Focused young female artist working on a new painting in her workshop


It’s a common goal to get back to the creative passions of your youth and write that novel but something always seems to be holding us back. We talk to two experts about the roadblocks on the way to finishing your masterpiece and how to overcome them.

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  • Danielle Krysa, author of the book Your Inner Critic Is a Big Jerk: And other truths about being creative
  • David W. Berner, radio host, professor at Columbia College Chicago, author of Night Radio

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Unleashing Your Creativity

Marty Peterson: Self-doubt plagues people in all kinds of endeavors, but none more strongly than creative pursuits. Whether you dream of writing a novel or painting your masterpiece, sometimes the hardest thing of all can be to actually let yourself get started.

Danielle Krysa: I’ve had so many people tell me, “Oh, you know I have a first grade teacher that told me I couldn’t draw, so I’ve really never drawn since.” And they’ve planted that weird little seed of doubt that somebody in an authoritative position like a parent or teacher or someone you really respect said something along the way that planted that doubt. Then that is what grows into this monster you let it.

Peterson: That’s Danielle Krysa, author of “Your inner critic is a big jerk and other truths about being creative.” She says the biggest obstacle many people face is this self-doubt, or what she calls the inner critic…

Krysa: It’s just that little niggling voice that tells you, “This is a waste of time and everyone has done it better, so why bother trying?” “Creativity is frivolous and I should be doing something more important.” It’s these little nagging thoughts. Sometimes it’s really mean and tells you that you should never touch a paintbrush again and it can be very cruel. So everybody’s a little bit different, some people think that theirs is a woman; some people think theirs is a man. It comes from probably an experience you had a long time ago, but you didn’t even realize planted that little seed. So it’s a matter of recognizing that voice and figuring out ways to shut it down.

Peterson: Sometimes people even let that voice prevent them from being creative at all. Krysa stresses that all of us — yes, even you — have something in us worth expressing.

Krysa: I cannot tell you how many people I’ve talked to who say, “Oh, no, no, no, me? No, I’m not creative.” But then why are you at this talk? Why are you picking up this book? Because you want to be. Maybe your creativity comes in the garden. Maybe your creativity is cooking or cake decorating. Anything. So you have to pay attention to that. Just because it’s not painting a perfect portrait or writing the next great American novel, that doesn’t’ mean it’s not creative. I think we put creativity up on this pedestal that if you’re not showing at the MoMA in New York then it’s not real art. There are so many different ways to be creative. You know like. Embrace that and be creative in that pond. Enjoy your life the way that you want to have it.

Peterson: So whether you’ve always dreamed of being an artist or if this is the first you’ve ever considered it, Krysa has a few tips. First, learn that some hesitation on behalf of that inner critic is totally normal.

Krysa: Very often, people think that they are the only one that hears that voice. For years I thought I was the only one that heard that voice. When you start talking to a lot of creative people you realize everyone hears it. So there are a lot of things that can stop you along your path from being creative, but the common denominator is the inner critique. So I wanted people to knew that they are not alone, everyone has that voice and you cannot let it stop you. You’ve got to keep pushing through it.

Peterson: Her second tip is to embrace your art jealousy. Maybe you saw a beautiful piece of art your neighbor painted and doubt you can ever measure up. Krysa says instead of getting angry or upset, you should simply seek that person out and talk to them.

Krysa: If you reach out to the person that makes you jealous, maybe it’s an artist in your life that has a big show and you wish so much that you had a show, if you just take them for coffee and say ‘Wow, I’m just so impressed.’ And you change that jealousy into admiration, you can even say, gosh I’m so jealous. How did you do this?” Chances are they’ll laugh and go, “What?” They probably have insecurities too. And they’ll probably give you tips and tricks about how they got where they were, they’ll let you know that they’re human just like you and suddenly it gets you out of your head and not alone anymore. You’ve got these people in your life that are living creative lives and before you know it, so are you. You are just emulating what they are doing.

Peterson: And if you’re still feeling overwhelmed by a sense of certain failure, Krysa says there’s a way to talk yourself out of it.

Krysa: Even if you say it out loud to somebody you trust you realize that it’s pointless and should not be stopping you. I think that’s the key – not letting it stay in your head. It’s your inner critics playground in there. You need to let it out and move along.

Peterson: Krysa says that maybe the biggest piece of advice she gives is the simplest: stop making excuses.

Krysa: People can come up with excuses like they are going out of style. “It’s too bright in here. It’s too dark in here. My table is too messy. I need a studio outside of the house,” and they come up with all these excuses. You’ve got to realize that those are a bunch of junk and get past them. Blank paper throws off a lot of people – writers and artists. You’re staring at this perfect blank sheet and you’re expecting yourself to create a masterpiece or you’re terrified that you’re going to ruin it, like you spent money on this beautiful canvas and you put down a stroke and you ruin it because you are terrible. It’s catastrophic. It’s not, but that kind of thing stops people in their tracks all the time, so they just don’t even bother starting.

