I must confess, I have been struggling. The state of the world and the fear I feel flowing in the wind are oppressing my spirit. I keep looking for words of hope to meditate on, just single words I let my mind mull over.
These poems were all born from that endeavor, but I find myself running low on ideas. If you have a word that sparks hope, or peace within you, would you share it with us in the comments?
I will do my best to write a short poem or reflection on each word you share with me.
Or maybe you have a word that weighs on your mind. Maybe it’s not oppressive, but you feel it’s important. Share it please.
I have been working on a small side project called Words of Weight. Once I have penned enough poems to fill a small chapbook, I plan to share it with you all for free. Your words are paramount to my finishing.
Mary Grace van der Kroef
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Several months I got to participate in an author interviewed with Kirsten McNeill. She is a fellow creator, author, editor, podcast host and creative coach. She has some really amazing new things in her future. But following her dreams has meant she needs to leave some old projects behind, so the platform our interview lives in is coming down.
Today, it gets a new home in the form of this post, and I really encourage you to check Kirsten and everything she is about out. She interviewed me about my upcoming chapbook, and now I will also share her creative endeavors with you.
A bit from Kirsten:
As a creative, I’m always coming up with new project ideas and searching for ways to express myself.
One of my latest ideas is to become a life purpose/creative life coach to encourage writers (and other creators) to embrace their journeys and live the life they want unapologetically.
I love helping others feel good about themselves and work to build a positive mindset in their daily activities. And many writer friends have said that I’m already leaning into the coaching world with my sunflower happiness!
My first step in becoming a life coach is taking a certification program. There’s one starting in October, and the last day to sign up for the early bird special is October 1st!
I’ve created a campaign goal on Buy Me A Coffee and it would mean the world to me if you helped me reach it!
Show your support by spreading the word, helping me raise funds, and letting me know what you think of the EXTRAS!
Learning from this program will expand my knowledge base to help others feel more confident and happy in their journeys.
Hello Mary Grace! Please introduce yourself and share 5 fun facts!
My favorite food is sushi.
Sushi pairs with nothing better than a Dr. Pepper. Yes, I am that weird.
I am a huge Anime fan. The classics like Hunter x Hunter are my favorite.
One of my favorite singers of all time is Kevin Max. Some people might recognize his name from the band DC Talk.
I have had my hair just about every color of the rainbow, except pink. Pink is not my favourite.
What inspired you to begin your writing journey?
Ever since I was a little girl, I have been a very avid reader. Back then, my favourite books were about Pippi Longstocking. I loved that a little girl like me could adventure and do ridiculous things. Stories give us freedom to dream like that. I used to make up my own stories about her.
As I aged, I found that writing gave me release from the confusing emotions that come with growing up. It felt so natural to me to use a pencil to dream and pour out my pain and fear and doubts.
I have only been aspiring to write for others the last few years. It’s only because of the encouragement I received from other writers and authors in my life that has given me the courage to ‘write out loud’.
What are your favourite genres and themes to write about?
I write a lot of poetry. It’s a wonderful way to process emotions and understand them. I enfold questions and truths about my own mental health, and faith into these poems. I love story telling. Poems are great ways to tell stories in vivid imagery. The short story in its many forms is also important to me. The ability to compress all I want to say into just a few words is something I am continuing to learn. I like to use short stories to explore how different perspectives can lead to a deeper understanding of the world and ourselves.
What are the challenges you face in writing?
Finding time would be one of the biggest challenges. I have been homeschooling two of my three children over the past year. Much of my life has revolved around childcare, so the moments I steal in the middle of the business to write are often interrupted. I also have a mild form of dyslexia. I have improved over my years of writing but rely on grammar software to see mistakes that my eyes and brain miss.
Tell us about the poetry collection you’re working on!
It will be a grouping of twenty-five of my best faith-based poems. These poems revolve around my prayers, my questions, even my battles with mental health and faith. My working title is ‘The Branch That I Am’. I hope to make this collection available between August and the end of November, of this year 2021. This is my first experience working with a professional editor, and I am enjoying the learning happening in my creative space.
What are the best parts of bringing topics of mental health and faith into your writing?
What a great question. Overall, I think it’s the chance I have to share Hope. When we are in the middle of darkness, it is so easy to lose sight of the hope that we have. I believe in a God that will sit with me in the middle of my pain and confusion. He isn’t far away, he is present. He is that hope.
