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Sharon Michalove – “Creativity, Thy Name Is …”

Sharon Michalove is the author of romantic suspense and traditional mysteries. You can find out more about her by visiting her website or by clicking here, read her last post here, and buy her books here.

As a child, I created a world, peopled it with imaginary friends, talked to them, and lived in a space that was filled with books. But as I got older, that imaginative beginning began to fade with realities of high school and preparing for college. I still read as much as ever, but I didn’t insert myself into the world of books the way I had. Real life had consigned my imaginary friends to the dust heap.

Those discarded friends could have been the springboard for my desire to be an author. Instead, I pushed them aside, ignored their siren song. I still wanted a shelf full of my books and the joy of hanging out with other authors. But the goal was not to write but to have written. Not the reality of coming up with ideas and sitting down, day after day, to produce words. You can imagine the excuses. I had a full-time job. Other interests. A spouse who wanted me to do things with him. Things I wanted to do like travel and go to plays and concerts. Cooking was one of my favorite pastimes. I read every day, lamenting that I would never be able to write like they did.

I took degrees. I studied history, not literature. My writing was serious. Not fiction. Not the poetry of my angry teenage years. Essays, seminar papers, and eventually a dissertation trickled out. I learned to collect research, ask questions, and come up with theories. Gave professional papers at conferences. But I couldn’t achieve a novel. Historical fiction seemed beyond me. I shoved down my desire to be Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Amanda Cross. I knitted. I taught. Baked bread. I kept busy. I yearned to have written like the authors I loved. But I never had the confidence to realize my goal. I told myself that I wasn’t creative. Nonfiction, okay. But fiction—I’d tried, I’d failed. And I didn’t have the perseverance to make it happen.

Now, having just published my fourth novel in two years, what changed? Did creativity hit me like a bolt of lightning? In writing this essay, I wanted to know how famous people thought about the word.

“Creativity takes courage.” – Henri Matisse
“Creativity comes from a conflict of ideas.” – Donatella Versace
“A hunch is creativity trying to tell you something.” – Frank Capra
“Creativity is intelligence having fun.” – Albert Einstein
“Replace fear with curiosity.” – Steven Spielberg
“The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” – Sylvia Plath
“Creativity is just connecting things.” – Steve Jobs
“Creativity is a wild mind and a disciplined eye.” – Dorothy Parker
“Mystery is at the heart of creativity. That, and surprise.” – Julia Cameron

“All creative people want to do the unexpected.” – Hedy Lamarr

“I apply the term ‘creativity’ broadly… it’s problem solving. We are all faced with problems, and we have to address them and think of something new, and that’s where creativity comes in.” – Edwin Catmull

For me, creativity is the magic of producing books. While authors like Agatha Christie, Dick Francis, and Jane Austen presented an imaginative, fictionalized version of their world, how did Tolkien come up with the richly developed Middle Earth? Dorothy Dunnett brought the fifteenth and sixteenth century worlds to life, creating complicated fictional characters that fit into
the history of the time. How did their world views become words on a page? Could I do that? Persevere? Make it happen?

I had to give up my fears and move forward. When I first began writing fiction in my late twenties, my goal was to create an academic mystery. I read a lot of Amanda Cross and worked for a large university, so I had a world that I knew. Coming up with characters wasn’t too difficult. But creating a workable plot seemed impossible. I knew who the victim was, and I knew both the murderer and the motive. And yet, I was never able to make that story come alive. In fact, I was never able to write more than two chapters, probably because I wanted to create an unsolvable mystery.

A clever murder weapon that would disappear. Somehow, the idea that the detective needed to have enough clues to solve crime never entered my head. When I went back to attempting fiction in my sixties, I had two characters and no plot ideas at all. And while I would have liked writing a mystery, I had no confidence that I could do it. I flailed. A murder mystery didn’t work. Neither did romantic comedy. And yet, romantic suspense, a genre I didn’t read, turned out to be the right fit. A combination of suspense, romantic angst, and a kind of mystery came together for me.

