Embody your fantasy; fiction can manifest reality

Though I’ve never published fiction,  I have written fictional stories that have become real worlds and my characters are well known by many who interact with them as if they are real, live people.

Let me explain.

Back in the early 90s, I was trapped in a marriage to a man who had become physically and verbally abusive. We had only one car, and I used to stare out the window as he drove through West Palm Beach, fantasizing about what went on inside some of the buildings we’d pass. I couldn’t go inside. My husband, who was much older and made most of the money, controlled where I went physically.

But he couldn’t imprison my imagination. The colorful sign above the ArtsBar on Dixie Highway provoked my curiosity, and my imagination projected me into that dark bar where Bohemian creative types drank and conspired to make art together. Along Federal Highway, a plain beige one-story building announced short term rentals. From a post hung a plain white sign with Mi Casa written in brown script, inviting me in.

Into these spaces, I projected the characters of two young women — Calla, the uninitiated narrator who had just declared her independence from a suffocating marriage and Sybil,  a wild child neighbor who taught the narrator the ways of single, independent, creative living. I began to write the story down. And then it took on a life of its own.

Dorothy and I, photo by South Florida Sun-Sentinel staff photographer

Within a few months, enough money to leave my husband found its way into my hands. The local radio was giving away cash — extra if you knew the phrase that pays. I won the big prize — $1,000. That was surprising in itself, but what was even more magical was that I’d told my co-workers that I was going to win the contest that day.

With the money, I moved into a studio in a Palm Beach duplex that was maybe twelve feet square. It was so small, you could sit on the toilet and brush your teeth over the sink at the same time. There was room for a bed, dresser, desk, and book shelf, which left only enough room to walk between the furniture. It was tiny, but it was mine!

Within a couple days, I discovered the best feature of the place: Dorothy, a wild child who would teach me the ways of single, independent, creative living!

I was Calla and she was Sybil. She’d studied theater, art, and poetry. She believed in the chthonian power of the arts and lauded chaos, darkness, and earth magic. Dorothy showed me all around Palm Beach, where she had been waiting tables and rubbing elbows with high society who appreciated smart women with quick wit and sharp tongues. She took me to the bars and arts institutions. She taught me the importance of a little black dress and red lipstick. She taught me to be shameless and brazen. Within the year, Dorothy and I had published our first art & literary magazine and were featured several times in the local press.

Then Dorothy took off for Europe with a backpack and I became a one-woman show. I performed poetry on pool tables, I started a poetry band. People started calling me “The Poetry Chick.” Eventually, I founded Delray Beach’s Dada Poetry Slam (Florida’s longest running slam, which just came in FIRST PLACE in National Poetry Slam Group Pieces! Yay team!). I traveled around the country performing my poetry and selling my chapbooks.

I wrote that new life into existence. It began with a vision — a fantasy — which I clarified and developed as I wrote. In the writing, the characters became more real, more embodied.

I understand that my desire for freedom — personal and creative — was within my power to choose.

The very first issue of our literary magazine

How on earth did I manifest Dorothy, though?

I don’t know. Perhaps the story was a pre-cognition. Or maybe I just got lucky. I can’t say for sure. But I do know that I have observed these synchronicities over and over in my life where my writing about things precedes them — new situations, events, and people.

I teach this aspect of Practical Magic for Writers in my Genius! workshop. I really am in awe of our ability to manifest the lives we want by imagining them and writing them into existence. That seems like magic to me.



What it really means to be “woke”

There’s no mistake how much most of us enjoy our stories. Streaming our favorite films and shows is a national pastime that many of us can’t resist. The thrills, the romance, the suspense — all of this adventure, we experience from a safe distance. We know it’s “not real” so even when it’s dramatically tragic, we aren’t too concerned about how the death of our favorite character is going to impact our actual lives.

woke-up-v1-1312At night, similarly, we enter the theater of dreams, seeing stories unfold that terrify, delight, and amaze us. When we wake, we may remember them and wonder about them, but mostly, we shake them off because they aren’t “the real world.”

Then again, lots of what goes on in the real world, what we believe to be true and act on, is nothing but projection, too — just a great drama invented in our minds, a story we made up to give meaning and purpose to the world. It’s amazing how when we decide that something is true how the entirety of reality shapes itself to support that belief.

