Gritty, Gusty, Go for the Gusto! Taking Risks in Life and Art

I’m teaching a Gritty, Gusty, Go for the Gusto Writing Workshop today and my personal challenge was not to over-prepare. It’s easy to research, to create a Power Point, to throw in snazzy pics, inspiring quotes, and a carefully planned agenda. Not doing it. No, I’m not lazy and I’m not being cocky. But I do know this about me–I like (maybe not like but certainly have the habit of ) making things complicated–so complex, so much to it, that I don’t ever do this thing I dare to do.

Intuitively I know how to do this. I’ve spent years reading, studying, attending conferences, paying the million word god a couple of million words at least.

What I need, what my students (I prefer participants–we’re all in this together) is to learn less and remember more.

We know our stories.

We know our truths.

It’s about taking the risk to tell them.

It’s writing hard and fast.

The being pushed to go deeper.

Then deeper still.

To get to that small, quiet place sometimes we have to blast through, go big, take that wallop and watch all our defenses crumble.

Most of the time we need a little help getting there.

Most of the time we don’t know how to risk more.

We want it to sound pretty–or look pretty.

We want it to sound powerful, to impress, when sometimes our deepest truths are the hard earned, quiet gems that took us a whole lifetime to uncover–or they came in a flash of a moment leaving us bloody and breathless.

I’m rested. Focused. I’m ready to play and to do some really good work.

Those who come today are safe.

I won’t leave them half way through the wood.

Getting gritty is a messy job.

But if you’re ready…if you’re ripe

then it’s time

to split

wide open….

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Creativity and When Someone Just Doesn’t Get Your Art: The Sympathetic Resonance Theory Connection

Have you ever had someone in your writer’s group just not “get you?”

Have you ever had such a bad critique or Amazon review that you wanted to crawl under the nearest table?

That’s part of the artist’s life–that your writing, your song, your art, isn’t for everyone, but when it happens, it’s still difficult/frustrating/embarrassing/disappointing/there aren’t enough adjectives in the world to describe just how hurtful it can be.

I’ve come to realize that when someone doesn’t get you it’s just discordant harmonies.

What’s that?

Let me get practical– if you have to guitars in a room and you pluck a G string on one of the guitars you will actually notice that the other untouched guitar G string will begin to vibrate.

Like calls to like.

This morning I reread a self-help book I really love called, Bounce Back, (I’m a self-help junkie) and I came across this  term: sympathetic resonance theory. It’s used in music and has lots of scientific, health and technological applications including biofeedback, helping to reset irregular heart rhythms and research in sound waves for military application.

A quick wiki definition is this–sympathetic resonance: ” …a harmonic phenomenon wherein a formerly passive string or vibratory body responds to external vibrations to which it has a harmonic likeness.”

The Center for Neuroacoustic Research shows that the government has long been studying the effects of sound on the brain. Jung called it our collective consciousness, but there’s something to the ancient sounds that call to us.

NASA has space recordings that are eerily similar to the primordial, nature and organic sounds found on our own planet. Sounds and rhythms repeat and mimic throughout our universe. According to the Center for Neuroacoustic Research, “Dolphin/ocean sounds, slowed down 64 times, sound very similar to human voice sounds and some of the Voyager I and II space recordings. Normal dolphin sounds speeded up two octaves sound like birds. Seagull sounds slowed down two octaves, sound like dolphins. Human voice sounds speeded up, sound first like birds and then like dolphins, etc. – all with a powerful effect on the subconscious mind.”

We’ve been playing with sound to alter or enhance our state of consciousness for thousands of years.  The Chinese gongs, Tibetan singing bowls, bells, religious chants, Indian tambour drums, African and Middle Eastern drums and doonbeks, based on the “tonic” note are sounds we are drawn to. Why? Our brains crave certain tones and beats. These tones can soothe us or agitate us.

What’s that got to do with creativity?

When it comes to art and creativity, whether it’s an author or a musician or a visual artist, not everyone is going to get your art.
They’re just not.

We long for readers. We long for listeners. Appreciators of our paintings, sculptures,  but know that you will always, always have a few that adore you, a few that abhor you, and a large percentage that just don’t care. Art of all kinds is subjective. Your music, your words, your painting, it’s not for everyone. The more you are authentic the more you will distinguish yourself and your audience. Not just music, but all art resonates at a different wave length. We cannot deny that certain music, art, or writing either soothes or agitates us–just like sound waves.

