awhile.
The writing mood.
This happens to me sometimes. I’ll be working on one creative project and then wake up one morning feeling like doing something completely different. This happens with my art and writing. Thought I’m both an artist and a writer, I can’t seem to do both at the same time; I’m always both feet in either one or the other. I’ve made more art in the past couple months than I have in years, but I haven’t touched the novel I’ve been working on off and on for three years. Most of my readers probably have no idea that I’ve even had that project on the back burner. Two weeks ago though, I went to bed with all kinds of art ideas and a plan for the next day’s painting session and woke up with a hankering to work on my book.
That’s what I’ve been doing ever since, nearly every minute that I’m not at work. I’ve been living off watermelon and pb&j because I don’t have the patience to make anything else.
Some creative people have a single, burning patient to which to devote their time. Others, like me, have more than one. Sometimes it’s possible to split their daily activities to include both, but I don’t work that way. I’ve had to learn to go where my creative urge takes me. If I feel like painting, I paint. If I feel like writing, I write.
It’s kind of an unpredictable cycle and it makes it hard to set any long-term goals, like a goal date for finishing the first edit of my manuscript or introducing a new item to my shop or a new series of paintings this summer. I have to ride the waves though, because if I do anything else, the work won’t be as good.
I’m a writer at the moment, but I’m still an artist too. Who knows when the winds will change again. Don’t worry, I’ve still got plenty of art in me!
Trust the urge to create, no matter what that may be.
I’ve wanted to be a lot of things in my life. I’m interested in a lot of things. Even though I’ve always planned on being an artist and a writer, I’ve also seriously considered going into theatrical set design, archaeology, teaching, horse breeding, nutritional counseling, and art therapy.
The other day, Sam and I were sitting at an outdoor table sharing wings and mozzarella sticks, and we started talking about talents and abilities that we each had. It actually started by comparing his super-sensitive taste buds to my ears. Sam can taste things that I can’t, and I have some crazy-sensitive ears. For me, any sort of squeaky, scraping sound practically causes seizures, but I can also hear things in music that Sam can’t. He likes to play songs I’ve never heard to see if I can guess the band (if I’ve heard of the band, I can usually tell). I can’t remember the words of most songs, but I can remember obscure little beats and entire guitar solos. I hear music in a very visual way, if that makes sense. I could probably sculpt or draw the sounds. One of my favorite things to do in junior high was to listen to a song over and over and draw it.
I’ve taken voice and piano lessons and I’ve played with composing, but I’ve never really done much with music. As we ate our lunch that day, Sam asked “Why aren’t you in the music industry?”
I just shrugged. I love music, but I don’t know what I’d do with it. I also love animals and could happily be with them every day, but I don’t know what I’d do with that either.
Sam’s kind of the same way. He’s a man of many talents and he likes to experiment, but like me, he’s has a hard time settling on one career. He’s also dabbled in set design and engineering, but he’s also a web designer and he’s going to school for 3-D animation. He’s draws and he loves film, and he loves creating props for haunted houses. Someday he might open a creature shop and make puppetry-assisted animatronics for haunted houses and movies.
It’s hard to juggle so many interests. One things that I love about art and writing though, is that I can use them to cover all my other interests. I can write about anything, paint anything, learn about anything and let it show up in my creative. Everything I do, see, love, and dream about feeds my art and writing. Even though I’ve checked out plenty of different paths, I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything. Though someday I’d love to go back to music lessons, I’d love to spend more time with animals, and I still think there’s plenty to be explored in my other interests. Those interests are there for a reason. I used to get frustrated that there’s only one of me and that I couldn’t do everything I want to do, but it doesn’t bother me much anymore.
I watch Sam juggle his different interests and ambitions, and I noticed that he doesn’t stress out about it. He doesn’t seem to worry that there isn’t enough time or that he’s doing the wrong thing. He just has a good time with it.
I guess that’s the best thing to do when you feel like your choices and passions are overwhelming. Just have fun with it. Let it feed you.
Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original:
whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before)
you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.
I can’t believe how fast a year can go by. The days are long, but the years are short.
Today, before I take my Christmas tree down, make a pile of dip, and scoot off to a New Year’s Eve party, I’m going to take some quiet time for a special tradition that I started on a whim last year, and hope to continue for years to come.
Since I was a teenager, I’ve enjoyed writing letters to my past and future selves. As kooky as it sounds, it really helps me with perspective, closure, goals, and self-love. You can read my letter to my 13-year-old self here and a self-love letter here. When I was 14, I wrote four letters for my future self to open and certain times: One for the end of ninth grade, one for college or high school graduation (can’t remember which), one for my wedding day, and one for the birth of my first child. That one still lives in a folder in my filing cabinet where my New Year’s letter will live for the next year.
I just read the letter I wrote to myself last year, and it’s amazing to see how far I’ve come. One year ago today, I was under a mountain of stress and beginning to feel the signs of burning out. My poor adrenal glands were pooped, my creative output was nil, and I was completely out of control around food. In fact, I just noticed that on that day, I wore the same jeans that I wear right now. They’re comfy now, but back then they fit like a sausage casing, and a few weeks later I couldn’t button them at all.