This condition of our minds is exactly why magic is so effective in producing the results we want. Like films, dreams, and our waking projections, magic creates meaning of the things in our world, attributing significance to them and acting accordingly.

Embracing magic has been a process of waking up within the dream of my life. The more awake I become the more I am aware that there’s no real difference between “reality” and “magic,” except that in “reality,” I am accepting the conditions of my life as somehow less mutable and more imprisoning than those of my imagination. In “magic,” instead of being at the mercy of an external world, I see that I get to choose what I’d like my world to look like. I get to create it intentionally, just like a writer and director would do for a film, except that the movie is my life.

Lots of people stay asleep within their dream. Mostly, I think this is because they don’t realize that they are dreaming. When most people say they are “woke” what they mean is that they are aware of some underlying social or political system at work in our culture. But this what is called in sleeping dreams “false awakening.” They’re just dreaming that they have woken.

To really be woke is to understand how much power we have, that we are the dreamer and that we can change the dream. That is we can actively change the projection that we generally and passively accept as “reality.”

dribbble_-_owlOf course, this takes lots of work. It takes work at things people will often dismiss as frivolous and impractical. Working with the subtle forces of deities (which is to say “archetypes”) and of our desires and aversions is the stuff of magic that wakes us up inside the dreams of our lives so that we are lucid and empowered, and we recognize the significance of everything.

This is what I focus on in the Genius workshop of the Practical Magic for Writers series. We work with the mind’s powers — of imagining, of creating story, of dreaming and believing and knowing — as we write.  I have found writing to be the strongest magical tool I know of to shape and create reality. It’s allowed me to wake within the dream and to dream wide awake.


Between a rock-paper-scissors and a hard place: on writing, performance anxiety, and winning!

We writers can get pretty weird about our work. Depressed. Anxious. Neurotic. Self-obsessed. Hysterical, even.

If writers had enough money for therapy, the mental health field would be booming. But instead what we have is an entire readers market dedicated to writers who write about writing and the struggles we writers face.

Ours aren’t your normal professional struggles. You’ve never seen your plumber or retail manager having a nervous breakdown about a deadline or a line that wouldn’t scan. Lawyers don’t wake up and go, “Maybe I should get out of these pajamas and get a real job?” And no one other than a writer really understands. It’s just part and parcel of the gig.

My students at the community college think I’m nuts because I’ve given myself life-long writing assignments, often with little or no pay. Like this blog here that I ‘m writing at nearly 11 pm on a weeknight after I spent the whole day writing to finish up a year-long project, my Practical Magic for Writers book.

Before I even turned in my final grades and declared school out for the summer, I’d taken on another deadline: Write Club, a head-to-head writing competition that is billed as literary bloodsport. There are chapters in Chicago (where it started), Atlanta, and here in Los Angeles. Basically: Two writers. Two opposing ideas. Seven minutes.

Marya Write Club
Marya Summers defending “Overt” at Write Club Los Angeles, the Bootleg Theater

Contestants get a week. I was assigned “Overt” and my opponent, “Covert.”

In a nutshell it was a crazy week: I sat for full days with a lap top heating my thighs. I wrote decent poetry, then terrible prose, and finally decided to stick with poetry.  A day before the competition, I only had a solid 2 minutes of stuff I liked. Writing five more minutes of poetry – good poetry — in just the space of two days? When I hadn’t written a poem in like a dozen years? Um, hella hard.

The night before the competition, I sat in my meditation group with anxiety so intense that I couldn’t breathe. It felt like a giant rock was sitting on my chest and like I needed to run for a very long time. The next day, the day of the main event, I got up early and took the run my body craved, though I hadn’t run in months, and then I wrote some more. The anxiety wouldn’t let go. Nothing I did would shake it. I kept lowering the stakes:

1) It doesn’t have to be a good poem, just the best you can do.
2) It doesn’t have to be your best, you just have to have something finished.
3) It doesn’t have to be finished, just read what you have and have fun.

But the anxiety wouldn’t let go no matter what I told myself. Even while I was trying to have fun. It didn’t soften until I got on stage. Stage fright has got nothing on real anxiety — in the face of the former, the latter wasn’t even noticeable. The anxiety evaporated somewhere in the stage lights, I think. Just like that.

