How showing up too much can thwart your creativity

pinkbloom

The title of this post might sound a little backwards. After all, isn’t showing up regularly — through a daily or almost-daily habit or ritual — key to doing to our creative work?

Absolutely. And that’s not what I’m talking about here.

The showing up I’m referring to has to do with a kind of perfectionistic, I-can’t-afford-to-take-a-day-off mentality which causes us to neglect replenishing our reserves.

There are times when we need to work on showing up. This can be true when we’re building a habit, like exercising or writing or maybe expressing ourselves more to our significant other!

But for some of us (and I definitely include myself here), there’s an “unconscious” kind of showing up that can propel us into the zone of compulsion or addiction.

In other words, it’s not “I choose to show up,” but “I have to show up — in fact, I’m showing up on autopilot without even noticing that I have a choice in the matter.”

What this perfectionistic kind of showing up has looked like for me:

* Never taking a day off from work, not because I didn’t need to take a day off, but because it didn’t occur to me that I could, unless there was an emergency or I was deathly ill

* Always responding to calls, emails and other requests for time very quickly

* Talking to friends or family members who called when my intention was to have time to myself

* Checking social media sites “just in case” I missed something that I “should” be attending to (what a slippery slope that one is!)

* Never missing a class or a workshop or a group meeting even though I was feeling very tired or even ill

* Scheduling client sessions during the time I take my morning walk

* Continuing to move a project forward even though something felt “off”, just so I could feel “productive”

I remember, way back in college, showing up late to a class one day, feeling stressed and slightly mortified that I’d disrupted the group already-in-progress. My teacher graciously welcomed me into the semi-circle, telling the other students to make room for me.

A week or so later, another student showed up late and my teacher gave him a severe bawling out which shocked the whole class. My curiosity got the better of me, and during a conference with my teacher I asked him why he had yelled at this other student for being late, and yet when I was late, he was so kind to me.

He thought about it a moment, and then said, smiling, “It’s kind of like this: you need to learn to be late, and he needs to learn to be early.”

My teacher was perceiving — quite accurately — that my tendency was to drive myself hard and beat myself up when I didn’t “do enough.” Apparently he’d perceived the opposite tendency in this other student.

I felt the vulnerability — and relief — of having been seen.  My teacher helped me recognize that I could start to allow a little bit of spaciousness around my compulsion to show up, to never be late, to never miss a day, to never take planned time off.

I still notice this tendency in myself, many years later, along with a tendency to make myself overly available to others. And when I get into this “overdoing”, “over-responding” place, I find that anything I create has a forced, thin, surface feel to it. The richness has been stripped away; there’s little within me to draw out, or, at the very least, I have trouble accessing what is there.

When we can sit with a request from another without responding to it immediately; when we can say “no” in order to preserve space in our schedules for non-doing; when we can “show up” 90 percent of the time instead of 110, we are feeding our creativity.

We are feeding it by noticing our breath, by noticing our surroundings, by noticing how we are truly feeling. We are allowing ourselves to fill up, rather than running on empty, or on adrenaline. We remember that, sometimes, we can let the world come to us — and it will.

When we slow down enough to invest in the present moment, our words on the page, our paint on the canvas, our listening during a coaching session is more vibrant, more there, more true.

So how do we prevent ourselves from carrying this idea too far and using it as an excuse to not show up when we do need to be showing up?

There’s no easy answer to this.

But if there were an easy answer to it, I’d say it’s this: Know yourself.

Know your own tendencies and your own struggles like the back of your hand. And then trust. Trust yourself to show up as much as you choose to, but never as much as you “should.” Choose. Trust yourself to choose, and choose again.

Do you ever find yourself showing up compulsively? What do you notice about the effect this has on your creativity? I’d love to know!

Image is “Beautiful Flower” © Matthias33 | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Momentum is not always obvious

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A friend and I had a conversation the other day about those times in life when we feel like we just can’t get any momentum going, and it got me thinking.

It can be painful to feel like we’re not moving forward. Part of this is due to external stuff (we live in a world that has little tolerance for the idea of “standing still”) and part of it is due to our innate desire to grow and become more of who we are.

If I look back over my life and pinpoint the periods of a lot of “obvious” momentum, it becomes clear that they were almost always preceded by a time (sometimes a long one) where I swore I was stagnating and that nothing would ever change.

Why is this?

In my experience, it’s because the part of us that has outgrown where we are is the one who is experiencing “where we are” as stagnant.

But: there’s another part of us, the slower part that isn’t quite ready to let go, that is NOT experiencing “where we are” as stagnant at all. This part of us is still receiving benefits, comfort, nourishment, even joy, from being exactly where we are.

