Do you have a “most creative” time of day?

colorfulshoelaces

I got an email from a client the other day (and she gave me permission to share parts of it here). It was a joyful update — she’d finally hit on a workable process for doing the beautiful paintings she creates.

We’d talked a lot during one session about her desire to work on her paintings during the early morning hours, and how this never seemed to quite work out. Usually, she didn’t get started as early as she wanted to and then felt she’d failed. And because her artwork requires a lot of “set-up”, it wasn’t so simple for her to grab fifteen minutes here or there, as, for example, a writer can.

She wrote that after a lot of testing and trying, she’s discovered she feels most creative between about 8 p.m. and midnight. And when she makes that segment of time her “working hours”, she falls into bed worn out, but satisfied — and she can sleep until she feels rested.

She’d had a sneaky suspicion that the night-time hours might be the best time for her to focus on her artwork, but a part of her (which I’d be willing to bet is her “social self”) believed that only “slackers” waited until that late in the day to do their work.

This is so fascinating to me, and it got me thinking about the demands we put on ourselves and our creativity. And I think there’s another component to this that has to do with the direction our energy flows throughout the day.

When I was in graduate school, taking writing classes, I discovered that I had an awful time connecting with my voice and generating writing in classes that started at 6 p.m. (I also had more trouble communicating and socializing with other students at this hour).

But during the classes that began in the early afternoon, I did some of my best, most connected writing. In the one 8 a.m. class I took, I felt like I was just fully waking up and getting energized as the class was ending.

This was great information for me. Now, I don’t necessarily think this means that I am most creative during the late morning/afternoon hours. What I actually think is that during these hours, I, an innate introvert, experience the biggest outward flow of my energy. That is why I like to schedule coaching clients and lead group coaching calls during these hours as well — I have the most “other-focused” energy available to me during this time.

By about 6 p.m. (as I discovered in my evening writing classes), my energy is moving inward again in order to rebalance me and replenish itself.

This doesn’t mean I am not creative during this time (after all, there is both an active and a receptive component to creative energy). But it does mean that my creativity takes on a more still, absorbent quality, rather than an exuberant, expansive quality, at night.

During the evening hours I tend to be taking things in, chewing on them, puttering and reflecting. I might enjoy talking quietly with one or two people in the evenings, but I generally don’t want to be a part of large groups that require a lot of “extroverting” from me at night.

(It’s worth noting that, for me, fiction writing and blogging feel more like “extroverting” in the sense that I am aware I’m communicating with an audience — whereas journaling feels more like “introverting”, in that I’m processing my own thoughts and feelings, or doing things like mind-mapping that are mostly for my eyes only. This is probably why it’s a lot more challenging for me to write a blog post or work on fiction at night, but I have no problem doing leisurely journaling in the evening.)

My client said that when she does her paintings, it feels like she is “deep diving”, and she can best do this when the “mundane tasks” of her day are finished and no one is clamoring for her attention. That’s why the late night hours work well for her — she has a harder time accessing her “deep diving” space earlier in the day.

And I love her awareness that a part of her hadn’t even considered doing her paintings at night because it didn’t seem “industrious” or “productive” to do “serious work” at that time!

I suspect that her essential self doesn’t care a whit about being industrious, productive or serious — though I could be wrong. But her discovery was a reminder for me about how deeply our assumptions can color our choices.

My sense is that it’s not so much that we’re “more creative” during certain times of day, but that our creative energy is in different phases throughout the day. And some phases are more conducive to certain aspects of creating than others.

What do you think? I’d love to hear from you.

(And by the way, there are quizzes you can take online to discover your “most creative time of day”, and also your “most productive time of day” — they are not always the same. I found my results did not necessarily reflect what is true for me, but they’re still fun to check out.)

Also: I won’t be taking on any new coaching clients until the last week of August, as I’ll be moving into my new home in just over a week! I’m looking forward to sharing more about that with you here, once I am post-move and a little more grounded and clear-eyed. 🙂 In the meantime, happy creating!

Image is “Colorful Shoelaces” © Judy Ben Joud | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Bringing the joy back to your creative work

paintedheartRecently, a writer friend and I had a great conversation about what to do during those periods when you feel like the joy has simply evaporated from your creative work (or your life!). The talk got me pondering.