And then I won.

Loving Cup of Deathless Fucking Glory
The hard-earned Loving Cup of Deathless Fucking Glory

The moral of the story isn’t “anxiety = winning.” Not at all.

The point isn’t “anxiety = pointless, so why am I so silly?” either.

My point here is that anxiety is something that I’ve learned that I just have to live with sometimes; writing and performing have seldom been comfortable for me. Facts are, it’d be nice, but I don’t write to be comfortable. I write because I have to. It’s who I am. Sometimes being me is pretty fabulous, and someone gives me a trophy or a paycheck for it.

You know how beauty queens and glamour girls say, “You have to suffer to be beautiful?” I think what they are saying is about perseverance – that sometimes things are really uncomfortable. Whether it’s a girdle or performance anxiety, it’s hard to breathe, but you tough it out anyway.

Writing is hard. For me. For lots of writers. For those who say it comes easily, well, I really can’t say I like them much. Nor do I trust them. I think they are probably lying.

But what we have, friend, is intestinal fortitude. It’s a Fire Element quality — much like anxiety, which is also the result of excessive Fire energy — that I discuss in my workshops and book Practical Magic for Writers, which will be finished this summer.

Summer: the season of fiery solar energy! What better time to summon our inner creative warrior? Have writing anxiety or need some other writing help? Hit me up. Seriously. I luuuuuvvvvv to help.


The Secret Life of Procrastination: It’s alive and it’s coming for you! (and what to do when it does)

The other day procrastination loomed. It cast its dark shadow over my newest creative project in the form of my black, three-legged cat Oliver; then it plopped down and took the pen out of my hand, purring while it chewed on the pen. This was certainly a lot cuddlier and cuter than what I was doing. But dammit, I was finally starting to get somewhere!

When I was a columnist with a weekly deadline, I hardly ever had a problem with churning work out, even when I wasn’t particularly “feeling it.” I knew the drill: investigate/research on the weekend, write Mondays, revise Tuesdays, wake up at the crack of dawn Wednesday and make final revisions and edits. Some columns were more inspired than others, true, but my column was popular, and I met my deadlines.


Back then, if a cat sat in the middle of my copy, I just pushed it out of the way. There was, after all, an illustrator who needed the copy so that he could do his work before the layout people could do their work and the issue could go to press, and everyone could get paid. A lot of people were counting on me, including my daughter, Oliver and his four-legged counterpart, Sappho, all of whom had gotten used to living indoors and eating food.

After a couple of years, I’d burnt out. I’d pushed a lot of things out of the way to get the column done, including a desire to express myself authentically in a way that was meaningful to me, which editors kept striking from my copy. At first I resigned myself to the constraints, then exhausted and uninspired, I resigned the position. After I was on my own, however, my writing foundered. I had a bunch of half-written projects lying around and no real sense of urgency to get anything finished. Clearly I knew how to get things done; that wasn’t the problem. I worked, but at a slow pace. Some months I got nothing done at all.

Deadlines, accountability, and incentives: yeah, but…

These helped some. I wrote deadlines down, joined writers groups, and offered motivators like telling myself I could redecorate my bedroom after making my first $1,000. But those weren’t entirely effective. My brain isn’t dumb. It knew these were artificial motivators. Technically, no one needed the writing, my writers group might have thought I was a slacker, but they weren’t harmed when I showed up with unfinished writing, and if I really wanted to redecorate my bedroom, I already had the funds to do so.

A mentor suggested writing a check to a cause I loathed and then giving it to a friend and telling her to mail it if I had not accomplished my goal by the deadline I set. This could work, but it is coercive rather than motivational, and it’s not the relationship I want to have with my creativity.

Instead, I got busy looking at the investment I’d made already in my project (that is, the money in education, the sacrifices, and the time I’d put in). Clearly, the project was important to me, or I wouldn’t keep coming back to it. Then, I connected with the value of what I was creating. This included a monetary value of a completed project, but more importantly, the social value of how my project would help others. The latter had always been an incentive that inspired me. Inspiration, rather than coercion, was how I finally got myself going and what keeps me going.

Procrastination: It’s ALIVE!

No one likes to be told “No.” or yelled at to “Stop it!” I’ve watched people dig their heels in when what they want or what they are doing is negated. Children will throw outright tantrums. So will cats – this is where the term “hissy fit” comes from, after all.

