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If you have said, “I am not Creative,” Read This!

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“Everyone is an artist, and our materials are all about us. To use them, you must see them, and to see them, you must accept that they exist.”  — Bill Kenower

People tell me all the time, “I’m not creative.”  This is simply not true.  We are all creative.  We choose the clothes we put on, the way our living room looks, the words that come out of our mouth.  Usually this is a reaction, sometimes a violent one, to something that someone told us along the way.  “You’re a jock.”  “You’re a brain.”  “You’re artsy.”  Which is to say, that for the most part, we filled in the blank with: “I’m this, not that.”  While this may be true of some things, it is not true about creativity.  Everything we do, no matter what we’re good at or what roles we have chosen in life, EVERYTHING requires creativity.

Not a believer?  Usually it’s because we run into these roadblocks:

  • We think we need to seem smart, or smarter
  • We think we are not original enough
  • We think we need to belong to some sort of method or way or institution for validation
  • We think that we need to have certain accolades
  • We think that someone already did it better than we ever could
  • We think we are just plain not enough

In his wonderful book, “Write Within Yourself:  An Author’s Companion, my friend, the author, speaker, and founder of Author Magazine, Bill Kenower, wrote a wonderful chapter about this topic which helps us see our way through these roadblocks.  He helps us see that we don’t need to try so hard to tap into our creative flow.  It’s right there where we live.  In the way our heart beats, in the way we breathe, in the way we cry and laugh and dance.class

It’s the same thing I tell my Haven Writing Retreat attendees over and over again:  go where you feel most natural, where you feel most at ease.  It does not have to be hard.  That’s not to say that the subject isn’t difficult to face or the details aren’t hard to extract or develop.  It’s that the theme and the attraction to it must be honest and charged with something that comes from deep inside you, something that is already flowing.  You just need to accept it and enter into that flow.  It is in this natural state that you become hungry for what makes your creativity unique, and without-a-doubt:  ENOUGH.

Excerpt from the book:  “Write Within Yourself:  An Author’s Companion” by William Kenower1275_10151421704756266_1852761235_n

WHERE YOU ARE

Though it can seem strangely counterintuitive, the quickest way to change something is to first accept it. Or to put it another way, no matter where you may think you want to be, you are where you are.

For instance, there was a low time in my life when nothing interesting or satisfying seemed to be happening. This puzzled me. I felt capable; I felt curious; I felt creative; I felt ambitious—and yet, nothing seemed to happen.  All was rejection and disappointment.  During this period, I spent a lot of time living in my imagination. In my imagination, things were happening. In my imagination, I was having all kinds of marvelous success, meeting all kinds of interesting people, going to all kinds of interesting places.writers_writing_2

I suppose I can’t be blamed for retreating into my imagination. I was a writer, after all, and by necessity I spent a lot of time there. I learned to create interesting worlds in my imagination, so why not visit one such world if my world seemed less than interesting? It was a pleasant way to pass the time until things in my real world got interesting.

And then one day I was taking a walk, swimming as always in my imaginary waters, when something—literally—stopped me. Here I was making, and making, and making this happy imaginary world for myself that was really not making me any happier at all. It only made me happy as long as I hid there. I stood where I was, and I asked this question, “What could you make with this world?”10430493_10152074148911266_2767363178567064548_n

And as I asked this question, the world around me changed. I saw it all—the bushes, the pond, the birds—as clay. All of it was material. What could I make with where I actually was? Why not start there and see where it goes?

laughThis is why every spiritual doctrine in history teaches acceptance. Acceptance is not passive. Acceptance is not capitulation. Acceptance is an understanding that to create, no matter what you want, you must begin by working with what you have, with where you are. If you resist where you are, you only create an imaginary world where you are not where you are. Everyone is an artist, and our materials are all about us. To use them, you must see them, and to see them, you must accept that they exist.

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Inspiration Ain’t for Sissies!

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What inspires you?  I bet you can make a long list.  I know I can.  At the top I’d put things like:  My kids, Montana, horses, really great writing, people who sing and play music, people who can speak more than one language, really great home-made bread.  Try it.  It’s a nice exercise, much like keeping a gratitude journal.  I have a friend who daily keeps a gratitude journal.  Just lists the things she’s grateful for—no qualifying or comparing or justifying.  Just wide-open THANKS!  In fact, add her to the list of things that inspire me:  people who keep gratitude journals.

