Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Excerpt from Making Your Creative Mark by Eric Maisel: Passion and Voice

Passion and Voice
An Excerpt from Making Your Creative Mark by Eric Maisel

A logical — and vital — relationship exists between passion and voice. It is very hard to be passionate about what you’re doing if you haven’t found your voice as an artist. Imagine being forced to sing an octave too high or an octave too low, straining to hit notes that you can’t really hit and that aren’t natural to you. It would be very hard to be passionate about singing in that situation.

It is exactly like that with respect to whatever art you are creating. Whether you have been forced by circumstance not to create in your own voice, or whether you’ve avoided creating in your own voice for psychological reasons, the result will be a tremendous lack of passion for what you’re doing. Creating in your authentic voice produces and sustains passion.

With that in mind, here are ten tips for finding or reclaiming your voice. They are framed in terms of visual art, so if you are not a visual artist you will need to translate them so that they make sense for your art discipline.
1. Detach from your current visual library. A very common problem, and almost always an unconscious one, is the need an artist feels to make his work look like something he holds as “good art” or “real art” — very often old master art. Because he possesses an internal library of the successful artworks of well-known artists, without quite realizing that he is doing it, he aims his art in the direction of those successes. It is vital that an artist detach from that visual library — extinguish it, as it were — so that his own imagery has a chance to appear.

2. Try not to rest on skills and talent. Maybe you excel at producing dynamic-looking cats or turning a patch of yellow into a convincing sun. That you have these talents doesn’t mean that you ought to be producing lifelike cats or brilliant suns. Your strongest subject matter and style choices depend on what you want to say rather than on what you are good at producing. By all means, parlay your skills and talents — but don’t rely on them so completely that you effectively silence yourself.

3.Allow risk-taking to feel risky. Very often the personal work you want to do feels risky. Intellectually, you may find a way to convince yourself that the risk is worth taking — but when you try to take the risk, you balk because you suddenly feel anxiety welling up. Remember that a risk is likely to feel risky. Get ready for that reality by practicing and owning one or two robust anxiety-management strategies (more than a score of them are described in my book Mastering Creative Anxiety).

4. Complete projects for the sake of making progress. When you make new work that you think aims you in the direction of your genuine voice, try to complete that work rather than stopping midway because “it doesn’t look right” or “it isn’t working out.” You will make more progress if you push through those feelings, complete things, and only then appraise them. It is natural for work that is a stretch and new to you to provoke all sorts of uncomfortable feelings as you attempt it. Help yourself tolerate those feelings by reminding yourself that finishing is a key to progress.

5. Think at least a little bit about positioning. You may want to develop your voice independent of art trends and say exactly what you want to say in exactly the way you want to say it. On the other hand, it may serve you to take an interest in what’s going on and make strategic decisions about how you want to position yourself vis-à-vis the world of galleries, collectors, exhibitions, auctions, movements, and so on. It isn’t so much that one way is right and the other is wrong but rather that some marriage of the two, if you can pull it off, may serve you best: a marriage, that is, of marketplace strategizing and of intensely personal work that allows you to speak passionately in your own voice.

6. Try to articulate what you’re attempting. Artists are often of two minds as to whether they want to describe what they are attempting. Paraphrasing a visual experience into a verbal artist’s statement often feels unconvincing and beside the point. On the other hand, it can prove quite useful to announce to yourself what you hope to accomplish with your new work. By trying to put your next efforts into words, you may clarify your intentions and as a consequence more strongly value your efforts. The better you can describe what you are doing, the better you may understand your artistic voice — and the more passionate you can be in talking about your work.

7. Try not to repeat yourself. Repeating successful work has a way of reducing anxiety and can bring financial rewards as well. But it may also prevent us from moving forward and discovering what we hope to say. A balance to strike might be to do a certain amount of repeat work, for the sake of calmness and for the sake of your bank account, and to also add new work to your agenda. If you keep repeating yourself, it will prove very hard to remain passionate about your work.

8. Revisit your earliest passions. Life has a way of causing us to forget where our genuine passions reside. You may have spent decades in a big city and completely forgotten how much the desert means to you. You may have been so busy painting and parenting that your burning passion for creating a series of cityscapes fell off the map somewhere along the line. Finding your voice may involve something as simple and straightforward as making a list of your loves and starring the ones that still energize you. This is one of the simplest and smartest ways to discover what you are passionate about and what you want to say.

9. Think about integrating your different styles. Maybe you make two sorts of art, abstract relief paintings and realistic flat paintings. This division may have occurred at some point when, perhaps without consciously thinking the matter through, you decided that the one painting style allowed you to do something that the other didn’t. It may pay you to revisit this question today and see if the two styles can be integrated into some third style that allows the best of both current styles to come together. Whatever you discover from that investigation — whether it’s to move forward in a new way or to recommit to your current methods — you will have helped yourself better understand your artistic intentions. A lot of new passion can arise from these efforts at integration.

