4 Books About Creativity and 1 From Our Supply of Very Old, Silly Books

I’m trying something new this week, since so many juicy books about creativity have come across my path that my pile of must-reads is in danger of toppling over. Be aware: I’m recommending a bunch of books I haven’t read yet, as well as one I have. But I think you’ll agree they look intriguing. After we’ve both read them, I’d love to compare notes.

[Note: There are affiliate links in this article. If you click through and make a purchase, I may receive a commission at no additional cost to you.]

It all started with The INFJ Writer: Cracking the Creative Genius of the World’s Rarest Type by Lauren Sapala. I can’t reconstruct the search thread that lead me to it, but when I found it I was thunderstruck. A, that someone could specialize that precisely made the geek in me instantly sit up and take notice. B, that I am an INFJ writer and that is a thing. I went to Ms. Sapala’s web site, and, indeed, she is a writing coach for INFJs. Reading just a little of her info opened my eyes to the idea that the process of creating that is normal to me that I thought was universal, is not.

You ESTPs out there: Is there a creativity book for you, too? Or are a preponderance of writers and creatives INFJs and ENFJs?

I don’t know the answer to that, but I found another, an also-read on Amazon, Blessed Are the Weird: A Manifesto for Creatives, by Jacob Nordby.

The Amazon write-up begins, “The world wants its soul back…” and continues, “This book is for highly sensitive people who have felt out of place in the modern world. It provides a narrative that describes how they fit into a lineage of creatives throughout history, and how their gifts are needed during this precise era of “new renaissance” on Earth.”

With 27,909 followers of Facebook, I think Mr. Nordby might be onto something. Seems I’m a latecomer to the party, but, dang, what a good party! (They talk about embracing your weirdness.) As I often couple the word “soul” with anything about creativity I find myself thinking about, I’ve probably found a kindred spirit here. It’s queued up on my Kindle.

Slight sidetrack: On the theme of personality type, a friend, astrologer Jennie Sheldon White posted this excellent article, which lead me to take an online personality test, which lead to my finding Personality Hacker, and I’m a happy camper with their Car Model. Check it out if you’re interested in personality typing that has a personal growth edge. I’m truly tempted by their INFJ Starter Kit. Why??

Earlier in the summer I attended a talk by poet and novelist Eileen Myles. I fell in love with her diaristic, impressionistic, blunt and bold style. (It helps me to know she’s a Sagittarius to understand her unique and pointed expression. Also her abrupt about-faces in life and in love.) When I was given a copy of Cool For You as a gift from my nearly psychic niece, Mariel Capanna, herself a remarkable artist, I dove in and haven’t quite surfaced. Having heard Myles read her work in that inimitable Cambridge/Boston accent that disarmed me from the moment I arrived as a college freshman, I can hear her voice as I read. I love her sensibility. She is a living creative whose process becomes her art, and it’s fascinating to watch.

Myles’ new book, Afterglow, a Dog Memoir, which chronicles the long decline and death of her beloved dog, will be out in September.

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, Steven Pressfield and Shawn Coyne, is on my list because of some great quotes I got from the book via Goodreads, when I was putting together my Happily Creative webinar. Most of the reviews reference his emphasis on dealing with resistance as a sort of daemon, but the quote I ended up using was about daily practice: “This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabe writers don’t. When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings.”

Lastly, I want to mention that in our house there’s an overgrowth of very old books, some of which get read out of curiosity to find out whether they’re worth putting on a bookshelf in one of our antique cottages that we rent out to summer vacationers. By far the star of greatest dubiousness this summer has been The Radio Boys on the Mexican Border by Gerald Breckenridge. Notwithstanding the bizarre echoes of current day memes, such as derogatory cultural stereotypes about Latin Americans, this was a groaner of a read for many other reasons. A group of privileged white boys, passive voice throughout, recapping the plot just about every chapter, and not a surprise to be had.

