Style as a Barrier to Creating: Give Yourself Permission, Don’t Seek It

A personal short story shared by Shanta Lee.  Shanta is a mutli-facted professional, photographer, writer, and one of the founders of WildlyCreative.World.

A few months ago, I was talking to another photographer about my style for photography. During the conversation I commented “it is not like I am waiting in a corner to see what my style is but I would like to bump into it. I am not quite sure what it is.” He instantly replied, “Don’t think about it just shoot” he was right and hearing that advice was freeing.

Tucked in between the morsels of “just try anything just because” and the many times that I just get inspired to create without boxing myself is doubt. We are all familiar with this felling. My occasional doubt also comes equipped with luggage and carry-on bags in the form of questions I ask myself about my photographs, written work, or other creative endeavors…

Is it edgy, fresh or thought provoking?
Is it bold?
Is it a dreamscape?
Is it realistic?
Is it safe a.k.a. boring?
Is it the same ol’ same ol’?
Does it push boundaries or break what people see all the time?
Has this been done before (and if it has, why the hell am I doing it)?
thAnd the list goes on of various questions I’ve asked myself about my writing, my photography, and other art forms I explored.  In many ways, I was/am seeking permission from the supposed guidelines of how things should be according to some random metric. There are a lot of articles and books about all sorts of things related to style as it relates to the work or life of an artist.  But what if all of that is a box or further restriction? What if the seeking of style is a ceiling or detriment?

Sure, we all need a way to describe what it is we do. Within the elevator speech, or any description, one needs to be able to have some words and say what it is that people can expect to see. On the other hand, taking a different route in which you may not be certain of style per se but instead you have passion and vision gives you freedom.

I still occasionally wrestle with the doubt but most of the time I don’t care about any type of category or style to adhere to. As doubt and those questions creep in during various moments of holding my camera or penning a word, I think about that advice I received a few months ago “don’t think about it, just shoot” and it feels like internal barriers have been removed.

Perhaps you are on your own creative journey, don’t think about what it is or is not supposed to be or what category it may or may not fit into, don’t ask for permission by seeking a structure for it. Instead, give your permission to do it in your way. The rest will figure itself out.


Sometimes Unbecoming Helps You To Become

We found this quote helpful in summarizing the idea that unbecoming can indeed lead to exploration of the wild creative self…

Meet Suzanne Kingsbury….Part Creativity Coach, part Author Maximizer, Craft Master, & More…

headshotAs 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:

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.

165465_10152738236860374_1268890022_nIn 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.

Theres-no-reason-toThis 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.


Charting the Course of Value, Public Consumption, and Self-Interest as a Creative

Defining the value of your creative offspring is never an easy thing.   What are the challenges of charting the course of all of the vehicles available to creatives for sharing their work with the world while making profit?

Let’s be honest…..creative life has always carried a price tag. In a recent article, “The Finger’s on the Self-Destruct Button: The Ugly Truth about Apple, Google, Spotify, and the Rest of the Music Streaming Universe” by Anil Prasad, yet another layer is added to the ongoing discussion about the accessibility of music online. Currently, as it relates specifically to musicians, they are challenged by the structure of the various live stream companies (Spotify, Google, and Apple to name a few) in regards to the monetary compensation for the music shared by these services. In other words, things are not so clear-cut in terms of the financial structure and what artists are compensated for their product. Specifically, the article mentions:

“While the streaming companies propagate a myth of mass-availability offering greater possibility of mass-adoption, the truth is it almost never works this way. It’s up to you to create your own audience and accompanying ecosystem via community, social media, virtual events, and non-electronic outreach, be that gigs, touring, and creative guerrilla tactics related to physical spaces that cater to musical interests. None of these things depend on your music being on one of the big streaming services. You can send people interested in what you do anywhere to access your music.”

This is a bigger complication of not only sharing one’s creative offspring (whether it is music, visuals, words, etc.) but also making a living from leading the wildly creative life. In trying to make a living through one’s passion of creativity one has to constantly navigate their own best interest while inviting the world in on their love for that which they create. For example, take the images that are produced by a visual artist or photographer and the many vehicles for making this work accessible. Like the music streaming (similar but not totally the same), the avenues of Flickr, Instagram, and other instantaneous mechanisms make it easy to share visual creative endeavors. There are also other vehicles such as Fine Art America that allow a way for artists to sell their work. However, the ownership of the visual work alongside individuals paying for securing an image is quite the complex scene.

Prasad’s article highlights the need for an individual pondering their navigation around all of this to ask themselves a number of questions. If you are creating and would like to make a living from it, where do you draw the line in making things accessible? At what risk, gain or harm to yourself? What is the right balance between making one’s creative products/services accessible to the world versus needing to earn a living?

What do you seek/want to create as it relates to recognition/rights/making a living? There are no easy answers especially when it involves the intersection of the interest of the creative or artist, the companies or vehicles involved in helping to usher forth the product of creativity and accessibility to the public.

But one thing is clear–define success and value (monetary or other) for your creations on your own terms.

Finding Inspiration….

Or perhaps it is something we bump into?

Whether we go through moments facing everything from visual or writer’s block to feeling like we are not in any creative element, many of us can  agree upon one main culprit–the lack of inspiration.

We encourage you to allow yourself to bump into or allow your inspiration to come find you through the mundane or something as bold as the illustration in this video, a segment from the movie Step Up Revolution (2012).

The main take away that we got from this video?  The important message that inspiration can come from anything ESPECIALLY those places that are most unexpected!