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!

Do You Know These Secrets of Creative Alchemy?

magic formula or magic trick?

We Earthbound Creatives often feel the enormous gulf between the magical alignment with our creative flow that we long for and where we are now on our creative path. Getting to alignment doesn’t take sleight of hand so much as it takes knowing some of the manifesting secrets that creatives have used through time. This list isn’t exhaustive, but it does touch on the major points: claim your truth, have a daily practice, create a magical space, and, beware the Devil’s bargain. Instead, strike a good bargain with the loving Universe, which is totally on your side.

 1. Ritual = Regular Intervals(time+place+purpose).

Each moment is an intersection of time + place + purpose. What makes it a ritual is you repeat it, keeping time (when and for how long), place and purpose the same. I’ve often written here about the power of daily writing, but only seldom have I spoken of the magic of my writing space. Now, before you imagine that I have your idea of the perfect writing space, let me tell you that half the room is filled with cartons and piles, and the corners are stacked with stuff. It was designed to be a bedroom and has an entire wall of closets. The closets are filled with winter coats and boxes of photographs and my supplies for mailing and packaging, art supplies, musical instruments and my five 25-quart plastic bins full of notebooks. So it’s not a pristine, distraction-free oasis.

But my little writing space within the room seems to magnetize me to the chair the moment I enter. To be specific, it’s the objects on my writing table that pull me in so powerfully.

2. Visual cues+placement = magnetic.

Creativity Ritual Visual Magnetic

My writing table. It’s not a table I sit at to write. It’s next to the chair where I write. To my left is a large desk that holds current projects, notebooks and pens. My writing table is a short, round, carved side table to my right that holds treasures plus an electric gadget that keeps my coffee warm. On my table is a collection of meaningless, seemingly useless objects that are nonetheless mysterious and beautiful. They’re not refuse or afterthoughts. They’re placed there on purpose.

The stones, shells and shards have more intrinsic mystery than any meaning I might assign to them. Even the items that have meaning to me–my father’s dog tags from the Army, the candle of St. Bridget from a drum circle, the strips of fabric from a fire ceremony–have new things to reveal. I have to be present each time I sit. I can’t come to the same conclusions about them, nor should I assign a static meaning to my objects, for that is anti-creative, anti-this moment, and closes off other possibilities. If they can grow and transform, then so can I.

Something so physically static can be an invitation to open up and approach the precipice. This transmission of possibility and potential, of mystery and transformation, this invitation to lean over and fall, happens in a second. As I’m situating myself on my writing chair, pushing up on its arms to raise my body so I can fold my legs under me, I put a pillow on my lap and pick up my pen and notebook. I glance at the objects and begin covering paper with squiggles.

The objects then become witness to my process. The safest witness. The kind that sees all and judges nothing and doesn’t move, but remains present. The kind that reveals and reveals and reveals the more I reveal. My process becomes as trustworthy as their presence. I write my way to the truth that my objects embody. We are all pieces of a whole.

3. Illusion+Truth = Truth

I made a deal with the Universe today. I don’t usually make deals with the Universe. I don’t usually have a thing that I’m willing to give or get, a clear trade, a win-win intention, but today it was clear as clear: “Universe, if I write, will you keep sending me paying gigs?” By that I meant, if I write first thing, in ernest, as if that’s who I am and what I do, if I am that, if I give everything to it, will you respond with love as you always do? And in that moment, I wanted nothing more than to get to the writing, right then and stay there, where I belong. I knew it. I said it. It is so.

This is the complete opposite of a devil’s bargain. Opposite in every way. First, it’s not the devil, it’s God. Let’s say, in case you’re a holist like me, it’s the good side of God. This is important, because the Force is the Force. You can summon up Its power to destroy or create. What do you long to create? What are you willing to destroy in order to create that? In my case, in that moment, my wisdom spoke to me of destroying the illusion that there is something else I have to do first, that there is some more urgent way to spend my time, some way to make money, some way to take care of every last thing before I can sit down to it.

But the illusion was easy to destroy. It fell right over and became a nothing, because illusions cannot stand up to truth. And truth is something you can speak at any time. You have to keep speaking it until you drill down into its core, getting closer and closer to its essence each time. The only way to fail at this is to stop speaking the truth. Because when you get there, it won’t matter how much time it took and how many false truths you slept with. Because time is collapsible, and because the Universe is kind. And because truth is power.

4. Truth+Action = Efficiency

This is not a devil’s bargain because rather than selling my soul I’m claiming it. Because I didn’t ask for ideas of ways to make money, or promise to do anything as long as there’s enough money, or any of the other ways I could tell the Universe, “I’ll be what you want me to be as long as you give me money.” I also didn’t tell the Universe, “I’m willing to wait to be alive and to fulfill my god-given dreams, as long as you give me money.” I also didn’t say, “You know, I love all this stuff you’ve given me, so I’m okay doing without the one thing I love and desire the most.”

Why would the Universe agree to such a thing?

