I love learning about another person’s creative process. I wonder how they stitched together seemingly disparate ideas, how they constructed a beautiful sentence, how they were able to see and capture the tiniest detail in a photo, how their brush could paint my emotions.
Creativity comes in countless forms. But I think the running thread is vulnerability. It takes courage to let your creativity hang out. Specifically, I think one of the toughest and bravest acts is sharing your story – and doing it on stage. That’s exactly what Jen Lee does on a regular basis.
Lee is a beloved performer in New York City’s storytelling scene, including The Peabody Award-winning Moth Radio Hour and The Best of The Moth, Volume 15.
That’s why I was excited to get her thoughts on cultivating creativity for our monthly series, “How I Create.”
Lee also is a media producer and a sought-after mentor and guide for workshops and retreats unleashing creative expression. She’s the creator of Finding Your Voice and Telling Your Story, cutting-edge personal breakthrough courses.
And she’s a contributing author of Women Writing on Family: Tips on Writing, Teaching and Publishing. Find her online at: jenleeproductions.com.
1. Do you incorporate creativity-boosting activities into your daily routine? If so, what activities do you do?
Honestly, my biggest creativity-booster is rest. When I’m well-rested, words and ideas flow and things can happen with speed and ease instead of grinding it out. I rest by spending time alone, having really regular and generous sleep habits, and restocking my creativity pond with good stories — live on stage, in a book or on a big screen.
2. What are your inspirations for your work?
My friends and colleagues, who never cease to be bold and to be brave, whether they are telling true stories on a stage or sharing their research findings, playing a new song for the first time or just reaching out on a hard day.
They make me want to be better — to be more courageous and more tender and more true in the hopes that my work might be a source of freedom and healing the way their courage, their work and their tender and true selves have been to me.
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?
Burnout and fatigue are my biggest enemies. Always trying to crank out so much, to be just a little more productive, can leave me feeling really stripped and depleted if I go unchecked. I have a full and rich family life, and I think when we’re juggling our creative work with other roles and responsibilities like caretaking or other jobs, it’s easy to feel that our creative time is scarce and to submit to the temptation to use it all for output instead of balancing it with some input, too.
4. How do you overcome these obstacles?
I stay in regular communication with my friends, who can hear so quickly even over the phone and many miles when I’m stretching myself too thin and are quick to call me on it. I notice how my body feels when it’s time to pick up my children and I haven’t taken time to rest and compare it with my mood and energy level when I do — and then I use that difference to motivate and inspire me to step away. To eat good food. To indulge in a few minutes with a good mystery.
And perhaps the biggest shift is an internal peace I’m making with my limits. I’m learning, This is what I can sustain. This is what is realistic to expect in this season of my life.
And that perspective frees me up to really sink deeply into and enjoy the other elements in my life, to let them feed and inspire me and be part of the mix instead of feeling resentful toward them and viewing them as the source of some kind of scarcity.
5. What are some of your favorite resources on creativity?
I’m not sure I would have made it through the challenges of those first few years doing creative work without Julia Cameron’s writing, which really normalized so much of what I experienced and at the same time offered guidance about how to take good care of myself — body, soul and mind — along the way.
Now my favorite resources are really about understanding and expanding my capacity for vulnerability, which is an edge I always seem to be working at. David Whyte’s audio program, What to Remember When Waking: The Disciplines of an Everyday Life, has been like a holy text for me in this regard. I’ve really been letting that wisdom be my companion for the last couple years.
6. What is your favorite way to get your creative juices flowing?
The easiest way for me to write is to put on my headphones with the right kind of music for the task, even if I’m alone — something about headphones cocoons me in my interior world.
If I need to shake words or ideas loose, I go for a walk. I stare out windows. I have those rambling kinds of conversations with friends where in one breath you’re saying you really need to do the laundry but in the next breath something kind of profound falls out.
7. What’s your advice for readers on cultivating creativity?
Create space for it in your life — make sure you have a good deal of tasks that require repetitive motion but not a lot of attention in your day (dishwashing, mopping, showering). Sometimes we cram our schedules so tight and spread our attention so thin that there’s no room for inspiration to sneak up behind us and then be heard.
Our obsession with doing is eroding our practice of being (whether over a slow, mindful cup of tea, on a bench in a park or just minutes to breathe and rest in the in-between spaces), and in my experience those moments of being are really the gateway — the invitation — for both inspiration and flow to find us in a way that too much effort tends to chase away.
8. Anything else you’d like readers to know about creativity?
Creativity is not a static trait — it’s not something one is born with or without. I think of it more as a divine spark that travels amid and among us like birds, looking for a shoulder that is sitting still enough to land on. To tap into our creativity is to listen for the quiet guidance and eurekas that are waiting beyond the din.
Photo credit: Bella Cirovic