Weekend Edition – The Genius of Curiosity Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

The Genius of Curiosity

pin curious whitmanLast week I started a conversation about whether you should Do what you love. Or, not. Live to Write – Write to Live community members shared some insightful thoughts and keen observations in the comments. This week, I came across a video clip of author Elizabeth Gilbert speaking out against “passion.” She begins her short speech by admitting that the advice she’s about to give is “really weird.” But, after listening to her, I kind of wanted to stand up and cheer.

Have you ever seen the movie Contact? Jodie Foster plays Dr. Ellie Arroway, a young and passionate woman searching for life on other planets. The film came out in 1997. I was ten years out of high school and working for a global promotions company, helping to manage a thirty-person creative team as they cranked out designs for t-shirts, bag, and tchotchkes to promote everything from m&m candies to Marlboro cigarettes. It was not a job I loved. It was not a personal passion.

Watching Jodie’s portrayal of Dr. Arroway’s unswerving dedication to her mission, I wanted to cry. I felt like there must be something wrong with me that I didn’t feel that kind of passion about anything. Sure, I enjoyed writing and I liked sketching. I loved animals and music and hiking and any number of other things and activities; but I didn’t feel a burning drive to pursue any one goal. I longed to be as fully committed and singularly focused as Ellie Arroway. I wanted passion and purpose.

Seventeen years later, I am finally realizing that Gilbert is right. Curiosity is more valuable than passion. Passion is blinding and consuming. It is biased and stubborn. Passion is exclusionary. Curiosity, on the other hand, is playful and open. Curiosity can learn through discovery. Curiosity expands your world; passion diminishes it, closing in around you like tunnel vision.

My happiest days are the ones with no agenda, no obligation, and the freedom to follow my curiosity. Perhaps I will write, perhaps I will browse a flea market, perhaps I will learn to cook something new. The ability to remain curious is, I believe, one of the secrets to remaining forever young at heart. You cannot be curious and close-minded at the same time. You cannot be curious and bored at the same time. Curiosity is like a self-perpetuating form of energy.

I agree with Gilbert. If you are feeling creatively stumped or stifled, just follow your curiosity. Stop worrying about whether or not you have found The One Thing. Instead, give yourself permission to choose curiosity as your guide to creativity. Do what interests you. Follow your impulses and your intuition. Remember when you were a child – all inquisitive and full of wonder? Be that child again. The world is still full of interesting things.


What I’m Writing:

pin perfect timeNothing at the moment, but …

I just signed up for an 8-week Fiction class with the Grub Street Writers Center. I’m pretty excited. As I mentioned recently, I don’t really have time to take a writing class. My dance card, as they say, is full. I have multiple projects with annoyingly fluid deadlines. Even though my daughter is back in school, I still struggle to get it all done each day. Sometimes, the pell-mell nature of my days leaves me with an odd feeling of having not actually experienced the day. (It’s kind of like when you drive the same route each day and sometimes wind up at your destination with absolutely no recollection of driving there. Scary.)

The thing is, whether it’s today or next week or three months from now or next spring, it will never be The Perfect Time. The stars aren’t going to align and send me a hand-engraved invitation to do the thing I want to do. Committing to your craft is a bit like deciding to have a baby. There is no “right” time. No matter how well you plan, the journey is not going to be what you expected. And once you’ve committed, you’ll just figure it out. Simple as that. It won’t be easy or perfect, but it will be worth it.

So, despite feeling a bit insane for doing it, this morning – in the middle of writing this post – I clicked over and registered for class. Hooray for baby steps. Hooray for throwing caution to the wind. Wish me luck, fellow writers. Wish me luck.


What I’m Reading:

book princess brideSpeaking of childhood wonder, I am finally reading the book that inspired one of my all-time favorite movies, The Princess Bride.  Fellow Live to Write – Write to Live blogger, Wendy, is probably reading this with her mouth agape in horror. (Anyone who knows Wendy even a little knows that The Princess Bride is one of her all-time favorite movies AND books.) Wendy, I’m sorry it took me this long. You were SO right!

I have always been a fan of the parenthetical phrase, but The Princess Bride takes the form to new heights. There is something so irresistibly charming about the familiar, conversational voice of the narrators. (There are two – author William Goldman who is, supposedly, abridging the original work of writer S. Morgenstern who shares Goldman’s penchant for copious asides.) It is also delightful, as a fan of the movie, to read so many of the now-famous lines in print. Probably because Goldman also wrote the screenplay, it is almost one hundred percent faithful to the text of the novel.

