Tips for Finding the Creative Spark Within

As a memoir coach, I’m blessed to meet so many people with a passion for creativity and writing. But to live that passion, we often have to conquer a fierce adversary: the inner critic! It demands perfect grammar and eloquent language. If we were “real” writers and if we were really creative, we think it should be easy to write, that things would just flow.

In my workshops, I ask what people think a “real” writer is:
• A real writer is already published.
• A real writer effortlessly sits down every day to write for hours.
• A real writer is published by a large New York publisher.
• A real writer is someone super-confident who writes 20 pages a day without confronting any obstacles.

You can see how these beliefs will slow you down. Pick up your pen and write, or take out your computer. In the photo above, I was writing at the cafe where Hemingway used to write in Paris–Deux Magots.

The Inner Critic

All writers and creative people struggle with the inner critic. That voice intrudes into the mind, and too often we believe it. Some typical critic voices writers and artists talk about:
• You’re boring.
• Why bother?
• Who cares?
• Who do you think you are (to try to be a writer)?
• How dare you write our story!
• Quit being such a navel gazer.

Writing can feel like being on a battleground, so of course it seems easier to garden, or clean the house. We need to feed our creativity and we need to learn how to cope with these problem messages banging around in our head. We need to unleash our authentic voice and speak our own truths, despite family members telling us to keep secrets.

In my workshops I see amazing breakthroughs. Perhaps the safety and support of the group bypasses the pesky inner critic. Or the intense passion of the writer is ignited by the group process, which invites  stories to burst out.

I talk about how to heal the inner critic in my book The Power of Memoir — write down what the critic says, and then answer it back with positive affirmations. It’s important to argue with it, to take a more positive stance. If you do this for all those inner voices, you create a tool that manages them, even if they are not silenced. Just know that all writers and all creative people have these voices and they have to learn not to listen to them or believe them.

Quick, Powerful Writing

Freewriting or writing quickly blows us on by the critic. It’s often a surprise how a really wonderful vignette can be written in just twenty minutes. These snapshots of authentic life astonish us because they are fresh and real. In one of my groups, a woman wrote about her young son, a golden boy of eight—how important he is, having come into her life after she thought couldn’t have children, and about the joy he’s given her after years of grief about possibly never having children. The group held her in respectful, embracing silence while Kleenex was passed silently from hand to hand, the room filled with compassion. She finally looked at us and wiped her eyes.
“Wow. I guess I took up a lot of time. I’m sorry.”
Everyone began telling her how deeply the story had affected them. As she was witnessed by the group, she smiled. “I’ve never told anyone this, I’ve never had the space to do this before.”
This woman felt the healing power of writing, and the power of a group witnessing her with compassion. She wrote: “Attending this workshop gave me the opportunity to reach deep inside and draw a circle of words around my heart. I shared my deepest feelings with a group who received me and held me with compassion and acceptance. I left the workshop feeling fuller and more whole.”

Write from Love, From Your Creative Spirit

If you write, you are a writer. Invite yourself to dip into the flow of words in your head and write them down. You’ll be amazed at the wisdom that resides within you just waiting to be tapped. Brenda Ueland, in her wonderful classic If You Want to Write, says that everyone is talented and original. All of us need to share our ideas with the world; it is part of our right as human beings to express ourselves. Ueland says that criticism destroys creativity, and that so-called helpful criticism is often the worst kind.

I read Ueland’s book over and over to get inspired through the years. It’s full of wisdom and a lively positive spirit about our unique creativity. She says we must write freely, as if to friends who appreciate us and find us interesting. We should write as if they are saying, “Tell me more, tell me all you can. I want to understand more about everything you feel and know and all the changes inside and out of you. Let more come out.” It’s an invitation to be ourselves, be authentic and write our truths.

If you want to write, create space for writing in your life. Set a time and a place to nurture this spark into a roaring blaze. Focus inward and listen to stories that whisper to you—capture your grandmothers’ kitchen, your mother’s face, or your father’s love of golf. The days of your life that give you meaning and joy. The creative spark is alive. Feed the flame! Read Ueland’s book and be inspired!

Writing Invitations
1. Write about what being a “real” writer means to you.
3. List the critic voices. Get them out of your head. Write your affirmations.
4. Keep listing the stories that you always wanted to tell. Write for 15 minutes a day.
5. Write about the happiest day of your life. Be sure to use sensual details of smell, sounds, feelings in your body, and colorful descriptions.