Category Archives: Creativity

Come Home to Your Writing

Lately, I’ve been excited about new clients, interesting editing projects, and an upcoming writing workshop on Bowen Island – 2018 promises to be a great year!

And yet a few days ago, I struggled with a nagging anxiety arising from persistent thoughts of “not good enough,” “not deserving,” “not belonging…” It’s a familiar, painful state that I’ve usually been able to challenge and neutralize fairly quickly. But not this time.

At the end of my work day, I took myself out for a walk, my go-to remedy when I’m feeling rotten. Just a few meters down the road, the message I most needed to hear came through with blazing clarity – “You need to get at your own writing.”

Couldn’t argue with that! I had been neglecting it lately. Between illness, the distractions of a legal suit that I’d been involved in (now resolved, thank God!), Christmas, a new relationship, I’d been barely giving my own writing the time of day

And then there’s Veronica, also known as my writers’ coaching and editing business. She not only wants my undivided attention on clients’ manuscripts, but is always demanding a blog, a social media post, an email response to a potential workshop participant – and what about that talk to encourage others to get at the book they’ve been dreaming of writing?

I love Veronica – she’s dedicated and committed, but she would take over my whole life if I let her. Here’s what I need to tell her: “Look, Veronica. I know I’m not doing enough marketing, but if I’m not writing, my whole life sucks. My client work suffers, my workshops slump, my creativity flat-lines, and I am well on the road to despair. If I don’t write, there’ll be no one to do any marketing. Capiche?”

That night, before going to bed, I resolved to get up early in the morning and get at my memoir first thing. Before meditation, before exercise, and especially before descending the rabbit hole of email or Facebook.

Then, later that night, in the wee wee hours, these words woke me out of a sound sleep:

“Come home to your writing.”

It was a message that went straight to my heart in its lack of blame, its generosity, and its eternal message of welcome.

I needed an invitation that transcended writing as a “should,” or an act of will. Having been a writer for hire for much of my professional life, I have developed the will and self-discipline to get at whatever writing I’ve been commissioned to do, and to get it done.

But what about writing with no deadline attached to it? What about writing that no one cares about except me, who has not always been the most faithful of stewards? That simple phrase, “Come home to your writing” told me that writing is more than an act of will. It’s where I belong. It’s my home. As someone whose peripatetic life has tended to create a chronic sense of exile, writing has always had a place at the table for me.

My writing clients will often tell me that their lack of self-discipline is the reason they’re not getting their writing done. I often refer them to the work of Steven Pressfield, who equates writing or any other creative endeavour as a fundamental, heroic act of a warrior: “Contempt for failure is our cardinal virtue. By confining our actions territorially to our own thoughts and actions—in other words, to the work and its demands—we cut the earth from beneath the blue-painted, shield-banding, spear-branding foe.”

Steven is right. We do need to warrior up, to face the dragons of resistance, and to damned well sit down and write.

And I have come to believe that we also need to feel that writing is our home. A place of sanctuary that will always embrace us. A place that transcends our ambitions, our thoughts of what we “should” be accomplishing, or even our desire to write well. I believe that these words of the great poet and mystic, Jelaluddin Rumi, written about 800 years ago, have something to say to us:

“Come, come, whoever you are. Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving. This is not a caravan of despair. It doesn’t matter if you have broken your vow a thousand times, still and yet again, COME!”

Come home to your writing this year. Come home as many times as needed. There will always be a seat at the table for you.

Writing When You Don’t Know What to say

Do you think you need to know what you’re going say before you sit down to write?

You don’t.

Holding that belief, often unconsciously, is a great way to keep from writing at all and an even better way to make writing an excruciating, bloodletting experience.

For my first decade as a professional writer, I tortured myself with the assumption that I had to figure out whatever I was writing in advance. I opened a vein every time I put a word on the page. Not so surprisingly, I didn’t do much writing for the fun of it during those years, because writing wasn’t fun. It was interesting, it was rewarding, it was gratifying to be able to earn my living in such a cool way – but fun? Never – or at least rarely. Only when I was able to turn in my completed script. Then I was ecstatic. I wasn’t so much into writing as I was into having written.