Likewise, we long to find other creative souls to “bounce” our ideas off of (interesting, that turn of phrase), and yet we oftentimes find ourselves at odds with other creative souls. Is it jealousy? Not always. Sometimes they’re the F to our G. Either can make lovely music, just not together. No right. No wrong. Just different songs.

Surrounding ourselves with a tribe, with folks who get us (our harmonies) those who challenge us in a good way, who are on somewhat tandem journeys is important and even crucial to our development, but occasionally we’ll come across someone who is our counter in the  most destructive of ways. They cause us to doubt. They feed on our worst qualities and we spend far too much time enmeshed in drama and not creating at all. We have much to learn from them, and they from us, but they do not need to be a part of your tribe. They actually sap your creative energies. Only you know who they are and how much time you need to walk with them, to learn what you need to learn, and when to recognize that your time together was just that–for a time.

All of art has a resonance. It will bong like the clapper on a bell. Your tribe, your readers, your listeners, your viewers will know in their bones that you speak their language, or in the example/metaphor at hand, sing their song. It’s okay that there are G books and G songs in this world as there are F books and F songs.

There is room in this old world for all our songs.



Bounce Back by Karen Salmansohn’s

A cool sympathetic resonance sculpture:


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Problem Solving–Creative Style

Everyone faces problems at work. Some you feel responsible for (either in the making or the solving) but at the end of the day you do your best to separate yourself from “work issues,” and head home–to your life.  Writers, musicians, visual artists, and other creative types have a harder time differentiating their problems from their person. It feels like something’s wrong with you when your book is rejected or the art jury doesn’t select your work. You are the problem–that’s the way it feels.

Giving up, moving on, avoiding, denying–these aren’t really problem solving strategies. Trust me, I’ve done them all. Here are a few things that are helping me work through my creative problems.

1. write a letter to your issue. Talk to it.  Tell it how frustrated you are, but then take it a step further ask it what it needs. Time? Space? To talk to someone who has had a similar situation? Getting it on the page really helps.

2. Break down the problem into bite-size components. The whole book doesn’t suck. Your whole portfolio doesn’t need chucking. Let go of the dramatics and  become a tinkerer. Chunk it out, make a list, and look at each component of the problem and seek solutions for smaller segments.

3. Investigate how it’s not working. So your plot stinks. How does it stink, at what page number does it start to fall apart? So you love the melody but the bridge just isn’t working. Keep going. Maybe it’s the key you’re playing in. Maybe it’s because you got lazy at a certain point.

4. Find a mentor. Not a mentor who’s never had a problem. Find a mentor who openly discusses just how infuriating the creative process can be. Talk to somebody who gets where you’re at. Sometimes you need to think out loud–and a mentor is the perfect person to actively listen, ask new questions, and push you past your comfort zone.

5. Take a break. A long break–and go create something else. Don’t let a creative problem paralyze you. So one song isn’t working. So one novel (or two) is in a box under your bed spending some quality time with the dust bunnies. So what? Doesn’t mean you’re not a writer. Not all creative projects pan out. Do you really think that Michaelangelo didn’t have any busted half-done marble busts out back? Of course he did. Attempts, even lousy attempts are part of the process.

6. BONUS: Do one thing different. If how you have your novel arranged isn’t working, then try the opposite approach. Change first person t third, or shift protagonists–remember Nick Carraway in the Great Gatsby? Not your typical viewpoint, but it worked. (BTW, the book didn’t sell all that well and Fitzgerald died thinking it was pretty much a failure–now it’s considered the quintessential American Novel). Consider getting physical–shoot hoops, put on some music and dance till you sweat. Flood your brain with fresh oxygen and amp up those endorphins. New ideas need new blood flow!

I read in Michael Gelb’s Think Like a Genius today that the word problem solving root meaning in Latin is pro–to be active blema–to move forward, and solve/solving is to loosen up (such as a solvent), so problem solving is to actively move forward by loosening up! Amazing.

As I’m writing this I’m about to tackle a novel that has a snag in it. Honestly, I wrote this post way more for me than for you, but maybe we can kind of help each other through a hard patch. Creative problems need creative problem solving, so I guess I’ve got to dive in and see what happens.



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100 Questions, 100 Pebbles: Blasting Through Your Creativity Walls

Questions are incubated in a curious mind.

Leonardo Da Vinci was known for his curiosity. He turned those questions into notebooks filled with notes and drawings, and then he took those details and turned many of them into paintings, sculptures, experiments, and used his ideas to create canals, aquifers, and military applications. He’s a genius, you argue. You don’t have time to doodle in a notebook. But the truth is, we ask questions all the time. We just don’t always listen.

