Learning a New Language

We are learning a new language in our family, and it’s not one we wanted to learn. We are learning the language of cancer.


My mother-in-law was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. She has “poorly differentiated ductal carcinoma,” and a bilateral mastectomy scheduled for next week. It’s Grade 3, and they think Stage 1, but they will find out for sure after the surgery. Then they will decide the next steps: chemo, radiation, etc. Everyone is optimistic for a full recovery.

Don’t know what that means? Consider yourself lucky. You haven’t had to learn this language yet.

We live halfway across the country, so it’s been a chain of conversations and bits and pieces of information on the phone, through my husband, and Facebook, of all places. I’ve been doing some research on the web to understand what the words mean, but what I really want to know is what I can do.

So that’s why is sharing this here, because I could use your advice. For those of you who have been through this, who have learned this language already because of friends or family or your own experience… What can we do? How can we help, from 1500 miles away? Any suggestions or ideas? Because I just want to be there to give a hug, to bring a casserole, to clean the bathroom. And we are too far away.

My husband is going to be there with his family for her surgery next week, and I’m sure there will be more trips in the coming months. I’m so glad we are no longer in Italy, because I can’t imagine being that far away. But Oregon to Colorado still seems far, too far.

And I just want to know what to do.

Hitting the Wall

I’m coming off of a three day weekend of binge-working on my book, and I noticed an interesting trend. Each day, within a few steps of meeting my daily goal, I started to get tired, less motivated and less productive. Regardless of how much or little I had on my plan, I would hit a wall just before meeting the goal, and it was time to stop.


I thought I would have boundless energy to finish this project, but apparently my energy lasts only so long within a day. And that length of time is correlated to my daily goal. Hmmmm… There must be something psychological in that. Something inside that says, “Close enough, you can stop now.”

While it’s exciting to see the book progress, I’m now in the least favorite zone of completion. It was thrilling to get a first draft done, and fun to choose the best photo examples. I’m past that though… It’s now time for revisions of the manuscript and creating annotated figures from the photos and screen shots. It feels like slogging through mud, and I can only take so much at a time.

Hence, the daily wall.

I know from every other big project I’ve created, this is the part I like least. It’s always fun to outline and plan. It’s exciting to meet those first milestones. It’s the detailed work to push through to the finish, when everything should be downhill, that is the hardest for me. Always.

But I’m on track to my plan to meet the deadline, so guess there is nothing wrong with backing off when the wall looms close each day. Go for a walk, read a book, hang out with my family.

And the next time I start, picking up where I left off, I’ll be fresh. The wall will be nowhere in sight.

Apparently, it doesn’t appear until I near my goal for the day.

What Makes Up “Creativity”

This morning I want to consider the definition of “creativity.” Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been talking here about how to facilitate creativity, through routines and deadlines, but what is “creativity” anyway? How do we know we are being creative vs. just filling time? I believe there are a few things that have to be in place to make an activity fit the “creative” name.


First off, creativity involves transforming something. Taking materials, ideas, whatever you’ve seen or learned elsewhere, and then putting something together in new ways.

Creativity involves transformation, making connections between previously disparate things.

I don’t believe being creative is “making something out of nothing,” but making something new out of what already existed before in pieces and parts. Whether that new thing is a painting or a meal or a novel, you can see that the pieces that make up the new thing — the paints, the ingredients, the words — existed before. The artist then put them together in a new way. This transformation is the first element of creativity, but it’s not the only element.

The next, and I believe vital, element of creativity is engagement and challenge. You have to be solving a new problem in order for creativity to be involved. You have to be actively thinking, working, and resolving as you move through the process. This doesn’t mean you have to be solving a new problem for humanity, but solving a problem that is new to you. A problem that engages your creativity.

If you are making something you’ve made before, time and time again, with no new element of challenge involved — that’s not creative. That’s following a recipe. “Take Thing X, combine it with Thing Y using process steps A, B, C.” If you can follow the steps to get a predictable outcome without problems along the way, that’s manufacturing. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, because accomplishing a finished piece involves skill and expertise, but it also doesn’t mean it’s creative. Creativity requires that there is some new challenge involved in the process of making something.

The element of challenge is one of the most important pieces of creativity.

It’s the challenge which keeps me learning and moving forward. It keeps me trying new things, seeking new ideas to add to the mix. It also helps explain why being merely productive is not enough for me creatively. Why I don’t stay in one place for too long with my art or my business or even my corporate job. Because once I’ve got something all figured out, once the process is in place and predictable, it not as fun anymore. It’s time to face new challenges, solve new problems, create new things.

In my art right now, I have lots of problems to solve. I still have so much to learn about mobile photography. I’m facing new challenges every day, in every piece I create. The image I’m sharing today is no exception. The tools are not always there or the way to achieve my vision is not straight forward. That’s perfect.

Combining existing elements in ways that require overcoming challenges, that’s what makes up “creativity” to me.

Can you put Creativity on a Deadline?

Last week, we discussed what creativity craves. Between my experience and reader comments, we successfully debunked the myth that wide open, unstructured schedules are good for creativity. Creativity craves routines, along with a second element I didn’t talk about in last week’s post: Deadlines.