Written in 1922 when radio telephony was a new and exciting technology, The Radio Boys on the Mesican Border is one of a series of poorly written books about privileged white boys. Yippee! The good news is, when something’s so bad that it gets the two of us giggling at our own unison groans and singing out the word “chum!” each time it appears in the text, it’s worth the time spent on it. There is no link to this one; if you want our copy, it’s yours.

Happily Creative: 5 Steps to Freeing the Artist Within

Of course, it’s not really 5 steps, hop over a gap beneath which rage gnashing monsters intent on keeping you from creating, and then home free forever, never to have to take that leap again.
It’s more like, I’ve figured out how to put into words the nebulous and personal process we call creativity, put numbers in front of the biggest points, and if you find them useful you have to actually do them again and again, until it becomes a rhythm that your life pulses to. So, a dance. A spiral dance.
But it is a blueprint, and it is a start. And starting is where lots and lots of people get hung up. Either they’re standing at the precipice looking down at the the raging, gnashing monsters and decide to simply set up camp there, or they make the leap and set up camp there, just on the other side, thinking they’ve begun, but actually they are perpectually beginning.
You see, there’s a whole road beyond. You know this, of course. And that’s what scares you. It scares me too. That’s why I focus on beginning, on foundational skills that, once mastered, take you down the road while holding your creativity, sensitive creature that it is, where it should be: away from all that.
Now, you as a person, you need to go down that road. You need to create, share, experience, communicate, ponder, digest, create some more and share some more.
The system I’ve developed does both. It keeps your creativity new and fresh and safe, while deepening it, so that your daily practice becomes an intelligent field of energy through which you connect with a deeper wisdom, via the well-worn pathway of your own creative channels, guided from a deeper more delighted place.
My system also carries you, the person, deeper into becoming the person you were meant to be, deepening you and broadening your experience, now guided by a heart and soul that you have access to. 
Wait, what happened to self-doubt, criticism, being good enough? What happened to sales and marketing, making a living, getting training and all that other stuff that absolutely cements us to the place where we are currently setting up camp and calling it living?
The short answer is, not yet. We don’t have to know any of that in order to begin. But there are some things that help put all that into proper perspective, so that we can begin. And that’s what I would like to share with you in this webinar. Whether you want to write a book, get back to painting, or take your creative dreams out into the world, this webinar is an excellent place to start.
I’ve made it truly affordable, and I would love to see you there. If you click the little widget below, you’ll get to the Eventbrite page, and there you can register. Meanwhile, feel free to contact me with any questions: phyllis@phylliscapanna.com. Text/phone me: (207) 558-5830.

Inspiration Mindset Part 2. Tuning the Receiver: New, Vivid Experiences

new vivid experiences

I often write a few lines of poetry at bedtime.  My mind is less able to maintain its strict linear-ness and all of life seems just a bit dreamier, as if part of me is already making that long descent into sleep.

But eventually my well of impressions starts to dry out if all I’ve been doing during my days is the same old routines, day after day. Even days on end of creating can begin to feel dull in their sameness.

So, yes, write poetry; also, give yourself new vivid experiences. Here’s an excerpt from Love Yourself Forward, which is coming out in my lifetime, as soon as it stops morphing, thank you, on the subject of “I have nothing to write about.”

Write Poetry

It’s not as hard you might think. Write snippets, descriptions, incomplete sentences, incomplete thoughts, tones, and observations. Write feelings, drop hints. Describe, luxuriate in, and adore your subject. Eavesdrop. Chop up the lines any way that pleases you.

Write a poem about your day today. Write it just for you. Make yourself happy with your poem.

Your first objection: But nothing happened today! It’s boring. What did I do? 

I’ll give you that. And I have two answers: One, write it anyway.

And two, give yourself some new, vivid experiences.

Here’s a story of how I did that, from about 2 winters ago.

