LifeJournal™ Newsletter – July 2003

It is about 11:00 pm on a Tuesday night, and I know I have to crank out another newsletter in the next several days. This newsletter’s theme is creativity. I know that Linda, my trusted newsletter editor, is going on vacation in ten short days, so I better get this moving! A little tension, a little motivation, a gentle push. The trick is not to get tense and tight. For me, a balanced amount of intention, focus, and challenge topped off with a reasonable deadline is the perfect recipe for a creative mindset. What works for you?

We received rave reviews about last month’s interview with Nancy Oliver, playwright, and currently staff writer for HBO’s Six Feet Under. With only a little cajoling, Nancy agreed to write subsequent articles for this newsletter about different facets of writing. This month Nancy’s article is about writing and creativity.

I hope you are enjoying your summer. Remember to include a journal with you when you are on vacation.

Ruth Folit
Chronicles Software Company

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Writing and Creativity by Nancy Oliver, playwright and staff writer for HBO’s Six Feet Under
Working with the Internal Critic
Tip in using the Search dialog box
End Quotes

Writing and Creativity by Nancy Oliver, playwright and staff writer for HBO’s Six Feet Under

People have a lot of weird ideas about creativity. They think that some folks have it and some folks don’t. This is nutty. Creativity is essential to survival. If there ever were any non-creative humans, they were tossed off the evolutionary bus long long ago, so don’t waste valuable time wondering if you have the right stuff. You do. Creativity is a state of mind and a level of awareness that anyone can cultivate and develop. Writers, your journal is the place to start. It will function as your studio, a central space where you can contemplate and track your growth. It’ll help you get used to facing a blank page without drama, fear or loathing and most important, it will instill in you the HABIT of writing, which is quite different than the desire to write.

The tradition of the journal also positions you correctly in an intellectual sense. It’s where people have always kept accounts of daily events and secret thoughts. That’s pretty much what you need to learn as a writer, the relationship between the inner and outer worlds. I suggest that you approach this deliberately and consciously, which will stimulate your unconscious, where so much of the real action happens. The dream section of LifeJournal is particularly useful here. You’ll get to know your personal dream themes and images, and learn something about symbolic language that will help express your themes–but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

For now, all you have to do is live fully. The simple act of experiencing life–real and imagined– and writing it down on a semi-regular basis will gradually transform you. Becoming aware of yourself as a writer is a slow awakening to power: the power to observe, to listen, to analyze. You’ll find yourself on the alert for raw data to record and interpret. You’ll realize that even the stupidest thing that happens to you, the most inane conversation at work, a casual image from an utterly mundane day–this material is gold to a writer, you can use it all. Because good writing is not just about writing, good writing is about everything.

Does this sound like too much work? Probably. But it won’t feel like work because it will renew your interest in your own life and regenerate your interest in the lives of other people and the world at large. Think of it this way: when you want to catch a view of a landscape, you can’t be in the middle of it. You have to step back, you have to find high ground to see the big picture. This is the same thing you do when you write in your journal. By taking this one step back from life, over time you may perceive not just its details but its context, its patterns, its design. This is how to discover your point of view and create your individual voice.

Creativity is not a pet you can keep in a cage till you feel like writing. It’s a natural force that, once you tap into it, will inevitably enrich all aspects of your life. That’s the real payoff.

Working with the Internal Critic 

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, written by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, describes “the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.” Author Susan Perry has taken Csikszentmihalyi’s work and examined the “flow” state within the context of writers and their writing. Perry’s Writing in Flow: Keys to Enhanced Creativity specifically looks at how writers can get into a flow state while writing. In her book she states: “The optimal conditions for creativity (and thus for flow entry) include a condition of psychological safety from external evaluation. When you feel (and fear) your efforts are going to be judged, you quickly lose the ability to marshal all your mental and emotional resources in the quest for a new way to express yourself. No one wants to fail or look foolish for writing something that others (or you yourself) will judge to be bad, stupid, or silly.”

Journal writing creates a safe haven. I write with no intended audience. I don’t feel judged by some unwelcome, sneering being, breathing over my shoulder. I have the freedom and space to think, to express, to be as I please. It’s not easy to find that in the everyday world.

However, even within the confines of “no audience” journal writing, I can sometimes find myself being both writer and audience. This inner and sometimes negative inner voice has been dubbed by many as the “Internal Critic.” Sometimes the Internal Critic can be as cruel and damaging as an external audience. The Internal Critic seems to be universal. Everyone has heard that nagging internal voice saying something akin to “What are you thinking? This is horrible! You think you can write?”

To make journal writing psychologically safer (and hence increase your creativity) you may want to learn to tame your Internal Critic. Here are some thoughts about working with the Internal Critic:

  1. Acknowledge that everyone has Internal Critics of some kind. Get to know yours. Usually, people incorporate parts of their parents, teachers, siblings, or others that may have been critical when they were younger to create their Internal Critics. Bring those Inner Critics out of hiding, into the light of day, and learn everything you can about them. You may want to dialog with your Internal Critics using the dialog tool within LifeJournal. After a while you will be able to identify the voices of the Internal Critics.
  2. Recognize that Internal Critics have both beneficial and damaging qualities. At times your Internal Critics may be protecting you from external criticism. They may motivate you to edit your essay one more time and improve it.
  3. Discriminate when it’s a good time to listen to your critics and when to dismiss them. When you are first gathering your thoughts and putting them into words, the Internal Critics may limit your thinking and confine the range of ways to express yourself. In the early phases of writing, keep your critics distant. They will never really go away, so consider different ways to detach from or ignore them.You may temporarily turn a deaf ear, like when a neighbor’s dog is barking loudly: sometimes you confront your neighbor and his dog, and other times you choose to turn the din into benign background noise. You may choose to talk to your Internal Critics directly–perhaps kindly and firmly, or harshly and bluntly–and let them know that you know that they are there, but you’ll interact with them later. Or you may work with them proactively at the start of the day, as Julia Cameron suggests in The Artist’s Way. Cameron writes “morning pages,” the daily routine first thing in the morning of writing three pages about whatever you want as a way to clear out, clean out, and prepare for a day of creativity. Within your morning pages you may want to have a conversation with your critics, letting them know how you will interact with them that day.

    The more you acknowledge your Internal Critics, the more you’ll be able to make them smaller than life.

  4. Stay committed to staying in control of your Internal Critics. With time and patience and practice, you’ll figure out the best way to use these interior characters to your advantage.

Tip in using the Search Dialog Box

I’ve heard from a few LifeJournal writers that when they perform a search for journal entries, the correct entries don’t always display. After some investigation, I realized what the problem was: some people are confused about how to select topic(s) from the list of topics in the search dialog box.

When using the Search dialog to find journal entries by topic, be sure to use the quickest mechanism in selecting topics: Click the folder itself to select the folder and ALL the topics within it. Click the “+” adjacent to the Topic folder to OPEN the folder, but not to select the topics. Red check marks indicates that you have selected topics. If you have a red check next to a topic that you do not want to select, click the topic and it will be deselected. The red check will disappear.

End quotes:

“I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it.”      –Pablo Picasso

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.”      –John Milton

“To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.”     –Henri Bergson
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