The two are so intertwined in my life that I cannot separate them. If I didn’t have that hope, I wouldn’t still be alive. SO the best part of sharing my hope with the world as writing, is that maybe someone else will come to hold hope as well.
How do you balance your writing schedule with the other aspects of your life?
Not always very well. My kids always come first, but the crumbs on my carpet don’t get vacuumed up enough. I do try to take all my tasks for the day in bits and pieces spread out. Everything I write starts as a note on my phone. I write whole rough drafts there.
What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned in your writing journey?
It’s okay to write crap. Honestly, it’s so freeing to know that the first draft doesn’t have to be this glorious thing. It’s almost always really horrible. THAT IS OKAY.
What’s the most important thing to you when it comes to creativity?
It is individual. As humans, we are constantly comparing ourselves to each other. But our creativity is as distinct as our fingerprints. My writing or painting may have similar styles to someone else, but they are my own. My skills and message will grow at their own pace.
What’s the best advice you can give to fellow writers?
Never give up. When I was fourteen, I knew I was a going to be a writer. But I didn’t know I would be a poet, no idea it would take until I was in my 30’s to bloom and be ready to show the world my words. Don’t give up. If you put words on paper, or screen, you ARE a writer.
What do you do when you’re struggling to come up with ideas?
I really love short forms of writing. I use six word stories as an exercise when I feel blank inside. It starts as just looking at someone else’s art, a picture or painting, and trying to see the story hidden behind the obvious. I try to express it in just six words. If I can focus and pull those six words from my heart and mind, it usually jump starts something for me.
Can you share your favourite snippets from articles and poems on your website? What makes them special to you?
“I asked the Lord to keep me brave. Hold my chin above the wave.
Lend me strength to tread the line. Close my mouth to deadly brine.
Whether rescue comes for me, or in death, I am set free.
I asked the Lord to keep me brave, as I swim above the grave.”
These lines from my poem ‘He Keep’s Me,’ might seem dark to others. But to me, it’s a reminder that I am never alone. He always keeps me brave.
‘When Creativity Hurts’, is one of the first articles I wrote on creativity.
“I also ask myself, is it worth this hurt? I always came back to the answer, yes. Creativity is worth every tear. Why? Because it can help me heal, if I let it.
Will I let it? Will you let it? Or will we all let creativity work its cauterizing powers on our emotional and spiritual wounds?”
These are just a few lines from the article, but they show the heart of it. Creativity is such a gift from God. There have been years I lost hold of my creative spark in the middle of my battle with depression. I pray God gives me the strength to never let it go again.
What are your goals for the future in your writing career?
After this first chapbook, I have plans for several more centered around different themes. Family, Love, Nature, and Thoughts about life in general. I would like to see one published per year for the next four or five years. Whether I accomplish this will depend on that family work time balance. Further down the line, I have hopes for writing full-length novels and collections of short stories.
Any last thoughts to share about Mary Grace or your writing experiences?
I just feel so blessed in being given the opportunity to share my story. I’m humbled by the thought of my words reaching out in to the future and touching those I will never meet. I am praying for readers and fellow writers to come alongside me and help me learn, grow, and reach my goals. If anything, we have talked about resonates with a reader, I encourage them to reach out to me. Join my monthly newsletter and let’s do this thing called creativity together.
Thank you so much for sharing your story, Mary Grace van der Kroef!
Encouragement is important to creativity. To hear constant criticism, or belittlement of our efforts, is deadly to most people’s dreams.
“Oh my! You are so talented.”
People love to hear this comment. But could it and the beliefs behind it be hurting, more than helping creativity?
I see potential danger lurking in the background.
Natural, or raw talent, is a beautiful thing. Each of us have it. Weather that talent has to do with speaking, writing, sculpting, painting, or listening to a friend. Perhaps it looks different for you, like understanding complex logical thought patterns.
Regardless, each human is gifted in something. But if we believe our ability to succeed rests solely on that natural ability, it will limit us.
What happens to a runner, who is fast from birth, but as soon as running hurts, they stop training? They will never stand on an international podium. It’s the same for creatives who refuse to do the hard work.
For a writer, hard work is research, editing, and lots of words that will never be in a book.
What is your talent? What is hard work and growth for you?