But what most of us don’t think about or even realize…is that we actually, quite possibly, have inspired someone elseNah…we scoff and sniff.  Me?  Inspire somebody?  That’s the way I fly, at least— in a pinch, I go into self-degradation.  Even when someone tells me flat out that I have inspired them, my brain resists it.  It’s something I wrote that inspired them.  It’s my Haven retreats that inspired them.  Not me.  It’s like when people compliment me on my kids’ achievements.  “It’s not me,” I always say.  “It’s them!”  But I’d like to give you a personal challenge here.  Think of the things that you have created in your life.  I’m not asking your ego to explode, I’m merely trying to help you claim what is yours so you can make more of it to spread around.  Think of the traditions you have started or carried on.  The things that you have started from scratch, whatever they might be:  cookies, a fund drive, chicken soup, a letter to a loved one, a thoughtful gift, a verbal vote of confidence to someone you believe in, the way you put flowers in the windowsill or the fact that you picked up trash on the street when no one was looking.  Well, take heart.  People notice your good efforts and are, indeed, inspired by them, whether or not you meant them to be inspiring.  You are not invisible.  Your heart language speaks fluently in the country of humanity. 

There is a writer named Bill Kenower who I met through the labyrinth of the writing life.  He is a brother in words and heart and has compiled a collection of essays about writing that yes, INSPIRE me.  Here’s his story.  As you read it, I encourage you to ask yourself, “What can I create that will inspire others?”  Because just by doing what you are already doing, just by being who you are already being…you are helping to make the world a better place.  So take in a deep breath, and give yourself permission to be inspiring.

Yrs.

Laura

Share Alike, by Bill Kenower

I have just published a collection of short essays called Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion, and you could say the book might not exist were it not for Laura Munson. The story of how Laura and I met is a story of social media. There I was on Facebook one afternoon when I noticed someone had posted a piece from the New York Times. I rarely read such things when they’re shared on Facebook, but for some reason I decided to read this one.

When I finished this essay about a woman in Montana who used her years of accumulated wisdom from the experience of writing and being rejected and writing and being rejected to weather a marital storm, I thought, “She’s one of my people.” I am editor-in-chief of Author, an online magazine that focuses on the intersection of creativity and spirituality. One of my primary functions is to conduct video and audio interviews with authors, and I knew immediately I should interview Laura.

It was a great interview, and Laura and I stayed on the phone after I had stopped recording and continued talking about suffering and happiness and doing the things you love. Yes, I thought again, she’s one of my people. Another of my functions at Author is to write a daily column – a blog if you must – which Laura stumbled on shortly after our conversation. I soon received an email from her that began with this sentence: “You inspire me!”

I did not understand until that moment that this was all I wanted to do in the world – inspire people. It was all I wanted because it was all I was searching for in the world itself, those songs, books, movies, stories, and people that inspired me, that turned my attention toward a steady voice that, despite any evidence to the contrary, forever said, “Do what you love. You cannot fail.” It was this voice that had guided me to Laura, the same as it had guided my to E. E. Cummings and Bob Dylan and Beethoven and the woman I married.

Laura and her story are inspiring, but there is something holy about being inspired that can compel one to deify those who do the inspiring. Growing up, I had no church or temple to attend, and so my sermons were stories, poems, and songs. It was there that I was reminded again and again why life was worth living, and why meaning always lay patiently beneath the noise of suffering. This seemed like a sacred job—reminding people why life was worth living—a job for which one must be anointed.

Which is exactly what Laura did, though accidentally. It’s silly, I know, but because she had inspired so many people, because her piece in the New York Times and her book had reached and helped so many souls, and because I had apparently inspired her—if only long enough to write that one sentence—and since she was one of my people and so not a deity, this job now seemed entirely doable.

A year later Laura was in Seattle and we met face-to-face for the first time. It was a bit like meeting a sister from which I had become separated at birth. She was full of excitement for writing and traveling and living, and over a bottle wine she told me, “Bill, you have to get paid for these essays.”

“But how?” I asked.

She laughed. “By publishing them in a book!”

“Oh, right,” I said.

