Monday, July 30, 2012

how to chase your dreams

It all started after blogging about my new years resolutions a year and a half ago.* I made a list of my goals for the year and in the comments, an artist friend of mine talked about how silly she felt speaking a pretty significant resolution she had made aloud. Despite the fact that this goal was important to her and she really wanted to accomplish it, she was scared to say it out loud because what if it didn’t happen? She also asked, “What motivates us to follow-through [with our goals]? What keeps us from accomplishing the things that are important to us?”

I really like these questions; I think they’re important. I’m also fascinated by how terrifying it can be to voice our dreams and desires. Why does the thought of our dreams not happening frighten us into not voicing them? Why are we so very afraid of failure? (I'm so intrigued by this idea of failure.)

The thing is, artists aren't just people whose books are published or whose paintings are exhibited in galleries or whose albums are sold in record stores. Being published doesn't make you a writer, just like recording an album doesn't make you a musician, just like having a painting in an exhibit doesn’t make you a painter. Making art is what makes you an artist. Therefore, the only way you can fail at being an artist is if you don't make art.

There. I said it.

Now that that's over with: I think there is something to be said for putting your art out into the world. (That is where art belongs, after all.) Whether this is by recording an album, or having a novel published, or whatever your goal is, it can be a big, huge, scary thing because you’re basically saying that this, whatever this is, is important and you think you’re pretty good at it and you want other people to think so too. You want your art to become Art with a capital A. And that’s completely understandable. (But just to be clear, I don’t think it makes you any more of an artist than the guy who doesn’t go down that road.)

So, “what keeps us from accomplishing the things that are important to us?” (In this instance, putting your art out into the world.)

I think the answer can be one of two things.

The first thing is that it wasn’t really that important to begin with. Maybe you thought it was, but that was actually your parents or friends or whoever thinking for you. Or maybe you just changed your mind – and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I don’t think anyone should ever feel ashamed of changing their mind, so long as you've thought it through. If anything, it just means that you’re narrowing down your options. That you’re that much closer to the thing you really want.

The second reason is fear. It can be fear of anything, really, but I think that most often it’s fear of failure or rejection or finding out that you’re “not good enough”. Often, I think (and this is my fear, for sure) it’s the fear of those close to us – our friends, our family – discovering our plans and then labeling us as unrealistic.

But let’s face it: we are unrealistic. We’re artists, for heaven’s sake. This is our lot in life. We dream, we woolgather, we ask more questions than is maybe good for us. It's who we are. And when we suppress it, we end up unhappy. So I for one am embracing it. Feel free to join me.

And again, in terms of failure, I think J.K. Rowling says it well: 

It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all - in which case, you fail by default.

Basically, be afraid of not getting your art done. Don’t be afraid of the other things.

Next question: “What motivates us to actually put in the hard work to pursue our dreams?”

First, I think it helps when you take yourself and your goals seriously. Maybe this means renting a studio/practice space, or saying out loud “I want to record an album this year”, or setting aside time in your week to plug away at that novel you’ve always wanted to write. Second, I think it helps to surround yourself with people who are doing what you're doing or what you want to be doing. I find that when I get to know artisans or authors – either personally, through their blogs, or through venues like Etsy – I realize that my dreams are doable, and that the people I admire are normal and are more like me than not. Last of all, and perhaps most importantly, it helps to have a few key people in your life who can centre you again when you start to doubt yourself (or when the doubters around you are getting too loud). I think everyone pretty much knows who their centre-ers are. Mine happen to be my husband and my friend Leslie, and let me tell you: they are vital. Vital.

Last of all, this: 


I saw this on a sign once. It's SUPER cheesy, I know, but it gets the point across. I think that being brave is key. Being brave is about knowing that it won’t be easy (in fact, it will be really hard and lonely and scary as hell) and then stepping out into the darkness anyway. To really know and trust who you are is extremely hard work, and takes a TON of bravery. And if you can do that – know and trust yourself – then you can trust in your dreams. And it is SO IMPORTANT TO TRUST YOUR DREAMS. To trust that they’re there for a reason, and not just silly fluff in your head.

And if your dreams are there for a reason, the only way to find that reason out is to follow them.

