Eureka

January 19, 2014

by Deborah Atherton

Image

A few days ago, as I was ending my day by playing a little game of Scrabble online, I was suddenly hit by an idea of how to fix a novel I have been totally unable to finish and send off.  “Go back to the short story!” a little voice in my head yelled (I had adapted the novel from a short story I had written a few years before.) 

 

I don’t know why these little voices always feel the need to yell—a soft whisper in my ear would have done just as well.  But the sensation is, as so many other people have often described it, startling.  Not exactly like jumping into your bathtub and having a revelation as did Archimedes, or having an apple fall off a tree and hit you on the head, a la Sir Isaac Newton, but not so unlike it either.  I did manage to finish my turn before I opened the short story and re-read it.  And yup, there were the scenes that would make all the difference in the novel—already written! But somehow I had forgotten about them for two years as I was mulling and procrastinating.  At this point, I don’t know if I made a conscious decision NOT to include them at some point, or had just entirely forgotten about them. 

 

So was I doing the right thing not sending the novel out when I was uneasy about it (although I couldn’t exactly say why?) And how do you tell if you are just holding yourself back or if there is a real problem that has a solution you just haven’t found yet?

 

I suppose one indication might be whether you are at a complete standstill with every project you’ve undertaken, or just stuck on one.  Because however absorbed we are in the Big Work of the moment, there are almost always other things to be done—most of us have more than one idea at a time, and have a few things on the back burner even we are most involved in finishing something major.  If you are at a complete creative standstill (and we’ve all been there) it is probably not because your little (loud) internal voice has not yet chosen to speak.  Something else is up; you are stopping yourself for some reason.  In the last month, I’ve had a few little breakthroughs—but I’ve also had the time, and given myself the space, to get there.

 

But this one surprised me; it came out of nowhere, when I was completely occupied with what to do with my “Q”—the last thing I was thinking of was how to fix the novel.  Sometimes it does pay to wait for your brain to make the connections it needs to make, and notify you.  Since almost all creative people are born procrastinators, this may be a dangerous conclusion to come to; but once in a while, putting it off does turn out to be right thing to do.  

Photo used by permission of Leo Reynolds. Some rights reserved by artist.

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Not Good Enough?

November 10, 2013

by Deborah Atherton

Oscar

Oscar


Most people I know in the midst of a creative (or in fact almost any kind of) project pause at some moment, whether they have just started or are almost done, to tell themselves, “It’s not good enough.” Sometimes they keep this to themselves, and sometimes they immediately post it on Facebook. (I’ve noticed a lot of posts this month especially, since we’re in the midst of NaNoWriMo.)

Of course, sometimes it’s true—you’ve tried your hardest, and it really isn’t good enough. You started too soon or too late, or with an incomplete vision, and the essential idea, the thing that inspired you, has somehow been lost. But more often, it’s not about your novel or sketch or film or song or poem at all; it’s about the impossible and elusive standard we set ourselves—the standard we can never, ever meet, but one that somehow that guy we once encountered in college or at a party or on Twitter has not only met and surpassed—and has subsequently been rewarded with a bestseller or an Oscar nomination or at least an invitation to a much cooler party.

We won’t go too much into the many evils of social comparison—how we make ourselves unhappy by comparing our lives to those of our friends, neighbors, and colleagues—we all do it, and we all suffer for it. But the question is, how do we know, when we take that moment to examine and ask ourselves—is it good enough—whether we are using our own actual best judgment, or asking ourselves from the depths of our fear of never ever making something good enough—or even as good as what we’ve done before?

Our best bet, I think, is to take ourselves out of the moment, and examine what exactly sparked it. Was it really the way we captured the light, or worded a phrase—or was it that review of our acquaintance’s work that just popped up in our newsfeed or, even more shattering, a casual comment from a passing friend or relative? Are we actually having a dialog with our work or with our own sense—or someone else’s sense—of exactly where we ought to be in our lives right now?

