Grit, Empathy, and Vision: What I’m Learning about Creative Writing

Grit, Empathy, and Vision: What I’m Learning about Creative Writing

I woke up in the middle of the night before our most recent Inklings Book launch with these three words bouncing around my mind – grit, empathy, and vision. Sometimes the answer to a question I’ve been wrestling shows up this way. The question? Why is creative writing important, in a world filled with opportunities and responsibilities? The answer:

Creative writing is one of the best ways I know to build grit, empathy, and vision.

 

Creative writing builds grit in a number of ways. First, and possibly foremost, as Brene Brown eloquently states: “There is nothing more vulnerable than creativity. . . It’s not about winning, it’s not about losing, it’s about showing up and being seen.” She has a number of other important things to say about creativity, some of which you can read on her Facebook page.

For now, let’s stick with creativity requiring us to show up and be seen. Is there anything that requires more resilience than putting our thoughts – and our hearts – into the world, regardless of the response? In addition, if we want to write well, we must work and rework each passage, weighing not only what we mean to say, but also how our words communicate with our intended reader. Add to that the fact that sitting down to write regularly, especially when there’s no deadline or true consequences should we choose to skip a session, and we can easily see the sum results.

 

Regular creative writing builds grit through requiring us to face our fears, developing our patience and stamina, and pushing us to stick with a challenge in spite of how we feel.

 

Entering a character’s thoughts, asking why they act as they act, delving into their backstory to pinpoint where mistaken beliefs come from, and tapping into their thoughts and emotions is always an act of empathy. This kind of questioning and reflecting is at the core of writing any story. Writers can’t help but transfer the fine-tuned skill to their own lives, asking “Why do I do what I do?” and also to friends, family, and other relationships, “Why do THEY do what they do?”

 

Writing creatively is a way to actively practice empathy with ourselves, and with those around us.

 

And vision? For me, vision is the ability to see a future possibility, and then, to create a plan to make that possibility real. How can we build our ability to set and achieve goals? The crux issue is our confidence – do we believe we can achieve the goal we set for ourselves? Brooke Castillo talks about the concept of “believing hard,” and if you haven’t heard her discuss this powerful thinking tool, by all means check out that podcast link. While it would be lovely if we could use sheer will power to create confidence, the truth is that building confidence is a process. We must prove to ourselves that we are trustworthy. And if we’ve broken our word to ourselves in the past, we have to work doubly hard to convince our inner skeptic.

With vision, as with grit and empathy, creative writing is a deceptively simple, but powerful tool. As writers, we have full ownership over the creative process. We don’t need fancy equipment, a huge budget, or a crew of people to write a book, as we might need in other art forms. Writers have ownership over setting their expectations and meeting them. In other words, creative writing is the perfect place to prove to yourself that you can keep your own word. Over time, confidence grows. Your success multiplies, and you gain the ability to set even bigger writing (or any other) kind of goal.

 Writing creatively gives us a landscape in which to build our confidence around goal-setting, and thus, can convince us to believe in our own vision.

 

 Here’s what has surprised me as I’ve started to talk about grit, empathy, and vision with my clients. The connection between these core skills and creative writing is a surprise. The reason I woke up in the middle of the night with those words rattling around my brain is because I’d never thought to express the importance of creative writing in this way. And if I hadn’t thought to do so, as someone who spends all day every day thinking about creative writing–my own and that of my clients, why should I expect others to make the connection?

Make no mistake. When you take time to write creatively, you are not wasting time. Publication may be your ultimate goal, and if public or financial success comes for your project, fantastic! However, I’d say that your investment in your own heart, in YOU, is the true value of those hours spent typing or scribbling away. When you wonder whether it’s worth the trade-off to spend a Saturday morning writing, publication someday may feel like a flimsy result. But how about more grit, empathy and vision today? For me, the clarity of knowing what I’m really doing when I’m writing changes the game. My sincere hope is that this language, these three simple words, will do the same for you.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on how creative writing builds your grit, empathy, and vision. Share your insights, and tag me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. I can’t wait to hear all that you have to say.

The 2018 Writerly Play Gift Guide for Writers

The 2018 Writerly Play Gift Guide for Writers

Gifts get a bad rap sometimes. We lament the hurry-scurry feel of the holiday season, and in order to settle our hearts and minds, decide gifts are off-limits. Perhaps because gifts are my love language, or because I’ve both seen and felt the heart-swelling joy of a perfectly chosen (or created) present, I’m putting my foot down. I’m taking a stand in defense of gifts.

A gift can tell a loved one that you see their heart. A gift can inspire fresh curiosity, support emerging creativity, and remind a person of who she is – and who she has the potential to be. A gift can be a point of connection, a reminder of a shared memory, an invitation to play.

Gifts don’t have to be giant to be meaningful. Here’s a list of 25 small Writerly Play inspired gifts sure to encourage the creative person in your life.