I was saved by deadlines, without which I would never have begun anything. I was saved by nightfall when the whole world slept and, pulling yet another all-nighter, I sat alone at my desk, looking out the window at a darkened, tree-lined street, empty of all humanity, checking my long hair for split ends while I waited for the words to come. I was saved by page after page of yellow lined paper inscribed with my messy long-hand.

Sleep-deprived, over-caffeinated, and in the innermost of the witching hour, the words could finally appear, the ideas could flow, the solutions to writing problems could materialize – not exactly effortlessly but far more freely than in the glare of daytime when, inevitably, the reflexive belief that writing required advanced planning would once again reclaim its command over mind, heart – and pen.

As seems fitting, it was writing that freed me. In the early 1990s, when I started leading journal-writing and other kinds of creative writing workshops, I would instruct my participants to write without thinking, without letting their pen leave the page and, most important of all, without any need whatsoever for their writing to be any good. It didn’t even have to make any sense.

Timed exercises were the ticket to writerly freedom. One of my favorites was giving my writers five minutes to write their autobiography, an idea inspired by Deena Metzger’s brilliant book, Writing for Your Life. A deliciously impossible task, it often provoked unexpected insights and revelations (an unexpected bonus, never a requirement).

Because it felt weird for me to sit at the front of the room doing nothing, I wrote along with them. Seeing me scrawl away in my notebook gave them permission to scrawl away in theirs, and doing the exercises gave me something to do besides stare at them like an examination proctor. When my trusty Tibetan bell announced that time was up, I stopped when they stopped.

Writing in tandem with my participants, I freed myself as a writer.

Timed writing continues to be a mainstay in my writing workshops and is part of my personal practice as well. I do it often, and in fact am doing it right now as I write this blog! Setting a timer for a short period of time is a great way to bypass that insistent message that you need to know what you’re going to write before you write it.

The familiar advice, “get out of your own way,” when applied to writerly endeavors has always struck me as more annoying than helpful. However, I’ve come to understand it as finding a way to deactivate the inner fraidy-cat who doesn’t want any of us to write a single word unless certainty is guaranteed. Timed writing is a great way to do that.

With the exception of grocery lists and the like, writing is not about certainty. At least not the kind of writing that makes your (and your reader’s!) soul sing. “Writing is the act of discovery,” says Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones and countless other wonderful books on writing.

“We are writers, and we never ask one another where we get our ideas. We know we don’t know,” says the renowned Stephen King, author of 56 novels at last count and winner of countless writing awards.

And the great essayist, novelist, and screenwriter, Joan Didion, winner of the National Book Award for The Year of Magical Thinking, says it beautifully: “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”

Not only do we not need to know what to say before we sit down to write, we mustn’t and we can’t. It is when we place pen on page or fingers on keyboard that we find out what we want to say. This excerpt from Wanderer, by Antonino Machado, speaks of the vicissitudes of life, but it applies equally to writing:

Wanderer, the road is your
footsteps, nothing else;
you lay down a path in
In walking you lay down a

Lay down a path of words now, Dear Writer. Set your timer for five minutes and tell me the story of your life.

You Are So Creative


One of the cruelest untruths that I hear all too frequently from my coaching clients is, “I am not creative.”

It’s not their fault that they think that way. They probably got that message as a child from a parent or teacher, who got it from a parent or teacher, who got it from a parent or teacher – and so the virus got spread.

It doesn’t help that creativity is universally associated with participation in the arts – painting, writing, dance, theatre, photography, music or whatever. If you don’t do any of those things, how can you call yourself creative?

And then there’s the commonly held belief that if your artistic efforts aren’t making you a rich and famous author, musician or movie star, what’s the point?

These beliefs are so pervasive as to be invisible but they are living rent-free in the minds of most if not all of us.

The thing is, they’re lies. Soul-sucking, confidence-quelling, dreck-depositing lies. Everyone is creative. Creativity is what makes us human and there are as many ways of applying it as there are people – raising a child, preparing a meal, teaching, gardening, constructing a shelter, building a business, solving a problem, making love, practicing the healing arts, devising a spiritual practice, decorating a home… These activities are not limited to the “gifted” or to the wealthy or to those drawn to the arts. They are fundamental to who we are.

