For Everything There is a Season: Rest and Recharge

NaNoWriMo is drawing to a close and I am not going to win this year. The realization that this wasn’t going to be my year started to sneak in over Thanksgiving break. Every year, I spend Thanksgiving with my mom. It’s always been her favorite holiday and in the years since our family separated and spread out across states, it’s become my favorite as well. Thanksgiving is when my home-loving mom is in her absolute element. She fusses over my brother, myself, and now my boyfriend as well, cooking up a storm with specialties for each day of our visit. Her internet is slow and she doesn’t have cable so time spent at her place is generally quiet and cozy, with lots of reading and usually writing too.

But this year, going home for Thanksgiving was like entering hibernation. Maybe it was the fact that New York is more aligned with the four seasons so it actually felt like late fall in all of its chilly, cozy glory. It could also be the fact that I’d turned off my work email notifications and let myself truly step away from the demands of my job. Either way, I found myself drawn to reading and journaling and away from the hard work of writing a novel. Sure, the needling guilt crept in just a little bit at the wealth of noveling time I was letting slip through my fingers. What about the win? Didn’t I want that awesome superhero-themed winner’s t-shirt this year? How could I abandon my novel like that?! I wasn’t even keeping up with my creativity challenge!

But here’s the thing that every creative must realize at some point, especially those who rely on their creativity to make a living: downtime is just as important as active time. We are not machines with frictionless gears who can churn out stories and paintings and songs and designs ad infinitum. At some point, we need to rest, gather inspiration, and tend our inner soil with seeds that will sprout into new creative works in the future.

For a lot of writers, December is the post-NaNo crash that allows recovery to take place. Winter is the perfect season for that since nature is resting and hibernating all around you. But after a year of pushing so hard at work and challenging myself to new heights of creativity with this blog and my writing, winter arrived a little early for me. And honestly? I’m not mad at it. Since returning to Atlanta, I’ve delved deeper into this hibernation mode, spending my evenings reading and journaling, coloring and thinking. Enjoying some quiet time and puppy snuggles. I feel like I’ve earned it.

For all of you powering through on this last day of NaNoWriMo, I hope you take some time in December to rest and relax. How are you planning to recharge your creative batteries post-NaNo?


NaNoWriMo Update: I Feel a Second Wind Blowing Through

Well Wrimos, the end is nigh. We’re entering the final week of NaNoWriMo with less than 10 days left to rise to the challenge and bang out 50,000 words. And I will admit, Week 3 kicked my ass. And I almost gave up. Like really almost gave up. After slowing to a crawl in Week 3, I ended up missing a few days of writing, bidding a tearful farewell to the shiny consistency badge I’d been shooting for signalling that I’d written every single day in November. Like a real goddamn writer y’all. Even if it was only a hundred or two-hundred words on some days, I was going to do the thing! And then, last Friday, I came home from work, took a shower and proceeded to pass the ever-loving-fuck out for eighteen hours. I woke up at 10:30pm, groggy, confused, and in no shape to sit my butt down at my computer. At that moment, I weighed my options: bang out some probably incoherent words to keep my streak alive, or listen to what my body was telling me and take a break. I took a break.

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I spent the weekend relaxing, painting, and spending time with my loving boyfriend who I’m sure was thrilled to see me emerge from my NaNo fugue state for a couple days. I wrote a little bit where I could, but nowhere near the volume needed to catch up to pace. I was frustrated, defeated, upset that I wasn’t going to win this year even though I started the month with a story idea I loved and a stubborn determination to make it happen. Then, I stumbled upon NaNo’s new Goal Tracker feature that allows you to set a goal for word count or hours worked on your writing and track it over the course of up to three months. And just like the regular NaNo goal of 50K, it’ll tell you how many words or hours you need to complete each day to finish on time, whether you write every day or in chunks. And lo, I was ecstatic.

I ran around the apartment raucous with joy telling my confused (but still loving) boyfriend about how I could still write and achieve my novel goal even if I didn’t win NaNo this year and that meant I didn’t have to write like a crazy person every single day trying to hit 50K in the remaining days of November. I promised him more time with my face and less time worried that I might mind meld with my laptop. Joy! Stress relief! M&Ms! I gleefully spent Sunday painting instead of writing, allowing my brain to relax into a word-free zone. And then I came home from work on Monday (my last day of work this holiday week, huzzah!) and proceeded to write over 2,000 words. Because apparently, the true motivation I needed to kick ass at NaNo was permission to…not?