Last night at 10:30 my partner happened to see a Facebook message from a friend, saying she was out of kerosene for her heater. My partner began pacing. This means she is thinking of doing something. She knew there was a gas station open all night that sells kerosene.

“But it means going all the way out to her place, picking up her containers, driving all the way over to get the kerosene, then back out to her place.”

“I’ll go with you!” I said.

“Really?”

Yes. I needed to. I’d been on my butt all day writing and doing web stuff. My head felt like little electrodes and cotton balls stuffed into a tired pumpkin needing sleep. But I wasn’t sleepy.

We bundled up and drove out into the night together in her pick-up. Our friend’s three little dogs came barking and twirling out her front door to greet us. The full moon shone in her yard like a hazy, white spotlight. She asked us to buy her some water, too. We picked up her containers and drove back to town, thinking and talking about no heat, no running water.

At the gas station a car pulled in blaring rap music. The guys who got out weren’t wearing coats. It was 17 degrees out. They had New York plates. After them came two local guys on a cigarette run. We got out a screwdriver and pliers and pulled the safety rings off the kerosene jugs, so our friend could open them with her crazy, zigzagged arthritic fingers. We filled them and strapped them into the back of the truck with a bungee.

We stopped back home and filled four gallon jugs with water. The cats had already settled in for the night. We drove back out to our friend’s place, checking out the new business in town, wondering about the five-car “traffic” on Route 11 going the other way, marveling at the moon. Our truck was warmer than our friend’s little house.

We got home an hour and a half later, ready for bed.

The dark streets and night life on our foray live inside me, feeding me images, feelings and moods I can add to my palette.

I’ll say it again. Feed yourself new, vivid experiences. This may seem like a trick. How will you know if it’s going to be vivid? You won’t, until you do it. And it won’t be, unless you are paying attention. Any experience can be new and vivid, but it we tend to pay attention more when it is a novel one.

This is one of the reasons we take vacations. Our minds and bodies love a change of pace. This strategy is about changing things up regularly, way before you’re flattened with monotony and definitely more than once a year. Similarly, if you normally flit and have tons of new experiences on a regular basis, give yourself some time to sift through those experiences.

Just writing a list of impressions and random memories can be a great way to see everything you’ve taken in, in a new way.

Inspiration Mindset is really a set of behaviors and attitudes that sharpen you as a receiver, appreciater and lover of this one, amazing life. You may not think of your art as your love letter to life, but at least make your living that.

You may not think of your art as your love letter to life, but at least make your living that. Click To Tweet

12 Things You Can Do To Get Started on Your First (or Next) Book (Painlessly)

Sometimes, for reasons unknown to us, we can’t. get. started. even if the project is something we REALLY, REALLY want to do. Often it’s overwhelm that gets us. We don’t know quite where to begin. Writing that first word, especially if it’s our first go with making a book, can be intimidating. The good news is there are tons of things you can do before you actually start writing your book.

And these are not frilly, fool-yourself-into-doing-something things. These are actually important to do. These first 11 are the least threatening of the many things it pays to do before getting started with the writing, or at least early in the process.

Stay tuned for part two, in which we start getting a little more technical, but no less preparatory and necessary to your badass love project’s success.

Here you go:

  1. Start by writing down everything you know about your book idea: what the topic, title, nonfiction, fiction? Just like you would if you were telling someone about it. “It’s a book about…” You might be pleasantly surprised at how much you write down. Also, you’ll be practicing a happy creative habit that’s hard to beat: Find a way to capture your great ideas so you don’t have to remember them! Free up some hard drive space and write down your book idea.

2. Start a list of possible titles, chapters, and other content. Again, just give  your imagination free rein. “There will be a poem between each chapter, and quotations that are mysterious, and references to music. There will be an entire universe….”

3. And on that note: Will it be illustrated? Have quotations? Questions for the reader to answer? Flesh it out in your mind and on paper.