I love a broad definition of creativity: I believe it is, simply, the life force moving through us. So when we’re not feeling joy, something is going on with the flow of that life force.

Consider the following three things if you’re wondering where your “creative joy” went:

* Structure: do you need more or less?

As with everything, as we change and our lives change, so does our need for structure. Back when I worked at a job that required me to be in an office from 9 to 5, I felt that my life was too heavily structured. I didn’t have the amount of “meandering, puttering time” that fed my creativity. However: when I quit that job and had more free time, I quickly found that I needed to create more structure in my life or I felt sluggish and unfocused.

Both feeling overly structured and “understructured” can squeeze the joy from our creative work. (As I was reminded last weekend while watching the movie Next Stop Wonderland, that quote from Emerson is NOT “consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds” but “a FOOLISH consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”)

Consistency in and of itself can provide the daily structure we need to show up for our creative work — but we need to be tapped in to what kind of structure and how much we truly need (or we can get into that foolish consistency territory!). There is no question that our souls crave those periods of open, meandering, wandering time. If you haven’t had one of these for a while, see how you can go about scheduling one and notice whether you see your joy resurfacing.

(I went into more depth on the topic of structure here.)

* Support: do you need more, or different?

Support for our creative work is so important — and/but it must be the kind of support that works for us, not for somebody else. If you feel like the joy is leaking out of your creative process, take a look at the support you’ve built around it. Is there too little? Is there any at all?

Or, are you surrounded by voices that encourage you in ways that don’t quite feel like the kind of encouragement you actually crave? Are you calling something “support” that actually isn’t? (For example, does the writing group you joined offer feedback in a way that doesn’t work for you? Can you ask them for what you need and move on if you’re not able to get it?)

Or, are you suffocating in information masquerading as support? I’ve become very picky about what I read online. So often, less is more, and in the end, it’s myself I need to consult, not “the experts.”

(I delved more deeply into the topic of support here and here.)

* Sovereignty: do you have enough? Do your boundaries need strengthening?

Sovereignty means that you are the ruler of your own kingdom.  In other words, you decide what comes into your life and what stays out, through creating boundaries around your creating.

Many times when I’ve felt I’ve “lost my joy”, when I’ve looked a little deeper (or perhaps had a friend, coach, or other compassionate witness point out the obvious to me), what’s really happened is I’ve lost my boundaries. I’ve allowed the desires and needs of others to encroach on my own to the point that I’ve felt angry and resentful — which is pretty much the opposite of joy!

Or, I may be eroding my own boundaries by being mean to myself (here it can be vital to look at my thoughts and how they’re influencing the way I feel) or getting out of whack in the realms of Structure and Support. (See how it’s all connected?)

Karla McLaren says in her wonderful books that when we feel anger, the questions we need to ask are “What needs to be protected?” and “What needs to be restored?” Very often, the answer is boundaries. We need to reclaim our crowns as rulers of our creative kingdoms (or use whatever metaphor works for you there!).

(I wrote more on the topic of setting boundaries around your creativity here and here.)

Reclaiming joy is a huge topic, but just taking a look at one (or all three) of these areas of your life can be a great jumping-off place.

How do you bring the joy back into your creating when it’s slipped through the cracks? I’d love to hear.

And by the way, if you’re needing more structure and support for your writing, you might want to check out The Writer’s Circle (where I am both a coach and a longtime participant!). Registration for our next session ends July 16.

Above image © Egidijus Mika | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Hearing my voice in a noisy world

my daily journaling station

my daily journaling station

I grew up in a chaotic and noisy home. I’m not sure why it was this way — we were (and are) a loving family, and our propensity is more toward the introvert side of the personality type spectrum. But with three kids, two dogs (and an assortment of other animals), and two working parents for most of my childhood, privacy and peace were hard to come by.

The only way I knew to get true quiet was to stay home sick from school. Then everyone else would be gone (except the dogs) and I could absorb the quiet of the house, the ticking of clocks, watch how the sunlight moved across the floor as morning drifted into afternoon.

I craved quiet, solitary time as a kid. I wanted to be able to hear myself think. But home was loud and school was loud and my friends seemed loud.

Seventh grade was different because my family moved to Hawaii for the year, something I resisted, kicking and screaming. People said, “You must be crazy not to want to go to Hawaii!”