When I look back on my life from the standpoint of “who I am now”, the “me” I am now sees the periods of my life that preceded a lot of change as stagnant.

But, when I actually was LIVING those periods, a part of me was okay with them. A part of me needed them to be exactly as they were. And until that part of me was ready to let go, they weren’t truly “stagnant” periods to ALL of me.

Maybe the truth is that when we feel a lack of momentum, and think we are “stagnating,” what’s really going on is we’re feeling an increasing sense of incongruence.  Who we are becoming is feeling incongruent with who we have been, but we are still ALSO who we have been.

I’ve found that it’s not helpful to rush along the part of me that needs to be exactly where it is for a while longer. When I do that, it holds on tighter out of fear and a kind of rebellion.

What’s more helpful is to reassure the part of me that wants to gallop ahead that it WILL have its day, and that, in fact it IS moving forward as we speak, and that’s why the divide between it and the part of me that wants to stay put is becoming more and more painful.

The pain is a good thing! The pain of incongruence is a sign of momentum, rather than evidence that there is NO momentum.

If you find yourself thinking that momentum has to look a certain way, play around with rethinking it. Are there signs of momentum in your life that may not be obvious or tangible? Does the fact that something is not obvious or tangible mean it isn’t real?

Nature is always a good role model for us here. During the winter, growth does not stop altogether. Growth goes into a different phase. Trees do not die; they sprout new buds in the spring. Some animals go into hibernation, conserving energy for their eventual reemergence. The fact that they’re inactive during this period does not mean they are dead!

Before you assume you have “no momentum,” look for ways that momentum may be showing up in your life that are not totally obvious. And check for signs that you may be in the middle of your personal “winter,” where growth is occurring in oh-so-subtle ways, deep beneath the surface.

Trust is helpful here. Trust and momentum make good partners.

What do you notice about what momentum looks like for you? What do you do when you feel your momentum is “lost”? I’d love to hear how this works for you, in the comments.

 Image is “Iced Waterfall” © Patricia Cale | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Happy Halloween + making room for your darkness

halloween

Halloween has long been my favorite holiday, and fall my favorite season.

There is something about the fact that nature is in a beautiful process of going into a dormant state for the long winter months during the fall that reminds me that transitions are inevitable, and full of light and dark. And we need to honor them and make room for them.

Halloween reminds me to invite and bring awareness to any “dark” places within me.

I grew up believing I should be nice, upbeat, “positive.” Occasionally when I write fiction, I realize I’ve created a character who suffers from this “nice syndrome” (it’s usually a female character, but not always). It can be hard to create a juicy, complex story around a character like this unless I open her up and and take a good look around to find her dark places.

Once, in a writing class, I had a “nice” character write a letter to a friend. When I was finished with the letter, I read it aloud to the class.

“Well, what do you know?” my teacher said. “She’s not so nice after all.”

It turned out the character had a history in which she had done something she was very ashamed of, and she went around being “nice” in order to make up for this misdeed. Suddenly she was vulnerable, complex, and even a little bit dangerous. My story began to fly.

I love how my fiction serves as a metaphor for my life. My characters sometimes need what I need (or, they need exactly the opposite). When I feel “stuck” in life, it’s often because I’m not allowing anything I perceive as “dark” within myself to come to the surface and inform me about who I am and what I need. Dark and light must co-exist; in fact, one only exists because of the other.

So perhaps that is why I always relish and welcome Halloween, and why I have a penchant for horror movies. It all keeps me in touch with my own dark, my own creep factor.

On that note, Happy Halloween!

And: Today is the last day to sign up for one of my Mini Unsticky Sessions. Do you have a creative project you just can’t seem to move forward, or to start at all? You might want to try a Mini Unsticky.  I will be retiring my Mini Unstickies after today, but you can still sign up through midnight Central Time tonight. Check them out here.

Good stuff this week:

I’m so pleased that Marianne Ingheim Rossi interviewed me about the power of journaling on her wonderful site, Journaling For Your Life. You can read the interview and explore her great posts, here.

I love this Halloween poem by “Monkey the Cat” at Cats at the Bar.

A few writers I know are on the fence about participating in NaNoWriMo. If that’s you, you may be helped by this post I wrote quite a while ago: “Are You Stretching or Pushing Yourself? How to Tell the Difference.”

Image © 2014, Jill Winski

On opportunities and trust

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This past week, I almost signed up for a course that sounded really good to me. In fact, it sounded awesome and perfect. I know the creator of the course is amazing, and I’ve been wanting support in the area of the course material, and the pricing was just right.

