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Creative Witchery BLOG

The Trek to Mount Doom

For years, I beat myself up for not writing. The story inside my head was all guilt and shame.

Writing is so important to me, but I’m not writing. I’m so messed up. I have to get over the perfectionism and self-criticism that’s paralyzing me. I have to heal these blocks and issues so I can write. 

Just recently, though, I realized: All that time, I was actually writing. I did finish stories, articles, even books–and I did make a good living in my professional writing business.

But, I FELT like I wasn’t writing. That’s because trying to write fiction (my true creative work) felt like dragging a wagonload of concrete blocks up a hill, barefoot, over broken rubble. And often I did fail, or I didn’t get very far.

Maybe you feel like this: You’re Frodo, gearing yourself up emotionally every single day. Pushing against fears of failure, fears of not being good enough, fear that time is passing and you’ll never be the professional artist you want to be.

Every day it takes heroic emotional effort to do your creative work. 

Photo by Pixabay via Pexels

If you’re experiencing this, I wish I had a quick solution.

I can’t take your journey for you or offer a four-point list that solves every problem, but I can give you one recommendation that will change your life as an artist: GET SUPPORT.

This is nonnegotiable. 

You might need just a little support–a few friends saying “You can do it!”, some positive responses to a video you wrote, a writing group that gives you submission deadlines. 

But if you’ve done those things and you’re still Frodo, wading through emotional resistance and muck just to get to your creative work each day (and then failing to do it because you get sucked into emails or web surfing or hours of unnecessary “research”)–you need more.

Get a coach. Get healing work. Bring out the big guns, and spend real money on getting your resistance handled.

(Because what’s the alternative? Do you really want to spend the next three or five or ten years trekking through Mordor every day?)

I’ve paid for professional support (coaches, therapists, healers, self-development programs, and more) for most of my adult life–even back when I was making just $1200/month. 

Without all that coaching, healing, and transformational work, there’s NO WAY I could be where I am today.

When you get support, a better world is possible.

You can change the internal emotional landscape that makes your creative work such a struggle. 

Getting your writing done doesn’t require a daily slog through Mordor. 

It could be a refreshing mountain top hike. 

Or a stroll in the meadow. 

Or (hard as it may be to imagine!) skipping and playing by a creek. 

Or running down the beach, the wind in your hair, and the sun and the endless horizon of possibility stretching out before you.

The future is yours, and it is yours to choose.

Photo by Levi Stolove

It’s Not an Outside Obstacle–It’s Self-Sabotage

How to recognize and recover when you sabotage your creative career

Years ago, an editor reached out to me. 

I came across your website and loved the writing pieces you have posted there. I see you have a publishing history and I’m not quite sure if or who represents you, but if you have any work in shape to send out, I’d love to have a look. You are quite an extraordinary talent, she wrote.

We emailed back and forth, and she offered to introduce me to potential agents. 

I was thrilled–and nervous. 

Oh, no, I thought. I have this amazing opportunity–but I’m not sure I have anything yet!! I was working on a collection of stories. I only had completed drafts of a couple, and those were still rough. 

Quickly, I wrote to a couple mentors. As I had expected, they both advised me not to submit anything unless it was polished and complete.

 Okay, I thought. Write fast. Finish the collection, make it good, take advantage of this. 

But, the pressure was too much. I froze up, and my writing slowed to a crawl. 

In the end, years passed. The editor stopped working on adult fiction and moved into children’s lit. An opportunity was lost.

This is what Julia Cameron (of The Artist’s Way) calls a “creative U-turn.” When facing a major step in your career, you pull back, turn away, or do something to sabotage the opportunity.

Creative U-turns can take many forms:

  • You’re a finalist for a choreography fellowship, and you’re going in for your interview. Inexplicably, even though the fellowship is exactly right for you and you know how important it is, you show up ten minutes late. You don’t get the fellowship.
  • You do a solo show at a gallery you really respect. A lot of people are interested in your work, but you don’t follow up with them. You decide the art scene is “too commercial” and stop showing your work at all.
  • You’re working with a teacher and make huge strides in writing your screenplay. Just as you’re on the cusp of finishing your screenplay, you quit working with her.
  • You finally find a writing coach who can help you overcome a huge impasse. You’re about to invest, but you get worried about money and decide not to.
  • You create a performance art piece with your friend. Just as you’re getting noticed by critics, you fight with your friend and break up the partnership.

Very often your reasons for the action will look rational–or like a form of self-care. (“I didn’t have the money,” “My teacher criticized me in a way that didn’t work for me,” “I couldn’t work with her/him/them,” “I need more time because I’m not ready yet.”)

But, if you dig down to your underlying feelings, you’ll find FEAR.

Fear of failure. Fear that you’re not good enough. Fear that someone is out to get you. Fears about survival. 

Photo by Craig Whitehead on Unsplash

Whatever your core fears and issues are (the ones that appear over and over in your life), they will rear up at the moment you’re about to make a breakthrough. If you don’t recognize that, you may take a creative U-turn–and pull back just before a big success.

Creative U-turns happen because when we’re making a huge transformation or leap, our nervous systems act up. Our “lizard brains” (the oldest part of our brain, or brain stem, responsible for primitive survival instincts like “flight or fight”) are wired to recreate the familiar because it’s survivable. 

When things start feeling too far out of our “comfort zone,” we unconsciously do things to return to the familiar. Hence the creative U-turn.

Here’s the truth: If fear is shaping your actions, you are not operating from your highest self. Your highest self will always lead you toward something–not away from something. 

Another truth: Even when you can’t see it yet (because of fear, of course!), there is a way.