Suddenly, the math engine kicked up in my brain. You know the one that lies awake at night when you have insomnia and calculates how many hours of sleep you’d get if you fell asleep right now…or now…or now dammit! Escaped from the bog of weeks 2 and 3, the beast of optimism raised its head, exclaiming, “Well, if you write 3,000 words a day, you can still win! And you can totally write that much in a day, right? You’ve done it before!” The stats on the NaNo site say I have to write about 2,500 words every day to win this month. The reckless optimist in me that kicks off every November believing that this is my year is convinced that it’s totally doable. I’m not sure if it really is or not, but with the rest of this week off from work and a comparatively quiet Thanksgiving with my mom to look forward to, I’m letting my optimism have full rein.

How’s your NaNo journey coming? Are you on the road to victory or fighting off the dark night of despair?


My Creative Origin Story

My hands shook as I walked downstairs, twenty-two years old and still so anxious for my mom’s approval. And I knew what I had to say wasn’t going to be met with open arms. It was bad enough I had just graduated with a fairly useless English degree in the deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression. Now I was going to tell her I wasn’t going to take the continuing ed classes that would set me up for a stable paramedic career. And why? Because I couldn’t hide the truth anymore. Deep down, I didn’t want to be a medic or a physician’s assistant or a nurse. I wanted to be, gulp…a writer.

I have always been the “creative” child in my family. The dreamer, the reader, the maker of handmade gifts and imaginary friends. My mother put me in art classes the way she put my brother in sports, and probably for the same reason: a hyperactive imagination needs to be exhausted just as much as physical hyperactivity.

So you would think that this artistic encouragement would set me up for a lifetime of creative fulfillment. But sooner or later, the “real world” always catches up. Along with those pottery classes and painting sets, my mother also gave me the paranoia-inducing lesson that I could be whatever I wanted to be…as long as I could support myself financially. Hence the struggle to find a major, and then a career that could pay the bills but that I also didn’t completely hate. It’s been a long road to semi-success.

These days, I’m a digital marketing professional whose creativity is put through its paces by the day to day nuances of branding, content, and social media strategy. I give design direction, write blog posts and craft elaborate customer profiles that put to marketable use the imaginary stories I have always made up in my head. I am in many ways, a creative professional. And yet, I am just as far from being the writer I wanted to be and it’s no longer my mom (or her lessons) holding me back.

Instead, the obstacle is something I think a lot of people face. We want to be more creative, to exercise the imagination and colorful energy that lurks deep within us. But lack of time, energy, training, or “talent” keeps getting in the way. We can’t just pick up and move to Bali for a month to Eat, Pray, Love ourselves to creative awakening, right? But that’s the beauty of creativity. It’s…well, creative. It finds a way if you let it. Like water, it will flow into any tiny space you leave open for it.

As impossible as it sometimes feels, we can fulfill our creative drives right where we are. In the middle of family, jobs, bills…life. The question of course is, how? You could spend a lifetime trying to figure it out. Or you can follow along with me as I journey towards creative fulfillment, right in the midst of life itself.


NaNoWriMo Update: Second Week Slump

I went to bed last night behind on my word count for the first time since NaNo started. I knew what scene I had to write and what my characters were supposed to be doing. But finding the words to make them do the thing…that was another story. Behold, ladies and gentlemen: the dread perils of NaNoWriMo Week 2!

The second week of November is a notorious stumbling block for many Wrimos. It’s when the excitement of a shiny new challenge begins to wear off and the reality of writing day after day, after day starts to set in. Pantsers begin to wish they had plotted. Plotters wonder why their novel is not behaving according to the bounds of their outlines. Friends and family start to whine about being neglected in favor of your novel. And the Halloween candy you stocked up to fuel your word frenzy is running dangerously low. The good news is that if you can get through week 2 with your wordcount in tact, you’re in great shape to plow through the end of the month. The bad news is…well, all the stuff I’ve already said.

The biggest thing you can do to help you get through the slump of week two is plan for the next few days, or revisit your plans now that you’re in the thick of things. This applies to both your story and your schedule. Last night, when I realized that I was stuck in some story quicksand, I stepped away from the computer and jotted down some bullet points of what was going to happen in the next few scenes. It wasn’t a formal outline, just a freeform response to the question, “Okay, what happens next?” Earlier in the month, I also looked at my calendar and picked out a couple days when I didn’t have any work meetings and took those as work from home or personal days.

Obviously not everyone can schedule days off from work to work on their NaNoWriMo novel. But chances are, there are pockets in your schedule where you can fit in some writing. And with a week of experience under your belt, you’ve gotten a feel for how long it takes you to reach your daily word count. Seek out these times during the week and be ruthless with blocking them off.