Peterson: According to Krysa, one of the biggest excuses people make that is the toughest to ignore is that they don’t have the time. She says sometimes the way around that one is to give you a sort of assignment.

Krysa: I met this guy last year who said he worked nine to five in sign making company or something. He would come home, he set up his studio in his garage and he’d get home at five and before he went into his house where he knew he’d have to start making dinner and doing whatever, he would walk through the garage and from five until six he would make art. At six his day was over and he would walk into his house, because he said, I knew if I walked straight into my house I’d turn on the TV, I’d start cooking, and I’d never get back out to the garage to paint. So it’s a matter go being disciplined. If you’ve decided that you are going to carve out this time and space, then really do it.

Peterson: Author David W. Berner agrees. He says whenever he is asked about how to finish a book, he always gives the same answer…

David W. Berner: You just have to lock yourself in a room and do the work. There’s no trick here. Writing is for most a calling and for some of us it’s just a craft. And it’s sort of like working out. You’re going to lose weight and keep yourself in shape you’ve got to go to the gym and you’ve got to send time. It’s the exact same thing. You’ve just got to go do it. There’s no magic wand, there’s no secret spell that’s going to make this happen. You just have to go to work. I read all the silly articles online sometimes about writers block and how to get out of writers block. The way to get out of writers block is to start writing. There is no way just write you out of it. It’s a silly thing I just don’t think it exists.

Peterson: Berner’s creative journey was an interesting one. He worked in radio at CBS, as a professor at Columbia College Chicago, and now as an author. One of the big things he discusses is how helpful it was that he never limited himself to one thing.

Berner: When I started thinking about what I wanted to do with myself when I was a teenager, all I wanted to do was play Led Zeppelin and be on the radio. That’s all I cared about, music and being a musician. In that genre I moved into becoming a reporter and journalist, and then news director to radio stations and that sort of thing. I thought that was my destiny, what I was going to do. A little later in life I’d say somewhere in my mid to late thirties I started to realize that wasn‘t enough creatively for me and I started to branch out a little bit. I started to try writing, to do some free-lance work. I just started playing around and I came to the realization after a while that what I was not necessarily a journalist or radio person, but I was a storyteller in that I did it through music, I did it on the radio, I did it though the page, I did it online. So that’s what I became. I learned along the way, and now I feel like I’m in the right place, and I’m 60 years old. So it takes a while.

Peterson: And while conventional wisdom has always held that you should ‘write what you know,’ Berner says exploring new topics can be refreshing.

Berner: There’s an element of write what you know, but it’s also about write what you would like to know. If you explore a subject or think a little harder about something or maybe there’s an aspect of your life tat you would like top go deeper in, so then you spend some time and figure it all out. I don’t think it’s just about what you know; I think it’s about what you want to know. Joan Didion, the great essayist said one time she had no idea what she was writing until she’s writing it. I think that’s a matter of discovery, that’s what happens sometimes. There are many times I’m writing something or an essay or something and I’m not really sure where it’s going to go. I’m not a planner when it comes to this in of stuff. I’m not an outliner like some writers are. I’m a let’s just go here and see where the daydream takes me.

Peterson: And while that’s what works for him, Berner says everyone needs to discover his or her best working-style. Whether you’re a planner or a free-writer, a painter or a playwright, the biggest advice both Berner and Krysa agreed on was that you must silence your self-doubt and give yourself a chance to be great.

Krysa: You can be more than one thing. There’s lots of full-time artists I’ve talked to who I assume just haven’t made it and they’re like, no no I also have to do XY and Z, I work in a coffee shop in the morning and then I comer home and I work until whatever time. They all say if you want to be creative you have to make time for creativity. Those labels are just excuses. If you want to make time for art, make time for art. It doesn’t mean that you need to do it for ten hours a day. Maybe you come home and you do it for an hour before you make dinner, but you do a little bit everyday. That is a creative life. So it’s a matter of looking at the labels you put on yourself, peeling them off, and realizing the labels that you actually want. You can be a mom who works in a cubicle, who paints. You can do all of those things.  

Peterson: You can find Danielle Kryssa’s book “your inner critic is a big jerk” and David W. Berner’s book “Night Radio” online and in stores now. For more information on all of our guests, visit our site, You can find us on Twitter at viewpointsradio. Our show is written and produced by Evan Rook and Pat Reuter, our executive producer is Reed Pence. Our production director is Sean Waldron. I’m Marty Peterson.