Creatively Thinking: The struggle of claiming the title “writer”

Writing a book is weird and hard. I know..not hard like farming or construction or being a doctor or a police officer. I don’t mean that, of course. I mean, it’s mentally draining and it’s full of a lot of self-doubts, even if you’re just doing it mainly for fun like I am.

I am at the tail end of the first draft of ‘A New Beginning‘ and it is kicking my brain to the curb. I stare into space, trying to work out an issue I’m having with it or writing a scene in my head while I’m cooking dinner or a kid wants to show me something. It’s a bit like being stuck in a self-made prison and even when you try to escape it, your muse or whatever it is comes back and whispers “Hey! I have another idea! Let’s go write!” That is all fun and aggravating at the same time. Why won’t my creative muse pick a different time to try to inspire me.

I could completely relate to the author in Stranger Than Fiction, which we watched this week because I saw me in her tortured behavior as she tried to finish her book, without the extra alcohol and cigarettes. Writers don’t just write because they like it or they want others to read it.

Stranger Than Fiction

They write because they have to, because if they don’t it will gnaw at their insides until they are raw and aching for release or numb and depressed, begging to be put out of their misery. It’s like a painter or a photographer or anyone who creates in some way.

They have to create or their spirit wilts from the lack of artistic, creative stimulation. When you are a creative person, you can only wash so many dishes, cook so many meals, sweep so many floors, milk so many cows, assemble so many parts for cars or machines, before your spirit screams at you to breathe life into it again.

You have to do all those mundane things of life, of course, and sometimes you don’t mind doing them, but sometimes you need to do something creative as well.

I made my living as a writer for 14 years or so, but never really called myself a writer. That’s weird, I know. I still don’t call myself a writer. I’m not really that good, I tell myself. Slapping a label on myself like “I’m a photographer” or “I’m a writer” feels weird. I can easily say “I’m a mom,” because I have the kids to prove it. I can say, “I’m a wife,” because I have the husband to prove it.

Art, though, is subjective. I can feel like a writer or a photographer or an artist but until someone says I am, I’m not, or at least that’s what I think some days.

Last week, sitting by the tub, waiting for my daughter to finish one of her epic-long baths, I rambled out loud my debate about enrolling my one and only book in Kindle Unlimited or not, as if a 5-year old cares.

“I like your job, Mama,” my daughter said.

“What job?” I asked, since I, and the state of Pennsylvania, think of myself as “unemployed.” It says so, right on our taxes: unemployed, which in the United States also seems to mean “uninteresting, unimportant and unworthy.”

“You’re writing job,” she said with a grin, spinning in the water. “You’re a writer.”

Oh.

My 5-year old thinks I’m a writer and, in the end, what my family thinks is all that matters anyhow.

Creatively thinking: Back when I created how I wanted to

When I was in high school and college I wrote and sketched and photographed what I wanted without much thought to how it might upset or bother someone.

I would definitely say I was much more in tune with my creative brain back then. I stayed up late creating either through drawing or writing, rarely concerned with someone seeing my work and casting judgments about it being “proper” or not.

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Find stock images by me for sale at Lightstock and Alamy.

During that stage I wrote poems like “Living Statue” but never showed them to anyone. After all, poetry wasn’t really my thing – my brother was the poet. Plus, what would people in my life think about me writing about the half-naked model in my college art class. An offside about that, I had no idea we’d be drawing half-nude models when I signed up for that class.

I went to a smaller state school and had no idea they were progressive enough to allow such things. Imagine my pleasant surprise at being given the chance to sketch the human body, but also imagine my complete embarrassment at being asked to stare at that human body for an hour class. Luckily my art teacher wasn’t progressive enough to provide a completely nude model. Ha! I might have passed out during class.

Over the years my poor brain took a beating from the judgments of others and I, sadly, let those judgments affect how I created. Even sadder is that sometimes I still do. Echoing in my head are voices of the past scolding me for creating the way I wanted to, squelching what I really want to say or show.

To this day, I find myself thinking: “Who will be offended by this?” “What Christian will call me out and tell me I’m not Godly enough?” or “Who will remind me (again) they only hire photographers who pose their color-coordinated dressed family with perfect backdrops?”

Luckily I find myself doubting what I create a little less than I used to, hoping I can someday get back to the early days of not caring what others think, knowing there will be some who like what I create and some who don’t and accepting that I can’t make everyone happy.

