Intentional Rest vs. Shadow Comforts (You’re a Writer, You Need Rest, Dammit)

Photo by Robin Benzrihem on Unsplash

I had a tooth pulled yesterday. Not fun, in any universe. But it also went well and wasn’t that big of a deal. Minimal pain that could be easily controlled with Ibuprofen, very little swelling. I could eat as soon as the lidoicaine wore off, albeit slowly and carefully.

After the extraction, I texted my husband to say it was over and everything had gone well. He wrote back and told me to rest a little. Of course I will, I wrote back.

Hahahahaha. Because that’s really the last thing I had on my mind. I had manuscripts to read for a meeting that night and a column to write and submit to The Writing Cooperative on Medium. So yeah, I didn’t really end up resting.

But here’s the deal: I should have. Because instead of taking the time to relax with a book and maybe nod off for a while, I fought tiredness and distraction all afternoon. And for me tiredness and distraction comes in the form of what Jen Loudon calls shadow comforts. As in, scanning the digital front page of the New York Times for interesting articles. Reading an article in a favorite knitting blog. Checking in on the day’s news. Looking one more time to see if anybody has emailed me. And then remembering I was in the middle of writing an article.

Clearly, going down the internet rabbit hole is a huge shadow comfort for me. Today, even though I’m pretty much all over the tooth thing, I took the opposite tack. I was feeling a little sleepy after lunch so I repaired to my bed to read (I’m trying to finish Book #4 in the Maisie Dobbs series–Messenger of Truth) and also to doze for a bit. I came back to my office totally refreshed and ready to dive into the work–which I’ve been doing, without distraction for a couple of hours now.

There’s a whole thing going around in the writing community these days about how we should write fast and produce a ton. That’s all well and good–I actually like writing fast (with lots of time for editing built in after). But I am here to suggest that writing fast happens much more easily with a clear mind. And these days we are hammered with information from all angles. The statistics on how much information we process a day compared to even a few years ago are astounding. (This article has some stats that will blow your mind–and it is already a couple of years old.)

Yet we are trained culturally to be strong, to kick ass, to keep going, to feel the burn. Resting is seen as a weakness. One should only admit to being tired in the same breath as exclaiming how busy one is. I’m not immune to this and I bet you aren’t, either. While reading is one of my favorite ways to relax, its gotten so that I do most of it at night, right before bed. That’s because I feel guilty reading during the day. I’m not alone–this article by Austin Kleon quotes the director Paul Thomas Anderson:

“I still have trouble reading a book during the day because it somehow feels indulging… You know, like oh, my – this is so naughty. I’m actually reading at 10 o’clock in the morning. I think it’s just your upbringing – something about like you got to go to work, and you’ve got to – and move on. And still even – this is how I make my living. I still feel guilty. 10 o’clock, I mean – and it’s – but I’ve sunken into the pleasure of it – to think, my God, I’ve got my life in a way where I can read a book in the middle of the day.”

Can you related to that? I sure can. But, besides the fact that reading is a huge part of a writer’s job description, you also need to relax. So give yourself a break and get some rest. Intentional rest. Read, or meditate, or take a little snooze.

I’d love to hear about how you intentionally rest.

And please feel free to sign up for my weekly love letter–the link is on the right.

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Meanwhile, I’ll Be Busy Making S*&% Up

Writing a novel is, at heart, all about making shit up.

That phrase–making shit up–became the constant refrain of my Mapping the Novel workshop at the Sitka Center last week.  (It was the BEST workshop ever, mostly because of my wonderful students, but also because of the fabulous staff and the spectacular location. I could go on and on.)

In order to write a novel, you’ve got to make a lot of shit up. You just do. But then you have to shape the stuff you made up into some kind of form.  And that was the premise of the workshop–that you’ve got to let your right brain roam free but also learn the structures through which you will corrall it.

It is easy to get hung up on any part of the process (she said, having experienced getting hung up at many points along the way). But bear in mind that structures are part of craft and can be learned. You can study plot, scene, character, style, and theme. It’s hard, but you can figure out how to apply it so you make a novel with a cohesive whole.

What is harder, arguably, in this day and age, is the making shit up part. It’s the part where we let our brains run free, and allow our hands to follow them, putting word after word on the page–even when we don’t know where the words will lead us.

The making shit up part is why we become writers.  I mean, who sets out to write a novel because he wants to master plot? There may be a few of you out there, but I’d wager a bet that most of you want to write a novel because you’ve experienced the glory of writing, how good it makes you feel to lay down those tracks.