Love them or hate them, deadlines do make a difference in our creative productivity. Having a real date that something is due makes you use the time you have available to be creative. Having a routine builds on that, making the time you have available really clear.

I’ll share with you a very real example on what deadlines can do for your creativity, one I’m living right now: My book on iPhone photography.

My manuscript deadline is March 1, 2015. By March 1, the manuscript and all associated files, releases, etc. must be physically (not electronically) in the hands of the publisher in order to be on the Fall publishing schedule. March 1 is a Sunday, so my real deadline is Friday, February 27. Since the files must be mailed, I need to mail them out no later than the morning of February 25 to ensure they arrive on time. So my real deadline for finishing everything and having it packed up and ready to go is February 24.

Between now and February 24, I have six weekends left. Why do the weekends matter? That’s where the routine comes in. Because I work a full-time corporate job Monday-Friday, weekends are my only opportunity right now for extended stretches of time to work on the book. I could do it in snippets in other free time, but I’m reserving weekday mornings for creating new art and blogging (still have to keep things going here!) and weekday evenings for all of the other little things that have to get done (like framing work for upcoming exhibitions). So weekends it is.

With that in mind, I have mapped out a plan of work that gets me through to the deadline, with weekly goals spelled out. The first draft is done and last weekend I finalized all of the photo examples. Over the next couple of weeks I need to complete the first revision and create the more complicated figures, so I can have an edited copy complete with photo examples out to first readers by the end of the month. It’s a lot, but I can do it without stress if I stick to the plan. I’ve already warned my family – I’m busy every weekend until March 1!

So here’s the equation that comes out of my experience:

Deadline + Routine + Plan = Creative Success

The answer is yes, you can put creativity on a deadline. In fact, I’ve found I’m more creatively productive when I do. How about you?

What Creativity Craves

I had a plan, over Christmas. I had two weeks off of my corporate job, and I had a plan. We were visiting family, but I would have time everyday to photograph, to create new work, and to work on my book.

It was a good plan, but it didn’t work. It was missing an essential ingredient for creativity.


Over time, I’ve learned that my creativity craves a few things. Without them, nothing seems to happen.

First, creativity craves time. Had that, check. Lots of time: Hours in the car, days with nothing more than a meal scheduled. That wasn’t the key.

Second, creativity craves an open frame of mind. I was a little low on that, since I got sick for part of the trip and all I wanted to do was sleep or sit on the couch and read. But there was a good part of the trip where I felt fine, and still nothing happened.

But here’s the kicker, what I realized was the key for me: Creativity craves routine. That is the thing that was missing — a routine, a schedule.

You see, without a schedule, having the opportunity to create anytime turned into creating at no time. I could always do it later, tomorrow, whenever I felt like it. There was no hurry, nothing to push me into action.

Without a routine, there was nothing to signal to my brain that now was the time to create. Nothing to help me over the hump that always stands in the way of getting started. Have you ever heard of “creative flow?” Routines and rituals can help you get into a state of creative flow, where creativity and productivity happen naturally. Regular, repeated practices are what help you move forward in a creative endeavor.

That’s what I was missing: the routine.

So when I got home to my busy life, the one full of a day job and long to do lists, creativity finally kicked in. When I was up early in the quiet house, in my reading chair with my tea, I started to create again. Home sweet home! It’s ironic I create better in a life that is jam-packed and where every moment matters, than one that is open-ended. But my life is full of creativity-enhancing routines to use my slices of time, and that’s what really matters.

This doesn’t mean I’m going to advocate staying home and in routine all the time in the future, though. I need breaks from the routine to refresh myself. I need travel to give me new experiences to draw on in my creative practice.

I’m just not going to expect myself to be creative while I’m gone. I’ll save that, knowing its the special treat, the everyday bonus of being at home, in the routine.

Liberate Your Art 2015 Postcard Swap is here!


It’s here for 2015! The Liberate Your Art Postcard Swap has officially opened for the 5th Annual Swap. Can you believe we’ve been doing this for five years?? And it’s just as fun every year!

If you are not familiar with the swap, here’s how it works: You create postcards printed with your artwork on them. Any type of artwork, all mediums are welcome. You send me five postcards, and you receive six back — from five other participants and one from me! It’s a fun and easy way to learn to reproduce your work and to get your art out in the world if you haven’t done it before. There are also lots of ways to connect with the participants and increase your network, like the Facebook Event group, the Participant List and the Blog Hop. I’ve got more ideas, too!

Last year, we had just over 200 artists from 10 countries participating. Do you think we can increase that this year? I think so, but I need your help. I need you to share, share, share about the swap! Blog about it, post it on Facebook, tweet it. Use #liberateyourart on social media. Send everyone to the swap landing page to get more info and sign up. Working together, we can get the word out!

To get all of the details, sign up for the email list here. Already on the list from last year? Great! Check your inbox, because I sent an email yesterday to kick things off.

Ready, Set, Go! Let’s make the 2015 swap BIG!