10. Accept never-before-seen results. It can feel odd to speak in your own voice and then not recognize the results. Because what you’ve created may be genuinely new — and completely new to you — it may look like nothing you’ve ever seen before. That can prove disconcerting! Don’t rush to judge it as too odd, a mess or a mistake, or not what you’d intended. Give it some time to grow on you and speak to you. Your voice may sound unfamiliar to you if you’ve never heard it before!
Remember: one of the keys to maintaining passion and enthusiasm for your work is finding your own voice and speaking in it!

Eric Maisel is the author of Making Your Creative Mark and twenty other creativity titles including Mastering Creative Anxiety, Brainstorm, Creativity for Life, andCoaching the Artist Within. America’s foremost creativity coach, he is widely known as a creativity expert who coaches individuals and trains creativity coaches through workshops and keynotes nationally and internationally. He has blogs on the Huffington Post and Psychology Today and writes a column for Professional Artist Magazine. Visit him online at

Excerpted from the new book Making Your Creative Mark ©2013 by Eric Maisel. Published with permission of New World Library

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Making Your Creative Mark by Eric Maisel

Creativity coach Eric Maisel has been featured on this blog a couple of times, first when he visited as part of a blog tour for his book, The Van Gogh Blues, and again for inspiring my posts about 15 Minutes of Foolery. Now he has a new book out for artists and creative types called Making Your Creative Mark: Nine Keys To Achieving Your Creative Goals.

This new book functions as a “user's manual” for artists and draws from Maisel's 30 years of working with creative people as coach and therapist. The material will be familiar to anyone who has read Maisel's other books, and effectively provides a companion piece to his book, Creativity for Life, by focusing the main points into the 9 keys and bringing them to life with stories from his clients.
“Most people are not able to create a successful life in the arts. The problems are Darwinian and concern supply and demand. There aren't enough slices of the pie for all the people who want to act, dance, write, paint, sing, and direct. Whether it is one person in a hundred who makes it in your discipline or one in ten thousand, you want to be that one. You are free to try to prove the exception and be that one.” (p. 67)
Choosing a life in the arts can be foolish. Not only are the odds of success against you, but artists' strong imaginations can work against their happiness, their success, and their own creativity. Maisel points out that artists often think in ways that hurt their process and careers, but he also provides techniques for those same artists, some of which, in the spirit of this blog, might appear foolish, like making big mistakes and messes:
Q: I’d like you to chat a bit about what you call the “freedom key.” What sort of freedom are you talking about?
Maisel: Many different sorts—let’s look at just one, the freedom not be perfect; or, to put it slightly differently, the freedom to make big mistakes and messes. Not so long ago I got an email from a painter in Rhode Island. She wrote, “I'm a perfectionist and I want my artwork to be perfect. Sometimes this prevents me from getting started on a new project or from finishing the one I’m currently working on. I think to myself: If it's not going to be the best, why bother to do it? How do I move past these feelings?” One way to get out of this trap is to move from a purely intellectual understanding that messes are part of the creative process to a genuine visceral understanding of that truth. You need to feel that freedom in your body. As an intellectual matter, every artist knows that some percentage of her work will prove less than stellar, especially if she is taking risks with subject matter or technique. But accepting that obvious truth on a feeling level eludes far too many creative and would-be creative people. They want to “perfect” things in their head before turning to the canvas or the computer screen and a result they stay in their head and never get started. You have to feel free to show up and make a big mess—only then will good things start happening!
(From an Interview with Eric Maisel).
Making Your Creative Mark should be handed out at graduation for art and theatre majors–or even first day of school–but truthfully, artists at any stage of their career would benefit. Us fools need all the help we can get!

Come back tomorrow for an excerpt from Making Your Creative Mark.
Eric Maisel is the author of Making Your Creative Mark and twenty other creativity titles including Mastering Creative Anxiety, Brainstorm, Creativity for Life, and Coaching the Artist Within. America’s foremost creativity coach, he is widely known as a creativity expert who coaches individuals and trains creativity coaches through workshops and keynotes nationally and internationally. He has blogs on the Huffington Post and Psychology Today and writes a column for Professional Artist Magazine. Visit him online at

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Prompt Foolishness

As an example of the previous post on Foolish Prompts, I pick a random number and get #23 Imagine: Misremember the Past:

What memories are getting in the way? How can I misremember them?