It seemed like a no-brainer, but when it came to signing up, I was on the fence.

The deadline loomed and I couldn’t make up my mind. A part of me was convinced that if I didn’t take this course I’d regret it. And yet I couldn’t get myself to press the sign-up button.

I became really curious about what was going on for me here. I noticed that my mind was telling me it sounded great and it might be just what I needed and it was so inexpensive how could I not take it?

But when I dropped down from my mind, into my body, the idea of participating in the course felt heavy, even exhausting. It felt unnecessary. You don’t need it, my body said.

My mind started chattering, but … but … it has all these things you’ve been saying you need! It’s a chance for more learning, more connection, more growth! And it’s affordable! What’s wrong with you that you’re not signing up? The deadline, the deadline …

I dropped down into my body again, and got this message: We have enough learning, enough connection, enough growth for now. For right now, we have enough. Nothing more is needed.

I sat with this and I began to feel how supported I already am — even though my mind often tells me that I need “more support.”

As the deadline came and went, my mind did a wild, frantic dance. How can you pass up this opportunity? You must be mad. Mad, I tell you! You are going to regret this, bigtime!

The saner, quieter part of me sat and mused about all the noise my mind was making.

I saw my mind’s belief that the “right” opportunity only comes once, and that if I don’t grab it, I will be filled with regret. Forever.

I saw my mind’s belief that the “right” opportunity could totally transform my life. Forever.

I saw my mind’s belief that I need more of what I already have. Learning, connection, growth. Even if, at the moment, I feel “full.”

Then I thought about how the “true right” opportunities for me have usually had an organic feel to them. Like there was no decision to be made; the decision was making me, as Byron Katie might say.

When I am heavily on the fence, when there’s a forcing quality to a decision, usually the timing is not right — or perhaps I do not yet have enough information about the opportunity. Or, maybe, I just don’t need or want it.

Sometimes, it is difficult for me to say “I don’t want that.” And maybe even more difficult to say, “I don’t need it.”

But … what if I want it later? What if I need it later, and I don’t have it?

This comes up for me a lot when I decide to donate clothing or other things (which I’ve been doing a lot of this year). I’m convinced if I let something go, I’ll later regret that choice, or I’ll suddenly really need it and be without it.

What if that were to happen? What if I decide to let go of something and later realize I want it or need it? What then?

Can I tolerate the feeling of wanting? Of needing? Can I find alternative ways to meet that particular want or need?

(What more typically happens, at least with letting go of material things, is that I let go and never think of them again. This is not always so for other, more complex types of letting go.)

As for the course I decided not to take, my body is still fine with my decision, whereas from time to time over the past several days my mind has had a little fit — you should have signed up! What might you be missing out on?

The truth is, right now I don’t know exactly why my intuition (body wisdom) guided me away from this particular course. I may discover why later (maybe another opportunity that feels like a true YES will present itself). But, as I’ve written about before, intuition doesn’t always give us a reason. It simply knows. It’s trusting it that’s the tricky part.

And there’s something here, for me, about trusting that my needs will be met — sometimes, often, not in the exact way I think they will be, but they will be met. How many times do I consume more than I need because I am afraid that at some future point I will be deprived of what I need?

I think about the squirrels I see out and about all the time now, burying sustenance in the ground for the cold winter months. I’ve read that squirrels often forget where they bury things. I am like this, too, stocking up on things just in case and then forgetting.

What do you notice about trusting in your intuitive sense of what is enough for you? Is it difficult for you, too? I’d love it if you’d share, in the comments.

Image is “Squirrel with Peanut” © Kathy Davis | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Is it worth it? (and other helpful questions)

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This morning I took one of my beautiful fall walks and noticed that my mind kept going to several things I’ve had on my to-do list for a long time that are just not getting done.

I stepped back a little and let my mind go — the practice of walking helps me immensely with getting into “observe my thoughts” mode — and pretty soon I saw that the thought that kept coming to the top of the rotation was this one: “What’s wrong with you that you’re not getting these things done? Anyone else would have gotten these things done months, years, ago.”

“What’s wrong with me?” is kind of a default, underlying, unhelpful thought for many of us. I’ve been a coach for about four years now, and I notice this particular thought come up at some point for most people.

There’s no satisfactory answer to this question. There’s no encouraging, supportive answer to this question. It’s a good example of a question that closes off possibility and keeps us spinning our wheels.

As I walked, and got out of my thoughts and into the present moment, noticing the row of trees that has erupted into lava-reds, the squirrels fighting for supremacy at the neighbor’s bird feeder, my mind began to get more peaceful.

