Sep 062014

Here in the U.S. kids are heading back to school after summer break. I’d like to share a few books about artistic young people to go with the back-to-school theme.

Wingman by Daniel Pinkwater tells the story of a young artistic boy who embarks on imaginative and daring adventures to escape his hostile, hateful elementary school.

Dr. Bird’s Advice For Sad Poets by Evan Roskos is the story of an enxious, depressed high-school student who sseeks solace in Walt Whitman, photography, and hugging trees.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell is the story of Cath going off to college to become a fiction writer, only to find that making friends, creating, and simply surviving day after day are too much. I especially love the characters in this book. I find a tremendous amount of heart in Rowell’s novels.

If you’re not into books written for a younger audience, maybe it’s a good time to revisit a favorite from years ago. Perhaps a book, album, play, or painting comes to mind that meant a lot to you when you were young. Take a little time to go back to a fond experience to renew yourself.

Oct 022013

So you want to become a writer?

Yeah. I think I’d like that.

What writing have you done?

Not much, just some stuff that isn’t too serious.

Are you writing anything now?

Yeah, a few pieces that I have in various stages.

What are those pieces?

I’m not sure. Just some thoughts, some ideas. Like I said, nothing serious.

But writing is serious work, even if it’s not serious content. Can you get a little more definite about what you want to work on?

Hmm, well I guess I’m not very decisive about it. I’m not sure how to get more definite or specific.

I like that word “decisive.” That’s what I’m getting at. You’ll need to decide a lot of things as a writer.

Sure. I’ll need to delete words, choose words, rewrite without getting bogged down in indecision.

Yes. You’ll also need to choose what you are working on. In other words, you need to have a very clear, practical project in mind. For example, which of these sound interesting to you: A memoir, a novel, some short stories, magazine articles, or a non-fiction book?

Hmm. Definitely not a non-fiction book. I’m not interested in a biography or historical study or anything like that.


I was thinking of something more literary. A novel or short story.

What about a memoir or some kind of personal essay?

Maybe, but I’d be tempted to spend time explaining mydself, defending myself. I think writing anything like a memoir would just bring out lots of paranoia.

Makes sense. So you’re thinking something literary?

Yeah, like writing novels.

What kind of novel?

I like sci-fi, but there’s so much out there.

Well sure, but let’s not worry about a marketing angle right now.

(Laughs) OK, but I like the idea of creating worlds that are really strange. I like sci-fi, though I’m not sure if I could pull off something that could get beyond the stupid old robots and space ships thing.

Are there other genres where you create weird worlds?

Sure, fantasy is a big thing with me too, and lots of people like that.

That sounds like more marketing. You’re not going to earn an income from this. At least not at the start. You need to do some writing, pay some dues and so on.

I’m just trying to get to something specific, like you said.

Fair enough.

Fantasy could mix with other stuff. There are lots of urban werewolf things, vampire things, stuff set in present times. I have something like that in mind, something where I take the ordinary world and make something strange and amazing happen.

How about this. Instead of a world, can you make it much, much smaller?

Hmm. sure, like a very small town. When I was a kid we lived in this little town of about two thousand people. Lots of farmers, lots of old worn-down little factory buildings. It was very quiet and pretty boring, but you could get a lot of reading done.

Could you start writing with that, something with that quiet little town?

Maybe. I don’t know where it would go. It’s not a novel.

You can’t think up an entire novel in a few minutes. You can get a starting point, like a little town. Or you could have a very basic plot idea, like the queen of England is actually from another solar system.

Sure, well I could start with the town and see where it leads. I think that makes sense. Use a little town as a seed and see what I can imagine.

Exactly. Just live in it every day. Even if it’s just for a few minutes, live in that fictional place and let your imagination grow it out.

yeah, that sounds good. I’ll try that and see how it goes.

Aug 302013

How often do you find yourself talking to yourself about yourself?

“I have no idea what I’m doing.”

“I’m so much better than he is.”

“She’s so much better than I am.”

“Why did she say that about me? I don’t think she likes me very much.”

If self-scrutiny is a frequent activity in your brain, you might find it helpful to change that habit. It’s useful once in a while to reflect on ways to do well and be better. But endless evaluating will quickly drain your enthusiasm.

