It’s a tome of insight. This is the book you keep within arm’s length as you’re writing. The book you turn to when your brain feels empty, and you don’t think you’ll compose anything coherent, let alone helpful, ever again. It’s the book you grab for support, kinship and wisdom into the writing process.
This month I’m honored to feature Abercrombie in our series on creativity. Below, she reveals her inspirations and favorite resources; how she navigates potential obstacles to her creative process; her advice to readers; and much more.
Abercrombie also is the author of Kicking in the Wall, Courage & Craft, and Cherished: 21 Writers on Animals They’ve Loved & Lost.
In addition, she’s published novels and children’s picture books, including the award-winning Charlie Anderson. Her personal essays have appeared in national publications and many anthologies.
She teaches creative writing at the UCLA Extension Writer’s Program, where she’s received the Outstanding Instructor award and the Distinguished Instructor Award.
Learn more about Abercrombie at her website http://www.barbaraabercrombie.com/.
1. Do you incorporate creativity-boosting activities into your daily routine? If so, what activities do you do?
I do yoga and take a long walk very early every morning with my dog. Physical exercise clears my head of all the babble in life, and dogs are a wonderful model of sanity and seriousness.
2. What are your inspirations for your work?
Other writers. And things I need to figure out or learn in my own life. You write the book you need to read.
3. There are many culprits that can crush creativity, such as distractions, self-doubt and fear of failure. What tends to stand in the way of your creativity?
Distractions, mostly – the ever-constant attempt to juggle family and real life with writing (though writing, of course, is my real life, too). Long ago I learned to tune out the negative voices and find the positive ones in my life.
And when the critic sits on my shoulder, I try to write my way past it with 5-minute writing exercises, though the self-doubts about your own creativity never completely go away. Maybe the vulnerability of that keeps us honest and is simply part of being creative.
4. How do you overcome these obstacles?
Discipline, stubbornness — I just keep showing up at my desk. And I try to be organized in my personal life.
I also keep a private journal that can get very whiny at times, but it’s a good place to vent and write my way past the whining and the problems.
5. What are some of your favorite resources on creativity?
Books and writers I love. Certain writers will inspire me to loosen up and play. For instance, I read Abigail Thomas’s amazing memoir Safekeeping when I’m getting too linear and feel stuck.
And poetry can work, too. I always read a poem to my students at each class I teach — no matter if it’s a fiction or memoir course. Good poetry can teach us to take risks and leaps, and also to see how few words it can take to get the job done.
6. What is your favorite way to get your creative juices flowing?
Again, [it’s] books, reading, immersing myself in what I love the most — good writing. And in fact [it’s] all the arts: music and painting, films and theater, dance. All the arts connect.
7. What’s your advice for readers on cultivating creativity?
Join a community of like-minded writers or artists or members of whatever your creative field is. And work hard. Take it really seriously; engage in it on a daily basis.
And, at the same time, I think most of us need to learn — relearn actually — that it’s OK to play, which is essential to creativity. Sometimes we need to goof off and dream, just like we did when we were little kids.
8. Anything else you’d like readers to know about creativity?
Don’t wait for inspiration. Creativity is also about craft and work. Work at your craft, and the inspiration will come.