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!

5 Priceless Benefits of Writing Daily (Even If You're Not a Writer)

Hi everybody, it’s Phyllis here with part three in the video series about developing a daily writing practice. In the first video, I talked about the 5 essentials for getting started with writing, and in the second, I talked about how to make it a daily thing. In this video I’m going to talk about why. Why you should have a daily writing practice, how it will help you, even if you’re not a writer. A daily writing practice is a terrific tool, used by a many successful people all over the world.

One of the things about a daily writing practice is it forces you to prioritize you, your work, your dreams and your goals. Starting first thing in the morning with a half an hour or an hour, whatever you can do, of writing, re-prioritizes and organizes everything else in your life, and it makes sure that you actually get the time in for this project. And that’s the point of prioritizing: you get the time in that you need to spend, and you put this ahead of other things that might feel more urgent or that are just habitual. And when you prioritize what matters in your life, everything else just kind of takes care of itself. And if it doesn’t take care of itself, then maybe it just falls away. And that is what prioritizing is.

The classic pitfall is to say, “I’ll do this when I have extra time,” or “I’ll fit this in between X and Y,” and, as I’m sure you know, that doesn’t happen. So, in my book, prioritizing it first thing in the day and doing it every day are the two cornerstone habits for becoming effective in whatever it is that you’re trying to accomplish.

The second benefit of daily writing is that you actually find out what your real feelings, hopes and concerns are. You really find out, “Okay, this is what I really feel.” Not only what you’re excited about, and what your dreams, visions, goals and tasks are, but the other side: what you’re afraid about, what you don’t know how to do, this is why I’m not doing this, because of this obstacle, and you write about the obstacle. You find out what’s really going on, not the party line, not what you tell everybody else, but what’s really going on. And that can be anything. And it’s important to know. Everything is important to know, because the more information you can have about your process, the more you can master it.

The fundaments here, as a reminder, touched on in the other videos about how to keep this habit up and how to make it work for you, are: keep writing until the time is up, and to give yourself permission to say anything. That doesn’t mean that you have to do something about it. That’s important. This is a space for listening to yourself. It’s just like listening to somebody in a relationship: You don’t necessarily have to fix it, or do anything. It’s just important that you listen and that the other party feel heard. So, both parties are you, and it’s really important that you witness what’s really going on with you.

The third benefit to writing everyday is that it gives you access to solutions. This daily habit creates a well-worn pathway of communication between what’s inside you and what is out there: ideas, creativity, possibilities, and all the things that you have to draw on to fix and solve things, as well as irrational, unexplainable things like brainstorms and inspirations.

When you sit down and do the same thing everyday, whether it’s practicing the guitar, or writing, or woodworking, whatever those daily rituals are, you are creating a coherent field, a field of energy that gathers momentum, that has intelligence. You’re telling yourself, your unconscious and conscious mind and the Universe – whatever that means to you – that your intention is to sit down and create a laboratory where your dream and vision and business, whatever it is that you’re working on, comes to life. Writing everyday gives you access to solutions to the problems that you’re coming up with.

And just like you don’t have to solve every problem that you write about, you also don’t have to act on every solution that comes up. But if you’ve written it down, then you have it. You have a record of it. You have it. As I’ve said before, when I come up with something like that, I underline it and I put a star in the margin so it’s really easy for me to find it later. And if I’m really compulsive and organized about it, I might, when I go back, if I’ve acted on that, I might actually put a check mark next to it. So when I’m going into my notebook and kind of mining for some of those ideas and things I wanted to act on, if I see a checkmark, I can know that I don’t have to bother with it. It didn’t get left out, dropped out or forgotten.

The fourth benefit to daily practice is that it’s calming. In study after study after study, journaling is an adjunct to all sorts of therapies and is known to help everybody who uses it be more successful in whatever they do. So if it’s weight loss, keeping a journal will help you with that. If it’s post-traumatic stress disorder and trying to get a handle on the triggers, your feelings, your thoughts, journaling will help you with that. If it’s working toward a goal, like saving money or getting a degree, achieving something, learning something new, writing a book, starting a business, journaling helps you achieve that.