The other, and probably more important, thing you can do to push through this week is to forget the daily word count for a minute. Yes, slow and steady is the best way to get to your 50K finish line. But if your options are between 500 words a day and NO words a day, go for the 500 words and then plan out larger chunks of time when you can make up the difference.

How is your NaNo week two going so far? Are you still on track with your word count?


Confessions of a NaNo Rebel

While the oldest NaNoWriMo debate may be Plotters vs. Pantsers, there’s another equally entrenched debate that simmers up during this November challenge. And that is, NaNoWriMo Rebels vs. Purists. Purists are the rule-followers, the ones that do NaNoWriMo by the book. Traditionally, those rules go as follows:

  • Write a 50,000-word (or longer!) novel, between November 1 and November 30.
  • Only count words written during November. None of your own previously written prose can be included in your NaNoWriMo draft (though outlines, character sketches, and research are all fine, as are citations from other people’s works).
  • Write a novel. We define a novel as a lengthy work of fiction. If you consider the book you’re writing a novel, we consider it a novel too!
  • Be the sole author of your novel. Apart from those citations mentioned two bullet-points up.
  • Write more than one word repeated 50,000 times.
  • Upload your novel for word-count validation to our site between November 25 and November 30.

In the past, the rules also specified that your NaNo novel had to be a brand new project that you’d never written any part of before November 1st. Many purists still adhere to that rule as well as the spirit of NaNo that dictates no going back to edit, just write, write, write until you hit 50k. Short stories have also been in the gray area of official NaNo-dom as has fanfiction, but both are now deemed acceptable within certain parameters.

So what does make you a NaNoWriMo rebel? Well, hold on while I practice my Jeff Foxworthy voice for a second. During NaNo, if yooouuu…

  • Write multiple, unconnected short stories/essays/vignettes, etc.
  • Write a screenplay or stage play
  • Write poetry
  • Write nonfiction, including a memoir
  • Create a video or board game
  • Create a graphic novel

…you might be a Rebel.

As a Rebel, you may be accused of “cheating” or doing NaNo wrong. But, true to the inclusive nature of NaNo, the organizers don’t see it that way. As they say in their handy Rebels Forum post, NaNoWriMo is a self-challenge, and it’s up to you to decide whether what you’re writing “counts”. If not following the rules makes you feel like you shouldn’t validate your word count and get your official win, that’s cool. If you wrote your 50k words and want your shiny Winner title, that’s cool too. You do you.

For every one of my previous NaNos, including the years that I won, I’ve tried to do the challenge by the book. Not a single word written before kickoff, working on one novel-length project for the duration of the month, fiction all the way; check, check, check. But as the month progresses, I get burnt out on my story and the crazy pace of NaNo that my attention starts to wander and I find myself going off on tangents that are completely unconnected to the project I’m “supposed” to be writing. But hell, they’re words written in November, so I would count it. Sometimes that would push me over the edge into the winner’s circle, sometimes it would just pad my word count and help me feel less bad about my inevitable loss. But whether I won or lost, I always felt a little guilty about my rebellion. This year, though? I’m loosening up my rules a little bit from the very beginning.

What I’ve learned from my six years of NaNo is that, the fast drafting mentality necessary for NaNo success isn’t the best approach for me. While I love the community and collective drive that November brings, I’ve never been happy with the drafts that I’ve produced during the month. Inevitably, they’re full of holes big enough to drive a truck through, and not just in the sense of plot. Settings, conflicts, entire characters and motivations will disappear from the story in the time it takes to get it out of my head and down on paper. In fact, when I recently went back to revise the draft I’d produced during last year’s NaNo, I was left wondering what happened to the story I thought I’d written. Where did it all go?

I’ve discovered that in order for me to write a good first draft, meaning a draft that has enough meat on its bones for me to come back and shape with editing, I need to slow down. Like waaaay down. I need to revise as I go, retreading the same scene multiple times before moving onto the next one. The end result probably still won’t be perfect, but it will at least contain all the details that were in my mind when I envisioned it. Knowing this, I decided to let myself off the hook a little bit for this year’s NaNo. The plan was to focus on one main project—a reimagined version of the novel I’d drafted last year—while giving myself permission to write this blog and explore other ideas that might develop into future novel projects, all of which would count towards my 50,000 word goal for the month. I’m keeping track of it in a combined Scrivener document with separate folders for the blog, the novel, and a “random ideas” folder.