And when I got home, I went to my journal (as I so often do), and experimented with better questions to ask myself about these things I am not getting done.

Why aren’t I getting them done? (“Why?” can be a good question, for sure, but in this case, it felt impossibly heavy.)

How do I want to feel about these things on my to-do list? (This created an instant feeling of lightness.)

What kind of relationship do I want to have with these things? (More lightness. Relief.)

Is it worth it to me to do these things? (Ahhh. Here I hit the jackpot.)

I could tell that last question was the one that opened up possibility and movement, because exploring it felt really juicy to me.

So I went through the list of these things that have been nagging at me, these things I’m not doing, and for each of them, I asked myself, “Is it worth it to me to do this thing?”

The answers were revealing. For the first thing on the list, the answer was a clear no. It simply wasn’t worth doing. But I was telling myself I needed to do it. Is it true I need to do it? No. I crossed it off the list.

For the second thing on the list, the answer was a clear yes. Yes, the thing is definitely worth doing. And here is where “why” comes in. It’s worth doing — good to know! — but I’ve gotten out of touch with WHY I want to do it. Time to reconnect with that.

With the third thing on my list, I realized I’m not sure if the thing is worth doing or not. Sometimes not being sure is code for “no”, but other times, there’s fear there that is masking the “yes.” So this one will require some inquiry, some investigation.

I feel so much lighter right now, like I’ve cleared a path before me.

What do you notice about the questions you’re asking yourself? Does your mind jump to “default questions” that may not be helpful, but you keep trying to act on them anyway? Try experimenting with finding some more helpful questions. And let me know how it goes.

Hope you are enjoying the changes that fall brings (both outer and inner) as much as I am.

And: My Mini Unsticky Sessions are half-price through Halloween, when I’ll be retiring them. My intention with these sessions is to help you make a quick shift that allows you to move forward on a project you’re feeling stuck on. I approach these sessions with a sense of curiosity and play, and they’re often a lot of fun. Check them out, here.

Image is “Red Leaves” © Bart Van Oijen | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Welcome, fall + the pure pleasure of making cake

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Last week, I did something I’ve wanted to do for twenty-five years: I made Truvy’s Cuppa Cuppa Cuppa cake.

Truvy is the character played by Dolly Parton in the movie “Steel Magnolias”, and there’s a point in the movie where she lists the ingredients for a cake she calls “Cuppa Cuppa Cuppa” — a cup of flour, a cup of sugar, and a cup of fruit cocktail with the juice. (“I serve it over ice cream to cut the sweetness,” says Truvy.)

Ever since I saw this movie in the theater in 1989, I’ve wanted to make Cuppa Cuppa Cuppa cake. I don’t know why. It just sounded fun. And I love baking, but I hardly ever do it.

A little bit after I saw the movie, I was a theater major in college and in my acting classes we did scenes from “Steel Magnolias” (which was a play before it was a movie). And again I was reminded of Cuppa Cuppa Cuppa, and again I didn’t make it.

And then one summer a little later I auditioned for a community theater production of “Steel Magnolias” (I really wanted to play kooky Adele, the part Daryl Hannah plays in the movie), but I was not cast. The woman sitting next to me was auditioning for Truvy, and to calm our nerves we kept giggling and reciting the Cuppa Cuppa Cuppa recipe. And I thought, after this, whether I am cast in this play or not, I’m going to go home and make Cuppa Cuppa Cuppa. But I didn’t.

And then, over many years, I’d see the movie here and there on TV and I’d think, I really want to make that cake! But I didn’t.

Well, last week, I came across the recipe on Pinterest. I got all excited and said to my boyfriend, “Oh my God, it’s Cuppa Cuppa Cuppa! I’ve always wanted to make this!”

“Well, you should make it,” my boyfriend said.

“Maybe I will,” I said. But I really had no intention of making it; I just collected it on my Pinterest Cake-O-Rama board, along with many other cakes I will never make.

Then a day or so later we were at the grocery store and I saw the fruit cocktail. I threw it in the cart.

“Are you doing it?” said my boyfriend, grinning.

“I’m doing it,” I said. (This is something I’ve noticed about me and decisions: I often only know I’ve actually made a decision because, suddenly, I’m doing it.)

And I did make it, and I have to tell you, it was an amazing success. It was more delicious than I could have imagined — moist, golden, sugary, and it smelled so much like something my Grandmas would have made (or maybe the smell of fruit cocktail just reminds me of my Grandmas).

