February | Love | A Lesson by April Hoss
I began writing a bedtime story for my children five years before ever holding my son. The story, or at least one pivotal scene, had come to me in screaming detail when I was a freshman in college. I promptly forget it at first semester’s end. But in 2008, on a rainy commute home from a day of teaching, the blond haired girl and the brown haired boy, and the cloaked figures that surrounded them in the home made of bricks, they all stormed back into my brain, and this time they came with demands: write this story. Write it for your children. Now would be good.
Initially, the double thrill of doing something in secret (writing), and something that seemed off limits (writing a book), was the only fuel I needed.
My hidden life of writing was like the film version of the scene in Romeo and Juliet (the one starring Leo, always) at the costume party when the star-crossed lovers keep intentionally brushing past each other and stealing lingering glances, the occasional tortured touch. All fun, and flirt, and carefree.
I didn’t yet know writing was a Montague. It would cost me, scare me, work against me, drive me mad. It would become one of the great loves of my life.
Problems arose about a year into my endeavor. My affections had splintered. I loved writing, yes. But I’d begun to love the idea of being a writer. More specifically, I grew very fond of the idea of myself as a great writer. And here was the strange psychological kink: I’d been writing steadily every day for a decent amount of time and yet I still did not identify myself, publicly or privately, as a writer. But, I fantasized about book deals, and film rights, and the general applause that awaited me.
Can there be such a thing as innocent flirting in the middle of a committed love affair? No, as I would learn.
My liaisons with a premature (and unnecessary, and melodramatic, and frankly embarrassing) delusion of greatness, it paralyzed my process. Every sentence was stalked with the question: how can I rework this to make it great? Every page felt forever first draft. Every chapter seemed to mock me with its averageness.
A few exasperating—and fruitless—years passed. Then God brought me up short. Through the words of other pilgrims further along in their journey with the craft, some hard-truth telling from friends, and some bittersweet (emphasis on both bitter and sweet) soul-searching on my own part, I learned the most valuable art lesson of my life:
I have to love writing, the very act of it, more than I love the idea of being loved for doing it. And that will only happen when I believe I am already loved.
I attended a writing conference a few months back. Hands down the best component of the entire three days, was anytime writer and literary critic, Walter Kirn, spoke. I learned so much from him about poetry, storytelling in both fiction and nonfiction, the art of the essay, and the triumphs and trials of the lifelong writer. As I look over my notes from his talks I see quotes like, “The best essays are acts of discovery on the part of the writer,” and “Once you enter Tolkien’s worlds does it feel like fantasy at all?” and (about writing poetry), “You can’t swing a golf club and watch yourself swing a golf club.” I’ll save his chicken in a can analogy for another time. Let me share the thing he said that really rocked me:
“It’s love that drives writing.”
I nearly cried in the old theater where we’d gathered. The truth of his words represented my reckoning of the last decade. It starts with, comes back to, must always be driven by, love.
I want to lay out for you the stepping stones I hopped on (fell on, cracked my head upon) to get to the place where I could write in the freedom of love.
It started with this:
I am loved by God.
I am loved by my husband, and by our family.
I am loved by my friends, even the ones who really know me.
No accomplishment, or lack thereof, will diminish or amplify their love.
In that love, I am free. I am free to create what I love.
I love stories: adventure, some romance, friends on an impossible quest. Dark inner turmoil, Faulkner-esque families, Gone Girl plot twists. I love fiction. I love writing fiction. So, I should write fiction.
Writing fiction is hard because: I don’t have time and I have a full time job and I don’t know how and as soon as I start I am gutted by imposter syndrome.
I am going to want to give up, a lot.
What will keep me going?
What will keep me going is what got me started: my children.
I love them enough to want them to live in a world where good stories wait to be discovered by them. I am loved enough to enter into the work of creating with freedom, and fearlessness.
Now, I can get to work.
“Love is the voice under all silences, the hope which has no opposite in fear; the strength so strong mere force is feebleness: the truth more first than sun, more last than star.”
- e.e. cummings
Write a love letter. This could be a love letter to your husband, your child, a parent, a friend, your body, a concept, whatever you like.
Write a love story. This could be the story of your first love, your first heartbreak, how you met your husband, how you learned to fall in love with motherhood, etc.
Write a love letter to yourself from anyone. It could be from God, a parent who has passed, your child twenty years from now, your best friend, spouse, ANYONE. Reflect on their love for you, the ways they have expressed that love, and the type of language they would use to encourage you in your artistic endeavors. Aim to write authentically, in their voice, and with the feelings they have for you, even if it feels awkward initially. You know this person loves you. You know they would be (or are currently) thrilled by what you create. This writing exercise is about sitting with the knowledge of that love and support, while flexing our creative muscles in taking on the voice of someone we know.