Because really, the only voice in the room should be yours—unless of course your work is talking to you, and we always want to listen to what our work has to say. If your work is begging to be re-booted and re-vamped, then go to it. But if it’s really that everyone else seems to be getting deals and awards and reviews—kick them all out. Because how can they know? Only you had the idea, and only you can see it through.

Photo courtesy of daverugby33 at Flickr via Creative Commons license


Using Hypnosis to Unlock the Box of Creativity

March 11, 2013

by Leslie Zeigler

To explore additional ways of helping people with creative blocks, I interviewed my good friend,Ruth Washton, who uses hypnosis to help people open a door to their creative process. Ruth told me that she defines creativity broadly, to include creative expression both as an art form as well as in creating one’s own life. In a mild trance state, Ruth says, one can become in touch with oneself as the ultimate source of creativity.

Ruth Washton

Ruth Washton

Leslie: What is hypnosis?
Ruth: Hypnosis is a state of relaxed attention. A trance state is experienced when one stops following one’s thoughts and instead becomes absorbed in one’s own internal world. Think about being absorbed in a great novel, no longer paying attention to the outside world, perhaps not even hearing someone enter the room or ask you a question. The title of your blog, Leslie, is a wonderful image that can be explored hypnotically. Imagine unlocking the box of creativity: ask yourself what does this box look like? What is it made of? What does the lock look like? What does the key look like? Imagine putting the key into the lock. Will you lift the lid just a bit and peek inside? what do you see?

This is the first installment of several posts about Creativity and Hypnosis.


Regrets

January 11, 2013

By Deborah Atherton

As the year begins, most of us over 29 (and perhaps, even a few younger) seize the moment to reproach ourselves not just with what we haven’t accomplished in the previous year, but in all the years that came before.

Regret

The novels we haven’t written (or read!), the film projects that never got off the ground, the paints drying out in the basement, the guitars sitting dusty and untouched—they all rise up in an angry mob and march on our poor undefended minds.

These are the moments that bring on New Year’s Resolutions. Or perhaps you already made yours, and, a week in, have already fallen short of this year’s expectations.

The question I am trying to ask myself right now is—why, exactly, are some projects languishing in dusty corners right now? Is it procrastination, a lack of genuine interest on my part, a shortage of energy and/or time, or a failure of nerve? Or just an overabundance of projects?

These are really difficult questions, and honestly, I’m still pondering the answers. I’m probably not going to have the answer to all of them before Valentine’s Day, or maybe July 4th. But I am going to try and take a look at each one and figure out what it is actually possible to do in a year, in the full knowledge that, for instance, what I really usually feel like doing on Saturday after a week at my job is absolutely nothing. Which doesn’t mean that if I assign 45 minutes or an hour to doing something creative that engages me, I won’t do it—in fact, I know, if it is a commitment I made in my schedule and my heart, I will.

What I’d like, I think, to feel at the end of 2013 is no regrets. That I did what I could reasonably do, and that even if the new novel is, for example, still only 2/3 done, instead of 1/3 as it is now, that it was a good effort, and the most I could do given my own circumstances. And that I was dealing with the scary parts—submitting, getting rejected or accepted—in an effective way, and not putting off what I did not enjoy doing.

So this year, instead of a list of everything I’m going to finish by the end of next year, I am going to aim for feeling no regrets about my creative work when I uncork the champagne next December 31st—no regrets, and more fun with my work. I invite you to join me!


Decluttering Your Mind

July 9, 2012

by Deborah Atherton

There are some creative people who live and work in pristine environments,
who can maintain a space where there is a place for everything and everything is in that place.  They function beautifully in these spaces, and sometimes even thoughtfully raise a bonsai tree or two.

I am not one of those people.  

I live in a space that is full of my family furniture and four generations of books, photographs, art work and random Tibetan prayer shawls.  I have my great-grandmother’s tea table, my grandmother’s theater playbills, my mother’s seashell collection, my father’s backgammon set, and the next generation’s collection of comic books and manga, not to mention the entire family genealogical archives in my walk-in closet.