The Writerly Play Attic

Inspire your favorite creative to reflect, dig deep, and find where their heart is showing up in their work.

1. The Hero is You by Kendra Levin

Every creative process is a hero’s journey. This thought-provoking book is a wealth of creative coaching disguised as a simple paperback, and serves as Yoda to any creative ready to take their work and courage to the next level.

2. Personalized Journal

A thoughtful quote chosen by you will be a burst of positive energy every time your creative friend takes out the journal to reflect.

3. Colorful Fountain Pen Set

Elevate the journaling process, and add a little eighteenth century (ish) flair, with a fun set of fountain pens in a rainbow of colors.

4. Present Not Perfect by Aimee Chase

Subtitled “A Journal for Slowing Down, Letting Go, and Loving Who You Are,” this beautifully illustrated journal is filled with engaging questions and prompts, and feels like a breath of fresh air in the midst of a busy day.

5. Every Day is Epic by Mary Kate McDevitt

End your day with this invitation to playful reflection from the ever-whimsical Workman Press. Every colorful page offers a slightly different format for thinking over the day, determining its highs and lows, and pinpointing insights to carry forward to tomorrow.

The Writerly Play Studio

Encourage whimsy in every creative work session with these colorful, playful tools.

6. Sketchbook Dares by Laura Lee Gulledge

Dare greatly with this guided sketchbook. Laura Lee Gulledge’s art is rich with metaphor and yet easily accessible. Artists of every medium will enjoy this collection of creative challenges which will push their thinking in new directions.

7. Niji Roll

No one can resist the magic of unrolling this toolkit and revealing a rainbow of colored pens and pencils. It’s an instant call to adventure for your inner artist.

8. Pentel Felt Tip Markers

Wondering what ought to fill your Niji Roll? Try these high-quality, vivid pens that last for many months of creativity.

9. Rory’s Story Cubes

I often wonder how to stimulate the kind of thinking I might do in an acting class when the group offers a person, place and problem. Here’s an excellent solution! Warm up your drafting muscles by rolling the dice and then telling a story to fit what you roll.

10. Apples to Apples

While this card set is usually a party game for seeing how well you know your friends, it can also be played solo. Creatives can take on a character and play with that person’s preferences in mind. Whether they’re exploring a main character, a villain, or an ideal customer, your creative friend will come away with tons of new insight.

The Writerly Play Workshop

Add a sense of optimism to the critical thinking and revision process.

11. The Emotion Thesaurus by Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman

When it’s time to revise, it always feels cozy to stack a few friendly reference books on your desk for SOS moments. This one is an excellent guide for any kind of storytelling artist, full of inspiration for those days when all your characters want to do is roll their eyes and sigh.

12. Index Cards

Yes, I promise! A three-pack of index cards will put a smile on any creative person’s face. Revision is a puzzle, but with a fresh deck of cards for plotting, planning, and strategic thinking, your friend will have all the tools needed to face down any creative tangle. Want to give a problem-solving kit? Add black sharpies and a collection of post-its. Wha-la!

13. The Art of Game Design (A Deck of Lenses)

 While these questions were designed with game creators in mind, so many of the angles they present are perfect for storytellers of all genres. This deck is a fantastic revision companion, offering over a hundred lenses with which to see and reconsider creative work. 

14. How to Tell a Story by Daniel Nayeri

A game AND a book, this hands-on experience is fantastic for warming up  revision muscles. The game, as designed, guides the players to think about motivation, dialogue, character, plot and theme. However, this book goes far beyond being a game for young writers. Creatives can adapt many of the games included, and apply the same kinds of critical thinking to their own projects. 

15. Dictionary of Word Origins by John Ayto

 A book of stories about words? Better still, like the other Workshop tools, this book isn’t only amusing … it’s a hearty tool that will help creatives find the just-right word and refine their work.

The Writerly Play Library

All creatives need mentors. Whether they’re people we meet with in person, or experts we meet through their work, we deepen our work when we stand on the shoulders of giants.

16. Little Women Book Scarf

One can’t help but feel writerly while snuggled in this literary scarf.

17. Scripturient Necklace

For writers, finding the perfect word is a moment of pure joy. This necklace celebrates the art of the exquisitely chosen word, and describes that feeling of flow that writers can’t help but crave. 

18. What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund

How do we visualize what we read? This book is a fascinating lens through which storytellers can take a look at their work from a completely different angle.

19. Read Harder (A Reading Log from Book Riot)

When we’re looking for a literary mentor or two, it’s a great idea to wander outside of our comfort zone. This reading log stretches readers to be adventurous, and also to take time to reflect on what they read.