As for that message that your creative pursuit has to be a popular success in order to be worth anything, I had to face that one head on, just a few minutes ago.

It followed from a decision I made yesterday — to write a novel. It’s been an unacknowledged longing in me, and it felt great to say yes to it. So this morning I got up early, looked through some notes for an unfinished screenplay that I’d abandoned but never forgotten, and began to consider how I could use it as a jumping off point for a novel.

Later on, I was doing a bit of writing for the project and felt this heavy despondent feeling come over me. What’s going on? Am I not supposed to be doing this? Thankfully I soon recognized it as one of my inner critics delivering that oh-so-uplifting message, “What’s the point?”

Wanda Whatsthepoint at my disservice! Remembering a great tip from the uncomparable SARK, I decided to give Wanda a job. Instead of using her critical eye to crush my spirit and cripple my creative efforts, Wanda could be a quality control inspector at a high-end garment factory — in Prague. Decent wage of 14,000 korunas a month, cool military-inspired uniform, and boundless opportunity to nitpick with impunity. Like magic, with Wanda happily engaged, the despond lifted from my soul and I lived to write another day.

One of the best ways to apply the creativity that we all possess is to effectively dispense with the voices that deny or denigrate it.

Do What Makes You Happy

My interest in creativity coaching began more than ten years ago when I was teaching a Creative Process course at the Vancouver Film School and became aware of creativity coaching guru Eric Maisel’s work. I thought creativity coaching would be a great credential and skill set to inform my teaching and consulting work.

But ultimately my decision to enroll in the CCA program had more to do with the heart than with career concerns. Seeing my enormously creative younger brother and other gifted friends giving up on their creative dreams in midlife sparked my passion to provide support and inspiration to people who feel they’re too old and it’s too late.

I can sometimes be one of them, and so I was and continue to be my steadiest client! While I’ve had a successful career as a writer/editor/script consultant, and it’s work that I enjoy, my first passion is singing. I sang before I talked, I won prizes in music festivals, my uberstrict music-loving Grade 5 teacher forgave my unremarkable Social Studies grade by uncharacteristically declaring, “You’re going to be a singer. You don’t need to know Social Studies.”

Ironically, I began my professional life as a Junior High Social Studies teacher before heading for the exit four years later and joining the film industry, a more interesting and rewarding career avenue. Derailed by circumstances, eroded by fear and neglect, any thought of a singing career had long since expired.

But my passion for singing refused to be denied. In my late 50s, I began taking singing lessons, I joined a gospel choir, I even worked up the courage to sing a blues song, aptly titled In My Girlish Days, at a concert that coincided with my 65th birthday. A feisty woman of my age came up to me afterwards and said, “I want to be you.”

Me too! It’s the “you” we all want to be. The “you” who pursues what brings us joy, without any concern about career or cash or recognition. The “you” who discovers that doing what we love fuels all aspects of our lives.

What creative endeavor makes you happy? If you don’t know, sit with that question for a few days and see what arises. Maybe it’s something that you left behind when you “grew up.” Whatever it is, I suggest you reclaim it and begin doing it again – in whatever way you can. Age is irrelevant. Creativity is our birthright. Happiness knows no bounds.

I’m going to go sing now!

Fear Is An Ally

This is the fifth in a series of blogs that I’m posting in response to a challenge posed by Winnie Kao, a blogger who launched “Your Turn Project,” which urges wayward bloggers like me to post a blog every day for a week.

Today’s question is: Tell us about a time when you surprised yourself.

I have always made an enemy out of fear and it has always delivered.

But let me take you back to December 29, 2012. I am scheduled to sing In My Girlish Days – on stage, with a band – at a party in the evening. I am getting ready to leave and feeling uninspired about the whole thing. Plus I have no clue what to wear. Nothing in the closet has any appeal. The lovely new Christmas outfit from dear friends looks fine but wrong. Everything feels wrong.