You may not think specific thoughts like these, but you may have vague emotions of worry, gloom, and fear around your creative work. Visceral self-doubts are tougher to deal with, because you are not simply arguing with habits of thought. You are dealing with deeper emotional connections. Wy not spend some time thinking of ways to break the routine of endless evaluating?

Get started.

One of the toughest things for a person with an artistic inspiration is to begin work on it. If you’re a writer, a wonderful idea for a new novel can feel like a new romance or adventure, bringing waves of elation and anticipation. But that novel inspiration comes with no guarantees, and there is no automatic process that will get the book written. That novel idea might lead to many months of writing and rewriting only to realize that you have twelve and a half chapters that simply won’t turn into anything. Why risk such failure? Why do something that could be a huge waste of time and energy?

One response to the doubting is, “Well why not?” If you’re going to write, you have to just write and write. Even the most skilled novelist must throw away lots of chapters and even entire novels that just won’t fly. You have to do lots of writing–including lots of disappointing writing–before you can learn to do some good writing. You can ask lots of questions about your ability and inexperience and what the big world thinks should be in a novel. You can spend a lot of time wondering if you have the right set of qualities and talents that make up “the successful writer.” Or, you can put the questions aside and start writing to see where it will lead.

Get finished.

Any kind of creative work has a huge element of plain old “work” in it, including things that are mundane, tedious, and difficult. When life demands that you dig in and get some work done, resist the boredom and discouragement. Keep practicing that music, keep revising and editing that poem, keep working stroke after stroke on that painting. It may be boring, it may be discouraging, but the path demands that you put in many long hours of sweat and stubborn focus. During those dull, hard steps in your work, you will be tempted to doubt yourself. “Am I good? Is this worth anything? Why is it so easy for others?” Trust the path, and get the work finished. You won’t know what the finished project will look like until you actually have it done. Why not throw yourself into the work till it takes you to its completion? Why not try to find fulfillment by losing yourself in the task for long stretches?

Be kind to your artistic self. Treat yourself the way a loving parent treats a child who is learning something new. Be supportive, objective, calm, and friendly toward yourself. Take yourself for a walk when that kid is having a bad day. Maybe treat that kid to some ice cream or play a game together. A child shouldn’t have to face endless scrutiny, worrying if her parent will disapprove yet again. Your artistic self needs that same kind of encouragement and guidance. That positive energy often does not come without some intention and effort. Wy not spend some time thinking of ways to replace habits of endless evaluating with habits of kindness toward yourself ?

Aug 042013

Creativity coaching is a new kind of work, and many people aren’t sure exactly what it’s all about. Here are a few common questions answered.

What exactly is creativity coaching?

  • it’s me helping you get your work done. We’ll sort out what you want in an artistic life and how to get there.

  • It’s having someone there on your side, which is often hard to find.

  • It’s having two minds working through things rather than you sorting things out by yourself.

  • It’s helping you build up your circle of people who will support and encourage your creativity.

How does it work?

We will talk twice a month on the phone or on Skype, each call lasting forty-five to sixty minutes. In each call we will catch up on current happenings and make a plan for your creative work over the coming days.

Sometimes I will ask clients to send me daily status emails as a concrete log of daily progress. These emails serve as simple status reports, stating “I spent an hour writing this morning,” or, “Got bogged down at work–no painting today.”

Why would I want coaching?

Because deep down you love your creativity and want to live a more fulfilling life.

Who are your clients?

I work with people who are professionals, emerging artists, and hobbyists. I work with musicians, writers, and anyone involved in any kind of artistic pursuit. People at all levels of skill and career can benefit from coaching.

How did you get started in coaching?

In my late teens and early twenties, I attended Bible college and seminary to train for pastoral ministry. I eventually left religion behind, but I still have the training and desire to do caring work.

Several conferences and courses on living a fulfilling artistic life helped me grow as a musician. At one conference I heard a presentation by Eric Maisel, the person who started the area of work known as creativity coaching. I eventually took several training courses with Eric and decided that creativity coaching would be a super way for me to get back into caring work.

At various times in the past I struggled to make music and writing an important part of my life, finding zero support and often feeling rather stupid. Today my aim is to boost the energy, confidence, and resolve of others in similar situations to help them build a fulfilling artistic life.

If you have any questions about coaching or about making a new artistic trail for yourself, don’t hesitate to send me an email. I’m always glad to chat a bit about creativity.

