Standing at the Water’s Edge, a book by Anne Paris

A book review by Ruth Folit

I recently read Standing at Water’s Edge, a book by clinical psychologist Anne Paris, PhD about creativity and psychology. The book gave me an understanding of some practical aspects of creativity: what thwarts people from being creative and what supports their creative process. The book also includes a description of the different stages of the creative process.

Knowing that there’s a strong connection between journal writing and creativity, I read the book with a journal-centric eye—looking for intersections between the two subjects. Comments about journal writing are mine and don’t reflect Dr. Paris’ observations.  I’ll try to be clear about what her comments are and where I’m building on her ideas.

A main thesis of Dr. Paris’ book is that one’s ability to immerse oneself into creativity is about one’s psychological issues and capabilities.  Paris uses the words “immersive” or “immersion” as a key component of creativity.  The phrase describes the willingness to give oneself up fully to the creative experience. (I found it valuable to see Paris’ list of other examples where we can fully immerse: religion, spirituality, play, intimate relationships, parenting, psychotherapy, and athletic activities. Also noteworthy is her theory that addictions—to drugs, alcohol, casual sex, food, or gambling–is a quick way to temporarily feel the immersive experience.)

I observe that journals have two functions in creativity: 1) for many, the journals themselves are the end product of creativity and 2) for others, journal writing is a part of the creative process—gathering notes, observations, ideas, or, for writers, a place to warm up and practice or pre-write. And of course, the purpose of journal writing can also be some combination of the two.

Paris explains “There are artists who do not … display their work to others.  They engage in creative acts for this experience alone. Because it is so internally satisfying and enhancing, they have no need for applause, or they fear that the experience would be ruined if they got a negative response. This artist is not intending to share her work with others.  She is engaging in creatively for the immersive experience itself, and she keeps her artistic play private, for her own use.”

I believe that for many, keeping a journal is a creative immersive experience. It’s a form of immersion that doesn’t require or expect an audience. It allows one to be immersed—and not to have to consider an audience.

Paris contends that dealing with hope and fear are the big psychological issues that we all work with during the creative process. Fears that prevent immersing are fears of letting go, fears of loss of control, and fears of emotions. The opposing force is hope, which provides the strength to dive into immersion despite the fears. We hope for a new beginning, hope to express fully, hope to be recognized, understood, validated, valued, and respected.

Paris explains that it’s important to respect the fears of immersion because they are efforts at self-preservation; one should not simply view the fears as lethargy or procrastination. Learning about your fears is the first step in reaching beyond them. I believe that journals may be a good place to begin to explore your fears, by writing about specific past disappointments and hurts as well as how you coped with and reacted to them.

Then you can do a similar process with successes: Remember past successes and write about them. Write about them in exquisite detail so you can rekindle those feelings of hope and trust in others and yourself. I suggest that you also keep track of your daily successes and your immersive experiences of any kind to continue building trust in yourself.

Paris writes “The combinations of memories of injury and of success all contribute to your current constellation of fears, dreads, and hope. Have empathy for that person who has survived, how he has done the best he can, and how he is struggling to balance the dread to repeat with the hope for a new beginning.”

Paris goes on to say, “I believe one of your major tasks in moving through the creative process is find a way to be more empathic with your own experience.  When you are hitting an artistic block, it is more helpful to try to understand the sense of the block (what fears are sensibly keeping you from taking the dive?) rather than be yourself up by labeling yourself as lazy or unmotivated or inadequate.”

However, as important as I believe journals can be in the creative process, Dr. Paris emphasizes how crucial positive, supportive relationships with others are to the process.  Dr. Paris describes three types of relationships that strengthen our psychological core and encourage us to take creative risks.

  • Mirrors: People in our lives who reflect us: they see our strengths, our uniqueness, and our talents and strengthen us by appreciating what we have to offer.
  • Heroes: Those we look up to and admire; they inspire us to reach beyond our safety zones.
  • Twins: People who comfort us by sharing similar struggles and triumphs.

Please consider my discussion about journal writing and creativity within the context of Paris’ perspective. One of her main points is how important relationships with others are in the creative process, with which I do agree.

I’ve provided some reactions to and a very brief overview of Dr. Paris’ book. If you have an interest in creativity and are looking for deep, insightful, and new viewpoints on the subject, I strongly recommend that you read Standing at the Water’s Edge.


Excerpts from the book Standing at the Water’s Edge: Moving  Past Fear, Block and Pitfalls to Discover the Power of Creative Immersion © 2008 by Anne Paris, PhD. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA.  or 800-972-6657 ext. 52.