So now they’re a book. Of course there were other people who helped as well, who said, “Bill, you really ought to collect these into a book,” which to me is the story of the inherent generosity of writing, writers, and life itself. Here is Laura now sharing this space with me, as she has shared it with you, her readers, these past months while she toils on her new novel. True generosity always teaches us the lie of sacrifice. If you share what you love and what you value – like a story, or wisdom, or a joke, or a kiss – nothing is sacrificed. Rather, you have increased the value of the world, which is only measurable in love. So share and share alike, you readers, you writers, you lovers. Share everything you wish there was more of, and as fast as you can say, “Thank you” there will be.

William Kenower is the author of Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion, and is the Editor-in-Chief of Author magazine, an online magazine for writers and dedicated readers. He writes a popular daily blog for the magazine about the intersection of writing and our daily lives, and has interviewed hundreds of writers of every genre. He also hosts the online radio program Author2Author where every week he and a different guest discuss the books we write and the lives we lead. To learn more about William, go to williamkenower.com.

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Boozing the Muse

Originally for Author Magazine

Fitzgerald.  Hemingway.  Steinbeck.  Faulkner.  O’Neil.  Poe.  Kerouac.  Bukowski.  Capote.   Dorothy Parker.  Katherine Anne Porter.  And so many many others.  Why is the muse so thirsty?  I want to know the answer.  Allow me then, to muse upon the muse.

For the sake of this pursuit, I’m going to make some assumptions/projections about writers, as a woman who’s been writing for half her life.

Writers think we have something to say.  And not just that.  We’re not sure we’ll be okay if we don’t say it.  It’s that tree-falls-in-the-woods thing.  What if no one’s there to hear it?  Do our words matter?  Does all that widening of the third eye count?  Does all that standing in the intersection of heart and mind and craft that is writing, risking the soul’s “life” and “limb,” matter if it’s just a confluence of country road?  Crows and scarecrows and maybe a few crickets?  Most of us would say an emphatic “no.”  We want the trajectory met.  We want our readers.  And still…we write.

And here’s the thing:  we’re not supposed to complain about it.  Because…it’s not like anyone asked us to write.  It’s not like we’ve gotten sword taps on the shoulders by the royal Queen of Literacy.  We’re just poor slobs who get off on sitting in dark rooms staring at computer screens making shit up.  And without those computers and dark rooms, we’d be poor slobs walking around asking someone if we can borrow a pen to write on walls, and if someone objects, we’ll write on our hands.  But we’d still want someone to read our hands.  And not for fortune.  We don’t expect fortune.  Just a little daily bread and a few people who say, “I read what you wrote.  And it helped me.”

Some writers write to understand.  Others for the greater good.  It doesn’t really matter.  It’s just that we have to.  We can’t not.  Sounds dramatic, I know.  But it’s true.  And here’s the thing:  it doesn’t have to be our undoing—not being read, not being published.  Unless we truly consider it bloodsport, and for some, maybe that’s just the way it needs to be.  But not for me.

Have you ever seen that painting in the Met in New York—of Joan of Arc being called to war from her country life in the garden?  Have you ever seen her face?  Have you noticed the ghost-like spirits over her shoulder?  Looked at her outstretched hand?  She wants it.  She can’t help but listen.  The voices are too loud.  That’s my girl.  That’s me.  I martyred myself for a long time with my writing.  You wouldn’t know it from the outside.  But inside I felt so called to do what I did/do every day, that there was a level of entitlement.  And then the inner turmoil and pain of meeting with rejection.  A LOT of rejection.  How could the publishing world have a grid boasting cracks through which I would fall over and over and over again?  Especially with an agent.  Especially with such positive rejection letters.  I knew I could write.  I knew that I had something to share.  I just couldn’t make being published happen.  And I was miserable.

So I gave up.  Not on the writing.  On the publishing.  The alternative was to self destruct.  And I didn’t want to do that.  I have a great life.  Who cares if I’m a writer.  I have a husband and kids and horses and land in Montana and a house and a garden and friends and…life is good, just like the t-shirts say.  So after a huge publishing deal fell apart, my father died, and I found myself in a red wine daze crying on my office floor, I decided that it was total insanity, basing my personal happiness on things outside my control.  What I could control was:  writing.  Creating.  Submitting when what I wrote was good.  And then letting go.

