Friday, June 3, 2011

"Fuzzy Vision and Fat Mirrors: The Challenge of Seeing One's Own Art" with Mary Beth Maziarz

About a year ago, I picked up a copy of Kick Ass Creativity: An Energy Makeover for Artists, Explorers and Creative Professionals by author and critically acclaimed musician Mary Beth Maziarz. In short, I loved it and knew I had to bring her on the blog to open up the discussion about priming creative spaces for your most productive writing and creative time.

Mary Beth got in touch a few days ago to let me know about a "kick-ass" workshop she's holding in New York City on June 12th, which I of course feel compelled to share with you (the details...keep reading). But before you find out the when, where and what time, Mary Beth whipped up a post in the spirit of her latest workshop's focus.

Fuzzy Vision and Fat Mirrors: The Challenge of Seeing One's Own Art

My Dad says I have the weirdest eyes he’s ever seen. (He’s an optometrist.) I have one eye that’s near-sighted and one that’s far-sighted, so Dad tells me that as I get older, I can just depend on the right for reading and the left for distance, like when I’m driving. It’s a good system, really, except for that wide visual middle-ground of slight imperfection. It’s the subtlest of softening in my focus, a ten-percent smoothing effect at most, but it’s been raising questions in me lately.

I have a pair of glasses, but I only tend to wear them if I’m on a long writing day at the computer. These marathon days usually take place at my favorite café, where the fluorescent bathroom lighting is beyond scary. So I’m in the restroom one day, washing my hands, looking at myself in this disturbing combo of unusually accurate vision and terrible lighting. And I find myself wondering: Is this the real me? Is this the way I really look? Whoa. What about those times when I was perfectly bare-mineraled and gently lit and I glimpsed myself in a mirror, reflected smoothly in the middle of my soft eye-focal-space? I looked damn good those times! Was that not real?

Here’s another example: haven’t we all occasionally experienced a hotel “fat mirror” or boutique “skinny mirror” and been appropriately dismayed or delighted by the reflection? Even though we may sense that something isn’t quite right, there’s a knee-jerk visceral response that still manages to tilt our emotions one direction or another.

The thought unfolded into a question about the way we see our art, the way it appears to be reflected back to us. Do we act differently, create differently, when working from an overly critical – or generous – notion of ourselves? Does a constantly corrective approach keep us from bad habits and lead us to higher technical skills? Does an inflated ego help us float to more transcendent levels, past landmines that might have taken us out too early? Do we change our creative behavior based on our gauge of current success or missteps in the work? Are we more (or less) confident? Fearless? Truthful? Cerebral? Timid? Plodding?

What if we’re unreliable observers of ourselves? And of our audiences’ responses? How might this affect the trajectory of our art and growth?

I ask you: given the option, would you rather have a harsh, glaringly accurate understanding of the quality of your creative work, or would you prefer to work from a sweetened, slightly overly-optimistic view of your progress and projects? Is there one right choice or another for all of us, or must we individually choose from each point and time?

I may have weird eyes, but I suspect we all do when it comes to looking at ourselves and our work. I have a feeling I will personally remain in the mutable middle ground, swinging from laser-like precision to soft-focus warmth, as needed, to move the work forward.

I wish for you exactly the level of clarity you need for yourself and your work today.

TLC: Mary Beth raises some great questions about creative passion and perspective. I would encourage anyone in the New York City area on June 12th to check out Mary Beth's latest "Kick Ass" workshop. As promised, click HERE for the workshop details. If you can't make it, I encourage you to buy or check out her book, Kick Ass Creativity. It's a must read for any creative type. How can you not be motivated by that title, I ask you.

Wanna check out Mary Beth and The Lit Coach's past blogshops about creativity? Click here and here.

Have a great weekend, everyone!



  1. Any chance of a virtual kick-ass forum, aka online?

  2. I have to say that the most frustrating thing about letting other people see your work, for fun, or as a Beta reader is to have them say, "It was good." or "I liked it".

    I always want to respond, "Yes, that's great, but what did you think? Where am I going wrong? What can I improve? Etc etc"

    To answer your question: While I like to hear that people have enjoyed what I have written, I also would like something honest in regards where I could improve. Not point out ALL of my flaws, I suppose, that would crush my confidence, but perhaps, the BIGGEST flaws.

  3. Capillary - That's an easy thing to fix. Give your readers some guidelines with the kind of feedback that would be most helpful to you. Does it flow? Are there any bumpy transitions? Is the plot plausible and does it hook you? Did you skim over any part of the book and why? Are the characters well-developed and do they jump off the page...if not, why? How's the balance between dialogue and exposition? Is the backstory presented in a way that doesn't bog down the forward motion of the plot?...You get the idea. It's always best to ask for specific feedback. It's also helpful to kindly give them a deadline. And most of all, make sure you're picking the most well-read people to review your work.

    Hope that helps!

  4. hi everybody,

    First of all, come join the Facebook group for Kick-Ass Creativity if you like, Cathy. We're a fun forum. : )

    Secondly, I love the point that thecapillary brings up, and your reply, Erin. Does anything feel more annoying than a bland response of "it's good..."? I always feel like, come ON people! I committed to decisions all over the place here! They may be great or they may be crap, but give me something to work with.

    Maybe the most ambivalent responses come from the least creative types....maybe they're even more afraid of committing to (and needing to defend) a response than we are of hearing it.

    Erin's idea is right on in my experience. Find the parts that you truly question yourself, and ask a qualified reader pointedly about them. For ego resilience, have a total cheerleader read the piece separately and soak up their unabashed praise and love without question.

    Hope all your projects are moving along at a fantastically kick-ass clip!

  5. I think I can offer a unique perspective here.
    I am a budding writer and my father is a published author. No similarities in style or subject as he writes religious nonfiction and I write supernatural horror fiction. You could say it's similar in that I feel horror every time he asks me to read his work.
    I've never felt I could give an honest opinion. I don't want to hurt his feelings! In return I don't share my work with him or any family. I only offer my work to friends or professionals I think would offer an honest opinion. I have so far received excellent feedback and honest constructive criticism.

    I'm going to keep an eye open for your blogshops. They sound interesting!


Leave your thoughts! Feel free to share with us your success stories or tips.