I have not quite finished the book, but I fully intend to do so over the weekend. A chill has finally arrived in the air and I can think of nothing I’d like to do more than curl up on the sofa under a soft throw, with a mug of hot tea and The Princess Bride.

And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:

Finally, a quote for the week:

pin munro curiosity

Here’s to letting your curiosity guide your creativity. Happy reading. Happy writing. See you on the other side. 

Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and – occasionally –  trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

I’m Passionate about Writing!

Back when I did Master Coach training with Martha Beck, in 2008, she said something that still resonates with me: “Whatever you are passionate about, you should be doing something as a coach that relates to that topic.”

I am passionate about many things but one of the things I am most passionate about is writing. I write on life coaching topics but hadn’t thought about coaching about writing at that time. I started doing writing retreats with my writing group in Maine many years ago, and have continued to do them with groups of writing friends and local writers I hadn’t met yet. I’ve hosted “Write-In’s” for NaNoWriMo and, when I think about it, I’ve coached people during every writing event I ever hosted.

So now I’m taking this idea for a writing retreat and making it a little more formal. I’ve created a one-day writing retreat, in a very comfortable setting, with all the amenities available (coffee being the most important.) The retreat I envision is mostly about writing but there’ll be a little coaching in there, too, to help us all write more and write more authentically.

I wrote the agenda over a year ago (when I was dreaming of doing a writing retreat.) And I’m finally doing it. I’m hosting a writing retreat on September 20, 2014, at the Radisson Hotel, in Nashua, NH. We’re taking over a beautiful conference room and we’ll have comfy chairs, lots of plugs, and lots of coffee, which is good because we’re going to start at 8:30 AM!

Just creating this retreat and putting it out there feels wonderful to me, so I know the day will be a success, whether I have 1 participant or 12.

If you are interested in joining me, please click here for more information.

And whatever you are passionate about, think about how you can incorporate that into your life in some way in the next few months.

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, mother, stepmother, family physician, and a life coach. I also seem to be doing a lot of vacationing this summer. I’m currently writing this from the cottage my sister and I rented with our kids overlooking St. Peter’s Bay, PEI, Canada–one of the most beautiful places on earth, in my opinion.

Listening to Music While You Write – Yes or No? (Plus Listening Resources)

earbuds musicWhether music helps or hinders writing and which music makes the best creative soundtrack are two perennial debates among the members of my writing circles. Some of my fellow writers are diehard devotees of tuning into a writing playlist, extolling the virtues of music to inspire and guide their writing. Others, at the opposite end of the spectrum, eschew music during their writing time, considering it a distraction that actually blocks or at least slows their creative flow.

Personally, I am conflicted on the topic. I love music. I love to sing and have even done so publicly on a few occasions. I have soundtracks for different times in my life – Pat Benetar and The Police for a particularly turbulent time in my teens; Kate Bush, Squeeze, and ELO for the slightly less angst-ridden years; and then – skipping ahead – K.T. Tunstall’s Eye of the Telescope for the long, slow demise of my marriage. This past weekend, my beau and I celebrated seven years together to a newly discovered Lyle Lovett channel on Pandora. Five hours and two bottles of wine later we were still exclaiming over the songs – old favorites and newfound delights – that Pandora’s magical algorithm pumped into my living room. Memories in the making.

But, when it comes to writing, I have never mastered the ability to listen to music passively. Maybe it’s my tendency to sing along. Though I have become quite adept at working through all kinds of other background noise – coffee shop banter, road traffic, the antics of my ten year-old – music tends to demand my undivided attention, therefore leaving me unable to string words together in a coherent fashion. Even classical music is too emotionally distracting for me. I have tried writing to Vivaldi, Mozart, and Bach, but their music tends to sweep my mind off the writing task at hand.

