creativity self-help month recap

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As January draws to a close so too does the first Creativity Self-Help Month. I’d like to thank everyone who read and commented and I like to extend a very special thank you to my four guest bloggers, Emma Frank, Averil Parker, Edel Meade, and Kevin Sun. I learned so much from everyone involved.

Check out the list below to view all the Creativity Self-Help Posts at a glance.

What lessons did you learn this month? Let me know in the comments below.

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creativity and the mind-body connection by emma frank

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[ guest post // creativity and the mind-body connection // emma frank ]

Thich Nhat Hanh wrote that before peace comes suffering, that one must go deeply into their suffering before peace is possible.  I’m no Thich Nhat Hanh and I hesitate even to write a blog post that begins with his name but on a difficult day, I walked into a bookstore and found a friendly yellow cover entitled You Are Here.  I started reading it and the simplicity of his voice spoke to me.

The difficulty of my day was simple.  It was also complex. On the surface, there were complicated dramas, all the reasons that people are who they are and do what they do.  All of the sadness attached to those dramas and to the individuality of my suffering.  That difficult day, however, I was trying my best to let go of those dramas and to experience the difficulty within my body.   From inside myself, those difficult emotions were no longer difficult, they simply were.

You Are Here, by Thich Nhat Hanh, is a wonderful book and if you have the time, maybe you’d like to read it.

It used to be that when I suffered, I was afraid of actually feeling. Listening to recordings from that period, I can hear the negative effects of an overly dominant mind.  My voice sounds so cut off from my body as my mind tries to override my body’s needs and instincts.

For me, the practice of songwriting, like yoga, or meditation, or many other kinds of spiritual and artistic practices, thrives on a strong mind-body connection.  When I write a song, I tune in to the connection between my emotions and my mind, and the language that I choose to narrate my emotions with.  By connecting to my voice, I bring myself into my body.  I am neither all body or all mind but a fluid interaction of both.  This process of drawing the body in to the mind and the mind in to the body – this mindfulness practice – has helped to draw me away from harmful thinking habits and obsessive analysis and into a practice of love and compassion for myself and others.  I feel more able to write songs that express what I feel, not what I wish I felt or how I wish I sounded.

Now, when something hard comes up, I try to actually feel it.  I try to be compassionate with myself, to accept the feeling, to welcome it.  Coming from a culture of academia and psycho-analysis, my brain is often swarming with thoughts, some more helpful than others and some downright harmful.  But, knowing that I am not my thoughts, I feel more in control when something negative comes up.   Where so much had once felt hostile and cold, now most everything feels infused with warmth and love.  Not to say that I don’t go through difficult periods.  Life is always presenting challenges.   But now, when I go in to whatever feeling comes up, whether joy or sadness, my creativity unlocks.  I don’t worry about whether a lyric or melody is good or bad because I am fully connected to it and it is fully connected to me.

I often feel lucky to write songs.  I know there are billions of awesome practices in the world that allow people to explore the meaning of being here and to become more truly themselves.  In my little world, how beautiful to feel a hard thing and explore it with music and words until it unlocks and blooms into a song that you can keep with you, like a deep realization, whenever the next hard, beautiful challenge presents itself.

[ Emma Frank is a singer/songwriter living in Montreal. She will be playing at Le Verre Bouteille on February 16. More details at emmafrankmusic.com ]

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songwriter’s inspiration and resources grab bag

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Without a doubt, the hardest thing about being a songwriter is finding inspiration. I have found that I have the most success when I’m writing as many songs, or song seeds, as possible, regardless of how inspired I’m feeling. When I show up to the page with regularity, inspiration usually follows. Below you will find a list of songwriting inspiration, games, and jumping off points. I have used them all myself at one point or another and they are in no particular order. Enjoy!

