Creative Careerists: Interview with Judy Lee Dunn

Creative Careerists is a new, ongoing series on Creative Juicer that features short interviews with successful creatives to learn about their creative process and how they reached their success, whether in art or career.

Do you know an inspiring creative? Nominate someone for an interview by emailing emily [dot] wenstrom [at] gmail [dot] com.

Meet the Creative:
Judy Lee Dunn is a writer and blogger based in South Puget Sound, Washington. Her blog, Cat’s Eye Writer, was named one of the 2011 Top Ten Blogs for Writers. Judy is currently working on Out Late, a memoir about the three things people are not supposed to talk about in polite company: sex, politics and religion.

What does an average day look like for you in your creative career?
I try to fit certain things in every day: I start at 6 a.m. with exercise. Then, it depends on deadlines, but I tend to dive deep when I am writing, so 2-3 hour blocks of time on that. I have spurts of “off-task” activities that stimulate my creativity and, while they look like play, they help me think in different ways. In the evening, it’s 2-3 hours of reading, everything from New Yorker Magazine and a new memoir to true crime and early 20th century novels.

How did you get to where you are now in your career? What key moments, decisions or circumstances brought you here?
I was always in love with words, but it was a long and winding road to get to the place I’ve always wanted to be: author. I started in teaching, as many women my age did. I was working with students in an intellectually gifted program but I knew there was something missing. The key moment for me was quitting that teaching job (didn’t even have something else lined up!), gathering my courage and setting out to discover myself. It initially led to a position managing a writing department at a humanitarian nonprofit in Los Angeles. I traveled to Africa to help film a documentary and haven’t looked back since.

What excites you most about your work?
It is making stuff. It is not having to answer to a boss. It is waking up and saying, “What’s going to happen today? What will I make?” Right now, I’m working on my memoir and it’s helping me see myself and my family in entirely different ways. When it boils down to it, the most exciting thing about my work is that every day is different, so I never get bored.

What is its greatest challenge for you?
The big one is balancing my deep need to create with that nagging critic on my shoulder (perhaps it is my dad who was appalled when I left my secure teaching job). You know, the one who says, “How much money did you make today?” It is understanding and embracing (and loving) my quirky self–and not caring what other people think about what I have decided to do with my life. My other challenge is to put my curiosity in the time-out corner at intervals. I am addicted to ideas. I constantly want to know why. So if I am Googling something I need for my memoir (a history fact, a pop culture phenomena, or such), I can easily get sucked into the rabbit hole and start following the trail of shiny, distracting links.

How do you get your best ideas?
I’m an avid reader. It is surprising how often I’ll read a paragraph or line of dialogue and it will give me a new idea for a blog post or for my own writing. I also watch a lot of movies. And journaling, for sure. I’m a big fan of Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way and have been writing morning pages for 15 years. I also like to draw and doodle, which helps me find and process new ideas.

What do you do when you get stuck?
I like to stop the “thinking” and go into physical mode. It seems to stimulate different parts of my brain. You are going to think I am crazy, but one thing I do is walk backwards. My husband, who also has a home office, knows when I’m blocked because he sees me taking steps in reverse across the office. I also try some longhand writing with the non-dominant hand. (I write with my right hand, so I try it with my left.) Having taught first graders and seeing their wonder at everything, that ability to see things as if for the first time, I now take ‘play breaks.’ I’ll juggle or paint with watercolors or use my paddle ball. That visit to the toy store was one of the best investments I’ve ever made in the blocked creativity department.

How do you make sure you make time for creativity in your life?
I just seem to need it, so it’s not something I really think about. It’s just little spurts throughout the day. And I think that when you are a full-time writer, it just becomes second nature. You are either going down the “what if” path with your plot and characters or you are taking a breather with a little creative play, or you are reading. It is harder to find the time, I am sure, if you are in a 9-to-5 cubicle job.

What advice do you have for other aspiring creatives who want to follow in your footsteps?
Creativity is a muscle and you need to exercise it. So my advice is to be open to new experiences. For instance, I think that learning new languages helped me to think in different ways. As far as a career, don’t be afraid to dabble in different fields. Every job I had prepared me in some way for where I am today. The common thread was writing (I was a grant writer, a freelance writer for magazines, a newspaper reporter), but each kind of writing was very different. And, lastly, don’t be afraid to jump out of your comfort zone. In my work for the nonprofit organization serving kids and families in third world countries, I had absolutely no experience coming in. But in strange and unique ways, it made my life richer and showed me I had skills I didn’t think I possessed.

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14 thoughts on “Creative Careerists: Interview with Judy Lee Dunn

  1. So, how much money did you make today?

    What a great story; thanks for sharing a piece of you along this journey you Top 10 Blog for Writers. I heard you were someone to watch in 2012 as well………:).

    Best of luck to you.

    • I sort of figured you would pull that question out. My dad was a truck driver and mixer of concrete, and he knew at day’s end roughly how much money he had made. Not so with we creatives. We slave away over a book that hasn’t sold yet, isn’t even finished yet. He got it when I was a teacher. THAT he could understand (and quantify). Hey, I heard you were also on Danny brown’s list of 12 bloggers to watch in 2012. Humble fellow, you are. : )

  2. Really enjoyed this interview. I completely agree that creativity is a muscle – to build it requires dedicated, consistent practice.

    • Christa, It’s so true, isn’t it? Creativity is indeed a muscle. My husband and I, for fun, put on an old black-and-white movie, turn off the sound, and voice new lines of dialogue for the characters. (Yeah, I know, we need to get a life.) Besides making is laugh until we are sick, the very act of spontaneously creating without doing a lot of thinking seems to free the mind and brain cells up, see things in fresh ways and get other parts of our brains active. Thanks for reading. And a big thanks to Emily for inviting me.

  3. Oh, Judy. I just love you even more now. Maybe I’ll start sending my creativity coaching clients over to you when we’re both stuck! I’m going to take out my juggling balls now…

  4. Pingback: Friday Features #12 | Yesenia Vargas

  5. Hey Judy. Nice to get a little snippet into the life that is Judy Dunn. Much as I expected it to be. So, I was having lunch with a colleague about a year ago and they mentioned The Artists Way. I have now heard it be referenced a half dozen times which is now enough for me to get it. If it has as much impact as Pressfields books then it should be good.

    Hope you are well.

  6. Hey Judy. It is great to get a little snippet into the life of Judy Dunn. Much as I expected it to be all full of creative tidbits. You know I was having lunch with a colleague a year ago and I remember it because she mentioned The Artists Way. I have heard that book referenced several times now which is enough for me to get it. If it is anyway near as impact as Pressfields book I should be in for a ride.

    Thanks for the reminder and hope you are well.

    • Ralph,

      How nice to see you here. Thanks for following the link. Yes, Cameron’s The Artist’s Way had a major impact on my life. I can’t say that about very many books. I think you can buy the book by itself, but the journal allows you to record your thoughts and ideas as you go through the chapters. I’m not sure I’ve heard of the Pressfield book. Will have to look that up.

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