The making shit up part is fun–and its also sometimes really freaking hard to get ourselves to do.  But really, all you have to do is go do it.  Take a prompt, any prompt, set a timer for 10 minutes and go write! Do it now. Go make shit up.  You’ll be glad you did.

Leave a comment and let’s discuss your favorite way to make shit up.

**I had a couple of great photos from Sitka picked out to go along with this post but some reason, WordPress doesn’t want to let me upload them. If you want to see a ton of them, go to my Instagram page (and follow me while you’re there–it is one of my chief social media outlets).

How To Cheat on Your Writing Without Getting Caught

knit_yarn_knitting_220265_lAre you an adulterer when it comes to creativity?

I am.  Here’s a brief list of some of the creative arenas I sometimes dabble in (dabble being the key word): knitting, stitching, painting, art journaling, collage, weaving, mosaic.

Okay, nix on the mosaic. Somewhere in this house I have a bunch of ceramic shards but God only knows where they might be. But I like the idea of it.  As for the other things on the list, the activity I do with regularity is knitting, and beyond that it is a once in a blue moon thing to find me painting or collaging.

When I do these things, I love them. And set me up on Ravelry, a website for knitters and crocheters, and I can waste hours looking around.  I love to dream big.  But how many actual knitting projects do I get done each year? Oh, maybe one or two if I’m lucky.

I think this is because I sometimes feel guilty pursuing any creative art besides writing.  For some reason, I often feel I should be pouring every ounce of my creativity into writing and writing alone. And yet the people I admire the most are those who excel in one creative area, yet happily continue to ply other crafts.

What about you? Maybe you love photography, or cooking, or creating model train layouts. Or taking a foreign language. Or any number of creative activities. But how often do you stop yourself from taking time for them, thinking instead, I need to go write. When you do take time for a hobby do you look over your shoulder, terrified your writing is going to discover you at work on, gasp, something else?

One of the things I loved most about The Artist’s Way from Julia Cameron  is that she actively encourages creatives to indulge in all sorts of hobbies.  (And by the way, if you haven’t read that book in a while, consider pulling it off your shelf. I was just paging through it, remembering how wonderful and seminal a volume it is.)

So herewith is my list of my you should be a creative adulterer:

Because doing so actually fills the well from which we draw to write.  In the same vein as taking an Artist’s Date, giving yourself time to doodle or paint or draw a garden plan fills up your inner well and gives you more energy to write.

Because it will give your poor brain a break.  If yours is anything like mine, it needs one once in a while. When I’m trying to do too much I end up in a massively confused state and then I don’t get anything done.

Because a creative hobby is intentional rest.  We so easily succumb to what Jennifer Loudon  calls shadow comforts.  We don’t take time to read the book that’s been on our nightstand for a month, but we’ll happily spend half-an-hour on the internet. The first choice would result in a relaxing mental break, while the second is a bona-fide shadow comfort.  For an absolutely brilliant article on this concept, click here.

Because turning your writing into a should is a sure way to make you hate it. And when you are not allowing yourself any other kind of relaxation or fun besides writing, sure enough you’re turning it into a should.  Hey, this craft is hard—we might as well enjoy it, right?

Because good ole fashioned play is something we need more of in our lives. Studies have shown that play has great benefits for adults, including, stress relief, improved brain function, improved relationships and increased energy.  You can read more here.

So come on, take a break for your writing and indulge in that favorite hobby of yours. (And by the way, this may be the only time I ever urge you not to write, so take advantage of it.)

What is your favorite non-writing creative pursuit?  Comment below and join the conversation.

Photo by Missa88.

From the Archives: Power Writing and Creativity

While I'm writing and teaching in Spain and France, enjoy this post from April 2008 (one of my favorites I've ever written):

First, though, I want to talk about creativity in general. I consider it to be one branch of the Three-Fold Writer’s Path, and in many ways, it is the most crucial. You can be the most talented writer in the world, but if you are not sitting down and using that talent, what use is it? If you don’t develop ways to convince yourself to return to the computer, over and over, on bad days and good, your talent will lay fallow, never to see the light of day.


And in my book there are few things sadder. Well, war and starving children in Africa, but you know what I mean. In developed countries, I’m convinced that the cause of much of our contemporary angst stems from people not exercising their creativity. Unexpressed creativity starts as a longing and turns into depression, or worse, perhaps, rage.

