In our monthly series, we take a sneak peek into the creative processes of everyone from photographers to authors to artists to creativity coaches.
This month I’m excited to share my interview with Miranda Hersey. Hersey wears many creative hats. She’s a writer and editor, creativity coach, and host of the blog Studio Mothers. And she’s a mom of five!
I’ve already interviewed Hersey for several creativity pieces, and I love her interesting insights and valuable tips. Her e-book on creativity and motherhood is excellent. (I shared a few of her tips here.)
And her mission is powerful: to help others live deeply satisfying, creative lives.
Hersey’s work has appeared in many publications, including the Boston Globe, the Boston Globe Magazine, Wild Apples, Sun Magazine, Bay Area Parent, the Parent Review, and Exceptional Parent.
Her short story, “Learning to Cook,” was shortlisted for the 2004 Raymond Carver Short Fiction Award. She lives in rural Massachusetts, happily overrun with people, books, and animals.
This is without a doubt one of my favorite interviews. I hope you enjoy it, too!
1. Do you incorporate creativity-boosting activities into your daily routine? If so, what activities do you do?
In between morning meditation and getting the family out the door, I start every day reading the New York Times in hard copy. The paper is full of fascinating stories about human beings, the things that we do to each other, and the many ways in which we make art.
I read the paper in its print edition as opposed to online because it’s tangible, easy to put down and pick up, and isn’t accompanied by the black hole of the Internet, e-mail, and Facebook.
It takes me about 90 minutes to read the entire weekday paper (sports section excluded). I don’t usually have time for that, so I read as much as I can on any given day.
Journaling is also part of my morning routine — a key part of sifting out the detritus that can interfere with creative work. In addition to clearing my head, I use my journal to reinforce my intentions for the day. Reading (books, as opposed to the newspaper) is also an essential daily activity.
2. What are your inspirations for your work?
What inspires me most is seeing other people show up and do their work. The commitment of others motivates me like nothing else: reading Poets & Writers and seeing who’s published what and who’s won which award or grant; Bookmarks Magazine and the New York Times Book Review are shots in the arm. I love reading interviews with working writers that delve into their daily lives and practices.
As for actual nuggets of inspiration that make their way into my writing, it’s all about using prose to make sense of the often unfathomable experience of life — while telling compelling stories that resonate with the reader. I use a lot of autobiographical material as launching points.
Many years ago, my friend Roland Pease (poet, editor, and publisher) shared with me this Grace Paley quote: “Write what you don’t know about what you do know.” It’s the best writing advice I’ve ever received.
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? How do you overcome those obstacles?
I used to worry a lot more about whether or not my work was any good. Now I accept the fact that any work-in-progress will on some days seem brilliant and on other days seem like certifiable drivel. That’s just how it is.
As a writer and as a coach I also buy into the paradigm that the cream rises to the top. With a novel, if you do the work — study your craft, read voraciously over decades, develop your powers of poetry and observation, practice by getting smaller pieces published (both fiction and nonfiction), enter literary contests, and write daily or near daily — you will eventually write a novel of value. Then you edit and get feedback from your writing group and revise again, and again, and then polish until the stone is smooth.
At that point, it’s just a numbers game. We all know of classics and modern bestsellers that were rejected dozens of times before finding their way into the world. Having worked the slushpile at an independent publishing house, I have a good sense of what’s out there. Much of it is generated by people who haven’t paid their dues. People who don’t seem to read and haven’t bothered to learn the difference between its and it’s and wouldn’t know a comma splice if it hit them in the head.
These things matter, as do an understanding of story structure. As a professional editor, I’m a little biased on this point, but if you want to come across as the real deal and knock the socks off of an agent or publisher, don’t tell yourself that “the editors will fix it.” Buy a copy of The Chicago Manual of Style and do your homework.
Believing in this paradigm of the work paving its own way becomes a religion of writing, making it easier to keep self-doubt and fear of failure at bay. The structure applies to any creative discipline. As Steven Pressfield writes, “If you’re seeking reinforcement from outside yourself, you’re in for a long, lonely haul. The answer to self-doubt is self-reinforcement. Lindbergh made it to Paris, and you and I can too.”
When all else fails, I remind myself that the Pulitzer winner John Hersey was my third cousin twice removed (or something like that). It’s my responsibility not to disgrace the Hersey name, right? And maybe, with any luck, some of that DNA has made its way into my writing muscles.
I won’t really know until I finish and polish my novel, which is currently at 100,000 words and far from complete. And if my manuscript ultimately disappoints me, I’ll put it in a drawer and start over. Meanwhile, I continue the daily practice of becoming a better writer — which is to say, living with as much presence as I can muster and surrounding myself with words.
4. What are some of your favorite resources on creativity?
Books. I am a hoarder of books. (I allow myself this weakness because books are the only thing I stockpile. Aside from children.) The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp, The Zen of Creativity by John Daido Loori, The Art of Possibility by Rosamund and Benjamin Zander. Everything by Eric Maisel, Danny Gregory, Keri Smith, Patti Digh, Jennifer Louden, Steven Pressfield, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Julia Cameron, and Natalie Goldberg. I could go on for several more pages here. How many pixels are left on this web page?
5. What is your favorite way to get your creative juices flowing?
The best way to get the creative juices flowing is to do the work. In my experience, there aren’t any shortcuts. There’s no waiting for the muse. Butt in chair; do the work. Want to read a page of Wallace Stevens or Mary Oliver first? Great. Then do the work.
6. What’s your advice for readers on cultivating creativity?
What do you love? What calls to you? Do that. Be that. Study that. Not sure where to start? Learn by doing, do your research first, or a combination of the two. The only limitations are the ones you set for yourself.
7. Anything else you’d like readers to know about creativity?
I used to have this Graham Greene quote stuck on my computer: “Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose, or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation.” Yes. We make meaning by creating. So whatever cards you’re dealt today, give them a shuffle and go make something.