I like to think my creative process is no different. When I get hung up in procrastination and I start resisting it, it acts out. Procrastination, like everything, WANTS TO SURVIVE. When it feels threatened, it gets defensive. Like a cat, it puffs up and creates drama. And I get even less done.

The secret is to overcoming procrastination is not to try to overcome it. Don’t make it a power struggle, which will only drain your energy. It sounds counterintuitive, but embrace the procrastination!

Instead of thinking of procrastination as not getting started, I think of it as Step #1. When I teach writing, I have my students put it on their “To Do” lists. No sense in ignoring it – procrastination wants to be a part of things. So include it, and then cross it off when you are ready to move on to Step #2. It’s win-win: Procrastination is happy because it’s gotten some attention, and you are happy because you’ve gotten something accomplished, ironically, by not doing anything. (You’ll learn in my classes and workshops how this sort of re-framing of ideas will change your whole world.)

Saying “hello” to my little friend and making space

As Oliver chewed on my pen in the middle of my project, I stopped my work for a minute and stroked his soft fur and said hello. Then I took out a few pieces of blank paper and put them next to those I was working on. I slid the furry distraction over on top of them. “Here,” I told him. “This is your project.” He sat on his pile of empty pages, batted at pen and bit it a couple more times, and then curled up and dozed off. While he napped contentedly, I got another pen and got back to work.

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A self divided cannot stand: resolve inner conflict, get more done

Much of my personal and creative life began to fall in place when I started to practice yoga and study yoga philosophy. It was on the yoga mat and in the classic texts that I found the best instructions for healthy thinking and practical spirituality. These enhanced my writing life. (You can read my paper presented at the MLA conference and published in the book Beyond the Frontier here: ” Writing West to East and Back Again: A Yogic Approach to Life-Writing.”)

Yoga & Writing

In the introduction to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, a classic Hindu text on physical yoga practices, Swami Muktibodhananda explains that yoga is the union of mind and body (to be clear, they aren’t separate…they just get out of synch or in dysfunctional relationship). This idea from that introduction has become central to my well-being:

Often we observe that when we try to practice self-control and discipline, we create more mental problems in our mind and personality…Therefore before you practice self-discipline and self-control, you must prepare yourself…If harmony is not created in the personality, then self-control and self-discipline will create more conflict rather than peace of mind.

You want to know what this “conflict” looks like?

Imagine your ego self holding a whip demanding that you to get to work and your feeling self complying grudgingly, refusing defiantly or in some way failing miserably. The task could be working on a creative project or going to the gym or doing the dishes. Big or small, it doesn’t matter. The point is that there’s a split in the personality between the self that thinks you should do something and the self that doesn’t want to it. It’s a sort of schizophrenia, almost.

A self divided against itself cannot stand. Or put another way: you are not being able to stand yourself.

I lived like this for years. I got a lot written, published and performed, but I was miserable because I was living in conflict with myself. Basically I’d tell myself I was a loser if I didn’t do the thing I knew I should do. There was some value (moral, financial, ethical, etc) inherent in the action that I felt I “should” do, but instead of focusing on the value, I focused on the action itself. When I lose focus of the “why” of things, I quickly see a hostile relationship between Marya the goal-setter and Marya the goal-fulfiller.

These days, when I recognize a “should” and an aversion to it, I know to look deeper. Why do I think I should do it? What is at the root of the aversion? This sort of reflection really helps me unify my “selves.” When I am connected with my desire — with why I “should” do something –I am able to get to my work in a way that makes me feel good and fills my work with purpose.

What “shoulds” do you wrestle with? Take some time to write about these, about what value these have (financial, moral, ethical, social, etc.). Sometimes we inherit “shoulds” from our families or society without examining them; if they have no value to you, personally, let these go the same way you might discard an ugly chair that used to belong to Aunt Agatha.

I think you’ll find that once you connect with why you want to do something, the aversion will soften or even disappear and you’ll be able to show up for the work you should do because you want to do it.


Sacrifice: a confession, an oath, an homage

I’ve been trying to write about sacrifice for days now. I realized it was important part of Fire element (I’m writing a book, Practical Magic for Writers, where I look at writing through the lens of the four classical elements), that we need sacrifice in order to keep us committed. I know this firsthand; I’ve sacrificed big time.