But to my twelve-year-old self who craved fitting in and stability more than anything else, a move to a faraway place for just one year would be one more thing that made me different, one more thing that told my peer group, “She isn’t like us. She doesn’t fit.”

A life-altering thing came out of our year in Hawaii, however. My English teacher handed out black-and-white composition books and required us to keep journals.

I knew I liked to write, and prior to this, I had dabbled in journaling, but it was more of the “this is what I did today” variety. My teacher encouraged us to really get our thoughts on the page. What was important to us? What did we think about the books we read in class? What scared us? What filled us with joy?

I was hooked. I used all the pages in the first composition book and my words spilled over onto the cardboard back cover.

Finally, I could hear my own voice. I could read my own thoughts on the pages of the composition book. And my teacher validated it all — keeping a journal was a good thing. A healthy thing. It would help me know myself.

In all honesty, I don’t think I fully internalized what my teacher said at the time. This is probably adult me looking back and superimposing herself onto twelve-year-old me. But what I do know for sure is that I was hungry to keep a journal. It became a home for me, the only true safe space I could think of at the time.

Later, in my early twenties, I took frequent trips to New York City, and I remember sitting in the airport one day, my notebook spread out on my lap. I realized I felt at home in O’Hare Airport, waiting for my flight, despite the swirl of activity and noise around me. I wrote in my notebook that day, “As long as I can write in my journal, I can be at home anywhere. My journal is the only home I need.”

I smile a little at my early-twenty-something self now, because I am far less nomadic in spirit than I was then. Now, I like a home base that goes beyond my journal (I am a true homebody at heart despite my love of discovering new places).

But I am still in touch with the “me” who believed that, armed with my journal, I could feel safe enough to take on the world.

Decades after discovering the mysteries and joys of the depths of the black-and-white composition book in a classroom of girls in black-and-white uniforms at St. Andrew’s Priory School in Honolulu, I still meet with my journal at my dining room table every day. (Except now it’s a sketch book with wide, blank pages, so I can draw pictures next to my thoughts, too.)

And every time I put my pen on that page, I’m cutting through the chaos of not just the world, but my mind. I’m safe, and I’m home, and I know who I am, once again.

If you, too, keep a journal, what is the greatest benefit of journaling for you? I’d love to hear from you.

This post is my contribution to the Five-Year Anniversary Celebration of  #JournalChat Live. I’ve been proud to be a guest on #JournalChat Live several times. You can learn more about #JournalChat Live, including how to join the Facebook group, here.

More sparkle, more ease: What will *you* welcome in 2015?

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It’s easy to forget in this frenetic world that the deep well of connection to ourselves and to life is the soul of creativity.

So I’m taking some time off from my usual routine this week to reconnect.

What’s bubbling up, so far, from this spaciousness in the midst of pre-holiday activity is a set of questions. (Aren’t the answers we’re so often seeking actually just better questions?)

Here is my year-end meditation, or remembering, for you to try if you’d like. You can do this in a journal, as I did, or do it out loud with a friend, someone you feel really safe with.

You can answer all three questions, or choose one (I found that answering just the third one led me into the others).

When you are still and connected to yourself, what do you know to be true?

What do you know about what you need, what you desire?

What qualities do you want to welcome into your life as a new year begins?

Here is what I wrote in my journal:

More ease, more lightness. More belief that ease and lightness are possible.

More openness and reaching out.

More trusting in myself and in life.

More acting on my intuition, more quickly.

More noticing what works for me, less dwelling on what doesn’t.

More decision-making from a place of calm and peace, less decision-making from a place of fear and anxiety.

More time spent in nature, with animals and trees.

bluejays

More face-to-face meetings with friends and potential friends.

More kindness.

More patience.

More showing up for myself.

More acceptance of what is, and more recognition that accepting it doesn’t mean I won’t change it; it just means I’m not in resistance.

More sparkle, more dazzle, more glitter (I’m not sure what this means yet).

More fun and play.

More permission to ask for more, even when things are “good enough.”

What about you? What do you know to be true for you as we move into a new year? What qualities do you want to welcome?

Wishing my dear readers, clients and friends a beautiful and peaceful holiday season with plenty of connection to yourself.

above images ©2014, Jill Winski

How showing up too much can thwart your creativity

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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

Happy Halloween + making room for your darkness

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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

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

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