How about you? Have you found your creativity has become more stifled or more open the older you’ve become?

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Find stock images by me for sale at Lightstock and Alamy.

Living Statue

You were standing up there

a statue of warm flesh

for us to cast our eyes upon,

study and trace onto our paper your form.

I could not help

but stare into your eyes

focused on the light above my head,

so you would not move an inch,

mess up our portraits.

The professor told us to start at the bottom,

where most of the weight is being pressed,

and work our way up.

I wonder as I study that knob at your ankle

if you feel the points of our pencils,

the rubbed off edges of our charcoal,

on your skin.

 

 

 

Do you feel it?

I’m at your ankle, you calf,

moving up your thigh,

curving around your side,

your rib cage,

the crook of your arm,

your elbow, your armpit,

the nap of your neck; that little dip

where fingers could caress

or lips could kiss.

Still you stand, a living statue

for the whole room to study.

They pour over

your every nook and cranny

so they can commit to paper

for a grade;

an A for F

depending on how they interpret that little pink scar on your left shoulder

LRH 1997

Creatively Thinking: Too much social media kills creativity

I’ve decided the more I’m off social media, the more creative I can be, which is why it looks like another social media detox is coming up in the next week or so and it may last 30-days like I did earlier this year.

Actually, saving my creativity isn’t the only reason for dropping off social media – saving my sanity is more important at this point. In May I actually deleted my Facebook account, except for a ghost account to keep my blog page on there. Ignoring my better judgment, I went back on at the end of the summer and I can’t see that it has improved my life much at all.

When I slip into a depression slump I find myself scrolling through social media too much and when I scroll through social media too much I don’t do things I need to do or really want to do, like write my book or write a blog post or take photographs or – blah – clean the house. I just end up a depressed, moody slug sitting in front of my computer. I also end up angry, bitter and frightened for my childrens’ future.

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This past spring I did a social media detox and that’s when I started writing ‘A Story to Tell’ and decided to publish it as a weekly serial on here and then as a Kindle book. The success for me was simply how writing the story, and sharing it on my blog, was a distraction from social media, “news”, and from some challenging relationships in my life.

When I go on social media, I end up so wrapped up in the nonsense I read that I neglect the parts of my life that actually bring me joy — especially the more creative parts.

 

Social media is an addiction for many people. If you think it isn’t for you, do what I did last December and focus on how often you reach for your phone or computer to log into social media each day. Notice how many times you log into social media when you’re bored, lonely, procrastinating or avoiding real life (or certain people). I bet it’s more than you think because I know it was for me.

Another important aspect of learning how social media affects you is to notice how you feel after you sign off social media, or a news site.  Do you feel happier? I’m going to guess the majority of us can’t say that we feel anymore enlightened, elated, or hopeful about life after we’ve scrolled through a social media site. On the contrary, we probably feel like the world is on fire.

For creatives, it’s important to ask yourself if social media supports or hinders your creative flow. I’ve personally found that excessive social media use rarely supports creativity. In fact, for me, the constant digital noise I once engaged in silenced creativity altogether.

How can you think of new ideas, or use your imagination, when someone, or something, is constantly in your ear telling you what you think and who you are? More than once in the last two years, I have read about the need for all of us to seek more solitude and shut out the noise of the world around us.

Silence can facilitate daydreaming and daydreaming supports and strengthens our imagination. Imagination leads to creativity and then creativity leads to joy for even the most left-brained person out there. Creativity isn’t always about the arts . Creativity is also important for technical thinkers out there who need time create plans for projects or lists for completing whatever it is that helps them feel more organized. For many of us, organization helps us feel more grounded. Not having the time to create that organization because we are distracted by social media can leave us feeling discombobulated. 

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I have asked myself why there were so many great writers hundreds of years ago and less of them today? I have a feeling it is because hundreds of years ago the only thing people had time to do when the sun went down was think and daydream.

It’s not that social media is all evil. It connects us with new people, new ideas, and different worlds. It helps us reach people in a way we never could before. The evil part of social media is that we have allowed it, and what is shared on it, to distract us to the point that we have pushed aside activities that could actually further our society. Social media has no power over us that we don’t give it and many of us (me included) have given it awhole lot of power, let me tell you.