*I originally wrote this over a year ago now, but after reading this, I went back through all my posts to take out any images that I didn’t have permission to use, and when I took the image out of this particular post, the html code went all screwy and I couldn’t fix it. So I rewrote it and posted it here.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

a drawing a day

When I was younger, I used to draw like mad. I spent my childhood illustrating creatures and characters and scenes from the stories I was reading or writing or daydreaming about. In fact, there were more pictures of Smaug and Legolas in my calculus notes than actual calculus – just ask my stepmother (who, being a math teacher, was quite vexed about it).

Drawing helped me think. It set my mind free to wander - which is particularly helpful in novel writing. Not so much in calculus. (Why was I in calculus, you ask? That's a perfectly reasonable question. One that has everything to do with the fact that all my high school crushes were nerds, and nerds were always found in calculus classes. And computer programming classes. Which I also took, and nearly failed.)

Unfortunately, for most of my teen years, I saw my creative endeavours as things to be ashamed of. They were immature. They belonged in childhood. I even went through a period where I thought my art was bad (not bad as in "of poor or inferior quality", but bad as in "immoral"). And when I left home to go to school, I left my stories and my drawings and my daydreaming behind me. It was time to grow up, I decided.

So I lost the itch to draw, to put pencil to page and coax an image out of it. I got out of the habit of daydreaming and writing down my daydreams. I even stopped reading for pleasure.

Lucky for me, I woke up one day. I came to realize that these negative ideas I had about creativity and imagination were lies. Lies that were sometimes shouted, sometimes whispered, sometimes spoken through silence. (Silence can be the most dangerous, in my experience.) Sometimes the lies were told by others, and sometimes they were told by my own self. And they did their damage in my life: I spent five years not drawing, not writing, not challenging myself creatively in the ways that I could have. And though that may not seem like a very long time, I mourn the loss of it.

In light of this realization, I have spent the past few years slowly taking this part of myself back. Claiming it for my own again, only this time, without any shame. I did it first with my ceramic business, then with my writing, and now… well, I intend to do it with drawing.

But there’s something about going back to the thing you loved, the thing that was so deeply embedded into who you were for so many years… that thing you abandoned… and asking it back into your life. It’s almost like I have to earn its trust again. Like I have to go slowly, with my hands open and outstretched, and approach with gentle hesitance.

So this is what I’m going to do: for the rest of the summer I’m committing to one drawing a day. It doesn't have to be huge and involved, it could be something as simple as a sketch of my coffee mug in the morning. And I’m NOT going to gang up on myself if I miss a day or two. The point is to draw. Just draw.

To kick this off, here's my first one from last week. She's a character from the novel that my agent is currently editing. She's a bit of an oddball (the character, not my agent!) but that just makes her more endearing - to me, anyway.
And here's her counterpart.
I'll leave you with these here words of H. Jackson Brown, Jr. (which he accredits to his mother, but they sometimes get accredited to Mark Twain):

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Where do you go for creative inspiration?

This question was asked over at YA Highway this week. This is where I go...


Some people stay far away from Tumblr because the idea of using people’s images without their permission makes them queasy. I totally get it. I do. But for me - someone who loves and collects art - I have actually discovered way more artists using Tumblr than ever before and have bought way more art than ever before because of these discoveries. Anyways, with that said, I make Tumblr blogs for every novel idea I have. For me, it’s a way of organizing unformed ideas. Also, for me, writing and illustrating have always gone hand in hand. So it just makes sense.


It’s the same with music. I curate songs the way I curate illustrations. I buy and collect music sometimes because I just really love it, and sometimes because it really resonates with a story idea or character or setting or theme of a WIP. I make playlists for every novel I write, and then, when I go on long walks to try and work through plot problems, I listen to the songs I’ve specifically chosen for that particular book. It seems to help.


If I’m stuck in a writing project, I'll often go through my shelves, seeking a book. Sometimes it will be a new book that I pick up, but this is rare. More often I'll choose a book I’ve read two or three or four times before, because clearly there’s something there if I’ve read it that many times - something I liked, something that worked. It also forces me out of the knots and tangles of my own stories and into someone else’s. It loosens me up.

