How to Deal With Creative Advice & Become a Better Artist

How to Deal With Creative Advice & Become a Better Artist

Creative advice for writers and artists abounds. Much of it is useful, helping us create stronger art. But it can also block our best work. In today’s post I discuss how to navigate that slippery terrain.

Write as if your words were a fire bringing warmth to a freezing cold room. Waste no words, just provide heat.

– Sir Tim Smit, writer and founder of the Eden Project

I don’t remember how it started.

Several editors told me that my poems had too much abstraction. I needed to focus more on concrete imagery.

This is a popular concept in writing circles: Avoid abstraction. Rely on physical images to communicate.

“Go in fear of abstractions,” The famous poet Ezra Pound wrote.

I teach my own students to bring their writing alive with concrete images, images we can see, hear, feel in our bodies, taste, smell. We experience life through the body first and foremost.

In order for writing to be vivid, evoke emotions and draw readers in, writers need strong, specific, sense images.

Not “I felt sad,” but “Tears streamed down my face.” OK, that’s a cliché, so you need to find a better way to describe sadness, but you get the idea.

I started to get very self-conscious about my lack of concrete imagery. (Don’t use “very”—that’s another common piece of writing advice. Ack! I just did.)

Here’s the thing about creative advice, like any advice:

It’s good up to a point. And then it can really mess you up.

The Benefits of Creative Advice

There is wisdom and helpfulness in the oft-repeated maxims for good writing. “Show, don’t tell” or “Avoid adverbs.”

It behooves an artist who is learning her craft to study the guidelines, learn the trade, the tools, before subverting them. To ignore centuries of practice in your art is arrogant foolishness. To snub new advances could be costly to your best art.

So, begin by applying the commonly-accepted rules. See where and how they strengthen your art.

In receiving that feedback about my writing, I started practicing describing things in concrete detail. I went for walks and looked around my room and practiced the art of description on the things I saw, heard, perceived with one of my five senses.

It is wise as an artist, who wishes to grow, to practice what might not come naturally, to strengthen where we are weak, to keep developing our craft.

I often give myself assignments to write outside of what’s easy or familiar, to stretch my capacities as a writer and expand my palette. If I always write poems in short lines, I’ll try writing in extended lines, discovering what it takes to create a strong, long-lined poem. Or I’ll write without using the word “I”.

But be attentive to how creative advice may be holding you back from creating your best work.

The Pitfalls of Creative Advice

There are exceptions to every rule.

Ezra Pound wrote: “To begin with, consider the three rules [of Imagist poetics], not as dogma—never consider anything as dogma—but as the result of long contemplation, which, even if it is some one else’s contemplation, may be worth consideration.”

Notice that Pound says never to consider anything as dogma, even his own rules. The rules won’t always apply.

There are places in a good story where you need to tell instead of show to move the pace along. There are places for abstraction. You’ll find it used powerfully in the poems of Emily Dickinson, for instance.

What I Discovered

What happened as I practiced describing things in concrete detail?

I got very (there’s that “very” again!) bored by the writing. It wasn’t me, wasn’t my style, wasn’t what fascinates and inspires me. It was tedious to do and tedious to read.

I also realized three things:

1) There are many beautiful sense images throughout my poems. I do know how to use concrete imagery.

Consider this poem of mine recently published in a wonderful literary journal called Sweet: https://sweetlit.wordpress.com/issue-10-3/poet-maxima-kahn/

If you receive critical feedback, check to see where it is true and accurate, but also where it is not.

2) My gifts and voice as a poet lie in a realm of complexity. The swirl of emotions, the abodes of Spirit and soul, the interplay between our physical world and the unseen, whether that be our feeling life or spiritual life or intellectual life—these things are in my “wheelhouse.”

My poems include ideas and so-called “abstractions,” intensely-lived questions and deeply-held values. This is who I am.

Consider what your unique strengths as an artist are, what makes you you. And don’t sacrifice these.

3) I will continue to be alert to the balance of the concrete and abstract in my writing. But without stymieing my flow.

Because the other thing that happened, when I listened to that feedback and got self-conscious about it, was I got writer’s block for two weeks, until I sorted out what had happened.

Keep what you have learned from the advice that strengthens your art. Be alert for your weaknesses. Jettison the rest.

And if you find yourself blocked, check to see if you received some piece of criticism that you took too much to heart or that is gumming up the works. And let it go. Get back to what you do well.

What Does This Mean for You?

You have to get to know which pieces of advice are for you and which are not. You need to develop discernment about when to use that advice and when to ignore it.

The best way to develop that discernment is to:

  • Try out the advice in your art.
  • See if the art is now stronger or less strong.

You may want to test out different versions (with and without the advice) on a handful of trusted readers/viewers/listeners.

Ultimately, you are seeking to develop your internal compass to the point that you know when your work is more powerful and more radiantly yours, and when it is weaker and/or no longer true to you. But we always have blind spots.

Guard your unique brilliance, but be open to seeing your blind spots and growing as an artist. Learn to hone your skills and strengthen where you are weak.

Most importantly, protect your ability to create, to stay inspired and share your singular vision with the world.


To read the 3 tenets if Imagism plus Pound’s list of “Don’ts” for writers, go here: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/articles/58900/a-few-donts-by-an-imagiste

To read some other sets of rules (read: advice) for writers, check out these:

From Stephen King: https://www.brainpickings.org/2013/03/13/stephen-king-on-adverbs/

From Amitava Kumar: https://lithub.com/ten-rules-of-writing/

And from a host of authors: https://www.buzzfeed.com/chelseypippin/33-essential-tips-for-aspiring-writers?utm_term=.bwXeAZ4Yz#.tnxAglRok


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How to Get Started Creating Again

How to Get Started Creating Again

How do you get back to creating after you have been away, whether due to illness, vacation, busyness or distraction?

