Category: Writing

Connecting to the Truth in Art

“Where do you get your ideas? Where does it all come from?”

That’s the question my father asked me when we were sitting outside on our balcony in Ronda, Spain during our month in Andalucía. Before I had time to think, I said, “It’s about connecting to the truth, and then writing about it. But we have to learn how to connect to the truth first.” That’s where writing begins. Long before sitting down at the computer or with pen and paper. It’s a practice of seeing past the mirage of distractions, straight to the essence, the core, of what’s in front of us. It’s a practice of listening beyond the noise to hear what exists in the vibrations and rhythms around us.

A writer’s practice is ongoing, we are continuously deepening our connection to the truth. It happens when we are conscious of it (taking a walk through the woods or giving thanks before a meal), and it happens when we are unconscious of it (dreaming at night or going about our busy lives). We learn to connect with the truth, so that by the time we sit down to write, we are miles ahead of where we think we are. We are ready to begin putting into words all that we have been practicing. The material is already there; it is already a part of us. Now we must give it form.

Do First, Understand Second

I went to a Waldorf School from kindergarten through sixth grade, and one of the principles that was instilled in us from an early age was “Do first, understand second.”

We were given the tools we needed to create and told to “explore,” “experiment,” “see where it leads you.” We were handed beeswax and told to make something, before we ever knew what beeswax was or how it was made or why it smelled so good. We recited verses every morning that were written for us by our teacher, without knowing why it was important to stand with feet firmly planted on the ground and speak our voice. We were given paper and paints and told to use them, without knowing how to blend colors. We were given musical instruments and trusted to play them, even before we knew the notes. We were taught eurhythmy and moved through the room in our slippers, without ever being told how the music soothed us or why it felt so good to move.

There is something beautiful about doing first and understanding second. It is the natural flow our lives are meant to take. When we begin writing, it becomes clear what to write about. When we begin painting, we know what colors we feel most drawn to use. When we pick up an instrument, our fingers intuitively sense where to go. We can trust ourselves to take the first step—in art and in life—knowing that understanding will soon follow.

There is something beautiful about doing first and understanding second. It is the natural flow our lives are meant to take.


The Creative Edge

I believe we all have an edge when it comes to creativity—a point we are afraid to go beyond. It may be publishing. It may be sharing our work and being seen. It may be showing up to the work in the first place.

My creative edge stops at publishing. I have spent my entire life writing books, but I have never published anything. If you’re reading this right now, it’s because I have gone to my edge and pushed past it… finally. I have other edges as well. Vulnerability has been an edge for me. Am I really capable of sharing who I am in such an undiluted way? If anyone reads what I have written, they will see through to who I am. I will have no shield between myself and other people’s judgments. Is that what I want? I won’t know until I go to my edge and see.

I do believe that wherever the edge is, it’s important to identify it, and start inching toward it. Slowly. You don’t have to rush. Start to entertain the idea of publishing if that’s where your edge is. Start to share small portions of your work with the people you trust. Start to be a little more vulnerable. Start to show up to the work for a few minutes each day. Wherever you feel uncomfortable, that’s your edge; that’s where you have the greatest capacity for growth. I think we have to go for it. How else will we ever know what’s waiting for us on the other side?



The Highest Purpose of Art

There are people who sacrifice everything for their art—their happiness, their marriage, their friendships, their health—and for what? So that perhaps, if they’re extremely lucky, millions of people will look admiringly upon their work and say what a great artist they were? What a difference they made in the world?

I believe that far more important than the work itself is who we become through the process of creating the work. Does it add to who we are? Does it add to our happiness? Our joy? Our relationships with others?

We can leave behind great work—books and paintings and music and inventions that change the way future generations live in the world—but it will always pale in comparison to what we leave behind through the lives that we directly touch. The most profound gift we can leave behind in our absence is love. That isn’t to say don’t do the work—please, do the work—just realize that the highest purpose that art can serve is to deepen our human experience of love.

The Most Common Misconceptions About Inspiration

I don’t talk a lot about inspiration because I believe the word itself can be misleading. I believe we give it too much power over ourselves. More power than it deserves. If we are going to talk about inspiration, we have to start by dispelling some of the most common misconceptions:

  • It is something we have to wait for
  • It exists outside of ourselves
  • It is difficult to tap into
  • It is elusive, hard to catch hold of
  • It is fleeting, it comes and goes on its own accord
  • It comes to some of us and not to others

I don’t believe any of the above are true, because all of the above render us powerless over inspiration, over our own creativity. We are not powerless. We are capable beyond our wildest imaginings, ready at a moment’s notice, with unlimited potential as to what we can create. Inspiration is summoned the moment we step into our power, the moment our words meet the page, and it wants us to know:

  • It is always available to us
  • It is something we bring forth from within ourselves
  • It is invoked through action
  • It is only as elusive as sitting down to write or picking up a paintbrush or snapping a photograph
  • It is everywhere, in all things, at all times
  • It is something everyone is capable of tapping into


Summoning Inspiration

The words I write almost always follow some sort of action on my part to summon them. Either sitting down at the computer or journaling in my notebook or quietly contemplating the world around me. It starts with a willingness to listen and observe. That’s when inspiration comes—when we are fully engaged in the present moment and making ourselves available to receive.