The Eastern Shore.

Obviously, this one requires a bit of money, since I presently live in the middle of the continent and need to either fly or drive if I want to get to the ocean. However. This is probably one of my biggest sources of inspiration. Two of my favourite places of all time are Cape Cod (in the fall, when the beaches are bare and all the tourists are mostly gone) and the western shore of Newfoundland (in spring or fall, for the same reason). I’ve been West, to the Pacific ocean, and don’t get me wrong, it’s gorgeous. But it’s not the same as East. It’s the Atlantic I prefer.


This is the last, best thing. Home for me is the farm I grew up on. It’s where the people who I’ve loved longest are. Often, one of the first things I’ll do once arriving home is go on a kind of “pilgrimage” to all the sacred places of my childhood. The barn. The pond. The forest steps. There is so much complexity found in this place I have known and which has known me in all the various stages of my life that it’s difficult to not be inspired there. Besides, one day it might not be there to go back to, so I have to soak it all up now. Or as much as I can, at least.

Where do you go for creative inspiration?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

the blank page

Seriously. What exactly is so terrifying about a blank page? Is it the endless possibilities? Is it the inevitability that whatever words I put there, they will fail at being perfect? Is it the knowledge that a book takes THOUSANDS OF HOURS to write, which translates into, well, a really long time, with lots of moments of bipolar thoughts? Thoughts like, this book is AMAZEBALLS and, conversely, this book is so hideous it DOESN’T DESERVE TO LIVE?

Or is it something else?

Whatever it is, I need to get over it because this book isn’t going to write itself.

I’m going to eat a cookie now.

Monday, July 16, 2012


After spending the last year writing and re-writing and re-re-writing the same two novels, I now get to move on to a new novel! Well, actually, that's not quite true. I'll still be working on those other two. But I get to start something new. And if you've been around this blog for a while, then you know how much I love starting new things. (It's the INFP in me. I work very hard to keep it caged.)

Anyways. I'm not saying too much about the new thing, other than this.

And maybe this.

And that is all.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

wake on up from your slumber

Oh wow. A friend of mine just introduced me to this song, and as soon as it started, I was enthralled. It actually reminds me SO MUCH of the book I'm working on, in which there is a significant "waking up" theme. But it also reminded me just how much I love this theme in general - whether it's in music, literature, sacred texts (do those count as literature?), etc. Maybe it's the stage of life I'm in, but if it is, I've been in it for a really long time! Like, since I was eighteen.

Anyways. The song is great. Here, listen for yourself:

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Vårens första dag

Hello July! How did you get here so fast??

This month is always whirlwind busy for me. With two festivals and one art show in four weeks, it’s both exciting and stressful at the same time. So, while listening to the click click click of my kiln steadily climbing to 2232 degrees Fahrenheit, I've found a small pocket of calm. And in the calm, I'm making a little list...

What July means to me: 

  • long days hunched over clay
  • being clay-speckled when I go out in public
  • clay beneath my fingernails ALL THE TIME
  • and really sore wrists

But it also means:

  • the smell of wet clay ALL THE TIME (which I happen to love)
  • being caught up in things like colour and shape and texture
  • getting to see super awesome bands
  • meeting lovely artisans
  • and eating delicious food

So there! It’s not all stressful.

Anyways, I’m heading up to Orillia tomorrow for the Mariposa Folk Festival. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with the supremely talented Laleh:

I love this girl's music SO MUCH.

Monday, July 2, 2012

feeling the reels

I'm not exactly sure why fiddles have me so captivated. For some reason, they make me feel things more deeply than other kinds of instruments. You know, that deep down in your gut kind of feel? The kind of feel that makes your heels start drumming the ground and gets you wishing that it was socially acceptable to just start dancing in public?

One fiddler in particular has me completely under her spell. Her name is Hanneke Cassel, and one of the things on my To-Do List For Life is to see her play live. The song above is from her album For Reasons Unseen, and it also happens to be one of my favourite songs to write to. The song below is Hanneke playing with Brittany Haas. It's not on either of their albums, but I so wish it was, because it's fantastic.

Sigh. I just... I have no words. Only feels.