It is hard to be creative on a regular basis. Creativity is active. It requires us to think, to do, to act, to, well, create. These days, there are so many wonderful passive activities available to us that do not require action—surfing the internet, watching one of 500 available channels on TV, to name only a couple—that creating is practically a radical act.

Which makes it all the more important to do it regularly.

Creativity is a muscle. It gets stronger as you use it. When you go to the gym regularly and lift weights you build your physical muscles. So, too, with creativity. When you express yourself regularly, it becomes easier and more comfortable. The words flow and you develop a facility with them. The paint glides across the canvas. It doesn’t take you hours to find all your supplies. Ideas come as if by magic.

The opposite is true, too. Once you get away from the habit of creativity, it becomes ever more difficult to return. You have no idea where your drawing pencils are. You can’t, for the life of you, recall where you intended to go next in your novel. And what on earth were you trying to evoke with that mess of color on the canvas?

It only gets harder. And that longing inside you will grow and grow…until it becomes something else, something you probably really don’t want to allow to fester. So why not take the path that seems harder at first but is actually the easiest?

It is ultimately the easiest path because it leads you home to your heart and your soul and the very essence of your being. Which, in the end, is really all there is.

So here, ta-da, are the fifteen keys:

1. Be A Beginner.

The Zen Buddhists talk a lot about beginner's mind. I am a buddhism slacker, but this concept is called Shoshin, and it is a good one. The idea of it is to be eager. Be open. Don’t have expectations. Don’t think, do. Have a sense of wonder. This is an especially vital key for the professional, who may develop a mind-set that everything he does must be perfect the first time out. Banish those thoughts. A beginner wouldn’t expect to be perfect. Nor should you—no matter where you fall on the beginner to expert scale.

2. There Are No Rules (but make some for yourself if it makes you feel better).

Who says you can't write a novel in 100 viewpoints? The result may not work, and it may not be particularly publishable, but it might lead to something that is. Forget everything you know about the rules (see #1) and just go for it. See what happens. Sometimes this key is a bit much for people. The lack of rules is scary. So make some up for yourself–like, every sentence must start with a word that is capitalized. There, does that make you feel better?

3. Do It Badly.

The idea that everything has to be perfect is a huge creativity killer. So, go for the opposite. Write one bad page. Draw one crappy sketch. Sing a song off-key. The world didn't stop, did it? And go back and take a look at that dreadful page you just wrote. Hmmm, might you not be able to use that first sentence? With a few changes, does the third paragraph work fairly well for the opening? I thought so. Writing badly is an entry point into your work. Put something, anything, down on the page. Then you have words to work with. And that is a wonderful thing.

4. Just Do It.

This goes hand in hand with Key #3: Do It Badly. The truth of the matter is, you gotta just do it. And do it again and again. It is that simple and that difficult. Sometimes just doing it is the easiest thing in the world, and sometimes it is the hardest. I do not know why this is so. Sometimes I wring my hands and emote and pace and get down on my hands and knees and scrub the floor, all in an attempt to not just do it. And then when I finally get around to doing it, I wonder why on earth I whined and moaned for so long. Because once I'm in the middle of doing it, I love it more than anything on earth. So why I have to re-convince myself to go back to it over and over again, I do not know. If this happens to you, take heart and know that it is normal, at least in the realm of writer normal. Which, I have to say is not the same as normal normal, if you know what I mean.

5. Process, Not Product

When my daughter was getting her post-bacc certificate in photography, which was close to getting a MFA, this was one of her mantras. It has always been one of my mantras, too, and I have the hand-painted pillow to prove it. I actually wrote about this in another post recently, but it is such a bedrock tenet of creativity that I have to mention it again. Just remind yourself that it is not about the finished product, it is about the process of doing it. It really is. Trust me. Ironically, by focusing on the process, you'll end up with a much better product. It's another one of those mysterious creativity things. I don't pretend to understand them, I just obey them.

6. Do The Work, Don't Judge It

Goes along with #5. If you are focused on product while you are in the process of writing, you are likely to be judging it. Don't do that. Just do the work. It is akin to learning to be in the moment. I will confess here that I am a meditation slacker (I know, I know, I've got a slacker list a mile long–Buddhism and yoga and meditation being tops on it. What does that say about me?). But when it comes to writing, there's nothing I love better than kicking into that flow and being so in the moment that time passes without me even noticing it. That is only possible, my friends, when you are in the moment, one with the words, and Not Judging them. Judging is for later. Its hell when its judging time, but we are not talking about that now.