And one of the ways it helps is that it puts everything on paper, where it becomes more objectified and you can look at it as if it were someone else’s. You can just look at it more objectively. And when you gain that distance, you can start to see things that you couldn’t see when you were inside your emotional reactions to it. And then you can start to write different endings to the story, different solutions to the problems. You can just play with things. You can say, “Huh! If this person is having trouble with asking this other person out on a date, then maybe she needs to ask a friend to introduce them to each other. “ So, you can begin to gain some distance from things. And it’s calming because you’re not just inside roiling around inside your emotions. Or, expending all your energy into trying not to feel your feelings. You’re putting them down on paper. You’re doing something with them. It’s an action. It’s a powerful action.

The fifth benefit to daily writing is it helps you to change longstanding areas of stuck-ness. And I could probably write a book just on this fifth topic. I’ve been writing everyday for decades now and there are certain things that I’ve found myself writing over and over and over again. And I’m sure that’s not abnormal. I’m sure we all have things we are unhappy with, dissatisfied with, that we wish would change and don’t know what to do about, and we keep writing it down and keep writing it down and keep writing it down.

And the way this change happens is a couple of different ways: We see it. We begin to see, “Oh my goodness, I have this incredible stuck-ness. I have this thing that is just so big to me and it feels like it’s never going to change. And to be able to write about all those feelings, the discouragement, the hopelessness, the feeling alone with it, whatever it is, you can begin to see that there’s a remedy for that, there’s a remedy for feeling alone: I can talk to somebody about it. Maybe that’s a new idea.

The other thing that can happen is, you have eureka moments. You can see something that you didn’t see before. You just see it. That happened for me with my addiction. For years I thought I was helping myself. I thought I was managing my anxiety and depression by taking substances, because they seemed to help for a long time. They seemed to be helping for a long time, and then they stopped helping, and I was miserable. And it took me a while to figure out that, oh the reason I’m miserable now is, I’m taking these substances. And I had to write about that a lot before I could see it. But then I had a eureka moment about that, that this thing I thought was helping so much is actually hurting me.

The other kind of thing you write a lot about is things you feel you must do, the never-ending cosmic, lifelong to-do list. Again, when you see something over and over and over again, at some point you’re going to look at that and you’re going to say, “I’m going to get to the bottom of this, because I’m tired of writing this down, and I’m tired of having it take up space in my head. I’m tired of having this here, because it’s taking away from what I’m trying to accomplish in life. And the fact that I’m not doing it and feel that I should be, is a conflict that I’m going to deal with.”

And you’re going to deal with it in one of two ways. You’re going to realize it’s not really something you need to do at all. It’s just something somebody told you you need to do, or you really do need to do it, and you’re going to make a commitment and a plan get it handled and get it done. Those are the two possibilities there.

You could say, well I’m not going to write about this any more, but that’s not really realistic, and it’s self-defeating, because you’re trying to create a space where you see what is, where you see it in black and white, so that you can deal with it. And that’s ultimately a lot more powerful than saying, “This one topic is off limits because I’ve complained enough.” (Unless of course you’re just complaining for the thrill of it!)

So that’s it! Those are the five priceless benefits of having a daily writing practice. I think  it would behoove you to do this. I encourage you to get up every morning, close the door, sit down, and give yourself the time, and lay it out on paper where you can see it and gain mastery over it, whatever it is. Have a place, a plan and begin to develop that well-worn pathway, so that you become your own mastermind. You want to become your own source of creative and generative ideas and energy, new products and programs, new works of art, new songs, or whatever new material need to create.

I hope this inspires you to at least try it. And if you do have a daily practice, or if there’s something I’ve left out as a benefit, please share your wisdom with us in the comments.