20. Book Darts

These book darts not only mark your page, but the exact line where you left off. Better still, this adorable tin is from Anne Bogel of What Should I Read Next podcast fame. If your creative friend hasn’t yet discovered this beloved literary podcast, your gift will be a double-whammy: book darts AND a new favorite weekly listen.

The Writerly Play Cafe

Creative works are meant to be shared, but that reality doesn’t make sharing any less daring. These final five gifts acknowledge courage and encourage collaboration.

21. Butterbeer Tea

Aside from YUM, this tea will chase away any muggle doldrums and is sure to spark creative conversations.

22. What Would You Do Table Topics

Would You Rather is one of my favorite storytelling games. This deck of cards will spark thousands of What-If conversations, and help creatives warm up for a collaboration session, or even find that next not-to-be-ignored idea.

23. Courage Starts with Showing Up Poster

 Simple words, but true. Brene Brown’s words will look beautiful in a frame hanging over a desk, and will be a helpful reminder that showing up in the arena is worthwhile.

24. Courage, dear heart Mug

 A set of two of these mugs will remind your friend and their critique partner that feedback requires vulnerability on both sides.

25. Feedback Printables

Yes, these printables are free, but that doesn’t make them any less valuable. Download the set, print a few copies, and tuck them in a colorful folder. Your friend will be delighted with their new set of tools for giving and receiving feedback at the beginning, middle and end of the creative process.

OR, give the gift of creative momentum!

It’s no fun to feel as though you’re rowing while dragging a thousand pound anchor behind you as you develop a novel. Writerly Play Lab: Design a Novel is a course that sparks both joy and depth in your creative process.

Why I’m Not Allowed to Say “I Don’t Know” Anymore

Why I’m Not Allowed to Say “I Don’t Know” Anymore

For a while now, my husband and I have responded, “You do know,” whenever one of us sighs with confusion and says, “I don’t know.” It’s a pact we made after catching ourselves using this excuse far too often.

I’ve become better about this habit, but I still have a long way to go.

Recently, I discovered Brooke Castillo’s Life Coach School podcast. (Thank you, Amy Porterfield!) Brooke serves up tough love and pierce-through-the-heart insights on her weekly show. I’m delighted for a thousand reasons that I found her. Right now, I’m mulling over her thoughts on confusion.

Brooke points out that confusion is a luxury. At first, that idea sounds ridiculous. No one wants to be confused. When I think about it though, I find myself nodding. Yep. She’s right. I say “I don’t know,” or some form of “I’m thinking about it,” instead of making tough decisions. I don’t want to make the wrong choice. I don’t want to feel the pain of being wrong.

So, I opt for the pain of snail’s-pace progress. I have so many excuses. The world (and technology) is changing so fast. I’m a writer, not a marketer. I’m a mentor, not a fundraiser. I’m too busy earning a living to make time for my creative work. I don’t know where to focus. I don’t know how to… (fill in the blank). I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.

I’ve been looking for a mentor for a while now. I still think mentorship will help me grow. However, I see that my reason for wanting a mentor MUST shift. I can’t wait for a mentor to wave a magic wand and blow the fog away. Why? Because the problem isn’t the fog. The fog isn’t going away. Creative work requires us to walk directly into uncharted territory.

The problem is my fear, and specifically, my fear over being wrong. What if I send you an email and it bugs you? What if I spend months on a book that no one wants to read? What if I write a scene or a character and my blind spots become apparent? What if I hurt you? What if that hurt causes you to lash out and shame me for what I never intended to say or do?

The truth is, I could spend five years being “confused.” Finally, I’d make my decision, put something out into the world, and still face any of those horrible possibilities. I’m an artist. I’m here to spread love by creating the work of my heart. Creativity sparks creativity. That means when I do my thing, I help you do yours. That’s who I want to be in the world.

But, being honest here … I’m afraid. I’ve been trying to have the best of both worlds–safety AND creativity. It hasn’t been working.

Brooke talks about how facing our fears can make us feel like we’re going to die. Fight or flight wasn’t supposed to be about writing books or hosting webinars. Still, our survival instinct kicks in all the same.  Being an artist isn’t for the faint of heart. 

I’m not allowed to say “I don’t know,” anymore, at least not about decisions about what step to take next. I’ll face up to that fog and call it what it is. Not confusion. Fear. It’s terrifying to try something, knowing that it may be a grand disaster. But what if it isn’t? And won’t I learn so much more from trying and failing than I would from hovering on the sidelines?

The way to overcome fear is through action. Even tiny action makes a difference. So, if like me, you’re facing fear that’s posing as confusion, maybe you’ll want to try what I’m trying. Choose one clear step. How can you call that confusion by its true name? For me, it was writing this post. Next up: drafting the online course I’ve been tiptoeing around for months. What is the one clear action for you? Take it, and then tell me so I can cheer you on. Tag me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Let’s overcome fear together. You in?

What Might The Young Reader You Once Were Teach You?

