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Interview with Cheryl Shireman



Cheryl is a prolific best-selling writer who has harnessed her creativity to produce compelling fiction and nonfiction. But that’s enough of telling. In her interview, she vividly describes her methods for keeping creative energy flowing.

Since my blog is about creativity, I’m especially interested in your creative process as a writer and also how you came to develop and believe in your creativity.

Would you describe yourself as a creative child? Did you make up stories or express creativity in other ways?

I was an only child and if an only child wants to play, they very often have to be creative. I spent a lot of time outside exploring our yard. It was only two acres, but the back of the property used to be a peach orchard, so there were old peach trees to climb and lots of room to roam. Inside the house, I used to play “farm animals” a lot. Farm animals were cheap little plastic animals that you could buy in a bag at any grocery store. I set up fences for them and created worlds where a family took care of their horse ranch during the day and also had time to visit the dinosaur farm and zoo right down the road.

What inspired you to write your first book, Life is But a Dream?

One day I started thinking about how our lives are often defined by our circumstances and we can make informed and empowered decisions, or we can merely float along. I wondered what would happen to a woman who suddenly lost everything that defined her life. I imagined a woman who has given her life to others. She is a devoted wife and mother, but when her husband files for divorce and her daughter leaves for college, she realizes her own life no longer has meaning. Just to make it even more interesting, I wanted the main character to be in unfamiliar surroundings so I placed her, Grace Adams, in a secluded lake cabin. Then I started writing, watching as Grace’s life unfolded before me. It was a lot of fun to write and I came to really love Grace.

Your own main character is highly creative when it comes to dreaming up things to fear. What interested you about developing that character?

I think we all have fears; Grace just has a tendency to allow those fears to take form in her mind, creating problems that may never arise. She can also be quite funny in her musings. I love being able to get into such a character’s mind. I have received many emails from readers telling me they love Grace and can relate to her. I just received one the other day from a reader who told me that she lost sleep over her book because she stayed up until three in the morning to finish it! That is the ultimate compliment for a writer.

What methods do you use to enhance your creativity (i.e., certain music, total solitude, etc.)?

I like to write the first thing in the morning, when I am as close to the sleep state as possible. I pull on the most comfortable clothes I can find (usually one of my husband’s sweatshirts, a baggy pair of yoga pants, and an old pair of hiking socks), wad my hair up in a ponytail, and start writing. For years I wrote in longhand, but now I do all of my writing on my laptop. I have a desk, but I like to write on a couch with my feet up on an ottoman. Comfort is important. I also like solitude and silence. If I have any music on, it is usually soft classical music like Vivaldi. I can’t listen to any music with words when I write. It is distracting. As the writing gets intense, I may even turn that off. I also love to write for long periods of time whenever possible. When I am writing, I very often work ten or twelve hours a day. These are my ideal writing conditions now, but as a mother of three, I seldom had those. I once wrote in a Chucky Cheese while my kids played nearby with probably fifty other kids. Now, that’s concentration!

How do you get yourself back in motion when you get stuck?

I don’t get stuck. I don’t believe in writer’s block. Even when the words don’t want to come, I write something. It might be notes, or brainstorming, or words that I will end up deleting, but I keep writing because you never know when a gem might be discovered. But I also believe in the value of long hot baths when the writing seems to be a mere trickle instead of a constant flow.

Do you feel that being an indie writer gives you greater scope for your creativity and literary imagination?

I love being an indie writer! I have total freedom to write the books that I want to write. I am now working with a professional editor and really feel this is the very best situation for me. I have just rereleased the professionally edited version of my first novel (now titled Life Is But a Dream: On the Lake) and am about to release the edited version of my second novel, Broken Resolutions. I hope to release the second of the Grace Adams Series this fall. And then I will start a new novel after the first of the year that I am already very excited about. The ability to publish independently has opened a whole new world for me. I am living my dreams.

What advice would you give someone who is hesitant to express his/her creative urges?
Nike said it better than I can – Just do it. I believe everyone is born with a purpose. There is a reason you are on this earth. If you have creative urges, they are there for a reason. Don’t ignore them. Nurture them and bring them to fruition. It won’t be easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is. Your talent, your creativity, is unique to only you. If you don’t express it, it will never be expressed, and the world will be a poorer place. Just do it.