In truth, you do have time to doodle. so make time to doodle. Curly Q’s aside, keep a notebook with you all the time. Jot down ideas, book titles, quotes and jokes, recipes and names. Spend five minutes of your lunch hour drawing a pod you found by your car that morning. It doesn’t have to be great. It’s not about your artistry, it’s about your curiosity.

Start by asking yourself 100 questions.

You won’t even know what bothers you, what worries you, what creativity walls are boxing you in, or even what fascinates you until you get it out of your head and onto the page. The power of 100 questions is emptying your mind as hard and as fast as you can. No censor. Blast through. Ask the mundane to the profane. Should I buy a smart car? Why did my parents divorce when I was two years old? How can I improve my running time? How do I ask for a raise–and get it? Do woodpeckers get headaches? Why isn’t my character in my new novel relatable? Why does the riff in this song bother me? And what is anti matter, anyway?

From every day questions to is there a God, questions are like pebbles we carry in our pockets. One pebble doesn’t weigh us down, but 100 might. Some questions lead to answers that make our lives easier while other questions lead to more questions–and some questions send us down wonderful rabbit holes that enrich our lives.

The assignment, if you choose to accept, is to get a pen and paper, or sit at your computer, and give yourself about one hour. Write out 100 questions as fast as you can. Don’t worry if they repeat. Don’t worry if they seem trite, or if they really don’t have an answer. Expect a few pauses. Just sit and wait. Reread some of your other questions. Ask really silly questions–why haven’t I ever seen a double rainbow? Why can’t I blow bubbles? Should I take up clogging? Sit until a new river of thought forms.

After you get your 100 questions on paper, keep it somewhere you can look at them often. You don’t have to go about solving your own questions. For the most part, in the next few days, weeks, and months, the subjects you wrote about will appear in your life. You’ll watch a movie and it’ll mention something. You’ll turn on the Discovery Channel and there it is–your sister-in-law will tell you about a friend of a friend of a friend–and there’s your solution. It doesn’t even take effort (overt effort) on your part. It just happens. Other questions will float to the surface and you’ll look it up online or buy a book. One by one, your questions will begin to pop up in your life–and your pockets will grow light.

What’s the purpose of 100 questions?
To see what’s been taking up space in your brain.
To see what bones you’ve been gnawing on.
You’ll begin to see patterns in your questions.

What to do with your questions once you’ve written them down.

Color code your questions.
Get some highlight markers and dot each science question in green.
Highlight any relationship questions in red.
Highlight any questions that have to do with your creativity (art, music, writing, inventions, etc.) in yellow.
Look for a few other categories.
Rearrange your list so your groupings hang together.
Notice what has been weighing on you.
Consider getting help–ask a friend who has faced a similar dilemma, get a book, a coach, do some journaling, or talk with a professional, and by all means, take that first step if you need to make amends. Pebbles have a way of turning into boulders if we hold onto them too long.

Here’s the fun part:
Choose one item to explore.

Say, for instance, one of your questions was, “How can I move to France?” Although that might not be feasible in the near future, you could start renting French films, buy Rosetta Stone or another language course and learn French, pick up a French cookbook at your local library sale, collect Eiffel towers, or start writing letters to your great aunt to happens to have lived in France after college. That one question doesn’t lead you straight to dual citizenship. Instead, it leads you on a glorious winding road trip, and if you ever move abroad, you’ll be much better prepared, and if your desires change, then you’ve enjoyed a journey of the mind and heart without ever having to apply for a green card.

So often we feel stuck. Our creativity juices are more like mud-pies, and we have no idea nor inclination as to how to get unstuck. 100 questions is just that–100 tiny curiosities. Give yourself permission to explore. Ask questions, big, little, silly, absurd. Turn a concept over and over, look at the backside, look at its counterpart. Let your curiosity run amok.

Where will 100 questions lead you?
Now, that’s a good question.

***This exercise is taken from Michael Gelb’s Discover Your Genius.

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We Are Always Learning: Creativity and All the Places We’ll Go

I heard a child education expert comment that we are always learning. If a child is playing Legos he’s learning. If he’s playing a video game he’s learning. If he’s building a fort and having pine cone fights with his friends–he’s learning. We can’t NOT learn. It’s how we’re hardwired. Even if a kid is glued in front of a television channel flipping–he’s learning. Not all our learning is good/productive/healthy–but we are learning something all the time.