I have a clear purpose, a clear audience, but there is something in me so adverse, so resistant to writing about it that I haven’t been able to get myself to sit down to write for three days. When I try, my aversion has me open Facebook or email or compose something else. I’m a professional writer, for fucksake. And a writing coach. “Heal thyself!” I scream at myself in my head. Disgusted.

candle flame
A light in the darkness

Lighting a candle got me to sit down and open my lap top and start writing. I made it to 800ish words in a herky-jerky, stop-start process that felt a lot more like learning to drive a stick-shift than sitting down to write.

It’s a huge relief when I realize I am crying. I’m opening a huge can of worms. Fucking huge. Because to me sacrifice means leaving my then-2-year-old daughter with her father so that I could write. And it’s difficult to explain how I could do that and not be a monster; or if I am, how I got to be that monster. Or how my now-26-year-old daughter has both benefitted and been hurt by my choices. How we both say I did the best I could, given the circumstances, but both of us feel like we deserved better. We’re both still hurting and angry.

It’s difficult to explain the subtleties of what happened – how I didn’t “give her up,” for instance, or how much my difficult relationship – including emotional, physical and sexual abuse – with my own parents influenced my choices. It’s too much. And my cat, which has been relegated to the porch for shitting and pissing all over the house, is howling. Other than the over-eating, she’s a healthy cat. But she’s an emotional wreck.

A 24-pound cat fits easily into any size box.

Anxiety has me by the shoulders and is shaking me hard. And I want to punch the cat and shake her hard. I want her howling to stop so that my pain will stop its howling. Who can write in these conditions?

I decide not to be thwarted by writer’s block. Not to succumb to the urge to punch the cat. To write, even if it is crap. Just write it anyway. Because if I don’t write, not only do I feel the pain of the past but I also feel the pain of my present – my past and current powerlessness. And if I punch the cat, then I really am a monster.

I have rationalized my choices, but I haven’t forgiven myself. I’m pretty sure that’s holding me back. I’ve been punished enough. I am ready to be forgiven, to be washed clean. I want all the experience, all of the wisdom, none of the pain, none of the guilt.

The cat is still howling.

Too much of the time, I have felt like a hostage of circumstance. But I’ve decided my victim days are over. So, fuck you, anxiety and pain and shame and fear. Fuck you. You don’t get to control my life anymore.

I’m writing you off, out of my life. I will squeeze you out, shake you off. You will dangle at the end of my sentence, howling.


A magical solution to writing problems

You’re a smart and practical person. You see the problem: You’re not writing enough. Or not publishing enough.

The solution is simple, right? Write more. Publish more. It’s not rocket surgery. It’s self-evident: like the solution to being 20 pounds overweight. Lose 20 pounds. Duh.

At first, the need for a solution is a constant-yet-quiet thought in the back of your mind. Then it gets louder and more urgent, and that makes you feel a little panicky. Eventually you’re checking out — watching TV, eating, distracting yourself with other things — to try to keep that panicky feeling at bay. Eventually, you creatively shut down in generalized anxiety and creative desperation.  Until one day, you’ve had enough. You’re like, “This has gotta stop! Today is the day I take action!”

And then you’re off. Like gang busters. Hitting it daily: the writing, that is, as if you are power-lifting at the gym. Except you’re at the writer’s bench, pressing words. Showing up. Showing off. Yeah, you’re a rock star. You’re a little high on your awesomeness. It’s like a crash diet, except you’re getting leaner and meaner on the page. Some days you’re feeling like a writing super model.

Then some time goes by and you notice you’re back in a slump. You’ve put all that weight back on in the form of unexpended words. You’re a literary slob … again. And you’re disgusted with yourself. Again. And you enter the serious funk of “WTF is wrong with me?!?!”

The problem is, the problem isn’t actually what you think.

Not writing and not publishing aren’t the problems. These are symptoms. But they sure look like problems, because we can point to them and go, “This is why I’m miserable.” It’s not as easy to identify the sources of our problems because they lurk in the subconscious as writing goblins while we blame ourselves for the symptoms.