I don’t have any proof that inventions and innovations have decreased since the Internet and social media took over the world, and the exact opposite may be true in some fields, but I wonder if cures for cancer, or solutions to climate change, would have been found already if half of us weren’t scrolling social media; watching the circuses that are our congresses and parliaments; judging our neighbors; tsk-tsking the family member or acquaintance  in the middle of a divorce who has decided to write about it on social media; comparing ourselves to every other mother, writer, photographer, human being on the planet; and trying to change ourselves to fit some imaginary ‘normal’ in society.

Think about all the positive changes we could have made, not only in our own personal lives but in the world in general, if we weren’t staring at cat memes on our phones all day long. I have a feeling Satan knows that and has enjoyed dangling stupidity in front of us so we wander off the path we should have been taking all along.

All of this to say, I need another social media detox and you probably need it too. During my break last year and earlier this year, I offered some tips how to “survive” (or rather thrive) when you leave social media (even if only for 30-days); what I had time to do once I set social media aside; and how I felt when I logged back into Facebook after such a long break.

I know some of my blog readers aren’t even on social media (God bless you!) and some were on and promptly logged back off again. What’s your experience with social media? Do you find it stifles your creativity or productivity? How do you handle that? Are you better than me at balancing social media with your real life? If so, I’d love some pointers about how you do it. Let me know your thoughts in the comments. The last time I wrote about social media (Facebook for most of us), I had some really fun and insightful comments. 

 

 

Creative Tuesday: The loss of time to be bored may be killing our creative buzz

My kid flops on the couch on his stomach, face smashed into the cushions and lets out an exasperated sigh.

He turns his face toward me, eyelids heavy and his words are full of whine:

“I’m sooooooo booooooored.”

While I once thought filling my children’s days with various activities was the key to keeping them out of trouble, and their mind engaged, I’ve started to embrace what I’ve heard others talk about – the importance of allowing ourselves to be bored, especially if we are a creative person.

That’s right – actually having nothing to do can be a blessing to us, not a curse.

When we are bored we stop, look around us, and find inspiration. When we are bored our brains wander and when our brains wander, they often stumble on creative, interesting ideas.

It’s no surprise that some of the greatest innovations of our time came during a time in life when things moved slower and there were fewer distractions from technology.

Technology is a double-edged sword for creativity. It benefits us by connecting us to so many, getting our creations seen by others, and by adding a different dynamic to how we create. But technology also hampers us by filling our brains with so much information and distraction that we rarely slow down to simply listen to our own hearts and visions. And if we are too wrapped up in technology it will actually completely suffocate our creative voice.

Many of us are guilty of being addicted to social media. As easily as we can find ourselves trapped in a Youtube spiral (where we jump from video to video until we are bleary-eyed) we can find ourselves falling down the rabbit hole of comparison when we follow several artists in our particular medium. Even if we are not comparing when we are on social media, we are easily distracted on sites like Facebook and Instagram, so much so that we may find ourselves wasting most of our day on our phone or sitting at our computer and that is time we could have been using to create and truly experience life.

I recently downloaded a book into my Kindle by Manoush Zomorodi, a journalist who found herself face-to-face with boredom in 2007 when her first child was born and never wanted to sleep. The iPhone had just started to become popular (can you believe it’s only been about 10 or 11 years since the iPhone/smartphone started taking over our world?!) and she found herself walking several miles a day to help the baby sleep. As she walked her mind wandered and she began to dream of what she would do when she could sleep and work again. She came up with ideas of how she could work at home while also being a mother and all went well until she started using the smartphone everyone else was using; to help make her life and work easier.

She found that every “down moment” she had was filled with wasting time on the phone and that left little time for imagining or thinking about new ideas. So when it came time to create for the podcast she had conceived while at home with her baby, her brain was empty. She realized that one reason she didn’t have any more new ideas was that she was never bored. She never gave her brain any time to rest.

After talking to neuroscientists about what happens when we are bored, she learned it is during those down times that our brains create new neural connections. When our brains are quiet they look back at our lives, create a personal narrative, and make plans for our future and for future projects, she was told.