Writers don’t have to martyr themselves.  That’s a story we tell ourselves.  We aren’t our writing, as much as we’d like to think we are. 

Our writing is of us.

But it…is…not…us.

We need to create a new paradigm for writers.  Writers may walk around with empathy as their middle name, channeling the human experience, but the beauty and heart break of that can be filtered through the fine mesh of an inner agreement that we do not have to suffer because of it.  We can go with the pain.  We can use the pain.  Just like we can use the joy.  And to feel the pain does not mean that it then has us wanting to numb it away.  It does not control us.  We control us.  And I’ll say it again because it took me a long time to understand this:  we can control what we create.  And then, I believe, it’s best to let go of the rest.  The real freedom lies therein.

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The Agony of Submissions– One Writer's Rant

I write regularly for Author Magazine, which you should DEFINITELY check out if you’re a writer or if you love reading or if you love to listen/watch writers being interviewed. Here is my most recent piece. It’s about my relationship with submitting my work. Enjoy. Or feel my pain. Either one. I’d love to hear your own angle on the business side of the writing life. yrs. Laura

PIE by Laura Munson

Mostly, I’ve been a back door sort of submitter. I didn’t used to be. I used to march straight through the front door and send my stuff out shotgun. In fact, the very first story I wrote, I sent, wait for it…to the New Yorker. And when I got that first form rejection, I was stunned. I was twenty. I was a dreamer, not really a writer. And dreamers are a bit delusional. So I kept sending out that short story—Harpers, Esquire, every magazine I could think of, every literary review I found in the Harvard Square kiosk (we didn’t have the internet yet). Still rejection after rejection. After rejection. I had a bulletin board over my desk with a chart full of all my submissions written on butcher block paper. In the section which I’d entitled Y/N, there were so many N’s that I did that N some courtesy and elongated it to Nope. To this day it’s still Nope, only now I know how to make a spreadsheet on my computer. I sort of miss that bulletin board. It was so visceral, writing Nope in Sharpie on butcher’s block paper pinned up with thumb tacks.

Then I read somewhere—Hemingway On Writing or something like that, that you just had to write and write and write and stop trying to get published, and so I spent the next half of my life writing. I recoiled from submitting. I wrote some essays and stories, cast them off into the wind from time to time, and got down to work, ignoring the rejections as they came in—well, KIND of ignoring them. I stopped talking about being a writer. And I began living the writing life. I wrote so much that I used to imagine myself putting on a seatbelt at the beginning of my writing day. I’d feel that ghost seatbelt like amputees claim they feel their lost limb. I was obsessed. Novel after novel. Every so often I’d get my nerve up and query an agent but not really give it the old college try. Not if you want a letterman’s sweater and I did. Not if you’re playing to win. If you’re any good. And I even doubted that.

Then a successful published writer friend told me to look at it like a pie chart. Writing was the dream slice. But the rest was necessary if I ever wanted anybody to read what I spent all that time alone in a dark room tapping away about on my keyboard. And especially, if I ever wanted to get paid for it. “You’re getting a flat ass for nothing,” he said. And he was right. My ass was flattening and no one was reading my stuff and I wasn’t getting paid a dime. (And they wonder why writers drink.)

I didn’t think of the writing life as a pie chart. I wanted to write like I wanted to canter on a horse. In other words, I didn’t want to deal with the saddle soap and the de-wormer. Or the training. Or the walking and stopping and doing circles if things got hairy. And then I was in a hot tub in LA one day and it’s a long story but it lead to an agent who signed me on as a client but with one question: Why aren’t you published? I gave her the writer’s answer: I used to write out of anger, but now I write out of gratitude. But that wasn’t the whole story.

It had more to do with pride. Shame. Guilt, even. How could I have worked so hard and not gotten published to wide acclaim? That was my prayer, after all. Please let me be published to wide acclaim. Spoken to so many horizons on so many beaches. I wish a pelican had flown by or a humpback whale would have flapped a fin in my face and said, “You ain’t gonna git published if you don’t send your work out, sister.” And maybe they did. I was too busy begging and crying and kicking sand around to notice.

