I work in a profession that requires thick skin. I put my heart out there, tapping each beat to the rhythm of my keyboard, and I hand it to a friend, an editor, the world via a blog post, and then I wait for the feedback.
I learned to accept criticism in college. My senior year, the class Writing for the Popular Market would be the training ground for giving and accepting constructive criticism.
That was also the year that I began to associate editing with coffee. But that’s a different topic for a different day.
Once a week, my classmates and I, along with our professor, sat in a circle in the local coffee shop, or on the couches in the room above The Sub, and we’d dutifully hand the ten pages we’d written in our novels that week to the person sitting just to the right.
Then we’d sit back, sip our coffee, and read one another’s words.
There were only six of us in the class, and by the end of the year, we each had a completed manuscript. This would be the first draft of my novel. It was the beginning of learning to communicate through story.
I’m grateful for the lessons learned in that small class. I’m glad I learned to hear someone criticize what I wrote, and not take it personally. It’s a necessary skill, and it’s one that’s served me well over the last fifteen years since I graduated.
When I shared the news that my novel would be published last week, I received so many wonderful, encouraging messages and comments from all of you. And I cried a lot as I read through them, because fifteen years of waiting and dreaming of seeing this book published suddenly took a realistic turn.
I received a lot of rejection letters for the various drafts of my novel. For a long time, I kept every rejection letter I received. After reading Stephen King’s book, On Writing, the notion of a stack of rejection slips seemed almost romantic.
See, when I started the process of trying to get my book published (an earlier version of it that is nothing like the one coming out next spring), I did it the old school way. I mailed letters – actual letters written on paper.
I sent query after query in the mail, along with book proposals and sample chapters. And I included in each stamped envelope, a Self Addressed Stamped Envelope (SASE) for the publishers to send me his response…which was usually a big, fat no.
Every once in awhile, though, there would be a glimmer of hope. A note, scratched at the bottom of a form letter from the editor encouraging me to keep writing.
Those rejection slips went to the top of the pile.
I tossed the folder of rejection slips when we moved, because I was over the romanticism of it all by then. And the world had moved on to email, so now I had the privilege of receiving electronic form letters, and that felt a little less nostalgic. I wish now, though, that I had that stack of “No’s”
Because I’d love to see it dwarfed next to the contract that says “Yes.”
I haven’t really minded all the rejection, if I’m honest. I’ve been impatient at times, of course. And there were days when I’d feel terribly discouraged over it all. But in all the years of waiting and hoping, it never occurred to me that I should give up on the book.
There are some stories that just get under your skin, and this story that I’ve written is one of them. The characters crawled into my very being, and I knew that someday I’d see them really come to life in print.
So I waited, and I pushed, and I simply refused to take no for an answer.
If you’re in a place where “No” is the only word you’re hearing, can I just urge you not to give up? Sometimes you have to wade through a whole lot of “No” to get to “Yes.”
And when that happens, you’ll find that the “Yes” is so much sweeter after the waiting.
As I sit here at the computer, my fingers hovered over the keys, I feel the weight of the silence pushing me from all sides. In a house full of children, silence is golden, right? Maybe. Or maybe not.
Those golden moments are precious, and I soak them up. But in the soaking, I want also to be productive. I’ve found that I better serve my family in the bustle. Cleaning the kitchen, folding laundry, straightening up rooms here and there – all of these tasks are more enjoyable to me as I float them in with the every day noise.
But the silence? I want to bottle it up.
I long to use these whispered minutes of my day to create, to feed the writerly part of my soul. And yet recently, when the quiet comes I find myself paralyzed, all the words bottling up instead of spilling out.
It feels forced right now. I’m pushing out the stories because I need to, and yes I want to, but the inspiration is lacking. I watch the clock tick away the silence, and I know the noise is coming back, and I want to make my fingers dance so that I can capture the words before they thunder through me.
But there is no thunder, and that is the problem.
Some call this writer’s block, and maybe it’s a touch of what I have. But more than that, it’s a paralysis of creative power. Because I’m so hell bent on writing words that matter, stories that resonate, characters that sing, and blog posts that people want to read that I’ve stripped myself of all inspiration.