Here’s how the process unfolds for me:

  1. I plan in advance. I decide when I will write and I make it a priority. Sometimes that means going to bed by a certain time, waking up earlier than usual, or rearranging my schedule. It starts with making a commitment to myself that I know I will keep.
  2. I make a cup of tea and I go to my writing spot. Sometimes on my back porch. Sometimes in front of my computer. Sometimes at the coffee shop around the corner. Wherever I feel compelled to start on that particular day is where I go (and where I start is rarely where I finish).
  3. I relax into where I am. I don’t expect anything. I’m not there for any reason, except to be present and observe what unfolds. I know that by quieting my mind and listening, I am opening myself to receive. That’s all I focus on.
  4. I start writing, without knowing where it will lead; without any idea of what I will write about. I just go. And as I go, ideas start to unfold and stories start to take form.
  5. I stay with it. I continue to write for as long as it feels good, until I’m ready to stop and move on to the next thing.
  6. Then I start the process all over again.

Creativity = Small Acts of Faith

A series of small acts of faith performed one after another without any knowledge whatsoever of where they will lead—this is creativity. To draw a picture, we have to pick up a pencil and start moving it around on paper; we have to draw one small detail at a time without knowing what it will look like once all the details have been filled in. To write a book, we have to sit down at the computer and start typing; we have to put one word in front of the next without knowing what it will sound like when it’s read from beginning to end. To capture a photograph, we have to pick up our camera and aim it at something beautiful; we have to sense when the moment is right to snap the picture without knowing how it will appear once we develop it. We rarely approach the work with a vision of what it will become. To do so would take us away from the spontaneity of the moment. Art relies on intuition. We are guided by that subtle intuitive pull in one direction over another. Something within us moves us forward one small step at a time. We never know where it’s leading. One small act of faith after another in an unknown direction leads us to discover who we are and what we are capable of.

Embracing the Presence of Fear

What is it that you’re afraid of? Failure? Taking a risk and not seeing it work out? Having regrets? Letting people down? Not living up to your full potential? These are worthy fears, worthy of being felt and worthy of being channeled into your work. There is no rule that says we have to keep fear separate from our work. There is no rule that says art is for the fearless only. We know that isn’t true. Georgia O’Keeffe said it best when she said, “I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life—and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.” Her paintings would not be what they are today if she hadn’t experienced fear and painted anyway, alongside that fear. She didn’t try to deny fear or avoid it; she acknowledged it, and then worked alongside of it to create the work she came here to do. And so must you.


Lighting a Fire to Your Wants

If you really want to be an artist, you have to stop wanting to be an artist and start writing, painting, playing, creating, composing. Throw your wanting out the window. Hold a ceremony for it if you like. Write down your wants on a piece of paper and light fire to them… watch them disintegrate before your eyes. Cut them up into tiny pieces of paper and toss them into the wind… watch them float away. Buy a shovel and bury them… write them a eulogy and say your final good-byes. After that, don’t ever speak of them again. Speak instead about the work you are doing, the progress you have made, the lessons you are learning, and the growth that’s taking place. Ask yourself at the end of each day, each week, each month, have I done the work I wanted to do? That’s all that matters. You’ll see.

What If We Never Tried?

“There are so many great authors in the world and I’ll never be as good as them, so what’s the point in even trying?” This is a common response I hear from people who want to be writers, but are afraid.

When I hear this it leads me to wonder, what if Plato had never had the courage or the curiosity to follow in the footsteps of his teacher, Socrates? And what if Aristotle had felt too inadequate to follow in the footsteps of Plato? What if Anne Morrow Lindbergh had never written Gift from the Sea, which appeared on the New York Times bestseller list for 80 weeks, because other female authors like Anais Nin or Maya Angelou were already writing about a woman’s role in the world? And what if Anne’s daughter, Reeve Lindbergh, had never written and published over 25 books, because her mother was already a bestselling author, beloved by millions of people? What if I had never written this book, because thousands of other books about writing already exist? And what if you never write the book that is inside of you?

I don’t believe that the number of great books that have been written or inventions that have been created or mysteries that have been solved should ever prevent us from searching deeper and exploring further in our own lives. There will always be more to write and more to create and more to discover. The purpose of art is not to reach a conclusion; the purpose of art is to keep us expanding. So it is our responsibility to expand upon what has come before us and it will be the responsibility of future generations to expand upon what we do, right now, in our time on earth.

The Burden of a Dream

There are two ways of looking at a dream. There are some people who look at a dream and they think about what that dream must amount to. It must amount to success. It must amount to money. It must amount to making a difference in the world. It must amount to becoming famous in that industry. It must amount to recognition and respect. For these people, the dream quickly becomes a burden, and they move through life carrying around this burden and feeling miserable because the weight is so great.

Then there are people who look at a dream and they see it for what it already is, without anything else attached to it. It is what they love to do. It is what brings them happiness and peace. It is a source of growth. It is a source of comfort. It is who they are and who they came to this world to be. For these people, the dream carries no weight at all. They are able to step easily into the path of their dream feeling light, feeling happy, feeling blessed, feeling free, because there is no burden they have to carry.

Tell me, how are you looking at your dream?