4. Write or draw some character sketches. This is self-explanatory, but if you do need more guidance, imagine your characters not only in the roles they play in your work, but also in the rest of their “off-camera” lives. What’s in their sock drawer? Where do they keep their money? Bills facing the same way, or a crumbled mess in the front pocket of their greasy jeans? What do they smell like? Etc. Even if it’s a first person narrator in nonfiction, how do you want that person to come across?

5. While you’re dreaming and sketching, picture your ideal reader. Who are they and what do they care about? What else do they read? Brainstorm a list of who would be interested in your book.

6. Think about how your readers will find you. Where do they hang out? How do they find books? Supermarket check-out? Back pages of specialty mags? Internet? This all makes a difference later when you’ll be making publishing and marketing decisions. (Isn’t that beyond exciting? You will be making publishing and marketing decisions!)

7. A related question: how do you see people using your book?  By themselves, in groups, with their therapist or coach, on a cruise?

8. Try drawing or sketching your cover. What colors go with your book? What textures, what design features, what century and feel? Western? Army? Victorian? Friendly? Comforting?

9. How do you see yourself writing it, in what time frame, and by what method? Will you write a little every day, record and transcribe? Get it done this year? 5 years? Whenev?

10. Read up on how authors go about writing your kind of book. Whether it’s a workbook, mystery or historical fiction, each author uses specific methods and processes to create them. Will you have to map out the plot and scenes ahead of time? Will you work from an outline? Find out how some of your favorite writers do it.

11. Lastly, could there be other, related products as well? Should there be a video? Music? Mugs? Just dream and wonder. And wander.

Next time, we’ll get into some of nitty-gritty, but for today, try easing into these 11 not-too-taxing ways to get started on the darned thing.

And, last, what not to do: Sit and fret about it one more day.

Can’t quite get there on your own?

After you download my ebook, Happily Creative: How to Become a Happy Creative in Just 30 Days, focus on just the first 10 pages, and ignore the rest for now.  The first 10 pages are specific tools to help you overcome the three major mental and emotional obstacles that keep us from getting started.

I’d love to have you join my tribe of happy creatives.

Five things that stop you from creating and what to do about them

If there’s nothing else you get out of this article, I want you to remember this one oddly comforting and horribly true thing: Nobody cares. Now, onto the things that stop you from putting pen or brush to paper or canvas, or writing that song or resume–and what you can do about them.

Fear of Failure

I’m not sure what people mean by this, because there are so many ways to fail, it’s almost impossible to count them. I’m tempted to ask, but I think that would just make these people more fearful. That said, there are also countless ways to succeed.

The key is to define success for yourself. This is a necessary step in the creative process anyway, as soon as you set out to do something specific. It helps to have something in mind that you’re aiming for, and it could be something as simple as wanting to create a better one than the last one.

But artists generally focus on an aspect of the work and are much more specific than that. They also set personal challenges for themselves: “I want to get the shading right.” “I want to widen my vocabulary and description powers.” “I want to try poetry.” “I want to write a gospel song.”

See how this is not copping out and going easy on yourself, but actually creating a specificity it’s damned hard to be afraid of? The worst that can happen is you don’t get the shading right. Not the end of the world and public shaming.

What to do: Set a personal success target that has nothing to do with anyone else. What would constitute achievement, a new high mark, make you proud? If the answer is nothing, examine your mindset. If literally nothing is ever good enough, you are probably driving yourself crazy and upset everywhere in your life, not just with your creative projects and art.

Setting unrealistic expectations

Related to fear of failure and defining success, this has to do with imposing expectations and requirements you feel you must be held to in order for it to “count.” Example: first time writer wants to write a runaway bestseller. While there’s nothing wrong with wanting that, and it certainly is possible, having that be your sole motivator is intrinsically disempowering. Whether something becomes a hit or not is at least 50% out of your control (maybe more like 80%) and is a bonus to actually making something of good quality that you will be proud to put your name on.