Annie Murphy Paul author Brilliant, The New Science of Smart reminds us that each of us have a learning quotient:

“How we learn shapes what we know and what we can do. Our knowledge and our abilities are largely determined not by our IQ or some other fixed measure of intelligence, but by the effectiveness of our learning process: call it our learning quotient.”

Professor Randy McKay at the DNA Learning Center has this to say on the subject:

“…So, on top of the basic biology, there’s a huge flexibility and it’s that interaction that makes the nervous system such a powerful device.”

Why do we remember certain things we learn and why do other bits of knowledge (such as information we regurgitate on a test and then dump before we get our grade) disparate?

Two reasons (this is totally me coming up with this part)

1) Information you need (for your job, your interests) that you will continue to use and reapply

2) Information you acquire out of need/curiosity, that is also cross-referenced and overlaid with other pertinent information.

I offer this personal example. My book is based heavily on the life of Vincent Van Gogh. In gathering my research I took the following actions: (not an extensive list, just what I can remember quickly):

Perused the ‘net for quality information–separating it from “junk.”
Found the mother-lode at This is the official site affiliated with the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam.
Researched authors who had written on Van Gogh.
Bought (collected) relevant books ranging on everything from the diseases that plagued him to studying his color theory to his numerous letters to his brother and others, to the women he loved.
Began a checklist of visiting every museum possible to view his work.
Emailed/spoke with experts on various sub-set subjects related to Van Gogh.
Painted replicas of his work so that I could get into his head/heart and experience these works of art for myself.
Visited Amsterdam/Paris/South of France–locations where Vincent lived, worked and died.

That was the gathering phase. Since then, my studies led me down many fascinating rabbit holes. Here’s what I’ve learned. Some subjects I took to a deep level of learning and others are merely skimmed, cross-referenced and applied as needed for my book.
I made a list of the books and music Vincent read and enjoyed and read them/listened for myself.
Bought Rosetta Stone and brushed up on my French
Mapped where Vincent lived and traveled and made my own creativity trek
Studied the science of turbulence found in his painting Starry Night and learned about the mathematician that founded this area of math and physics–after Vincent naturally painted it.
Studied the provenance of many of Vincent’s works from the 1880s to present day.
Studied how a painting is valued, and why art is stolen.
Studied how art was confiscated particularly in World War II (rent the film The Rape of Europa–appalling).
Studied temporal lobe epilepsy (what physicians/psychiatrists have given as Vincent’s diagnosis).
Studied the history of syphilis (Vincent and Theo, his brother) both contracted this STD)
Studied the lives of fellow artists and Vincent’s mentors: Millet, Delacroix, Gauguin, Lautrec, Cezanne, Pissarro…the list goes on.
Studied the art periods that preceded and followed after the Post Impressionists (Vincent’s era)–Impressionists, modern/abstract art.
Studied the history of photography of the 1800s.
Studied asylums in the 1800s and the use of hydrotherapy.
Studied the discrepancies of Vincent’s final days–did he really commit suicide? What did his last cryptic words mean?
Studied the Salon des Independents.
Studied the history of Arles, St. Remy, the history and layout of the city and surrounding area and why Vincent was attracted to this “certain slant of light.” That led me to study the Roman influences in this area as well as the L’Occitane language.
Studied Joanna Bonger-Van Gogh, Theo’s wife and the person most responsible for sharing Vincent’s works with the world after the two brother’s deaths (they died six months apart.
Collecting, studying, and preparing historic recipes from France in the 1800s.
Studied the history of absinthe and its scientific properties and how it affects the brain.
Studied the history of gypsies and Sara the Gitan, patron saint of the five gypsy tribes of Europe
Studied the golden mean as found in sunflowers and other natural forms–which led me to The Power of Limits–an amazing book that looks in depth at this mathematical and architectural influence.
I could go on but perhaps this fascinates me more than you.

I encourage you to take whatever interests you and make a list of what it has led you to–the people, places, books that you’ve naturally gathered along your way.

The word I just used–naturally–is key.

Natural learning sticks.

Cross-referenced learning is applied learning.

Finding what you love and allowing yourself to gather, sort, process and apply without pressure, just because you’re curious, with your own set in challenges, is true learning.

I am no smarter than you. Trust me on that one. But I am curious and I’ve learned to indulge my fascinations. My life and my home now reflect my passions.