My inability to blend two of my favorite pastimes – crafting stories and listening to music – leaves me fascinated with people who are able to combine these two activities with great success. Some writers create whole playlists for a writing project, assigning songs to certain settings and characters. Some people can only write to instrumental music while others seem unfazed by having lyrics in their ear while they put words on the page. In Music to Write By: 10 Top Authors Share Their Secrets for Summoning the Muse Steve Silberman includes a link to a really interesting music video featuring a live performance by Steve Reich titled Music for 18 Musicians:

A music site called 8Tracks includes an entire section dedicated to “Writing Music.” I have to admit that I enjoyed the sample I listened to on the For Writing Dark Fantasy playlist which included, amongst other things, “Steampunk Orchestra.” Who knew?

Then there’s a site that will turn your mood into music. Stereomood translates your statement of mood into a playlist designed to evoke related emotions. You can type in almost anything: “I feel tired,” “I feel mysterious,” “I feel sunny day,” even “I feel piano.” I got a kick our of the “I feel magical” playlist.

A lot of my personal writer friends rely on Spotify to create their writing playlists. This popular music curation site is also cited in a series of annual “Best Writing Music” posts on GalleyCat (via MediaBistro). The Best Writing Music of 2013 is quite an extensive list.

Exploring these kinds of music curation sites, I can definitely see myself tapping into their lists to get myself in the right mood for a certain story or scene. Music is a powerful environmental element. Movies use music to wrap us up in the story, drawing us in and along by tugging on emotional chords. Perhaps we create a similar audio world for ourselves and our stories. Even if the actual notes don’t wind up on the page, perhaps there is an echo of the music in our words.

Though I still cannot listen to music “straight up” while I write, I will definitely experiment with pre-writing music to help me set the mood. I also sometimes use Coffitivity to get some music in my ear without distracting myself too much. I discovered this ambient noise app a little over a year ago and continue to use if fairly regularly. One of my favorite ways to use it is to “muffle” music that I’m streaming via Pandora. By adjusting the volume controls on each of the audio streams, you can create a blend of music and background noise that suits you perfectly. The combination that works best for me is mostly Coffitivity with just a touch of music.

Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

Photo Credit: photosteve101 via Compfight cc


I’m listening to the book, The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield and Shawn Coyne, and I find it very interesting. Mr. Pressfield talks about the resistance every artist has to manage in order to get his or her work done in the world. He equates resistance with fear, self-doubt, self-sabotage and every other thought, belief, feeling, or action that stops us from getting to work.

While listening, I started to think about Deborah’s recent post to this blog: Be Boring, and Julie’s response post, A Different Color Refrigerator.

It struck me that Deborah “combats” her resistance to her creativity by cultivating an orderly life that allows her plenty of time to write. Julie deals with her resistance by cultivating a multi-faceted but balanced life that includes writing.

How do I deal with resistance? Mostly by managing my mind. Starting with the old saying, “The mind is a wonderful servant, but a terrible master.”

When I let my mind go wild, thinking fearful thoughts about my work in the world and my writing, I get nothing done.

Who can get anything done when they are thinking thoughts like these?

  • I don’t have time to get anything done.
  • I have nothing to say.
  • No one wants to hear what I have to say.
  • This is drivel.
  • Why bother when so many others can do it better than you?

I start by questioning each thought. When I do, I find that none of the above thoughts are really true. Some of them go away as soon as I really look at them, others take a little more work.

I believed the thought: I don’t have time to get anything done, for many years. But when I examined that thought, I noticed it was ridiculous. I’m getting something done all the time, even if it’s just typing this sentence, or making a sandwich, or reading a book.

I did a bunch of experiments to see how much I could actually get done in 5 minutes, 15 minutes, or half an hour. I was continually surprised by how much work I got done, no matter how small the window of time I gave myself.

So now I routinely think: I have time to get something done.

When I manage my thoughts about my writing, I decrease my resistance (my fear) and I’m better able to sit down in the chair and write, even if I only have 15 minutes or half an hour (which is almost every day). Some days I have many 15 minutes or half-hours to write and they add up to an hour or more, but only if I use each one, rather than resisting the urge to write and squandering that time on something less dear to my heart.

How do you manage your resistance?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, life coach, physician, mother and stepmother. I’m enjoying each 15 minute segment of time that I get to spend working on my craft. Even if I do it in 15-minute increments, it will eventually add up to 10,000 hours! Check out my life coaching blog to see what I’ve come up with during some of those hours.


The Writer’s Creative Cave vs. The Big, Wide World


It’s ok. Come on out!