Recently, I participated in a decluttering workshop run by the wonderful lifecoach Sallie Felton, based on her new book, If I’m So Smart, Why Can’t I Get Rid of This Clutter?  I thought I was in it to get the books and files off the floor in my office/bedroom but as it turned out, Sallie, who has a genius for this stuff, addresses not just physical clutter, but emotional and mental clutter.  And in the process of going through her exercises (which I recommend highly to all of you!), I realized that the clutter that was bothering me most was not the physical clutter around me (although that may well be what is bothering my family and friends most) but the clutter inside my head and my computer: the books and stories and songs that were completed, or one intensive edit away from being completed, but not out circulating in the world where they should be.

We all have reasons for not sending stuff out: it’s not perfect yet, or we don’t have time, or it maybe got rejected once or twice and we don’t want to experience any more rejection.  But until I took this workshop, I hadn’t fully realized I had TWO FINISHED BOOKS sitting idly on my computer.

One of them was a collaboration with my sister, friend, and collaborator, Susan.  We had finished it in the last century, but two rejections, and moves, caretaking, and deaths in the family had led us to put it on the back burner.  I called her in the midst of my decluttering effort and suggested we pick it up again, and publish it, by any means necessary.  We are now in the midst of the required intensive edit, and are going to get it out the door and make it stay out there, no matter how much it pleads to come back in.

Another is my literary novel, which grew out of my “dating stories,” and captures a certain kind of New York social life in the first decade of the 21st century (you see I was moving along.) I sent that out exactly once before it ended up back in my computer. And out the door it will now go this fall, after a less-intensive edit, before another century has passed.

We talk a lot about rejection on this blog, and I thought I was at least mostly over it, and in terms sending out my short stories, maybe I am.  But apparently the novels are another story, and one I somehow shut out of my mind and pushed to the bottom of the pile.  With Sallie’s help and encouragement, I am on it.

And, you will now ask, how about those piles of books on the floor?

Well, some of them have gotten into boxes, but apparently, I am not yet ready to clear the decks and bring in the bonsai trees.  But that’s okay—there’s obviously another decluttering workshop (or maybe ten) in my future, and another thing Sallie will tell you is that you have to start where you stand, and change is always incremental.  I’ll keep you posted.


Are you your worst naysayer? A Mindfulness mindset can help.

June 18, 2012

by Leslie Zeigler

We  often talk on this blog site about naysayers  –  you know who they are  –  the  people in your life, either from your past or your present,  who are are ever-so-skilled in delivering that  critical message.   The message  that has the power to be worse than a bee sting in its lingering sting.  It may not matter how confident you are about your  creative endeavor –  this message feels like just the opposite of an encouraging  comment.  It can make you doubt your own talents and abilities.  The person  may even think they are being  helpful  by saying:  “Perhaps you are wasting your time trying to write.  You must know you will never win a Pulitzer.”

Another form this naysaying might take  can be silence about anything you do that is creative –  a complete absence of comment, as if these people had selective amnesia when it comes to your creativity.  Sometimes this type of naysayer style can hurt even more than the overtly negative comment.

But what about the naysayer inside of you? Are you aware that you might be your own worst  naysayer  – the one who has the greatest power to stop you from pursuing your creative dream?  It can occur in a very subtle way  –  a brief occasional   internal message  that you may barely notice, like  “Are you sure you write well enough to keep working on that short story?”   Or perhaps you tell yourself you are wasting your money on those  workshops you are taking  to become  a better writer or classes to become a better painter, photographer,  actor, etc, etc., etc.  Or maybe it is not subtle at all –  maybe it a a loud, repetitive,  internal voice that says  you are really a fraud,  you really should just stop whatever passion you are directing towards your creativity and give up and focus your energy on anything else but being creative.

So what can you do?  First of all, understand that you cannot easily get rid of   this kind of  internal message.  Just trying to order it to stop it does not usually work.  It is rare to meet someone who does not struggle to some degree (the operative words) with self-doubt and harsh self-critical messages.

But there are things you can do.  The first step is to become your own detective of your internal naysayer  messages.  As you do this, begin  to raise your awareness  that the message is negative and just that – an  internal message –  not a fact.