Did you know that Leonardo Da Vinci was known for not finishing things? Do we really care? The man serious must have had OCD and ADD–but who gives a rat’s patootie? He dabbled in nature, cut up corpses to study human anatomy, created weapons, studied engineering and applied what he learned to Florence and other cities, drew, painted, sculpted. The world is a far more beautiful place because of this one man. I, for one, am grateful that he cast a wide net when it came to learning. (Follow through might just be overrated!)

Here’s a nifty graphic on how we learn:

I ask you–and I hope you’ll share:

What subjects interest you?

Have you started collecting information?

Do you go internet diving on these subjects?

Do you allow yourself to follow whatever questions arise?

Does your home, your conversations, how you spend your time reflect your interests?

How has this impacted the quality of your life?

Even if it’s just for you, if no monetary gain, no fame or fortune befall you, would you still be glad you spent your time on these endeavors?

Read more on how we learn at:

Read more:

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Need a Nap? Take a Nap! Rest and Creativity: The Amazing Connection

A couple of years ago I had a major talk for a college coming up. Mothering Mother (my book) was the spring selection read for the entire college. I was invited to not only give a talk, but to also visit several departments, talk with students, a luncheon talk with the staff, a one-woman play in the community, and any other publicity (television/radio) that might arise. Pressure. I had to be ON. I needed to be prepared, present, interesting, educational, entertaining and all in all, a razzle-dazzle kind of gal for all of the upcoming events. And that’s when it hit me: I need to rest.

This isn’t just woo-woo. Rest is crucial to creativity. A recent study out of Harvard Health shows a direct correlation between creativity and rest. A group was given a complex problem to solve and then divided. One half of the group was told to work on the problem all day. The other half was encouraged to nap. Not only nap (not just a ten minute break), but were allowed to rest long enough to enter REM sleep. You guessed it. The group that napped showed a 40% cognitive improvement in problem solving. “Those whose naps were long enough to enter REM sleep did 40% better on the test than nappers who didn’t get any REM sleep and non-nappers. Rather than simply boosting alertness and attention, REM sleep allowed the brain to work creatively on the problems that had been posed before sleep.”

No wonder Google now encourages naps. Other great nappers include Albert Einstein, Salvadore Dali, Winston Churchill and Thomas Edison.

Salvador Dali

Back to my story: I spent the next two months (or more) preparing for the various components of my upcoming events–preparing posters, writing blogs, tapping into social media to help promote the event, lots of phone calls, printing of new materials, practicing endless hours so that my talks were seamless–and yes, plucking the wiry eyebrows and checking off a rather formidable list of personal hygiene items.

As the time came closer my world grew quiet. I stepped aside from other commitments. I spent time in my garden. I rode my bike. I took naps. I envisioned myself fully present with folks who needed me not only to talk, but more importantly, to listen. Every time an anxious thought entered my being I imagined us (students, professors, community folk) in a circle laughing, talking, sharing, reading, crying. I decided that going to these events rested and fully present was the best gift I could give myself–and everyone else. In the words of Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love, I wrapped us in love and light.

So…how’d it go?


I was received with kindness and ease. I was treated with respect and appreciation.

I was able to handle several days of a busy schedule and welcomed each event and each group of people with joy, sweetness and intention. It is truly one of my best “author” experiences that will forever cherish. And I don’t believe it would have turned out so well if I hadn’t tapped into the secret of rest.

Rest doesn’t mean sleeping (although it includes sleeping).

Rest is a state of regeneration.

Our brains are “free” from our consciousness (and critic) while we sleep. Solutions can “come to us,” when we stop trying so hard.

Rest doesn’t just mean catching some zzz’s. It’s whatever feeds your spirit.

Clean water, long walks, talking with people who invigorate your mind and spirit.

It might mean creating a meal, deadheading a bed of flowers, bird watching all afternoon, pouring through magazines and surrounding yourself with positive images. It might even mean addressing some minor irritations that are sapping you of your thoughts. It’s also body care–yoga, stretching, getting a massage, swimming, catching up on dental appointments, perhaps doing a juice cleanse.

It means time for quiet. For reflection. For envisioning how you want to feel at whatever is coming up for you. I wanted to feel deeply rested, present, and have the energy to give myself wholeheartedly to this endeavor.

Flash forward three years:

New opportunities are swirling around me. Several possibilities at once.

My head is spinning and my first thought is:

“Whew! There’s a whole lot about to happen–I better rest!”

A special thanks to the folks at Owensboro Community College–


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Is Overthinking Smothering Your Creativity and Sapping Your Happiness?

