I come from a right-brained family. As a child, I’d wander the neighborhood, lost in my imagination, while my brother would stay home and draw. I never thought of what I did as being creative though. That was my brother, who knew he was going to be a comic book artist from a very young age. I left the art to him, and spent all my time reading. But many years later, I discovered I had some artistic talent too. By the time I was in college I decided to major in art, and I immersed myself in it—painting, pastels, print making, design. I was a pretty decent technical artist, and I ended up graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in graphic design. I enjoyed it, but I didn’t have that spark, that flare of inspiration that told me what to create. While my friends were landing jobs at big design firms, creating innovative logos and ad campaigns, or assembling their first art show of large-scale paintings, I floundered. Those things didn’t appeal to me. I was in the wrong lane, and I knew it.
Back in high school, my favorite English teacher, Carol Jago, had us do an exercise at the beginning of class called stream-of-consciousness writing. I don’t remember whether it was tied to an assignment or book we were studying, or if she just needed us to be quiet for ten minutes. We were to write down every single thought that entered our minds and put it onto the paper in front of us. Even if it was Um, I don’t know what to write. I think I filled mine with obsessive worrying about my boyfriend. But I discovered that writing those thoughts got them out of my head, and I felt better. Soon, whenever something troubled me, or when I felt like I had an unsolvable problem, I’d use Mrs. Jago’s stream-of-consciousness exercise, and it would help sort everything out. Before I knew it, I was starting every day with my journal, letting whatever thoughts entered my mind flow onto the page. Through my creativity crisis in college and beyond, as I bounced around jobs, landing in Berkeley for a time, my writing followed me. It was just a bunch of naval gazing. It wasn’t real writing.
Except it was. It was building a daily habit of finding the exact words to convey a feeling or to describe a situation as it happened. It was cementing the very thing that most writers tell people they must do if they want to publish a book: Write every day.
When I became a teacher, my unused creativity found an outlet. I didn’t design phenomenal bulletin boards—I’d already figured out visual art wasn’t my passion. Instead, it went into lesson design. I’d look at what I was supposed to teach, and re-write it in a completely new way. I revised those lessons every year, making them different, tailoring them to the specific groups of kids who passed through my room. I don’t think I’ve ever taught the same lesson twice.
I didn’t sit down to write a book until 2012. And I honestly didn’t think I’d finish it. Most people don’t. But it was as if all the creative puzzle pieces I’d been holding and cultivating suddenly came together. I’d already built the habit of writing every day, so finding the words wasn’t hard. Designing a plot felt familiar—similar to lesson design, I’d figure out what my end goal was, and then plan how I wanted to get there. And when I got stuck, I’d step out of the story and do some stream-of-consciousness writing. Paige needs a bigger obstacle here. I can’t figure out how to do that. Hm. What if they’re at risk of losing their funding? Or simply I think I hate her in this scene and I need to figure out why.
I found what had eluded me for so long. The ideas I struggled to find weren’t meant for a canvas. They were meant for the page. They lived and breathed as characters who talked, argued and betrayed each other, not as static images caught in a single moment in time.
I believe creativity needs time to develop and ripen. I don’t know whether I’d have been able to write a book in my twenties, or even my thirties. I needed those years to write, however I wanted, without the pressure of an audience. I wasn’t working toward a writing career or chasing creativity. I was just doing what I loved to do, what felt comfortable. Which allowed my creativity to finally find me.