Whether it has been a few days, weeks or years, the process is essentially the same. Knowing this process is a key skill for artists who want to live fulfilling creative lives.

At the end of May I went to Mexico on a spiritual retreat. It was soul-nourishing, wonderful and rich.

Coming home, I feel deeply reconnected to my Essence, in a place of deeper quiet, trust and ease. I feel mysterious transformations and gifts moving in me on a subterranean level. I feel truly blessed.

Almost immediately I came down with a bad cold, which turned into a fever, then a nasty cough. I’ve been astonishingly tired and had to move at a snail’s pace for the past week.

What with the busy time leading up to retreat, the week away and then being sick, it has been a while since I have been in my studio writing.

Now, when I attempt to begin again, nothing comes.

Do I panic over this? Not at all.

I know this is a totally normal phase, and I know how to move through it.

What You Should Know 

You will have resistance. Know that you need to move through the resistance, rather than buy into it. In this way, you’ll be able to get back to doing what you love.

You may be terrible at first. I call it “Grinding the Gears,” because that’s what it feels like when I’m trying to begin creating again. If you stick with it and are gentle with yourself, this will pass pretty soon, and those gears will be greased and moving smoothly again.

Rekindle a Creative Habit

creative friends making a pact

photo by rawpixel on unsplash

The first thing is to rekindle your regular creative time. Get back in your habits again, if you had them, or start some new ones.

Set aside some days and times that you will make your art. You may need to put those times in your calendar, or perhaps you decide that every weekday evening you’ll take ½ hour to play your guitar, or on Sunday you are going to play with paints. Smaller, regular bursts of time will help you get your groove back, even if it’s been years.

Make a commitment to yourself and keep it, even if in the moment you don’t feel like it. Remember, you have to move through resistance.

It can help enormously to have some companionship, either by taking a class, making a date to make art with a friend, or forming a group to share works-in-progress.

Start Small and Easy

When we return to our art after being away, we face resistance to creating. This is normal. Starting small and easy lowers your resistance, making the way more inviting and fun.

Begin in some easy way to get reconnected to your art, your creativity, your love of making things. Remember why you want to do it in the first place, what it can give you, others, our world.

person reading

photo by Lilly Rum on Unsplash

For me, that happens by reading. I read some poems by other poets. I read about the art and craft of poetry or writing. I may read a bit about the lives of artists or about the creative process.

This is reading for inspiration, not pleasure. I’m not sinking into the couch with a novel for hours. I’m trolling for inspiration, while I’m in my studio at my appointed time.

Then I read some of my own work. I may do some revising.

I’ll give myself a prompt and do a little freewriting.

I may keep the studio time shorter than usual at first.

I want the process to be as inviting, easeful and inspiring as possible.

When I’ve been away from my violin for a long time, I usually begin with a 10-minute session, perhaps 20 minutes. I will play some scales or scale patterns and then improvise for a few minutes. And then I put the violin away before I get discouraged or burnt out. I want to stop while I still feel hungry for more and still feel good about playing.

What are some small, easy, inviting ways for you to begin again? What is the least threatening, most enjoyable way back?

Permission is the Key that Unlocks the Door

As always, the most important aspect of getting started again is my attitude.

And the most important attitude is permission. Giving myself permission to play, experiment, make messes, and most of all, make “bad” art.

I know that often when I start again after being away there is a period I call “grinding the gears.” My words come slowly and awkwardly. The writing is often terrible.

I accept this time and don’t fret over it. I know it’s a necessary stage in the cycle of returning to my creativity. And it passes.

If I let myself be awful for a while, pretty soon the words and imagination start flowing again. I find what I am excited about now, what I want to say, how I want to say it. I find the joy of creating.

Breaks Can Produce Growth

I may discover the time away was a great blessing, allowing me to refresh my connection to my creativity, to learn things while away from it, and to come back with new gifts.

Back when I was playing my violin for hours a day, I was surprised to discover that a break of a few weeks or even a few months could lead to a strange quantum leap in my abilities. As if I had figured something out while away from it.

Longer breaks don’t usually produce this kind of growth. Instead, there will be a loss of ability that I have to make peace with and gently make my way back, rebuilding skills and facility over time.

performer with painted face holding herself tenderly

photo by svetlana pochatun on unsplash

However, at the same time I may have new life experiences and other kinds of growth that do feed my art in new ways. I want to be open to these, curious about who I am now and how I want to make art now, and not just fall into old ruts.

Be Kind and Encouraging to Yourself

Gentleness is very important. You want to think of yourself as a child that you are encouraging to be creative. How you treat yourself will have a big impact on your creativity and your art.

So, be the best parent you can be to your inner artist—incredibly loving and encouraging but firm too.

Now it’s time to get to it! Make a time, make some art! Let it be easy and fun.

Share with me in the comments below what you got from reading this and any questions you have. Let’s keep filling our world with beauty, truth, imagination, wonder, play.

Create an Ode

Create an Ode

Get your imagination sizzling with this creativity prompt to create an ode.

In this post I walk you through Ellen Bass’ lovely poem Ode to the First Peach. I show you what makes the poem sing and how to create your own ode in any art form you choose.

