How To Discover Your Heart’s Desires

How To Discover Your Heart’s Desires

To follow your heart’s desires, you first have to know what they are.

This can be hard for many people.

Today I share some practices and questions (as well as pitfalls to watch for) to help you walk your heart path.

Open the Door

To discover our heart’s desires, we have to develop the ability to hear and trust our hearts. We need to quiet our anxious minds, tune out the distractions of daily life, silence the clamoring voices of others.

We have to make sacred space to listen to the longings, the callings, the singing of our hearts and souls. To open the door to believe in ourselves and our dreams. Begin to know ourselves deeply, trust ourselves. And trust life.

None of that comes easily for most of us.

Many of us have been taught to deny our hearts, our longings and feelings. We are encouraged to listen to our heads, to society and other people’s needs above our own heart wisdom and knowing.

I have been struggling with this lately, as the compulsion of the computer and busyness grabs me. And my fear wants to keep me from getting quiet or doing anything that doesn’t look directly like work.

Taking a walk, journaling, prayer and meditation, being in nature, dream journeying, guided meditations and/or guided inquiry can all help us to go within.

Some of these are part of my morning routine, but I’m finding I need more of them now to guide me through these tumultuous times.

Whether you are seeking guidance through a challenging transition, wanting more fulfillment, joy or connection, or to discover your life path, I encourage you to make time for practices that help you listen to your heart.

Some Questions to Help You Uncover Your Heart’s Desires

If you are unsure what your heart’s dreams are, try asking yourself one or more of the questions below. Choose the ones you are drawn to and/or the ones you are afraid of.

Be patient with the answers. Ask more than once. Ask on different days.

Write the answers in your journal.

I encourage you to use the practice of freewriting for this. Give yourself a time frame, perhaps 10 minutes per question. Keep the pen moving, allow any and all responses to come, even if they don’t make sense or seem untrue. Write whatever comes without pausing to think or edit.

Or ask the questions with a trusted friend, asking each other back and forth, repeating the same question over and over, allowing any and all answers. This is a powerful, deep practice.

See which answers have the most resonance and power for you, the most emotion. Let yourself be surprised. None of this is carved in stone. Take it lightly.

  1. What is my heart’s deepest desire?
  2. What’s missing or lacking in my life?
  3. What would make my heart sing to be, do or have?
  4. What do I secretly long to be, do or have?
  5. Wouldn’t it be nice/fabulous/amazing if _________?
  6. If I truly let myself dream, I would ________________.

What Gets In the Way of Dreaming

Often we don’t know what our dreams are because we have been discouraged from dreaming long ago. We were discouraged by our parents or other adults when we were young, by life circumstances or others close to us.

We have been ridiculed for our dreams, told to get our heads out of the clouds and our feet on the ground. We were told our dreams are impossible, absurd, unrealistic. Or that we should be content with what we’ve got. Or that we can’t have what we want.

We may have been crushed by disappointments in the past and don’t want to get our hopes up again. We’ve been hurt or scared by humiliations, by trials and tribulations.

We want to play safe. That’s understandable.

Building Your Dreaming Muscles

One way to deal with this is to start by dreaming small, yet still connected to your heart.

Choose something small that you really desire, that lights you up.

Commit to that dream. To plant a garden or take a day-long solo retreat or read a book a month or start learning kung fu.

As you allow yourself to desire and dream and to go for your dreams, you create small successes in your life. In this way, you build your dreaming muscles. You’ll develop courage, connection with your heart, and confidence.

Then you can begin to hear and follow larger dreams.

Identify the Dream Killers

5 Dream KillersThere are many ways we stop ourselves from dreaming, from hearing the desires of our hearts.

In my work helping others to live their dreams and helping myself to live mine, I have discovered five dream killers that often stop us from hearing, believing and living our dreams.

My students have found these to be illuminating, helping them to open the doors to new dreaming.

I’ve made a beautiful, little e-book of these that includes some encouragement, guidance and inspiration to find and follow your dreams. It is my gift to you.

Click here to download Five Tragically Common Ways We Kill Our Dreams.

5 Tragically Common Ways We Kill Our Dreams

5 Tragically Common Ways We Kill Our Dreams

What Do You Dream Of?

Do you dream of being an accomplished writer, dancer, healer, scientist? Of travelling the world or cultivating inner peace?