Can working at something you are not naturally talented at be worth it? Should you give up?
If you work hard, you will improve. Sure, maybe you won’t be world famous. But I am confident you will reach a higher level of ability if you persevere. Hard work trumps talent alone, every time.
“Your hard work is paying off.”
“Look at you grow!”
“I love your perspective.”
These three compliments are powerful and satisfying to my soul. They acknowledge things that have happened behind the senses while still praising.
Next time we give a compliment, let’s think about what it’s really communicating and ask ourselves, could we give more than a nod to talent?
I remember one day trying to read my ‘A’ book to Mom, and being unable to put ‘gl’ together, to read the word ‘glad’. It took so much patience. My mother sat there, listening to me struggle over and over.
The first day I got the consonant blend out once, that was it. Only once after a half hour of trying. I have always had to battle language in written form.
I still mix up my B’s and D’s. Often write M’s and N’s wrong, have always hated grammar lessons. I even hid my workbook behind the couch and got away with it for a week, to my mother’s frustration.
So why did I choose to be a writer?
The quick answer is, I didn’t, it chose me.
Stories have been a constant in my life, and the desire to tell them and create has always been within me. I distinctly remember regaling everyone at a friend’s birthday parting, with the story of my dad using a rifle to ‘shoot down’ trees instead of cutting them with a chainsaw. That he was a logger was true, but ya, felling trees doesn’t work that way. I had the entire room in stitches.
It was an absurd story, but for that moment my dad was the hero, as trees fell around him with a single shot. A projection of how my heart saw him. It was great fun.
The need to be understood, and to understand are huge parts of my personality and I have no better way to attempt both, then to use language. But how do I deal with wondering eyes that just can’t see the words they write straight the first time?
I taking my time.
I am horribly slow with writing. I take weeks to craft these short blog posts, even longer for any of my short stories. If I am rushed, it shows. Time sensitive writing competitions are exhausting. Deadlines are important but often missed. My comments in chat boxes and social media are laughable. Even so, the landscape of language speaks to me.
I have learned there is no unfixable mistake in writing. Asking for help is not weakness, but strength. Every sentence, when you sit back and think about it, can tell a unique story.
I acknowledge I don’t have it near as difficult as other people I know. Years of repetition have improved my skills with spelling, and trained my eyes to work as a team far better than they used to. But still there are so many mistakes I miss.
Will I ever be a great poet? Maybe not… Will people ever take me seriously in the literary world? I don’t know. Will I ever write a best-selling novel? I will try. But as I try, I will do my best not to forget that day I fought to put ‘gl’ together. Remembering where we started keeps us grounded.
Where did you start your creative journey?
What walls did you have to clump?
I didn’t realise I was learning the lessons of perseverance while struggling to read at age six, seven, and eight. I thought I was just learning letters on a page. Resilience started building the first time they teased me for not being able to read my bible out loud in Sunday school. The foundations of those lessons were messy, hard work. But a temple can not stand tall, if we do not lay the groundwork.
Note: I have not been formally diagnosed with Dyslexia. Being from a homeschool family, we did not have that opportunity while I was in school. There are other members of my immediate family what have undergone vision therapy and deal with learning differences on a far larger scale than I do. ~ Mary Grace van der Kroef
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There is power in poetic verse. Words roll off the tongue like music and lose us in the sway of emotions that flood each word. But what about the messages hidden within poetry?
There are many ways to hide truths and or lies behind emotions. Often poetry takes us on a path we don’t control and we discover answers to questions along the way. But not always. If the engine that drives a piece is emotion, it’s inevitable that the author will sometimes get it wrong. After all, we need many more things than love to survive this world, and those that love should definitely still use the phrase, “I’m sorry.” Still, poetry has at one time taught us these things as truth.
How do we sift through the half-formed thoughts, fragmented ideas, and coloured emotions of poetry? Is it worth it? It is, especially when the poet speaks to us of their own personal story, with words that journey to understanding.
I say, you will never find gold if you are not first willing to sift the rivers for it. Maybe that is what a poet is. A prospector, braving the cold river of emotion, the pan of language in hand, searching the sediment of life for nuggets of truth. Will we find gold? Or pyrite? Or nothing but unwanted rocks?
You will never know until you are willing to jump in that river or start a poetic journey. The key is to understand it’s a journey, and a fragment of a journey, not a whole.