The emotional and psychological challenges that we face when they write are much like those people face when they diet. Issues of self-esteem, of acceptance and belonging, of motivation, of safety: these need to be addressed to get lasting results. Otherwise like dieters who never change their relationship to food, you’ll keep yo-yo-ing in your writing habits.

Sound familiar? Join me for a FREE webinar on how to get rid of those writing goblins that you’ve got going on in your life. If you can’t watch the webinar live, sign-up and you’ll be sent a link to replay to watch whenever it suits you. Attending live lets me help vanquish your goblins. You can also email me for help..




A Daily Writing Practice for Busy People

Writing “into the moment” rather than “about the moment” allows you to slow down and appreciate where you are. This practice can help writers be writers. And crazy-busy people be just plain ol’ busy and not so much crazy.

Think of it as a form of meditation. Except that, if you’re a writer, you’re also getting something accomplished and not just sitting there. To do this, you use the five senses to bring yourself fully into your experience. You will see how memory is fed and intuition is fired when you drink in everything deeply through the senses. In your dilated state, fully aware of the gross world, you are attuning your awareness so that it can become increasingly subtle. Writing about the sensory world “the world of the particulars” allows you to really immerse yourself. In meditation, they call this “mindfulness.”

But if you’re a busy person — one who is juggling so many things that it’s hard to slow down like that for big chunks of time — sometimes trying to honor a daily writing practice seems like one more thing to do. And it doesn’t feel urgent, so it gets put off. I know. I’ve been there.

When I was a smoker, even when I was crazy busy working full-time and going to graduate school full time, I used to take 5 minutes to go outside and smoke a cigarette. Suddenly everything just got put on hold for 5 whole minutes. It wasn’t a question of if I would do it. It happened like clockwork. Every hour or two, I’d take those 5 minutes and enjoy the sun on my skin and the wind in my hair. I don’t smoke anymore. But I often take these little breaks anyway.

It’s the perfect time to write about the sun and the wind in just a little writing “quickie.” One that feels like a stolen moment of down time.

Buddhist priest and writer Fiona Robyn calls these short snippets of writing into the moment  “Small Stones.” She says two things define this writing practice: 1) it’s short  and 2)  it preciselystones captures a fully-engaged moment. Writing Small Stones is not only a mindfulness practice, it’s a creative practice that can get you living up to your potential as a writer.

It’s practices like these that help us build a consistent and feel-good writing life that I address in my Wholly Creative writing workshops. If you want to know more about them, you can go here. I have found that writing is my spiritual practice, and it’s important that I do it regularly and often to stay centered and grounded, which translates to sane and happy. If leading and attending workshops is like going to church; small stones are like daily prayers of gratitude. I need both.

These excerpts from well-known poets are fully engaged and small enough to be a small stone. The last one is by Fiona Robyn herself.

William Carlos Williams, From “Paterson: Book I”

nothing but the blank faces of the houses
and cylindrical trees
bent, forked by preconception and accident–
split, furrowed, creased, mottled, stained–
secret–into the body of the light!

Wallace Stevens, From “Of Mere Being”

The bird sings. Its feathers shine.

The palm stands on the edge of space.
The wind moves slowly in the branches.
The bird’s fire-fangled feathers dangle down.

Dan Oestreich, From “Going to Sleep”

the sound of the creek
just after the rain stopped
trees still drip-dripping
and the clouds starting to break
wide open into
(I remember now)
a kind of blue peace
the still
wide open

Fiona Robyn, From Small Stones

The sun sags in the sky. Half a lemon sits face down in a puddle, scenting the water with citrus. Everything tightens against the cold.

Take a break right now and write a Small Stone, and then share it in the comments section!


Be the star of your very own solar system

While the stars were out last night, I was dreaming crazy dreams. I mean C-R-A-Z-Y.

When the sun rose, and I awoke, I began writing.

Magic was afoot, and it was evident because something was out of balance. Someone had imposed his or her will on the land, and the result was a frenzy of wings. Every sort of bird took to the sea and sky and found space among the four-legged animals that crowded the land. It felt scary, an omen of some kind…

…a villainess and her entourage want your home, which has no doors only elaborate passages between rooms, but more — she seems to want YOU. There is some power you hold that you are unaware of. She tries to control you by taking away what you love — Ashley and Oliver, your daughter and your cat. You know who you are when you are with them — because you serve each other and give each other reasons to live, to go out, to go on, and to come home. These are the attachments that fortify you. When they disappear, you are as concerned for them as you are for yourself. You ask about the chaos of animals outside. She says, “A creativity spell.”dream

You know what you must do, but do not know how.

