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Creative Confidence

Sometimes “the muse” is feeling coy (As a former MFA student I really, really groan whenever someone calls it that…let’s just call it “creativity,” okay? And please let’s take off the ironic hipster glasses…), other times, inspiration seems to flow. The push and pull of the creative life changes with our lives. Sometimes we have more hours in the day and more energy to devote to creativity. Other times life seems to explode around us, eating up and choking all of our creative oxygen. Sometimes we write and get in the groove and keep writing. Other times we stop.

I firmly believe that people are creative beings. (Why, yes, I did grow up in California, with a painter for a mother and a dad who used to live on a Buddhist commune…why do you ask? That’s how come I can say “creative beings” and talk about the “Universe.”) Creativity is our mode. That’s what we do. Life is also creative. That’s the point.

For all of you out there who are still struggling to validate your own creative impulses or give yourself permission to create — both of which are really hard for some people to do — I say: Get cracking. That’s the first step in fulfilling the rest of your creative dreams. Everybody has them. Not many people get around to honoring them, and then that disappointment tends to fester. If you feel really damaged or self-conscious about your deepest desires to write or paint or do performance art on a street corner, for goodness’ sake, run out and get a copy of The Artist’s Way, buy a journal, meditate, go into therapy, shut your kids out of your office, and do whatever else you have to do to take some responsibility for your creativity.

What’s that? You have no time? Or work is too hard and leaves you too tired? Or you’re trying to go back to school? Or you’re sick and in pain? All perfectly valid. However, all are excuses. As I tell my clients: You are the only person on this planet who is going to care the most about your creative output and your career. Sure, you will get people in your corner, like your agent, your editor, your mentors, your friends and family, you cat, and your fans, who will care about your books or whatever else you do, but nobody will care about it half as much as you. (I do work hard to be a close second for my clients, though!)

Instead of this idea being empowering and liberating to a lot of people, it’s paralyzing and scary. It means you have to take responsibility for your creative ideas. It means you actually have to do something and make them happen. It means that you have to face (gasp!) obstacles and failure. Sure, there’s fear in every endeavor, but that’s good. That’s the way it works. I’d rather live a life where I’ve followed my dreams, been myself, created, lived big, failed a lot, succeeded more often, and experienced as many things as possible. Unfulfilled creative people really are the worst…they’re bitter and resentful, they blame everyone and everything else for how little they accomplish, they pull dark gray clouds along with them as they walk down the street.

Lots of people have really valid issues in this area: parents who weren’t supportive or present, real economic hardship and family obligations, societal pressure to conform, crippling self-doubt. I don’t mean to mock or make light of these things. But they are all negative. Creativity is positive. (California, remember?) And creativity doesn’t have to mean something big: a million dollar book deal, a novel completed in a month, a sleeper hit music video (ahem, Rebecca Black), a poem published, an agent secured after the first round of queries.

Creativity can be something small: one page a day, one journal entry in the morning, one picture taken, one walk at sunset. But the point is opening yourself up to it…and then being disciplined. The more you do, the easier it becomes, and the more your creativity builds off of a solid, steady foundation. Be creative regularly; every day is best. Do it for its own sake, not for the sake of the outcome (book, agent, publishing deal, etc.). Just create. Nobody will do it for you, you’re gonna regret it if you don’t, and time’s a-wastin’. What are you waiting for?

(This is as much a pep talk for y’all as it is for me. And yes, I fully acknowledge the irony of talking about creativity and the Universe and positivity and hating the term “the muse.” I’m an enigma, yo.)

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  1. Jess’s avatar

    Woo! I am tweeting this to high heaven! Good one, Mary. Happy Monday to ya!

  2. Lindsey Lane’s avatar

    Perfect post to begin the week.
    Thank you , Mary.

  3. Cid’s avatar

    I’ve always thought of my creativity as a muscle; unless I exercise it, it’s not going to be strong. Sure there are people who are just naturally better at writing/painting/kitting/basket weaving than I am, but I’ll get better if I try harder, work more and make the best effort I can.

    Thanks Mary!

  4. Léna Roy’s avatar

    Great post for me to read before I dive in to my own muck of deepest desires – we are on the same page, lady! ;-)

  5. Amanda J’s avatar

    :) Love this post. So true.

  6. MaryZ’s avatar

    Thought I was going to go floor shopping, stop at the drug store and library. But instead, I read through a stack of middle grade novels, got my laptop on my lap, stayed in my sweats the whole weekend and wrote, wrote, wrote. The Universe called.

  7. LG’s avatar

    Definitely needed the creativity pep-talk today (er, this whole month). Thanks!

  8. Kristin Gray’s avatar

    Thank you and your muse. ;)

  9. Gerri L’s avatar

    Mary *

    I needed this pep talk to start my week. Thanks for the wonderful creative nudge!

  10. Caitlin Ownby’s avatar

    Wow, that was inspirational :-) . You mentioned how we all have excuses on why we can’t write. It’s true! There’s always something that gets in the way and makes us too tired to give writing our all. For a long time, I was searching for a way to make it easier on myself, but more and more, I think that I will only get writing done if I’m able to give up sleep and entertainment and comfort for something much greater in the long run :-) . Writers also need to stare failure in the face for 10 years or more before becoming a master novelist. Thanks for the post!