Most of the aspiring writers I know wish they had more time to write. Their lives are busy, full of obligations and responsibilities. Practicing the writing craft is a luxury that gets tucked into the odd corner of the day, early or late and most often stolen.

My life is much the same and I bet yours is, too.

I make my living as a freelance writer, but my creative writing lives the life of a small, tenacious beast – always hustling and hoarding minutes, fiercely defending the small oases of available time like the precious territory they are. This clever little critter knows that sometimes you have to go underground to get things done, make yourself a hidden haven where you can do your work without interruption from the siren call of worldly duties.

But, sometimes, your creative creature needs to come up into the light. Sometimes, the best thing for your wild writer’s soul is to be in the world, enjoying the moment in the company of others.

I recently met a friend for coffee. We’d been trying to get together for something like six months, but the stars never aligned. Last week, I saw her in the parking lot of the grocery store and impulsively suggested a get together later that week. By some miracle, everything worked out and we were able to keep our date. It was wonderful. We sat at the small table with our steaming mugs and it was three hours before we looked at the time. I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time.

Just this morning (when I was meant to be writing this post), I had an impromptu conversation with my dad. I talk with my mom most mornings, but my dad is a night owl and not usually ready for chatting until later in the day when I’m all tied up with being a mom. This morning, mom was out so dad answered the phone. We wound up having a great conversation about life, reality, real estate, parenting, and half a dozen other topics. I hung up feeling energized and optimistic.

Each day, I spend some portion of my work day engaged in digital conversations with fellow writers in a private Facebook group where we discuss everything from how to price a particular kind of writing project to which Hollywood stars we think are sexiest. These random conversations never fail to make me smile, even when they are distracting me from my work.

But, that’s kind of the point. These conversations, these relationships are not just distractions from the work … even the Important Work of writing. These moments and hours of time spent in the light – in the world – with our fellow human beings are food for our creative engines. Though writing is a solitary pursuit, it does not flourish alone in the dark. Yes, we need time to craft and create, but we also need to spend time living. Hemingway, I’m sure, would agree.

You need time to write. I understand. You might feel guilty for taking time away from your writing to meet a friend for coffee, indulge in a long phone conversation, or muck about with “frivolous” online conversations. Don’t. Remember that art and life are inextricably connected. You cannot have art without life; and a life without art, for a creative soul, is not worth living. Think of your time spent above ground and outside your creative cave as refueling. I cannot yet even capture all the inspiration my recent conversations have provided – ideas, characters, stories. I feel like my store of creative energy has been replenished. And what a wonderful way to refill the creative well – spending time with beloved friends and family, figuring out – together – this crazy thing called life.

Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

Photo Credit: qmnonic via Compfight cc

How to Be Creative in 5 Steps with John Cleese

creativity fun

By charity elise on etsy

What is the secret to being creative?

Is it something you can learn? Is it something you are born with? Is it something you can practice? Is it something you can do on demand?

These are questions that plague artists of all kinds. We worry that we’ll never be creative, or – if we’ve had a creative breakthrough – that we’ll never be creative again.

I worry. You worry. Famous writers and artists worry. We all worry.

BUT … we don’t have to.

I spent part of this morning watching a video of John Cleese presenting on the topic of creativity. (Hat tip to @anna_elliott for her post on Writer Unboxed featuring a link to the video.) Cleese’s presentation is nearly forty minutes long, but SO worth the time. I really (really) would love for each of you to watch it because I think it will make you feel relaxed and excited about being creative (instead of anxious and freaked out). But, I totally get that you may not have a spare forty minutes lying around, so I’m writing this post to share some of my favorite bits from Cleese’s talk.

Ready? Here goes:

Creativity, According to John Cleese

“It’s a mood in which curiosity for its own sake can operate because we’re not under pressure to get a specific thing done quickly. We can play. And that’s what allows our natural creativity to surface.”

Cleese talks about two “modes” of being: open and closed. As you might guess, the open mode is the one in which creativity comes out to play while the closed mode is the one in which we put nose to grindstone.

7:45 – How Being in the Open Mode Helped Discover Penicillin

Cleese tells how Alexander Fleming’s curiosity about an unexpected result was critical to his eventual discovery of penicillin. Instead of simply being annoyed and disappointed that a particular culture did not grow as planned, Fleming followed his curiosity in order to answer the question, “Why?” (Or, in this case, “Why not?”) By keeping an open mind, Fleming was able to see and follow an important clue. Had he been in closed mode, he would have dismissed the missing culture as a failure – within the context of his expectations – and missed an important discovery.