The problem is that many of us never give ourselves time to be quiet and let our brain decompress, Zomorodi points out. We keep our brains busy constantly. We don’t simply watch a television show anymore. We watch a show while doing reports on our computer or listening to a podcast and scrolling through Facebook. Not only is this detrimental to us from a mental standpoint, but it’s also detrimental to us physically, for a variety of reasons, which Zomorodi details in her book and in her TED Talk.

When it comes to creativity we need those moments of boredom even more. We need periods of boredom to think, to imagine and to hear our inner, creative voice.

Many of us, myself included, equate boredom to laziness. This could not be further from the truth, as Zomorodi learned and many researchers are learning. And beyond what “experts” are learning, you can learn it yourself.

You’re not being lazy when you’re contemplating, working out creative ideas or thinking about what you hope for your future.

You’re letting your brain have the space it needs to open doors to creativity.

To hear more about Zomorodi’s findings, you can see her TED talk below or find her book, “Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self.”

Creative Tuesday: Just take the photos already

So many people want to be a photographer but are stuck on the idea the photo has to be technically perfect. They want their child to sit just right or the light to hit just so or the moment to be simply perfect and if they can’t do that then forget it – the photo isn’t taken.

Maybe because I like to photograph moments more than poses, and had to focus on them when I worked for newspapers, the lack of perfection in a photo bothers me less than it does some photographers. When I look back at my photos over the years I sometimes mentally scold myself for a technical error, knowing my aperture was set wrong or my ISO could have been raised or lowered, but normally my attention is on the moment captured rather than the technical aspects.

I don’t want to look back at my memories from a special time in my life and pat myself on the back for nailing focus. I want to look back at those photos and remember how I felt, what was happening, who was there. I look at photography in a similar way to art – it’s about how the art makes me feel not how it was made.

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DSC_0290-2DSC_0008A local art teacher recently shared a photo of a painting by a student of his on Facebook. The painting was of a woman singing and I actually scrolled past it but then flung the cursor back up to take a better look at it. As I stared at it for a while I found it left me with a relaxed, easy going feeling, something I needed in the midst of a stressful week. I could hear the smooth jazz music and the velvet tones of the singer’s voice and imagined a cup of hot tea in front of me.

Someone else could have looked at it and said they saw technical errors (I doubt many would have) or that the singer wasn’t as “realistic looking” as some might think it should be, but none of that mattered to me because what was important to me was how the painting made me feel. What if that young painter had given up on her work because she decided, in her own mind, that her work wasn’t good enough? What if she had decided that because something didn’t look technically right, the painting could never touch anyone emotionally? She would have been wrong and if she hadn’t finished the painting she would have robbed me of those few moments of respite I was given that day by looking at the painting.

But because she picked up that paintbrush and painted what she felt, not only what she saw and knew, a soul, my soul was touched.

So pick up that camera.

Pick up that paintbrush.

Pick up that pen.

Put those fingers on the keyboard.

Just paint the painting, take the photos, write the words, create what you feel in your heart, not only what you know in your head.

You may not touch millions or thousands or hundreds or even fifty people but if you even touch one – isn’t that worth it?

For more inspiration to get out and create already check out YouTube entrepreneur and photographer Peter McKinnon talking about the power of an idea.

It's better to create something

To follow my work you can catch me on Instagram at www.instagram.com/lisahoweler or at my photography site at www.lisahowelerphotography.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/lisahoweler.

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Quieting the creative voices of others so you can hear your own

I fell into one of those Youtube spirals the other night (like one does) and I caught an interview from last year with Ellen and Bradley Cooper. Ellen asks Bradley if he is on social media at all, although she admits she already knows he isn’t. When he says “No, I’m not.” she feigns shock and says “Oh my gosh. What do you even do with yourself?”
He laughs, shrugs and mumbles something about being able to waste a lot of time on the internet without social media. But really, a better answer, since he was there to talk about a movie he was filming, would have been, “I create.”
“A Star is Born” comes out this week and Bradley both stars in it and directed it. If he had been sitting around wasting his life on social media, getting distracted by the drama and ridiculousness that can be found on it, he might never have made the movie or made the music for it along with Lady Gaga and Luke Nelson.
Lady-Gaga-and-Bradley-Cooper-in-A-Star-is-Born-2018-670x335Imagine all the books and paintings and songs we would never have heard if social media had existed earlier than it had. Yes, there are good things about social media for a creative. We can share our creations and our art to a wider audience and immediately. But what we lose in that immediate interaction is taking the time to really develop and plan our craft before we throw it to the world. What we lose is the time to actually create because we are distracted by looking at either the work of others or the drama of others.
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We are squelching our inner voice because we can’t hear it over the shouts and creations of others. We are comparing and contrasting and then going back to our creative work, thinking we can’t create as well as the others we’ve seen. Or maybe we think can do the same, but end up disappointing because we never give ourselves time to really develop the skills we need to create, as well as, or better than, those we admire.
Bradley Cooper worked with a voice coach, musicians and others for almost a year and a half,l before creating what many are calling a masterpiece. He had a vision and he put the work in to complete and present that vision.
If he had wasted his time on the distraction that comes with social media, he may have never reached his goal of creating something he is extremely proud of.
Though I don’t know what Bradley Cooper’s personal reasons for not being on social media are I do think abstaining from it strengthens his creative voice. It’s something other creative people, or anyone with a goal they want to reach, should try as well.