- Write a book review of the book that has had the biggest impact on your creative life. It could be a novel, a memoir, something nonfiction. It could even be a children’s book. Consider why it means so much to you. Was it the season when you read it? The person who gave it to you? The story itself? Then take an inventory of just how it has affected your creative life. Did it motivate you when you wanted to quit? Did it stir anger in you that fueled your desire to wage war with weaponized art? Did it capture your heart in a way that almost felt like the author somehow knew your innermost thoughts? Once you have a solid grasp on why you love it and how that love changed you, read a few book reviews from reputable news publications or magazines to get a feel for the style. Adopt aspects of the style that feel genuine and throw out anything forced. Then write a review that will lead others to fall in love with the book that won your heart.
As you hop across you own metaphorical stepping stones, I highly recommend you take your first leap while in nature. That may look like a hike to a remote summit. Unless you’re me, in which case, nothing ever looks like hiking to a remote summit. I do some of my best brainstorming in the desert. At sunset. From the comfort of my car with all the windows down and my favorite music way up. Maybe you live near an arboretum or the ocean, or close to a Starbucks with a really nice fountain. We’re not looking for a grand landscape and an epic score. Just fresh air. And also, this is key, give yourself permission to take yourself seriously as you work through these responses. Nothing kills creativity like the eye-rolling editor who resides in all our heads. Tell her/him to take an early lunch.
Use the following phrases to launch a journal entry -- feel free to elaborate. See where the love takes you.
I am loved by ...
The freedom I find in this love enables me to create ...
(fearlessly, freely, shamelessly, abundantly, etc)
I love ...
(writing, drawing, photography, etc)
So I should ...
(write, draw, paint)
This will be hard because ...
What will keep me going is ...
I want to live in a world where ...
The writing life requires a lot of interior contemplation. Sometimes we need to curl up with our thoughts and our feelings, sort them, bundle them, unbundle them, and lay them out.
In her book, Awakening the Heart, Georgia Heard provides an exercise that she calls “the heart map.” The idea is that we carry with us a map of our hearts, but often we do not know what is on the map or how the map is guiding us. As writers, our job is to discover the paths and landmarks inside of us so that we can write more openly and with greater vulnerability.
Heard writes: “It’s a poet’s job to know the interior of his or her heart. This is one way of accessing these feelings. We carry this heart map around all the time, but how many of us know what it really looks like and what’s in it? Drawing a map of our hearts helps make order out of what often feels like chaos and reveals the meanings behind the confusion emotions. And these meanings shine like gems that have been long buried.”
This week, we want you to make a map of your heart.
As you create your heart map, think through the following questions:
What has really affected your heart?
What people have been important to you?
What are some experiences or central events that you will never forget?
What happy or sad memories do you have?
What secrets have you kept in your heart?
What small things or objects are important to you – the outfit you brought you first baby home in, a wedding photo, a ring from your grandmother, etc.
Should some things be outside of the heart and some things be inside of it?
What’s at the center of your heart? What’s around the edges? Do different colors represent different emotions, events, relationships?
Keeping our hearts open is the work of poetry, a work of creativity. Download your heart map here:
Artist Interview with Jena Holliday
1. You are a wife, mom, designer, illustrator, and entrepreneur—you wear so many hats in your day to day life! What does a typical day look like for you and your family?
A typical day honestly varies depending on the time of the week. I work from home so I am often with my little ones which makes things a bit more wild - but we manage to get it all done! I like to start my day early, often before the kids wake so I can plan what I must get to. Then I often spend the morning doing emails and playing with them. I get meetings done in the early morning or during nap-time and I can often create art or paint with my kids near me. I've done it now for about three years (my oldest will be three this month) so they are used to it and my daughter actually likes to draw or paint when I am working. We shut things down right before dinner time and allow the rest of the night to be for family! Sometimes if I can't sleep I'll sneak away for a late night creative session or spend time with God. But, three must-haves for me are time with Jesus, coffee, and some time for rest or a break during the day. These pretty much set the day and everything else follows!
2. As a mom of little ones, how do you talk to your own kids about your creative work and using your gifts?
I have a three year-old and an almost one year-old so they are still so young but catching on all the time. I think what I've noticed most is that my children are watching me more than listening to me - can I get an Amen?! :) So to show them me working with my gift and having confidence in that ... it speaks volumes. My daughter is very confident and strong-willed. She knows she is capable of using her gifts because she sees her mother do it, and I think that is so powerful to watch unfold.
3. You write on your website that you were once sick of the routine of life, in what ways have you changed your routine and broken free? What are some of your creative practices that help you break free from routine?