Instead I finally heard and felt the urgency and spoke urgently, acknowledging what the Universe has been trying to tell me all along: You can avoid this, you can skirt it, you can set up elaborate systems and trade this for that, you can keep making sand castles with different colored buckets, but I will always be there, ready to help you, as soon as you decide to trust yourself. As soon as you are able to say the words, “I must write”–and for you, dear reader, what is it that you must do?–I will help you make the best deal possible. Because the Universe is efficient.

5. Desire+Inaction = Exhaustion

Keeping a Devil’s bargain usually entails a lot of wasted effort. The effort of avoiding, resisting, ignoring and pretending is enormous. We are never fully at rest, and never fully invested in what we are doing. We are forever searching outside ourselves for the magic formula and the answer to our neverending need. We are constantly mourning for a self yet-to-be while fertively checking that the flame of our desire hasn’t gone out. We are more identified with wanting than with our dream. We know more about being scared than getting through a difficult pass.

We have no idea that opening the door takes only an instant. We’d rather sacrifice our very soul than anger anyone or otherwise upset the apple cart of our daily lives, the very things we need to do in order to render the bargain we’ve already made null and void.

6. Discipline = Freedom

So, yes, the writing table, and yes, the daily writing. Yes, the walking to the precipice and the falling. Yes, yes, yes, to all of that. But also, this: It’s taken me all of a gorgeous, sunny July day in Maine to write this article. We don’t get that many gorgeous, sunny days. Not this year. I should be out on the lake or gardening. Visiting with summer friends, taking a walk and hunting for wild raspberries.

But I’m writing by an open window, and I’m dreaming of ice cream. I’m writing because I gave my word this morning and because it matters to me. There are people out there turning 70 and 80 who are too scared of failing to let themselves express and create what’s in their hearts. And that’s the funny thing about these bargains we make. There is no guarantee that our dream will “come true” should we strike that bargain with the Universe and say, “I’m in! Send angels.”

But, my dearest readers, there is a guarantee if you strike the other bargain. And if you have, you are living it now, and what kind of certaintly would you be willing to trade for a day of creative alchemy?

Notice I said, alchemy, not fulfillment, or goals met, or accollades or anything like that. There are no guarantees. This is important to know. So that you begin with the right intentions and don’t fool yourself about an end goal that will make it all worthwhile. The stones on my table are not hoping to become boulders. The sun is setting. I have nothing to show for myself. The efforts of today will be published online and maybe 100 people will read my words.

When you decide that creating is essential to you, you will get rewards and blessings you cannot imagine from your present vantage point. Instead of navigating yet another cul-de-sac or wrong turn on the path of hoping to not get too hurt, this is where your feet are on the path, pounding their way inexorably home. You might even be whistling. Unless you’re having ice cream.

7. Heart’s Desire+Universe Sending Angels = ?

This is one only you can complete, dear reader. Here’s your chance to forge the bargain of your dreams:

Universe, If I (your heart’s desire)_________________, will you (your equivalent of sending angels)_________________________ ?

After you’ve made your bargain, download my free ebook, 30 Day Creativity Breakthrough. It’s a practical guide to getting started.

finding your way home to create

What Do You Want to Create Today?


Midweek Update:

My brain is in distract mode. I’m flitting from FB to researching things to do/eat/enjoy in Portland. I’m paying bills, answering emails. The email discussion is about consciousness for Pete’s sake. Last night I dreamt my Dad was driving with his shirt off. He was very happy. It was warm out. He doesn’t visit very often, but I’m glad he visited last night. I woke up thinking, I’m not ready for another person to die. I wanted to write letters to everyone. This is my letter. I love you. You matter more than you’ll ever know, more than I can ever say. Those stupid thumbs up and smilies, shares and comments, it’s just evidence that you’re out there. In some ways, it’s evidence that I’m here, too. I also talked with real people on the phone. I ate cookies. I worked on the outline for my writing program and created a separate document, a task list, and one of the categories ended up being “wildest dreams!” On a task list! But, yeah, I want to have a retreat once a year where writers in my program, current, future and graduates, get together and deep dive into this crazy journey of creatively living, expressing and coming out of the closet as who we are. And I want to send little gift baskets every 6 weeks or so, like real ones, in the mail, to my clients who are slaving away at their books. Hand cream, buckwheat pillows, comics, coupons. I might as well pour my heart into this, because I’m creating it, and I get to say how it goes. Where else can we do that? That’s why I’ve started saying, “What do I want to create today?” instead of “There’s no money coming in!” at the beginning of every day. Both create the life that I live, and only one creates the life I want to be living. I stayed in my P.J’s all day. I’m going to shower and change before bed, though. Do you know what matters? Me neither. But I trust that if I follow my gut ruthlessly and quickly and listen for the instinct that comes before I have a chance to understand it….You know something? It takes practice to create. To really catch that impulse and be true to it and not try to make it all neat and just like something that already is. It’s such a simple thing. None of it is complicated. But, jeez, the training we have to undo in order to be able to be true to the creative, expressive impulse that’s within in us. So, I give myself a pass on the P.J.’s and the cookies. I created something today. I loved today. I connected, and I laughed at myself. I figure this puts me in the top 5%.  How blessed and lucky is that? How lucky and blessed do you want to be? What do you want to create today?


