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Don’t Compare

Don't Compare

I came across something this past week that reminded of an Aha I had while viewing the Matisse exhibit a few years back.

I can’t compare my rough drafts with someone else’s finished masterpiece.

Yet I fall victim to this all the time and people in my workshops often do the same thing. We’re too hard on ourselves. We forget we aren’t seeing the process and the experiments of the masters. We don’t ever see the bits and pieces lying in closets, sitting on a hard drive or consigned to the trash.

Our work is as unique as our signature and that comparison can be helpful. I never worry that my signature doesn’t look like someone else’s. It doesn’t even cross my mind. (Not to mention that would be illegal.)

That’s why we shouldn’t compare our efforts to the person sitting next to us in a workshop or even worse, hanging in a gallery. We are learning about tools and techniques, just like we did in school as we learned to sign our names. Be gentle with your inner artist.

There IS a lot to learn by studying the work of others who have mastered their craft. Just don’t try to BE them.

Let’s be ourselves

So next time my inner voice says “I wish I could paint like…” I’ll remind myself that it’s better if I let myself paint like me.

 

 

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Book Review – Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

Big Magic

Today, I welcome Elizabeth Cottrell to the blog. She is a writer and creative friend who generously offered to share her review of “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear”.

Redefining creativity

From the book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert:

Q: What is creativity?
A: The relationship between a human being and the mysteries of inspiration”

There are a few books in my life that I want to buy several copies and share with my dearest family and friends. Brené Brown’s books are among them, and Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert is another. I was surprised how much I enjoyed this, because I didn’t jump on the bandwagon for the author’s famous book Eat, Pray Love, which took the world by storm many years ago ( some loved it, some hated it). I have recently started following Elizabeth Gilbert again — she has grown up; she’s a marvelous and engaging writer with a wicked sense of humor; and she is motivating and inspiring. I follow her Facebook page and enjoy her posts.

Who is this book for?

As with most books, timing is everything, and while I could blithely say this book is for everyone, it is probably going to resonate with you more at certain times than others. However, Elizabeth Gilbert is not so timid in her introduction:

I happen to believe we are all walking repositories of buried treasure…The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.

The hunt to uncover those jewels—that’s creative living.

The courage to go on that hunt in the first place—that’s what separates a mundane existence from a more enchanted one.

The often surprising results of that hunt—that’s what I call Big Magic.

So right from the beginning, she throws down the gauntlet with that challenge…because who wants to live just a mundane existence, right? And who isn’t tantalized by a good treasure hunt? With those words, I was hooked and ready for the adventure.

Creativity Myths Busted

While this book flows well and is an easy read, it can also be put down and picked up without losing continuity. It’s like a necklace of jewels strung together, each beautiful or interesting itself, but even more lovely as a necklace.

Myth-busting is an entertaining and enlightening part of Big Magic. Gilbert takes on some of the myths about creativity that hold us back or paralyze us.

  • We have to kill off our fear of our creativity. No, she says. It’s too likely that when you kill off your fear, you kill off your creativity too. She advocates acknowledging and leaning into your fear. “The less I fight my fear, the less it fights back.”
  • Our worth is measured by our successes or failures. No, our worth is measured by our dedication to our path.
  • Your muse is yours alone. Gilbert believes inspiration is energy seeking a human partner to be made manifest. So if one human refuses to embrace and cultivate it, it will move on elsewhere. She shares a fascinating personal story to demonstrate this.
  • There are creative geniuses. She would say there are people who embrace genius.
  • True creatives must do something original. Gilbert says, “Most things have already been done—but they have not yet been done by you.”
  • True creatives must suffer and starve. “There is no dishonor in having a job.”

Question the common wisdom

One of Gilbert’s gifts is taking common/trite sayings and turning them on their ear. A good example of this is the question often asked by motivational types in an attempt to help their students identify their true calling: “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” Gilbert sees this differently and asks instead, “What would you do even if you knew that you might very well fail?” That’s a question to test your passion, for sure.

One of the reasons I particularly enjoyed this book is because of my own conflicted feelings about creativity and how narrowly I used to define it. I’ve written about it before (See “Are You An Artist?”), but for years, I was sure I wasn’t the least bit creative. I was a science major with no obvious aptitude for drawing, painting, or thinking up fiction plots. My only skills were all about logic, productivity, business, or common sense.

Or so I thought.