Fantasizing about being rich and famous because of your work is one thing; using that fantasy as a standard of success is all or nothing thinking, and a set-up for disappointment.

What to do: Break your expectations and benchmarks into much smaller, doable steps. Want to write a bestseller? Sketch out story ideas. Make a reading list. Schedule in a time every day to write. Browse the Amazon bestseller list. Write your chapter headings. Write character sketches. Map out the plot. If these are too big, guess what? Make them even smaller. Clear the space, get the notebook or document file up, and mess around, for a specific period of time.

Fear of criticism

Repeat after me: Nobody cares. Criticism happened when you were in school and everybody had to pass judgement on everybody else, before we were all enlightened and realized that good/bad, right/wrong is old school, and there’s something for everyone, and process and product and purpose are three different things. So shut up. (I may have digressed a little.) What happens when we’re adults and we create something someone else doesn’t like is they ignore it and move on.

If you create something you don’t like, you move on. And if there’s anyone left in your life who’s criticizing you on a regular basis, besides the gremlin that’s criticizing you (and me) right now, distance yourself quickly.

And p.s., it’s really good to know if your biggest critic is you, because that’s so normal. But still ignore it and move on. See of Fear of Failure and Setting Unrealistic Expectations, above.

What to do: Create anyway.

Thinking you should know how to do everything from the outset

Now didn’t I just say you could have an idea of something you wanted to accomplish? And didn’t I say that you could use that as a measure of success instead of whether you went viral because of it? What I didn’t tell you is, you won’t automatically know how to do what you’re setting out to do. This is why it’s a benchmark and a goal. It’s going to force you to grow. Yay! This is not a reason not to start. Stopping yourself here is a form a perfectionism.

What to do: Stay present and as each problem is encountered, do your best to solve it. Research how others do it. Experiment. Realize that it may take you hundreds of tries before you master something. The journey of a thousand miles consists of with one tentative, innocent, misguided and wrong step after another. Wrong isn’t the end of the world. And once you’ve mastered whatever, you will feel as if you’ve actually been to the end of the world, and you’ll want to go back again, as soon as possible.

Thinking it should turn out as you pictured it

Making goals and configuring your idea of success are great ways to get yourself off the starting mark, but by the same token, being too rigid about the outcome can make you judge yourself a failure, a disincentive to continue or try again.

Creativity is a process of making something where there are no instructions–and nobody cares. (Did I mention that?) Give yourself permission to follow the process, be alive in the moment and surrender to the dictates of something wiser than–gasp!–your logical mind. Get to enjoy not knowing, flying by the seat of your pants and all those other things that got you into trouble in school. In the creative process, there are no bad grades, only people who don’t show up.

In the creative process, there are no bad grades, only people who don’t show up. Click To Tweet

What to do: If you want to get over yourself and start being happy already, download my book, Happily Creative: How To Become a Happy Creative in Just 30 Days! It’s a 30 Day Plan that includes dealing with perfectionism, fear of failure, lack of ideas, the time-space continuum and guides you through the revolutionary process of putting a stake in the ground of your life and saying “YES!” to creating everyday for the next 30 days. Now THAT’S badass.

Yes, I want to be a a happily creative badass!

Is Your Creativity Suffering for Lack of Fun?

Fun Can be Tiny and Dear

Today in my Facebook Live, I addressed the issue of inspiration stagnation and suggested as a first remedy ditching the creative assignments and going out and having some fun.

I’m realizing this may have come off somewhat glib. But fun is a serious–in fact, essential–ingredient in any creative’s toolkit. When we’re blocked, we’re scared. We double down on finding great ideas and original approaches. If we checked, we’d find our jaw clenched, our breathing shallow, and our thinking pinpoint. Think: fight or flight.