Amazon Links

Life is But a Dream: On the Lake

Broken Resolutions

You Don’t Need a Prince: A Letter to My Daughter

Still Recovering but Up and Running

Shortly after my optimistic recovery message another hurricane provided deluges and power outages. On the plus side, I have had to clear out a lot of wet things. Throwing stuff away is always a good idea, whether it’s useless physical items or waterlogged beliefs.

Since rainbows often follow rain, I’m posting this link for your enjoyment. Regular postings are due to resume soon.

Rainbows

After the Storm

Sometimes I think the most creative people alive are weather forecasters. Unfortunately, they usually inspire fear. If you look at the August 16 post, entitled “What Keeps Us From Being Creative?”, you’ll notice that this is the subject of that blog entry.

In summary: A single-celled organism can move towards a situation, which is growth, or away from it, which is self-preservation. It can’t, however, do both at the same time. When we’re afraid, our self-preservative instincts come to the fore. Only if we understand this mechanism and are capable of understanding and neutralizing the triggers from the subconscious mind that say, “Run! Hide! Be fearful!,” can we turn a frightening situation into an opportunity for growth.

If I were to grade myself on my response to what in my area was called a tropical storm, on a scale of 1 to 10, I’d give myself somewhere between a 5 and a 6. When I caught myself sinking into abject terror, I would meditate, call on angels, and circle the house (and the many, many trees surrounding it) in white light.

I also did many practical things to make the overall conditions safer. These, too, reassured me.

I told myself that I would do my best to be an observer, reminding myself that this might someday be valuable data for a scene in a book.

I also reminded myself that waiting for it to happen was much worse than the event would probably be.

That’s why I said I did fairly well. While the winds whipped the trees and pounding rain lashed the windows, I read on my Kindle (which I’d remembered to charge ahead of time). I’d also remembered to download a number of books, just in case I needed distraction for coming days of no electricity.

I was very fortunate. No trees on my property came down. I was only without electrical power for 12 hours, and Internet service returned the following morning. I am very grateful. I’ve had a creative and productive week.

Next time I will do even better.

What Keeps Us From Being Creative?

It’s as simple as biology sometimes. Any negative emotion can shut down our creativity, but I am going to describe fear.

Bruce Lipton, cell biologist and author of The Biology of Belief, explains that a single-celled organism can move towards a situation, which is growth, or away from it, which is self-preservation. It can’t, however, do both at the same time.

Neither can humans. Fear, the easiest negative emotion to describe in this context, is a natural response to a situation perceived as life- threatening. Biologically, it’ss designed to set off a series of life-saving responses.

The following happens:

The hypothalamus realizes the threat and makes an emergency call to the pituitary, the master gland. The pituitary signals to the adrenal gland, which creates adrenaline, to make us more alert and focused, and cortisol, which converts protein to energy and releases glycogen to gives the body the fuel needed for a rapid response.

Blood is diverted to the legs and arms, so you can flee or fight. Blood pressure, heart and respiratory rates accelerate. Our muscles tense; our senses sharpen. The immune system, which uses a lot of energy, gets shut down. (This is why frequent or constant anxiety can lead to illness.)

How does this relate to creativity? Let’s say you have a great idea. You get very excited about it, and you start to develop it. This corresponds to the growth aspect of a single-celled organism.

Then you think about launching this idea. Here you could substitute “book,” “painting,” “marketing plan,” or any creative project.

The thoughts occur, “What if they don’t like it?” “What if they make fun of me?” “What if they fire me?” Fear can take over, and if it does, your creativity shuts down as you switch into life-saving mode.

You might be thinking, “But would the above responses really be life-threatening?” Not to everyone. But to the extent that a human is a herd animal, the disapproval of other herd members means being out in the cold, at the mercy of whatever dangers threaten a solitary creature. So it’s not an outlandish statement.

However, it’s a great question, because it holds within it the germ of the solution. You can choose your response.

You can examine how you react to the criticism of others. You can ask yourself why others’ good opinion is so vital to you. This isn’t necessarily a speedy process, but it can expose a lot of responses you learned in childhood that are stored in your subconscious mind.