My first plot was unwieldy. Too much backstory. Too many plots. Difficulty in controlling point of view. I wrote a complete 100,000-word first draft in six months, but the book was a disaster. But now I was committed. I loved my characters and wanted to bring them into the world. I took online classes, joined writing groups, discovered where my problems were, deleted an entire subplot. And I made time to write. By the time I was on my fourth iteration, I’d changed the voice, figured out the plot progression, and done a million other things. Three and a half years from the start of my writing journey, I had a published book. Is it perfect? No. But I still love the book that came into the world on my seventieth birthday.

And, to my surprise, creativity came with it. In the past two years, I’ve published four books and a bunch of short stories. I have ideas for many more. From a wannabe author, someone I realize who wanted not to write but to have written, I have transmogrified into someone who is an author.

What did I learn about creativity on my journey? That even if you don’t believe you have it, you can find it. That Neil Gaiman is right. “The imagination is a muscle. If it is not exercised, it atrophies.” In the end, I decided that to me, this is the essence of creativity.

I’ve always been a problem solver, I just never tied that to the idea of creativity. If you are already confirmed in your creativity, keep it going. Still looking? You can find it. Whether it’s art, building computers, cooking, or anything else you’ve dreamed, don’t lose your vision. And remember, you’re never too old to start.

Sharon Michalove

Sharon Michalove is the author of Dead in the Alley and other romantic suspense novels, and a native of suburban Chicago. You can find out more about about her on her website, or follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram

This Post Has 18 Comments

  1. Colleen Winter
    Colleen Winter

    Great Post Sharon! I agree with so much of this. It is easy to find a hundred reasons not to write, but in the end we are creative when we make the time for it. Love the quote about creativity being a muscle that needs to be exercised. Thanks for the reminder!

  2. Avatar
    Sharon Michalove

    Thanks, Colleen.

  3. Laurie Buchanan
    Laurie Buchanan

    Sharon — Even if we have to dig like a dog with our front paws and move lots of dirt to find creativity, it’s there and well worth the effort.

    Great post. Happy birthday!

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      Sharon Michalove

      Thanks, Laurie

  4. Avatar

    Happy birthday to a very creative author. You’ve accomplished your goal, and now let the stories pour forth! Wishing you the best always.

    1. Avatar
      Sharon Michalove

      Thanks so much, Saralyn

  5. joyribar

    I love the personal story of your writing journey and finding a good genre fit for you. It’s wonderful there are so many stories and genres for all of us to dive into. I relate to your Dorothy Sayers line about “having written” vs. the present act of writing. I’ve shared that dream, too, but it takes work and more work to get to the “having written” life. You’re living in both the past and present at once now!

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      Sharon Michalove

      Thanks, Joy. It’s what happens to historians.

  6. Sheila Lowe
    Sheila Lowe

    Well done, Sharon. You said something close to what I often say: I don’t like writing, I like having written.

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      Sharon Michalove

      I actually prefer editing. First drafts are no fun for me.

    1. Avatar
      Sharon Michalove

      Thanks, Margaret

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    Laurie's Story

    Wow, I’m with you Sheila. I always feel like that first draft is really cumbersome when I want it to be perfect! Why isn’t it perfect the first time around?? Thanks, Sharon, for digging up all those quality quotes!

  8. Avatar
    Sharon Michalove

    I gave up on perfection years ago.

  9. Sherrill Joseph
    Sherrill Joseph

    Sharon, Happy Birthday! And thanks for sharing your personal creativity journey and the many quotes. You may have flailed, but you certainly didn’t fail. You have succeeded in achieving your writing dream on a grand scale. Congratulations!

    1. Avatar
      Sharon Michalove

      Thanks so much, Sherrill

  10. Tracey Phillips
    Tracey Phillips

    I’m like you, Sharon, I didn’t have the confidence to write a mystery with all the clues. I found my voice writing Romantic suspense as well. It turns out relationships are where it’s at for me. And well, something darker, thrilling and angsty. You said it best, “Whether it’s art, computers or [insert vehicle here] . . .don’t lose your vision. You’re never too old to start.”

  11. Sharon Lynn
    Sharon Lynn

    My favorite of those quotes about creativity was Einstein’s. I’d never heard that one before. Thanks for sharing, Sharon!

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