I was in a very different place, and I knew from reading that letter that I was reaching out to my future self out of desperation. I clung to the hope that the future held joy rather than the stagnation and depression I experienced. Here’s the last paragraph:
I read The 7 Habits o Highly Effective People and I imagined I met you. I don’t know if it was exactly you, but I hope you’re wiser than me. I hope you’re happier, stronger, and…I don’t want to say “better”, but I can’t think of a more accurate word. I write this because I want to somehow bridge the gap between us. I’m sure there’s quite a trek ahead of me and that you’ll be waiting for me at the other side. I’m still scared.
See you there.
When I leave you today, I’ll write a new letter. Though I have a clear vision of what I hope my life will be like in one year, I know that plans can change in an instant and nothing goes according to plan anyway. I accept whatever changes I make , welcome the opportunities and challenges of the new year, and open my mind to the lessons 2012 holds. I’ll tell my future self where I am now so that then, no matter what happens, I can see how far I’ve come. I hope to grow as much in the coming year as I have this year.
You might think this is a fabulous idea, or you might think I’m a loon. Either way, why not give the letter thing a try? If nothing else, it’s fun. It’s almost like time travel.
I am grateful for the growth and joy I’ve experienced this year and I welcome the challenges and opportunities 2012 has to offer.
Be safe tonight, and have a happy new year!
Every time I fill a journal, I feel like I’m closing a chapter of my life and embarking on a new one, even though nothing in my life changes other than the book in which I write my thoughts. Sometimes it’s crazy to realize that I’ve filled an entire book.
This last journal is a special accomplishment. I’ve never learned and grown as much as I have during the time recorded in my most recent journal. I’ve gone from overweight, depressed, anxious and nearly hopeless to grateful, joyful, conscious, and at peace with my body and life. I’ve reconnected to my creativity and I’m laying the foundation for a career that mirrors who I am.
I always wonder who will end up reading my journals and whether he or she will need the help of a handwriting analyst to do so. Probably my children and grandchildren. They’ll learn more about me than they ever wanted to know. Sometimes I worry about what I’ve written, that it will shame me someday. My journals are intensely personal, and I often cringe when I read my teenage journals; the love drama, disordered eating and thought patterns, over-dramatic musings over things that seem so trivial now.
What can I say. I’m an emotional person. I feel things deeply, and for a long time I didn’t know how to handle those feelings. I thought they’d eat me alive. Every unrequited crush, bad grade, pound gained or bad day felt like the end of the world, like it could swallow me whole.
I’m far from perfect, but I feel like I’m in a good place. I’m far more balanced now than I’ve ever been before, and I feel more alive than I did as a child climbing trees in the backyard. I think I have a healthy sense of perspective, direction for my life and career, a solid foundation for handling emotions and caring for myself, and my self-esteem is better than it has ever been. It’s sad that it took me 23 years to discover my own worth, but not unusual. Everyone hits this point at different times, and some never arrive at all. I may not always be this healthy either, I may have to rediscover this place a few times throughout my life. Now that I know where it is, hopefully it will be easier to find in the future.
I wonder if the word “journal” shares a root with “journey”. That’s what a journal is to me.
I’m sitting in the lobby of the Kimball Art Center right now at one of the café tables where I used to do homework and eat dark Dove chocolate bars during class breaks or sip mandarin orange Tazo tea on cold days. I think of the time I eavesdropped on a group of professors discussing an article on nudity in art and how pompous they sounded. I love eavesdropping.
I remember the ceiling three stories up and how I used to scare myself by looking down from the top floor. Footsteps echo off the concrete walls and no one speaks above a whisper, but somehow this space is as comforting as my own living room. I remember the ache of my tailbone grinding into the floor as I drew crumpled cardboard sculptures and the men in the African totem sculptures, and how amazing I felt when I completed a drawing.
That drawing class. The teacher required a paper pad and clipboard so big I used it as a lean-to to ward off sunburn when we spent the afternoon the sculpture garden drawing the lights. The professor told me I’d produced the best work in the class that day, that my work had “soul”, that mysterious, elusive quality that I didn’t quite understand at the time. He often made us draw the same light switches and doorknobs four times across the page, which I found agonizing. I loved it and hated it at the same time.
Even though I loved being an English major, my art experiences are what I really remember when I think of my college days. My year as an art major awakened me to so much; I’d always been an artist, but I was eighteen and the world of “serious” art was completely foreign to me.
I changed my major because I couldn’t learn art as a science, trading emotion for hard parameters and judgment. I always missed it though. I felt comfortable with English, but for the rest of my college career, I’d visit the building with a sense of longing, feel something ache inside of me as I looked over the student work on the walls or the BFA exhibits. When registration rolled around, I’d flip through the catalog and mourn the classes I’d have no room to take. It’s ironic, because I that first year as an art major, I missed writing so badly, it hurt. I loved English, but something was always missing. I left art behind. I made the mistake of choosing my writer identity over my artist, believing one was more important than the other and not realizing that I need both in large amounts. They’re both me, and I’m not just one or the other. I’m not half and half either, but completely both at the same time. Without them both, I am not me. I wasn’t truly happy, because I let the artist in me starve.
It’s hard to wrap my brain around this; how I am two seemingly different things simultaneously. I tend to think differently in “artist mode” or “writer mode”, but I never produce my best work if I only use one or the other at a time. Lately, I’ve consciously tried to maintain both mindsets, even while painting or writing.
I am simultaneously artist and writer, completely encompassed by both. Though I can’t really comprehend the logic of that, I know that it’s true and it feels right, and I am learning to embody both at all times, in everything I do.
Embody who and what you are, and live authentically.