I call my cousin who convened the event. He’s pulling a lot of things together for the evening and is not keen to chat but I am nonetheless relieved to hear that he’s wearing jeans and a shirt. I can do that. Then I try to do some warm-ups and a run-through of the song. It sounds like crap.

The party is in town and will be going on past the last ferry to the Island where I am living at the time, which means I’ll be staying over, which means I have to pack an overnight bag. Not a difficult task, particularly given that I have over two hours to accomplish it, but because of my state I am almost incapable of doing it. It takes me the entire two hours to put together a little backpack and head to the ferry. I don’t even have time for breakfast.

My car is freezing cold and I feel afraid and alone. I feel like the worst possible failure – my whole life and everything about me is wrong and awful and pathetic. I call some friends and leave messages. Not asking for help directly and not sharing the full extent of my feelings, but letting them know that I’m about to perform and I’m terrified.

Saying it helps to dissipate some of the paralysis but I still feel awful. I tell myself not to try to change this state but just to breathe into it. A good bit of advice that I have sometimes been able to apply to difficult states but not generally to performance anxiety. It helps a bit. I make the ferry crossing, head to a café, order a turkey sandwich and a coffee, which helps to ground me, and then I drive over to the hall.

I arrive an hour early and help the emcee hang some decorative ducks over the band. Then the sound check begins with a young woman singing Feelin’ Good – a song I’ve always wanted to sing. She has an amazing voice and I feel intimidated. I look at the line-up for the evening program. I follow her. Great. I’m right before the incomparable Dan Mangan. Multiple award-winning Canadian singer-songwriter. Swell.

Finally, after waiting for three terrified hours, I’m called up on stage for a sound check. I haltingly try to communicate with the band what I want by way of an intro and plunge into the song just as some of the guests begin to arrive. To my great surprise, I don’t die. What a relief.

Before my big moment, I feel some nervousness but far less than before, and once I get on stage I feel surprisingly relaxed. A friend who isn’t liberal with compliments tells me I was fabulous. A number of people say that I was their favorite act. A choir leader and voice teacher tells me I was the most interesting performer because I was connected to my words. Another said I have “pipes and presence.” A tough-looking woman said, “I want to be like you.”

This experience was tangible evidence that the fear that precedes performing is an ally, not an enemy. How can you connect with your heart without having suffered, even if most of it is self-generated? This experience was an extraordinary gift to me. I felt the fear and I did it anyway. Hurray for me.

Declutter Your Life

This is the fourth in a series of blogs that I’m posting in response to a challenge posed by Winnie Kao, an intrepid blogger who launched “Your Turn Project,” which urges wayward bloggers like me to post a blog every day for a week. I’m a few days late, but I’m still in the game.

Today’s question is, “Teach us about something that you do well.”

Decluttering. As a Feng Shui practitioner and enthusiast, I can unequivocally state that this is one of the quickest and simplest ways to change your life — in ways large and small. I’m a believer, I do it well, and so can you.

Here’s what you do.

1. Choose a space that you consider cluttered — a closet, storeroom, cabinet, trunk, desk drawer, tabletop, kitchen cupboard, etc.

2. Label three boxes or bags: THROW-AWAY; GIVE-AWAY; STOW-AWAY

3. Ask yourself these questions about each item:
Do I love it?
Do I need it?
Does it reflect and/or support who I am now?
Do I associate it with positive thoughts, memories and/or emotions?
Does it need to be fixed or repaired, and am I willing to do so within the week?
If it’s time to let it go, where is it going and when/how will I get it there?

4. Either keep the item or put it into the appropriate box or bag until you’ve gone through every item in the space.

5. If there are items that you’re not sure about, put them into a STOW-AWAY box with a reminder note dated six weeks from now and check it to see which things you still want to hang onto.

6. Prepare and label the GIVE-AWAYS to go to their new home — family, friends, charity, consignment, etc. Make sure to remove them from your space within a week.

7. Put the STOW-AWAYS in their proper places with love and gratitude.

8. Within the week, repair the KEEPERS that need to be fixed.

Well done! You’ve let go of the old and made room for the new. Keep an eye out for helpful people, opportunities and things to flow into your life.