If you keep the faith in your highest self, you will find it.

(There are times when following fear is useful–like when someone has broken into your house or is physically attacking you–but in most career and life decisions, following fear takes you away from success and joy.) 

So what do you do when you discover you’ve made a creative U-turn?

First, forgive yourself. 

You might feel angry or despairing (“I sabotaged myself again! How could I keep doing this?”) but remember, you’re human. It’s common to pull back when we stretch and grow.

Even if you feel like berating yourself, give some love and compassion to the scared part of you. Creative U-turns happen, especially if we’re unaware in the moment.

Then, ease back into action.

Holding the scared parts of you with so much love and compassion, take baby steps back towards your goal. 

If you need deeper support (a coach, therapist, healer, etc) to move past your fear and into action, get that support. And step back into action.

Reach out to contacts and colleagues. Follow up on opportunities. Reengage with your teachers and coaches. Do your creative work. 

You can do it.

Photo by Anna Kolosyuk on Unsplash

P.S. BTW, for those of you who could use support getting into action and doing your creative work, I’ve got a new program coming up: Artist in Action. Stay tuned for details…

When success seemed unlikely

These days on the Fourth of July, it’s easy to take for granted that the US is a world power. 

But, back in the colonial days, it wasn’t certain we’d win our independence. And it certainly wasn’t certain that our nation would succeed.

From the perspective of that time, declaring our independence was incredibly risky.

Great Britain was a worldwide empire–and the biggest naval power in the world. The US was a collection of backwater settlements on the edge of a wilderness. 

Along the way, there were many points when things could have gone terribly wrong. 

  • George Washington almost lost the entire army after the Battle of Brooklyn in 1776
  • In 1777, only luck prevented a British captain from recognizing Washington and shooting him in the back
  • After independence, the first union was a loose confederation that wasn’t effective and had to be reworked entirely (enter the Constitution!)
  • Even five decades after independence, Europe was meddling in the Western hemisphere so much that James Monroe had to take a stand against their interference with the Monroe Doctrine

All this is to say, the current power of the US was, in many ways, a long shot.

There was no guarantee. 

Photo by Aaron Burden (@aaronburden) on Unsplash

Remember this when you start your own creative projects.

From today’s perspective, the future can seem tenuous. Uncertain. Scary.

Success can seem unlikely. 

(Yes, the US is still far from perfect. But, you can’t deny that as a fledgling country declaring its independence, the US succeeded in a BIG way.)

When you make a strong declaration–and back it with ongoing commitment–something small can grow into something huge and world-changing.

Today, on Independence Day, may you make your own declaration–and grow it into a success that changes the world.


P.S. If you have big creative ambitions but are having trouble actually birthing your creative work, I’ve got a new program for you. Creative Jumpstart is designed to get you through your blocks and into regular, flowing creation–doing the work you were meant to do!

Interested? Hit reply and I’ll send you the deets!

The disappointment of a prize-winning story

So first, a celebration: My story, “Milk Tea With Pearls” got an Honorable Mention in Glimmer Train’s “Family Matters” contest. 🙂

Second, a confession: My first reaction was disappointment. “Oh, I didn’t win.” 

(It’s a really good story, and I wanted to win first place!!)

(There’s some learning here, of course. :-))

I have big visions. I want big things in my life. 

Sometimes I want so much, the dream gets intimidating, and it’s hard to take a first small step.

Does this happen to you?

You dream of writing a novel that shakes open the way people look at life–AND wins all the big prizes and sells like crazy. Or making the movie that breaks out at Sundance and becomes a multi-million dollar box office hit.

Then when you sit down to work, the WEIGHT of those desires is pressing on you. The tension is too much, so (just for a moment!) you click away to check your email. 

From there, you know the story: You quickly take care of one thing, then another. (You’re a highly competent person who takes action, after all!) You take a moment to check The New York Times. You send an article to someone.

Before you know it, you’ve gone down a hole and your momentum is gone, your creative energy drained.

There’s a connection between this and my story of subtle disappointment.

Often, with the the big dream comes the big creative block.

After all, if nothing but big success is good enough for you, that’s an awful lot of pressure on your creative work. 

That pressure makes it hard to actually do your creative work. (Ask me how I know!)

Photo by Amar Adestiempo (@amardiestempo) on Unsplash

(This doesn’t mean you give up the big vision. No way. I champion ambition. I hold the vision of success for myself and my clients. And those successes are there: agents, exhibits, The New Yorker, Emmy awards, money…) 

However… Between you and the multi-million dollar, Nobel-prize winning career, there are a few steps.

Ease up on the pressure and expectations. 

Do your work. 

Expect some failure. Know it’s part of the process–and a valuable source of information.

Celebrate every small success. 

Let yourself feel the ups and downs. 

Love the adventure like it’s the most exhilarating roller coaster in the world. 

And give yourself and your creative work so much love.

But I’m not ready to create a masterpiece!

Have you been seeing my messages about creating your breakthrough masterpiece and thinking: “But I’m not ready to create a masterpiece!”?

“I’m still early in my professional career.”

“A masterpiece takes decades of work–it’s the culmination of a whole career.”

“I’d be sad to think of my work now as a masterpiece–it would be all downhill from here!!”

Let me to suggest another possibility:

We can create more than one masterpiece in a lifetime.

This isn’t the only masterpiece you’ll create–just the first one in a series leading to more and more success!

If you have a long and illustrious career, what you create this year likely won’t be the defining masterpiece of your career… but it CAN be a masterpiece relative to what you done so far.

And it CAN be a high-quality creative work that establishes you as a serious professional in the field.

So, ready to create your masterpiece?