Your Book: Get Started by Learning to Break Some Rules

Let’s forget for a moment the inevitable blank page. It’s the blank page that scares you, isn’t it, when you think about finally sitting down to tell something?


Well let me scare you a little bit more.

What it really takes to get started filling blank page after blank page is wasting paper, using up pens, being selfish, amounting to nothing and wasting lots and lots of time. These are the sins you have to get used to committing every single day.

I use these words deliberately, because they are the right words, and because you have to become desensitized to the very things that have kept you in check, kept you from making mistakes, kept you from costing anybody anything, from wasting, from looking bad and from failing.


Creativity is wasteful. And being willfully wasteful means being willing to make mistakes and to throw things out if they’re not right. Being true to a vision means starting over again and again. It means approximating. Failing. Giving up. Trying again.

To fill that blank page, to ruin its perfect blankness, you have to be willing to fail utterly, miserably and totally. Failure has to lose its sting and hold over you. Perfection has to lose its appeal. The blank page is perfect. Perfect doesn’t get you anywhere.

What gets you somewhere is courage. Perversity. Stubbornness. Frustration. Desperation.

Creativity means living in the reality that there’s a never-ending supply of words, concepts, colors, modes of expression, truths, stories, moments, time (and pens) with which to make your statement. It is an act of faith.


What really stops you is that you don’t believe and trust that a never-ending supply will be routed to you, that the invisible pipe-layers of creativity will notice and make sure the plethora opens to you.

Filling the blank page means doing it anyway,  even if they forget you, even if no one listens, even if the plethora dried up and nobody told you. It is finding it within yourself to be more than you think you are, to be the supply if you have to.

Uncle Bob used to tell the story of his father sitting on the back step opening watermelons one by one and tossing them aside it they weren’t just right. You know what happened to that pile of watermelons Uncle Bob’s father threw aside? They rotted and became dirt. Which grew more watermelons, or tomatoes, or squash, or peppers. Or daisies, or grass. Which fed people and bees and birds and creatures, which by now have all died and become dirt and have fed others and on and on and on.

This is life. To create recklessly means to be part of the great, messy, sometimes rotting cycle of life. Underneath the pavement, where the dirt is. Underneath what’s underneath.


Messy, reckless, heedless, wasteful, sloppy, selfish and useless. Whether they’re aware of it or not, this is the portal each creative person passes through on the way to producing the finished product you consume. You consume it whole, and it goes down easily. It’s perfect. You assume it was born that way.

But know that it wasn’t.

Quickly, or effortlessly, consciously or un-, or bit by bit, every person who’s ever created something has had to say it’s okay to break the inner rules of decorum in order to get something down, in order to begin.

Are you willing to be messy, reckless, heedless, wasteful, sloppy, selfish and useless? Are you willing to waste time and risk failing? Are you willing to do something courageous and difficult, lacking faith, evidence, experience? What matters is the impetus to create, to tell something. It doesn’t matter one iota whether you succeed on the first try or the millionth, or never succeed at all.

But today’s lesson is that you will never get to either one if you don’t allow yourself to begin.

Exercise: Get out a blank piece of paper and several pens. Unlined paper is best, but lined will do. If it’s lined, turn it 90 degrees so the lines go up and down. Now sully the paper. It doesn’t matter how. Words, lines, doodles, shapes, scratches, blobs. Mess up the whole thing. Make it awful. Make it utter trash. When you’re done ruining it, ball it up and throw it away.

Caution: You might fall in love with what you’ve produced. It’s entirely up to you what to do with it in that case. I have no advice for that. You’ve entered the most sacred and private, personal and quirky place of all. If this happens, take time to be with the experience. Because what you keep from that is no longer on the page. It’s inside you. Forever.

The two reasons I advocate writing every day are so it becomes easy to waste the paper, time, ink and effort, and to strengthen that holy bond between creative impulse and creative effort.

Stay tuned for lesson two.





Photo credits: All except the pens are from, and if you click on the photo, the name of the photographer will be in your browser bar. Photo of pen graveyard: Phyllis Capanna.

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Your Year to Write Dangerously?

Hello Dear Reader,

Have you ever suspected, as I have, that your most important offering to the world is not what you do or what you’re good at, but who you are?

Probably my biggest internal shift in life occured when I realized that who I am is what I’ve got, and I’d better quickly become comfortable and clever at using that as my number one tool, point of connection with you, and calling card.

“Give up tryin’ to be a better person
And concentrate on gettin’ you down right.”*

As holistic entrepreneurs and practitioners, who we are is our most potent, unique and stunning gift. How we see the world, what what we create out of that, those are what people want when they seek us out. The trouble is, we don’t know the power of who we are, and therefore, we don’t really know, in a deep way, what the power of our gift is to others.