This prompt is not just for writers. Although I will talk about principles of good writing here, I will also share ideas of how to translate these principles to other art forms.

Whether in writing, painting, dance, sculpture, photography or some other medium, I invite you to craft an ode.

First, let’s look at what an ode is and how we might make one that really shines.

Read Ellen Bass’ Ode to the First Peach here.

The Marriage of Content and Form

Notice how the poem is juicy with language in the way a peach is overabundant in its sweetness and deliciousness. This poem positively spurts with rich, vibrant language. The language matches the subject.

If Ellen Bass were describing a prison cell, the language would need to be colder and harder. Reading this poem provides a rich pleasure like eating a ripe peach.

What Is an Ode?

An ode is an homage, a poem of praise to a specific person, place or thing. Like a letter of appreciation to that thing.

Typically, the ode addresses the thing being praised directly, speaking not just about it but to it. Such as starting with, “O beautiful ____”. Ellen Bass’ poem does not address the peach directly, but it’s still very much an ode.

Let’s look closer at her ode and see what we can discover to inspire and inform our own creations.

By doing this, we will learn how to approach a work of art to glean both information and inspiration. We will gather information about what is strong and effective. We’ll also harvest inspiration to create our own beautiful and true work.

Choose Verbs That Tremble With Aliveness

I start by looking at the verbs, because exciting verbs are so vital to vivid, effective language.

One of the first things you can do to improve a piece of writing is to go back and look at your verbs. See where you might change the verbs to more specific, accurate, alive ones—not speak but whisper, not run but gallop, not laugh but chortle.

Of course, like all things, this can be overdone, and you need to consider the style and tone of the piece when choosing your verbs. However, a well chosen verb can do a great deal of good work for a piece of writing.

Here are all of the verbs in Ellen Bass’ ode:

feasted, plugs, severed, shines, silvered, darken, turn, imagine, be, reflected, becomes, shoots, ravished, were, fallen, dreamed, curried, remaking.

Notice how she only uses the word “to be” twice. Most of the verbs she chooses shiver with life.

If you aren’t a writer: What is the equivalent of a verb in your medium? What propels the action, brings movement and energy? Is it a fast run of notes in music? Is it bright colors in painting? Or perhaps a specific verb like “shiver” instead of “was cold” is equivalent to a subtle blending of colors instead of using a primary hue. You decide and then examine your use of that element.

Use Adjectives (and Adverbs) With Care

Next let’s look at the adjectives.

Adjectives need to be used with care. Too many adjectives begin to cancel each other out. And they can make the writing feel overburdened, cumbersome.

Yet a well-chosen adjective can bring something radiantly to life for the reader.

Notice how sparingly Ellen Bass uses adjectives in this poem, which nonetheless achieves a lushness. Most of the nouns in the poem stand alone without an adjective to define them. They don’t need an adjective because the nouns themselves are so well-chosen and vibrant. We’ll look at them in a moment.

Here are the adjectives in this poem:

one, clear, next, golden, heavier, sudden, dense, first, lustrous, silent, swollen, clefted, flaming.

Look how wonderful and apt the adjectives are for their subject, the peach. And at the same time how vivid they are as words, not just “round” or “orange,” but “clefted” and “lustrous.” The adjectives not only have specificity but also feel good in the mouth to say. And we feel them in our bodies.

If you aren’t a writer: An adjective is something that modifies or describes a noun. If the noun is the subject matter of your piece, what might be the equivalent of an adjective? In a dance piece, it might be a gesture of the hand or a bend of the head that modifies the larger movement and gives it a particular flavor. In music, it might be an ornament, a trill, a bend of a note or distortion.

Be Specific With Your Nouns

Now let’s consider the nouns.

Here they are:

insect, stub, resin, scar, hollow, stem, juice, fur, caul, minute, hairs, palm, flesh, weight, newborn, marriage, citron, blush, planet, hall, mirrors, swan, fairy, sky, dawn, beginning, world, pith, stars, coins, pockets, night, chaos, scent, morning, sugar, bruise, hunger, life, remnant, ripeness.

What an extraordinary collection of nouns!

Some of them are concrete descriptions of aspects of a peach, such as stem, scar, juice, scent.

But many of them are imaginative metaphors to help us appreciate the peach in a new light. Metaphors can work magic in a poem.

If you aren’t a writer: The nouns are the nuts and bolts of your piece, its subject matter or foundational elements—a key phrase in a dance piece, perhaps, or a musical theme.

You might think of the nouns as the building blocks of the piece, the verbs as what connects and gives momentum to those building blocks, and the adjectives as flourishes or ornaments that add nuance.

In whatever medium you are working in, make sure your “nouns” are strong and apt, as vivid and right as they can be for the piece.

And what about using metaphor, likening one thing to another to help us experience your subject in a richer or new way?

Create Your Own Ode

Now that we have gathered this information about what makes this poem come alive, let’s use it for inspiration to create our own ode.

1. Choose a subject for your ode, something you wish to praise. It could be something you love, but it could also be something difficult, which you will use your ode to learn to appreciate. For instance, I recently wrote an ode to frustration.

2. Start by free-associating a list of lively verbs, nouns and adjectives, or phrases combining them, to describe the subject of your ode. Include startling, original metaphors.

You might also make notes of memories of your subject, details of the specific pleasures it has brought to you.

3. Now choose the best of these to begin making a first draft of an ode. Or start by just allowing yourself to play freely with the subject and see what arises.