Oh how we get in our own way. Oh the fences we build. So here I am, with that flotsam-flung prayer answered, trying to imagine my writing life as the pie chart I guess it’s been after all, trying not just to think of the pie. It would be blackberry, by the way. Or maybe strawberry rhubarb. If you asked me what I’m supposed to be doing right now, I’d tell you about the three files that are open in the tool bar below this sentence: Submissions winter 2010, submissions letters, magazines. And what am I doing? Writing about it. I have a huge body of work after all these years and I’m overwhelmed by it. I feel like Old Mother Hubbard with a copy of the Fiske Guide to Colleges in her already full lap. I’ve made six cups of tea this morning. I’ve checked my email approximately—well, a LOT, that’s how much. I’ve researched Italian Rosetta Stone language dvds. I’ve bought a pair of boots.

Jonathan Franzen said at the recent Miami Book Fair where I had the honor of reading, that no good novel comes out of a computer attached to the internet. People smugly laughed, outing themselves. I smugly crossed my legs and arms: I don’t have this problem. I have trained myself in discipline. I can write under any conditions. I have never made excuses. I’ve completed 14 frigging novels, two memoirs, and I don’t know how many essays and short stories. Too many to count, though I’m considering giving it a whirl right now just to put off having to submit my work. I ABHOR submitting my work.

Even now, why? It’s not the probable rejection. It’s not the actual writing of the query letters—it’s writing after all and we all know how I feel about writing by now. It has something to do with why I never got above a B+ in math. I don’t like numbers. I don’t like pie charts. I don’t like doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I don’t want to BE a business person. In other words, I’m completely immature. And I still believe that the rebel is free. I’m here to tell you, it’s not.

The artist can be and even must be, a business-person too. And that doesn’t mean you’re selling out. You’re creating the possibility of having your work be received by people. And that’s part of it. Still…it’s a pill I haven’t quite swallowed. I don’t have any problem submitting my books to my agent. But my little babies to glossy magazine editors and terrifying places like Granta or the Paris Review or…uck. I’d rather get a cavity filled. I’m not kidding. I want to get on my cow pony and canter. No, gallop. Instead, Dear editor. I have a few essays which I feel to be a match for your zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

And those old questions clamor in my mind: why would they want to publish MY work in the first place? Haven’t I had enough therapy to know that I have self-worth issues? Doesn’t a New York Times bestselling book make me immune to these inner saboteur-esque questions? Apparently not.

Two cups of tea later: an epiphany occurs:

I find myself chortling. Fully entranced in my essay file on my computer, playing a game of cat and mouse. Or curser and mouse, if you will. (Aren’t I hysterical?) Asking a different kind of question– as if to a palm reader: where should this one go, oh wise curser? And then I start talking to my actual Word document files. Tell me where you want to go. Tell me where home is, little girl. I’ll give you a ride and a sandwich. Fly. Be free.

And shit starts happening. I start making a list. A fast one. The one about dog-sledding—Outside magazine of course. And…the one about the funeral in the forest, how ‘bout Tin House. And the one about the firefighter and the grizzly bear, what about Orion? And the one about my first child and the day she wanted to move her dollhouse out of her room…why not Parenting magazine? Or Ladies Home Journal. Or Woman’s Day? Or Redbook? Suddenly, no glossy mag seems too grandiose. What’s a magazine without its writers? As my literary hero once told me, “Someone has to get published and why can’t it be you?” Yeah. Like Harrison said. Why not me?

So after seven hours of diddling around like a child doing chores, in a half an hour, I’d submitted eleven pieces. All by listening to my work and its voice—picturing the blow of its cannon and watching its trajectory in the sky, falling as it might.

And truth told, I want more. I think I’ll dedicate the whole week to this game, in fact. To this slice of pie. And when I’m through, I’ll have irons in the fire, while I tuck into the winter of 2010, and get back to work on the reason for the slices in the first place: the writing.

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Hard Frost. Slow Dance. (For Author Magazine)

I am pleased to be regularly contributing to Author Magazine online. Here’s a piece about wintertime and the muse….

This is the time of year when the muse is hungry. Starved by a summer in Montana where the physical world bullies you to come out into it and join the dance that leads with mountains, and twirls with rivers, and rests in lakes—a spent tango. And we find ourselves in fall. The physical dance over. Time to go home in the dark. There is a lot of darkness now.

This morning was the first hard frost. I could see it on the roof by moonshadow, silver and glinting off shingles. It was confirmed by the first light over the ridge… to read more click here

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