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by Phyllis Capanna © 2016 joyreport

All content is the sole property of Phyllis Capanna. 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.  © 2016 Phyllis Capanna


Do You Need a New Definition of Success? (If not forever, then for a while?)

pshubert via
pshubert via

Call us flitters, hummingbirds, butterflies, recovering failures, neurotics, highly sensitive, multiply talented under-achievers, people with low self esteem, poor self confidence, people who are not measuring up, people who feel they should be doing something else – Call us what you will, that long, straight, steep path to success is not ours.

Not only is our path circuitous, spirally and meandering, but our successes are different, too.

We are the people who struggle to give ourselves the time and space to write, draw, dance, sketch out a blog design, script a podcast, or develop a recipe. We think we should already know how, or that it’s already too late. We can’t decide which creative impulse to listen to, which is more important, and, yes, which has the best chance of delivering us from our low achieving nosedive.

We don’t believe in ourselves because clearly we are flighty, inconsistent, commitment-phobes. We don’t buckle down, except if we get totally obsessed, and then we won’t stop working to eat, sleep or interact with our loved ones. When we’re done obsessing, we go back to wandering around sighing, weighted down by our unfulfilled potential.

We are folks who really, really want something, but damned if we can tell you what it is. We just know we burn for it.

So we go on earning our paycheck or mopping up the latest oopsie of our topsy-turvy lives. We try to come to center by stilling the voice of discontent in our hearts, when what we should do is stop and listen to it.

Our purpose quest looks a lot like that parable of the three people who’ve never seen an elephant standing in a room with their eyes closed discovering this huge creature that stands before them and trying to come to agreement on what it is. We are all three of those people: heart, mind and soul.

Rather than getting caught up in which one is right, don’t worry what the whole thing looks like or what it’s called. Just trust your senses and give it your own name.  When we name some tiny aspect of it, that’s a success.

When we allow ourselves to actually do something we love to do, that’s a success.

When we pay attention to our curiosity, allowing ourselves to fall in love with one more thing, that’s a success.

When we switch from using others’ benchmarks on the path to mastery to using our own, surveying our inner landscape with compassion, seeing it for what it is, not for what it isn’t, that’s a success.

When we acknowledge the harmful things we are not doing, that’s a success. Any time we pass up the opportunity to indulge in self destructive behaviors, we should stand and cheer, even if our cat thinks we’re crazy. (Even if you don’t stand and cheer, your cat thinks you’re crazy, so you might as well stand and cheer.)

Here are a few of my success benchmarks that I’m sharing with you so that I remember to acknowledge them more often:

Each day clean is a successful day.

Each time I acknowledge another human being’s humanity, I succeed in making myself more human.

Each time I sit down to write, draw or pick up a drum, I succeed in taking myself seriously.

Each time I draw a boundary around my creative time and keep it, I teach others to take me seriously.

Each time I represent myself honestly and resist the urge to package myself differently so I feel more  definable, presentable and finished, I succeed in diminishing  the shame that threatens to diminish me.

How about you? What are some of your unique and personal definitions and benchmarks of success?

Next week: The number one antidote to your creative quagmire: Make space in your life for you.

Until then, I hope you’ll consider joining my mailing list by using the links to the right, subscribing to this blog via email, also to the right, leaving a comment, and  sharing this or other posts that have touched you.

With love,


What is a Miracle?

Greater Burdock, Arctium lappa, (4)

What is a miracle?
Something impossible,
But our view of what is possible
is as a speck in an ocean,
a droplet evaporating,
a moment forgotten.

What is a miracle?
Something that amazes,
But wonder is constantly resolving
into having, holding
and letting go.

What is a miracle?
It’s grace, the softening
that finds a way through
the hardest realities where violence
can do nothing but ricochet.

What is a miracle?
It’s everything, everywhere,
molecules just waiting to coalesce
under the watchful eye of a lover and dreamer,
the careful ministering of skilled hands and wise ears.