What started me on this road of coaching folks like us was the thunder strike that finding one’s niche – that beautiful place in the ecosystem of life where we are where we should be, doing what we should be doing, as only we can, where we are of the most benefit – AKA homeis the key to having everything one does make sense. Not only inside us but also within the context of the wider world. It’s where our inherent value cannot be denied. It’s the exact opposite and converse – the antidote, if you will – to searching for meaning, purpose and validation outside of ourselves.

This is what I’d do if I were God:
I’d let the secret out about the rules,
Write them out real big so everyone could see,
And make them the curriculum in schools.

Not only are we the change we wish to see in the world, but we are the journey and the destination of our whole life’s work.


I know this makes some people cringe. Really, I get it. Not everyone is or wants to be their own journey. But it is a legitimate life path to use the inward journey as the classroom for learning about life and consciousness and mastering the inner landscape of personhood.

I chose a long time ago to respect this strong inward pull, and I committed to it for good.  And the highest good I could conceive of was, and is, that I am made this way for a reason.

Not that I’d be an angry God, but I’d command respect,
Offerings, obedience and awe.
I’d make it clear that I was not a laissez-faire type of God,
Set it all in motion, watch it fall.

No, I’m anything but laissez-faire. I’m controlling, OCD and tense. Because I care. Immensely. I know you do, too.

And I know that means you’re struggling right now. We’ve had what my favorite philosopher-astrologer calls a shock event. He says the astrology of our time is “all bets are off.” This is what I’m struggling with the most. How do I go on being me, when all bets are off?

What if being me is suddenly irrelevant, or worse, insufficient for the times?

And that, my friend, is the end to my ready answers and plum philosophy. But that won’t stop me from being me and from plunging ahead in my journey. Also, I’m perversely determined to be sufficient by hewing even more closely to my path.

I guess this means I am a person of trust and faith and integrity. And possibly I’m foolish and insufficient. I’m no more prepared for the these times than you.


But I do have lots of practice showing up on the page, writing my story daily, and stubbornly being me. I’ll bet you have at least 2 of those 3.

We must tell our stories. As healers, as people. As seekers. As heroes and soon-to-be heroes. We must try to understand, to touch, to experience the nature of our power.

We must pick up, turn over, caress and examine every piece of the fractured thing we call our lives, and understand where we’ve come from, and own it all, the dirty truth, the not-so-truth we told ourselves, the all of it.

We must tell our stories, because they inspire others to LIVE theirs. And to see themselves as heroes, healers, and, above all, part of the global fabric of humanity. Because this will save us.

I’ve declared 2017 the year of the book. The book of your life. The book of our lives. The story we live, the redemption we fashion from being alive, true, stupid, halting, imperfect, slow and REAL. After this political debacle we witnessed way up close in our neurons, don’t you just adore and worship and crave REAL?


We can’t hide any more. We can’t pretend we’re terribly different, unique, strange, odd, or even enlightened. We have to be unpretentiously human, tell the story of how we got here, who we are, why we care, how we care, and invite others into their own truths. We have to start living the reality that we are one, we are connected, we are cousins, we are the same creature. We have to break down the falsehoods and lies of division any way we can.

Me, I write. I tell who I am and help you to know who you are.

How about you? Do you feel a burning inside to inspire others with your story, to tell something true and painful and make tears spring out and heart melt? To change lives?

Do you want to make 2017 the year of YOUR book?


As a holistic entrepreneur, having a book is a huge asset to your business. It allows you to be seen. It allows others to know you and inspires them to seek you out. It gives you credibility and helps you stand out in the marketplace. Once you’ve written your book, you will have a voice, a message, and a means for reaching people powerfully.

And the process of writing that book is a transformational one. It’s the process of reviewing, telling, and seeing what your life and work have been about and at last expressing your inspiring message.

Join me for a year of writing, honing, telling, re-telling, and understanding the story you want to tell. The story that will help your people connect with you and with themselves. I’ll show you how I write every day and how to listen deeply. I’ll show you how to listen to others’ listening of you, so that you can hear what they hear.

I’ll guide you through editing, rewriting, organizing and re-editing. I’ll even guide you through readying your manuscript for publication as an ebook or in print.

Can’t write?

Can’t get started?

Not a techie?

Never finish?

Afraid to have your stuff seen/read/heard?

Nothing to tell?

There are some things you’ll have to master and overcome, my friend. You will have to learn to tell, to listen, to hear. You will have to learn some tech. You will have to confront the terror of beginning, the let-down of finishing, and the exaltation of being seen. And then you will shrink back down to normal and just be you, with your story no longer a secret, with a beautiful book in your hands, to use as your calling card, marketing tool, point of connection, or codification of your very own healing technique.


Oh, the investment. Oh, the time. Oh, the growth.