You begin to cast a spell you can barely recall that you saw once in a book. You spell R-E-G-I-N-A out, tracing each letter with a finger in the air. Then shave the first letter off, E-G-I-N-A. Then G-I-N-A. Each letter is supposed to represent something, hold some power. “S” you remember stands for “Sin” but there is no “S” in “Regina” and you think maybe you’ve remembered the spell wrong, but you go on. Because now that you are powerless, faith is all you have. Faith, and this magically enhanced land, and this doorless house, and though you are uncertain of your power, you know it’s valuable because other people have come for it. You need to learn about your own abilities, understand your own resources. You have to become your own teacher.

Writing down snippets of imagery and story from my dreams has helped me glean their messages. I do more than merely recording the events, which is often boring and time-consuming because I dream so much. But as I write into, rather than about, the dream images and feelings while I am still waking up, I awaken to the depth of the messages.

From this dream, I realized I’d been resisting financial success and material gain because it made me feel vulnerable on many levels — spiritually, emotionally, and physically. I also realized I don’t entirely trust creativity or understand my own power. Still, I rule (Regina means queen) and can create change with words and writing … even in thin air.

WOW! Huge messages that I would have missed if I simply woke up and said, “Dude, I had some crazy-ass dreams last night.”

Some mornings I wake up and write into the dream just to record characters, images or plot.

Like this recent entry:

No one was certain but they speculated she’d been eaten by alligators, having spent so much time among them. She was once queen of the forest, connoisseur of the bramble and buzz, cheerleader for the chaos of nature. She appreciated its logic. She knew the alligators and did not fear them. She watched them float at the surface, creep from the black Florida muck, and slide into the darkly steeped rivers. Every river was alligator soup, teaming with decay, which was nourishment, more that she’d ever received on either side of the desk in a classroom. She thought, “It won’t pay much, but at least I’ll make a difference.” But teaching was full of its own kinds of gators — bureaucratic administrators and entitled parents would drag a teacher under and let a child’s education rot there with her. So to save the only one she could, she retreated to the bureaucracy of the forest. And then she quit the forest to farm the land. So when the young boy went missing near the banks of the Loxahatchee where she’d also gone to hike that day, folks pretty much assumed instinct overcame the logic, and she’d tried to wrestle a gator to save the boy. Or at least that’s how people were telling it from the cracked vinyl seats of Curley’s over their coffees and pancakes. 

Every time I write a dream down, it becomes real. Solid. Like a planet, the story orbits me during the day. Often, I am aware of several of them orbiting at the same time. Each dream is its own world, and I am its sun. I may not be the center of the universe, but I am the star of my very own solar system.

Not everyone dreams as vividly and frequently as I do, obviously. Some may recall their dreams only infrequently. Still, even these occasional recollections can provide some fantastic source material for writers, artists and other creative thinkers. The trick is tapping in…

#whatsyourstory #whollycreative

Sign-up for my free online Dream Writing workshop: Discover Inner Wisdom & Creative Gold. Wake up and dream on! Attend the live webinar Saturday, February 27, 2016 at 11 am PST. Or watch in replay.




Making art can solve your problems and change your life

No matter what problem you have, odds are Samantha Bennett will tell you, “Make some art about it.”

Sam is an actor, the author of Get It Done: From Procrastination to Creative Genius in 15 Minutes a Day, and the CEO of The Organized Artist Company, which offers workshops and coaching to artists and entrepreneurs who want to get their shit together.

People like me.

Early in the year, I signed up for Sam’s 6-week Get It Done online workshop because I’d stalled out in my vision for Wholly Creative. I had an idea of what I wanted to do — teach people how to integrate mind, body, and spirit in their creative lives — but I didn’t know how to clarify my vision and implement a plan. Over the months, I’ve heard Sam tell those of us that get creatively stuck or are dealing with a problem to “Make some art about it.”

She says it so often, it finally sunk in.