But, in truth, I wouldn’t have cared if the Cuppa Cuppa Cuppa didn’t turn out well or was even on the disgusting side. The thing is that making it was fun. That was all it was and that was my only reason for doing it.

How often in my life have I put something off, or never really intended to do it at all, because although I loved the idea of it, it didn’t seem “serious” or important enough? Because it didn’t seem like it would yield “long-term results”?

Making the Cuppa Cuppa Cuppa produced its own, immediate results. It gave me an experience — stirring the batter as that just-about-fall crisp air came in through the kitchen window, licking the spoon like I did when I was a kid, the fruit-and-sugar scent of the cake filling the house as it baked. Marveling with my boyfriend over how something with only three ingredients could taste so amazing (especially given that I’m really not a fan of fruit cocktail).

And here’s the interesting thing: the fact that I actually went ahead and DID this thing that I wanted to do, this thing purely for fun, gave me the most curious sense of accomplishment. I felt deeply satisfied, just in the doing.

I want to do more things that are just “for fun”. I want to stop saying I’ll do them “some day.” I want to notice when I’m squashing the part of me that wants these simple joys because another part of me thinks I “should” be doing something else.

I’ve also been saying since 1987 that I want to make the eggs-in-bread fried up by Olympia Dukakis in “Moonstruck” (a.k.a. “Moonstruck Eggs”). I’ll report back.

(Here’s the recipe for Cuppa Cuppa Cuppa Cake that I found on Pinterest.)

Where do you notice yourself saying “maybe” or “someday” to things that strike you as pure joy, pure fun? What if you were to say “yes” and “today” instead?

Also: To welcome fall, my very favorite season, and all the endings and beginnings that fall always brings, I am offering my Mini Unsticky Sessions at half price through Halloween, October 31. That’s because, as all good things must come to an end, I’ll be retiring my Mini Unsticky Sessions after Halloween, so something juicy and new can take their place.

I’ve now done nearly one hundred of these sessions and I daresay I have gotten pretty good at them. If you’re feeling stuck on a creative project or around your creativity in general, you might want to give one a shot. Because speaking of fun, these sessions really are! Find out more, here.

Image is “Autumn in the Forest” © Uschi Hering | Dreamstime Stock Photos

“I wrote to honor myself” ~ A conversation with memoirist Mary Montanye

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Mary Montanye is the author of the memoir Above Tree Line, which I had the joy of reading recently. To quote her website, it’s “the story of one woman’s spiral downward into physical and mental breakdown and her return to wholeness by courageously, and some would say recklessly, following her intuition.”

Mary and I got on the phone to talk about her experience of writing and publishing the memoir, and how she found support for the process of bringing it into the world. Mary is one of my fellow coaches in The Writer’s Circle, and she’s become one of my favorite people, too. I’m so pleased she took the time to talk with me, and my hope is that creators who are struggling to share their work with the world — or even to begin the process of creating — will gain courage and comfort from Mary’s writing journey.

You can learn more about Mary’s memoir (and read her terrific blog posts!) at her website, here.

Read highlights from our conversation below, or find the link to listen to our whole conversation at the bottom of the post (please note this more of a casual conversation, not a “formal” interview!).

* * *

Jill: I imagine some parts of this were much harder to write than others, emotionally.

Mary: Yeah, they were. And there were two things about that: Whenever I was getting close to writing something that I knew was gonna be really, really difficult, there were two things I did: One is, I reminded myself that all I had to do was write it. I didn’t have to share it; I didn’t have to publish it. There were many other reasons I was writing it. One is, I was learning how to write. Two, I was learning about me. I was honoring me.

That’s another thing, I think that many times writers have, somewhere in their childhood, been shut down. “Oh, we don’t want to hear about that,” or whatever. So, by me putting it down, I was honoring myself, and my voice, and my experiences, and my life.

So I told myself that, even if I choose not to publish this down the line somewhere, I still benefit. And when I did that, it made the writing of the hard stuff doable, and it also made it possible for me to be as honest as possible.

… And second of all, I told myself that even if I did choose to publish it somewhere down the line, I could remove anything that I didn’t want to have in there. If it was really too tough, if I was too afraid to have it out there, I would just remove it from the book.

And it ended up that I didn’t remove anything from the book. I mean, of course I tightened it … But it works to just let yourself do it, just write whatever. And then tighten, or delete.

Jill: So it sounds like there was a lot of permission to write it and not have to publish it, and then there was also permission to not have to put in those more difficult parts – that you could cut those out if you wanted to.