I woke up at 4:50 this morning–overthinking. Decisions I’ve been wrestling with. Deprecating thoughts. You’re wasting your precious life. Why can’t you just….what are you waiting for…you’ve been going in circles for how long? If I were  my roommate, which I kind of am in this mind-body living arrangement, I’d tell myself to shut the hell up and go back to sleep. Overthinking is in many applications just another word for self-doubt–and self-doubt is battery acid when it’s spilled over creativity. Nothing is more corrosive. Nothing will sap you of energy, momentum, and happiness.

It’s time I re-listened to a book that I came  across recently but apparently haven’t fully mastered. The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer taught me something I didn’t fully know before now and as Anne Lamott says (paraphrased), “My mind is a dangerous playground–and I don’t dare go there alone!”

The Untethered Soul asked me to question my own thoughts and perceptions. It says my thoughts aren’t me and the reason I can know they’re not me is that I (some part of me–soul, spirit, consciousness, whatever you want to call it) can observe my thoughts. You can only observe something that is separate from your own  being, therefore it is separate and deserves to be considered, at times, a hostile witness of my own life.

Wow. I can’t tell you how freeing it is to not have to believe all those nasty thoughts.


This is from Amazon: Singer shows how the development of consciousness can enable us all to dwell in the present moment and let go of painful thoughts and memories that keep us from achieving happiness and self-realization.

This book, copublished with the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS), offers a frank and friendly discussion of consciousness and how we can develop it. In part one, he examines the notion of self and the inner dialogue we all live with. Part two examines the experience of energy as it flows through us and works to show readers how to open their hearts to the energy of experience that permeates their lives. Ways to overcome tendencies to close down to the rest of the world are the subject of part three. Enlightenment, the embrace of universal consciousness, is the subject of part four. And finally, in part five, Singer returns to daily life and the pursuit of unconditional happiness. Throughout, the book maintains a light and engaging tone, free from heavy dogma and prescriptive religious references. The easy exercises that figure in each chapter help readers experience the ideas that Singer presents. Visit  for more information.

So, what I’ve been doing is writing Future Me. (Over at

It’s taken the place  of my journals.  I find that I’m kinder and clearer when I write to myself. Here’s what I  wrote today that will be delivered to myself one year from today. (You can pick any time for the email to be delivered).

Dear FutureMe,
Are you overthinking again?
Is it keeping you spinning your wheels?
Up at night?
Turn it off, my love. It’s a waste of your precious time and energy on this earth.
Put on music. Go for a run. Dance. Clean. Do anything to drown out the incessant inner chatter.
Whatever it is that you’re doing–throw yourself in whole heart and all. Make mistakes. Big ones. Risk. Go for it. It’s better than living in paralyzing fear of getting it right or staying status  quo.
Ask yourself: looking back on this day what will you regret the most? Doing or not doing? It’s almost always the not doing.
So whatever you decide. Do it. If you need to close the circle then close it. If it’s time for the wandering void, then wander.
If it’s time to make new choices, go for it.
Life is an adventure and you are your own Magellan. Be out front scouting out new lands.
I love you.


How does overthinking effect  your creativity/writing/art?

What do you do when you realize you’ve been overthinking?

Have you ever questioned that nasty roommate?


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Top Ten Writer’s Block Excuses (Reasons)

Writer’s block come in all kinds and sizes of excuses (reasons). Some are quite inventive.

Top Ten Writer’s Block Excuses (Reasons)

1. I’m all out of ideas.

2. All my ideas are lame.

3. Is that a lump I feel? Can you get lumps there? I better write my obit–quick.

3. I don’t know how to do this. In fact, I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. I’m a sham.

4. I can’t write until I clean off my desk/do the laundry/pay the bills/walk the dog….

5.. I’m bored with my story/article/poem.

6.. It’s shit. Pure dribble and nothing more.

7. Face it, I’m no Hemingway, Chandler, Updike. Hell, I’m not even Charles Schultz.

8. I need to make some real money.

9. I hate writing. I hate keyboards and notecards. I hate research. I hate this desk and this lamp–it’s so dim. My back hurts. I need a new chair, that’s the problem. Some people write sitting on a giant ball, maybe I need a giant ball. I hate dialogue, and I loathe revising. Why the #*%&  do I put myself through this torture?

10. It’s taking too long. Who’s going to publish a first novel by a 90 year old newbie author?

Bonus: I’m tired and getting rejections suck.