8:55 – How Hitchcock Used Irrelevance to Beat Block

Cleese tells another story – this one about Alfred Hitchcock. Apparently, when he and his co-writers came up against a creative block on a screenplay, Hitchcock had a habit of telling irrelevant stories. This often made his co-writers frustrated until they realized it was an intentional way of lessening the pressure and helping the team relax so they could find a creative solution.

9:34 – Creative Work Requires Both the Open and Closed Modes

Though we tap into our creativity in the open mode, we do need to be able to step back into the closed mode in order to get work done and apply the fruits of our creativity to our work. Once we have come up with a creative solution, we need to commit to seeing that solution through. We need to close the doors on additional brainstorming and so forth in order to take action.

John Cleese’s 5 Steps to Getting into the Creative Open Mode

Cleese then shares what he considers to be the five requirements for increasing your odds of getting into the open mode and being creative:

  1. Space – You need to remove the pressures and demands of your daily grind, seal yourself off, and hang up the “Do Not Disturb” sign.
  2. Time – You need to set a specific start and stop time in order to create an oasis from everyday life – to set your open mode or “play” time apart from everyday life. At 15:22, Cleese makes special note to leave yourself extra time to settle in and switch gears by describing a scene that we’ve all played out upon sitting down to be creative. Very funny. Not to be missed.
  3. Time – Yes, he lists “time” twice. In this second instance, Cleese focuses on the importance of taking as much time as you can to solve your creative problem. Don’t just latch onto the first solution that presents itself – dig deeper. We are tempted to accept the first solution because it’s our quickest way out of the uncomfortable space in which we have not yet solved the problem, but if we hold on a little longer, a better and more original solution is usually just around the corner.
  4. Confidence – The biggest obstacle to creativity is fear. We are afraid of making a mistake, of looking silly. This is why creativity is best fostered in an environment of play – because when you are playing there are no wrong answers. There are no mistakes. Everything is an experiment and anything can happen. As Cleese says, “Any drivel can lead to the breakthrough.”
  5. Humor – Finally, Cleese contends that humor is essential to creativity. He says that it is the quickest way from the closed mode to the open mode. So … stop taking yourself (and everything) so seriously!

The rest of the video includes some additional suggestions on how to keep your mind “gently around the subject” and engage in successful creative play with other people and find new ways to connect disparate frameworks and references in order to generate creative solutions. But, I’ll let you watch those yourself:

Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

Image by Charity Elise on Etsy

Get Focused on What You (Truly) Want

Have you seen the movie Field of Dreams? There’s a voice whispering to the main character (who has a dream) throughout the movie: “If you build it, they will come.”

It’s a step above “fake it until you make it.”

And a couple of steps above visualization.

Journaling at the edge of the water

Capturing my thoughts while sitting at the water’s edge

A great starting point for getting what you want  is to write it down.

You can do this in a journal, or on a computer, or on a chalkboard or whiteboard, or simply on a single piece of paper.

Writing is powerful. Seeing your dream or goal in print in your own words helps you clarify what you are asking for — from yourself and from the universe.

When is the last time you wrote out a detailed description of your dream writing life? If it’s been a while, or never, why not take some time today (Mondays are great days for starting fresh, after all!) to think about what a day is going to be like once you are living your dream.

Some questions to help you get started detailing your ideal writing life include:

  • What kind of project are you working on?
  • Where are you writing? (cafe, room with a view, home, vacation spot, on the beach…)
  • Where do you live?
  • Are you traveling? (perhaps touring your book, or writing abroad)
  • What time of year is it?
  • Are you near/with other writers?
  • How does your day begin?
  • How do you wrap up your day?

Be as detailed as possible. Picture yourself in the moment in time and capture sights, sounds, tastes, feelings, and sensations. Whatever makes the moment real to you.

I bet that as you write about what you want, you’ll discover at least one way to start on the path to getting it.

Nothing to lose, but your dream life to gain! If you imagine your dream life, you’re taking a big step toward realizing that life.

My dream writing life includes a water view, walks in the sand, and kayaking at dawn.

Will you give it a shot?

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves writing about NH people, places, and activities. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn.