I remember as a kid thinking creativity was this wild, carefree, easy-going emotion that you just got into, rather like finger-painting. But as I have started using the innovative side of my brain as an adult, I realise what a fragile, ethereal thing creativity really is. I see how strong and confident you need to be in order to truly let your creativity work its magic. For me, drawing on inventiveness does provide an element of magic. When I deeply tap into my creativity and get into a state of ‘flow’, I often finish and have no idea from where the inspiration came.
It also strikes me that, like magic, you need to have ‘belief’ to really get your creativity flowing. I know this from first-hand experience. I have always wanted to write since I worshipped at the feet of the children’s book goddess, Enid Blyton. But, at an early age, I lost my belief and, instead, fell into a rabbit warren of shame and doubt.
In the mid-70’s I was a very shy nine-year-old and a daydreamer. On one occasion I forgot to do my homework, which was to write an essay on “My Horse”. All the diligent, non-dreamers handed in their papers. I was given a day’s grace.
I sat down at home that afternoon and wrote an epic tale about my horse. At least I thought it was epic. He was a beautiful horse and was abducted by communists and locked away in a barn. He rubbed his hooves together on the hay, started a fire and kicked the barn door down to escape. He bolted down the road and left his captors in the dust. He hid on a boat and found his way back from Russia, just to be with me.
Tanya Southey is a people collector, tea drinker, dog lover, poetry junkie and recently published author. Her children’s adventure story Ollie and the Starchaser subtly explores grief and loss. In 2018 Tanya is working on a poetry challenge – #52words52weeks – where she is collaborating with London Street Photographer, Denise Smith, to create a poem a week. Currently Tanya is pretending to have retired from her corporate career, but work keeps finding her. Her mission, whether in writing or life, remains to help people reach their full potential.
You can find out more on www.tanyasouthey.com
My teacher wrote “What Rubbish” in big, bold, but incredibly neat, red handwriting.
She then read it out to the class as an example of what not to write. She said horses didn’t have communist adventures and I should have written about riding my horse in a paddock. Well, I didn’t have a horse. We lived in a small house in the suburbs of a tiny mining town in South Africa where no one had horses.
But I did have ears and eyes. I was an avid listener and observer, and my dad loved communists. He talked about them all the time. It made total sense to me that a beautiful horse would be abducted and sent to Russia. So there was something in her reading it out that not only shamed me, but also cast its shadow on my Italian dad. I saw how people looked at him when he went on about communism in his broken English.
After that, my writing went underground.
Forty-odd years later, I know the science of shame. It drives us into hiding. For years, if I wrote anything that was remotely creative, I winced when someone read it. I felt sick that it might not make the mark.
Last year I went to Boston to be trained in Immunity to Change, with Harvard alumni Professors Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey. The course teaches why we develop an ‘immunity’ or protection to certain situations. It explores why we have certain ambitions in our lives that become like New Year’s resolutions. We set the goals, and put all the behaviours in place to achieve them, and then we don’t succeed. I had to complete my own immunity map, and I chose getting a book published as my objective. I had all the right things in place – a compelling goal, time set aside and writing courses completed – but I had an unknown, hidden protection in place that I uncovered while completing the map. I had protected myself from putting anything out there because of a deep-seated belief that I was not good enough to publish a book.
Fortunately, the map required a ‘safe test’. I set mine to completing my children’s story. Well, my book is out there now and, surprise, surprise, I am still alive. More than that, I am grateful I took a chance on investing in myself and in my writing.
So now when I want to be creative, I gather up that shy nine-year-old; I give her a hug, I give her the pen and I let her go. Even when the clumsiest pieces turn up, I look her in the eye and say, “We’ve got this.”
And she looks back and asks, “Did I ever tell you about my horse?”