Jun 302013

Recently I worked with one of my musician clients to practice for some radio interviews. Here are some of the things we worked on.

get in and get out. Time is precious when you are taking part in any audio or video interview. If it’s live, you won’t have much time to stop and fix your words. Become comfortable with making complete responses in little bites of ten seconds, twenty seconds, thirty seconds, one minute. Finally, practice answering questions in exactly one sentence.

Talk about one thing. How would you answer the question, “So tell me how you got started with music?” You could describe your mom’s singing to the car radio, the music at your neighborhood synagogue, and how you loved a certain Brahms record when you were in high school. Try saying one thing, not everything. “I heard a lot of great music going to synagogue as a kid.” That simple response says tons and will lead the interviewer toward questions about tangible, specific, and memorable things.

Simplify. Call yourself a jazz performer, even though that isn’t exactly who you are. Call your music “roots” even if you don’t quite enjoy that label. Let an interviewer refer to you as an “emerging” artist, though that might feel a little patronizing. Create a three-word phrase to describe your music. “Mellow Americana.” “Nineties country.” “Urban story songs.” It’s like having a business card, just a little something that helps you stick in people’s memories. You’ll also need some pithy, simplified phrases to describe your music when talking to presenters, DJs, producers, and so forth. Trust that the folks you are talking to will understand that the simplified verbiage is just a hint of something far more substantial, and you would give them more if only time would allow.

Perform. Think ahead about what you want to show of yourself, and what you will keep private. Just like performing on stage, you create your performer persona. Be engaging, interesting, provocative, fun–whatever you do to get your music out to your audiences will also carry well in an interview.

Expect bad questions. An interviewer might ask you about your love life, or might make an inappropriate joke about your age, gender, or ethnic background. Assume the worst and most awkward questions will come up sooner or later, so think ahead of how you will respond to them. You might go with, “I don’t have anything to say about that.” Or, “That’s an insulting thing to ask.” Or, “I don’t know what to say about that, but let me go back to what I was saying about my new CD … ”

In my coaching practice I work with musicians, writers, and other artistic people on practical things like preparing for interviews. I also help my clients find fulfillment and accomplishment in their creative endeavors. Drop me an email if you’d like to find out more about my creativity coaching services. I’d love to hear from you!

May 162013

Here’s a great guest post from Eric Maisel offering practical tips on confidence. Thanks to Eric and to New World Library.

Read a few of my thoughts on Eric’s new book in a previous post.


By Eric Maisel

If you want to live a creative life and make your mark in some competitive art field like writing, film-making, the visual arts, or music, and if at the same time you want to live an emotionally healthy life full of love and satisfaction, you need an intimate understanding of certain key ideas and how they relate to the creative process.

One key idea is that you must act confidently whether or not you feel confident. You need to manifest confidence in every stage of the creative process if you want to get your creative work accomplished. Here’s what confidence looks like throughout the creative process.

Stage 1. Wishing

‘Wishing’ is a pre-contemplation stage where you haven’t really decided that you intend to create. You dabble at making art, you don’t find your efforts very satisfying, and you don’t feel that you go deep all that often. The confidence that you need to manifest during this stage of the process is the confidence that you are equal to the rigors of creating. If you don’t confidently accept the reality of process and the reality of difficulty you may never really get started.

Stage 2. Incubation/Contemplation

During this second stage of the process you need to be able to remain open to what wants to come rather than defensively settling on a first idea or an easy idea. The task is remaining open and not settling for something that relieves your anxiety and your discomfort. The confidence needed here is the confidence to stay open.

Stage 3. Choosing Your Next Subject

Choosing is a crucial part of the creative process. At some point you need the confidence to say, “I am ready to work on this.” You need the confidence to name a project clearly (even if that naming is “Now I go to the blank canvas without a pre-conceived idea and just start”), to commit to it, and to make sure that you aren’t leaking confidence even as you choose this project.

Stage 4. Starting Your Work

When you start a new creative work you start with certain ideas for the work, certain hopes and enthusiasms, certain doubts and fears – that is, you start with an array of thoughts and feelings, some positive and some negative. The confidence you need at that moment is the confidence that you can weather all those thoughts and feelings and the confidence to go into the unknown.