And so I stare at a blank screen and will the words to come. The good words. Meaningful words that people could share. Instead, my eyes get tired, and I shut it down and stare into the silence until a baby’s cry slices through it.
I don’t quite know anymore how to write a book that will sell. I can’t figure out what publishers want, and I scratch ideas onto a pad of paper, then scribble through them because they sound contrived. Nothing is fresh, but rather my muddled mind screams IT’S ALL BEEN WRITTEN!
It’s true. The publishing industry acknowledges that “there’s nothing new under the sun,” and so we writers simply try to give a new spin on an old tale.
And the blogging. Oh, the blogging. So many words already written, and so many of them are good. They’re really, really good. I read the words and I wonder what else there is to say. So my fingers keep hovering.
But then there’s a little spark. Yesterday I passed a man on the side of the road. I pass him frequently, because he’s always in the same place. Sloan sat beside me and pointed him out. “I wonder why he’s always there,” he said. “What’s his story? He’s always standing in that same spot with his bicycle, just watching the cars go by.”
Just like that, a character was born, and my imagination felt a jolt. It was a small buzz, the kind that zaps you for a moment, then immediately stops. But it was enough to make my heart flutter, because it means there are still stories in there.
And in the fluttering, I remember that this time three years ago I was preparing to board a plane to Tanzania where I would tell, perhaps, some of the most meaningful stories of my career. I typed words that mattered, and I know that there are still stories waiting to be told.
Maybe I just need to be patient.
So I’ll keep hovering in the silence, waiting for the inspiration. And sometimes I’ll force the words, because deadlines dictate that I do so, but I’ll also keep watching in the noisy moments. There are words that want to be written. It’s just a matter of waiting.
So, writer friends, tell me: Do you ever feel a similar paralysis? How do you move past that feeling so that you can catch the waiting words?
When I first began blogging, I made it a habit to try and post every day. Given that my subject matter was raising children, and I had three children under the age of four in my midst, I was rarely wanting for post ideas.
Then my subjects grew up and became aware of what I do, and suddenly finding things to write about became more of a challenge.
Add to that the fact that blogging changed, and the day to day storytelling that was my niche became a bit archaic, and my job as a blogger became even more difficult.
When I began this blog, I gave myself the freedom to post less often. If I’m going to write, I want to have something to say that’s worth your time to click over.
It turns out that posting less comes with it’s own unique set of challenges. In hoping to only post when I have something to say, I find myself feeling completely unoriginal in all that I write. Oftentimes, I sit down, stare at the blank screen, and my brain starts screaming THERE’S NOTHING NEW UNDER THE SUN!
Then I shut the computer and eat a cookie.
Feeling unoriginal is bad for my blog and my waistline, unfortunately.
The thing about blogging is that originality doesn’t have to look completely different. Because we’re all unique, and we all have unique stories and backgrounds and world views, we can be original to the people within our circle of influence.
What I have to say may not be completely ground breaking when you look at the grand scale, but inside my circle of influence? It may be just what people need to hear.
I don’t want to live in paralysis, constantly in fear of being unoriginal. I simply want to enjoy the gift that I’ve been given – this love of words that leaves me feeling relaxed and whole.
And you should do the same.
Don’t get stuck in fear that you have nothing to contribute to the world around you. Instead, simply embrace your own creativity for what it is – a gift to be shared and given away.
Your words matter. Your paintings matter. Your photographs matter. Your art matters. What you do is unique to you, and it is, therefore, completely and totally original.
Last week, I stumbled across a video on Facebook that highlighted the ingenuity and artistry of motherhood.
Sonia is a mother from Tasmania who had a simple idea. She wasn’t looking to make a statement, and yet in her creativity she ended up doing just that.
Tree Change Dolls
She took something old, something discarded, and she made it new.
Tree Change Dolls
She took a toy marketed toward little girls, and she put the magic back into the doll. She stripped away the intended message, the over sexualized image, and she replaced it with innocence and imagination.
Tree Change Dolls
Where once these dolls had no no power to inspire, Sonia brought life and personality to them, and in so doing she awakened the imaginations of little girls.
Tree Change Dolls
Sonia is “just a mom.” She had no aspirations to go viral, or to make a business out of recycled dolls. She just had a vision, a creative gift, and the confidence to try something different.