Several years ago, I had the startling revelation that creativity manifests itself in lots of different ways, including business, marketing, networking. When I have a blank piece of paper and colored markers in front of me, I may not want to make a picture, but what I DO want to put on the paper is WORDS. So now that I’ve embraced the notion I’m creative after all, I can’t get enough of reading about creativity. Gilbert’s words on the back of this book’s dust jacket are compelling:

Creativity is sacred, 
and it is not sacred.
What we make matters enormously,
and it doesn’t matter at all.
We toil alone, and we are
accompanied by spirits.
We are terrified, and we are brave.
Art is a crushing chore and
a wonderful privilege.
The work wants to be made, and
it wants to be made through you.

Elizabeth Gilbert, through Big Magic, made me want to say YES to the adventure of uncovering the hidden treasures within me. What books have you read that motivate and inspire you to live your most creative, wholehearted life?


Elizabeth Gilbert has been a finalist for the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the PEN/Hemingway Award. Her latest novel, The Signature of All Things, was named a best book of 2013 by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and O: The Oprah Magazine.


Elizabeth Cottrell, Big Magic reviewElizabeth Cottrell, author of this review, hales from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. She is a freelance writer and blogger at Heartspoken.com.

“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.”
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Creative Courage

Creative Fear and Courage

The opposite of courage is not cowardice, it is conformity. Even a dead fish can go with the flow. –Jim Hightower

Reasons or excuses?

Matisse’s famous quote  “Creativity takes courage” is almost a cliché, we’ve heard it so often. It’s everywhere in memes and posters but maybe that’s because as artists, we know it’s true. If fear wasn’t part of the creative experience, we’d be neck-deep in new art, products, recipes, gardens, etc., etc.

Sadly, fear holds too many of us back from our creative potential. 

It took me a long time to get past my own fears, most of which were related to perfectionism. However, I called it “being responsible”. After all, I had a family to care for and a business to build. 

They turned out to be my excuses.

Not what it seems

We all have our own justifications but if you actually look at what’s lurking behind our wall of words, we find fear. 

It took me a long time to understand that staying in my comfort zone robbed me of too much. The price is high. Actually, not to put too fine a point on it, it costs our lives.

By avoiding the full creative life available to us, we simply keep repeating what looks (falsely) safe and sure. The same thing, over and over. We never actually live. We become dead fish. 

It’s okay to be afraid

Think of your fear as a gift. It’s a signal that you’re up to something and it’s the only way to experience that courage Matisse speaks of.  Working through it builds confidence, stretching our capacity to create.

Each of us must come to terms with it because it’s an integral part of the process. The truth is, not one of us can grow creatively without some stress and learning to live with discomfort. Answering the call means a willingness to be seen, warts and all, because art is deeply personal and uncertain. There’s no such thing as ‘fearless creating’, no matter what the gurus say.

Creativity asks us to be vulnerable and expose our hearts. Click To Tweet

Don’t tell me exposure isn’t scary!  And, after accepting the risk and doing our work, nothing is guaranteed except a need to continue creating.

How to manage the fear

After all my years of excuses, I finally realized the work itself (and the risk) could be “chunked down” again and again until the fear felt manageable. It needed to be small enough not to wake up my flight-or-fight mode

With practice, I built a tolerance for discomfort and found myself able to take bigger creative risks. The blank canvas stopped looking like a chasm and more like an opportunity.

If you’re avoiding your own creative nudge, start with small steps. Three years ago, I committed to 15 minutes of creative action every day for 30 days. Often it was just a doodle in a sketchbook but if I spent those 15 minutes, it counted.

I ended up with a book of little sketches but I also built my creative muscle and developed a habit. And I still refer back to those sketches for inspiration. 

What you choose may be different (although if my example works for you, please use it!) The point is to make it small enough that it doesn’t scare off your inner child, the muse or whatever you want to call that urge.

Courage is not the absence of fear.

Like sunshine and shadow, we need fear to experience courage. When we tiptoe past our fears, something pretty amazing waits for us. Our real life. 

I highly recommend this book about the Kaizen way for help on how to “feel the fear and do it anyway”. (Affiliate Link)

Make your own journey

We all make our creative journeys. If you’d like some company for the trip, sign up for The MuseLetter. Following five “mini-muse lessons” to help you get {re} acquainted with your creative spirit, you’ll receive about 1-2 times a month ideas, creative prompts, news and stories you won’t find here on the blog. 

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Permission: What are you waiting for?

Permission

As I look back on the early part of my adult life, it seems like I was always stuck, waiting for “permission”.

Permission to…

…be creative rather than “practical”.

…take time to do something about my dreams.

…create visions rather than set goals.

…be different and do things my way.

…explore many projects at once.

…start projects and not finish them.

