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.

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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.


How I Learned to Stop Worrying and (Almost) Love Reviews

June 14, 2011

by Deborah Atherton

Once upon a time, in my ever-more-distant youth, I longed for reviews. Reviews meant someone out there had noticed that you existed. And at that time of my life, I also loved reviewing things, and saying exactly what I thought about them, in the most clever way I could. I particularly liked it when authors wrote back, explaining why I DIDN’T GET IT, giving me the opportunity for a second go round. And sometimes, I admit, even when I review things as a grownup (or as grownup as I am likely to get) the old impulse to be snarky overcomes me, and I write down something I know I really shouldn’t.

These days, I’m less excited by getting reviews. Bad reviews remain disappointing, and good reviews still inspire some elation, but I’m far enough down the road to realize it probably doesn’t make a heck of a lot of difference in the long run. Yes, in this day of the Internet, everything you have ever written, and everything anybody has written about you, remains ever-present. But the truth is, nobody much cares. (Unless of course, you are the producer of Spiderman: Turn off the Dark, when presumably whomever provided the much vaunted $65 million dollars wants some return on their investment other than media indignation over the mounting body count.) But I’ve had bad reviews, and I’ve had good reviews, and I’ve had no reviews – I’m beginning to sound like a Sondheim character – and I’m still here. I’m not famous; I’m not infamous. I’m a mid-career artist with a day job which, while it does not make use of my ability to create rhyming couplets, accomplishes some good in the world.

What the young authors who wrote to me, the even younger reviewer, did not understand at the time was that I didn’t have to get it. I might even have been right in my judgments; it is too long ago to remember exactly what prompted them. What I remember today is the thrill of getting a real letter (because in those days, of course, there was no email) from a real writer. And I try to remind myself, when I read reviews good and bad and indifferent, that it is all communication between creators and audiences, and whether I am on the receiving end, or the judging end, what matters is the excitement in that flicker of acknowledgement. Somebody read my work, or watched my work, and whether they liked it or not, they thought a little bit about it and wrote something down in response. And that, in the end, is what it is all about.

And all that being said, if you’d like to read one of my recent reviews (and yes, of course, it is one I liked!) check out:  New History Operas on the Way: Monsters and Wars.


Post-Gig Depression

April 11, 2010

After the Finishing Stroke

Posted by Deborah Atherton

When we are completely absorbed in a creative project, we experience some of the deepest engagement, and through it, happiness, that human beings ever manage to find.  And then, suddenly, it’s over.  The show opens.  We finish editing the film. We place the last delicate stroke on the mural. We end the song on the final, perfect note. Or, as in my case last week, we add the last chapter to a novel we’ve been working on for a few years.  Most likely, we experience one glorious moment of accomplishment and completion. And then?

And then, very likely, we plunge into a very, very dark moment.  We become convinced that we will never have another idea, that our old ideas are all rotten, anyway, and, quite possibly, that critics everywhere, as well as everyone we know, will despise our completed work, if, in fact anyone ever sees or hears it.  I like to call this post-gig depression (and no, you will not find it in the DSM.)  Virginia Woolf suffered terribly in these moments – completing her books sometimes drove her to the verge of suicide.  Most of us experience it in a milder form. But oh, we do experience it.

Perhaps somewhere out there is the artist who completes his or her work with total confidence, and with the assurance that all who ultimately experience it will love it.  I myself do not know such an artist, but surely, among the many on this planet, a few live their lives out this way.  But most of us run into a period of questioning and anxiety after the initial excitement of completion.  (And this is even before all the other people with an opinion weigh in.)

I can’t give you a magical elixir that will help you through this (although some swear by Jack Daniels) but I can assure you that this, too, shall pass.  Some artists we interviewed have told us that they get through it by jumping right into the next project, and not giving themselves time or space to question (and some artists, of course, labor under constant deadlines, so don’t always have the luxury of time under a dark cloud.)  Some require a mourning period.  I myself turned to some very good friends and coaches, who spoke to me about the inner critic and the shadow self, and the necessity of acknowledging the doubting dark side of the creative impulse.  (And I’ll try to talk more about this later on, as I learn  more myself!)

