Today on Artist Strong we are fortunate to have guest Melissa Dinwiddie, a creative who celebrates and encourages creativity on her blog Living a Creative Life. When she isn’t writing for her blog, Melissa is making her own art. Thank you Melissa for joining us today and welcome to Artist Strong!
Carrie: Melissa, could you explain the genesis of your blog, Living a Creative Life? How did you start out?
The short story is that I realized my life needed to change, and I started my blog as a way to chart my journey to the life I really, really wanted.
The longer story starts about fourteen years earlier. From 1996 to 2007, I’d slowly built up a small, but sustainable, business as an calligrapher and artist, selling primarily ketubah prints (Jewish marriage contracts). The business had grown steadily, without much marketing on my part, and I was all set to finally reach my big, 6-figure goal…
But then 2008 happened. The economy tanked, and my business tanked along with it.
Without any understanding of how to make good business decisions, I spent 2 years desperately “throwing money at the problem,” but the only thing that did was get me into serious debt.
By February of 2010, things were really dire. In my panic, I managed to scare off a client who was just about to close a sale that would have paid my mortgage that month. Then my boyfriend walked out, leaving me in even worse straits than before.
That’s when I lost it.
The truth was, I’d been burned out on my business for a long time, but it took a series of crises to wake me up to the fact that I had the choice to change my life. I didn’t have to just be a ketubah artist forever.
The last gift my departing ex-boyfriend gave me was a link to an article on Chris Guillebeau’s blog, The Art of Non-Conformity. Suddenly I had a vision that a different life was possible—one in which I wasn’t settling, where I was feeding my creative hungers and changing the world while also paying my bills.
Within days I’d bought the domain livingacreativelife.com and set up a WordPress blog. At the time, I had no idea where it would lead, I just knew that I felt a powerful call to write down what I was going through.
The rest, as they say, is history. 😉
Carrie: Great story! What is one thing you really want people/creatives to take away from your blog?
If I could boil it down to one thing, it would be that feeding our creative hungers is not self-indulgent, not the “frivolous” thing that needs to wait until everything else gets done. All humans are inherently creative, and using your creativity—in whichever way(s) it is calling to you to be used—is essential to health, happiness, and well-being.
The problem, of course, is that all sorts of obstacles get in the way. We live in a society that gives us very mixed messages about creative expression, and all of us have barely conscious belief systems—what I like to call “self-installed glass ceilings”—that keep us stuck.
The good news is that all of this is within our power to change! We can shatter those self-installed glass ceilings. We can deprogram all of the negative messages we’ve been taught.
We can reclaim our inherent creativity, create lives of greater joy, and in the process make the world a better place for everyone!
Carrie: What motivated the decision to offer courses for creativity? (How did you get the idea? What triggered it?)
When I talked with other people about where creativity existed in their lives, I saw the same patterns over and over. The same obstacles that had led me to lock my creative spirit up in a closet affected just about everyone I talked to!
I’d identified and developed so many tools and techniques for busting past resistance and living the fully creative life I longed for, and I realized that I could help a lot of people by sharing what I had learned. I could use my creativity to make a difference, and make a living, while nourishing my own creative spirit at the same time!
Carrie: If you had to choose one of your class offerings for a creative who identifies as blocked, which one would you recommend?
Creative Sandbox 101 is a great place to start. Over 1,000 people have now gone through this mini-course, and every day I hear from participants who tell me how it’s changed their lives.
Carrie: What have you gotten out of teaching and creating these courses?
Creating courses is a huge creative challenge for me. I’ve learned to build everything from the ground up—the technical parts, the design, the content, everything. So the creative process is continual learning curve, which makes it really fun. It also often makes it incredibly frustrating, but I love the feeling of success when I finally solve a sticky problem, and the feeling of empowerment from learning to do what once felt impossible.
The teaching is sheer joy.
Teaching I feel is one of my callings. I’ve always been called to share what I know, and one of my superpowers is creating safe environments where people can let down their guard and take risks. I get so much joy from this! When I get off a live call for a class, I feel so filled up inside, and will often turn to my husband, or the cat, or just the air around me, and say, out loud, “Dang, I love my job!”
Carrie: What is one practice you often recommend to people that is essential in your own creative practice?
Underlying every other practice in my life is my Golden Formula: self-awareness + self-compassion = the key to everything good.
This means not beating myself up when I stumble or make mistakes, but instead noticing what I’m feeling, noticing what led to that feeling, and treating myself always with loving kindness, as I would a dear friend.
It also means embracing the reality that when it comes to any practice, the most important practice just getting back on the wagon. No lashings, no smack downs, just take a fresh start, and do it with love and self-forgiveness.
It has taken me a lifetime to come to this way of being in the world, but I wish I’d gotten here sooner. It is a much, much more pleasant way to live!
Carrie: When you feel creatively stuck, what do you do?
I pull out my 10 Rules for the Creative Sandbox! One of these ten rules will always get me out of “stuckness.”
I also remind myself that blocks are not blocks to creativity; it’s pushing through the block that is the creativity! Blocks are part of the process. They are not stop signs, they are an invitation to keep going.
