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.
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.
©2021 Mary Grace van der Kroef
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.
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.
©2021 Mary Grace van der Kroef
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!
©2021 Mary Grace van der Kroef
We tell stories in books, with pictures, with theatre, with spoken word, even with dance. Stories are powerful.
Stories change people.
Why do we tell stories?
From cave paintings to comics, humanity has a wide range of how it tells stories. Every single people’s group uses them, treasures them, and has their own. There are several answers to this.
One, we use them to teach.
Two, we use them to remember.
Three, we use them to dream and invent.
When we use stories to teach, it brings lessons to life. It makes them relatable and real. When we use a creative story to teach, it hides lessons in adventure. We can learn without even knowing that’s what we’re doing.
Do we realize the lessons we are learning? Sometimes we don’t. Be aware of what you are taking in to your heart and mind, it might change you in ways you never realized.
When we tell stories about the past. We keep lessons of experience alive. When we work hard to keep those stories accurate, we protect truth. If we don’t want truth muddied, we must tell our stories. We must search for others’ stories, and we must be open to hearing each one, no matter how difficult.
Make believe. These stories are not true, but can still teach truths. Fiction pushes the envelop. It asks, what if? It lets us learn before we have experienced. Through fiction we invent novel ways of being and understanding. What if humans could fly, breathe underwater, or visit the stars? These dreams of the once impossible have spurred many amazing inventions of today. Many of these dreams started as story.
Jesus Christ also used stories. The Christian Church called them parables and describes them as earthly stories with heavenly meaning. They teach moral truths in ways the average Jewish citizen would have understood in that time period. If Christ himself used stories, we shouldn’t shy from doing the same thing.
Whoever you are, you have a story to tell. No matter what your belief system, it’s an important story.
Tell me a piece of your story in the comments.
©2021 Mary Grace van der Kroef
Do you consider lying around as lost time?
Many kinds of creativity happen chiefly in our thoughts.
It takes a massive amount of just sitting and thinking to create new worlds for a book.
Paintings start in the mind before coming to life on canvas.
A sculptor must visualize the goal before the first cut or chisel.
Creativity can look a lot like doing nothing. I know mine often does.
What about yours? Are you giving your mind a space to create?
My kids often slouch in their chairs, roll their eyes at me and say. “I’m so bored!” In reply, I laugh. “Ha! Good, your growing brain cells. Now go play.”
Quiet thinking, being bored, is good for creativity. It forces us to find something. That’s when a potted plant becomes an unexplored island, or a spoon on the table, a boat lost at sea. Without that initial boredom, our brains wouldn’t feel the need to create stimulation on their own. Boredom can be a beautiful beginning.
Are you ready to make space to be bored? As an adult, I find it’s difficult. I have many things seeking my attention, it’s hard to sit and think.
Busyness can overwhelm. When this happens, we can look like we’re bored, but is really procrastination.
Personally, that means I’m experiencing performance anxiety. I fear I won’t be able to do something, so I’m afraid to even try. This looks like sitting around drumming my fingers. It looks bored, but it’s not, and it’s never a good thing. I am not advocating for it. When I learn how to overcome this stumbling block, I will let you know. (Don’t hold your breath waiting for me. It might be hazardous to your health.)
But I no longer find times of quiet, wasted time. I don’t continually need to fill my space with sound. I close my eyes and think. Listen to the sounds of the world. It is as pleasurable and inspiring as music. When was the last time you tried sitting and doing nothing?
I encourage you to find time during your week to practice a few moments of it. Let the dancing dust in a ray of light turn to fairy tales. Let the squeak of a rocking chair shift in to the swing of wood. Watch the wind through the trees. Listen to the chitchat of your kids. You might find inspiration there you didn’t expect. You might find a moment’s peace. Cherish it. It’s worth more than gold.
©2021 Mary Grace van der Kroef
Do you ever just stare at the blank page in front of you, seeing spots? Maybe you’re holding a pen or paintbrush. Or maybe your ‘blank page’ is a metaphor for something else. A block of wood uncarved? A spool of untouched wool?
Human creativity comes in an endless array, and everyone’s blank page looks different. But no matter what form it takes, that ‘blank page’ can be torture.
What do you do when creativity grinds to a halt? If I am being honest, my first reaction is usually to pout. But that doesn’t help. So next I ask, why am I stuck?
Often it’s because I’m tired. But sometimes it’s something deeper. When a word surfaces that reminds me of hurt, or other emotions and memories that are uncomfortable, my knee jerk response is to push it away. When I deny the words a place, it stifles my creativity.
Have you ever told the uncomfortable no? That never goes well for me. It becomes a splinter in my foot that throbs and turns red.
I can exhaust myself with emotions that come with writing a difficult piece, though. It’s never a good idea to push too far too soon. Give yourself time when you are dealing with subjects that dredge up a lot of pain.