Now, four days into NaNo, I’m somewhat reconsidering my approach. Because ironically, this new approach is helping me write more words in my novel. Go figure. As I’ve gone back and layered more details into the scenes I’ve already written, my novel has started to catch up to the daily word count pacer and I’ve started deleting the random extra writing from my consolidated document. As of right now, I’m down to just the novel, this blog and a blank document I’m leaving open to record plot bunnies (random unconnected ideas that pop up while writing) that I don’t want to forget as I push forward. My goal by the end of the month is to have my novel take over and be the sole basis for my NaNo word count. But until that happens, I’m taking the pressure off myself and claiming the title of NaNo rebel.

What about you guys? Are you a NaNo purist or a Rebel?


Getting Ready for NaNoWriMo Part 2: The Final Countdown

Happy Halloween! Or as I like to think of it, NaNo Eve! As the rest of the country is mixing the ingredients for a perfect sugar coma, writers are getting their ducks in a row for a month long frenzy of wordy abandon. Plotters are putting the finishing touches on their outlines. Pantsers wonder if maybe they should have given this outlining how thing a try. First timers nervously plan out their month, patching themselves up for a great and terrifying adventures. Veterans are gathering their rituals and supplies for another year in the writing trenches.

As a veteran of five-plus NaNo’s, I’ve got a few of my own tried and true standbys but things change year to year depending on what’s going on in my life and my writing. So here are the 4 things I’m doing prep in the last minutes pre-NaNo this year:

1. Clean the house.

This may sound irrelevant, but pre-cleaning your home before NaNo starts minimizes distraction once you get into writing. I can’t tell you the number of times I was planning to do yoga and then as soon as I got down on the mat, all I could think about was the dust bunnies under the couch that I could suddenly see from that angle. Same goes for when I hit a hard spot while writing: suddenly everything becomes a distraction worthy of my attention, including the pet hair on the couch. While I have no illusions that the place will stay clean all through November, starting with a clean slate (har har) gives me some peace of mind going in.

2. Go Grocery Shopping

Again, this may seem irrelevant, but I’ve learned that properly stocking the fridge and pantry is integral to top NaNo-ing. The weekend before November, I hit up the store for NaNo-specific supplies: cider for cozy drinks, wine, coffee, chocolate, and easy meals like frozen dinners and ready-made chicken. Because the last thing you want is to run out of steam while writing and realize you don’t have the supplies to refuel. I also stock up on little treats to reward myself with at word count goals. At-home spa treatments are my favorite mini-rewards: masks, foot treatments, bath bombs, new nail polish colors etc. Stock up on whatever little jolts you might need to keep going, now.

3. Review My Brainstorm Materials

I’m not a strict planner. In the past, I’ve created a detailed outline that I planned to follow step by step through November. But as I began to write, it felt forced, characters evolved, and things changed as I learned more about my story. So this year, I didn’t prep as strictly. But I have been gathering notes, pinning reference images on Pinterest, and identifying the major plot points that I’ll need to reach to move the story forward. In the last few days before NaNo, I’ve been re-reading my notes, looking at my Pinterest, and reminding myself why I’m excited to write this particular story.

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4. Write the First Line.

Sooo, some NaNo purists might argue that this is cheating. I counter that it’s only cheating if I count this first line towards my final word count, which I don’t plan to do. Instead, I think of this as a running start to the month, like a little jog up to the starting line of a marathon. Writing the first line pre-NaNo takes the pressure off when I sit down at my computer on November 1st. Instead of having a scary blank page staring at me, I have a way into the story. It counters the chorus of famous first lines echoing in my brain, taunting me that I’ll never write something as good. This way, I can skip the first line agony and dive right into the story, reminding myself to worry about it in the edit stage.

And with those four steps complete, I’m ready to go! How did you prepare for NaNo this year?


Why Creativity? The Reason Behind My Yearlong Challenge

When I kicked off my yearlong creativity challenge, I talked about the mind-numbing exhaustion my life was becoming. But I didn’t really address the question of why creativity? And why now? And honestly, on days when I’m scrambling to get something done to fulfill my self-imposed challenge, I kind of wonder the same thing. What the hell am I trying to accomplish here anyway? It’s hard for me to explain why creativity exactly, but I have a pretty good grasp of why now, so I’ll begin there.

