Cultivating a Creative and Authentic Story

Me and Glennon Melton of Momastery, one of my favorite blogs.
Me and Glennon Melton of Momastery, one of my favorite blogs!

Last week, I attended the Storyline Conference in Chicago and after a week of inspiring, challenging talks, workshop material, and conversations with other creatives, I realized I have been holding out on you.

I aim for transparent and approachable, but maybe too often I try to tell you things from the other side, from the perspective of one who has been there and gleaned some bit of life-changing wisdom. I do not always let you into the middle, into the midst of the struggles and the mess, where my heart is breaking, and the process of deciphering the puzzle. When I am writing at my best, the vulnerable side breaks through, but often I have something begging to be be written that I shove back into the recesses of my mind because I am just not willing to deal with it publicly yet. But then it sits and festers and taunts me, when I know that the reason it refuses to go away is because it is not meant for just me, it’s also meant for you.

At the Storyline Conference I got to hear from some of my favorite writers and humans on the planet on how to “live a better story” – Donald Miller, Glennon Melton, Shauna Niequist, and Bob Goff among many others. The themes of each talk were overlapping, building upon each other as we went. It is nearly impossible to summarize four days of artistic explosion but here are a few of my strongest takeaways for cultivating the creative life:

There is room in the world for you and your work.

Do you ever tell yourself that it does not matter whether or not you take the time to share your art? This is likely my largest internal battle when it comes to creative work. I struggle daily with whether or not what I am doing is a waste of time. I believe my core that it is important, that it is my calling, and it is something God has put me on this earth to do – but when I sit down to write, I am often paralyzed by nasty internal voices that tell me to give up before I have begun. Whether it is painting, writing, or some discipline altogether different, please hear that the world needs your perspective. What is stirring inside of you needs releasing, not just for your own peace of mind, but also because it may encourage someone else.

The creatives who have “made it” are real people too.

Sometimes we can look at those with published and recognized work, those at the top of their game, as being somehow detached from reality. Hearing the struggles, fears, and disciplines from the Storyline speakers reminded me that at the core, we are all the same. The challenge is to just show up every day and start. It does not matter if the work is brilliant – it won’t always be – but the creative life is a muscle that requires strength training. You have to do it every day in order to become better at it. Even successful creatives require structure and developing the ability to say “no” to many good things in order to focus on their projects and goals.

Be willing to recognize line of what is comfortable and socially “appropriate” and take one step over it.

Every one of us is longing say, “Me too!” We want to know we are not alone in the world, and that there are others like us. Our imperfections, failures, and insecurities make us human. We all have them but not all of us are willing to admit we have them or explore them. This is a tricky one, but incredibly important in impactful creative work and especially the discipline of writing. You won’t trust me unless I am willing to “go there” and reveal something that is vulnerable – that shows you that like you, I am not perfect and am on this journey attempting to figure it all out. The biggest payoff for me is when you take the time to comment or send me a message that says, “Me too!” or “But what about this?” Good art makes us consider different facets of life and spurs meaningful conversation.

I long to live a life that is authentic, in work and family and friendships. I want to plant myself amongst community where we encourage one another to speak honestly, with deep conviction. Don’t you?

Do you need to begin living a better story? Have you taken steps towards living a life more in line with your goals and values?

9 thoughts on “Cultivating a Creative and Authentic Story

  1. Loved your thoughts about the conference! I was there as well and you did a wonderful job of capturing the beauty and lessons of our experience, especially the challenges and rewards of vulnerability. I definitely walked away with a renewed commitment to “get real” on my blog and in my relationships. Thank you for your writing. Your voice matters!!

  2. Hey Erika, you summed up Storyline wonderfully (btw, we met there, I’m a fellow Jerseyan). I especially relate to struggling with thoughts of whether I’m wasting my time writing, will anyone read it, etc. But I was definitely encouraged not only through Storyline speakers, but also fellow attendees letting me know my story matters.

    1. Hi Kevin! I remember you 🙂 Thanks for stopping by. Sorry we didn’t get the chance to chat more.

      Sometimes I convince myself it doesn’t matter if I write or not because of the number of people who AREN’T reading in comparison to writers and bloggers who have “made it.” But realizing that those people started small really encourages me. And ultimately, if I can broaden one person’s perspective or make them feel less alone, showing up was worth it.

