I was so excited to be offered a copy of this book to review because, when I’m not blogging, I’m a counsellor and writing therapist. Trying to unblock people’s potential is exactly what I do. I’m in the middle of an MA in Creative Writing and Well-being, so I’m also discovering the blocks to my own creativity too. I was looking forward to getting stuck into some of the exercises in Susie’s book and I was delighted to find they were more in depth and helpful than expected. They don’t just delve into the psyche, but give solid, practical advice too. This works like a one stop guide to taking risks, ignoring critics, releasing blocks and forming daily creative habits. It looks after the artist physically, mentally and even spiritually. I had expected a simple gift book, but it soon proved this was much more than that.
One exercise involved confronting fear and I decided to try this out because I have a lot of fears around the creative process – mainly lack of confidence in my writing ability, fear of revealing too much, offending someone or just embarrassing myself. Being an artist exposes us, not just to criticism, but to being really seen as we are – good and bad bits. It was interesting to write about things I fear – I have a terrible fear of clowns thanks to Stephen King – but in writing about it I realised it’s not the clown, but the disguise that’s the problem. Any sort of mask, face make-up or disguise had a similar effect. It’s a fear of people not being authentic, not showing me their true selves. So, the very thing I fear in other people, is what I fear in my writing. I had to ask if maybe I was the one wearing the disguise. I was then asked to use a journal to answer questions about the creative process and what scares me about it, and what my inner voice was like. I remembered trying a different handwriting when I was at primary school, only to have my work held up as an example of what not to do with our work. By trying something different I had ruined my work and needed to return to my usual writing. I remembered being so embarrassed. The same teacher used to make us do Mastermind every Friday morning where we would sit in a black chair at the front of the class and he would fire times tables sums at us on the clock. I used to dread Friday mornings and wanted to be ill so I didn’t have to take part. To move forward I need to work out my negative core beliefs about my creativity and then challenge them with positive affirmations.
Since encouraging people to journal is a major part of the work I do – in fact I’ve been teaching journaling and scrapbooking for mental health for eight years now – I was pleased to see it here as a cornerstone for creativity. I loved this explanation of why it works:
‘Allowing ideas and words to flow naturally from your brain to the page, without editing, helps the unconscious mind to swim to the surface and become seen and heard.’
It allows us to explore unfettered, not only the contents of our day and how we’re feeling, but in a creative context to explore what stops us creating. Surely if we can journal, we can write? The author suggests we use lists to determine what creative activity we want to do, list everything we think stops us from carrying this out, whether it’s an internal or external block. Then we can work out and suggest solutions for these blocks – I often find it helps to imagine to blocks and issues belong to someone else because that gives us the right mindset to solve them. If solving our own issues, we can have unconscious blocks that follow us even into our journal. In fact the author herself suggests it can help to imagine we are trying to help a friend rather than answering our own problems.
For me, the most useful section on a practical level is the section on mind maps. I am currently writing a series of pieces for my MA that explore my experiences nursing my late husband, but also the dynamics within his family and their flight from Poland during WW2. I hope that this will become a novel, because I have always wanted to be a writer. The author suggests a mind map and I use my scrapbook for these so I can use colour and collage and make it a piece of art in its own right. I want it to inspire me when I’m struggling, so aim to use family photos and pictures of the places I need to research or visit. She suggests using meditation for 15 minutes before starting, something I do in writing workshops because it stops chatter, calms the room and lets people focus on their own intentions. Usefully, she suggests key questions to ask yourself such as key themes, chapters and intention. However, she also suggests including questions about yourself such as – what are my unique credentials for writing this book? Why does it need to be written? What has inspired me to write this book? These are really positive questions because they get us to think positively about our skills and knowledge and can be used as encouragement when we’re feeling like we don’t have the skills, knowledge, or talent to do this! Something all writers feel at times.
At the back there’s a brilliant section on references and further reading that I know are really helpful because they’re all in my reference library at home. I think this is a really useful little book, great to fit in a bag to carry with you and will be useful for the future, not just as you work through it the first time. I’m looking forward to using it alongside my upcoming work, but also adding it to the libraries of other potential creators I know. It delivers much more than it promises as first glance. The most important concept it introduces is that of the ‘flow-state’ – ‘the mental state of being completely immersed in a task’. This stage isn’t just important for people creating a specific piece of work, because it links to that other buzz word for mental well-being- mindfulness. When we become so immersed in a task we lose track of time, we are practising mindfulness because we’re focused on only one thing at a time. We’re not checking the time, or social media and becoming distracted by everyday cares. We are simply being. This is something that everyone can benefit from.
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