Let yourself experiment. Be wild, inventive, playful. Odes often are. Or be melodramatic, over-the-top in your exaltation of this thing. Discover the voice that is suited to your subject.

Don’t try to be perfect in the first draft. That kills creativity. Just get some ideas on paper or in your medium-of-choice.

If you aren’t a writer: Even if you are working in a non-verbal medium, such as dance or painting, you can still begin by writing out images, associations and metaphors to more fully delve into your subject. You can also begin by deciding key elements of your piece—musical or dance phrases, color palette and so on.

Refine and Revise

Then, go back, refine, revise, hone.

If you are writing, look at every verb. Can any be strengthened?

Look at every adjective. Can any be removed and the line will be as strong or stronger? Can any adjectives be replaced by using a more vital, specific noun instead?

Look at your nouns. Are they the most dynamic and apt ones to meet your subject? Have you used metaphor to bring your subject more vividly to life and to bring delight and surprise to the reader?

If you are making an ode with dance, how could you use non-representational movement to create an ode to a peach, for instance? Instead of showing someone eating a peach, how could you suggest the ecstasy, sweetness, surprise of biting into a ripe peach? How could you metaphorically depict the juice running down your face or the slow ripening to colors of sunset?

If you are writing music, how could the notes reflect the burnished quality of a peach, the lushness?

If you are painting, what in the painting, in the background perhaps or the colors or textures, leads us to experience the subject in a new and deeper way? What is it you most wish to communicate about this subject to the viewer? Perhaps the painting is non-representational but takes us to a place of feeling the subject.

Let yourself have fun with making an ode.

Perhaps you would like to give yourself the project of making a series of odes on different subjects. Odes engage our senses, our gratitude, our imagination.

To get more ideas about wild and wonderful odes, check out Pablo Neruda’s odes. Here’s my favorite of those: Ode to My Socks

What are you inspired to make an ode about now? Begin making some notes.

Why It’s Important to Follow Your Dreams

Why It’s Important to Follow Your Dreams

What Are dreams? Why Do They Matter?

Each of us, like a flower or tree, is encoded with who we are meant to be, what we are here to give, our unique beauty and gifts.

Each of us is encoded with dreams, desires, longings and visions that are here to lead us to the life that is meant for us, the life that will bring the most fulfillment, joy, meaning and connection, aliveness.

That path is not arbitrary and neither are the dreams you carry.

Dreams, as I speak of them here, are the visions and yearnings of our heart and soul that call us to our largest life, the lessons and growth we need on our path, the giving of our gifts, the realization of our greatness.

When you follow your dreams, it not only transforms your life, it transforms our world.

However, that is not what we have been told much of the time. We have been told to be practical and reasonable, to follow the status quo, to want what society tells us to want, to settle for good enough, to listen to our minds not our hearts.

Or perhaps we have been told, “You can be or have anything you set your mind to,” rather than being guided to discover the life that is already in our souls.

This leaves us feeling confused and unhappy, even if on the outside it looks like we have a good life.

The Cost of Not Following Your Dreams

So, it is vitally important to listen to your heart’s and soul’s dreams. They are your guidestar, your roadmap to a brilliant, beautiful life. When you ignore them, you feel dispirited, depressed, out of sorts and unfulfilled.

“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” —from The Gnostic Gospels, Elaine Pagels

Your unique gifts, the callings of your soul, when not brought forth will gnaw at you and harm you.

“How many of us have become drunks and drug addicts, developed tumors and neuroses, succumbed to painkillers, gossip, and compulsive cell-phone use, simply because we don’t do that thing that our hearts, our inner genius, is calling us to?” —Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

It doesn’t just cost your happiness, health and well-being to ignore your dreams, it is extremely costly for our world.

We need you to be the person you came here to be, to shine in the fullness of your brilliance, to believe in the beauty of your dreams. Our world is in a dire condition because of lack of connection to the heart and because people are not finding and using their gifts.

Young man dancing in the street

photo by Andre Hunter

The Power of Following Your Dreams

When Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “I have a dream,” he spelled out that dream in beautiful, compelling terms. It was a bold dream, a vision way beyond the world he found himself in at the time. Yet he committed his life to help bring that dream about. Because of his daring to dream, the civil rights movement made significant, vital strides toward a more just society. And many people have been inspired to continue his vision.

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” —Howard Thurman, author, philosopher, theologian, educator and civil rights leader

It is not for yourself alone that you dare to dream and follow your dreams, it is for the huge impact that has on others, on the world around you, even on those you never see or meet. One person following their dreams is tremendously inspiring and enlivening to others, and activates the dreams in them.

“The presence of a vital person vitalizes.” —Joseph Campbell

You Need Help to Follow Your Dreams

Dreaming takes courage. When you choose to follow your dreams, you comeup against what holds you back in many areas of your life. You will encounter your false beliefs, bad habits and illusory limitations.

And so our dreams lead us on our path of growth. They lead us to transform what has been keeping us small and dissatisfied.

That is why we need support when we start to dream big. By big I simply mean outside of what we currently believe is possible for us—whether that is finding true love or sailing around the world, healing your body or starting a charitable foundation, writing a book or becoming a rock star. We are designed to need the support of others to manifest our dreams. We are interdependent beings that thrive in connection.

two friends walking together on railroad tracks

photo by Jonathan Pendelton on Unsplash

The larger the dream, the more support we need. A big dream needs a dream team of mentors, friends, helpers and allies to support us on our heart path. You cannot do this alone.