I’m embarrassed and yeah, a little sad about how my writing career is going. I thought I’d have made it by now, whatever that means…

Wow, that was easy to write. The old adage of write what you know really works. This inner loop plays in my head all day, most every day.

You’ve got your own list, I’m sure, but I bet we have one thing in common. One thing we haven’t said aloud.

If I don’t write I won’t be rejected.

No risk. No risk. 

If you don’t take the risk you risk nothing of value…therefore you can’t get hurt. (Delusional thinking at best)

I don’t have any spiffy answers today. I just needed to write my list and look at it.

I think I’m going to take one of my despised notecards and write, No Risk. No Risk, on it.

I need to mull that one over.

Want to add to the list? Leave a comment.

I enjoy other’s self-loathing. It makes me feel oh so normal.

I might have missed one–wouldn’t want to leave out a perfectly good excuse (reason).


Filed under creativity, publishing, rejection, writing

Do One Thing Different: Creativity and Writer Block Breakthroughs

“The way to get unblocked is to lose our inhibitions and stop worrying about being right.”

~Paul Arden 

“How do I get past a writer’s block? I lower my standards.” That’s what W. Va. creative writing professor Gail Galloway Adams told me years ago. Perfectionism and procrastination are toxic kissing cousins when it comes to creativity blocks. I’d say that doubt (which feeds self-criticism) slides into the mix, but as a person who makes a living (kinda-sorta) off my communication skills I don’t have the luxury of staying stuck for long.

Paul Arden addresses this issue in his international best seller It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be by reminding us to not be afraid of silly ideas.

Arden quotes British actor/comedian, John Cleese, “High creativity is responding to situations without critical thought,” (playfulness).


Improv isn’t as willy-nilly as you might think. It comes from being loose, from snatching at whatever comes to mind, from taking risks, from extrapolating from the past and attaching it to some hair-ball out there idea you can’t fathom or track where it came from.

Actors do it on stage. Musicians do it in jam sessions (and some perform this way) Yet writers and visual artists usually create in private and strive to hone their work to perfection. Too bad. It takes all the fun out it, and it doesn’t always produce good work. Improvising pulls from your talents but adds the element of surprise, whimsy, and the magic and mayhem of the moment. It’s not expected to be perfect. You-get-what-you-get can  produce phenomenal-breakthrough work.

Who wouldn’t love see Robin Williams live just playing with and off the audience?

Who wouldn’t give the contents of their checking account to have been privy to one of the Beatles jam sessions with everyone trying out new rifts and blurting out lyrics–duds and all?

Who wouldn’t want to hand Jackson Pollack his next color bucket so he can splatter paint in what looks like string theory on canvas?

So how does an artist, a writer get unblocked?

Paul Arden gives some suggestions:

1. Do the opposite of what you’ve been doing.

2. Look around–out the window, in your office, on your desk or on the wall. Incorporate what you see into your solution.

3. Go silly. Fat Bastard is a popular French wine. Don’t tell me that you might not buy that wine just because of the unconventional name?

And I’ll add one more–from another book I adore, Do One Thing Different, Ten Simple Ways to Change Your Life, by Bill Hanolon.

Today, right now, whatever you’re about to do–do it different. Walk backwards to your mailbox. Brush your teeth with your left hand. Drive to the grocery store using a different route. Your brain is so used to the monotony of your life that it spits out more monotony–you get back what you put in. Mixing it up charges those neurons.

Now, look at your art. Do one thing different. Ask what if. Ramp up the risk. Write a fight scene cool and an every day scene hot.

I triple-dog dare you to get silly, to do the opposite, to try one thing different.

Just see what happens.

I’m up for the challenge, are you?


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Throw Your Heart Over the Fence, Living an Artist’s Life

In the equestrian world when you’re getting ready to ask your horse to jump (and you’re scared, you doubt, you hesitate) what you need to do is to throw your heart over the fence…and then jump after it. That’s what we have to do as writers, artists, and musicians. We have to take that wild daring leap. There are no promises of the outcome–if your novel will be published, if your short story will be be accepted, if your painting/sculpture will be accepted into an exhibition, or your song will find its audience. That’s not really your concern. You are to do one thing: Leap.

Maybe that’s why so many of us toy with our art. We don’t take it serious. We piddle ( tells me that this means an act of urination, to spend time in trifling activities–and that this word is probably a blend from two other words–piss and puddle) .