In future posts, I will describe how other negative emotions can have similar effects to that of fear in stifling creativity.

Groundhog Day

It isn’t. However, during spring, summer, and early fall, every day is Groundhog Day in my back yard.

Since I don’t grow vegetables, I don’t have the hostility that many have towards this large rodent. In fact, I half-wish a dozen lived on my property, because I’d never have to get my grass mowed. I’ve never seen any animal eat as quickly and cover as much territory as a groundhog. They astonish me.

This is what I like most about groundhogs: the way they periodically pause in their high-speed munching, rise on their hind paws, and look around. This behavior is like that of many animals who regularly check for the presence of predators, but the groundhog’s stance is unusually regal, almost Buddha-like in its dignity.

I like it for another reason. This behavior reminds me to do the same—not because a predator might be sneaking up on me but because I need to interrupt my own mindless mental munching and be aware of the present moment.

One of the ways I do this is to turn my eyes away from the computer and look out the window to study whatever animal is within sight. It may be a hawk perched on a tree limb or the ravens who wing past.

It may be a parade of baby turkeys or a fawn. At night the raccoons lean against the glass door of the downstairs part of the house to say hello.

And sometimes it’s the groundhog, standing tall, its eyes bright, as if to remind me to be here now.

Time Out for a Commercial Message

I have just published Animals Have Feelings, Too: Bach Flower Remedies for Cats and Dogs. The book costs $1.99 and is available at amazon.comYou can also get it at Smashwords
where it can be downloaded in .mobi, .epub, .pdf, and other formats.

Topics include:

How the Bach Flower Remedies Can Help Animals and Humans: An explanation of how energy healing works.

Understanding Our Animal Companions: Animals, especially companion animals have emotions. Because they don’t speak the same language as we do, they often communicate through their behavior. Learn to crack the code by observing your pet carefully.

My Cat/My Dog/Myself: Sometimes animals mirror our own emotional upsets. You’d be surprised what you can learn about yourself from them.

Abuse and Abandonment: These animals need special understanding and treatment.

Some Common Conditions and Remedies for Them: An annotated list.

My inspiration for writing this book was the large number of people who’ve written to me over the years with questions about how they could help their pets. Many of them requested consultations, and their feedback demonstrated how helpful the Bach Flower Remedies are.

I wanted to make this information more widely available; hence the book.

The big challenge for me was the high level of technical work needed to bring this creative project to life. Formatting for the various formats listed above is the kind of thing I usually try to flee, saying I want to be creative, not get bogged down in technical work. That was exactly the kind of attitude that made the technical work difficult.

Once I discovered that I was the main obstacle in my path and that the nature of the obstacle was my fear of failing, I worked at changing my attitude. I submitted the book after deciding that if I failed a few times, it was okay. I did need to submit it a few times, and once I was successful, I had the satisfaction (after a few more submissions) of knowing I’d learned what I needed to learn.

The next time I format a book, I’ll be bolstered by my success with this one and by knowing that not getting it right the first time doesn’t have to devastate me. This, in turn, will boost my willingness to launch further creative projects.

The moral: If one has the right attitude, it’s all creative.

Prioritizing: Step 4 Where Are Your Choices Taking You?

“It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
– J. K. Rowling

Random choices are like randomly deciding to turn left or right. Your choices will get you lost if you don’t know where you’re going.

Unlike a physical journey, your journey of choices doesn’t have to detail every step of the route. Being creative means allowing for the unexpected, whether this comes through inspiration, information from the outside world, offers of help from others, or any kind of surprise that may assist and guide you on your path.

However, you can’t prioritize unless you know whether a choice leads you closer to your goal or takes you further away from it.

For example, I have the goal to have my novel, Big Dragons Don’t Cry, and its sequels be widely read. That doesn’t mean that everything I do in my life is related to that goal. Many of my activities are orientated to the normal maintenance of life. Others are geared towards income production. I choose some on the basis of relaxation and agreeable people.

However, it does mean that I make a lot of my choices based on whether an activity will contribute to the achievement of my goals.