7. Small Steps

Rome wasn't built in a day. Rome really wasn't built in a day, and your creative projects won't be either. Don't get so caught up in the big picture that you forget to take the small, repeated steps. Make them as small as possible. Don't think about the entire novel, think about the next scene. Don't obsess about the entire canvas, focus on the next color of paint. Break things down into their smallest components. This seems so obvious–and yet I have to remind myself of it again and again.

8. Make It A Habit

The self-help experts say it takes 21 days to create a new habit. Thus, if you make a date with yourself to write your novel or plan that garden, or work on that song you're writing, and keep the date every day for 21 days, at the end of it you'll have established a new habit. Don't know if the 21 day thing is true or not, as I always forget to keep track, but I do know that consistency and the dreaded D word, discipline, are actually bedrock elements of creativity. This is counter-intuitive, but true. As I've said (over and over, to the point of causing retching) creativity is active. You've got to just do it. And the more you just do it, the easiest it gets.

9. Use the Power of Momentum

The really cool thing is that once you are consistently using your creativity, critical mass kicks in and you get momentum on your side. Momentum is what happens when you get the perfect idea for chapter ten when you're in the middle of writing chapter nine. It's what happens when you "hear" the perfect line of dialogue for your screenplay while you are writing the description for the scene. Once your mind is engaged with the work on a regular basis, it will help you by sending you messages and ideas. Apparently, the mind likes to be kept busy. The flip side of this is familiar to anyone who has set aside a creative project–it takes awhile to get back into it. You have to go back and re-read the entire novel in order to remember what you wrote, or you have to go back and review all the instructions on that sweater you are knitting. It is ever so much easier to just stick to it.

10. Use Your Subconscious

Put your subconscious mind to work for you. Think about your project or read a few pages from it right before you go to sleep–then prepare to pay attention to your dreams when you wake up. Command your subconscious (you won't hurt its feelings, promise, it likes to work for you) to figure out the details of the next scene you have to write. Once you get in the habit of allowing your subconscious to work for you, you'll be amazed at how helpful it can be. I wrote an earlier post that goes into this in much more detail. You can read that here.

11. Don't Talk About It, Do It

Too many people talk about the novel they are going to write, or the art they are going to produce. Too many people relate the whole damn story of the screenplay they play to get down on paper. But I believe talking about it too much is a big mistake. It dissipates the energy of the project, takes the air out of it. So don't talk about it. Do it.

12. Refill the Well

This is especially important when you are finishing a long project. Working on an extended creative piece takes not only time but energy. Have you ever had the experience of intensely focusing on your writing for a few hours and suddenly realizing you are starving? That's because using your brain burns calories. It takes energy. You need to keep yourself going by constantly refilling the well. Julia Cameron advises taking Artist's Dates, which are scheduled times when you consciously do something that pleases and replenishes you. When I'm writing a lot, I like to read a lot–words out, words in. Its as if I need to replenish the supply. It is vitally important that you figure out what nourishes you and commit to doing it often. Its not selfish, because it is paving the way for you to bring your creative gifts to the world.

13. Keep going.

I know. Duh. But it is depressingly easy to quit when a block arises or a rejection comes in the mail or someone says something mean about your work. But don't let the bastards get you down–writing all the time is the best revenge. Not writing well, or publishing well. Just writing. So keep at it. You'll break through that block, the next letter will be an acceptance to a prestigious publication and the mean person will get hit by a car–not injured, because we can't wish ill on people. Just shaken up enough so that they are no longer mean.

14. Take a break.

Just the wee-est bit contradictory today, aren't I? Well creativity is a contradictory activity, too. While you must commit to keeping going in the face of all odds, you must also learn to take breaks once in awhile. Let the work compost. Don't force it. Sometimes walking away for a few minutes or even a whole day (see Anne Wayman's post on taking time off here) can be the pause that refreshes. Just don't let a break turn into procrastination.

15. Let it go.

Ah, how good it feels to finish a piece of work, know that you've done all that you can do, and then release it out to the world with no attachments or expectations. At least that is the ideal. Doesn't always happen that way, but we can continue to try. It is all too easy to hang on to a creative project and not let it take its rightful journey into the world–whether it is a novel seeking a publisher, an essay needing a home in a magazine, or a blog post. It is all too easy to find yourself slowing down as you near the end of the project, or for blocks to suddenly appear when all was smooth sailing before. Sometimes this can happen because of a reluctance to let the pages go. But what good are they going to do the world locked away on your computer, or in a drawer where nobody can find them? Send your babies out and let them find their homes. The energy of that will come back to you in surprising ways.