Do you long for a loving relationship, vibrant health, meaningful work, to make a difference in our world?

Each of these is a dream you carry in your heart.

Your Dreams Are Important

Your dreams matter. They point you towards a fulfilling, joyful, magical life. They point you towards your soul’s growth and your contribution to our world.

Yet so often we kill our dreams before they even get off the ground. And most of us don’t even realize it. So, we wonder why we lack passion, inspiration or fulfillment, why we feel frustrated, stuck or lost.

5 Dream KillersOver the years of guiding creative people to uncover and actualize their heart’s dreams, I have discovered five tragically common ways that we stop ourselves from dreaming and living the lives we long for.

The good news is: Once you know these Five Dream Killers, you can begin to make new choices. You can begin to hear your heart and live your dreams.

In this 10-page e-book, I outline the top 5 Dream Killers and what to do about them, so you don’t get stopped from following your heart’s true dreams.

Download your copy by filling in the form below. You’ll also receive our Creative Sparks newsletter about once a week or so.

Lean In: What To Do When You Get Stuck

Lean In: What To Do When You Get Stuck

I had a beautiful aha moment while dancing the other night.

I’ve been in a challenging time lately. (Who hasn’t?) There has been a pause in the usual flow of my work and creativity. The gods or my own spirit have conspired to create a reset for me. It’s uncomfortable, confusing and scary.

I believe it’s also necessary and ultimately highly beneficial. But some days I have to hold onto that belief like a rope flung out onto dark waters where I am struggling to stay afloat.

I’ve been doing my best to go with it, to not rush to answers and leap into hasty action. I’m practicing resting in the gap, allowing what’s transforming in me and my life to take its time and reveal itself. I want to make space for the caterpillar of the old way that’s now turned to goo inside the chrysalis to emerge eventually with wings.

Sometimes it feels great, a relief and an intriguing adventure. Sometimes not at all.

My old habit is to try to figure things out and then work harder to make stuff happen. But I’m doing my best instead to listen for my true heart’s desires, see where my energy wants to flow, what wisdom is emerging, what gifts are coming.

And not panic.

Last Thursday I went to the weekly Contact Improvisation jam here in our town. Contact Improvisation is a dance-art form I have loved passionately for over 25 years and have also taught for years. But I haven’t been doing enough of it lately.

There I was, dancing with inexperienced dancers, which can make for awkward, difficult dances. So I went very slowly. I paid close attention through my body. I leaned into the point of contact. If I got to a place where it felt difficult to move, I paused, patiently listened to the sensations, leaned in to the moment and the contact. And always, a way to move opened effortlessly.

Then, it hit me. That’s all I ever have to do!

If I’m stuck in a situation in my life where I feel paralyzed, confused, where I don’t know the way forward, all I have to do is slow down, listen deeply, lean in.

Wow.

That’s it. I don’t need to puzzle it out, rush to a remedy, freak out. Just pause, listen, lean in. And the way opens.

Years ago, when I was writing my first novel, I got stuck because I needed to create a crisis scene to move the plot forward and reveal something about a key character. But I couldn’t figure out what or how and had been stalled for weeks.

Confessing this to a friend on the phone, he gave me the assignment to write the scene three different ways in the next week, to come up with three totally different solutions to the plot problem I was needing to solve. And then choose the best one.

This freed me. Instead of trying to find one perfect answer, I could experiment. Also, coming up with three totally different ideas for this major turning point in the book, writing three big crisis scenes in one week, was such a tall order, that it paradoxically re-opened my creative flow.

It worked! Because I leaned into the problem.

So, if you find yourself stuck in some area of your life—in the midst of an art project, a relationship, or work, or an old pattern—try it.

Slow down, instead of hurrying to solutions. Lean in to all of the uncomfortable feelings, to all that’s arising within and without.

Listen, pay attention to your heart, soul, to the signs, the natural flow and wisdom of Life. It’s always there. Just waiting for us to get quiet enough to hear and follow.

Be patient. A way will open, a natural movement forward. Then, go with that.

Let me know how it goes for you. I’d love to hear. And let me know what opened up for you in reading this by commenting below. Thanks!

To your flowing life,

Maxima

Wanting to Willing: A Powerful Secret to Manifest Your Dreams

Wanting to Willing: A Powerful Secret to Manifest Your Dreams

Today I am going to share with you a simple, yet magical tool for shifting your energy to align with your heart’s desires.

