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Cynthia Morris on the Challenges of a Creative Life, Letting Your Creative Self Lead, and Creating Your Own Stories – Cracking Creativity Episode 45

Cynthia Morris is an author, illustrator, and the creator Original Impulse. She has turned many of her ideas to reality from completing a novel to running creativity workshops in Paris. In this episode, Cynthia talks about the struggles of a creative life, listening to your inner artist, and the need to create our own stories.

Here are three things you can learn from Cynthia:

The Creative Life Isn’t Easy

Even though Cynthia has achieved many things in her creative career, that doesn’t mean it’s been easy. Just because she enjoys creating doesn’t mean the creative life is easy.

She believes putting things out into the world “involves an enormous perceived risk.” It has a very specific effect on our nervous systems and our psyches, and the only way to withstand that is to have a “commitment to your ultimate end goal.”

There are so many important factors that go into your creative work. There are the time and money commitments. There’s the possibility that your work may amount to nothing. Everything is a crap shoot. “You have no idea. It’s crazy. It’s ludicrous to make things.”

The mistake many creatives make is trying to do it all on their own. Many of us have fallen into the myth of the lone creative genius. If you want a successful creative career you need allies, peers, and mentors to help you. Creating should not be a solo adventure.

Let Your Creative Self Lead

Often times, we are so concerned about what need to accomplish and how we need to accomplish it, that we don’t pay attention to what our creative self is telling us. Cynthia thinks we all need to stop worrying about everything and just “let your artist lead.”

There are times we got so caught up in the daily grind that we don’t listen to that inner voice. Sometimes we just need to let her be in charge. We need to get lost. We need to make bad decsions. We need to indulge in the part of us that is “oriented toward play and creativity and isn’t always practical in doing the right thing.”

It is those times that we let go that we can be our most creative self. We need that time to explore the world. “There’s so much value in free space.” That is why Cynthia tries to teach people to make space in their schedule. Stop packing every day with a ton of stuff. “If you don’t have space, you don’t have any way to create or be creative.”

Create Your Own Story

We live in such a great time. There’s so much information available to us. There are enough resources and advice to keep us busy forever. And that’s why it’s also a problem.

We are consuming too much. We are listening to too many voices. Cynthia believes the biggest challenge a creative person faces is battling all that noise.

We become too occupied with what others are doing and accomplishing that we forget to listen to ourselves. We need to “learn how to develop a direct channel” to our own original impulse.

We need to learn to listen to our own voice. We need to figure out what we want to say and what we want to make. We need to temper other people’s stories with our own story and our own drive. We need to “develop a relationship with that deep inner voice” within ourselves.

Start living your own story instead of trying to mimic or live someone else’s.


  • about Cynthia
    • creative coach, author, illustrator, faculty member of Good Life Project
    • had a lot of time alone reading books
    • developed a love of stories and books (medium of transformation and transportation)
    • decided she wanted to write
    • studied journalism and ended with French degree
    • did a lot of writing on the side, started to write with focus through free writing
    • 1999 started writing a novel that took 12 years to write and another year to publish
    •  simultaneously built her coaching business
      • coaching gave her something to write about
      • thought her business would be part-time work with full-time pay so she could write
      • applied principles to the creative process working with writers and other artists
      • became deeply engaged with the creative process and how we create
  • Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way
    • gave invitations like taking classes
    • took many classes: acting, writing, dancing, etc.
    • devoted herself to writing so she could master it
    • started a writing and drawing journal
    • started creative workshop in Paris called Capture the Wow
      • using illustrative journal as a way to open up to inner artist
      • workshop worked on herself
      • was really into drawing/painting
      • swung from writing to water color and illustration
      • committed to becoming an illustrator
      • became a beginner again w/ just enough wisdom to run a business

“I would just be doodling and keeping a journal because it was fun, and it was playful, and I didn’t have to be good. I had set a really high bar for myself as a writer’s coach that my writing had to be good and so I was very serious about that, and I found that I needed an outlet that was just pure play.”

  • bringing joy into your work
    • friends told her not to do art professionally because she could lose the joy
    • has a sketchbook where she plays with color
    • is always drawing/coloring to keep freshness alive

“There’s always got to be space for that play and so I take online classes that are fun and playful but also informative.”