So, dreams in the sense I talk about them are not our night-time dreams but the dreams of our hearts and souls.

The dreams I am talking about are essential to who we are, essential to our happiness and well-being, essential to our world.

If you wish to live a fulfilled and joyful life, you need to listen to your heart. You need to follow your dreams, even if they seem impossible or absurd from where you are standing now.

If you wish to give your gifts and help create a beautiful world for all, it is time to believe in yourself and follow your dreams. Take action toward those dreams.

Start now.

Next Steps

To read more about how to follow your dreams and your path of heart, check out:

How to Access the Power of Love to Realize Your Dreams

The Shining Bridge to Reach Your Dreams

To get support on your path of dreams, check out: Creative Life Coaching

Entering the Word Temple of Poetry

Entering the Word Temple of Poetry

The Chinese character for poetry is made up of two parts, “word” and “temple.”*

Let us enter the sacred word temple of poetry. Let us be housed by holy words.

What makes a poem holy?

The care it took to select each word like a stone, carve it to a perfect fit with other word-stones.

The mastery to shape phrases, images, metaphors that strike, move, tantalize, challenge, even confound.

The precision to stack these carved words into a poem, so that it stands as a singular temple.

The attention to calculate the architecture of the poem—its line breaks, line lengths, stanza breaks, form, its flow through the rooms—“stanza” means room in Italian. To hollow out with words a hallowed space.

In all this care and careful craft, we are invited into sanctuary, the breathing presence, awe.

Each poem that is made with true care is a word temple, a temple made of words and a temple to language, expression, communication, art.

Poetry invites our wonder, deep feeling, delight, recognition, pain.

Poetry gifts us with beauty, the grace of a carefully-made thing, unique expression, honesty, reflection. It gifts us with art, and that is, or at least can be, sacred.

Let us enter the word temple of poetry.

Let us approach the poem with reverence, inner quiet, our senses alert for the Presence of the Beyond.

In some poems we may be disappointed, as in some churches, we are left without a feeling of the Sacred. But let us come with that hope and yearning with which we approach God or a sacred grove.

Let us let ourselves be permeated by the poem, each cell absorbing the words, images, sounds, feelings, ideas.

Let us let ourselves be wounded by poetry and also healed, approaching with such open hearts, minds and bodies that we can be pierced by the poem’s clear seeing and deep feeling.

We can be upset by its provocations. We can be lifted by its hot-air-balloon joy or rent open by its pure grief. We can be dissolved by its truth.

Let us enter the word temple of poetry and worship there together.

To your poetic heart,

Maxima

*I learned this inspiring fact from Copper Canyon Press, a leading publisher of exceptional poetry in the United States, whose logo is the Chinese character for poetry.

P.S. If you liked this post, please share it.

P.P.S. If you would like to engage in one-on-one mentorship with me to craft extraordinary poems or other writing/creations of your own, my creativity mentoring may be for you. In April, for National Poetry Month, I’m offering 20% off on my mentoring packages.

 

To read more about poetry and writing, check out these posts: Scenes from the Past: A Creativity Prompt and Give Voice to Your Own Astonishment

The One Thing You Need for a Prolific Creative Life

The One Thing You Need for a Prolific Creative Life

Is there one thing that makes the difference between a happy, prolific creative life and a frustrating one filled with fits and starts? In this post, I answer this and how it can change your whole life, not just your creativity.

About a week ago, I went to a wonderful literary event in my town.

One of my goals for myself as a writer is to attend at least one literary event every month.

Writing is an introverted art form, so this goal helps to get me out of the house and involved in the literary community. It also provides inspiration.

Hint: Make a simple goal to support yourself in having creative community and regular doses of inspiration.

Every two months YubaLit hosts a reading that features a mix of local and non-local authors, reading from works that range from fiction to poetry to memoir. In addition, anyone who attends the reading may put their name in a hat for a chance to read a single page or poem. Five writers get this opportunity at each event.

The quality is exceptionally high, the format engaging, the evenings always lively. I have been to most of the readings since the series got its start a couple of years ago.

The event I recently attended was a book launch for Sands Hall’s remarkable memoir, Flunk. Start.: Reclaiming My Decade Lost to Scientology. Her book is absolutely riveting, warm, compassionate, both painful and uplifting. I am devouring it. You can get it at your local bookstore or at Powells.com (which is an independent bookstore and therefore way better than Amazon.)

Something happened at the reading that I had to share with you.

Is There Just One Thing?

At the event I met Don Rogers, the publisher of The Union, our local newspaper. As I told him about my work as a teacher and creativity coach, he asked me if there was one thing that it all boils down to in terms of fostering the creative process and reaching our creative aspirations.

I replied, “There isn’t just one thing, but if there were, it would be routines.”

There is nothing more central to a vibrant, fulfilling creative life than having a regular creative practice.

If you read about the lives of prolific artists in all disciplines, you will be amazed at how they almost all talk about their creative routines. Sometimes these involve elaborate and arcane rituals, sometimes simple and prosaic. But, all of these artists adhere to their routines with a combination of religious devotion and the ferocity of a mother bear protecting her cub.

I do the same.

Four days a week from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. I am in my studio, writing, reading, revising, researching, sending out work. When I have more time, I spend more time, but those hours are sacrosanct. I don’t schedule meetings, doctor’s appointments or phone calls during that time.

writer at work

photo by Matthew Lejune on Unsplash

If You Show Up, Your Muse Will Too

Artists who are consistently creative almost all adhere to a regular schedule of times during which they create. They don’t wait for inspiration to show up. They show up and inspiration comes. Not every time, but they learn to work when they are not feeling inspired also.