Letting go is a suitable stopping point for this series on creativity. And now that you know everything there is to know about creativity, go forth and do it.


The Love-Hate Relationship With the Creative Process

MosaicHeartBeing immersed in the creative process–writing a novel, creating a class, knitting a sweater, planting a garden–is my most favorite thing in the world.

Until I hit a block.

And decide that the novel stinks, nobody will want to take the class, the sweater won't fit, the garden won't grow.  And then I hate the creative process.

I was reading about this very thing on another blog this morning when it hit me.   The tension between the love part and the hate part is what keeps us working at it.  If the creative process–say, your writing practice–was all good all the time, you'd get bored.  And if it was all bad all the time, you'd get frustrated and quit.

A well-known psychological principle is that of intermittent reinforcement, and that's what we're talking about here.  This principle states that reinforcement is doled out in an intermittent manner is far and away the strongest motivator.  Why? Because we never know what we're going to get, and we're always hoping for the good outcome–the wonderfully satisfying writing session as opposed to the time when you sit and stare out the window.

But we're also talking about tension, the lifeblood of all stories.  It's what keeps readers turning pages, the tension in the story itself and the tension the author has embedded in the story.  Without tension, or conflict, there is no story, its a simple as that.  Which is why, of course, the news is full of awful stories about horrible things happening.

While it is frustrating to hit the lows of the creative process, if you just remember that its all a cycle and the highs will soon return, I think you can ease yourself through the times you hate everything you create.  Remind yourself that the work would not be nearly so compelling if it were all easy, all the time.  

And take yourself back to the page once more.

How do you handle the lows of the creative process?

Photo by Carbon NYC.

You’re a Creative Person, Right?

Crayons-crayola-artsupplies-867610-hCreative vs. Non-Creative People

In which I attempt to answer the question, is there such a thing as a non-creative person?

Years ago, when I was a fledgling writer still getting used to becoming enraptured in the throes of the creative process, I developed a theory:

The world was divided into creative and non-creative people.

Creative people understood when I said I was in the middle of a chapter and couldn't go to a movie with them (or more likely, watch their child–since I wrote at home, I was that Mom who everyone dumped their kids on).

Non-creative people didn't.

Creative people got it when I talked about getting up early to write.  Non-creative people just kvetched about hitting the snooze button.

And just like morning people and night owls will never agree on the best schedule for the day, so, too, creative and non-creative people will never see eye to eye.

That is what I used to think.

But then I got schooled.

Schooled in the idea that all of us, every single one, is a creative being.  Moreover, our purpose in life, the reason we were put here, is to be creative.  Creativity for me means writing (okay, and knitting, too).  But for you it might mean gardening. Or sewing. Or lawn mowing.  Or playing the ukulele.  Or building furniture. I remember once, years ago, having gum surgery and realizing that for my dentist, working on teeth was a creative process.

Creativity is that thing that you do and you don't know time has passed.  It is that thing you do when you are totally present without having to bring yourself back to the moment a million times because you are jus there–totally wrapped up in it. It is that thing you do that makes you feel most alive–and afterwards in love with all the world.

And all of us have that creative spark within us.  And if we heed it, we'll be happier people.  And thus, so will the rest of the world.

I know I'm happier–by five thousand country miles–when I'm honoring that creative spark within. When I'm making the time, and using the energy, to write, to knit, to garden.  Because the truth is, creativity does take energy.  It is harder to sit at your computer and throw words at the page than it is to surf the internet and read news and celebrity stories because when you're being creative, your brain has to work.  It is harder to pick up the knitting rather than just stare at the TV (I speak for myself here) because your fingers have to move.

Creative work requires energy, for sure.  But the good news is that after you've expended that energy you'll feel better than you could ever imagine.  You'll be exhilarated–and maybe exhausted at the same time.  But it will be a good exhaustion, the kind that comes when you've put everything you've got in that moment out on the page, or the canvas, or the garden bed, or into the strings of your guitar, or however you best like to express yourself.

And I suspect that those among us who claim to be not creative have simply not expended the time or energy to figure out where their creativity lies within.  And if they did, they'd experience the absolute joy of letting it flow out.

So, yeah, don't tell me that you're not creative–because I know you are.  I'm likely preaching to the choir here, but all of us can stand a reminder of this now and then, don't you think?

Did you ever have a time when you thought you weren't creative? Leave a comment and let's discuss.