But the blank page doesn’t always mean I’m denying myself. Have you ever sat there staring in to space? That can be significantly worse than the splinter.
But what does it mean? Like I said, usually for me it’s because I’m tired. But the other times? I have noticed for me it means I haven’t learned the thing I need to fill those blank lines with yet. My brain can’t connect the dots I don’t yet understand.
What can you do if you haven’t learned what you need to create finish your project? An answer will be different for everyone. We should each seek it out.
Sometimes that knowledge isn’t something we find with research, though. It comes with life experience. Interacting with people, animals, nature, and the world. It will also depend on the manner your creativity manifests itself. How a writer finds knowledge looks different from how a sculptor does.
How to know you’re missing the knowledge and not just tired? You might not. When creativity becomes a battle, it’s time to move on. Set what you’re working on aside and do something else. Not forever, but for right now. This can help you determine why you’re stuck.
Go for a walk, chat with a friend, do the dishes, wash the car. Try changing your surroundings for a bit and see what happens. Still stuck? Then work on a different project, be it poem, painting, or anything else. It’s okay to lay it aside. It’s okay to give it a rest and flex some different muscles.
I often flip through my file of unfinished poems, read each one, and asking myself if I have found the word that fits. I pull out a few to focus on that day. But I don’t strain myself until frustration. It’s okay to put it aside until tomorrow.
What if you’re on a deadline? Well, putting it aside for something else doesn’t mean you don’t pick it up the next day. Be honest with yourself if it’s something you can finish alone.
Last bit of advice. Ask for help. My mild dyslexia has me constantly asking for help, be it from my grammar software, or friends and family. I ask the internet countless things a day. I ask surrounding people to tell me there stories and learn from them.
Sometimes the greatest tools in our creativity kit are other people. A friendly conversation can turn the blank page into a project brimming with life and potential.
Anyone in the habit of communicating their creativity has had moments where their work is tinged with shadow. Some artist thrive in that dark place. Are you one of them? I walk the line on how dark the words I write are, and don’t believe in denying the sad, angry, or even ugly emotions and experiences we all carry. I choose to hold them, look at them, learn from them, then try to let them go.
But what to do when that darkness overshadows all other emotions when you create?
First, decide if it’s something you want to happen. Is the ugliness necessary to YOU? Is it something the world needs to see?
These are extremely personal questions. I will tell no one the way you express your creativity is wrong, or invalid, unless you are hurting other people. I will probably choose to not view your work if it’s overly dark for my own mental health. But that doesn’t invalidate it. Your art can still teach the world if you choose to share, and people decide it’s something they like. Make sure you tread that line carefully.
What if you answer no? No, you don’t want this darkness. Then you should ask is where is it coming from.
During the year I lived in The Netherlands, my boyfriend, now husband, took me to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. It was a great visit, but it also haunts me.
The Corpses of the De Witt Brothers is a c.1672-75 oil on canvas painting by the Dutch Golden Age painter Jan de Baen. 69.5 cm × 56 cm (27.4 in × 22 in)
Jan de Baen’s painting is the piece I will never forget. I almost walked right by it, the last small painting on the wall. It still stopped me dead in my tracks. I didn’t linger long, because it disturbed me. But I had to look closer to understand what it was. Then came the questions.
“What is that painting about?”
“What is the story behind it?”
“How could people do that to each other?”
The history behind the painting is pretty complicated, I will let you decide whether you want to look it up. The short answer is the two brothers depicted in the painting, were killed for political reasons.
As I remember viewing the painting for the first time, I ask myself, what was the artist thinking? Though the painting is attributed to Jan de Baen, it might be the work of an unknown artist. The exact reasons for its creation are not known for sure. Regardless, it’s a gruesome reminder of historical events. Which brings us back to what must the artist have been thinking?
Perhaps he had been asked to record what happened for the sake of history. Perhaps it was done for more political reasons. Was it a seen he has viewed himself? If so, was he releasing trauma? Witnessing violence like that would leave any human mind scared. We can’t know the answers to these questions, because we can’t ask the artist.
No matter what the motives and emotions behind the piece where, it’s important. Do I hate it? Yes. But I would argue it’s necessary. A necessary ugliness, a necessary reminder of human crimes. There are many works of art like this all around the world. Their darkness will not let us forget the mistakes of the past.
So what do you do when your own work haunts you? Do you have a story that needs to be told? Is its ugliness necessary? I would urge bravery and prayer.
It may be a darkness that you need to express and then release. Or it may be a darkness the word needs to acknowledge. But be kind to yourself. Be careful with your spirit, and if you need help with your journey of creativity mixed with shadow, reach out to a fellow creative who can support you. Or a mental health expert who can guide you.
Some people will disagree with me. They will recite things like Philippians 4:8 NIV. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. In reply, I would say, these works of art hold truth. Though the truth is ugly, it’s not something we should turn away from.
