Category Archives: Creativity

10Feb/15

Maybe What You Love is What You’re Already Doing

Back in December, I made a list of things I wanted to do in the new year. I pretend I don’t make resolutions, but I always make lists of new things I want to learn. This year, I decided, would be the year I learned to draw.

Somewhere in my brain is the idea that I’ve always wanted to learn to draw, and just never had the stars align in such a way that I could. Sure, I sketch things for fun, but I’m not a skilled artist by any means. So I decided I’d learn. I checked out books. I started a new sketchbook and gathered photos to inspire me. Since January 1, I’ve managed to draw on 3 pages.

In the meantime, I had to buy my daughter a new sketchbook over the weekend, because all of her sketchbooks were full.

You see, my daughter loves to draw. From the moment she could hold a crayon in her tiny fingers, she was drawing small villages on her walls, on paper, on her own skin. Drawing has always been her ideal form of self-expression. If she’s mad at me, she draws about it. If she loves something, she draws it. Today, I brought home some new tissue boxes, but she didn’t like the design. So she drew Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon on there.

The girl must draw half a dozen pictures every single day, and has for most of her 9 years of life. She fills several sketch books a year. FILLS them. Drawings of her toys. Drawings of characters she likes. Drawings of hipster cats with glasses and moustaches.

And then there’s my son. I always talk about wanting to learn how to code. But I don’t. He does. He gets an idea for an animation or a game, and he draws his plans and then he sits down in Scratch, and an hour or two or a week or two later, he has a thing he made that is awesome. Funny characters. Fully animated versions of cell division. Life cycles of plants. He’s been doing this for years.

So what am I doing during those times? I’m writing. If I’m not writing stories or books, I’m writing emails and journal entries. If I’m not reading fine literature, I’m reading the marketing copy on chewing gum. There have been a few days in the last few years that I haven’t written a single word. Maybe. I can’t tell you what days they were. I was probably quite cranky by the end of them.

Because I’m co-owner of one of the largest writing communities on Google+, I see a lot of new writers ask for advice. “I want to be a writer! How do I start?” I’ve seen veteran writers tell them flat out, “You will never write a novel if you aren’t already writing.” I thought that was really harsh. But I think I see it now. Sure, you can start anywhere, but unless you’re doing it every day because you can’t NOT do it, it’s always going to be that thing you want to learn and haven’t.

There’s a saying: “Do what you love and love what you do.” I always thought it was super cheesy. It’s probably the most wishy-washy piece of business advice I’ve ever read. But at the end of the day, it has an echo of the truth, I think. But maybe, instead of trying to love something, it’s more about finding out what you’re already doing. Because most likely, that’s the thing you actually love.

Image from workisnotajob.com

Image from workisnotajob.com

So, friends, what are the things you spend the most time doing or thinking about every day, even when you “should” be doing something else? What are the things that just come naturally to you?

29Aug/14

Things I Do When No One Is Looking

writing mantras

I woke up this morning in the mood to do something with paper and paste. I collage. I don’t consider myself a collage artist or anything like that. In fact, I tend to think of my collages as a bad habit, something to keep hidden away. I make collages the way I might read a trashy romance novel: in private when no one is looking.

I started by making a couple of inchies. These are each 2-inch squares of cardstock that I decorate. Why? I don’t know. I hang them up like miniature artwork all around my desk. The three I made today represent two of my favorite mantras. Trust the Process. Nothing is closing. The third is a comment I received (twice!) in a conversation I had about a book idea. I had never read a more encouraging string of six words than that. I’m taking it.

Then I started looking through my collage book. There is only one page that has a date on it, and it was from late 2007. I’ve been working on this book for over 7 years, in private, when no one is looking. I don’t work on it that often. I usually get the paste-eating craving a few times a year. Then I drag out all my magazine clippings and ink pads and paints and Yes paste. I make a page or two, then clean it all up and put it away (under the bed. This is how secretive this little hobby of mine is).

Today, I looked through it all, and I realized something kind of awesome. This book of mine is becoming a body of work. Some of the pages are terrible, and I still grimace when I look at them. But some of the pages are still fun to look at many years later. Some of the pages mean something different than they did when I was making them. Some of the pages make me laugh. So today, I’m going to share some of them.

My earliest pages were only one page, usually with one image and a statement of some sort. As you go further in the book, there are more two-page spreads that seem to be drawing a comparison/contrast with two things. I really like these. To be absolutely honest, I never come to the page thinking, “I’m going to make a statement with this.” I sit down with my paper scraps, grab whatever catches my fancy, glue stuff down, ink stuff up, and then giggle or scoff at it later. I have drawings in crayon, oil pastels, colored pencils, and broken ink pens. I have no idea why I do this. I think I’ve only ever showed this book to one person before today.

And now I’m posting it publicly on the internet. But I’m still hiding my supplies under the bed.

23Jul/11

Embracing the Mystery

I read two books this week, seemingly unrelated, that both touched on something I’ve wondered about. I’ve always considered myself a logical person. If I were a character in Star Trek, I would be Spock. But there has always been this dichotomy in me as well. I am creative. I have always loved music and art and literature and poetry. I see colors when I hear certain music, my moods change significantly depending on what I hear and see, and I am sometimes brought to tears by the image of a field full of flowers. In this way, I am nothing like Spock.

I have never been able to explain this strange split in myself. I have always considered it a struggle between my logical and my emotional selves. I felt that one must always outweigh the other, and for my part I always respected logic above all else.


Then I read Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks. If you are at all interested in or fascinated by the brain, I highly recommend his books. Musicophilia was a series of case studies on people with different injuries, disabilities, or heightened abilities that affected their ability to hear, understand, or sense music. It was fascinating how many different senses come together to bring music to life – not just rhythm and melody, but timbre and tone and harmony and feeling. Some people feel it. Some don’t. But the thing that most resonated with me is that music comes from a separate part of the brain from literacy, speech, and logic. Being intelligent in one area has no effect on your enjoyment or abilities in music. I can be logical and still feel music at the depths of my soul. There is nothing strange about this.


Then I started reading Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engel. A friend gave me this book several months ago, but I did not even crack it open until last night. The timing was perfect. I have been thinking quite a lot about my faith and my art lately, and Madeleine L’Engel has eloquently given voice to my own thoughts on the subject. What I most enjoyed, I think, is her emphasis on the seeming illogic of art. If I think about it, if I try to turn it into something with a particular purpose, then I am trying to control God. If I allow Him to work through me, even if I don’t understand it, then there is Truth. And it is not always a logical truth, not something that can be put into words but that is felt and sensed through a completely different part of ourselves. What makes me love the art of Van Gogh? Or be completely moved by the work of Shostakovich and Dvorak and Rachmaninoff? It is not the logical part of myself. It must be something else.

What I have always felt is that I cannot be both logical and emotional. It ought to be one or the other. But what I am realizing now is not just that the two sides can be balanced, but that they can coexist. Reacting emotionally to fine art does not mean that my logic has been defeated. Nor does my ability to fix grammar mean that I’ve utterly destroyed my creative self. They live together, different parts of the same brain, different strengths that are not in any sort of competition with each other. Sure, I must put aside my logical self to let the power of creativity flow through me–it’s like turning a valve to access a different self. But that act does not change or weaken that logical self. In fact, there is evidence to show that using that creativity, especially in music and writing, strengthens several areas of your brain all at once. How’s that for coexisting?

What kind of art really moves you? Do you have a favorite composer, or artist, or writer who seems to create some resonance with you? I’d love to find some new art to explore, so please share in the comments!