I had recently joined a message board that discussed books of a certain genre. After a month or so, I realized that I had other outlets for book discussion, and this board wasn’t helping me learn what I really needed to know: about marketing and promotion and other areas related to getting my book better known.

I left the group and joined an authors’ group. In this group I can not only learn but have found many ways in which I can give support and encouragement, as well as making contributions that help others. Mutual assistance is an important part of my journey.

In that theme, since 1987 I have been writing articles about well-being and spiritual growth for two reasons: because I believe I have something to contribute in these areas and because free content has been a way to give back to people who supported my business enterprises.

Recently, when my time became a little more constricted, I needed to make prioritize and decided to stop writing for another publication. I didn’t feel a strong connection to the audience, and I realized that continuing to write in that setting was doing nothing to further my goals.

It may help you to visualize a circle. See your goal at the center. Many roads can lead to it, but some can take you out of the circle itself. When you need to prioritize, ask yourself if the decision you make will bring you closer to the center or take you away from it.

Prioritizing: Step 3Getting Specific

I recently saw a video that said you should always do the thing you hate most to do first. My first reaction was that this was the worst suggestion I ever heard. For me, it seemed to be a recipe for oversleeping in order to avoid doing THAT THING.

My second reaction was that maybe it was a good idea. If you’re going to spend all day dreading that worst thing, you’re not going to get a lot of pleasure from doing the things you ordinarily enjoy. That messes up the day.

At the same time, I don’t want to do any worst thing if I haven’t worked my way up to it. By that I mean:

I’ve gone through Step 2 (in the previous post). I figure out why it’s the worst thing. I hate to make a dental appointment because they’re going to hurt me, and it’s going to be expensive. I’m going to feel victimized and angry.

Notice these are my expectations. Regarding the dental and financial pain, I can choose how I react to each. I’ve noticed that I’ve learned a lot about my attitudes towards by money whenever I experience pain about spending. So I can tell myself I’ll be learning a lot from the experience. It’s not the most lighthearted experience, but I look for what value I can get from it.

I have control about whether I feel victimized and angry. Here’s where I go back to the subconscious mind. What benefit do I get from feeling victimized? If you ever had a sibling hit you and you ran to your mother to blow the whistle on the perpetrator, you might find some clues. Anger can protect us from the vulnerability that gets aroused by pain.

I conclude that doing the worst thing first is only a good idea if you’ve taken some of the charge out of it. Otherwise, it’s like turning on your car engine in subfreezing weather and revving up to a high speed immediately. Bad things can happen. Don’t let them happen to you.

Priorities, Part 2

In the last post (June 27), I wrote about how a sense of priorities can get distorted by what we learn about our parents’ and other significant adults’ expectations of us in that area.

Because so much of what we learn as children resides in our subconscious minds, it takes awareness to recognize that programs are running us that we absorbed without any selective sifting. Because of that, we may not recognize that we have two basic sets of responses to accomplishment: the desire to please and the desire to displease.

The desire to please is the desire for approval and reward. (Sometimes the approval is the reward, but sometimes we’re looking for more substantial and material gratification.) Essentially, we don’t know we did well unless we get the gold star, the gold ring, or some other form of outside approval.

The desire to displease is the desire for autonomy. We don’t want our accomplishments to depend on the approval of others. We do everything we can to make sure we don’t get that approval. However, that resistance is as much a reaction to outside forces as the submission of the approval seekers.

I think that most of us have both kinds of reactions in varying degrees. Some may be approval seekers most of the time, with occasional moments of rebellion. For others, rebellion dominates.

Neither mental condition leads to making sensible and creative choices about what we want to accomplish.

This is step two of prioritizing: Ask yourself why you want to or don’t want to do whatever is on your agenda? For example, does the idea of paying your bills makes you want to gag (assuming you have the money to do so), or do you feel such anxiety that you pay all bills weeks ahead of time? The advance payment is fine, but the force that drives you to do it might be a problem. Are you either compelled or revolted by a grim parental voice telling you that responsible people pay their bills?

If you hesitate about the creative writing course you want to take, do you hear a parental voice saying that creativity will never pay the bills?

Listen for those voices. They have a lot to tell you.