Mary: Yeah. I just had to constantly remind myself that, I have control over this. Just because I write it down doesn’t mean that I have to publish it. And it ended up that I did publish it, and actually, a lot of the fears that I had about that never came true: that other people would hate me, or judge me, or not want me in their life, or be hurt.

… I think you have to just bite off small pieces as you go along, and not think of it as some great big huge thing that’s gonna change the rest of your life, because that would be paralyzing. At least for me. But when I did it bits and pieces at a time, every piece that I did was beneficial.

And that even included the publishing. I mean, I’ve had people, especially younger women, that I never thought would even read it, say how much it has meant to them, and why. And that’s made it all worthwhile. This is why it was meant to be out there. And I can take fear.

Jill: So basically, then, it sounds like you were writing this for yourself. So would you say that if you had any audience in mind, it was just yourself? Kind of your own listening ear?

Mary: Yeah. Well, I also had a reader in that Mary [Allen, writer and writing teacher] was reading. She wasn’t changing things so much as she was just saying, “Tell me more about this. This is really interesting, could you write more here?”… So I had her as a reader, but she was a very loving, supportive, gentle reader. And in fact, having one person like that is really helpful in that she normalized some of this for me. Like, I was feeling so awful about myself, even this many years later, for doing some of the things that I did, and she would go, “Well, that’s really not all that bad.” And that sort of helped, too.

So I’m not saying never have a reader and just put it out there before you’ve ever had a reader, or never have a reader in mind. [But] have the perfect reader in mind: like, for a memoir, the most wonderfully accepting, gentle person that you could possibly imagine, who really wants to sit down and hear about your life, and not judge you for it. Because if you think about just a general “other” out there, like some big massive social media kind of other, it would be terrifying. I don’t know how anybody could write an honest memoir like that.

***

Jill: Another point that I wanted to bring up is self-care around this process of writing something that brings up so much stuff for us. That is bound to be emotionally taxing. And physically exhausting too, probably.

Mary: Yeah. Everything. Sometimes I’d just feel like all I wanted to do was go to bed. So I got to the point where I just let myself go to bed. You know, it’s okay. Or take time off, too. Take a week off. Or write something easier, write a little bit of history of the area, or something that isn’t like one trauma after another.

Jill: That makes a lot of sense. I think that as writers we can get into a mentally of, I’ve gotta sit there and I’ve gotta push through, especially maybe if we have some resistance coming up for us around a particular thing. And it sounds like you were very aware of your own exhaustion, and you must have had a lot of trust in your process in order to give yourself breaks when you needed it.

Mary: Well, I got it [trust]. I don’t think I had it right off the bat. But as time went on and I did it, I’d say, oh yeah, I’m noticing every time I write some really hard scene, that I don’t want to do anything but go to bed. Well, maybe it would be a good idea to just go to bed. It was through the process that I learned about me and what I needed, and what I could do and what I couldn’t. And that there was only a certain length of time I could write every day. About an hour, for this book, was it. When I got into editing, I could spend a lot more time, but the actual writing was not more than probably about an hour a day.

***

Jill: What would you say to people who have a story – or not even just a story but some piece of creative work, something they want to share with the world, but they’re feeling stuck or scared around that? Let’s say it’s a dream right now. It’s in sort of baby dream phase and nobody else knows about it, it’s just something they really feel strongly about but they haven’t taken any action to create it. What would be the first thing you would tell them?

Mary: Well, I would tell them first that, if they’re feeling this pull, this little dream, this tug, whatever you want to call it, that that’s your intuition saying that you need to do it. You don’t know why you need to do it, but there’s a tug there, there’s that intuition. I think we tend to ignore our intuition, and I’m somebody who doesn’t ignore her intuition most of the time.

And most of the time, or 99.9 percent of the time, I find out why it was important that I didn’t ignore it. It may not be what you think – it may not BE about publishing it in the world. It may be you’ll help one person. It may be that you will learn something about yourself that you need to learn. But whatever it is, the very first thing I would say is don’t ignore, don’t minimize the fact that we have that tug to do it. That would be my first.

And then my second would be to just begin. Don’t think very far in advance, and set aside some alone time where you won’t be bothered. And make it, like we say in the Writer’s Circle, make it sacred. And just begin. Simple. Twenty minutes, five minutes, ten minutes. And then just do something else the next day, and the next day. And just see where it goes. Because we can’t figure out in our head what the reason is. We can’t figure out the reason, we can’t figure out the end result. We can only figure that out by the actual doing of it.

So those would be my two main things. Don’t ignore, and then begin.