We allow the glitter of distraction to lure us down yet another path. We pick up new hobbies. Knitting. Cycling. Making our own sushi. We download a new playlist. Rewatch the last season of Downton Abbey. We blame the “new economy” for a tougher, leaner publishing world. Besides, readers are more interested in fluff than true literary work (we tell ourselves that fluff is beneath us).

To leap is a scary thing. Not only do you risk rejection, you risk disappointment.

Julia Cameron reminds us in Letters to a Young Artist that to become discouraged literally means to lose heart.

Couer is French for heart–dis-courage. Julia says, “When we become dis-couraged we move away from our heart and what it knows and loves.”

Courage is a matter of the heart.

That’s why the Lion in the Wizard of Oz was given a badge of courage that he wore over his heart.

As tenacious as I am when it comes to my art, I too, lose heart. Doubt swirls.

You’re not that good. Give it up. Just be happy, be happy with your life and don’t torture yourself. The world doesn’t need another writer. If you had put this much effort into a career you would be making 100K+. You missed your opportunity. You’re lazy, that’s your problem. You don’t want to work hard. You like being different. Why don’t you get with the program. Earn your keep. Earn some freakin’ money and get your own IRA. What is it –really–that you do all day/night/weekend?  

Some days it starts early in the morning. It’s not a conscious thought. It’s a niggling in the back of me somewhere.

For the most part I fight it. I ignore it.

Sometimes I imagine another me.

I could be a mixologist. I’m a people person. Food/drink, I love. Showing up each night and being “on.”  It’s part chemistry, part intuition. Dress down, but cool, like I’m not trying…this old thing? I got it at a thrift store in SoHo. The boots were my grandmother’s. Here’s your drink. Call it a Red Badge.

I could do it.

I could be a park ranger. Tell stories all day–at Ellis Island, or repair fencing in Montana and figure out what to do about the ever growing coyote population. I might need to drive a few of them to northern Canada, get lost on the way. At least I would be outside breathing in God’s air, not chained to the desk leg of corporate life. I could rock a pair of tight fitting Dickies pants, hell, I could wear a dickey under my park ranger boy scout looking shirt, but I’d have to lose the hat. The hat looks like the guy in Curious George.

I could move to New York. Get into fashion. Get into acting. Go back to school and get a Ph.D. is art history and become a curator. Or…I could open a junque shop. Collect oddities and paint on the siding. Murals that take decades. I could get written up in my local paper and they’d take a photograph of my wall. My hodge-podge shop would have to have a cat you’d find unexpectedly in an overturned enamel percolator or on top of a pyramid of books. And a Saint Bernard, every store needs a big sweet sleepy dog that lays right in the middle of things greeting customers with only the lift of his droopy lids. I’d create still-lifes out of stuffed ravens, old superman comic books, and the blue percolator with the cat in it.

Oops. I did it, I slid back into the arts. That’s the problem.

At the root of me beats an artist’s heart. A rebel. A naughty child with a potty mouth. A pseudo-philosopher. A star-dazer. Belly-button gazer.

So I’m back full circle.

I have to figure things out and I do that with words. I do that with color. I eavesdrop and peek around corners. I want to know stuff about other people, about me. I want to tell a story, a story that makes you forget to breathe, that makes you forget that you’re sitting or standing or wherever the hell you are or whatever the hell you were doing before. I want to tell you a story that messes with you–big time. I want you to bump into your beliefs like you side-step dance with a stranger who just won’t get out of your way. This way, that, no you go this way, I’ll go that.

I guess it comes down to this.

I want time.

Time to wander through the aisles of an Indian grocery, to unscrew the top of lilac water, to pick up some prickly over-sized avocado shaped thing with a green and yellow striped rind and wonder how they cook it. Boiled?  With curry? I want to ask someone but I am a foreigner in this produce department. Wary eyes turn away. So this is what that feels like.

Time to sit on the subway and miss my stop because a guy with a banjo has just broke into a bluesy rendition of Dixie, his few teeth the color somewhere between banana peel and mango, his wrinkled fingers two-stepping over taut strings. I want to know him, where he slept last night and whose arms held him twenty years ago. I want to taste the gas station coffee he sips black and cold. I want to sit here with my ankles hugging each other with Dixie wafting in and through me.

I want time, which is rather ironic since time is more or less an illusion.

I want to tell that other me who worries about my IRA to be patient.

It’ll all work out.

I just need a little more time.

“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex…

It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.”

– Albert Einstein

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Filed under art, authenticity, creativity, publishing, rejection, writing