And I remind myself that the most important element to achieve success in any goal is simply to get comfortable with discomfort. Pushing through a sticky place is never comfortable, but we have to slog through that discomfort if we’re going to get past it and into the creative flow we long for.
Carrie: How do you balance maintaining your personal creative endeavors as an artist and Living a Creative Life?
I don’t know that it’s ever really balanced, but I set a very clear intention to always make time for creative play, no matter what. (Of course I stumble, but that’s why the most important practice is just getting back on the wagon!)
With very few exceptions, I keep my mornings clear for “create time,” and at least a little of that is purely for joy and fun (i.e, not work-related). I’ve learned that the thing I do first is the thing that gets done (and sometimes, when life throws a wrench your way, it’s the only thing that gets done!), so I’ve learned to put the thing that nourishes me the most first on my agenda, even if only for a few minutes. That way the rest of my day goes so much better.
Carrie: You are both a visual artist and musician, do your two practices inform one another?
Absolutely! I don’t always see obvious connections when I’m in the middle of it, but creativity always feeds creativity.
Carrie: How does collaboration help and/or hinder your creative practices?
I’m a big fan of collaboration, and would love to do more of it. I’ve had some wonderful business collaborations, which have made projects so much more fun than they would have been going it alone.
In my art life, I collaborate most frequently with performing art forms. As a singer, I love the spontaneity of interacting on the fly with other jazz musicians, and pattering with the audience. I’m also a student of improv theater, which is highly collaborative, both between the improvisers themselves, and between the improvisers and the audience. And as a dancer, there’s absolutely nothing like the intimate collaboration of dancing with a skilled partner (especially Argentine tango!)
I haven’t done as much collaboration on visual art or songwriting or my other creative expressions, although I’d love to! The visual art collaborations I participated in were back when I was a dyed-in-the-wool perfectionist, so I was terribly hard on myself and my experiences were not very fun. Now that I’ve taken a vow of IMperfectionism, I’d love to try some art collaborations, using my 10 Rules for the Creative Sandbox as operating guidelines!
Carrie: What is one thing you know now you wish you knew when you started out as a creative?
One thing that’s been especially validating and gratifying lately is sharing my artwork-in-process online. Essentially, I “make messes” in the Creative Sandbox, just because it’s fun and makes me happy, and I take pictures and videos of the process to share on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. To my surprise and delight, my “messes” have gotten a lot of positive response, including requests to buy them!
What I wish I’d known and trusted decades ago is that my creative explorations are worth sharing. That I don’t have to make art to someone else’s precise specifications in order to make art that someone else likes or wants.
Essentially (and this is true in all areas of life, not just my art), the more I just relax, be myself, and share authentically, the more the Right People for Me respond to what I put out there.
Carrie: Who/what inspires you?
Ha! So many people! So many things! Anyone who is chasing after their own dreams inspires me. I just have to be careful, because I step into the Comparison Trap really easily, so people who inspire me also often inspire enormous envy!
The more comfortable I get in my own skin, however, the better able I get at springing that Comparison Trap, and just soaking in the inspiration
Carrie: How do you define Creativity?
I like Rollo May’s definition: “Creativity is the process of bringing something new into being…” It’s creating something where before there was nothing, or transforming something into something different.
Creativity is our birthright as humans. We all possess it, and if you ever feel your creative taps have rusted shut, rest assured, to get them to flow again all you have to do is do something!
BE COURAGEOUSLY CREATIVE: Are you ready to Live a Creative Life?! Consider joining Melissa and embrace your creative desires!
Melissa Dinwiddie is an artist, writer, performer, and creativity instigator, on a mission to empower people to feed their creative hungers. She coaches and consults with individuals and groups, and leads creativity workshops and retreats in inspiring locations around the world as well as online. Get a free printable poster of Melissa’s Keys to Creative Flow, at Living A Creative Life.
Melissa Dinwiddie’s Contact details:
My website & blog, Living A Creative Life: http://melissadinwiddie.com
Thanks so much for interviewing me, Carrie! What a treat!
One note: I recently turned my Keys to Creative Flow (formerly known as my 10 Rules for the Creative Sandbox) into a poster. You can find a graphic, and get a free printable poster, here: http://melissadinwiddie.com/keys/
Thanks Melissa for your time, I know Artist Think readers will benefit from this great interview!
Hats-off to you for bringing Melissa’s experiences and talents to the foreground. And congratulations to Melissa for her openness and honesty in spelling out this life changing transition. It is a model and will serve to inspire and encourage others in approaching our fast-changing creative world.
As many jurisdictions in North America recognize creativity as an economic driver and therefore are striving to develop same, undoubtedly educational programmes like Melissa’s will thrive and prosper.
Thank you and best regards,
Bruce, I’m starting to really look forward to your comments! Thank you for being such a thoughtful contributor to Artist Think. I completely agree with you she is a wonderful model for all creatives. Her classes as well as her mission/message do so much to value and promote the arts! I truly believe everyone should have the opportunity to access their creativity; Melissa has opened that door of possibility for many people.