My job is by turns amazing and the absolute worst. On the days when I have put my everything into a brand strategy or content campaign and the client loves the end result, I am elated. I feel exhausted, but accomplished. When one of the dozen regular doggie visitors graces our office with their fluffy presence, I feel lucky. But then there are the days when it seems like nothing I do can satisfy a client’s demands or when seven hours of meetings overwhelms my introverted soul. On those days, I slink home and curl up on the couch or fall into bed thinking, this is not what I was made to do.

In the last few months, the balance between uplifting days and draining ones has tilted out of whack. It’s my own fault really, I’m too good at what I do (#humblebrag). The result is more responsibility, more meetings, and bigger projects. Which, on the one hand, is exciting. I’ve always been a straight-A, gold star type and having my hard work recognized is validating. But I’ve also begun to suspect that this high-achieving perfectionism is a direct result of my anxiety and is just a socially acceptable way of being a control freak.

But the true tipping point was the day after my longtime manager and mentor left to start her own consulting company. For the first time in two years, she wasn’t there to listen to, support, and champion me. Instead, our team of four was now a team of three…and they were looking to me to be the person that supports and champions them. It’s like when you become a parent and you get overwhelmed so you start looking around for an adult to help you but you realize you’re the adult in this situation and basically everyone involved is fucked.

That’s all easy enough to explain and understand. But why I thought creativity would be the way out of this feeling is a little more nebulous. In part, the answer is “I honestly have no idea, actually.” My brain decided one day to spit out the question “Can creativity save my life?” and I was all, “I don’t know, can it? Let’s find out!” I suspect though that this random question came from a part of my subconscious that knows what it’s talking about. After all, there are about a million books on the market touting the healing/stress-relieving powers of creating art.

But after painting, knitting, writing, coloring, and drawing every day for over a month now, I’ve realized that there’s more to it than that: Creativity is something I do entirely for myself. Even if I sell my paintings, give away the crafts I make, or let others read my words, the creative process is for me alone. I don’t make these things with others in mind. Instead, they are moments of pure curiosity: what if I put this color here or let this character loose in that story world? What if I was utterly selfish for just a little while? Giving myself permission to do that sometimes makes me feel guilty. I should be doing something else. Something more productive, healthy, exciting, better. But these moments and the pieces that come out of them are the ultimate middle finger to “should”. And maybe after 365 middle fingers, I’ll be able to break out of the all shoulds that keep me trapped.

Can creativity save my life? I don’t know, but it’s worth a try.


Getting Ready for NaNoWriMo Part 1: To Write or Not to Write

There’s a chill in the air in Georgia. Not enough to turn on the heat, but enough to turn off the A/C and break out the boots. It’s finally fall. All around me, people are excited: sweaters! football! hot coffee! Halloween! Pumpkin Spice EVERYTHING! And, call me basic, but I’m excited too. While I love the beach, and my birthday makes spring special, fall is definitely my favorite season. The views are prettier, the weather is perfect, the food is amazing, and the festivities are the best. Halloween decorations, Thanksgiving food, and the holiest of holy holidays for creatives: NaNoWriMo.

That’s right people, this is not a drill! NaNoWriMo is now less than a month away. Let the wild PrepTober begin!

Okay, for those of you who are wondering whether I had a stroke and lost my grasp on language, let me explain. National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo is an annual event that challenges participants to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days during November. Thousands of people participate and it’s grown every year since it first started in 1999 with just 21 writers. There’s a lot of passion about NaNo, both for and against. Many writers love the frenzied creativity and comradery it inspires and the fact that it forces you to do the one thing a writer must do: write. Others are less than enthusiastic about the thousands of super-rough amateur first drafts it generates and the idea that a “real” novel can be written in so short a time.

I fall firmly on the love side of the NaNo debate. It’s meant to be fun and motivational and if you view it in this light, it’s an incredible way to jumpstart your creativity even if (or especially if) you don’t think of yourself as a writer. It’s a whole 30 days of thousands of people collectively screaming, “you can do it!” What’s not to love?

Well, if you view it as a pressure-filled competition against yourself, the clock, or your fellow writers, maybe not. And for that reason, NaNo isn’t for everyone. So if you’re on the fence about whether to participate or not, here are some links to help you decide:

Are you planning to participate in NaNoWriMo this year? Let me know in the comments! And if you’re looking for a writing buddy, include your WriMo name.


Confession: I Hate Morning Pages

I have a confession. One that may be wildly unpopular, but here it is: I hate morning pages.

