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Creativity and Motherhood

My first piece of published writing was about an 80-year-old University of Minnesota undergraduate student. It ran in the school’s student newspaper, before The Minnesota Daily had an online presence or began archiving articles on its site. I have it in my clips, but unless you search the paper’s archives in office, you’ll be hard-pressed to find it anywhere else. (You can find a few of my early pieces on the website, including this gem on “The Haunting of Northrop,” which involved a late-night investigation at the venerable hall.)

It feels odd in this era of digital sharing, the near nonexistence of a piece that only myself and perhaps my then editor would even recall. But it was a proud moment for me as a young writer in 2001, at 19, as I was finding my place as a professional.

In the different roles I’ve played since then in the publishing world, dancing the line as a writer and editor, working as a copy editor, fact-checker, and project manager, writing remains the driving force to my creative spirit. The stories that are important, life changing, and need to be shared with the world. The words that still carry such weight to me in the land of emojis and abbreviations and Snapchat.

However, my writing doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Since becoming a mom, I don’t reserve time to create, to find the flow — any “spare time,” whatever that means these days, outside of work and family commitments goes to sleep or escapism through TV or movies. Most of my energy is used up. Which is unfortunate, because, as creativity coach Eric Maisel, PhD, writes in Coaching the Artist Within: “You must be able to create in the middle of things, or else you will not create. If you wait for a better time to create, better than this very moment … forget about it.”

I know creativity is important — no, essential — to a healthy mind. I know I want to share my love of writing with my young daughter. I want her to see that fostering her imagination and developing a fecund mind will help her in school and life (and she’ll just be a cool person all around).

As I’ve ignored it, eventually the creative spirit pulled at me, and demanded my attention. When the world lost a musical icon recently, I wept for the loss of the man, the spirit, and the beauty of creative audacity. I started exploring my own craft, in the simplest form of journaling:

  • April 21: Prince has died. All I have are tears, his music, and my pen.
  • April 22: People are celebrating his life and work. They are dancing! And singing! I’m still terribly sad. Nostalgia, my cousins, my love of family. We are one. We are united.
  • April 25: Today I will write! I must! I’ve mulled it over enough.

It tended to be easier for me to ponder what I’d write than to actually sit down and write. Once I set aside the space and time to create, it spilled out. Here are three tricks I found useful in breaking through roadblocks:

Know when you won’t be interrupted. Words usually only dance in my head when I have complete silence. I can sometimes be at a coffee shop, which spurs its own unique narrative, but generally, I need to know that I’ll be safe from conversation, or the baby crying. That might mean a quiet office when my coworkers leave for lunch break, or waking up earlier or saving time before bed. It’s all about the practice.

Talk it out. To your friend — or to yourself. Out loud, in the car, in the shower — who cares? My daughter is only just beginning to say “no,” so I’ve been able to share random thoughts aloud with her. It helps her develop her own language skills, and speaking with her (without her talking back) allows me room to process my ideas. I’ll keep it up until she says, “Mommy, please stop talking so much,” as she inevitably will. Even without feedback, the internal monologue may surprise you. As Julia Cameron notes in The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity: “I learned to just show up at the page and write down what I heard. By resigning as the self-conscious author, I wrote freely.”

Find inspiration in music, art, and nature. Listening to everything Prince this past week has jogged new concepts. I hear a solo I had forgotten, then write out what I’m feeling. I read all the tributes online, page through books at the library, or meander through a museum. When the clouds break and the sun comes out, I walk in the woods and notice the delicate bristling of the leaves on the trees as the wind moves through, the new buds popping up all around, and the smells of fresh flowers blooming. I simply notice, then maybe write a few notes in my traveling journal, or talk it out, either with the baby or by way of recording a voice memo on my phone.

I find the more I create, the more I want to create. It may not always be masterful, but it’s a start.

Jump-Start Your Creativity

Here are some tips for rekindling your creativity, from “Get Creative” by Jon Spayde (March 2008):

1. Find time the easy way. Cut out television watching, aimless shopping, excessive emailing or other less-than-satisfying habits. You’ll be amazed at the time vistas that open up.

2. Use anything at all to get going. Pick three magazine pictures at random and write a story about them. Steal a line from a poem and use it to begin a song. Open the dictionary, pick a word, and let it inspire a drawing or sculpture.

3. Don’t create alone. Form a group that gathers once a week or month to create or craft together. No judgment or critique — just mutual presence, support and accountability.

4. Cultivate really unconventional thinking, just for the creativity of it. When traffic snarls, don’t say, “Must be an accident up at the cutoff.” Say: “Martians must have landed and melted the highway with their particle cannons.” Fanning the Creative Spirit, by Charlie and Maria Girsch, contains this and many other suggestions for off-the-wall brain calisthenics.

5. Use affirmations, like “I am creative and full of good ideas,” or “I will create fearlessly today,” as mantras and spells against negative self-talk.

6. Dare to be bad. Mess around — you can always fix it later. Or not. Fearless badness kills your inner censor. Permission to be mediocre (or worse) is one of the best doorways into true creativity.


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