This tool works with the law of attraction in a specific and gentle way that you may never have heard. Plus, you’ll learn some fun things about words!

If you feel unable to manifest what you long for in your life, this little secret may be the key.

Just like anyone, I often get frustrated on the path to my heart’s dreams, wondering why some areas of my life don’t seem to budge. This little tool helps to shift my energy with positive results.

The Power of Words

Our words affect us and others often at a deep level. Each word carries an energetic imprint. Therefore, it is wise to be aware of the power of the words we use, and to choose carefully, especially when it comes to our heart’s dreams.

Just look at the word “spell”. It means both to spell the letters of a word but also to cast a magic spell. This is no coincidence. The word “spell” recognizes the magic power in language.

So let’s look at a few words that relate to our heart’s desires and learn how to use the magic power of words to bring in more of what we truly love and stop unconsciously creating lack.

Wanting Leaves Us in Lack

The word “want” comes from root words meaning lack, to be lacking or deficient.

Wanting equals lacking, a feeling of scarcity, of not having. There can be a feeling of “poor me” in it, even hopelessness, a sense of “I want it, but I don’t believe I can have it” or at least, “I don’t have it”.

This state of lack is neither uplifting nor co-creative.

Energetically and emotionally, wanting leaves us wanting. If I want more love or money or fame, I am dwelling on the lack of it in my life.

As we know from the law of attraction: What we dwell on, and give our emotional energy to, increases. So, when we dwell on the lack, the want, we get more wanting, more lack.

Desire Opens Us to Gifts From the Heavens

The word “desire,” on the other hand, comes from root words meaning “to await what the stars will bring”. I love that! There is a quality of joyful expectation and peaceful surrender in it.

Of course we can have healthy and unhealthy desires, as well as healthy and unhealthy ways to relate to our desires. To be driven by desires that come from a feeling of being lacking in ourselves only leads to suffering, as the Buddha wisely taught.

But to follow a true heart’s desire, a longing that was given to us “by the stars”—implanted in our hearts to call us to our greatness, our gifts, to deeper participation with all of Life, and to our fullest, richest, most alive Being—that is a blessed and profoundly courageous act. That is a willingness to be fully present, vulnerable, to share ourselves with the world.

So, it is far more energetically inspiring and beneficial to say “I desire to be a great painter” than “I want to be a great painter”. When I catch myself using “want” in my journal, I often switch it to “desire” or better yet. . .

Willingness Is Magically Co-Creative

The word “willing” comes from “will,” which means “to be going to, be determined to” and also “the power to choose.” It comes from roots for wish, desire, choose and also command.

Willingness has freedom, power and choice in it. It carries intention as well as desire. Willingness is a powerful co-creative stance from which to realize our heart’s desires.

Because words have power, what we say, write and think matters. What we hear ourselves say reflects and influences how we relate to our desires. It also influences how those desires relate to us or manifest in our lives.

If I say, “I want to be a great artist,” I am reinforcing a sense of lack toward my dream. If I say “I am willing to be a great artist,” the whole energetic changes.

Willingness puts me in a state of allowing, openness, grace. There is a feeling of joyful expectancy and participation. I am declaring my intention. I am making a conscious choice and opening to the support of the Universe and the fulfillment of my dream.

The Shift From Wanting to Willing

The shift from wanting to willing is huge. From powerlessness to choice. From lack to opening to receive. From scarcity to courageousness.

Willingness is soft, open, cooperative with Life, attractive. Instead of trying to force something to happen on my own, I am in partnership with Life to realize the dreams of my heart or be shown a better path.

Wanting is lack, poor me, separated from my desires, grasping, clinging.

Willingness is openness, heart, hope, intention. Willingness says yes.

Willingness is the path of the spiritual warrior, combining curiosity and surrender with vision and intention. Willingness is charmed.

Make the Shift and Start Seeing Your Desires Come True

I invite you to speak of your heart’s desires in sentences that begin with “I am willing…”.

  • I am willing to be healthy.
  • I am willing to co-create a world of peace.
  • I am willing to have wonderful, fulfilling work.
  • I am willing for my novel to be published by a great press.

To be willing to co-create your heart’s dreams, to participate in their fulfillment but not force them, to open to receive the help of the Universe, this is magnetic.

There is beauty and love, space and invitation in willingness. This is attractive to your desires, instead of repelling them with wanting or grasping.

I learned this tool from Gay and Katie Hendricks, who teach conscious loving. One affirmative statement they use is “I am willing to enjoy lasting love and I am willing for it to be easy.” See how that feels in your body.

A Simple 3-Step Process to Engage the Art of Allowing

1. Create your own affirmations around your heart’s deepest desires and soul’s dreams. Start with the words: “I am willing…”. Notice how these statements feel. Unlike traditional affirmations that proclaim you are or have something already that you don’t, these statements of willingness don’t create conflict within. Or if they do, you discover where you have some work to do.

2. Repeat the statements in the morning when you wake and at night before you fall asleep. Say them right before or after meditation or prayer, and anytime you think of them throughout the day. Write them in your journal daily. Write them on index cards and put them where you will see them. For extra power, put an image on one side of the index card that represents the fulfillment of your heart’s desire. Our subconscious responds more powerfully to images than words.

3. If you find yourself feeling or speaking of want, shift to willingness. Or, if it’s more appropriate in the moment, try “desire” instead of “want”. See how it opens you, softens you and changes your life through gradual but potent influence.

Willingness will carry you a long way.

Share your reflections in the comments below. For extra potency, share a new statement of willingness toward your dream here. Declare our dreams in this way is powerful.

If you enjoyed this post, you might like Enthusiasm vs. Willpower: Surprising New Discoveries and The 5 Helpful Spirits to Co-Create Our Dreams.

How I Got Past Fear and Started to Write a Book

How I Got Past Fear and Started to Write a Book

Do you have any projects in the closet waiting to be born?

I have set out to write a book that I have been wanting to write for a few years. And, I am running into a lot of fear and diversionary tactics. Sound familiar?

Here’s what I’m doing to get myself started (and keep going!). I hope you may find it helpful in jump-starting your own scary, wonderful, creative projects.

First, a little background.

My New Book Project

My new book is based on my years of teaching. It is to be a book about how to ignite and sustain the fires of a creative life, what you need to know, be and do in order to thrive as an artist.

I don’t mean thrive financially, because I don’t know diddly about that. I mean thrive internally, have a joyful, inspired, sustainable, healthy creative life, which I know a great deal about.

This book will debunk the lies, myths and mistaken approaches we are taught about artists and creativity, and replaces them with powerful truths that work. It comes from my own hard-won experiences as a creative person, from my struggles, painful crashes, lost chances and also my healing, successes and growth.

I aim to share my story and my discoveries, my knowledge and wisdom, and also inspiration and encouragement. I aim to share practical, vital tools and perspectives, as well as a kind of magical potion for those who are called to the creative life.

But where and how do I begin? Ack!

The First Hurdle: Which Project Do I Choose?

When I finally finished the umpteenth edit of my manuscript of poems last Autumn, I kept waffling about which book to write next.

I wanted to dive into a new collection of poems. And I want to write an inspiring primer on writing poetry. I also have a neglected novel I cannot face.

But this Creative Sparks book has been knocking at my door, and I have had a few encouraging signs that it is the one to start now.

I pay attention to signs in my creative life. I recommend that you do too.

We are not alone in the creative projects that are ours to birth. They come through us. And they bring with them all manner of support and guidance, if we pay attention.

I’ve been terrified to start this book. I feel overwhelmed by the project, totally unsure how to do it, inadequate to the undertaking.

Fear is one sign you are on the right track. That kind of fear often signals that we are onto something big and meaningful for us.

Choose the project you are most scared to begin.

Step Two: Research and Planning

Next, I began by researching.

I am re-reading and analyzing the structure of several classics in the creativity world. If you want to know some of what I think are classic creativity guides, read my post: Five Fantastic Books to Foster Your Creativity.

Each of the books I admire in this arena are completely different, completely one-of-a-kind, in structure, form, style, approach. That is encouraging and scary too.

I have been binge-reading posts on The Story Grid, particularly on “Big Idea” non-fiction, which may be the genre of this book. I’ve been making notes about the “obligatory scenes and conventions” of both Big Idea non-fiction and How To. And then making notes about how I might fulfill those.

I have been writing the answers to a host of questions about my book to help me understand it better.