Photo by laffy4K.

Guest Post: Attune Your Body to Encourage Creative Flow

I'm thrilled to introduce you to my new friend Kaitlyn.  We met when she reached out to me on LinkedIn after which we enjoyed an afternoon talking about creativity and sipping tea.  I love the work she is doing with creative introverts who struggle to express their true selves and I'm thrilled to host her here today.  

Attune to Your Body to Encourage Creative Flow Water_abstract_bubbles_221472_l

by Kaitlyn Mirison

Every person is one-of-a-kind and yet we expend a lot of energy modifying ourselves to fit in or conform to a standardized way of living. And during the self-tweaking process lose touch with our natural way of being.

Your natural way that encourages the essence of you to express fully in life, the richness inside of you to emerge and the magic of your imagination to be realized.

By understanding your natural rhythms and merging into them, you will flow in the world as you – the true you.

The core fundamentals are important to understand in any pursuit. And your body – the vessel that holds you – when listened to becomes a foundation for your soul’s unique expression to naturally flow forth.

Following are a few core elements of you ~

1. Sensory Gauge: The sounds, smells and sights in your environment all have an impact on you. They enter your energy system as a gentle caress, invigorating tingle or sharp stab. And the manner in which these external senses are received within your body – painful or pleasurable – determine if they are a hindrance or an ally to you. By increasing your awareness of which sounds, smells and sights stimulate and calm you in pleasing ways, empowers you to create your environment for your desired experience in a given moment. Including setting up the space in which you engage in your creative pursuits to support and enhance your imagination’s flow.

2. Energy Station: Every person needs to refuel and the activities that effectively recharge your batteries is unique for each person. If you are more extroverted, you gain energy from external stimulation and if an introvert, your energy source is from within. How you gain your energy is a physiological need and vital for you to understand and prioritize for your well-being. The activities that cause you to expend energy aren’t necessarily negative. You may use energy while thoroughly enjoying a music concert at a high voltage standing room only venue. The greater awareness you develop about the characteristics of activities that cause you to use energy helps you learn when you can add these expending-energy activities into your life and not deplete your energy tank.

3. Internal clock: We live in a world that is constantly going. With our expanded capabilities to connect anytime, anywhere it becomes a breeding ground to ignore your very basic core needs of healthy sleep and food because sleep and food require you to pause. There are optimal times in a day for each person to sleep, eat and be active. Some people feel more alive from 5am – 10am while other people experience a greater sense of aliveness from 9pm – 2am and anywhere in-between.

Attune to your unique internal clock to plan your activities including creativity time to sync with your natural ebb and flows.

I encourage you to embark on an expedition to explore, experiment and discover the sensory stimuli, refueling activities and internal times that allow your body to feel at ease.

During the next month or two take note ~

When entering a space how are the sounds, smells and visual elements being received in your body; When engaging in an activity, notice if your body feels like you are receiving or expending energy; During x time of day, does your body feel alert or is your body craving rest.

As you gather your data, pay attention to patterns and common themes and weave the positive elements into your day. Understanding sensory communication, the rise and fall of your energy levels and nuances of your inner cadence will allow you to nourish and foster your foundation, to remove tension and give freedom for the creative genius within you to emerge in full delight.

How do you encourage your own creative flow?

HeadShot_201101_BWKaitlyn Mirison guides introverted artists and writers to embrace their true nature and connect to their signature soul self so their art and life become their soul’s unique expression. Discover more about Kaitlyn and her program, Live Empowered as You at

Image by Marinela.

The Creative Trance

Melbourne_victoria_australia_54546_hI'm working on a project that puts me into a trance.

My fingers fly across the keys and I'm totally and completely absorbed in it.  Time passes and I have no sense of it–if you asked me what the hour was, I wouldn't have a clue.  Dim thoughts that I should get up from my chair arise (I'm trying to stand up and move every 30 minutes) and they leave my brain again just as fast.  Because my fingers are moving across the keyboard, as if of their own volition.  It doesn't even occur to me to check email or see what's up on the internet. My fingers just keep moving.

When I finally come out of it, I'm wrung out–but in a cheerful, energetic way, if that makes sense.  I'm ready to take a break and I also cannot wait until I get to go back into the trance again.

This is what writing is all about.  This is how I like my creativity.

And, I recall, this is how writing used to be for me always.  Before I started worrying about how it sounded.  Or doing it right.  Or if the client would like it. 

So why is it suddenly happening for me again?