Stage 5. Working

Once you are actually working on your creative project, you enter into the long process of fits and starts, ups and downs, excellent moments and terrible moments – the gamut of human experiences that attach to real work. For this stage you need the confidence that you can deal with your own doubts and resistances and the confidence that you can handle whatever the work throws at you.

Stage 6. Completing

At some point you will be near completing the work. It is often hard to complete what we start because then we are obliged to appraise it, learn if it is good or bad, deal with the rigors of showing and selling, and so on. The confidence required during this stage is the confidence to weather the very ideas of appraisal, criticism, rejection, disappointment and everything else that we fear may be coming once we announce that the work is done.

Stage 7. Showing

A time comes when we are obliged to show our work. The confidence needed here is not only the confidence to weather the ideas of appraisal, criticism, and rejection but the confidence to weather the reality of appraisal, criticism, and rejection. Like so many other manifestations of confidence, the basic confidence here sounds like “Bring it on!” You are agreeing to let the world do its thing and announcing that you can survive any blows that the world delivers.

Stage 8. Selling

A confident seller can negotiate, think on her feet, make pitches and presentations, advocate for her work, explain why her work is wanted, and so on. You don’t have to be over-confident, exuberant, over the top – you simply need to get yourself to the place of being a calmly confident seller, someone who first makes a thing and then sells it in a business-like manner.

Stage 9: New Incubation and Contemplation

While you are showing and selling your completed works you are also incubating and contemplating new projects and starting the process all over again. The confidence required here is the confident belief that you have more good ideas in you. You want to confidently assert that you have plenty more to say and plenty more to do – even if you don’t know what that “something” is quite yet.

Stage 10: Simultaneous and Shifting States and Stages

I’ve made the creative process sound rather neat and linear and usually it is anything but. Often we are stalled on one thing, contemplating another thing, trying to sell a third thing, and so on. The confidence needed throughout the process is the quiet, confident belief that you can stay organized, successfully handle all of the thoughts and feelings going on inside of you, get your work done, and manage everything. This is a juggler’s confidence—it is you announcing, “You bet that I can keep all of these balls in the air!”

Manifest confidence throughout the creative process. Failing to manifest confidence at any stage will stall the process. It isn’t easy living the artist’s life: the work is taxing, the shadows of your personality interfere, and the art marketplace if fiercely competitive. If you learn some key ideas, for instance that you must act confidently whether or not you feel confident, you give yourself the best chance possible for a productive and rewarding life in the arts.


Eric Maisel is the author of Making Your Creative Mark and twenty other creativity titles including Mastering Creative Anxiety, Brainstorm, Creativity for Life, and Coaching the Artist Within. America’s foremost creativity coach, he is widely known as a creativity expert who coaches individuals and trains creativity coaches through workshops and keynotes nationally and internationally. He has blogs on the Huffington Post and Psychology Today and writes a column for Professional Artist Magazine. Visit him online at

Adapted from the new book Making Your Creative Mark ©2013 by Eric Maisel. Published with permission of New World Library

Sep 052011

I like to think about and write about the creative process, but I often focus on my favorite parts of that. Creating space for inspiration and imagination, managing time, making plans, doing the hard work of evaluating and revising. One area where I am trying to study and observe a bit more is connecting with others as an artistic person.

A lot of artistic people feel shy in social situations. Painting, sculpture, writing, and practicing music are all inwardly focused experiences. Artistic people have much more personal stake in their creations than people at many other vocations and jobs. A cook in a diner takes pride in what she makes, but a chef in a fine restaurant even more so. A truck driver may take pride in his work, but he would probably not consider it a personal form of artistic expression. Artistic people can get really wrapped up in their own inner worlds, which contributes to shy and awkward interactions when meeting others and talking about their work.

I’ve recently read First Impressions by Ann Demarais and Valerie White. The book is a practical guide on how to make a solid first impression in professional and dating situations. The authors work from the premise that one must be socially generous in order to make those around them feel good. The authors recommend smiling, showing interest in others, and bringing an optimistic tone to the conversation.

For artistic people, this kind of book might help with art shows, gigs, book signings, negotiations, auditions. Even band rehearsals and interviews could benefit from a bit of social generosity. I am not the type to read breezy, step-by-step self-help books, and this one definitely feels like it falls into that category. I have put it down and picked it up a few times, just taking breaks. But there are some practical gems in here for most of us, once we realize that we may not give others the impression we think we do.