I’m sure you have a few of your own you could add to my list.

It’s funny really, when you think about it. As kids we think being an adult means doing whatever we want. Then we become adults and we get stuck in a holding pattern, waiting for someone to tell us it’s okay to do the thing we long to do.

But who did I think would tell me to go ahead? I’m not sure I ever really thought that far. I just said things like “I could never…I can’t…Not right now…etc, etc.”

Until the day I asked myself, “Who’s making these rules?”

Oh. Right. Me.

Here’s what I realized:

There was no one else to go to for this elusive ‘permisson’.  It was my fear that withheld consent to go-ahead.

Oh and by the way? While you’re at it, you might inspire someone else to get out of their own way, too.

Cool beans, eh?

As we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence actually liberates others. #quotes #Williamson Click To Tweet

What are you waiting for?

Fill in the blank and share in the comments :

I give myself permission to _______________________

 

 

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What you should know about Creative Resistance

Creative Resistance

Let’s talk about Creative Resistance, shall we?

I believe we notice it more at the start of a new year because we revisit our resolutions and good intentions and wonder WHY did last year get away from us…again?

There’s hope

What is it? Where does it come from? Why do we avoid our work (even when we say it’s important to us) and how do we beat it?

The good news is , you’re not alone in this battle. We all experience resistance in one form or another. There isn’t a creative soul out there who hasn’t felt it pushing them away from their work at some point.

Here’s what I’ve learned about this tricky little blighter on my own journey.

Creative Resistance is…

invisible but it’s effects are very real.

Move through the ResistanceIt’s aim is to keep you from doing your work. And, while it may seem to come from outside of you, it is self-generated and self-perpetuated. It is also a force of nature and a liar.

It’s fuel is fear.

So ask yourself, “What is it about my creativity that I’m afraid of? If I did something about it, what is the worst that could happen? The best?”

(Weirdly, it’s usually the good stuff that scares us more.)

Get that fear out where you can see it. Don’t let it fester in the dark. Write about it. Make an art journal page. Dance it out. Whatever it takes.  Get that fear moving and you are no long stuck.

The Resistance Compass

Creative Resistance is actually a very good compass , pointing the way to what truly matters to you.

Creative resistance is a compass pointing you to what's really important. Click To Tweet

In fact, the more you resist, the more valuable that thing is to you. That’s information you can use! Use your Resistance to navigate by and discover what it is you really need to be up to.

The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it. Steven Pressfield, The War of Art.

If your Creative Resistance is BIG then it’s a good indicator that something BIG is waiting to come through you.

Procrastination is a common symptom of Creative Resistance because it’s the easiest to rationalize. (After all, the dishes MUST be washed.)

But when you put off doing your art, you put off important work. Not to put to fine a point on it, but you could end up putting off your life’s work. After all, something is calling to you to bring it into the world. Pay attention.

Change your response

You can do something about this right now. Sit down and create something. Anything. Even a doodle counts.  You’ll be thumbing your nose at Creative Resistance, when you do.

It’s that simple… and that hard.

Want to learn more?

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Why You Need to Stop Hiding Your Creativity

Bring your creativity out of hiding

For way too long, creativity took second place to my ‘real’ life. Like most of you reading this, there was a family to raise, relationships to nurture and a living to make.

A year ago I was devouring  Brene Brown’s book “Daring Greatly” and decided to embrace her concept of “Wholeheartedness” as a way to live. I had no idea at the time it would lead me to a completely new life by the ocean in Nova Scotia. 

Continue reading Why You Need to Stop Hiding Your Creativity

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The Road Not Travelled…Yet

Just when you think you've figured it out...
Just when you think you’ve figured it out…

Some days feel so far from where I meant to be at this time in my life. I dream of creative exploration but spend too much time navigating the ‘real world’. I took a wrong turn somewhere. A Personal GPS would be handy right now.

“Recalculating.”

As a child growing up in a home where mental illness existed I learned early on that anything that took attention from my parent made me “bad”. To answer a creative calling was the most suspect thing of all. “Useless. Selfish indulgence.” Something to fit in after the ‘real’ work was done. Which, of course seldom happened.

Claiming my creative voice was first and foremost a declaration of independance.

Regardless of who we are and any early conditioning we experienced, we have to be  very brave to make art. By its nature, art is a different way to see things and different always challenges someone, somewhere 

Personal and unique are essential qualities of any creative process and its product.  But art exposes the heart of the artist. 

And that’s scary.  To see the venom some people can spew I only have to explore social media. It takes an extremely courageous heart to step into the line of fire totally exposed.