It is the seeing that brings it into focus–
The listening itself–
It can be spoken into being–

What is a miracle
if not all of that?
But what of the intractable situation
that blooms like burdock
with roots that resist the sharpest shovel,
so deep they have no beginning?
We chop it down
but it springs up again
when the ground softens
during the time when everything returns,
the good, the green, the sustaining–

The painful and hard places that,
like iron wrapped handkerchiefs,
drop from our pockets
and crack the ground we are trying to build on–
What of these places seemingly immune from wonder,
never content, never resolved,
always causing unrest,
begging for attention–
the hungry, squirmy, miserable children
we wish we had left home
so that we could shop and eat and laugh–

Look!  Look here!
Here is where our wondrous world view
needs to be turned loose.
Here is where our miracle needs to take hold.
But what shall we listen for?
Where shall we focus?
How shall we caress?
What song shall we sing?

If gravity holds together electrons in a wild jig
that makes the molecules that form the thing,
what is it that holds together the circumstance
that will not yield to wonder?
What is the dance of belief
that makes us think it cannot change
when everything we have
we have created because we thought we could?

What are we willing to be, to give up being,
What are we willing to have, to let go of,
In order to give this reality
we are piping and fiddling madly away at
a chance to stop, to pause, to hang up in its orbit,
for just a moment, less than a breath,
And then resume as something changed,
The essential elements rearranged?

We do it all the time in life,
if we’re lucky.
We wake right up and say, “No. This.” or
“Yes. Yes.”

What is a miracle
if not the improbable
and the impossible
meeting the intractable
in the field of being
called “I am?”

Dowsing With My Butt (On Writing a Novel by the Seat of My Pants)

An amazing photograph from the estate of A. H. Wheeler, Oakland, Maine

(2 minute read)

My mind is quietly being blown. I am about 11,500 words into the novel I am writing for National Novel Writing Month. I kind of fooled myself into doing this. I waited until the last minute, didn’t tell anyone, and didn’t think about the commitment I was making, pulling a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” on myself. I make decisions like that sometimes when I’m driving and can’t decide whether to make that stop or take that road. When I get to the intersection I just let the vehicle make the turn, or not. That’s how I did WriMo. Call it dowsing with your butt. If you find yourself sitting and writing, well, I guess you’re doing WriMo.

Here is a brief, incomplete list of my other amazements:

I’m amazed that I am writing everyday, to a word count, when just a couple of weeks ago I was actively not writing, every single day.

I’m amazed that I have that much to say about something that didn’t exist 8 days ago. Truthfully, it’s even weirder than that. I actually don’t have something to say, ever, when I sit down every day. The ideas, these little inklings of notions, are just kind of waggling a few fingers and saying, oh, hey, over here, and I am writing them down. Some are cool and fun; some are stupid. I have no idea if they are stringing together cohesively. I can’t worry about that right now. Isn’t that freeing?

I’m amazed that every day I encounter the idea that I can’t write it down unless it’s perfect, thought out, water-tight and well-crafted. And I’m amazed that when I just write down the thing I am thinking and rejecting, thinking and rejecting, thinking and rejecting, everything flows much better and I get to a place that is decidedly Zone-ish. And when I re-read, that thing I wrote is okay.

I’m amazed at how much there is to know about how novels are put together, how plot works, what details add to the reader’s experience, what to leave in, what to leave out (tip o’the hat to Bob Seger). Julia Cameron, in The Right To Write, suggests that, if we didn’t have such mystique around the idea of being a writer, anyone could make a novel much like amateur carpenters make bookcases and for the same reason: It’s fun. I’m amazed that when I come up for air, glassy-eyed and stiff, even though I don’t know much about how to do it well, I am having fun. I am making a bookcase. It doesn’t have to be a work of art.

Last in my list of amazements: How is it that in one moment I can know exactly what to say about something I’ve never experienced, and in the next I am stopped cold by not knowing a key fact about something equally unfamiliar? I can’t help but draw parallels between that and how I live my life, where I feel I must be perfect and quietly walk away because I can’t be, and where I feel free to just make something up because I like it, and it’s fun.

But I’m not getting into that now. I have 1700 words to write.