***

Check out the recording to hear more about Mary’s take on: being a writer who’s an introvert and a highly sensitive person; how Mary “discovered” she was writing a memoir; Mary’s process of sharing the draft of the book with people close to her; her publishing and marketing experience; and more!

 

Shaking up your creative habit

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While it’s vital to have a regular habit of creating, I’ve been reminded over the past couple of weeks that it’s important that I don’t become too routine about my creative routine.

I write approximately six days a week (and although I usually take Sundays “off”, I almost always do morning pages on Sundays anyway because they’re kind of a compulsion for me).

My typical routine has been to get up, take a shower, walk down the street to get coffee, then come back home and write at my dining room table.

But lately, this habit has begun to feel really mundane to me. Like the habit itself is encroaching on the writing and causing it to feel less fresh.

So I’ve started shaking it up a little.

I’ve written stretched out on the floor on my stomach, propped up on my elbows, notebook spread before me (my cat, intrigued by my unusual writing stance, took this opportunity to jump on my back and give me a kitty massage).

I’ve written sitting on a bench at a nearby park, to the sounds of kids playing around me.

I pulled out my journal and jotted down some images that were coming to me while waiting in the car for my boyfriend to come out of the drugstore.

I’ve gone to the library and savored the intense quiet and the smell of the pages of old books.

I sat cross-legged in the backyard, notebook balanced in my lap, the boughs of trees overhead creating a sheltering dome, writing to the sounds of sparrows, robins and squirrels fighting over the bounty the mulberry tree provides for them.

What has this done for my writing? For me?

It’s reminded me that I am a physical being with a connection to the earth. That a lot of wisdom resides in my body, and that when I sit for long periods of time at a computer, I can get wildly out of touch with that fact. When my posture is rigid, my jaw clenched, I feel very serious. And the writing I’m most connected to does not usually come from a place of “serious.” I can afford to dial back the “serious,” and dial up the play, the curiosity, the sense of discovery.

It’s reminded me of the importance of place in what I am creating. When I wrote in Ohio, in France, in Guatemala, the backdrop of the place had an effect on me, the writer, even if what I was writing had nothing to do with the place I was in at the moment. When I write in the backyard with my butt planted on the ground, I can’t help but feel connected to the rustling of the leaves, the heat of the sun on my skin, and let that sense of place seep into my writing.

It’s reminded me that, sometimes, we need change for the sake of change. For the sheer purpose of not becoming too stagnant. And that, while there is a lot of change in our lives that in not within our control, there is much that is. There were so many choices available to me about where, and how, to approach my daily writing, just within the few blocks from my home.

There are far more possibilities than we think available to us in any given moment. But we tend not to see them.

What have you done to shake up your creative habit? What possibilities might be right in front of you, if you allowed them to reveal themselves?

And: I have two spaces for one-on-one coaching opening up in September. Are you feeling stuck on a project that’s important to you, or having trouble getting started? I may be able to help. Learn more, here.

Image is “Table with a View” © Scott Patterson | Dreamstime Stock Photos

What if it’s not as hard as you think?

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The other day I had to do something that I thought was going to be very hard.

In fact, I’d been putting it off for a while because I thought it was going to be so hard, so uncomfortable, so taxing. I imagined all kinds of stressful scenarios that were going to result from my doing this thing, how a chain of negative events would be set into motion if I did it, how maybe I’d regret doing it.

So I didn’t do it as quickly as I might have. In fact, I started getting very irritated with myself for “procrastinating.” (I like to put procrastinating in quotes because there’s a big difference between procrastination and waiting for the right time, and we need to do a little digging sometimes to recognize which is which.)

Basically, the “thing” involved saying no to someone who had asked me to collaborate with her. I was torn at first because in some ways I wanted to do it, but the reality of my life right now is that I simply don’t have the time or the energy for this level of collaboration.

So I put off saying no, even after my intuition had clearly let me know that “no” was the way to go. (Sorry for the Dr. Seuss-ian sentence — actually, I love it!)

Finally, I made the call. I said, “A part of me would love to, but I’m choosing to say no to this right now.”

Guess what? It wasn’t that hard. My heart raced, yes; my hand slipped a little on the phone because it was wet with sweat.

But all in all? Not that hard. Not nearly as hard as I’d built it up to be. In fact, the person involved thanked me for being direct (she didn’t even think I’d taken that long to get back to her), and then we had a conversation about how much we prefer hearing “no” to hearing nothing at all and being left hanging. (That’s a topic for a whole other post!)

Sometimes, something we need to do proves to be harder than we’d imagined it would be.

But, sometimes, much of the “hard” has to do with our thought that “it’s going to be really hard”. So we don’t do whatever the thing is, and in the not doing it, we create more hard on top of our idea that it’s going to be hard.