I’m Starting With Myself

This is the third in a series of blogs that I’m posting in response to a challenge posed by Winnie Kao, a blogger who launched “Your Turn Project,” which urges wayward bloggers like me to post a blog every day for a week. (This one was supposed to have been posted yesterday but I was wrestling with what I wanted to say. And so, rather than drop out entirely, I’ve forgiven myself and I’m posting it late.)

Today’s question is, “Tell us about something that you think should be improved.”

Where to start? My (Canadian) government recently made a secret arms sale to Saudi Arabia, a country with a terrible record for human rights violations of its citizens. The Correctional Service of Canada has also made it clear this week that it will impose no limits on how long its own citizens can be held in solitary confinement (often for several months), despite numerous warnings about the psychological impacts of lengthy detentions in solitary, not to mention a number of suicides on the part of solitary detainees. Such appalling inhumanity astonishes me. To say there is room for improvement in my government is an understatement.

What can I do about it? I can write letters to my Member of Parliament. Done that. I can bleat about it with my friends. Do that all the time. I can vote for another party. Done that too.

None of those actions are likely to do much to improve the caliber of the political leaders who represent me. I can’t control how they behave. But the one thing that I do have control over is myself.

Which means that I need to ask myself something like following: In what ways do I exhibit the inhumanity, lack of compassion, dishonesty, lack of creativity, greed, black-and-white thinking, shortsightedness, etc. that I’m seeing in my government?

What? How could such dastardly qualities present themselves in a nice girl like moi?

But the truth is that while I tend to be kind, honest and compassionate toward others most of the time, that amiability can evaporate if I feel hurt or threatened in some way. Plus I’m not as kind, honest and compassionate toward myself as I need to be. If I’m unwilling to tell the truth about that, my efforts to improve circumstances outside myself will be compromised.

Tolstoy has said, “Everyone wants to change the world. No one wants to change themselves.”

It’s not hard to understand why. Looking within can unveil some qualities and habits that are not flattering. And negative ways of perceiving and behaving are profoundly ingrained, which means that the process of self-change is not a quick fix. It can take a lifetime.

And yet, if we’re serious about improving the things we don’t like in our world, telling ourselves the truth about how those things are reflected in us has to be our starting point. Otherwise we trap ourselves in a binary, self-righteous, us against them stance that only perpetuates the status quo.

On the other hand, if we are able to see ourselves in a less self-flattering, more nuanced, and more dimensional manner, and to drop our judgments toward those whom we hold responsible for what isn’t working, then our hearts and minds will be open and we will be better able to conceive of solutions that are creative, original, and have some chance of working.

This attitude applies as much to our own personal, professional and creative lives as much as it does to the world “out there.”



Thriving in The Discomfort Zone

This is the first in a series of blogs that I’m posting in response to a challenge posed by Winnie Kao, a blogger who launched “Your Turn Project,” which urges wayward bloggers like me to post a blog every day for a week.

Today’s question is “Why are you doing the Your Turn Challenge?

Because I’m addicted to my Comfort Zone, that’s why. I’m addicted to the toxic coziness of my risk-avoiding Comfort Zone, destroyer of dreams extraordinaire.

Aren’t I overstating it a bit? I wish I were. But the reality is that an unnatural attachment to the dreaded, ever-expanding Comfort Zone is the main reason that I and so many others aren’t living our heart’s desires.

Yes, we may be content and perhaps even happy at times but it’s the kind of happiness that is a pale facsimile for the joy that arises when we’re showing up in a way that is not… comfortable.

Like writing this blog. I’ve never written a daily blog. Ever. In fact, looking back over my blog archives, there have been times when a year has gone by without a post. Shocking. So that’s why I’m doing this. It’s also why, in the years I have remaining on this planet, I’m determined to spend as much time in my Discomfort Zone as I can possibly tolerate.

