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.