  11. NicQ’s avatar

    I adore your “musings” Mary! Thanks for encouraging all of us out here in cyberspace. Someone once told me that even if you manage to touch even just one person with your creativity, then you’ve made an impact. I often have to remind myself of that, even if that one person is just me. Happy Monday!

  12. Jennifer Noel Bower’s avatar

    BRAVO! Fabulous, FABULOUS Post! Thank you.

  13. Ghenet Myrthil’s avatar

    Thank you for this post. It’s exactly what I needed to read today! :)

  14. Rachel’s avatar

    Love this post. Creativity is a muscle and needs to be worked daily in some form. Thanks for the fun, well-said reminder :-)

  15. Rachel Searles’s avatar

    Thanks for the pep talk, Mary! Just what I needed to hear today :)

  16. Julie Musil’s avatar

    *smiles* This made my day! Thanks for the pep talk.

  17. Naomi Canale’s avatar

    Thank you Mary, loved this! I am always seeking opportunities as a writer so I can give my self a creative-deadline. First I started with conferences and then I recently got excepted into the Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program. Its awesome having those creative-accountability factors when you’re trying to make dreams come true. BTW the mentor program is AMAZING for growth…highly recommended!!

  18. Steve Kubien’s avatar

    This is all so true. I am an artist/woodturner/maker-of-things and I can come up with a whole slew of reasons not to get off my butt and create. My creative mojo is getting kicked into high gear after reading this. Thank you.

  19. KDuBayGillis’s avatar

    Was “stuck” in workshops for my day job this week and during some sessions on data modeling and what not, I started jotting down picture book ideas. You just never know where inspiration and creativity will strike. I needed this little pep talk after feeling like work is sucking my creative juices dry. Thanks!

  20. Suzie F.’s avatar

    Love this!

  21. Anita’s avatar

    Thank you kicking our collective creative butts. As far as my biggest creative supporters my cat Sasha comes in at a strong number three behind boyfriend and critique partners.

  22. Jackie Yeager’s avatar

    Thanks for the timely post Mary. It was just what I needed! I devoured every word. :)

  23. Christine Wolf’s avatar

    Exactly what my heavy hands needed today. My fingers feel lighter already. Brilliant. Thank you.

  24. Amy Christine Parker’s avatar

    Very nicely put! I am not a big fan of the “M” word either. This post puts the whole idea in a much more practical space. Creativity has to be pursued sometimes, wooed almost before if flows. I know sometimes I have to fight for writing time-tiny people have little patience for creativity, but even if I only get a few minutes here and there, it’s forward progress. I especially love the last line-word!

  25. Mima Tipper’s avatar

    Thank you, Mary! Really enjoy the variety of your posts. They are always thoughtful, and usually exactly what I need to read to boost me over my latest wall.

  26. Greta Marlow’s avatar

    I can testify to the truth of the statement about being bitter and resentful when creativity is suppressed. I’m slowly learning that it’s better to take 15-30 minutes out of grading time to do a little writing than to let the resentment build up and damage productivity. (the problem is that my “muse” wants more and more!)

  27. Lesley Simpson’s avatar

    What a great kick ass post…

    Instead of ‘muse,’ consider what American writer Elizabeth Gilbert imagines about “fairy juice” as an image of the creative process…(Check out her fabulous talk on the TED lectures about nurturing creativity.)

    http://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius.html

    It’s a different way of thinking about creativity, like it is on loan to you, it is a gift to you, and it’s up to you what you make from that amazing ‘loan’
    Lesley

  28. Peter Dudley’s avatar

    No cat has ever been in anyone’s corner as far as I know. So you’re wrong on that point. Otherwise: hear, hear!

  29. Brooke Favero’s avatar

    A-muse-ing. I have issues with puns too. Muses and puns are too pithy for me. Thanks for the pep talk…I’m going to stop reading and start writing. Cheers.

  30. Traci Kenworth’s avatar

    Great article!! We all need a good shove once in a while and this is it.

  31. Zach’s avatar

    Peter: My cat is thorougly in my corner. How did I do it? I give him “soft food” only once a day (hard food the rest), and usually at night after he’s engaged in his own hunger strike (he hates hard food and lets me know it!). Also, I only give him soft food after he nudges my leg with his nose at least twice and has purred while circling around me for no less than 15 seconds. Finally, when I open a can of glorious meaty bits, he’s so grateful that I can get him to do practically anything I want . . . which means nothing other than more nose nudges and circles, since, you know, he’s a cat :)

    Oh, btw, Mary, great post. And I used the word “muse” in one of my classes today just for you.

  32. Rachael’s avatar

    I had to come back and say thanks for writing this post, Mary. At the time that you posted, I had just started back at work after having a baby and I was feeling like I would never have time to write again. What you said about taking responsibility really inspired me, and since then, I’ve managed to carve out time to finish revisions on my WIP and send it to critique partners. Thanks for the kick in the butt :)

  33. Mary Ann Duke’s avatar

    Some of my accomplishments were so difficult, if I’d known in advance (10 years to get novel , THE CHICKEN CATCHERS, done) would I have started the book? My tenacious nature wouldn’t allow me to give up.

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