They don’t wait for their lives to settle down, or to have the perfect space, or for the to do list to be completed (it never will be), or even for the most urgent items on that list to be crossed off.

Prolific artists—artists who are actually making art—make their art their priority and show up unfailingly.

Most of all, they don’t wait until they feel like making art, because we will always put things in the way of making art. We will always want to stall and make excuses.

Our Art Brings Up Resistance

Art demands that we show up fully, that we are vulnerable and real, that we risk and challenge ourselves in ways that much of our daily lives don’t require. Making art is one of the hardest—as well as the most fun and rewarding—things we can do. Because it’s hard and it’s risky, we resist it.

If there is one thing that makes the difference in feeling fulfilled in your creativity, and therefore in your life, it is having a regular creative practice.

The students I work with who resist routines are also the ones that struggle with bursts of inspiration followed by dry spells and doubts. They are the ones who feel they can’t get control of their time or their lives. They can’t stay focused or bring things to completion.

The ones who have a regular creative practice generally come to our sessions excited, glowing, feeling on purpose in their lives. And they get to see things come to fruition.

When We Make Time for Art, Life Feels Better

The reason they are glowing is they are making time for what they love, what lights them up. Doing that radically changes how we feel about our whole lives. It changes how we move through our day.

You need to find a routine that works for you, your way of creating, your schedule, your energy.

If you are struggling with that, please know: There is nothing wrong with you! This is incredibly common among artists.

You may need some wise suggestions around how to find and stick to a creative habit that works for you. You probably need to learn tools to move through resistance, fears and blocks to creating. Both of these can require some skilled facilitation.

But most of all you need to commit with your whole heart to a plan of when you will create each week, not allowing anything to come in the way.

Then, the magic begins!

To your prolific creativity,

Maxima

P.S. If you would love to develop a creative habit that feels wonderfully exciting, if you would love to see your creative aspirations come to life, contact me for a free Discovery Session to explore how my Creativity Mentoring can change your life.

You may also want to read my posts on The Power of Creative Routines and The Power of Ritual.

Celebrating the Spring Equinox

Celebrating the Spring Equinox

Today is the Spring Equinox or Vernal Equinox, the turning point to the season of Springtime in the Northern Hemisphere.

The Spring equinox turns us to new beginnings, new shoots coming up out of the earth, new budding things. Life begins anew.

It is a time of rebirth, balance, pause and planting seeds.

Here where I live in the Northern Sierra Nevada in California it has been cold, overcast, days of rain mixed with snow and hail. We’ve had more winter in the past month than the rest of the season. After a gorgeous “false spring” in early February, the new buds are held back, plants drooping from cold and snows.

But the camellias are blooming, the grape hyacinth crops up everywhere in the garden, undaunted. Forsythia begins to bud. Tulips have sent out their shoots of green.

Today we pause in honor of spring, the new season.

Today the day and night are of equal length all over the earth, a balance point. From now until the autumnal equinox, the days begin to grow longer and warmer.

Questions to Help You Plant Seeds for the Coming Season

Here are some questions to help you pause and celebrate this special time that in the astrological calendar is considered the first day of a new year. I invite you journal on these questions:

What needs re-balancing in you now?

For me, it is time to welcome more play and delight. To balance work and play better. More in attitude than in what I’m actually doing. Less push, pressure, stress, more easeful creative play and fun. Because creating things is my favorite form of play—whether in writing, dance, music or collage.

Yes, I know I’m supposed to be the “Empress of Play,” but I need reminding too from time to time. Lately, I’ve been very focused on goals and doing. It’s time to relax and play, enjoy, more.

Seeds

by Steve Richey

What seeds are you planting now to come to fruition through the spring and summer into the autumn harvest?

I’m planting seeds of writing and strewing these seeds everywhere I can, sharing my work through this blog, my newsletter, Medium, sending poems and essays to literary journals and online publications, seeking guest blogging opportunities, sending my poetry manuscript to presses.

Looking to a harvest of more readers, more sharing. Growth in both my art and readership.

I’m planting seeds to grow my creative community too. If you don’t know what I mean by that, read my e-book The Six Essential Ingredients of a Brilliant Life to find out.

How will you nourish these seeds and yourself in the coming months?

What steps will you take to further your heart’s dreams?

How will you care for yourself in body, heart, soul, mind, feeding these aspects of yourself what they need to flourish?

Here’s what I’m doing: Every week I take action towards my heart’s dreams, in fact nearly daily.

This summer I am planning a vacation of fun, inspiration and adventure with my beloved—whew, looking forward to that!

I also read voraciously and widely to keep myself inspired.

And I have daily self-care routines for the health of body, mind, heart, spirit, what I call The Hour of Flowering, one of the tools I teach to my coaching clients.

May this season of spring bring a blossoming of your creativity, your gifts, your dreams, your joy!

Maxima

P.S. If you would like support, expert guidance and powerful tools to clear the blocks and create the life you desire, contact me for a free Discovery Session to explore how Creative Life Coaching could change your life.

Seeking Your Heart’s Guidance

Seeking Your Heart’s Guidance

A simple but powerful exercise to help you hear your heart’s guidance. 

Your heart is here to guide you to your best life. Not the easiest, but the best. The fullest expression of you. The richest, most beautiful, rewarding life.