  3. Hey Erika, you summed up Storyline wonderfully (btw, we met there, I’m a fellow Jerseyan). I especially relate to struggling with thoughts of whether I’m wasting my time writing, will anyone read it, etc. But I was definitely encouraged not only through Storyline speakers, but also fellow attendees letting me know my story matters.

  4. Sorry for the incoming wall of text. Feel free to edit/delete/deal with this block-o-text however you see fit. (Especially this paragraph.)

    Reading this makes me desperately wish I could go back in time and record every bit of the Storyline I went to. They threw so much at us, I only managed to catch a handful of ideas.

    I just wanted to make sure I took the time to let you know that I think you’re headed in the right direction. I can barely stand to read most of my early posts on HfG. Even in the midst of my spiritual life crumbling around me, I continued to put on airs like I was some kind of expert. I approached every topic as if I were providing instruction, “Here are the things you should know to properly deal with X”. The problem was, I /wasn’t/ an expert. So I would write these pieces and feel like an absolute fraud. Most of them never got published because I knew my ego couldn’t handle it if anyone were to scrutinize what I was saying.

    Fortunately, my wife spotted the pattern and called me on it. I realized I was hiding behind a tapestry of expertise that was hanging on a thick wall of ego. I made a conscious decision to make being authentic a priority. Even if I looked bad. Even if it made me cringe. Even if it made my tear-prone mother weep.

    You know what I found out? People don’t want an expert. They want a comrade. They want to know and be known. They want to see our struggles because we all struggle with the same things. It took a while to get used to being that honest. To putting such big pieces of myself out there… But it was absolutely worth it. Both for the community I discovered, and the added bonus of beginning to discover my voice as writer.

    For the first time I wasn’t pretending to be a different version of myself. (Spiritual Paul, Professional Paul, Clever Paul, etc. ) I was just being Regular Paul. As it turns out, Regular Paul was enough.

    The same is going to be true of you, also. Don’t be Smart Erika, or Helpful Erika, or Minister Erika. Just be unabashedly, unashamedly, completely authentically the Erika you truly are and the rest will fall in line.

    1. Wall of text welcomed!

      Yes, Storyline was jam-packed with SO much good information. Strangely, unlike other conferences I’ve attended in the past, I didn’t feel overwhelmed. I took copious notes and tried to pay the most attention to the nuggets of wisdom that were reverberating through my soul. I have no doubt that I will return to my notebook many times on different occasions for inspiration and guidance in this writing life.

      Thank you for your encouragement that I’m headed in the right direction. While I enjoyed each of the speakers I heard and workshops I attended, none struck me in the heart more than Glennon Melton of Momastery. Hers was the only talk during which I found myself tearing up. She is such a great example of someone looking at the line of “socially appropriate” and jumping clear over it to say, THIS IS THE TRUTH. I know she is terrified each time she does it, but her leap looks to the rest of us exactly like bravery.

      You said, “People don’t want an expert. They want a comrade. They want to know and be known. They want to see our struggles because we all struggle with the same things.” This is something that many of the writers stressed during Storyline. It was interesting to hear that the reason so much of Christian literature sucks is because Christians are too often writing from the perspective of “the guide” vs. a fellow sojourner. When looking at the structure of what makes a good story, the hero/main character doesn’t get him/herself out of the mess, it takes a guide, someone who has been there before, to show them the way.

      I recognize that I write in different ways for different purposes, and sometimes, I think writing as the guide (“Helpful Erika”) IS actually appropriate if my aim is in fact to instruct on a particular subject in which I have built some sort of expertise. (Ex: A service piece such as “How to Get Great Engagement Photos”) However, if I’m trying to share my story, I need to remember I am not the guide. I need to give credit to those who have helped show me the way and allow my reader to see that I am a comrade, not someone who has it all figured out.

      Have you ever read Brennan Manning? I don’t know if I’ve ever read a more honest, gut-wrenching, inspiring author when it comes to the idea of experiencing grace. He is a perpetual screw-up, an addict who can’t break free from his alcoholism, and yet he understands the heart of God and the nature of grace perhaps more than anyone I’ve ever encountered.

      Thanks for being a comrade and fellow traveler!

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