I thank God every day for the gift of the written word, and the gems I have found in the gift of poetry. But I also know, not every word I write is truth. They are expressions of emotion. I am also aware that the things I believe in this moment will change, as it should. Life is continually teaching us. A person who stays the same is a person who never grows.
I pray I can grow with open eyes and mind, ready for the truth, but also aware of the lies. For searching for both is necessary for growth.
We store away our children’s scrap paper drawings as if they were masterpieces. Maybe not all of them, but the few that hold sentimental meaning. But with our own art, whether written word, the stroke of a paintbrush, or a photograph of a first cake decorating session, we push them to the back cupboard, or even throw them away.
Making room for a new and better isn’t wrong, but maybe we should hang on to one or two of those learning pieces. Treasuring them like we do the scribbles and hand paintings of childhood.
Undoubtedly your first works hold mistakes, just as mine do. So why keep any of them? Why show any of them to anyone?
They are beautiful examples of growth.
How often do you get discouraged in your creative life, and need a reminder of just how far you have come? How many times do you need help to keep your feet on the ground? Or encouragement to not give up? Keeping, and even displaying the art made while in the first stages of learning can be these powerful reminders.
Above is a picture of my first 4 foot by 2 foot painting. I wanted to stretch myself and see how different it was to paint a larger piece. The water was FAR from what I was going for…
So when I finished, what did I do with it? I hung it in on my kitchen wall, and every time I looked up at it, I thought about what I would do differently next time. (Now it’s hanging in my sister’s cabin because she is crazy and loves it.) I learned so much from just looking at it every day for over a year.
Everyone was once a beginner. No one has yet ‘arrived’ at perfection. So cherish those sloppy first strokes and overused words. Let them shine a light on your future creative path.
I was recently the subject of my first author’s interview with Kirsten McNeill. Kirsten is a fellow writer, as well as an editor for self-published authors. It was a great experience. You can read the interview by following the link provided. Don’t forget to check out Kirsten’s other posts, and all she has to offer the self-publishing world.
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It’s thrilling, letting yourself get swept away in the moment of creation… Then someone interrupts you. A child tugs on your sleeve, or the phone rings. A spouse calls from down the hall, “Are you done yet?”
Do you shake off that tug on your arm, mute the phone, and ignore the calling? Can you? Should you?
Creativity is precious, we should cultivate and protect it. Having a space for this is ideal, having a time when distractions and interruptions are at a minimum is important. But there are people in our lives that can’t, and shouldn’t be ignored. It’s a balancing act.
The people in our lives are important. They support our creativity in ways we often take for granted. We shouldn’t ignore them. Not only shouldn’t we ignore them, but they are a pivotal part of our creation process.
In many cases they are directly, or indirectly, our inspiration. We get many of our ideas from watching them, talking with them, living with them, and all the ups and downs that go with that.
As a mother and wife, I sacrifice my creative life to care for and nurture my family. I have obligations, expectations and jobs I can NOT ignore. Families need attention, children need nurturing. But is it ever okay to say, “No, not right now, I need this time?”
Yes. Sometimes it’s healthy, and even important, to set boundaries around our creative endeavors. They are a part of us. When humans walk in their creative abilities, positivity flows out into the world. Finding the right place and time for that pulling away is the hard part, and the key to a thriving creative life amid people.
When I first became a mother, my kids became my entire world. But I let go of something that I never should have lost. My creativity. I stopped drawing, except doodles for the kids to color. I stopped learning and pushing myself artistically. I even stop writing, only picking it up once or twice a year when a fleeting spark touched my life. Because I let this part of me go, my soul suffered.
I didn’t know how to balance my creativity around the people important to me. But now that I have found my creative spark again, it’s a learning process. Like learning to juggle. But it’s one of the most important lessons of my life.
Do not lessen your light in this world by letting God given trats or abilities die. Instead, seek to learn how to incorporate new people, places, and responsibilities into your creativity.
Who are the people in your daily life that inspire you? Who are the ones that test you? Who adds flavor to your hours?
Cherish them, friends, family, and prickly people alike. I look forward to seeing them represented in your creative works.
We often overlook the power of quiet in our world. For many creatives, finding that quiet space can be difficult.
What do you do when the quiet finds you, and won’t leave?