  • Write a song based on a painting that inspires you. Need some help finding an inspiring painting? Here are some pinterest boards to get you started.
  • rewatch your favourite movie or reread your favourite book. Write down lines that speak to you and use them as song titles or jumping-off points
  • Browse through book titles at the library and write down titles that would make good song titles
  • Interpret objects or architecture musically. Go for a walk and try to “hear” the scenes that pass you.  (Fun fact: This is how I wrote the song Watching)
  • Create songwriting constraints based off of other songs, for example Bye Bye Blackbird and Skylark could translate into “songs with an AABA form and a bird title.” (Fun fact: This is how I wrote Canary)
  • Go people watching. Visit a crowded place like a coffee shop or an airport and write down scenarios and characters based on the people you see interacting. Use these ideas as plots for songs.
  • Browse newspapers or magazines for song ideas.
  • Set a poem you like to music.
  • Write a questions-title song (Fun fact: This is how I wrote Have We Been In Love Before?)
  • Try and write the worst song you can possibly imagine.
  • Copy down the rhyme scheme of a poem or song you like and write a song that uses the same rhyme scheme
  • Choose an interval. Make that interval the theme of your melody.
  • Find a common word or phrase with multiple meanings and work both meanings into your lyric (Fun fact: This is my favourite thing to do and how I wrote So Far)
  • Write a song based on an idiom or figure of speech.
  • Write lyrics to an instrumental song.

Bonus! Here are my favourite songwriting resources from this enormous writing resource masterlist.

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a nonjudgmental practice by averil parker

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[ guest post // a nonjudgmental practice // averil parker ]

It is a perfectly normal for our minds to produce judgements and evaluations. It is part of the human existence, it is what the mind does. Using language, our minds produce judgements and evaluations and attach them to people, objects or experiences. However, it is problematic to proceed as if these judgements were real, unchangeable aspects of reality.

Before someone hipped me to self-compassion, I had what I would say was a problematic approach to practicing. I used stress and criticism to motivate myself to work hard and accomplish my goals, and I would beat myself up if I fell short. Instead of reevaluating my standards and problem solving I would attribute my perceived failures to some sort of mysterious character flaw IE: I am inadequate, I am not talented, I am not good enough etc. This type of oppressive judging was somewhat functional, but blocked so much beauty and progress.

I started integrating a less judgmental approach into my practice out of necessity rather than intuition. About a year ago life severely kicked me in the ass. No longer really able to stand my own criticisms, negative self-talk or perfectionist habits I had to find a new way of dealing with challenges. There was a grieving period. For a while I felt like I was walking through the shadows of dreams I used to have. But, as I let go of the person I wished I was, fear eventually gave way to curiosity, acceptance and simplicity.

My practice changed from a space where I was constantly imposing negative judgements on myself to a space which is flexible and creative. A space that allows for happiness, excitement, anger, sadness, loss, beauty and kindness; that, rather than excluding parts of life I don’t like, is big enough to hold it all. Every moment blossoms into the next, pregnant with promise and chaos and hope, and I try to give myself completely and spontaneously to this process. There is so much joy, so much contentment to be found.

It is important for me to return to practice daily. Even when I am frustrated or don’t feel like it for whatever reason. Especially when I don’t believe in it anymore, that is when my practice will comb me into it’s fabric and fold me over and in on itself until there is no distinction between me and music, until there is only happy surrender.

My practices happen to be music, meditation and yoga. These are the actions through which I practice acceptance and compassion, the experiences which teach me to be curious, humble and patient. The action isn’t important, whether one reads or writes or runs or drinks coffee or makes love, to me a nonjudgemental approach is having the courage to lean into an action with awareness and to gently hold the moment with a compassionate heart. When this approach is applied, viewing judgement as fact becomes completely beside the point.

A very wise teacher once told me: when your heart and your mind is filled with music, there is no room for anything else.

[ Averil Parker is a saxophonist, composer, and yogi living in Montreal. Her new album, Project Pigeon, is due to be released in February 2014. More details at averilparkermusic.com ]

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book love: the songwriters idea book // 04 [repost]

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Welcome to the 4th installment of Book Love: a series in which I tell you all about the resources, guides, and inspirational books that I love. Today’s book is The Songwriters Idea Book: 40 strategies to excite your imagination, help you design distinctive songs, and keep your creative flow by Sheila Davis.

This book was recommended to me by the wonderful and talented Megan Jerome, herself a great songwriter. Megan is a wealth of songwriting information and resources and this will not be the last Book Love inspired by her.

Sheila Davis is well known for her books on lyric writing including The Craft of Lyric Writing and Successful Lyric Writing, but The Songwriters Idea Book is an invaluable resource for anyone looking for lots of different ways to get inspired and seed new songs.

Book Love: The Songwriters Idea Book // 04

This is a great book for songwriters of any experience level who wish to keep up a regular practice of songwriting. I mentioned in my post on my songwriting process last Friday that regular work is way more effective than only writing when you are inspired. This book has a ton of jumping off points for you to work from included a variety of title strategies, plot devices, and wordplay.