I list 3 memories that are getting in my way. I remember:
  1. That I haven't been writing recently.
  2. All the other things I could be doing instead.
  3. How difficult writing this blog can be.
I imagine things being different. I misremember the past:
  1. I picture myself having written everyday, all week.
  2. I keep coming back to the same thing; I can blog, or I can blog, or I can blog.
  3. Blogging is easy!
I focus on just one of these. I go to my To Do list and start listing all the things I have to do today. I pretend all I can remember is

  • Write blog
  • Write blog
  • Write blog
  • Write blog
  • Write blog

It becomes a game. When I ask myself, “What do I do now?” the answer is, “To blog!” 

I start writing, but eventually want to procrastinate. How do I procrastinate? By writing my blog!

If I forget, I check my To Do list. I make multiple To Do lists, all with the same item repeated. I can have one on my computer; one on my phone; one in a notebook; and one on a scrap of paper. I have fun with the silliness of this seemingly pointless task.

Do I believe this all I have to do today? No, I'm just playing. Will this get me to blog everyday? No, I'm just trying something foolish for short-term gains. It got me to write about half of this entry. Then, a few days later, it got me to write the rest. For me, totally worth it.

Now what do I do?

Monday, April 1, 2013


I've made a huge mistake. Don't think foolishly, it will get you in trouble. The name of this blog has been changed to reflect the new editorial direction.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Foolish Prompt

[This week, as I resurrect this blog, I use foolish thinking to help me get back to writing again.]

Sometimes, you need a random act of foolery.

Step 1: Generate a random number between 1 and 60:

Step 2: Find your number on the list below:

#1: Look for Trouble
#2: Make Things More Difficult
#3: Don't Solve the Problem
#4: Set Yourself Up for Failure
#5: Try a Really Bad Idea
#6: Scare Yourself
#7: Make a Fool Out of Yourself
#8: Seek Rejection
#9: Trust in Dumb Luck
#10: Use Weaknesses as Strengths
#11: Fix What Ain't Broken
#12: Never Give Up
#13: Give Up
#14: Repeat Repeat Repeat
#15: Play It Safe
#16: Imagine the Impossibilities
#17: Connect the Unrelated
#18: Transform Objects
#19: Borrow Ideas
#20: Exaggerate the Details
#21: Fantasize the Future
#22: Picture an Audience
#23: Misremember the Past
#24: Worry about Everything
#25: Destroy
#26: Make Fun
#27: Do the Opposite
#28: Manipulate Time and Space
#29: Act without Reason
#30: Make and Break the Rules
#31: Compete with Yourself
#33: Use More Effort Than Necessary
#34: Use What's Handy
#35: Secretly Cooperate
#36: Fool Around
#37: Make Music
#38: Be Serious
#39: Change Identity
#40: Do the Wrong Thing
#41: Act Crazily
#42: Fool Others
#43: Fool Yourself
#44: Get Caught Up in the Moment
#45: Overreact
#46: Go Through the Motions
#47: Know Everything
#48: Enjoy Failure
#49: Play Yourself
#50: Spy on the World
#51: Misunderstand
#52: Look for Laughs
#53: Change Your Perspective
#54: Pay Attention to the Unnoticed
#55: Follow and Trip Assumptions
#56: Listen to your Unconscious
#57: Ride the Opportunities
#58: Find the Best in the Worst
#59: Don't Think
#60: Think Like You

(from 60 Ways To Think Like a Fool)

Step 3: Apply the prompt to your problem. Or use it all day. Or all week! Or forever!

Next: Applying a random prompt to get me to write this blog.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

How Long Should a Blog Post Be?

For a fool, this blog post is long enough.

[This week, as I resurrect this blog, I use foolish thinking to help me get back to writing again.]


Monday, March 25, 2013

Your Moment of Fool

[This week, as I resurrect this blog, I use foolish thinking to help me to write again.]

I haven't written in this blog in a long time. But here I am writing while big snowflakes fall outside. There is no time like the present they say, so I'll let these words fall like snowflakes, fill the page, get me started writing again.

How can thinking like a fool get me to write again, get me to use writing to learn again, and get me to share what I've learned to teach?

I put on my imaginary clown nose, my dunce cap, and my jester's hat, and the two hats fight it out for time and space, and the clown nose sneezes, and the video goes out. What video? The one that just went out, silly. The one I was watching to procrastinate writing.

I am a fool, and I write, right? I see the snow fall through the barely open curtains, through the window, through my brain synapsing. And the snow reminds me that the world outside, the present moments, remind me, that that's all I need, that that's all I need to start writing again, to start feeling, thinking, acting foolish again. I think, therefore, I fool, therefore I write, therefore I play. Wright? Achoo!
Makes nonsense to me.

Takeaway: A fool uses the present moment as a jumping-off point to start writing.