As the founder and director of Gateless Writing, Inc, I am part creativity coach, part author maximizer, part writing therapist, craft master and brand builder.
This incredibly fulfilling work started when my first novel came out 15 years ago. The Summer Fletcher Greel Loved Me sold in ten days for six figures to Scribner, it was optioned for film and sold widely abroad. With this sale, I was invited into a sort of “closed door club” otherwise called the Publishing Industry. Because I am not much for the closed door, after my second book sold, I decided to open the door to help new (and seasoned) writers answer the call to write and begin that fantastic journey toward making the written word part of their career trajectory.
I now run writing salons, lead retreats, offer career training for writers and work one-on-one with writers to show them what a wildly wonderful road writing can actually be.
Check out Suzanne at: http://suzannekingsbury.net/
Wildly Creative: When did you start nurturing your creative life and why?
Isn’t it funny how we keep creativity in the closet? It’s like a puppy someone gave us that we aren’t supposed to keep, but we feed it and pet it when we can and then one day, it gets too big for us to hide, and we let it out of the closet to love up the world.
This is what happened to me. I’d maybe call mine a friendly but fiery dragon. I started writing the summer before I went on my Fulbright, in a heat wave, at a writing workshop for women on a college campus in upstate New York.
The place was six hours away, and I didn’t know a soul. The conference gave you time to write in the morning and in the afternoon, you were to go to workshops so you could talk about the work. I don’t know why I went to this conference. No one famous was there. I’d stopped writing in high school, kept the dragon in the closet so I could pursue more viable careers. But I still remember that first morning, I had only ever written in my journal in tiny (often lonely) increments, and now here was a whole morning to create lives out of a blank page. During those four hours time ceased existing. The words seemed to arrive out of the ether, as though passed down in swaths and ribbons that had been waiting for me all along. The world I had created felt more vibrant and real than the one where I’d been living day to day.
Afterwards, I felt almost post-coital. Everything around me looked incredibly vibrant. I was sure the breeze in the trees was explicitly there so that the leaves could wave to me. It was a drug, and I haven’t stopped writing since. It took me seven years from that morning until I published my first book. That might be because I didn’t care about publishing, I was in mad love with the blank page, and anytime I got to dance with it was pure bliss.
Wildly Creative: What is your advice that you would offer to anyone wishing to design their own creative life?
If spirit or the divinity of creativity has tapped you with its magic wand, know that doors will swing open if you answer its call. The call is playful, the doors may look different than what our small minds can envision, walk through them anyway. Be curious about what may be waiting on the other side.
In order to know where to put your energy as you embark on your creative life, choose a goal that makes you feel good, that makes you feel both light and excited. This often starts with smaller goals. For me, I started with wanting to write fiction. But then I found this too limiting. So, I decided my goal was to share the ecstasy of the written word and help others make a living from it. But what if, I keep asking myself, my goal is simply to spread light? To show others the almost blinding brightness of their truest selves. That’s my definition of my creative life. Yours might be to portray the truth as you see it, it might be to paint on bigger and bigger canvases (whatever your definition of canvas tends to be), it could be to expose something about gender, race, whatever…. That goal will keep you company. Let it be as malleable as you like.
And know that this path never has to be mutually exclusive of surviving or even thriving. Our world has ordered it so that it seems creativity comes with scarcity, living off cans of chickpeas and homemade beer in a warehouse in the bad section of town so you can create. This is an egoic, small mind idea. The small mind doesn’t want us to change, it is always looking for stasis, so it will say all kinds of things to get you to stop expanding.
Lose the idea that we have to be poor. Creative minds are at the core of everything we value in this world from the invention of the wheel to the road that takes you home at night, these ideas were all born from the creative muscle. There’s no reason to starve yourself in order to exercise this creative muscle. There’s no shame in making money while you create. I love to show my writers ways in which their ideas for books and other writing can be monetized, how they can make enterprises of their creative ideas, and to ensure them that their material dreams can come true alongside their creative ones.
The sweetness of a creative life is not about just manifestation, living off canned chickpeas and some homemade wine.
Wildly Creative: Creatives are usually the ones breaking the rules and little bits of misfits. How are you making sure to hold true to breaking the rules?
Breaking rules is very important now in the field of writing. We have somehow imprisoned writing between walls of ivy. For whatever reason we believe that criticism is the primary tool to help writers with their work. This couldn’t be further from the truth. We approach the work as though it needed to be fixed, we look for what’s “wrong” with it. This is actually a broken model.
We know it is broken because cutting edge brain science has shown us that creative work thrives when it is nurtured. When our work is judged, the amygdala in the brain begins to move in reverse. When the amygdala moves in reverse, we are in fight or flight mode, we no longer have access to the imagination or long term memory, which is the core of creative work. And yet criticism is a mainstay to most programs.
In Gateless Writing, on retreat, in one-on-ones and classes, our biggest work is to get the amygdala moving forward. We can only create mind-blowing writing by showing the writers where she is unique, her talent and innate genius. She can then build from there. When you focus on what is strong, that is what naturally grows. For those pieces that feel like they need a little boost, we give the writer craft tools so she can always feel empowered on the page, no matter what she is working on.
A “thick skin” is something which is often coveted. But what we have found is that the thick skin is the worst kind for a writer. We want the thin skin because we want to be able to feel everything right down to the marrow, to write from that depth of feeling. In retreat, we area always letting the writer get to know again the person she was before the thick skin. We provide her with bodywork, chocolate, reflective feedback, craft tools, so that she can remember again the creative mastermind who lives inside.
Wildly Creative: What is the advice you wish someone shared with you about pursuing your passions and feeding your creative self?
Along the road there are so many shoulds, aren’t there? The advice is well-meaning, but often in its core it says this: You are not okay as you are, you must move away from the innate passion that claims you and forest your way into other, less organic, realms.
This is simply a legacy we pass down to one another. I am not sure where it started, but perhaps it is part of the artist’s trajectory: to be steered away from what makes our true selves sing, to abandon it for conformity and conditioning, and then to have that time of unimaginable lightness of being when we discover it again. The rediscovery can give the creative an enormous amount of energy.
In truth we enter the world aligned with our heart’s purpose. If you look back at a life, you will often find a person’s purpose tucked into the activities s/he loved as a child.
For me? I loved to play pretend, which is so very much what we are doing when we write fiction. I made up fantastical stories and gave personalities to grasshoppers, hermit crabs, dandelions, believing each one embodied a spirit that I could somehow know and befriend. I also loved sitting by the heater and reading.
What if someone (who might have looked like Tasha Tudor) had come along and told me that my greatest gift would stem from this fantasy life? What if this gentle guide had assured me of how brilliant it was to dive into books the way I loved to, how smart to keep myself warm all day? What if an adult had been risky enough to say: Do exactly what you love, that is how genius blooms.