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

Walking Your Talk as a Personal Growth Writer

photo via morguefile/canibek
photo via morguefile/canibek

Tell you right now, I did not follow my own advice from last week’s blog post. I did not make a date to re-fill the well. Instead, I struggled with what I think can be called depression: nasty thoughts, feeling unequal to life, and generally being off center. I don’t think it’s a shocker that someone might end up writing about the very stuff they struggle with. I have an enormous toolbox of therapeutic activities that I share with others, because I’ve used them on myself. But I don’t often admit to actively struggling now, today, because, well, for much the same reasons others don’t.

But I am taking up the topic of re-filling the well again this week, because mine is so very dry right now, and I have so far failed at setting aside time and space for my soul. Where I get stuck is the Very Important Task. The problem is they’re all important.

But only some of them will save my soul. Only some of them will get me to a peaceful death. Only some of them will be noticed for the effect that they have on the quality of someone’s life.

And for today, that someone is me. For you, that someone is you. That’s the deal. We’re talking about doing for ourselves what no one else can do for us: taking the time to discover what makes us tick, smile, sing, hum and feel good and deliberately give that to ourselves.

via morguefile/maggieexplorer
via morguefile/maggieexplorer

We’re also talking about what happens when you go for too long letting the tyranny of the to-do rule your life: You get sick. Mentally, spiritually sick. Like me all this past week.

In my drumming class on Monday night, certain sounds made people smile. I have some old pot lids that make beautiful chiming sounds when struck with a mallet. I have ankle bells. Someone chimed the pot lid, and someone else wore the ankle bells and sat stomping her leg up and down while the person to my left grinned uncontrollably. Afterward, she got up and, reaching for the person’s ankle, said, “Let me see those!”

That’s the response we’re going for with soul-filling activities: a full body response that demands we pay attention and follow. You may be the person stomping your leg up and down, or you may be the one pointing and grinning, but either way, you are following something other than a script that will make things tidy and logical, and make you the hero or martyr for being so darned efficient and selfless.

Now, “follow” is an interesting word choice, isn’t it? But it’s very accurate, because this is about relinquishing the keys, getting out of the driver’s seat, and letting something else be in charge for a while. Just notice how hard it is to do that.

from morguefile/penywise
from morguefile/penywise

Next point: I didn’t make this up. Julia Cameron has Artist Dates. Again, check out The Artist’s Way. She’s very smart, that Julia. She knows we need both the Morning Pages and a weekly, scheduled date with ourselves, during which we give the inner child some fun, reconnect with awe and wonder, let our curiosity lead the way, change pace from doing to being and shift gears from finishing things to opening up to greater unknowns.

And there’s something else about this. It’s a boundary we create especially for ourselves, in which we prioritize us. It is to be an inviolable boundary, something we can count on. Something that cannot be penetrated by other priorities, like cleaning the lint trap. A boundary like that actually matters more than what goes inside it. Once you have that, all you have to do is swing on a swing or kick a stone, and something inside is settled, contented, whole, validated. I’m willing to bet that getting your special time on the calendar and keeping the date will be much more challenging than figuring out what to do with yourself once you get there.

from morguefile/click
from morguefile/click

My challenge to you (and to me) for this week: Schedule in one Artist Date. If the word “artist” hangs you up, just make it a Fun Date or a Soul Date with you and you alone. Right now, look at your calendar and write it in. Commit to it. That means that when a friend invites you over for coffee, or someone wants to schedule a phone call, or work calls, you are not available then. Any time but then.

I am committing to that time this coming Friday, at my desk, with art supplies at 10 a.m. until at least 11.

How about you? When is your time?

As always, thanks for reading. Please let me know you stopped by.

With love,


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 joyreport

Doing It Wrong


It was during a week as a temp at Harvard University that I first encountered Julia’s Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. I was subbing for an assistant to two professors. One was on sabbatical, and one was on vacation. (It was a plum placement.) I proceeded to gobble up The Artist’s Way. That was in 1991, and that’s when I started doing the Morning Pages. Except for a few weeks somewhere around 2013 or so, I’ve done them every morning since.

