Tomorrow, a book written to help writers gain confidence and creativity will be available. Today, the author, Julia Roberts, talks with me about the science behind Write Without the Fight.
I was introduced to Roberts and her creativity coaching during an online Summit in January 2021. I admit the idea of a scientific approach to creativity seemed like raining on the parade of creative joy. I couldn’t have been more wrong about that.
Let me introduce you to Julia Roberts. Her mission is to help writers glide past those awkward, shameful moments that stop writing in its track. She has written several books and speaks on the science of creativity. I was drawn to her easy smile and authentic voice when she talked about helping writers get unstuck.
Thanks for joining us, Julia. I admit, I’d never heard about the science behind creativity until I listened to you at that summit. What drew you to the science of creativity?
Julia: I’m not a “scientist” by nature, but I am naturally curious and optimistic. I felt there was someone who could explain why I was so creative, a good writer, and yet somehow, I couldn’t get books written and things created that I envisioned. It was something we don’t usually call writer’s block – because I had lots of ideas. It wasn’t the typical “blank page” syndrome. I was very busy, creating, but not finishing, not “shipping” as Seth Godin calls it.
First, I trained as a coach with Dr. Martha Beck – and that helped A LOT. I could really see how I was too hard on myself. I could calm my doubts, at least somewhat. I went on to train with Dr. Eric Maisel, to be a creativity coach. And that exposed me to how coaching can help creative people, and actually how important creative output is to individual creatives and to their would-be audiences, i.e. the world.
Somehow, though, I was still stymied. I’d get very excited about ideas; I’d get started right away. And then when something got a little difficult and I’d jump to new idea. I was wasting months at a time, adding up to years.
I wanted more information about creativity, so when I heard about the Master of Science in Creativity at Buffalo State College, I jumped. I applied, was accepted, and found myself inside my first classroom in thirty years, at a lightning pace.
And it changed my life. I can get through my whole creative process and finish what I envision! I have to admit, it’s a pretty great advanced degree. I cannot imagine a better use of my time than coming to intimately understand my own creativity – a primary driver in my life.
Sharon: I love that!. Your book promises to help writers master their creative process. Can you define “creative process” for us so we’re all on the same page about it?
Julia: Creative process is a thinking process – how you think your way through a creative project or problem-solving session. In the 1950’s we began to shift from disease-oriented psychology (Freud) to positive psychology (Maslow). And people began to seek information about how the creative process works – and why it sometimes doesn’t. The CIA, in particular, wanted to be able to detect and measure creativity in people so they could identify who would make good spies, so they pumped money into the research. A new branch of psychology was born.
After decades of research, observation and experimentation, scientists have codified what it takes to create. So, yes, that thought cycle that happens in millions of minds, millions of times a day, is the creative process. There are four phases of thought, and each requires a different way of thinking, and a different mood. Sometimes “stuck” is about trying to skip or skimp a phase. Or not wanting to leave a comfy phase for one that challenges you.
It is universal. First you seek clarity, then ideas, then structure, and then finish.
And that’s how we as humans create. What’s obvious, however, is individual creators are far from universal. We are each uniquely skilled, have strengths and struggles. We don’t always fit the process; sometimes we fight it.
It is imperative that we come to understand our own profile within the process. We each need our own habits and coping mechanisms to keep this creative process whirring along, effectively, in our own uniquely abled minds.
Sharon: So interesting! One thing I recall from our first encounter is that you had an assessment to help writers determine where they might be getting stuck in the process. Can you tell us more about that?
Julia: “Why Am I stuck? – Powerful Help for Stuck Writers” is a tale about Stuck Duck who’s a stuck writer. It is a rudimentary way to help people understand the four thinking skills used during the creative process. Once you see that, you begin to also see your creative thinking strength and struggle among those four ways of thinking – one you enjoy and excel at, and one that stops you in your tracks and makes you groan.
Though it is offered in a children’s story book format, it is based on the same science of how people create as my deep dive and professional assessment program called The Creative Selfie. So, it’s not “fluff” but it is as the cover says: EZ READ – EZ DO.
Sharon: I love that you formatted it for such easy access. I know I clearly saw which place was my strength and which was my weakness. As writers, we want to hear about how knowing about creativity has affected the way you write. Tell us about a defining moment in your writing life.
Julia: I hope there are defining moments – many – ahead of me. But my first traditionally published book, Motherhood to Otherhood, (Running Press, 2008) taught me everything I needed to know about how I write books. (Remember, I had trouble finishing things.) But I offered this book as a class for local moms in my house, releasing a chapter to the group each week. I slowly came to understand I like company when I write. Even though I was writing alone, I had accountability and a deadline.
I eventually started Mighty Writers, a writing club, and we write together four hours a week on Zoom. It’s when I work on my novel instead of my business. There’s focus, there’s congeniality and there’s a promise to myself and others that I’ll write in those hours. My writing happens, and I look forward to it. And the Mighty Writers are finishing their books, too.
Sharon: Community is essential for writers. I’ve been posting about that here and talking about it on my YouTube Channel. It’s nice to know that I’m not the only writer who values community. Now, I always like to ask one fun question. Here it is: You are a month of the year. Which month are you? Why?
Julia (pauses, looking a bit thunderstruck): I live in LA where all the months seem the same. You could wake up in the morning and not know if it’s almost Christmas or almost summertime. But if I have to be a month, I guess I’d select August. I don’t particularly like the weather in August – too hot everywhere, and especially here. But August has a feeling of unending time. Summer has grown old and unexciting. There’s no bustle of back-to-school, or new beginnings. It is hot and slow. Your brain just has its leisure. You can ponder odd questions all day, if you want, because all the parts of your life seem slower. No one demands much of you in August. Clients are on vacation, or desperately fanning themselves and missing appointments. Children are happy to lounge in the pool and a salad or burger is always sufficient for dinner. Evenings bring a campfire, or a long sit outdoors to catch a breeze. It is delectably slow, and the brain can play.
That’s such an insightful answer. And what lovely word pictures you’ve left us with. I love the idea that our brain can play because of leisure time. I know I’ve been guilty of stifling that playfulness with the strictures of deadlines and such.
Thanks for taking time out during your launch week to hang out with the writers who follow my blog.
Don’t forget to grab your FREE copy of Write Without the Fight May 10, 2022 through May 15, 2022.
Writer, are you feeling stuck? Not sure what’s holding you back? Find out with this short quiz.