Meet My Creative Friend: Elizabeth Cottrell

The creative art of writing

This month my guest creative is Elizabeth Cottrell, a heart-based writer I’ve come to know in the virtual world. Although we hang out in similar circles and have many friends in common in the real world, our paths have never actually crossed except online. I hope one day we get to share a cup of tea and some face-to-face time because I consider her a friend in a very real way.

In the meantime, it’s my pleasure to introduce her to you and the creative art she practices.

What does “being creative” mean to you?

Being creative, to me, is tapping into a more intuitive, spiritual side of myself for guidance from God’s Holy Spirit on how to live, how to interact with others, and how to write. Others may use different names for this higher power: Source, Light, Abba, Yahweh… We shouldn’t get too hung up on semantics. When something is True (with a capital T), I believe it transcends all religions, labels, and limitations. Creativity is a universal energy to which everyone has access if they open themselves up to it.

When did you first realize that you absolutely had to lead a creative life?

I’m guessing my answer to this might be a bit different than for many of your other guests on this blog. It has been—and continues to be—a journey, not a moment in time.

For way too many years, I thought I was not creative at all. I am a math/science/business person and was not drawn to traditionally artistic practices. The closest I ever got to creating a real painting myself was with one of those step-by-step courses where I was told exactly what to do…not much more advanced than paint-by-number! I thought I was just “left-brained,” and while I have always appreciated art in nature and art made by others, I never felt called to create it myself. So I concluded that I wasn’t creative.

About ten years ago, in an effort to explore my more whimsical side and get to know myself better, I participated in an online class by Cyndi Briggs called “Play in May.” Cyndi told us that if we ever felt resistance to her suggested activities, we should sit with those feelings and ask ourselves why we felt that way.

Her first assignment was to gather all the art supplies in our house – colored pencils, glue, glitter, stickers, markers, crayons, paints, blank paper etc. and identify a space somewhere to use them creatively. Wow, resistance slammed me like a sledgehammer, partly because I didn’t even have those kinds of supplies around (except what was left from my now-grown children). But being the “Obliger” I am, I followed instructions and started having a conversation with myself:

Me: “Self, why don’t you want to do this assignment?”

Myself: “Well, it just feels like a waste of time.

Me: “Okay, self, but what else do you have to do that’s more important?”

Myself: “Good grief, just about anything! I’ve got a client’s job to finish and groceries to buy and laundry to do and …”

This “conversation” continued in this vein for a few more minutes. Fortunately I was very patient, because finally, I very calmly asked myself:

Me: “So, you’ve got a blank sheet of paper there. What would you like to do with it?”

And suddenly, in a flash of enlightenment, my response was:

Myself: “ I want to put words on it!”

Eureka! The colors and emotions could pour forth through my pen. They didn’t have to only come through traditional art supplies. For me, this was truly a breakthrough moment.

From then on, I began to redefine and greatly expand what I understood to be creativity. I’ve come to realize I AM creative after all! I write personal notes that recipients call to thank me for. I often find the right words for awkward and difficult situations. My blog posts resonate with readers. I help clients find solutions to communications issues they have. Even the ability I have in a board meeting to take in a lot of complicated information and synthesize it to its core elements is, in itself, a type of creativity.

I’m still not drawn to the studio arts, but I’ve started cutting out beautiful or interesting pictures from magazines to decorate my journals. I’d like to take a drawing class to teach me how to be more observant. Being part of Aprille’s Creative Fire Café has deepened my appreciation for ways to stimulate my creativity.

What inspires you?

I am inspired by anyone who seems called to take the ordinary tools available to any of us and make something fresh and new. I am especially inspired by writers who can use everyday words in thrilling and unique ways to transport me to places and experiences I couldn’t otherwise know. Annie Dillard’s writing gave me fresh eyes for nature. Mary Oliver’s poetry shifts my thinking about the world around me.

What do you want your art to communicate?

I want, more than anything, for my words to encourage, comfort, and inspire—to remind my readers and anyone whose paths and mine intersect that they are worthy and special, and important to the whole of life. It would make me so happy to know that my words might be an antidote to the shrill and polarizing voices of our culture today.

Describe your creative process. What kind of patterns, routines or rituals do you have?

My morning routine is perhaps the best practice I’ve developed (thus far) for creating space for Spirit to speak and move in and through me. I like to get dressed before coming downstairs. That feels like an important step towards a mindset of readiness for the day. I make a pot of coffee, and while it’s brewing, I stretch and drink a glass of water to rehydrate after the long night. Often I step outside to breathe in the fresh country air and enjoy the sights and sounds of a Shenandoah Valley morning. I give thanks for the day and its opportunities.

With coffee in hand, I head to my favorite chair—an upholstered rocker/swivel chair—surrounded by books and writing supplies. I begin with Scripture and devotional reading. This helps to settle me down and “primes the pump” for a receptive mindset. I go through my own “Heartspoken’s Morning Checklist for Spiritual Well-Being” (Click Here to download). This practice often inspires writing in one of my journals. I use a lap desk, and I prefer fountain pens and high-quality paper.

While there are some days when I “hit the floor running” without this special time, the day goes better when I fit it in. It is a “marinating time” when ideas and thoughts have a little extra space to declare themselves.

What is the most challenging part of the creative process for you and how do you meet that challenge?

Information overload, distractions, and interruptions are all challenging to me. Meditation has helped me re-frame the distractions and interruptions and begin to view them as divinely-inspired. Sometimes the phone call or email that feels like an interruption is an opportunity to touch someone and be a channel for God’s love.

I still think it’s helpful to set boundaries to protect the time and space we need to nurture our creativity. Getting up before anyone else is up or likely to call and interrupt works best for me, but my success in meeting the challenges effectively varies from great to dismal.

What’s the best advice you were ever given about how to be more creative?

Two come to mind – one has come from many sources, but most powerfully from the work of Dr. Brené Brown: Stop comparing yourself to anyone else! Each of us is unique, yet we waste so much mental and emotional energy when we feel “less than.” Her book Gifts of Imperfection addresses this propensity for self-comparison directly. We’ve got to learn to appreciate the creative gifts of others without it making us feel our own gifts are small in comparison.

The second comes from creative business coach Laura West. At a retreat several years ago, she suggested we adopt this practice: “Say No more often and Yes more fully.” This is such important advice, especially for those of us who tend to think we should just because we can. I call this “The Tyranny of Shoulds.” The reason it relates to creativity is because when we burden ourselves with activities we’re not really called to do, it squeezes out the time and space required for creativity to flourish in us.

Is there anything you’d like to add that I didn’t ask?

I just want to thank you, Aprille, for creating a community that celebrates and nourishes creativity. You have walked the walk and shared your highs and lows, and you’ve been generous in finding and sharing ideas and practices we can implement ourselves for a more creative life.

“I’ve been lots of things in my life—from farm girl to leprosy researcher; from wife and mother to bank board chairman—but at my core, I’m a connector and encourager whose artistic tools of choice are fountain pen and paper and whose deepest desire is to be a channel for God’s light and love as long as I’m able.”

Elizabeth CottrellElizabeth is a freelance writer​/blogger​ ​and ghostwriter​​ ​at Heartspoken.com​ ​and RiverwoodWriter.com. ​ You can connect with her here:

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