At first I ignored the three pages rule and just wrote until I was spent and had nothing more to say. I remember one epic run of ten or so pages brimming with self-hatred. Julia had warned that the pages would bring stuff up, and had encouraged us to hang on and do them anyway. I figured I had several decades of backlog, so it was okay. Soon, though, I settled into the three page routine. A couple of times I wondered, as I’m sure many before me have, just what she meant by “three pages.” Was it three pages, or three pieces of paper, filled? I decided that, being a writer, Cameron had said what she meant, three single-sided pages.

A week ago, I chose as my travel reading another Cameron book, The Right To Write. In it, she again uses the Morning Pages as a writing tool. The instructions begin, “Take out three sheets of 8 ½ by 11 paper…” and end, “When you have finished writing three pages, stop.” At once, I had the answer to my nagging question of long ago. Initially, it struck me as funny that I have dutifully written three pages for twenty-plus years, and I’ve been doing it wrong. The fact that it tickled me, I thought, was progress in itself.

But it bugged me. I wanted to reap the real benefits of this exercise (not the half-benefits I had already attained.) I wanted to be a real writer, a heavy hitter like Cameron. I wanted to follow instructions. As soon as I found out I’d been doing the Morning Pages “wrong,” my meager three pages lost their magical quality and failed to conjure their usual sense of endless possibility. Suddenly they were small and constrained. I wasn’t allowing myself to fly, to reach, to stretch. I was limiting myself. I was playing small. I’d been letting myself off too easy. As usual.

I decided I had to fill three pieces of paper. I figured it would be tough. The first day, in a hotel room in Atlantic City I was sharing with a friend, I ran out of things to say.  I jumped up, relieved to be off the page. The next day, staying at a beach house in Massachusetts, I was interrupted and left it at five pages. At breakfast that morning I told the story, and everyone agreed: Three pages is three pages: 1, 2, 3. Three pieces of paper filled give you pages 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.

Still, I felt I was doing it wrong. The next few mornings, my pages went to four pages. I was just not filling three whole pages.

A few days later, back in Maine with a full house at our lakeside camp, something happened. Bathroom time had become a ballet of sorts, with four people plus visitors sharing the facilities. Now, my usual morning routine is a careful set-up for my morning pages. I wake up. I go to the bathroom. I make my morning coffee as if I am performing a sacrament. I arrange a small writing pillow to rest my notebook on. I begin with a short spiritual reading. I fill my fountain pen and blot it. I open the notebook and begin.

But on this morning, I couldn’t get into the bathroom right away, so I started making coffee.  When the coffee was ready, I didn’t want to start my pages, because I still hadn’t taken care of necessities in the bathroom. As time ticked on, I thought my elderly mom might soon be getting up, which would mean no morning pages at all.  It looked like I would have to do some multi-tasking. 

When my turn came, I waltzed in with notebook, pen and coffee. I started writing, and in that moment of reckless scrawling on the top line of a blank page, the magic of the Morning Pages came back. I wasn’t waiting or holding back. I wasn’t playing small. I was going for it. I was grabbing my writing time any way and anywhere I could. Free again, I felt the endless road open up before me.

All wrong, completely out of step and treacherously close to not being able to write at all that day, I dove in, recklessly, messily, hungrily. I hadn’t written since the day before. I was thirsty for this. I didn’t know what I was going to write about but that didn’t stop me from living my life right there on the page for the next thirty minutes or so. I wrote three lovely, sloppy, sprawling pages of stream of consciousness.

Am I doing it wrong? Or am I doing it the way that is right for me?

It is safe to heal and release limiting ideas of success.

P.S. Don’t worry, I didn’t hog the bathroom for the full thirty minutes. I also couldn’t let go of the question about how many pages is three pages.  I finally got my answer on Julia’s own blog, in which she states, Morning Pages are three, single-sided, 8.5×11 pages (so in other words, not 6 pages).” Which means that in The Right To Write, when she states, “Take out three sheets of 8 ½ by 11 paper…” the accurate thing would have been to say “two sheets.” I hope I remember her mistake the next time I am tempted to think that my mistakes are the end of the world. All in all, Julia’s mistake lead me to a stronger place on my path. Love you, Julia! And thanks for The Artists’ Way and the Morning Pages. They rock!