I do lots of creative things. Painting, knitting, quilting, collage; but it’s in writing that I find the edges of my fear.  Art needs to skate that edge.

I have two novels partially completed exploring topics that frightened me away from the work. I put the work away fearful of what “they” would say. My heart felt too tender for blunt blows. 

Am I brave enough to go looking for that missed turn?

Suddenly, possible regret for the road not traveled is more frightening than anything “they” might say.

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Writing (and Creating) With the Door Closed

Key in LockIn his fascinating book “On Writing” Stephen King recommends that we write twice. First, write with the door closed. This is for-your-eyes-only writing.  You are the only arbiter of what stays and what goes. Then only after you are satisfied with what you’ve created should you open the door and invite the world in.

His advice holds a world of truth for all artists and writers.

For a number of years I went on retreat with writing friends. Our goal was to carve out space in busy lives and create new material. We would write in the mornings and then share our work in the afternoon, inviting comment and feedback.

On the surface it sounds like a good idea. After all, we were all writers and friends. We were all taking the same risk by sharing fresh new work. Our babies.  We understood the rawness of that work and commented accordingly.

A lot of respect and care went into the feedback. For the most part, we avoided re-writing each other’s work. But along the way I discovered that, during creative incubation, we need to trust our truth.

This was really driven home when my writer friends suggested one of my pieces needed  serious changes, almost a complete re-write. It just didn’t work for them.

However, for me, it felt complete. With some trepidation (spiced with a smidge of defiance) I made the radical decision to ignore my friends. I simply polished it and sent it out to a literary magazine. Not only was it published but the editor wrote and told me it needed no changes whatsoever. She was thrilled with it. So was I!

Feedback comes from personal opinion and we each have our vision. Bringing your work out too early introduces an element of doubt in what you’ve created when it’s still barely formed. Instead finding your way, it short-circuits the creative process.

Once I had feedback I stopped exploring the possibilities and assumed “they” had the answer. It was “creation by committee”.

I keep my writing to myself now until it’s polished, primped and primed, ready to go out in public. At that point, I’m clear on my story and what I want it to say. I’ve answered my own questions about the work.

Feedback from a trusted source at this point feels qualitatively different. Its about logic flaws or where I appear to be in love with fancy metaphor. What the feedback doesn’t do is change my voice or the basic story.

I’ve also come to realize that much of that new work I created on retreat never came to anything. Some of it never should, of course. But there are other pieces that deserve more.

However the “juice” was gone. By bringing them out too early I no longer felt the need to write them. I often tell my writing clients not to talk about a story because it takes away that pressure to write it. I know from experience how true that is.

So now I write with the door firmly closed. I highly recommend it to you as well.

Thanks, Stephen.

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Walking Barefoot

Walking Barefoot if about Getting RealNot too long ago, I got very clear about how important it is to express my creativity.

I use various forms of visual art and writing to explore ideas and dreams that would otherwise get buried by the busy-ness of daily life.

Creative output is an expression of my spirituality because it allows me to listen to my soul’s language. It’s as vital to me as oxygen.

Without it,  a piece of who I am is missing.

Since one of my focus words for 2014 is ‘Authenticity” I am choosing to live more art-fully each day. I’m even shifting the focus  my coaching to attract clients who want to make a living while they follow their bliss.

Still, it’s a constant battle. Life gets busy and crowded with too many “shoulds’. I stop making my creative explorations a priority, always thinking I’ll get right back to them. I fool myself into thinking I am actually doing something because I plan to but when I look at the results….

Then I wake up one day and realize I am lonely for my creative self. Again. 

When I was a kid, I longed for black patent leather shoes with tiny straps with every fiber of my being.

My mother, however bought me a pair of awful brown oxfords. You know the kind. Sturdy, practical and butt ugly. (Why do mothers do these things to their kids?)

I wore them for about a week, feeling self-conscious and drab. They were stiff and uncomfortable and I hated them with all of my ten year old heart. So I did the only thing any sane kid would do.

I took them to the creek down the road and set them afloat. The last I saw of them they were headed for Waterman’s Lake. For all I know they’re still there today, terrorizing fishermen who have the misfortune of hooking one.

Now, you need to know that my mother was not a woman to trifle with and I don’t remember what transpired when I arrived home barefoot. (Obviously I survived since I’m here to tell the tale.) The fact I don’t remember tells me the important part of this story for me was taking action on something I was passionate about.

My creative heart  has been wearing those tight brown oxfords again.

It’s time to fling them off and wiggle my toes on bare earth again. I want to walk barefoot through my dreams.

Want to join me?