I think because I'm playing around with a different genre.  It's something new, I'm not worrying so much about the rules, and I'm allowing myself to have fun.   At the same time, I've got enough of a sense of mastery that I'm not second guessing myself all the time.

But also, I believe there's a sense of allowing myself to let it happen at play here.  I have to admit, in the past I've felt close to being in a trance state and talked myself out of it.  Got up from the computer, clicked over to check email, gazed out the window instead.

And I think I know why.  Because once  you're in the trance state it is the most wonderful place imaginable.   But it's also a bit scary.  You're out of control of your conscious mind to a certain extent.  You're in the grip of something bigger, something beyond you. 

What if you never come out?  What if you get so compelled by this trance state that you give yourself over to it totally–don't bother to shower, forget to pick up the kids, ditch cooking and cleaning?   What if you give yourself to it so fully that you become the madwoman who wanders around town talking to herself?  

Okay, so realistically, we're all pretty sure that's not going to happen.  But, still, it could, our inner critic insists.  And so we reign ourselves in, listen to that voice, attempt a more measured approach to writing.

But here's the thing: the writing I do while I'm in a creative trance is my best work.  It flows, it has a sense of authority, and at the same time, ease.  I wrote it effortlessly and it reads effortlessly.

So, I, for one, am vowing to allow myself more time in the creative trance in 2014.  

How about you?  Have you experienced the creative trance?  Do you like it or loathe it?  

Photo by Scott Sandars.

My Tabs

I'm not really sure what this has to do with writing, probably nothing, though perhaps we could say it has a lot to do with creativity.  Yes, that's the ticket.  It's all about the creativity.

For some reason today, I got an idea to write about my tabs.  You know, the ones that you keep open on your computer.  Wait, you don't keep tabs open on your computer?  I do.  I currently have 12 of them open, even though it's much easier to open and close tabs and keep track of them since I downloaded Google Chrome, replacing years of using Firefox.  (For the record, I love Chrome.)

So here goes, from left to right, the tabs I currently have open:

1.  My Gmail inbox.

2. The site for an online workshop called Yoriginality.  It's about becoming a yoga teacher.  Kinda not sure where this came from, I think Twitter.  I am not going to become a yoga teacher, but I have recently started doing yoga after years of resisting it, so I was interested in the mother site, which is Curvyyoga.  And, also recently, I discovered Alexandra Franzen (more on her in a minute), and she's one half of the Yoriginality duo.  

3. The page for an E-course on painting that I would cut off my right hand to take (but then, hmmm, I wouldn't be able to paint).  This is the site of painter Flora Bowley, and its worth exploring for all the interesting and inspiring things she features. This must have come from Twitter as well.  I love me the Twitter.

4.  A post from the above-mentioned Alexandra Franzen, titled, Read This When You Can't Remember Who You Are, What You Do, Why You Do It–or How to Talk About It.  The post features a handy little exercise to help you discover who in the hell you are.  Another site that is worth exploring (which explains why I have it and Flora's open on my tabs–so I can go peruse them in spare moments).

5.  My Typepad blogging site, which I keep open to stay current with comments and stats, and also to inspire me to blog.

6.  My latest blog post, so I can tweet it and such.

7.  My Twitter @connect feed so I can keep up with who wants to talk to me.

8.  My Comcast inbox.

9.  Page which has information on purchasing tickets for upcoming talks by Isabel Allende and Diana Gabaldon, both of whom I would very much like to see. (I went to a lecture by Isabel years ago, and it was one of the best I've ever heard.)

10.  The Slashed Reads site, which my publisher pointed out to me and which I may do a giveaway with (though they don't know it yet–haven't gotten around to contacting them, hence why the page is open in my tabs).

11.  My hootsuite page.  Which is how I manage all my Twitter people.  If I were ever on Facebook, it's how I would manage that, too.  But I'm never on Facebook.

12.  And finally, my Yahoo home page, where I have a really random variety of RSS feeds stored.  I know the whole RSS thing is going out of favor and Google ditched their version of it, but I stubbornly like it.  I like having all the blogs I read in one place.

And that's it–those are my tabs.   A day in the life of my computer, I guess.  Hopefully it reveals me as a fascinating, multi-faceted creature, but I'm not holding my breath about that.

So, reassure me that I'm not crazy–you keep tabs open on your computer, right?  Right?  Care to share which ones?

10 Ways to Welcome Autumn and Awaken Your Creativity

I love autumn.

Love, love, love it.