There are many ways that I've broken out of the routine. For me the biggest thing I've broken free from is the societal pressures - the best job, best house, best marriage and so on that so many of us strive for. I think understanding our true identity and being confident in ourselves helps us break free from so much. It allows us to live freely in a way where we do what we are purposed to without a question to anyone else for their approval. I fought through a lot of personal doubt and lies when I began painting again and even more when I made it my full time career last year. Becoming my own boss has given me freedom in how I run my business and also allows me to bring meaning into what I do. That's something I was missing for so long. I think if we feel valued and purposeful in our work it allows us to live an adventure vs. a routine. I have found that although I still like structure I find that what works best for me may not work best for you and that doesn't make one better than the other - it just makes them different. Different is more than okay because that's how God created us to be - unique!
4. In your painting and drawing workshops, you guide women through inspirational art pieces. What do these look like? What tips for inspirational visual art can you provide to our readers?
Well in my upcoming workshop we will be doing some watercolor painting as well as drawing with ink on notebooks and note cards - using things they can incorporate into their daily lives. What I encourage women to do is to bring verses, words, scriptures or images that inspire them and through these we create something new and meaningful. The idea behind these classes is to get women to dream, think and create big things. If we can teach each other to dream and think big - what are the amazing things we can accomplish!?
My advice for anyone looking to create inspirational visual art is to first start with telling a story of something in their lives. What did it mean to you, what did it teach you? Use those words, lessons, images in your mind to help you create something that tells that story to you and that you can share with others. Understanding that many of our stories can relate to others and through these we connect and inspire.
5. What inspires you: as a wife, mom, and artist?
Truly my relationship with Jesus is my first source of inspiration. Through this I've been given new life and a journey I could only dream of. I think my children definitely inspire me - I want to teach them so much and it really inspires me to keep going and go after the things I dream of and want to do. Also, I think motherhood in general inspires me - because it's such an amazing process - it's hard but it's worth it and living in this season truly gives me so much to create from hard times to sweet times to joyous times - it's just a beautiful season and it brings me a lot of inspiration. Overall though in all areas what inspires me often are the hard and difficult things - because they bring a lot of perspective to our lives as well as depth and wisdom. They've taught me the most and that has helped me to continue to create and find inspiration in everything.
6. What or who do you read to help inspire your work? What other resources do you recommend to fellow creatives?
I have a few favorites I follow that inspire me - artists, Kelli Murray, was actually one of my favorite artists before I started painting again. I love to follow the lives of others that play with vivid colors and textures like Leah Goren, @andsmilestudio are a few. My best advice for other creatives is to play when you are creating. Mix colors, think like a kid and see what you can come up with! There are many creative groups out there now, get plugged in to one online or create a small tribe locally!
7. Do you have a scripture, word or mantra that guides your work?
Think BIG! It's something that has stuck since childhood (I used to sing a song with these words). It has helped pull me out of tough places and helps to inspire my work. In all things, you might as well think BiG if you are going to think at all!
8. How do motherhood and creative work complement one another?
I think sometimes you need an outlet when you are taking care of kids and my creative work gives me that outlet. Also, just the ups and downs - tough and easy moments lend to a bit of a rollercoaster ride in motherhood! It's exciting and bit scary as you go through it - but it's also those one of a kind memories and moments that being perspective and new meaning to your life!
9. In what ways do you find inspiration? What do you do when you’re feeling dry creatively?
I love to use Pinterest, or Google images when I have an idea of something I want to see. I LOVE color and patterns so sometimes even just looking at new color combinations will inspire me. I tend to find inspiration in textiles, shapes, the world around me. When I am feeling dry creatively I've found my best friend is rest. When I stress about it, it only sets my further back. But when I rest it brings me much needed time away and that helps to bring the spark back! Also, prayer helps to reset my heart and get me on the right page.
10. If you could tell moms who long to create as they raise little ones a word of advice, what would it be?
Start. Start now. There is a mom that started a project (I wish I could remember the name) where she only created when her kid would nap and that is the only time she worked on things - yet she still created so much with that small amount of time. I guess what I'm trying to say is that there will never be the perfect time to do it. You are a mother now and your time and management of it has changed! Utilize what you have to do something fun and creative. Bring in your kids if that helps! They love to help and create too. Make a little bit of time and see how much you'll hunger for more and naturally will make more time for what is important to you. And I think the rules have to come off for this to work for you. No rules, no obligations, no goal but to create often - start there and in no time you'll be living a more creative inspired life. And so will your kids.
Feeling loved? Good. Head over to our Facebook page so we can chat about it! We'd love to see pictures of your heart map, too. Use hashtag #ccyoclove if you share yours on Instagram!