  • why she went into journalism
    • started off as an English major, but decided to be practical and went to journalism, and ended up with French degree
    • she explored different genres after college
    • found that she wanted to make things up, so she left journalism
  • how she was able to finish her journal
    • discovered novel writing wasn’t her medium or greatest form of expression
    • each draft took a year
    • found it helpful to know her values
    • one of her values was curiosity
      • wanted to know what happened to characters and what would happen to her
      • couldn’t live with not finishing her novel
      • once she commits, she doesn’t quit
      • Seth Godin’s The Dip – knowing when to give up

“The thing that kept me going was the accountability of being a writer’s coach and that I would not really be able to continue my job, my work, if I quit and that may or may not be true. It was definitely what I felt. It was an integrity issue.”

  • her feelings after finishing the novel
    • felt enormous affection, respect, and gratitude for herself
    • wants others to feel the same
    • had limited edition of book with art and special package
    • hosted a launch party with signing, reading, & after party

“When we don’t show up for ourselves and the things we want, we just slowly degrade our self-confidence and our self-respect, and so to finish that, and to put it out there was… an enormous emotional return for me just to have done it, giving me a lot of self-respect and renewed confidence.”

  • how to know when to give up
    • you have to know what the cost is
    • Chris Guillebeau’s $100 Startup – has a decision making matrix
    • figure out what’s important to you
    • decided just publishing her novel was a success
    • knowing when to give up is very personal
    • ask “How will i live with myself?”
    • if it’s not a hell yes, it’s a no
    • getting to the place in a project where it gets hard and you have to grow yourself
    • each draft of her novel was a lot better
    • you need allies, peers, and mentors to help you on your journey
    • creating should not be a solo thing

“I don’t think there’s any answer for that. I wish there were. Everybody has to know why they’re doing it in the first place.”

“What are the things that are important to you in making decisions about your creative work? How much time it takes, how much money you’re investing, potential return. I mean, creating anything is a crap shoot. We have no idea if it’s ever going to go anywhere, bring anything back to us, make any money, if anyone will like it. You have no idea. It’s crazy. It’s ludicrous to make things.”

“The mistake people make is thinking because I enjoy creating or making art, or whatever the medium is, it will never be difficult, or it should never feel painful. I think it will feel painful. I think that creating things  and putting them out into the world involves an enormous perceived risk that does very specific things to our nervous system and to our psyche, and to withstand that, you need that commitment to your ultimate end goal.”

  • moments where she thought she was going to give up
    • calls them commitment points
    • had a lot of moments she had to re-commit
    • year before book came out, she got rejection from an agent
      • thought about giving up so she went back to think about why she was doing it
      • oriented her to her own standards
      • being okay with good enough
    • the process is about discovery
    • The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler
      • takes the hero’s journey to writing a novel/screenplay
      • she realized her own journey was following the book’s path
    • a lot of us don’t give up enough
    • everyone has to make our own choices
    • we like to complicate things, even when we think something is a hell yeah

“I think that’s important to realize that everything everybody puts out there isn’t going to be AWESOME and AMAZING. I think there’s all that pressure to be superlative all the time and that prevents us from actually just doing anything.”

“Every work we work, works us, and when you give up or shirk the real work, I think you lose out on a lot of the fruits of that labor.”

  • books she read that made her want to be a writer
    • was into Stephen King
    • read his short story collection Night Shift when she was 17
      • she remembers setting the book down and going to write because she was so inspired
    • reading and getting lost in novels
  • importance of story
    • story is conveyor of emotion
    • it helps us get past logical mind
    • story helps us access emotionality and helps us to be moved
    • it informs us as humans and makes us more well rounded
    • story is suspension of disbelief
    • Does your story carry the reader away to another world?
    • videos let us jump into someone else’s world
  • workshop in Paris
    • constantly makes stuff up and puts it out there
    • had just taken a leadership course
    • did exercises between sessions
    • Sara Midda’s  South of France
      • her illustrated journal of living in Provence
      • drawings about her experience there
      • wanted to give people the same experience
    • led a workshop called Journey of the Senses
      • also led a women’s writer workshop in Paris
      • allowed her to research her novel as well
      • refining why she’s teaching and what she’s teaching
      • finds creative journal is a great way to keep pulse of your curiosity
      • way to slow down and get into real world
      • lets your artist lead and let yourself get lost
    • value in indulging beauty and play
    • childlike wonder
    • we want to be free and do what we want

“It’s funny when you look back at your life and see how everything fits together, Steve Jobs talked about that, and  when I look back now, well of course it all fits together in this really great way, but at the time, I was doing what I do which is just making stuff up and putting it out there.”