Your heart has answers your mind could never devise. Astonishing in their wisdom, rightness and simplicity.

But how do you hear the voice of your heart? How do you access that guidance?

Here is a process to cultivate connection to the wisdom of heart.

1) Set the scene

Find a place and time where you will not be disturbed. Turn off your phone (really) and close your computer. Have a notebook and pen or pencil. Light a candle or sit somewhere beautiful in nature.

2) Open the flow

This step is preparation, to get your controlling mind out of the way, to open inside. You aren’t yet seeking any guidance. You are clearing the channels to receive guidance.

Grant yourself full permission to write anything at all without judging, doubting, or expecting anything of it. Write for two full pages without pausing to think or edit, starting from the words “In this moment…”.

Write whatever comes, whatever you think, feel, notice around you or in you. Just keep the pen moving the whole time, without pausing, even if you think it is nonsense.

3) Make a request

writing heart's guidanceNow, write a short paragraph to your heart, asking for its guidance and promising to listen.

You may ask about a specific challenge or situation, or you might just ask, “Oh my heart, what do I need to know, be, or do now?” or something general like “How can I live a more joyful life?”

Make a promise to set aside doubt, second-guessing, or your mind trying to figure things out and control the process.

4) Write your heart’s guidance

Drawing on the feeling of freewriting that you did in step 2, simply relax and let the pen flow, writing whatever answers seem to come from your heart.

Keep your promise to yourself not to judge, doubt, second-guess, analyze or edit the answers while you write. That will stop the flow. You can use your wisdom later to discern what feels right or to interpret it.

If your heart tells you anything you feel you cannot do or do not understand, ask follow-up questions. Express your feelings and concerns. Dialogue with your heart about them.

5) Take action

If it feels true and right—even if it also feels scary, hard or silly—follow your heart’s guidance, taking action on what you were told. Keep the faith with your heart by not ignoring its precious wisdom.

What steps will you take? What changes will you make? How will you act in accordance with the guidance you received?

Keeping the Channel Open

magical heart path

by JR Korpa on Unsplash

If you ask for guidance, receive it and then ignore it, you close down your connection to this most valuable inner resource. And your life will feel out of balance.

If, on the other hand, you learn to discern what your own heart voice sounds like, what it feels like when it is speaking to you, you will strengthen your access to this guide within.

Learn how your own heart speaks to you—which may be in images, sensations, impressions or emotions, more than words. Learn to trust and follow the guidance. See what happens as you do.

As you refine your ability to hear your true heart guidance, as you cultivate your deep trust in it, your willingness to follow it into the challenging, scary and wondrous places it is leading you, you will begin to create a life of extraordinary richness and beauty for yourself and for our world.

We want our souls to be fed in the heart’s great pool. Sit with your pen and wait. Sit. Listen. There, it is whispering. There, formless but real. Like wind.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy: Cultivating Intuition and A Return to Heart and also What I Know.

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Happy Year of the Earth Dog!

Happy Year of the Earth Dog!

This past week we had a new moon (and partial solar eclipse) that ushered in the Chinese new year.

We have departed the year of the fire rooster (or phoenix) and entered the year of the earth dog.

What does this mean for us?

Justice, Truth and Integrity

Astrologer Susan Levitt writes: “This new Moon is a solar eclipse, so what is hidden can come to light this year. Under the influence of vigilant Dog, the truth is sniffed out, and integrity is rewarded.

The good news continues:
“Dog year is a time of fairness and equality. Controversial issues are given their due, revolutions are successful, politics are liberal, and political oppression is opposed. Justice and honesty are the values that lead to success during Dog year.”

To read more, including to find out how the dog year affects your personal Chinese astrological sign, read here: https://susanlevitt.com/astrology/dog-year-2018/

Loyalty, honesty, integrity, trustworthiness are dog qualities. The dog is noble and good. While earth brings such aspects as stable, practical, grounded and reliable.

A New Vision for Our World

The element of earth and the year of the dog only come together once every 60 years. The last time this occurred was 1958.

According to karmaweather.com, the year of the earth dog can provide a re-visioning of our human lives and systems, and the underdog will demand to be heard.

Health and Wealth

The Year of the Earth Dog 2018 is an excellent time for lifestyle changes, particularly related to adopting new healthy habits.

It could be an auspicious year for finances and starting new business ventures, but be careful to be practical, grounded and not extravagant in spending.

Take Action

dog on beach

by Tao Jones, Unsplash

Both Chinese and Western astrology agree this is an ideal year to get into action towards what you desire to create with your life. In a dog year it is particularly important to align those desires with the greater good of humanity and life on Earth.

How are you serving others?

I had to share this last bit of good news (from https://lighthousefengshui.com/2018-predictions/):

“Due to a very strong wood element, those pursuing activities having to do with literature, art, business, and efforts of an inspirational nature will be favored.”

So, go forth and create, take action toward your dreams, and join with others in serving a higher purpose. To your fulfilling year,

Maxima

P.S. If you’d like help getting into action to create what you love, I offer one-on-one Coaching and Mentoring.

P.P.S. If you enjoyed this post, take a moment to let me know. Post a comment here or share this with a friend.

Instead of Big Goals, Try Small Experiments

Instead of Big Goals, Try Small Experiments

If you tend to start big dreams, ambitious goals or new projects and resolutions and then peter out, here’s something to try that can be a whole lot more fun and fulfilling.

I’m a big dreamer. I love working and playing towards grand visions and big dreams for my life.