Dear creative mom, do you see the magic at your fingertips? That vision that you have has the power to impact, to move us all, to awaken imagination and inspire joy. Your creativity is needed, and it all starts right there inside your home.
Don’t hide your gift. Don’t tuck away in the closet in shame. Share it. Show the world what you can do. Because creative motherhood is the pulse of imaginative childhood.
Your creativity, your artistry, it matters. That furniture you’re repainting, the walls you’re adorning, the cakes you’re baking and cookies you’re decorating, those words you’re penning, songs you’re singing, canvases that you’re lavishing with color, those photos you’re taking, and the dolls you’re remaking – all of it matters.
Your gifts are necessary, moms. Your creativity is needed. Because who but you will show these children of the digital age how to play? Who but you will give them the confidence to dream?
When motherhood, creativity, imagination, and artistry collide, the result is nothing short of magical.
Tree Change Dolls
This is the beauty of motherhood.
You can follow Sonia’s journey in artistry on her Tree Change Dolls Facebook page.
Once upon a time, early mornings were the fuel to my creative soul. In college, you would rarely find me pulling all-nighters. The only time I did that was if there was a certain amount of fun to be had that made sleep seem an unnecessary task.
And by fun, I mean stupidity, because freedom combined with zero parental supervision made things like visiting the David Koresh compound at 1:00 am and allowing myself to be escorted around by a man claiming to be a journalist who knew where underground passages were still hidden, and showed us bullet holes in the sides of vans SEEMED LIKE AN EXCELLENT IDEA!
Only a handful of times did I pull an all-nighter to accomplish school work. Even then, I knew that when the sun went down at night, so did my brain. (Again, see the aforementioned stupidity that ruled many of my college late nights).
I was the girl who got up in the early hours of the morning, before the sun rose, and tiptoed into the library to study, or write a paper, or to simply read a book. The stillness of the mornings stimulated my mind, and gave me the fuel I needed to get through my daily classes. By my senior year of college, I was well into my English Professional Writing degree, which meant that I had at least one or two papers due every single day.
Most of those words were typed before the sun peeked above the horizon.
Even then, I knew how I worked best. It’s not much different for me today, though I admit that dragging myself from bed in the early mornings is harder than it once was. In college, I had the benefit of knowing I could lay around in the afternoons. Now I know that from 2:00-9:00, I will need to be on my game. I can’t afford to be exhausted.
But I do know when I am my creative best, and when the situation dictates that I tap into that inner creativity, I push myself out of the warm cocoon of my bed while the rest of the world sleeps.
There are so many different ways in which we creatives can tap into the best parts of ourselves. That’s the beauty of living life as a creative:
We don’t have to fit a mold.
As creatives we have an immense amount of freedom to live life as we were designed, each with a unique set of gifts that cannot be molded into a boxed set of rules. Some work better at night, whittling away the slumbering hours behind desks, easels, and sewing machine. Some, like me, feel the ideas most vivid in the mornings, after just enough sleep has given the brain a chance to rejuvenate.
Some creatives work best to music, while others need absolute silence. Some need a structured environment, others need the hustle and bustle of a coffee shop or book store.
The life of a creative cannot be dictated by too much structure, because once life feels predictable, the creative juices quit flowing.
There is one thing, however, that will stifle and kill any creative spirit. This one thing is insidious in nature, often creeping in when we don’t even expect it.
The death of creativity lies firmly in comparison.
When you begin to compare your gift to her gift, your structured way of working to hers, you will very slowly choke out your own creativity. You are unique. Your method of working is unique. Your talent is unique. Don’t give in to the beast of comparison that whispers softly, “You’re not good enough. Her talent is bigger. Her platform is better. Her skill is more beautiful. Her method of working is more productive.”
As soon as you start ingesting these lies, your creativity will fade.
The creative life cannot be cut into cookie-cutter shapes. It is beautiful because it is unique. Embrace your creativity, and your method for working. Don’t fall prey to the cruelty of comparison. If it means you have to stay away from Pinterest, from blogs, from certain groups or activities, do so. You are uniquely creative, and your gifts are yours alone.
Guard them and share them in the way that lets you uniquely shine.