Why artists need social media breaks

This is part of a five part series focusing on tips for creatives to keep their own, unique, authentic voice from being silenced.


Listening to your creative voice (1)I recently dropped Facebook for about a week, except for posting a few photos to my Facebook page. I stopped scrolling the timeline. I looked at Instagram maybe once a day or even skipped days. Then I started reading photography tutorials or going on YouTube for tutorials so I could focus on my own development, my own journey.  I had to break the hold comparing myself to others had on me so I could hear my own voice.

And I need to do this again because I am finding myself spiraling down into the trap of comparison and it’s drowning out my own artistic voice. When you, as an artist, spend most of your time looking at other artists, you start to lose yourself. You start to tell yourself you’re not as good as whoever’s work you are looking at. You may also start to recreate what other’s are doing, thinking that if you don’t you won’t find the success these other artists have found. When you, as a person, do this, the results are the same.

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DSC_4477-2When you are constantly looking at work or lives that aren’t your own, you lose sight of your own path; you can’t hear your own voice over the other voices swirling all around you. To ground yourself again in your own art and your own self you need to get quiet and hear what you want to say. You need to clear your mind and listen to your own creative view. When I say, ‘you’ know that I am preaching to ‘me’ because I am horrible at doing this.  I constantly compare myself to others – whether in photography, writing, or life.

I’m almost 41 and I still say to myself “I’m not as creative as this person, as talented as that, as pretty as her, as smart as him.” But when I do that I shut down my own voice. I tell it what it has to offer isn’t important or worthy or it’s own. We don’t all have to be the same. We don’t all have to create the same, look the same, or photograph the same. These statements are obvious and we know it but we don’t really hear it and take it to heart and adopt it as truth.  We see the meme or hear people say “There will never be another you. No one can do you, like you do you.” And secretly we think to ourselves “Ugh. Thank God because the me I know is awful and untalented.

DSC_2079This week my son was crying before bed, lamenting the fact he’s not as good as the other Lego creators he watches on Youtube. He talked to me about his lack of resources, his lack of money to get those resources and what he sees as his lack of creativity compared to those other creators. He sounded just like me and it broke my heart. He is talented and he does an amazing job with what he has access to.

DSC_2281-2DSC_1938.jpgIt’s true that we can’t afford to give him all the tools he needs right now but I reminded him he’s on a journey and reaching a goal in that journey will take time and hard work. Everyone has a different story and a different path that lead them to where they are. What he is seeing and what we are seeing are the highlights of these people’s journeys, not the failures or the tough times or the continuous doubts.

It does sound cliche to say there is only one you and only you can provide your view of the world, whether in photography, writing, or other forms of creativity but it is true. The way each person expresses and shares their creativity is unique and different and even if it is similar to what others have done it’s not exactly the same. Half of the fun of being a creative is the experience of learning and growing and seeing where the next lesson will take us.

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DSC_5101-2I challenged my son to take himself off of YouTube for a week and simply create for the joy of creating. Now I’m challenging you, and myself, to take a week off social media as well and rediscover the enjoyment of seeing the world through our own eyes and not the eyes of a hundred other creatives.

Rediscover what made you start to create in the first place. How did it make you feel, how did it make you see the world in a different way? Quiet the outside world and listen to the voice inside yourself and let’s see what we all create at the end of this week. I hope you’ll come back and let me know how you did.