Fall is my favorite season–the gorgeous color, the warmish days turning to cool nights, the early dark (I know, I'm crazy but I love it when night falls early), Halloween, and the knowledge that Christmas is coming. 

It is a time when suddenly we're indoors more than out (we spend our summers here in the back yard, having Happy Hour and dinner out on the deck every evening and grilling most nights).   So, since you're spending more time indoors and it's getting dark early, why not refocus your creative efforts? 

Herein, 10 ways to rejuvenate yourself for the runup to the end of the year:

1.  Put your garden to bed.  We planted raised beds this year, and I learned how much harder vegetables are to grow than flowers.  (Turns out they need, um, constant tending.)  Currently the beds feature some anemic tomato plants and deep broccoli kale (a doomed experiment).  But I know that when I get around to going out there and weeding, chopping and dealing with the garden, creative thoughts will flow.  Because that's what happens when you do repetitive tasks–it lets your right brain roam free.

2.  Start a knitting project.  Speaking of repetitive activities, knitting is a great one.  And now that the temperatures are cooler, its a bit more comfortable to hold needles and yarn on your lap. Knitting has the same effect as gardening for me–it sparks all kinds of ideas.  It's time for me to pull out that baby blanket I'm knitting for a friend, before said baby turns into a toddler.

3.  Kick leaves.  Do I even have to elaborate?  Is there anything better than stomping through a pile of fall leaves?  We're not quite there yet in Portland, but I look forward to the near future when I can scuff through leaves on my walks.   Contrary to popular belief that unhappiness and anxiety creates great writing, I believe the opposite.  Doing the things that make you happy creates great writing.  And kicking leaves makes me very, very happy.

4. Sit by the fire.  One of my best purchases ever was a gas insert for our fireplace.  I turn that baby on at the merest hint of cold weather, much to my husband's chagrin.  But just as summer means sitting out back on the deck, fall means sitting inside by the fire.  With a glass of wine, pen and paper, it's perfect.  A fireplace fire means fall to me, what signals autumn to you?  Whatever it is, do it, enjoy it, experience it–the pleasure you derive will be excellent for your creativity.

5.  Make soup.  Like I said, we grill most all our meals during the summer (no hot kitchens for me). But when the temperatures drop, there's nothing better than a pot of stew or soup bubbling on the stove.  A fire in the fireplace, soup on the stove, a glass of wine…the creative juices will be flowing in no time!

6. Take a road trip.  I just got back from a mini-road trip to the eastern part of the state, which inspired me no end.  So did my trip to France.  But my point is you don't have to go overseas or somewhere exotic, take a day trip to the beach (if you're lucky enough to live nearby), or the mountains (ditto), or just the other side of the city.  Travel opens the brain to all kinds of new ideas.

7. Read a book.  I know, we're writers, and so of course we read.  But, shockingly, sometimes we don't, because life gets in the way.  Or summer activities distract us.  But its fall now, darker, colder, and reading weather is upon us.  Short of actually writing, there's no other activity that will make you a better writer than reading.   Period.  I never thought I'd be saying this, but for speed and ease I recommend an Ereader.  I started out loving reading on my Kindle, but now I'm a huge fan of reading on my Ipad mini.  Anyway, it doesn't matter how you read, just do it.

8.  Clean and clear clutter.  My family is laughing hysterically at this one, because,  I'm a bit, shall we say, challenged when it comes to these activities.  But something about the change of the seasons makes me focus on these tasks anew.  Maybe its because I'll be spending more time inside, but suddenly I'm looking for ways to improve my living situation.  I've learned, over and over again, that clearing physical clutter clears mental clutter as well.  So have at it.

9. Play.  Something about telling adults to play is cringe-worthy, isn't it?  But, in our success and status oriented society, taking time to play is the ultimate radical act.  And fall is a good time to do it.  Build a fort out of chairs and sheets in your living room and sit beneath it to write.  Color.   Doodle.  Skip around the block.  Have a tea party with stuffed animals.  It might help if you can nab a nearby child to do this with you, but even if you can't, do it anyway and see what happens.

10. Have a writing marathon.  C'mon, its getting cold and dark outside, you can do it.  Instead of spending your weekend catching the newest movie (or doing any of the above-mentioned activities) vow to write a pre-set number of words.  Maybe 10,000?  Think how fantastic you'll feel when you're done.  And when you are done, you can celebrate with a glass of wine in front of the fire. 

 So those are some of my ideas about how to welcome fall.  What are yours?  Please leave a comment and share them.

Photo by Chris Darling.