And, oh, the support you will have! This is the number two reason why books don’t get finished. When you’re tempted to give up, when you reach a roadblock, when you truly have a mind-scramble, I will be there to help you navigate through and keep your momentum going, until you reach the finish.

Oh the beauty that is completion.

Farmers Mkt Blog photo

To all of this, the wild struggle that’s just been born in you who’ve read these words and inwardly responded with “Yes!”, the shrinking back while straining forward, the moistened eye, and the quickened heart, I say in response my own deep and loving, welcoming and wholly unreserved, “Yes!”

To stay in the loop, subscribe to these posts and join my merry mailing list for ongoing love to inspire you and keep you from turning your back on your most powerful asset: You.


*Lyrics quoted in this piece are from a song entitled This Is What I’d Do If I Were God, ©1992 by Phyllis Capanna

Photo credits: jay feathers on stump by mirabbi. Nalazek (dreamy path) by utoplec. Notebook by Dianne Hope, photoshopped by Phyllis Capanna. Woman with amazing headdress by rikken. Graffiti woman by Henrique Bastos. Girl Standing on Hands by Jessica Gale. All photos via, a splendid open source resource of photos for creatives.

I Might Have What It Takes

PaperTooBigTrashyPens (1)

Finally, at the end of the day, on 10 x14 watercolor paper, with a handful of unfamiliar, trashy pens, too tired to resist, I sit down to write. Until now I’ve been pushing words out of me like that hot air gust in the doorway of a department store in the city. Pushing it out, pushing it out, that kind of writing. The kind where I have to make up something to say, just to be able to say I am writing. That’s the perspiration part of the creative craft.

What’s been missing is inspiration. And while it’s foolish (and impossible) to wait for inspiration, it is possible and sometimes necessarily to arrange for some. During my three week dry spell, I filled my life with experience. Not artist dates, not soulful hot baths or solitary treks in the woods. Experience. I threw myself into a community project that seemed to need me. Both the throwing and the project stirred up so much in me that I finally was driven to the page to express myself. Then all I had to do was listen and get it down.

Here’s my week: I spent four days cleaning out a local foods market that went out of business. I was on the board of directors, part of the group that had been helpless to do anything but watch it fail. A latecomer to the process, I still don’t know the whole story of why it failed, but I now know many other useful things to take with me going forward.

I know that I love being in food stores around foodies, hearing the stories of passion and commitment to produce sustaining and sustainable foods right here in the dirt we build our houses on. Those people are still here even as the store is closing its doors. There is still a need for a central community space for us to meet and inspire each other and work together to heal and strengthen our shared place.

On day two of this extravaganza of clearing and wheeling and dealing, of organizing and connecting people to things they needed, of trying to make things right in any way at hand, of being there and being the person everyone came to for direction and decision, before I could stop myself I blurted out to two other board members as we sorted through craft items and spice jars, “I could have managed this store.”

And I would have had fun doing it. And I would have allowed others to help me. I would have said yes to anyone who had an idea they wanted to bring to the community space. I would have said yes to baking heritage wheat bread, yes to having groups of school kids coming in and making pastry dough, yes to people using the basement for a meeting space, yes to health clinics, yes to political meetings, yes to business lunches. I would have picked a few staples items that customers could count on and always have them in stock. I would have told the Board we needed volunteers and welcomed them.

Why did I not step up? Because I didn’t hear the call until that moment, closing it down. I didn’t fully understand the strength and resources of the community until I met them coming in to pay their last respects and to shake their heads and ask their questions and voice their disappointment. And I didn’t fully know who I was capable of being or where my inspiration would come from until I found myself having fun in the midst of that great failure.

It might have turned out differently. I might have hated and regretted every minute of that herculean effort. I might have said to my partner, “Next time I’m about to volunteer for something like this, remind how much I’ve hated this.” But instead I said to myself, “Keep your antennae tuned for the next great possibility for this amazing community, because when the idea strikes, you’re going to have what it takes to pull it off.”

R.I.P. Barrels Community Market. You started something good in me, no doubt in others, too. May we overcome our brief defeat, learn from our mistakes and have the courage to create more wonderful, living things from what we have been given.

Artist Unknown
Artist Unknown

Where Your Creative Life Begins

Thanks to every one of my faithful readers who responded to my recent survey. I learned that many struggle with finding time to create and trusting themselves enough to actually do it. I also learned that nobody likes the word struggle. Into my third week of not writing anything but my weekly blog post and my morning pages, I was asked by my partner, “Are you on strike from writing?”

Well, hmmm. Striking is a way of saying I won’t go back on the job until my working conditions improve. Which is funny, considering I am the boss. Okay, so what exactly is going on? Easy. Fear. Fear of having a gaping silent blackness where ideas should be. Also fear of tapping into a live vein of creative gold and having to make good on my commitment to see it through to completion.

An old story.

But what is going on right this minute is that I am protesting the power of that centuries old story by writing. I am exercising my power to express and publish, perhaps to influence, maybe to find like souls and comrades, certainly to find myself–in direct opposition to and defiance of a virtual riptide of silence fed by this fear of the results of my work.

