Creative Energy

I was teaching at the Pacific Northwest Writers Conference recently. I love teaching, particularly at conferences, where I get to meet so many new writers, and there’s such a condensed, creative energy in one place. But I’m a man of routines, and those routines involve a lot of solitude. All those people, and all that teaching, and all the hustling from one session to another, and all the late-night gatherings with wine and earnest conversation can wear a fellow out.

It was 2:00 in the afternoon on day three and I was slotted to moderate a session on making picture book dummies. I asked the Powers That Be if I could get out of it. I could not. I considered pouring a fourth of cup of coffee but decided against it. I knew the author teaching the class, and it was nice to say hello and learn how busy she’d been recently, but once I’d passed out her materials to the students, and told everyone to silence their cell phones, I felt like curling up in my chair and taking a nap.

My friend began explaining how one makes a dummy. It was sort of interesting, but I don’t write picture books. My mind wandered and I felt more tired still. The students were folding paper into book-shaped stacks, when my friend turned to me. “Bill, you want to make one?” I chuckled and shook my head. “No, I don’t think so.”

The class booed me. I was going to explain how tired I was, but I decided to make a book dummy instead. The point of the exercise was to learn how to lay out a picture book, to understand which pages a story can start on, and how one decides how much text to put on a given page. The other students had come with stories they’d already written and were busy choosing what text should go where. Once I’d folded and stapled and numbered my pages I wondered if I should copy off someone else. “Nah,” I thought. “I’ll just make something up.”

So I heard the first line of a story and wrote it down. It was pretty good. Then I heard a second line and it was even better, because it told me something about my protagonist and what his challenge was going to be. Now a third line came, which I quickly rewrote, and then a fourth and fifth line, and then nothing. But not nothing, of course. I was just waiting. I was interested now and I could feel another line coming and I was curious to learn what it would be when it did. Then I had it and I felt good writing it down.

As I raised my hand to call my friend over to show her what I’d written, I realized something had changed. It had changed without me noticing or caring, without coffee or naps or television.

I wasn’t tired anymore.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group coaching.


Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write With Confidence.
You can find William at:

Follow wdbk on Twitter

Purple Elephants

You know this drill already, I’m sure, but let’s review. Don’t think of a purple elephant.  Are you thinking of a purple elephant? Because I just asked you not to. Really, stop thinking about a PURPLE ELEPANT. Why are you thinking about a PURPLE ELEPHANT when I told you not to?

This is sometimes used as an example the linguistic tricks our mind plays. That is, our mind works in the positive, ignoring words like “don’t” and “not” and so on. Thus, the phrase, “Don’t think of a purple elephant,” is translated in our brain as, “Think of a purple elephant.”

I believe this example reveals something far beyond a mnemonic quirk. Life is led in the positive. We can only create; we cannot un-create. You cannot live your life not being your mother, or not being unmarried, or not being unpublished. Not matter how many of us linger on couches or dawdle in cafés, we are by the very nature of existence creatures of action. You are a stream of energy with no off switch, and your attention, usually in the form of your thoughts, directs that energy. Wherever the energy of your attention flows, things grow.

It is important to remember, I think, because all of us have those things we are perhaps afraid of becoming, or mistakes we are afraid of making again. The pain of those realities we are trying to avoid, from becoming our mother to not being published, is real, but only because those events or actions lay outside the swath of our true desire. Whenever you focus your energy on your true desire – telling great stories, communicating, sharing, riding a bike, whatever – the energy flows quickly and freely. It has found its natural course.

But when the energy is directed toward what we do not most desire, from a story we don’t actually want to tell to a job we don’t want to work, life becomes hard. We are paddling upstream. The only thing that has ever been wrong with anybody in the world is that they are living outside the stream of their true desire, and the further outside they are living, the greater their pain. The pain, however, is only information. The pain is reminding us that we have strayed from what we desire most. If you keep thinking about what causes you pain, trying to solve your purple elephant like a riddle, you will continue to be in pain. If, however, you seek what you most desire and direct your attention toward it, never questioning why, the pain of disconnection will cease in an instant, and all the purple elephants will disappear.

More Author Articles

Follow wdbk on Twitter