I have made multiple possible outlines.

In other words, I have been stalling.

The Hardest Part: Time To Dive In

All of this research and thinking and structuring and note-taking has been helpful and important, especially for a non-fiction book. I continue to do it.

But at the same time, I saw that I was terrified to begin. I had no idea how to begin or what voice to write this book in, or what it really should be, even after all this note-taking and thinking.

The only antidote to this kind of fear and stalling is to dive in. No more excuses. No more wading in the shallow end.

Once I saw these diversionary tactics for what they were, I made myself start writing.

Set Clear, Do-Able Goals

I set myself a firm goal, a task: 500 words a day or more on my four writing days. For me, this is a very do-able goal.

Do-able goals are a good way to get started. We can wrap our brains around them a whole lot better than trying to write a whole book.

Because I am a fluid writer, it doesn’t usually take me long to write 500 words. I sit down and just begin anywhere. That might be where I left off the day before or somewhere unrelated. Usually I go for a lot longer than 500 words.

Create a (Very) Rough Draft

My job right now is to get the pen moving, get past the paralyzing fear and indecision, get into the water. My job is to generate a “shitty first draft,” as Anne Lamott calls it in her brilliant book on writing, Bird by Bird.

The voice is all over the place. The subject matter is all over the place. Some of the writing is good. Some is not. It doesn’t matter.

This is a rough draft. I need to have words on the page in order to have something to work with, to have any idea what this book actually wants to be.

The book will show me the way, but only once I am well in it.

So, I write.

And I keep gathering inspiration, ideas, reading other books, making notes.

So far, I am still uncertain and nervous.

But I am also immensely relieved to be actually writing. I always feel better when I am writing than not writing, creating than not creating. This is the unswerving law of my being, my inner directive, as the I Ching calls it. So I write.

What project have you been putting off, that you are truly scared to begin?

What mentorship, support, guidance or clear goals do you need to begin?

When will you start?


I am sharing my artistic process and journey on Patreon. If you want more posts like this, please join me on Patreon.

Reaching the Point of No Return

Reaching the Point of No Return

“In each life there comes at least one moment which, if recognized and seized, transforms the course of that life forever.”
— Ralph Blum, The Book of Runes

I have reached the point of no return.

I have come to the edge of a cliff and I have to jump.

Have you ever come to such a place in your life?

To jump means to follow my heart, my deepest longings, my calling. To not jump means to follow the safer, known road.

But it’s not really a choice. My life has aligned itself so that I would come to this impasse, and I am being nudged over that cliff.

The Leap I Must Make

I must say yes to being an artist first and foremost and showing up in the world in this way.

But I have been hiding for a long time. I have been hiding behind my role as a teacher.

I love teaching, and it has been a huge blessing—a path of joy, fulfillment and profound growth.

Teaching provides a much-needed counterbalance to the solitariness of art-making. It allows me to use special gifts I have and to share what I’ve learned on the creative path. Teaching brings me into deep connnection with amazing people.

But I have allowed it to take center-stage for two reasons:

  1. Teaching provides my income
  2. It feels safer, less vulnerable, than being an artist.

Following My Dharma

I think of my dharma, my calling, as:

  • To serve the Divine with all my life
  • To be an artist with all my life
  • To foster and care for the honoring of the Sacred in all things

Teaching is part of my dharma.

But in my teaching I have not come forward fully as myself, my artist self.

Except through my posts/essays that I share with you here, I rarely share my art with you. Nor do I share much of my own artistic journey.

This has to change.

It is time for me to step forward as an artist, to share my creativity with the world much more fully. To step out on a bigger stage.

I cannot be truly fulfilled, or healthy, unless I follow that dream and give it my all.

My Big Scary Leap

To say YES to my heart’s big dream, I am turning to a beautiful model created by an online site called Patreon.

The vision of Patreon is to bring art-makers and art-lovers together in mutually sustaining relationships.

In this way, those of us who value a world of art, imagination and creativity can cultivate that world together and ensure its continuance in these tumultuous, demanding times.

I invite you to join me on Patreon to see what it’s all about. Truly, it is a step towards the more beautiful, loving world many of us wish to co-create.

You Get Access to Things I Have Never Shared Publicly Before

Through Patreon, I will share my poems and other creative projects with you directly each month. You’ll get to see something I have never shared before, early drafts and works-in-progress taking shape.