Bad Art Good Results
My bad art yielded good results

Only, this time it was personal: a friend with whom I’d had a close but difficult relationship re-appeared after a long (and peaceful) absence. My ambivalence about his return manifested as intrusive thoughts. Whether working or playing, I kept thinking about him, and I was losing both focus and peace of mind.


I took out some paper and a pen, and rather than write, I start to draw. When I was done half-an-hour or so later, I had grade-school art to show for my efforts, but I felt like I’d gone through top-notch psychotherapy. My divided feelings had become a firm resolve to maintain my distance from this dear, but toxic, friend. My feelings of hurt turned to empathy as I analyzed my drawing. I could see his pain and fear disguised as toughness and cool detachment, and I could see the power in my transparency and vulnerability. He was walled in; I was levitating.

Something in me was healed, and I didn’t even need any artistic skill to do it.

Skill, in fact, may have gotten in the way. If I’d tried to write about the problem, chances are my ego would’ve stepped in and start editing and offering opinions before the words made it to the page. But in a medium where I’ve got zero talent? My ego didn’t even think to speak up. It was out to lunch while it thought I was goofing around with kid stuff.

I wondered what it was like for Sam’s other clients who followed her advice.

My Mind by Roxana Ramos
“My Mind” by Roxana Ramos

Roxana Ramos, a client of Sam who lives in Peru and works in the visual arts — including paper and bookbinding — made some art with India ink markers and paper after she and her boyfriend had an big argument. Unlike my metaphoric rendering, Ramos expressed her feelings abstractly.

“Once my feelings had form, I was able to analyze them,” Ramos said.

She understood from the colorful loopy doodles that she’d had an imbalance that contributed to the argument: “I was too analytical, concentrated on my practical side, so when it was time to feel, I got overwhelmed and exploded.”

For her, another up side to this therapy is that it also contributes to her oeuvre and provides a source of income. (This blog’s featured image at the top is Ramos’s “Us”).

The simple creative practice has helped Ramos overcome overwhelm, the problem that brought her to Sam in the first place. Artists, especially those who are in full-time jobs while pursuing their art “on the side,” often face overwhelm. Other times, the problem stems from too many options. Whatever the cause, overwhelm shuts artists down.

MK Piatkowski, a Canadian singer, dancer, playwright and director, also conquered overwhelm. She quit her full-time job and set out on her own thanks to Sam’s advice to “make some art about it.”

“The practice reminded me that I needed to be an artist again,” Piatkowski explained. “So I’d work and then think, ‘Ok, dance break!’ or “Ok, now let’s do some writing.’”

Piatkowski also used the art of writing to remove a “grief block” that was keeping her from moving forward after the death of a friend, and she incorporated the work into her one-woman cabaret show-in-the-making. She also makes art to clarify her vision for One Big Umbrella, her business that serves theater professionals and creative entrepreneurs.

And it’s not just artists. Even cowgirls get the blues and can benefit from art-making.

Sisam whirlpool
Sisam’s whirlpool

Jane Sisam, a veterinary scientist in New Zealand working “to improve animal health and productivity through on-farm workshops, teaching and demonstrations” was having trouble naming her business. Her indecision, she said, “was just like being in a whirlpool, just going round and round, and not getting anywhere.” Sisam wrote and drew pictures about the problem, and finally settled on the name The Pink Cow Company, which satisfied her desire for a right-brained name that would help her business stand out and a feminine name that would represent the “ladies”– both the cattlewomen and the cows – that she works with.

Sam’s explanation for her directive is that art explains our feelings to us. “The other part, I think,” she says, “is explained by the immortal words of my friend Bill Baren [a coach who teaches The Art & Science of Conscious Success]: ‘Feelings just want to be felt.’ And once they know they’ve been felt, that energy can be released and resolved.”

For some, that resolution creates a domino effect. Unblocking in one area leads to movement in other areas. Says Piatowski,“I didn’t move forward in the business until I started writing the play.”

I know that for many years I underestimated the power of my emotions, trying to bulldoze through blocks with sheer will power rather than addressing their causes, which was both exhausting and unreliable. I’ve developed a deep respect for what I once saw as frivolous. Integrating mind, body, and spirit, also means integrating work and play, business and art.

Watch my free webinar Practical Magic for Writers to learn other approaches to move through resistance and enhance creativity or click on the button to get my guide to overcoming procrastination, How to Get Started and Keep Moving.