My favourite title strategy found in this book is “book title titles” where you write a song with the same title as a book. I will often go to the library and fill a page with interesting book titles I find and then try and write songs with my favourite titles. It doesn’t always yield my best results but it certainly gets the creative juices flowing.

Book Love: The Songwriters Idea Book // 04

Book Love: The Songwriters Idea Book // 04

That’s it for Book Love // 04. Let me know what you’re reading in the comments below. You can also check out other book love books on the book love index page.

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creative bloggers on anxiety

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[ i should be working harder. i should be doing something more creative. i should have more plans and goals. // creative bloggers on anxiety ]

How many times have you thought these thoughts? Lately a couple of creative people I admire have revealed their deeply personal thoughts on anxiety, creativity, and self-employment.

The first person is Bri Emery, founder of designlovefest. She writes about reading Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection, and the flood of thoughts and realizations the book unearthed in her. For example:

incessant planning, working, social media, and keeping a full calendar was just me trying to numb my insecurities and fears. i think to myself often “i should be working harder. i should be doing something more creative. i should have more plans and goals.” I have such high expectations for myself and the people around me. i still haven’t figured out exactly which feeling i’m numbing, all i know is that it’s happening. and i should try to dig deep and think about how to fix it.

Read the full article here.

The second person is Craig Pedersen, my dear friend and co-conspirator. He has been writing a series of posts on anxiety and creativity in the wake of his decision to seek therapy to overcome daily anxiety. He writes about how therapy has started to change his relationship with his creative process and with music. In Creative Process and Anxiety 4: Staying on Track, he writes:

Most of my therapy sessions begin with me talking about things I have become aware of: this makes me anxious, that makes me anxious, I had a memory of this being a time where this anxiety started etc. When I do this, my therapist says something along the lines of: “great, but awareness isn’t the only step. I believe that in order to change our negative thoughts and emotions, we must change our behaviours too.”

Click here to see Craig’s entire series.

How do you cope with anxiety in your creative life?

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creativity and stepping outside of your comfort zone by edel meade

Dublin-based singer, composer and lyricist, Edel Meade, reveals how she allows her creative energy to prosper and offers some thoughts on how she is planning to extend her creative boundaries in 2014…

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[ guest post // creativity and stepping outside of your comfort zone // Edel Meade ]

In order for creative energy to flow freely, I need to explore who I am, and to identify where my boundaries exist. I need to have courage to follow my heart and intuition and to explore the creative potential in all areas of my life.

For example, I’ve always wanted to try salsa dancing but have been quite shy about it until now. However it’s necessary for us to step out of our comfort zones and to face personal challenges.

“You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching, love like you’ll never be hurt, sing like there’s nobody listening and live like it’s heaven on earth.”

- William W. Purkey

I really want to overcome my fear of ice-skating. I was never brought ice-skating as a child and by the time I was in my twenties, I wasn’t enthused about falling flat on my face, for all to see. But now I see that once I’ve fallen flat on my face, I’m gonna stand back up again too.

I want to continue with long-term counselling to challenge thought-processes which have stopped me from doing what I really want to do and being who I really want to be.

I have a sense that yoga practice and meditation will help me to connect with the people in my life, including my audiences, in a more meaningful way so that we are sharing every present moment together and feeding off each other’s creative energy.

I want to become fluent in French, Portuguese, Italian and Spanish in the hope of understanding different cultural perspectives more clearly. Music is just another language with thousands of different dialects and viewpoints, but it’s all related.

My alone time is crucially important for my creativity to flourish. It gives me the opportunity to restore energy lost through teaching or sitting in front of my laptop for hours, doing admin. This can be achieved by strolling by the sea for forty minutes or by making some home-made guacamole for example!

I find cooking deeply therapeutic and it’s full of creative possibilities! I have never experienced the type of satisfaction that came from making my first home-made curry from scratch.

It is also crucial for me to surround myself with other creative and motivated artists. I get a healthy dose of dynamic energy from being around innovators with an entrepreneurial spirit.

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

- Jim Rohn

The music you create is an expression of who you are. Dare yourself to step out of your comfort zone and watch what happens!

[ Edel Meade is a vocalist, composer, and educator from Dublin, Ireland. She will be performing the Joni Mitchell songbook at The Odessa Club on February 13, 2014. Visit www.edelmeade.com for more details. ]

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