This is the exact opposite of where we want to be and how we need to be in order to have the great ideas and find the original approaches. We need to be fluid, expansive, welcoming, curious, light. We need to feel the world is our safe playground as we experiment with pouring sand through our fingers and watching it collect into a miniature mountain range. We need to feel we have all the time in the world.

Remember those golden times when you first discovered your creative gift? Time stood still, didn’t it?

This is why it’s so essential to learn to cultivate that feeling intentionally. I’ll share something with you that most people don’t know about me. I’m very intentional. I could be lying back with a straw hat over my face in a hammock, but unless I’m actually on vacation, there’s a purpose in what I’m doing. I may be hanging out schmoozing with the guests at our summer place, chatting with a co-worker, arranging my colored pencils or staring off into space while idly drumming my fingers on the arm of the Adirondack chair. But I’m not doing nothing.

And that’s not what fun is, either. It’s not doing nothing. It’s very intentionally engaging in an activity that takes you out of your regular mind, takes your body out of its regular habits, and shifts your entire being into expansive, welcoming, benevolent joy.

Now, don’t get hung up on the word joy. It doesn’t have to be neon-colored and long-lasting. It can be simple contentment, amusement, peace, and heart-centered melting. There may be a tear in your eye. You may feel like hugging someone. Even yourself. Most of all you’ll feel possibility again. You’ll see that what was locked was your mind, not the world.

So, here’s your challenge. Reacquaint yourself with fun. You can start with what used to be fun, but that may not cut it anymore. You may have to…get creative! Listen to your heart, your inner child and your inner imp. Check in with what you’re longing for, what’s calling to you that you haven’t allowed yourself to have because it’s too frivolous. Think guilty pleasures and stolen delights. People Magazine, black and white soft serve, country music, gospel choirs, blues sax, action adventure flicks, getting your nails painted pink and black, the art museum, a walk by the ocean, a psychic reading–I could go on, but you get the idea.

The harder this feels, the blanker your mind, the scarier and more impossible this is, the more you need it! If you’re really stuck, ask a friend who knows how to have fun to tutor you, or, as a last resort Google it. But then get off the computer and off your butt. This is an action step.

With a nod to a now defunct band comprised of friends of mine from the Boston days, Serious Fun is your assignment. Creative freedom is within reach.

To Nurture Your Creativity, Stop Focusing On Output

Focusing solely on creative output leads to burnout. You will run out of ideas as your flow becomes stagnant. Your inner gremlins will gain a foothold, and it will be difficult to push them back. Worse, you will forget who you are and instead run on who you used to be, and then wonder why it all seems so repetitive and uninspiring.

If this is you, it’s time to focus instead on feeding, nurturing and rediscovering your creative soul. You can think about this in terms of diet. What are you feeding your creative self? Do you even know what inspires and nurtures that part of yourself? Sometimes it’s a throwback or a constant and other times, it’ll be something brand new and surprising.

Continue reading To Nurture Your Creativity, Stop Focusing On Output

On Secrets, Vulnerability, and Untidy things

Hola lovelies,

You know how sometimes you find yourself doing things that seem to be vestiges of a prior set of priorities or a life you had but has now passed – except for this one thing? Maybe it’s a friendship you keep up that’s damned unlikely and doesn’t fit your narrative, or a habit you’ve clung to, or, in my case a couple hours a week of a job that I keep saying I’m done with!

Continue reading On Secrets, Vulnerability, and Untidy things

When It All Comes Together: Creative Homecomings

Hey there lovely people,

Well, it’s Sunday blog post time, and I think it’s high time I share with you the finished song that I started a couple of weeks ago. I posted about it here, where I talked about my process.

The big hang-up with this one was that after I’d gotten all the juicy data about various kinds of cells’ lifespans, I didn’t know how to elevate the whole thing to the level of something of a metaphor about life.  That’s my favorite kind of lyric, a combination of literal and metaphorical. This is how I see life, and it tickles my word nerd and philosophical sensibilities.

Continue reading When It All Comes Together: Creative Homecomings