If you spend any time online in creative spaces, you’re likely to stumble on at least one blog post talking about the miracle of morning pages. They help cure creative blocks, jumpstart your writing and clear your mind. They’ve changed lives! Which is fantastic. Any tool that helps people open up to creativity is incredibly valuable. And they work for a lot of people. Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way introduced the concept 25 years ago and has amassed a devoted following consisting of everyday creatives and celebrities alike. Elizabeth Gilbert has said that without that book, there would be no Eat, Pray, Love and she’s written her own book on the creative process. The proof abounds. And yet…

Maybe it’s because I’m a night writer (which sounds really cool when I say it that way) or because I’m not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination. But despite several tries and many good intentions, I cannot get into morning pages. It sounds so simple: wake up, and before you do anything else, write in a notebook until you fill three pages. It doesn’t have to be creative writing or even cohesive in anyway. You could spend two of your three pages complaining about how you don’t know what to write and morning pages are stupid and it would still count. The goal isn’t “good” or productive writing, it’s to siphon off the crap floating around in your brain so you can access the juicy stuff underneath. The reason for doing it in the morning is so that your conscious, controlling mind doesn’t hijack the process. No getting distracted by to do lists or telling yourself a story, just word vomit onto three pages and move on with your day.

So what happened when I tried morning pages? Kind of nothing, actually. As in, I would wake up, sit down with my notebook, start writing and then realize ten minutes later that I’d been staring off into space thinking about absolutely nothing. It was a wonderful way to clear my head and if I’d been trying to meditate or teach myself to sleep with my eyes open,  it would have been a job well done. But words on pages? Not so much.

By contrast, I have for nearly my entire life, written at night. Scribbled journal entries, fragments of stories, dream journals, notes to friends. When the sky darkens, my brain releases its hold on critical thinking and just let’s go, leaving space for uncontrolled words to pour out. Which is exactly what “morning pages” are supposed to do. But for some reason, I keep coming across the advice to write first thing in the morning. Do not check Instagram, do not make coffee, do not pass go. Wake up, pick up pen, write. It’s like the people who say that  first thing in the morning is the best time to exercise. For everyone. Oh, you did your 10 mile run at 6pm instead of 6AM? Loser. You’re totally doing it wrong, you know.

This, of course, is nonsense. Just like any one-size-fits-all advice. I will never be part of the morning pages fan club. But damn do I love me some night writing. Ultimately, it comes down to what works for you. Sometimes we just need to be reminded of that. So consider this your reminder: you do you, morning, noon, or night.


BOOK REVIEW: Art & Soul Reloaded by Pam Grout

I believe in the power of books. And I especially believe that books have this wonderful power to find you when you need them most. They’ll be recommended by a friend, appear faceout in a store display or even serendipitously fall off a shelf in your path. All at the very moment when their message is most relevant to you. So it didn’t fully surprise me that a mere three days before I planned to start my yearlong creativity challenge, I stumbled on a book called Art & Soul Reloaded: A Yearlong Apprenticeship for Summoning the Muses and Reclaiming Your Bold, Audacious, Creative Side by Pam Grout. The fact that it had only been published a week earlier was a bit on the nose, but like I said, I believe in the power of books.

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I haven’t yet used the book the way it was intended: reading a chapter each week and doing the accompanying activity or “Zumba for the Soul”. I was honestly too excited to take it so slowly and it was so readable that I plowed through it in less than a week, absorbing the inspiration like a sponge and using it as a springboard for my own challenge. But if you’re looking for a gentle way to jumpstart your creativity, I highly recommend this book.

Art & Soul Reloaded is above all stress and pretension free. It’s not trying to turn you into a gallery-worthy artist in a year. If anything, author Pam Grout is trying to get you to loosen up about this whole art thing. Stop putting so much pressure on yourself and just make stuff. Be a little silly. No seriously, loosen up. And if you’re a stymied artist or someone who describes themselves as “not that creative”, it’s great advice.

That being said, the activities in this book may not seem like “art” to a lot of people. A personal invocation of the muses? Dancing around your living room? How is that art? Well, that’s kind of the point. It’s not about whether some grand authority deems your photo booth self portrait “real art”. What matters it that it got you to think differently, to do something without worrying what anyone else might think, and to express yourself. And if that’s not art in and of itself, it certainly seeds the creative ground for your particular brand of art to flourish.

Bottom Line: Art & Soul Reloaded offers a low-barrier way to dedicate more time to fostering creativity. The time commitment is minimal and the artistic skill required is whatever you were born with or acquired over the years. The warm and supportive tone is motivating without being syrupy and the sense of possibility it leaves you with is enormous: exactly what you need if you don’t know how to get out of a creative rut. See what I mean about the power of books?