It’s not as though I haven’t been here before. Once I did a tandem parachute jump out of an airplane. It was so thrilling, I felt as though I owned the planet. A couple of years ago, despite the Comfort Zone Dominatrix having reduced me to a state of anxiety bordering on paralysis, I got up on stage and sang a blues song in front of a live band. It was wonderful.

And just last week I said “yes” to an opportunity to have a TV crew come to my house and interview me about my work as a Feng Shui consultant.

The Comfort Zone Dominatrix did NOT want to. She wanted time for me to become more accomplished in the profession, she wanted me to refer them to another consultant with a nicer house and more experience, she wanted me to become someone smarter, younger, richer, better in every way in order to be worthy of saying yes to something like that.

The Comfort Zone Dominatrix within would have us all defer our dreams indefinitely. In fact, this entity would prefer that we forget that we even have dreams. To give it the benefit of the doubt, it may be motivated by a hyper-vigilant desire to protect us from the slightest whiff of a risk, but like the “well-intentioned” friend who, after spending time in her company, always makes you feel just a teensy bit diminished, The Comfort Zone dominatrix is a killer and it means business.

So that’s why I’m hanging out in the Discomfort Zone and writing this blog. I want to live. It’s as simple as that.

Creativity Coaching for Start-ups

Usually someone starting a new business seeks advice from an accountant or a business consultant of some kind. Someone who knows his or her way around a balance sheet, business plan, or strategy statement. A number cruncher, risk management consultant, or marketing specialist.

These kinds of services are essential for any business to succeed AND, as I am just beginning to realize, so is creativity coaching, which involves assisting any creator in any field who wishes to be more productive, to develop her creative and humanistic capacities, and to more successfully share his talents, services, and/or products with the marketplace.

This past weekend, my friend and colleague, Somae Osler, invited me to support her in opening her elegant, newly renovated yoga studio (Somalila Studio), serenely situated on the rural property near Duncan, BC, which she shares with her husband, poet Richard Osler.

It was a bold beginning for Somae, who not only provided free classes in areas such as Beginner Yoga, Restorative Yoga and Movement Meditation throughout this inaugural weekend, but also invited participants to share their needs and concerns in “tea and treats” sessions after each class.

As Somalila Studio’s “Creativity Coach in Residence,” I participated in all five of Somae’s classes and attended all follow-up sessions. Throughout the weekend, she and I had a number of one-on-one sessions in which we addressed the inevitable anxieties that emerge from putting oneself out there, assessed her strengths as a teacher, parsed client feedback, spotted marketing opportunities, pinpointed potential challenges, identified populations that would likely respond to her unique approach, discussed possible business affiliates, etc. We also spent a lot of time discussing her values, refining her vision, and determining how to maintain the integrity of her vision as her business evolves.

It was exciting for me to work with an artist in an intensive “on site” situation like this. To not only hear but to directly witness her needs and challenges, and to be able to address them in real time. It was a revelation to see how natural it was to move from existential concerns (“Am I good enough?”) to business matters (“What’s a reasonable price point in this market?”) to client relation issues (“How am I to offer my help while maintaining strong boundaries?”). None of these areas exist in isolation. They’re all interrelated.

I feel grateful to Somae for trusting me with her baby, which is what a new business is. (She did great, by the way! Lots of positive feedback from participants who are eager to continue working with her.) I left feeling inspired to offer this kind of service to other artists who are starting new business ventures. To have the privilege of accompanying them over the threshold from the familiar to The Unknown. I hope I get the opportunity.

Cutting Through Perfectionism

I had never thought of myself as a perfectionist, but in a recent conversation with a friend who’s known me for many years, she casually said, “You’re like me. We’re both perfectionists.” We are? I am? What is a perfectionist anyway?

I’ve always understood it to mean that you set high standards for yourself and for those around you; that you can be counted on to deliver a high quality performance, service, or product; and that you want nothing but the best in all situations. Isn’t that a good thing?

Not according to Jungian therapist and author of Addiction to Perfection, Marion Woodman, who sees perfectionism as a consequence of an imbalance arising from a culture that emphasizes specialization and perfection, and as a major cause of eating disorders, substance abuse, and other addictive and compulsive behaviors.

Maybe not such a good thing.

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