I think what we face, at the moment we finish, is the resistance that has been dogging us all along, surging for one final push to retain the status quo.  And as artists, we have a responsibility to work through it and keep on.  And to remember that, not too far in the future, we’ll be having that lovely, “Is it 3 AM already? I didn’t notice”  feeling again, which is, let me remind you and myself, one of the best feelings in the world.


Just Say No to the Naysayers

February 7, 2010

The naysayer in your life

by Leslie Zeigler

Have you ever told a friend that you are thinking about an idea for a story you are writing only to hear:  “You are not a writer because you are just thinking and you are not setting aside time each day to write.”   Well this is what Gail, the writer whom Deborah and I are coaching, is hearing from some of her friends. ( Gail has given us permission to share the themes of our work together in the blog.)  Gail  said this kind of comment can make her feel discouraged.   We have been working in our coaching sessions on helping her not just to allow herself to feel what she feels, but to move forward in spite of  how much or how badly that negative comment makes her feel.

Naysayers can be friends, neighbors, or even relatives or spouses.  Sometimes the comments can  be expressed in a way that might take you by surprise and perhaps even leave you feeling speechless.   It  is unlikely that anyone  can insulate and protect themselves from  being on the receiving end of such comments.  But it is probably fair to say that whenever people move forward, working towards a creative dream,  other people will feel jealous or threatened and these kinds of comments will just pop out of their mouth.  Be prepared to internally  say no to the content and tone of these comments as well as finding a diplomatic way of letting the person know that you do not agree.

As Gail explained to me, she knows that many books on writing, as well as many writers, will say that you should sit down and write each day.  And although that is an excellent and worthwhile ritual to acquire, it doesn’t work for Gail.  We talked about the importance of  Gail following her own inutition about what works for her.  Although the naysayers in her life may tell her that not having a daily writing ritual means that she is not  a real writer,  it is just not so.

Since our last session two months ago, she  spent some time mulling over how she wanted to rewrite a children’s story she is  working on.  Through her thinking, she has now clarified for herself the direction of the story.

Her next assignment is, of course, to now put it to paper, which she is committed to doing, within her own time frame.


The Power of “They”

August 16, 2009

Posted by Deborah Atherton

Speaking with a very gifted portrait painter recently, I once more encountered the enormous power of “They” among otherwise confident artists.

“They” say no one will ever take my poetry seriously if I use rhyme,” she told me.  She had recently begun spending more time writing poetry, as well as painting.

I asked how she envisioned using or publishing her poems. She said she was going to create a book of paintings, accompanied by her poems, that explored a recent traumatic event in her life that had unexpectedly brought her new freedom and depth in her work.

Now, it is certainly very true that rhyme is not generally held in high esteem in the Academy today, and if she were trying for a professorship or attempting to break into the pages of the New Yorker, neither she nor her rhymes would be unlikely to be greeted with open arms. But she is a talented and successful artist in the field of portrait painting, which is probably about as likely to get her a chair at Harvard as rhyming poetry, and she is very happy in her work. So why was the critical writing “they” so much more powerful than the painting “they” in her mind?

The answer, I think, lies in her taking poetry up seriously later in life. Being new to writing for others (although not for herself), she was more sensitive to the possibility of criticism. A friend telling her that they would have laughed anyone who rhymed out of her poetry class was enough to give her pause.

What I suggested to her was that she was being true to her own gifts and her own way of expressing them, a way that worked for her in her painting. Her rhymed poetry and her realistic painting achieved a consistent and unique personal aesthetic. If she forced herself into free verse forms, she would be abandoning her own view of the world on several levels. And while I am all for this as an occasional exercise – we can all benefit by seeing the wider world through a different lens occasionally – it’s not our primary job as creative people. Our job is to see the world through our own eyes, our once-in-the-history-of-the-universe perspective, and share it with everyone else as best we can. Those who aren’t interested in it, because it is rhymed, or representational, or uses old-fashioned harmonies, or is shot in black and white instead of color, will most likely ignore it, but for the audience who is waiting to find it, it will be just the right thing.