I will share an insider, in-depth look at my creative process from inspiration and cultivation, through revision and completion.

I’ll share what I know and what I learn about getting my work out in the world, publication and promotion. I’ll share my challenges, successes and musings.

I’m so excited to get to share this all with you in our own little tribe of art lovers.

Through Patreon, you’ll have access to communicate directly with me, to ask your own questions about art-making, creativity, writing, poetry, as well as to give me input on my projects. You will be a part of those projects coming into the world.

Through Patreon, I have a chance to be the artist I need to be, to live my dreams and truly share my deepest gifts.

In the last nine months or more I have been devoting myself intensely to my path of art. I have been wrestling deeply with many questions, coming up against inner challenges, and making important discoveries. I will share about that with you on Patreon.

I Invite You

  • If you would love to be nourished by first-look access to my creations,
  • If you would love to be fascinated by an insider view of my artistic journey, the making of a life in the arts,
  • If you would love to shout yes to my stepping out in the world as a poet and all-around creative being…

Please join me on Patreon.

To a world of beauty and art,

Maxima

I Am Pursuing a Great Dream

I Am Pursuing a Great Dream

I am pursuing the great driving dream of my life:

To be a great artist and touch the lives of thousands of people with my creations.

How painful this dream has been!

How much drive and longing and push and disappointment. How much invisibility and slow growth.

Yet this dream is threaded through my soul. It anchors my life, gives my life radiance, meaning, joy, blessings.

This dream pushes me insistently to grow, like an acorn tugged at to become an oak. Hard, slow growth. Thwarted often.

At other moments, exuberant, exhilarating, ecstatic.

My life spins around the making of art as a planet around the sun. This is my orbit, my unerring route.

And it is deeply fulfilling and engaging. What better way to spend my time? It is what I love and believe in.

A Daring Choice

So I make a daring choice to stand forth in the world as an artist—vulnerable, deeply feeling, unsure. Shadowed by my own fears that my art won’t be wanted, welcomed or understood, by my old belief that I have to hide parts of me to be loved.

ButterflyIn this gradual emergence from the chrysalis, my butterfly wings wet and heavy, I am slowly shedding old habits. No longer crawling as a caterpillar among leaves on the ground. Yet pieces of the old self still stick to me, old painful patterns hindering my flight.

I have to reinvent my environments—inner and outer—to suit the inner transformation.

Next week I’m going to share with you a big step I’m taking. A new way I’m going to be sharing myself in the world as an artist. A big risk.

Reinventing Myself

That reinvention also includes how I write this blog on creativity and artful, soulful living. I have to experiment with voices, styles, subjects, with how I show up in the world. To let my artist self shine through more clearly, in service to All. To be true to my heart and soul.

I don’t know how to do that, what that means, looks like, sounds like, how it may or may not be different from how I’ve been writing and living.

I’ve been wondering again and again whether I need two different blogs, one to do what I’ve always done here (my teachings) and one to share my own artistic journey, my poetry and musings, to be more fully myself as an artist. Maybe so.

Meanwhile, I’ve discovered a place to share that artist self with you in a magical, beautiful way. That’s what I’m going to unveil next week.

Serving You Heaps of Good Things

At the same time, these Creative Sparks posts are one form of my art. They are not just tools to convey information.

They are meant to be inspiration, creation, a form of induction into all I love and cherish: beauty, heart, transformation—wonder, grace, art—creativity, play, connection—imagination, freedom, joy—soul, essence, poetry—wholeness, aliveness.

So, I seek a way to serve you, my readers, with my artful, soulful essays, to touch you deeply, inspire, delight, nourish and help you. Without having to be so didactic, removed in a way. To feel more like a fellow artist, co-conspirator, playmate, as well as guide.

I keep stumbling, as I draw on different voices, resort to old habits, try on new styles.

I will know I have succeeded when you start reading and sharing my posts so much that the my writing and work takes flight in the world. I haven’t reached that yet.

As always, I love to hear from you about what you want, need, what you struggle with, what you are seeking, what your questions and challenges are, what you would love me to write about, what you would love me to offer.

Meanwhile, thank you for walking this path with me. For reading my posts when you can. For being here and living your own creative life.

Stay tuned for when I unveil my big new creative outlet next week!

Love, maxima

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.

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