In the book  The Mindful Way through Anxiety, by  Susan M. Orsillo, PhD,  Lizabeth Roemer, PhD, the authors say “The human mind is like a movie theater that never closes -always prepared to show films of what we fear.”

This is a beginning step to take in using mindfulness as  a way to help cope  better  with these understandably upsetting messages.  In my next blog post I will describe Step 2 in using mindfulness.


The Creativity Blockers

April 6, 2012

You know them. You probably live and work among them. 

If you say to one of them, “My photograph just won an award!” Or, “My poem just got published!” Or, “My film just got accepted into a festival!” they may manage a “How nice.” More likely, their eyes will glaze overand they will start telling you about what THEY did last weekend.

Did You Get Much Money for That?

Or they may say to you, (and this is my personal favorite), “Did you get much money for that?” Please notice the “much” here, because no matter what sum, from 0 to 1,000,000, that you received for your hard work, it is clear that it isn’t much at all, in the creativity blocker’s scale of things. Sometimes they offer comments like, “I don’t know why you work so hard on that (painting, blog, musical).” “How many years have you been doing that?” Or better yet, “Do people still do that?”

Are You Famous?

And of course, we’ve all heard this at parties or events: “Should I have heard of you?” “Are you famous?” Once upon a time, I thought it was all innocence and ignorance.  Maybe they really did think that people no longer wrote books, or painted pictures, or (in my case) wrote operas.  Somehow these things were generated from a Great Computer in the Sky, and descended full blown upon us.

But now I realize that it’s not that, or it’s more than that.  Many people aren’t comfortable around poets, or playwrights, or musicians, because even in this age of YouTube and America’s Got Talent, creative efforts are not perceived as something regular people do. And if you are successful at it: if you make a living, or part of a living, at it, you’re even odder.  Somehow, you’re cheating. You’re taking a step away from the way most people live their lives; you’re going into a back room, or out on the street, or even to the bar around the corner with your band, and creating something brand new in the world.  And if there’s one thing people aren’t really comfortable with, it’s change. (There does seem to be a gadget exception to this rule; everyone loves their new cars and smart phones.  I do wonder, however, how much they’d have to say to the person who designed them?)

No Point. No Time. No Good

It’s discouraging.  We’d all like a little acknowledgement for our efforts.  We’d like the people around us to be thrilled with our success, and sympathetic to the disappointments that line the road to any successful creative effort.  We try hard to get them interested in what we’re doing, and sometimes their disinterest seems like a global rejection.  We’re not just hearing “no” from the people who could open doors for us, we’re hearing it from our friends and colleagues and sometimes even our families. “No point.” “No time.” “No good.”

So what do we do?

We find other people to talk to.  We’re lucky, in 2012, that the world is open to us through the Internet. But we can also seek out other people in our communities, even in our workplaces, whose eyes actually spark with interest instead of dulling with dread when we start talking about what we love to do.

And we don’t try and interest people who we terrify with our love of what we do.  The more you succeed, the more you keep going, the less happy they will be.  The jabs and disinterest might turn to something more hostile.  Ever notice how fast people turn on performers who don’t meet their expectations?  (Just try a half hour of any celebrity reality TV show.)  Deep down, they may not feel really normal people are out there acting and singing and making movies and games.

Getting By With a Little Help From Your Friends

We get pretty good at insulating ourselves within circles of friends and fellow creative people as we get older, and find ways to hold some of this at bay. But for those striving to create something in a hostile culture or community or family situation, this can a life-long problem.  And the best solution is finding the people who will support you, even if they are 8,000 miles away and can only IM you at midnight.  Creative people do their best when they can ignore (or go around) the blockers, keep working on their projects,  and get a little help from their friends.

Many thanks to Eric Ember, the Intuitive Edge Photographer in Residence, for his portrait of  Sam suspiciously eyeing Murray, the Intuitive Edge Creative Cat in Residence. And thanks also to Claudia Carlson for the idea.