I am aware that to some I haven’t changed a thing by writing today. But to me–and to you, if you pick up your brush, pen, guitar, knitting needles, measuring spoons, the telephone, your sneakers and do something with them–the whole world has opened.

Back when I lived in Massachusetts, I walked to work every day, a couple of miles through the hilly streets of Somerville to my job at the hippest health food store in Cambridge. One day I noticed some broken pieces of blue glass on the sidewalk. For a couple of weeks I walked by those cobalt shards. One day I stooped to examine them. I loved the color. I gathered them up and stuck them in my pocket.  When I told that to my boyfriend at the time, he said, “Congratulations, you’ve joined the human race.”

Since then, little by little, I have let myself love things and have them, little trinkets I find, simply because they delight me. Does it mean I am to be a collage artist? Does it mean I am this or that, or will it make me write better, or get me money to pay my rent?

Nope. It means I listened to myself. To my soul. It means I learned something about how to delight myself. And how not to. It means I overcame something that prohibited me from having simple pleasure. Perhaps it was a belief in “too good to be true.” Or maybe it was a decision I made unconsciously not to “indulge” myself, because frivolous is bad and serious is good.

It also means that now when I sit down to write, I listen to myself. I don’t just keep on walking. I stop. I stoop down. I inspect. I pick it up. I write it down. Every time I do that is a victory.

“Struggle” isn’t recognized for what it is, because in us artists it is silent. It’s not like there’s a fist fight going on, right?

Oh there’s that word artist again. Did you just check out? Okay, in recovery we say people don’t end up here by accident. So if you’re reading this, if it’s feeding you, if you feel what I am talking about, then perhaps you belong here. And if you belong here, then perhaps you are an artist. Perhaps you have an artist’s soul. Perhaps it’s your idea of what an artist is that is keeping you from listening to those precious yearnings.

I was going to do a mock info-graphic, as many blogging experts say help to get readers. It was going to look like this:

Got 5 minutes? Yes/No

Got something to write with? Yes/No

Got a blank piece of paper? Yes/No

For each no, get it to yes. Then sit down and write your struggle down. That’s right. Pick up the cobalt shards, but also write about what you had to overcome to have them. Listen to the sweet strains of your own song, but also sing about how rusty and out of touch you feel. Of course it’s not brilliant, complete, practiced, polished, recognizable yet. It’s just getting to breathe and be. This is the time when those first two cells find each other. Deep in the darkest of empty places, this is where life–your life–begins.

©2015 Phyllis Capanna
©2015 Phyllis Capanna

The Writer's Notebook: When the Problem Isn't the Problem

The notebook in question
The notebook in question

Well, some weeks you have it and some you don’t. The week before last, I hit the ground running after my writing class and wrote every day on a new project I’ve started. On the 7th day I kept my butt in the chair for the full hour. (It still counts even if the last 5 minutes are spent writing something like this: “Oh fuck oh fuck I can’t believe there’s a whole 5 minutes left of this torture!”)

Then last Tuesday in class, I decided to read an essay from this blog, instead of the piece I’d been working on. On Wednesday and Thursday, I let other things be more important than writing. After all, I’d done so much the week before. On Friday I decided I felt like typing up the last week’s writing. I’d taken enough of a break. Except, I couldn’t find the notebook that I had written everything in.

I spent literally days looking for it. (Literally literally, not figuratively literally) I began to feel like Samson with a buzz cut. Weak. I felt lost, betrayed almost. I not only wasn’t typing, I also wasn’t writing. I wrote zero days last week. I did no writing on any of my projects. Nothing for class, nothing on my books, no ebook giveaways, nothing.

Even after I found my notebook.

Looking back on the whole experience I see this: In writing class, my essay was well received. Suggestions were made for magazines that might be interested in it. I did some research and found one that looked like a fit. Since they preferred essays that haven’t been previously published, I set my sights on writing something brand new for them.

Then I lost my notebook. I also lost my will to write. I couldn’t conjure up the image I sometimes use to motivate myself:  stuck somewhere without paper and wanting so badly to be able to write. The thought of writing in another notebook knocked quietly at my consciousness. I dismissed it with the convoluted logic that if I did that I’d forget to keep looking for the lost notebook and it would be lost forever. That option was the logical, emotionally neutral option that just didn’t honor the turmoil I was feeling.

It was not an option because the lost notebook was not really the problem.

I was scared. I was intimidated by the whole idea of writing, submitting and…begin rejected. It has been since college that I’ve submitted anything for someone else to publish. Every single thing I’ve ever told anyone else about writing flew out the window: I worried about what to write about. I anticipated failure. I cared that I wouldn’t measure up.

When I went to class yesterday, I read the stuff I’d worked on two weeks ago. My attempt at fiction was received kindly, but it wasn’t a hit. It didn’t deserve to be. It was rough and awkward. It was a nucleus of something. And like all seeds, it does not resemble what it will become.