We have been subjected to isolation few have known before. For some, this has created safe spaces to create, even given us a boost. We have taken stock and finish projects. It’s been thrilling!
But, It’s been over a year. How do you keep your creativity thriving when you can’t watch the hustle and bustle of everyday life from your favorite coffee shop window, when trips that feed your inspiration are discouraged? What do you do when it’s been weeks since your last conversation with another adult, and all you hear in your own brain is baby talk and cartoon theme songs? Or even just silence, and the silence is weighting on you, crushing your creativity.
It’s time to remember your ‘why’. What do I mean by that?
Every person engaging in their creativity has a why, an underlying reason they create. What’s yours?
For me, it’s not a choice. I must write or I get sick. It’s how my brain puts pieces together and manages stress. It’s how I entertain and am entertained. I dream, think, and live in a world of words. My why?
I write to understand myself and the word.
What is your why?
Whatever form your creativity takes, revisit your why. After you hold it in my mind and heart again, ask yourself, is it still enough? Has it changed this past year? Should it change?
I can’t answer those questions for you. I will trust you can find the answers. After you remember your why, it’s time to practice.
Practice? Yes, practice.
Sometimes creatives believe the lie that, “We always need to have a project going.” That is not true.
When you are tired, lonely, depressed, give your brain and heart a rest. Revisit things you know best like the beginning strokes of a painting, the simple forms of poetry you played with as a child.
Hop, mop, clop!
Let your brain wonder through small things.
What does your coffee smell like?
Is there a word to describe the wind chimes outside on the back porch?
If your art is more physical, return to the exercises your body knows. Muscle memory is powerful.
Pick up your guitar and play Mary Had A little lamb. Let your fingers roam over the strings, finding the notes your heart loves best, a favorite song. Just sing.
Then take a brake.
Put it down, walk away, play with the kids. Phone Mom! Send your girlfriend a hand-written letter. Let creativity grow. Once you start something, it will call to you. Your heart and mind will tell you when to engage with creativity.
Do you hear her calling you?
When you do, it’s then that your heart is ready to learn from her again. This road of creativity in loneliness is difficult. But if you feed that flame inside, it won’t die. Be kind to yourself.
All humans have the spark of creativity. Some of us revel in it, and some of us hold it at arms’ length. Some of us even try to squelch it in our fists as if it was a bug we could squash, or a flame we could douse.
Have you ever done that?
Why do we do it?
Because creativity is not safe, and it scares us.
Why does creativity sometimes scare us? A few reasons may be fear of rejection, fear of inferiority, or fear of breaking rules.
When you share your creativity, there is always a risk that whoever you share it with, won’t get it or be able to appreciate it. It’s for each individual to decide if that risk is worth it.
We have a choice weather we hide our creativity from others. But that’s like placing a lit candle under a bucket. We should share creativity, at least with those who love us.
It is also a sacred thing. Creativity demands our energy. Inevitably, the creator will endow the project with a part of his or her self. It’s painful seeing our work rejected, as it’s painful being overlooked, or rejected as people. But I believe the risk is worth it.
It’s also possible we are just not as gifted in our chosen art form as we wish to be. Other’s might outshine us. We may fail in front of the world.
I urge each of us not to let this fear stop us from practicing our creativity. Every great creative was once a beginner. Everyone will find someone more talented.
You know what? That’s okay.
Whether you gain great acclaim in your art, or not, your creativity has merit. Often, it’s the doing that blesses and not always the end product. We can bless others as they watch our progress, no matter how slow that progress may be. It can light the spark under their own creativity. Don’t stop doing what gives you wing just because you’re not the best at it.
Sometimes our creative takes us to places that push boundaries. We may have heard, “no you can’t do that, it’s not allowed.” Or been told that something makes us incapable of practicing this creativity. Be it cultural rules, religious rules, or something else, this can and is devastating. Dare we break those rules? Will we risk throwing the definition of norms out the window?
This is a personal choice. Are there moral reasons rules are there? Are these moral rules just? Honestly, human beings aren’t always fair with the rules we place on ourselves and others. It’s necessary to question rules and why they are in place, especially when they limit human creativity.
As we question these rules, and weigh the need to uphold, or brake them, I hope bravery, truth, and beauty prevail.
What will you do this week to practice creativity? Tell me about it!