As a Christian, I often wear a cross. The tinny silver emblem of my faith is a work of art that holds darkness. It is a reminder of injustice, torture, and death. But is also my hope, the hope of this world. Should I turn away from the darkness of Christ’s death on the cross? Never.
Some artwork is created only for the enjoyment of morbidity. Again, I will say as long as you are not breaking any laws, or hurting other human beings, I don’t believe in forbidding you that kind of creativity. If this is you, I would like to ask you a question. Do you know your why? Is there something deep inside you might be neglected, that is the reason you enjoy dark art? Is it something you need to deal with?
For those of us who do not purposely seek dark works of art, may we be brave to telling the stories that beg to be told. May we be strong and not be trapped in darkness, but be able to let it go.
©Mary Grace van der Kroef 2020
Does being creative ever hurt you? Does the stroke of a paintbrush, the writing of words, or the blink of a camera shutter bring on tears?
Honestly, sometimes for me creativity hurts. But I don’t think creativity itself causes my pain. I believe when I dig deep and stirs things I have bottled inside, that stirring up reminds me I am in pain. Because let’s be honest, when we live with wounds sometimes we get used to the pain. We forget they haven’t healed yet.
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? Will we all let creativity work its cauterizing powers on our emotional and spiritual wounds? Is your head spinning yet? Mine is and I’m the writer, but hold on with me here.
Why does it have to hurt? It’s TRUE not all healing creativity is painful. Most often it soothes, releases and even washes away anxiety, depression, fear, and loneliness. But sometimes it makes you stare at the things hurting you, and that pinches. It makes you relive trauma. That’s worse. It makes you examine, probe, and even reopen wounds. That is excruciating. Have you ever been there?
On 2015, November 11th, I started writing a poem that would go further and deeper than anything I had ever written before. It took me four years and two-ish weeks to write over a thousand words. No, I will not post it. Why bring it up? For the example of my creativity hurting me. There is no way I could count the tears spilt while writing it.
I often asked God why he gave it to me, but he never answered that question. He said write it. There were times I walked away from the project for months on end, but he always brought my attention back.
“But I don’t want to.”
“Mary, write the poem.”
“But I DON’T WANT TO!”
Then he would be silent as I sat my butt down to write a few lines, or fixed a word. Or just read it over and over again, and cried.
See, I believe God made every human being creative, whether we use that creativity or choose not to. When he gave it to us, he gave us one of our most powerful attributes. He gave us part of his very self. That is why the act of creativity, in its many forms, can heal.
I am learning to lean in to my creativity when it hurts. The act is difficult, and I test the waters with my toes before committing to the journey of those experiences. I find my brain is far more receptive to learning while it’s hurting, if the hurt involves being creative.
Also important, remember that if you start a journey of healing with creativity, you don’t have to share it with anyone. It’s yours. The pain, the healing, the experience is YOURS. The art you make is yours for you. If you want to share it, that’s beautiful. If you want to burn it after creating it, do it. If you need to store it away in a dark closet under 100 blankets, that is just fine too. It’s the doing that is important. When you reach a place where the doing doesn’t hurt, and feels more like living, you still don’t have to share it.
I pray God blesses you through your doing this week.
©Mary Grace van der Kroef 2020
Have you ever used glitter to make a thank you, or holiday card? If you have, you know those tiny flakes of plastic get everywhere. Not only do they get everywhere, but stay there for a long time, spreading from person to person. I believe the power of creativity is the same.
When you give in to the need to throw glitter around, it touches people. Its healing, freeing, grounding affects linger like that spot of glitter that clings to your cheek.
“Oh, look!” A friend will chuckle as they reach out to flick the spot away. Except instead of disappearing, that fleck sticks to them and goes for a hike.
The power of that flake can travel from fingertip, to arm, to another unknowing face. That glint, that sparkle, flashing at every move of their head. Then the next person asks, “have you been playing with glitter?” That question is often accompanied by a smirk, laugh, or smile.
I have tried washing glitter from my hands with a generous amount of soap and water, only to find that still somehow some of it remains.
The difference between glitter and creativity is even though they both stick, creativity is never something we need to wash away. Even if we have to wash the residue of glitter, or paint, or even flour dust from our hands, it doesn’t wash that creativity from our hearts or souls. The more you use it, the father it spreads.
As we enter the month of December, my prayer is that we all light up our homes with the joy of creativity.
My Christmas tree is naked this year. The ornaments we had planned to bring along in our move from Northern Ontario to Southern Ontario, didn’t make the trip. So, we will get glitter out and sprinkling it on paper, clay and anything else we can find. In doing so, I hope to make memories we won’t forget, grow family love, and remember the person where all creativity originated.
God, you are good. Thank you.
©Mary Grace van der Kroef 2020