I made myself tell the class I was planning to write something new for the magazine submission so that I’d do it.

Some weeks you have it, and some weeks you don’t. Some days you write, and some days you think about writing. Some days you’re scared and it doesn’t feel like fear. It feels like the wind has died, and you’re adrift. You’ve given up hope of getting rescued. And you’ve forgotten all about the possibility that another wind might come to fill your sails.

photo by 99pixel courtesy of
photo by 99pixel courtesy of

How I Developed a Daily Writing Routine

It isn’t complicated, but it can be challenging. To develop any daily habit, all you gotta do is do it every day. Here’s how I got there.

Start First Thing in the Morning

I fill three pages every day. I have a big cup of strong, hot, perfect coffee in my right hand and a pen in my left. (Reverse this if you are a righty.) I start first thing. It’s the only way for me. If I start my day with other more pressing things, promising I’ll get to the writing later, my day gets away from me completely.

When I was working full time, I trained myself to get up a half hour earlier on work days. I found that writing before work settled and grounded me. It gave me a place to discover what was really going on with me and to work out solutions. My relationship with the notebook has always been a sacred place where I can say anything.

If You Miss a Morning, Write After Work

On mornings I didn’t manage to write, I felt the difference. I came home and wrote the three pages after work. No longer off kilter, I went on to have an evening. This is how I learned the value of morning writing.

Don’t Worry About What You Are Writing

For years and years, I didn’t worry about what I was writing. I didn’t try to write a particular thing. I used writing to know myself, to be in the world, to find my voice, and to grow. My daily practice was the best way I could demonstrate my commitment to becoming the person I was meant to be. It just happened that that person was to be a writer. The value would have been the same if I had become a scientist, illustrator, mother, or chef.

Another Approach

If you want to work your way into waking up a half hour earlier and writing three pages, try this:

Start in the Morning But Write for a Shorter Time

Wake up 15 minutes early, sit up in bed, set a timer, and write stream of consciousness until the timer dings, then go about your day. (Okay, you can go to the bathroom first.)

Spread It Out Over the Whole Day

Bring a small notebook to work and do 5 minutes of timed writing at lunch somewhere where you will not be disturbed–in the car, in the bathroom, in a park, in a closet. Take another 5 minutes after dinner when everyone is re-grouping, figuring out what to watch on TV, or doing homework. I would do this 5 minutes of writing before doing the dishes. Just pretend you’re having an urgent call of nature, and lock yourself in the bathroom (with a timer, of course!) Then write for 15 minutes again before bed.

A Cumulative Effect

The next morning, your writing will be less cluttered with the previous day’s muck, because you will have dealt with some of that the night before. So just write and let whatever comes, come. Do the same routine each day, working up to 30 minutes in the morning, 5 minutes during the workday, another 5 after dinner, and 30 before bed.

See where that takes you.

And, yes, in about a week, read it all back if you want to, but don’t feel obligated.

Some Common Experiences

Anything can happen, but these are the three biggies.

Suddenly everything else in the world seems more interesting than writing.

There’s almost nothing like making a commitment to make everything else suddenly show up in bold relief, too. Why, you could choose to commit to working out in the morning. You could grab 5 minutes and read a novel. You could send everyone off to homework and surf Facebook for a while.

What to do: Write anyway. Just for one day, put writing first. If you don’t feel accomplished, exhilarated and/or intrigued, then maybe this writing thing wasn’t that important anyway. That’s just fine. But give yourself the chance to know from experience rather than giving yourself permission to avoid and resist, two thinly disguised forms of sabotage.

Out-of-nowhere brainstorms and inspirations

There you are, eyes half shut, writing mindlessly away when suddenly the solution to world peace, what to serve for the dinner guests on Friday, or how to alter that favorite shirt of your honey’s comes flashing onto the page. Or you find yourself writing something like, “I think I should commemorate my fiftieth birthday by learning to skydive.”

What to do: Grab it and write it down. Ride those ideas until they are spent. Then, if the timer hasn’t gone off, quickly underline or put a star there in the margin and keep going.

Big, empty, dry places in which it appears you have nothing to say

What to do: Describe the place you are in. It feels like I have nothing to say, for example. Having nothing to say feels how? Feeling that way feels how? It reminds me of the time___I wish I felt ___. Just keep going, writing your experience now and now and now, being patient, kind, accepting and safe with yourself.

Be a Safe Person To Write For

You must be the ultimate safe listener for yourself. You must not edit as you write. This is not English class. You will naturally judge, label and analyze yourself. Write that down, too: I feel like I am the last to know. I should have gotten this already. How backward and clueless. Etc. But even that must not throw you off your writing. Write through it and onto the next thing. And there will be a next thing.

Expect To Hit Strong Feelings

When I started free writing and morning pages, I thought I would never come to the end of the self-deprecation. I had tapped a lifetime of pent-up feelings that had never been acknowledged or named. I had never had the means to know them. I had to allow them to come out. It was like pulling a shard of glass out of my finger.