I’m a Sagittarian, so my arrow is always aimed at some distant target. I feel energized by having big visions to guide my life. Bold, outrageous dreams inspire me. And I’ve realized some amazing dreams in my life.

But I’m also a huge fan of small experiments and bite-sized intentions or goals.

I love these for (at least) two reasons:

  • Bite-sized goals are the best way to have huge dreams actually come true.
  • Small experiments allow me to try on and accomplish things over a short period of time and to learn valuable new information.

New Moon Intentions and 30-Day Goals

I love playing with New Moon Intentions or 30-Day Goals. These are a great way to conduct small experiments and divide big dreams into do-able steps.

New moon by Nousnou Iwasaki

The cycle of a month or moon cycle is a perfect length for many experiments, intentions and small projects. It’s long enough to try something on or complete a small project, but short enough to keep your attention on it and see the end in sight.

Some of my students prefer 30-day goals, because it’s easier for them to track things by the month, starting a new goal, experiment or intention on the first of the month.

I prefer to start on the new moon because I like to align myself with the natural rhythms of the universe, to be connected to and supported by these rhythms. The new moon is an excellent time for undertaking new projects, as people have known for centuries.

Find out more about drawing on the power of the moon (and 30-day goals too!) here.

At the new moon I tune into my heart and soul and see what naturally arises as calling for my attention, what inspires me, what I’m longing for or drawn to, and/or what has the most energy right now. I trust what comes.

Sometimes it’s a concrete goal like sending poems to five magazines or getting my taxes done. Sometimes it’s an intention like cultivating gratitude and appreciation. A good small experiment is specific, clear and do-able: for example, playing my violin for ten minutes a day five days a week.

Smaller (and Slightly Larger) Experiments 

Some creative experiments lend themselves to even shorter or slightly longer time frames.

You may decide to do something every day for one week. Or you may commit to a program for three months.

Regardless of the length of the experiment, the process is essentially the same.

How To Conduct Your Small Experiments

Aiming at the target

by Annie Spratt, Unsplash

To play with a new goal, intention or small experiment, there are a few simple steps to follow:

  1. Name it clearly in a single sentence as an “I” statement. Here’s a recent example of one of mine “I complete my vision-mapping for the new year, guided by sacred wisdom and heart.” It helps if the language is inviting and compelling to you. Also be clear on the time frame of your experiment, when it starts and ends.
  2. Write it down and post it where you’ll see it daily.
  3. Commit to it 100%.
  4. Read your statement daily.
  5. Take steps toward it daily or weekly.
  6. Track the steps you take by marking it off on a calendar, keeping a log or giving yourself stickers. You could get yourself a cool Steal Like an Artist wall calendar here.
  7. At the end of the time frame, celebrate and reflect on how it went, so you can learn, honor and grow.

Read more about cultivating a new healthy habit in 30 days here.

What’s So Great About Small Experiments?

Small experiments are energizing and can be fun. You get to see real progress.

You also don’t feel trapped into doing something for the rest of your life, which is often a recipe for failure because it’s too daunting.

Small experiments are more honest and do-able. They pique my curiosity without feeling overwhelming. They empower me to try things on that I might not do otherwise.

Pretend You Are a Scientist

I like to approach small experiments with the attitude of a curious scientist.

I take the approach that it is truly an experiment. I’m learning. I am free to stop at the end of the agreed-upon time period, but I commit to conducting the experiment fully until then.

And I track my results in some way.

One Small Experiment I Tried

A few months ago I decided to experiment with doing the Tibetan Five Rites. These are a set of fairly simple exercises that build flexibility and core strength. They are said to promote longevity, youthfulness and health. In fact, the claims made about the benefits of doing these exercises daily are huge.

I had dabbled with doing these exercises off and on for years, but I was never consistent. At the best times I would do them a few times a week. I never noticed any noteworthy changes.

So, I decided to conduct a small experiment. The book about these rites claims that many people see marked changes after doing these exercises for just one month. I committed to doing them every day for a month.

Here’s What Happened

When I started out I had huge resistance to doing the exercises. I had to push myself to start them every day. I didn’t like doing them while I was doing them either. They felt hard and not fun. The first exercise, which involves spinning, made me dizzy and nauseous.

But I figured the resistance would diminish as I did them daily. It didn’t. It never got easier or more enjoyable.

I managed to do them 24 of the 30 days. One day I was traveling all day. A couple days I forgot. I probably just flaked the other 3 days. But 24 out of 30 is pretty good.

The striking thing was: There were no noticeable change in health or youthfulness, nor in enjoyment nor ease of doing the exercises.

What I Learned

These exercises aren’t for me.

It was a great relief to discover this. I’d always felt bad about not doing them more. Now I know I’m not missing out. I like to do sun salutations and other yoga. I love to dance and take walks. And these all give me great benefits.

I also learned that it was hard to be flawless with doing exercise every single day for 30 days, so the following month my small experiment was…

25 walks in 30 days

woman walking in wilds

by Michelle Spencer, Unsplash

I was thrilled from the moment I set this intention. I loved doing it, even when I had to squeeze in a 10-minute walk in the dark at the end of the day.

I hope this inspires you to try your own small experiments. They can be in any area of your life—creativity, relationships, health, home, etc.

What small experiment will you take on for the next 30 days?

Share in the comments below to give it extra power.

If you need help figuring out a good small experiment, post in the comments below what it is you are wanting to focus on, cultivate or do. I will give you a suggestion of a good small experiment to try.

To your fun and fulfilling life,

Maxima

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