What If Your Dream Is Lost in Translation?

Welcome, reader! 

In this post, I tell a story about a failure that was predicable and a success I didn’t see coming. (And give a nod to one of my favorite funny men, who had a signature way of falling that was really quite graceful.)

This blog, the Joy Report, is about recovery, spirituality and creativity. At that intersection is pretty much where I live. And so do many of my readers. Your comments, both here and on FB, remind me that we all struggle with the concept of success, and that it is a valid topic for discussion.

I am also reminded that success is pretty simple: You set out to do something, you do it. Success. Whether or not it was hard, whether or not anyone else noticed, whether or not you got paid. And just because it’s something you want to do, something you are made to do, something you love to do, doesn’t mean it doesn’t take courage to do it.

Where it gets tricky is when we screw up the courage to do something and fail to reach the goal. That’s when we start parsing the word “success” for fear that all our efforts have been in vain. It’s important to acknowledge the success of overcoming our fear and taking action; it’s also important to not stop there. That goal is still there. It’s important to hang onto it.

Our dreams and aspirations are divinely directed. Following them is a blessed thing to do.

I remember a guy who used to come into the store where I worked, a mom and pop natural foods store in Cambridge, Mass., way back in the mid-1980s.  He wrote songs, but couldn’t sing. I wrote songs and sang them. He asked if I would sing some of his songs for a demo tape he was making. He even offered to pay me. I said sure.

The songs were horrible, the pits. They were actually so bad they were funny. After several sessions of recording vocal parts on his songs, I couldn’t stand it anymore, and I told him that I couldn’t do any more of his demos, that the songs were not my thing. Among the musicians who were asked to help out with this guy’s song demos, his name would always engender a good deal of eye-rolling. Nobody could stand to make the demos, even though he was paying us. He was not a songwriter.

He still came into the store, and he always talked about folk music with stars in his eyes. He told me he had a dream. “Uh-oh,” I thought. “He’s gonna get his heart broken.” His dream, he finally admitted, was to become a concert producer.

While I was relieved that he was no longer aspiring to songwriter fame, I still thought his dream was an impossible dream for him. He had no experience producing concerts. He didn’t have many connections, either. He was just a dorky guy in polyester pants with a huge keyring in one of the front pockets who loved folk music.

To my amazement, he achieved his dream. He created a company called Songstreet Productions, and he began producing shows in a local movie theatre, which eventually became a thriving venue for live performances. He would introduce the acts himself, and to fend off nervousness, he would toss that enormous bunch of keys from hand to hand during his introductions. People loved him. He was funny. He was a success. He had a thing he wanted to do, and he did it.

I have no idea if he made money. But I do know that he produced concerts. I moved away from town, and I lost track of Songstreet Productions. A quick Internet search shows that Songstreet Productions existed until about 2008, then nothing. That’s roughly 25 years in business. I hope he retired a happy and fulfilled man, and I’m sorry I judged his ability to achieve his dream.

And I’m glad this story came to mind as an example of hanging onto a dream through multiple failures. (Those songs really were awful.) It reminds me that it’s possible to fail because you’re going at it the wrong way. You may think you have to do what everyone else is doing, or it may take you a while to admit what your dream really is. It’s very likely my old acquaintance would not have been so clear on what his dream was had he not made a significant foray into what it wasn’t.

Maybe your dream is getting lost in translation. You will never know what to do to bring that dream to life if you stay on the sidelines out of fear of failing.

What if getting it wrong were an important part of getting it right? How would that change how far you are willing to stick your neck out in pursuit of your goals? Probably the most important thing about failure is it teaches you that you won’t break.

Screen shot 2015-07-20 at 9.21.42 PM
In the opening scene of every episode of the Dick Van Dyke show, he tripped over the ottoman when he came home from work.

As always, thanks for reading. If you’d like to see a particular topic covered here on the Joy Report, please drop me a line. I always love hearing from you.

With love,


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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 joyreport