And then it was over. I was conversational with myself. I started to discover a voice in there, a sensibility, preferences, a world view, a particular and unique person, neither perfect nor defective, but human. I discovered my humanity by writing down everything that was inside me. Those reams of negativity, while I wouldn’t go back and read them today, are precious to me. They represent the painful birthing of a person. They record the process of becoming real to myself.

Expect Your Life To Change

This process lead directly to my getting off drugs and into recovery. Even a stoner can see, with infinite repetition, that some patterns are just not changing. I remember the morning when it happened. I woke up right there on the page. I recorded the moment when I realized daily drug use was making me come unhinged. It was a wake-up I hope I never forget.

If You Feel You Are In A Rut

The biggest pitfall of the writing life that I know is having the writing routine become a lifeless rut. It is possible to become glib and fool yourself into believing you’re still growing when what you really are doing is vamping.

What to do: Give yourself something new to master. Get out your writing bucket list, and pick a new goal. Right now, I am adding an hour of writing fiction to my routine, and I am taking my first writing class since college. Get into an uncomfortable place. After years of writing, it won’t scare you to be uncomfortable. You will have developed trust and strength. You will anticipate, rightly, that your new project will yield you new openings, greater self esteem and the familiar feeling of “Hey, I’m flying!”

How about you? Do you have a writing routine? What do you do? How did you get started? I would love to hear about YOU in the comments.

With love,


Thank you for stopping by! I hope you enjoyed today’s post.

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by Phyllis Capanna © 2015 joyreport

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Surrender. That is, write.

Honestly, if all the good Lordess gives me in this entire life is loads and loads of time and space, endless blank notebooks and bottles of Mont Blanc ink, a roof over my head, food, great friends, and music, I think I will be able to forgive the decidedly sparse flow of money.

So what if I’m having an endless adolescence. It’s my first adolescence actually awake, and I’m enjoying flopping about freely as I should have done when I was 12 through 20 but didn’t because I was too busy sleepwalking and keeping myself from dissolving from anxiety and grief and confusion and terror. And then came drugs. Which solved everything. For a while.

Anyway, that’s an old story. Today’s story is just fine with me:

I uploaded to Createspace the Soul Messages Workbook: The  Complete Course in Developing Your Own Inspiration Oracle Cards. I also purchased a block of 10 ISBNs. How’s that for throwing your hat over the wall?

I began a new story. I won’t call it a novel, but it’s an idea I’ve been playing with, and I started it today, because:

I started a new writing class–as a student. Last night was the first meeting, and of course you have to admit to things like goals, so I have been given the assignment of starting that story. Fiction being my scary new kind of writing. Does anyone else totally idolize things they aspire to but feel incompetent to accomplish? Right now I feel like anyone who’s ever written a fiction anything is a god.

So, I missed my Wednesday posting time, and I’m doing it now, at 11 p.m. Has anyone else noticed that everybody who’s selling something has a deadline of midnight tonight, September 30? I’m trying to decide whether to subscribe to an online coaching/biz community for witchy woo-woos like me.

So here’s the thing: The whole time I was working on the files for the Workbook, buying the ISBNs, perfecting the cover, converting to pdf, proofreading, learning Pages 5 on my Mac, etc., etc., etc., there was this voice in my heading saying I’m wasting my day just sitting on my butt. It wasn’t until I pulled out the blank page and started writing that story that that voice quieted. That voice is like error messages on the computer. You can’t always take them literally. They just mean something’s wrong. It’s still up to you to find out what it is.

Outside the rain came down in wild torrents, blown by the wind against the windows. Water came coursing down the dirt road that leads to the lake. My partner went out, as she does in every heavy rain, to scratch little pathways into the road for the water to drain into the woods instead of into the lake, where it would deposit residue from our cars. The cry of the loon makes us both look up, then at each other. That one thing is enough reason to go out in the rain and divert pollutants from the lake.

“Fiction is where you get to talk about what you want to talk about,” asserted my teacher last evening. “What do you want to talk about?” she asked me. I mumbled something about this place, the lake, my partner’s ancestors, the deep history here.

Is it possible I could let myself go into a story and a life that have exactly everything that’s right, in them already?

Tell me about your scary edges, and what you are avoiding. (Ooh, that reminds me of a great writing prompt. I think I’ll update the writing prompts page. Check it out.)

And one more thing: I just got up to bring my partner a towel, and for some reason remembered Mrs. Thomas, my 6th grade teacher. I’ve written about her back in the 30 Days of Joy days. But this is what I remembered tonight: She believed in me. Remember, somebody believed in you, probably still does.

With love,


Thank you for stopping by and reading. Please leave a comment or fill out the contact form if you would like to get in touch with me.

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by Phyllis Capanna © 2015 joyreport

All content is the sole property of Phyllis Capanna and joyreport. If you are reading this content on another site, it has been reposted without the author’s permission and is in violation of the DMCA.  © 2015 Phyllis Capanna