Another thing we sometimes do when a task we perceive as “hard” looms before us is we tell ourselves, “I need to have courage. I need to muster up the courage to face this.”

This can actually create yet another hurdle. This “mustering up the courage.” The idea that we need “courage” to face whatever it is actually makes the “thing” seem even harder. Our brain goes, “We need courage here? Wow, it must be really hard! It must be extra hard!”

What if we didn’t need courage? What if, instead of courage, what was more helpful turned out to be acceptance of the situation, acceptance of our fears about it, and trust in our ability to handle it?

It’s worth considering.

Image is “Red on Stone” © Cristina | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Knowing yourself: what words inspire you?

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Here’s a super-simple journaling exercise that can be a quick way of reconnecting with ourselves. It’s also truly helpful for those times when we’re feeling really UNcreative.

I once did this with a class of ten-year-olds, and after I described the exercise to them, I said, “What do you think this exercise is about?”

A kid shot up his hand and said, “Noticing!”

That’s it, exactly.

Noticing words.

The words we use are important. And they say a lot about us.

I have an intention to choose my words carefully. Not out of some kind of perfectionism, but because words have power.

(I’m also noticing more and more that, often, I need to invoke the superpower of listening just when I’m tempted to throw in my two cents. Whether I’m talking to a friend or coaching a client.)

Some words feel heavy and exhausting to me. That’s not because there’s anything “wrong” with them, but because they are not in line with what inspires and activates my essential self.

Other words light me up, help me come alive, remind me of what is true and real — for me.

So here’s the exercise:

1) Make a list of words that drag you down, words that don’t light you up or that make you feel disconnected.

These can be ANY words. Adjectives, verbs, nouns. Keep listing — don’t stop until you’ve got a list of at least twenty words. (They can also be phrases or sentences you can’t stand — for example, my boyfriend absolutely hates it when people say, “Let’s do this!”)

The purpose of this is not to focus on negative stuff — any word or phrase is not “objectively” negative. This is about gaining more awareness into what makes you “you.”

2) Now, make a list of words that DO light you up, words that elevate you or connect you to who you are. Again, phrases and sentences are okay, too.

3) Now, look over both lists.

What do you notice?

Here are some examples from my lists:

Words that drag me down: overcome, overpower, world domination, should, must, crush it, anything having to do with war, get your butt in the seat, push, shove, force, conquer, rule, hard, tough, have to

Words that lift me up: discover, quest, kindness, spark, play, curiosity, adventure, fun, mischief, silky, fluid, deep, reflective, subtle, piercing, pure, intense, affectionate, compassion, journey, choose

Even if you’ve never read my blog before, you can learn a lot about me by looking at my lists, right?

It’s pretty clear that I’m not inspired by the idea of overcoming or conquering or going to war with something. I’m not inspired by pushing or forcing myself or anything or anyone else to “get it done.”

It’s not because I think that mentality is “bad.” It’s because it isn’t the way I naturally relate to the world. It’s foreign to me; it doesn’t make intuitive sense to me (though, to be honest, for many years I tried to take on this mentality because I believed I “should”).

The idea of discovery, of looking deeper, of getting curious, with lots of kindness and compassion and fun and play in the mix — for me, that’s adventure. That second list automatically reminds me of who I am and inspires me. It gets me moving.

We can also see, by looking at my lists, where my shadow may lurk. It might do me some good to notice when I’m disowning the parts of me (because they’re there!) that DO like to overcome and conquer and WIN. (These parts of me come out when I play certain video games or get into arguments with family members. Note to fiction writers: Incorporating your shadow traits into your characters can be extremely liberating.)

The thing for me to know, though, is that if I let these aspects of me run the show, I’m not going to feel in line with my essential self, and I won’t feel I’m living a life that’s truly in keeping with who I am. I don’t need to disown these aspects of myself — or of others — I just need to recognize that they don’t truly inspire me.

So, if I’m trying to get myself to do something through pushing, forcing, or the idea of “crushing it” or “overcoming,” it’s inevitably ineffective — for me. There are others who love the idea of overcoming or “heading into battle”. It gets them going and lights them up.

And that’s awesome. Because if there’s anything I believe, it’s that we all need to know ourselves well enough to keep on moving closer and closer to what truly brings us to life.

What do you notice about the words that inspire you, versus the words that deaden, disconnect you, or exhaust your energy? I’d love it if you’d share, in the comments.

Image is “Pastel Pens” © Rabbitsfoot | Dreamstime Stock Photos