What Might The Young Reader You Once Were Teach You?

I remember the smell of my first elementary school’s library: dust, aging pages, and a hint of peanut butter and honey. Actually, the PB & honey was probably left over from the lunch I raced through. All I wanted was more time in the stacks. I’d race to the V shelf, grab Jumanji and curl up in the cozy beanbag. I know I read other books, but Jumanji was the one I returned to day after day, escaping into a world where magic spilled over into the real world, and where kids had to become heroes whether they liked it or not.

No matter what book I’m working on, I’ve realized that I’m trying to recreate the feeling of that book. I want to create a world that first I, and then my reader, can slip away into. Of course, that experience requires excitement, high stakes, strong characters, lyrical writing and imagery, but underneath the writing craft, for me, stories are doorways.

How about you?

What do you remember about yourself as a young reader? What might that young reader have to teach you now about the stories you might try reading, or the ones you might need to write?

The Gap Between Here and My Expectations

The Gap Between Here and My Expectations

 

What goes through your mind at the end of the day?

If you’re a creative, I’m guessing you run through a mental account of what you made today. At least, I do. I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but my counting usually goes something like this.

1. I did write that scene.

2. But I should rewrite the ending. So maybe the scene doesn’t count.

3. On the up side, I had that meeting, and we figured out how to launch our summer marketing project. I’m really excited about our approach.

4. … And that meeting added about a hundred tiny items to the to-do list.

5. Plus, I did finish two of the “big three” on my what’s most important list for the day.

So… gold star? Honestly? No. It’s too hard to see past my to-do list that multiplies by the day.

Here’s the thing. I’m not willing to live a life filled with demerit days. And when I started to realize I’d worn a negative mental rut, I knew I had to do something. And quick.

 

First, I started listening closely.

And I started hearing interesting tidbits in conversations, on podcasts, even on the Nike Run app. It turns out that if you tell yourself a convincing story, you’ll believe it. Or, in other words, the expectations you set, and the way you measure yourself against those expectations matters. A lot. 

 

So, second, I set out to change my expectations.

Turns out, changing expectations is more than a one-time deal. Remember the “big three” list? The whole point of that tool is to focus on what matters and not sweat the small stuff. Right, but in the real world you don’t get to ignore your email forever. You can’t be considered a responsible person if you never pay your bills, fill out that form, or prepare for that meeting. You miss out on opportunities if you don’t research them, track important dates and complete applications. The truth is … unless you live in a wonderland filled with at least one–but probably three–full-time assistants, you are going to have to deal with small stuff. On the regular.

 

Which led to my third step: crafting a rhythm.

I’m inventing strategies to keep me accountable on the regular, small (but important) tasks, leaving room for the momentum-driving deep work. I’ve been working on my system, partially a calendaring process, partially some scheduled time blocks, and within those time blocks, specialized checklists to make sure I complete important weekly tasks.

 

Fourth, I needed to circle back to my expectations.

They still weren’t realistic. Unfortunately, even with my flexible system, with my checklists and calendar, I kept ending the day feeling low. On reflection, I realized that I had two lists. I had the one on my schedule, and I had the invisible list in my head.

Maybe you have two clashing lists, too. You have a solid plan, and you work your way through it. You probably don’t make it all the way through the list, but that’s okay. You’re a smart cookie, and you’ve built in wiggle room.

 

The issue is with that other list, the invisible one in your head.

All those fresh, exciting ideas haven’t been weighed down by being fleshed out. They’re shiny and intriguing. Surely, if you work quickly through today’s list, you can try out one or two of them. Maybe three. Once you start in on the unplanned tasks, it turns out they’re projects, maybe even full-fledged initiatives. Only now, you’ve started. You feel obligated to carry on with them. So you squeeze them into the schedule.

And that’s just Monday.

No wonder I’m exhausted by Thursday.

At this point, when we look truth in the face, many of us give up. But, I don’t want to do that. I don’t think you do, either. 

If we can’t strategize ourselves into trustworthy expectations, and we can’t trick ourselves into them, what options remain?

 

Here’s where I started laughing.

And where I started writing this post to poke a little fun at myself. Maybe the only thing to do with those expectations, the ones that crinkle their noses at me and tell me that days ought to end with gold stars or demerits, maybe that idea is actually a boggart. Maybe the only sensible thing to do when I stare into it’s disapproving, judgmental face is to burst out laughing. 

We need our dreams and ideas and goals. They sparkle in the distance and entice us onward. However, the space between right here and where we expect ourselves to be is equal to the amount of stress in our lives. Let’s stand up to the boggart-expectations with full-body laughter. I’m going to try it. Will you?

Hey, if you do, tell me how it goes. I’d love to hear about it on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Tag me so I can laugh along with you and cheer you on. Your creative stories–and progress–inspires me.