“My invitation is, let your artist lead. That creative part of you, let her be in charge, and she might get you lost, and she might make bad decisions about what to eat, and she might make you buy things and you don’t know why, but there’s a real value in indulging the part of us that is oriented toward beauty, is oriented toward play and creativity and isn’t always practical in doing the right thing.”

“We want that state of being where we’re free and we can do whatever we want. So even though we have structure in our day, there’s free time for them to go and explore and make decisions. I think there’s so much value in free space. Space is the number one thing I’m trying to teach. Make space. Don’t pack your schedule all day every day with a ton of stuff. If you don’t have space, you don’t have any way to create or be creative.

  • Paris being a place of wonder and discovery
    • every detail of the city from the way people dress to the windows help stimulate creativity
    • dealing with all the stimuli in front of you
    • describing the smells and bringing awareness to what you’re experiencing
    • making that space happen in our daily lives too
    • why we pack our days without leaving room to experience things
    • noticing the normalcy of the moment
  • executing on ideas and not having to wait for the “right” moment
    • each version of workshop is different
    • the richness and satisfaction of her workshops

“You don’t have to get creative satisfaction by starting a whole other thing. We’re often really led into that sounds good or I’ll do that … and you can get a lot of satisfaction from staying with the same thing and continuing to drill down.”

  • biggest struggles of her clients
    • time/energy/attention management
      • fitting passion projects into our days
      • looking at/discovering each person’s eco-system
      • How do we live to support our creative self and projects?
      • hold people accountable and trying things out
      • knowing how to stay with a project
      • often times people don’t have creative peers to talk to

“I think we all need people to… share the journey, share the experience of what it is to make things.”

  • finding your tribe
    • taking classes
    • created groups based on shared interests
    • it’s easier than ever to find your people
  • from writing/coaching to illustration
    • she’s still doing both
    • likes to write longer pieces – magazine pieces/essays
    • used her spare creative time doing art
    • asked her artist what she wanted and made a list
    • biggest shift came after coming back from Camp GLP
    • decided she wanted to make more art
    • was holding back because she thought she wasn’t good enough, but got signals that she was
    • decided to commit to it
    • focusing on creating income from her art

“I think I’m always using writing to be clear and to clarify my art.”

  • allocating your time
    • clusters her time at the same time
    • gets up early and starts with art
  • creating a creative career
    • the battle against bullshit
    • cut out the opinion of others, know when to shut out the world
    • know what you want to say
    • tune into your own creative vibe
    • using journals to get into your creative zone

“There’s so much for us in this world. There are so many resources. There’s so much advice. There’s so much information. And I think the biggest challenge a creative person faces is to battle all of that, all of that noise, and to learn how to develop a direct channel to your own original impulse, the name of my company. Your own truth. Your own voice. Your own What do you want to say? What do you want to make?”

“We train ourselves as consumers of information and other peoples’ stories, which is great, but we need to temper that with our own story and our own drive and I just feel like that’s at risk.”

“My advice is, develop a relationship with that deep inner voice of your own self that tells you what to do.”

  • live your own story
    • novel is about role models
    • character has to make her own decisions and live her own life
  • quote
    • how do we live to support our art?
    • Hellen Keller, as blind and deaf woman, still lived a life of adventure

“All the arts we practice are apprenticeships. The big art is our life. ” – M. C. Richards

“Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all.” – Helen Keller

“Creative people beget other creative people. That should be how things go. Where seeing other people be creative makes us go be creative right away.”

  • definition of creativity
    • so many ways to be creative
    • you need to define it for yourself

“I think our creativity is the source of our vitality. When we’re being creative, whether it’s making art or being creative in our lives or relationships, we feel more alive. So, I would say creativity is exerting our own energy, exerting something of ourselves to feel more alive.”

  • being more creative
    • creativity can be quirky and weird
    • pay attention to what you love and lights you up
    • plunge into what you love with a child like hunger and wonder
    • creating for years without worrying about where it will go
    • people rush too much to be published or to make money from their art, but you have to have the space
    • do it for its own sake

“Whatever your thing is, plunge into that with that kinda childlike wonder and hunger… follow that and it will lead you to your own creative expression.”

“Don’t worry about being practical or it going anywhere.”

Original Impulse

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