The Saturday Creativity Quote — Intentional Creativity

A few weeks ago, I spoke at the Belgrade MT PEO chapter’s annual “Books and Bites” fundraiser, helping raise money for scholarships for women, a cause I believe in deeply. The event features a Montana author or two, great food, and nearly 150 fabulous readers and supporters. I opened with a talk on my writing journey and my books, and in my second session, focused on creativity. I’m a big believer in intentional creativity – that is, setting the stage and deciding to create something, without waiting for inspiration to strike.

As Jack London said, “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” After decades working in law firms, I’m partial to the way Somerset Maugham put it: “I only write when I am inspired. I see to it that I am inspired every morning at 9:00.”

So I loved the story about the always-amazing Dolly Parton. She didn’t feel like she’d earned her seat in the Rock Hall of Fame, so she went out and created a rock album.

Talk about a rock star.

The 77-year-old’s new album, called Rockstar, is a collection of new songs she wrote, covers, and collaborations with bona fide rock stars like Ann Wilson, Paul McCartney, and Ringo Starr. Collaboration is another great example of intentional creativity. Did you see Get Back, Peter Jackson’s series on the making of the Beatles’ album? Collaboration and intentional creativity in action.

But you don’t need a band to get intentional. Me, I sat down on a Monday morning to write a short story, knowing nothing but the theme of the anthology, the word count, and that I wanted to set it in my Spice Shop world. Finished by Saturday. And did it again the next week.

Reaching and stretching isn’t just good for the physical muscles. It’s good for the creative muscles, too. So go do something on purpose. Something you didn’t think you could do. Be a rock star.

Saturday Creativity Quote

Brass desk lamp with green shade, desk, binder open to a printed manuscript
Leslie’s desk

“My view is that everybody can write about everything. If that’s not true, then the art of the novel ceases to exist…. If we’re in a world where only women can write about women and only people from India can write about people from India and only straight people can write about straight people, etc., then that’s the death of the art. The whole point about the novel is that you invent the world that is not, and that includes inventing people who are not like yourself. If all you can do is invent people like yourself, that’s nothing.”

– Salman Rushdie at the Frankfurt Book Fair, quoted in Shelf Awareness, 10/20/23

Saturday Creativity Quote — a case for the generalist

book cover, Start More Than You Can Finish by Becky Blades

You know the old saw “jack of all trades and master of none.” Did you know the rest of the line? Me, neither. According to my friend Becky Blades, writing in Start More Than You Can Finish: A Creative Permission Slip to Unleash Your Best Ideas (Chronicle Books, 2022), the proverb goes like this:

A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one.”

She goes on to say this: “A case for stARTistry [Blades’ term for people who dive into creative work] is a case for generalists. It’s a case for learning something about a lot of things—to allow us to bring more ideas to life. David Epstein, author of Range: Why Generalist Triumph in a Specialized World, says ‘Our greatest strength is the exact opposite of narrow specialization. It is the ability to integrate broadly.’”

That is the heart of creativity: to bring together divergent ideas and images to create something new, something that reflects you and your view of the world.

Go on. Get started!

Saturday Creativity Quote – “restarts”

book cover, Start More Than You Can Finish by Becky Blades

I’ve been sharing snippets from my friend Becky Blades’ book, Start More Than You Can Finish: A Creative Permission Slip to Unleash Your Best Ideas (Chronicle Books, 2022). She emphasizes that a project involves constantly restarting ourselves, not because we’re lazy or bad or can’t finish what we start, but because we often have to stop and reconsider what we’re doing. When we write a novel, the idea we had at the beginning may change as we go along, and we realize ‘no, it’s not that; it’s this.” In my experience, that shift can happen almost too quickly to notice, or it can require a break. Sometimes a longgg break, while we learn craft and skills we didn’t have before. Then we reignite the spark and “restart.”

“You see, not finishing is not always a focus problem; often, it’s a reignition problem. ‘Finished’ is made, quite simply, from day after day of going back to the work. Masterpieces are made by stopping deliberately and starting again. Of reactivating passion and imagination. Imagine, rinse, repeat.”

— Becky Blades, Start More Than You Can Finish: A Creative Permission Slip to Unleash Your Best Ideas (Chronicle Books, 2022)

Saturday Creativity Quote – more on the importance of starting

book cover, Start More Than You Can Finish by Becky Blades

I’ve been talking the last few weeks about getting started and the fear of failure, quoting one of my recent reads, Start More Than You Can Finish: A Creative Permission Slip to Unleash Your Best Ideas by Becky Blades. Blades describes the creative process as an amalgam of imagine-think-decide-act, not necessarily in that order. (My words; forgive me, Becky, if I’ve mangled your premise.) I had just committed — to myself — to writing a short story, knowing only the theme of the target anthology, the word limit, and where I wanted to set it when I read this:

“Deciding to create a thing we’ve imagined is more complicated than choosing between two things. It’s placing a bet on our future selves to make future choices[;] to balance facts and feelings with yet-to-be-known risks and rewards.”

Yes, yes, yes. Experience can give us a sense what ideas will pan out, even if we don’t know how they will play out. As we take bigger risks — what if my commitment had been to a novel, not a short story? — we’re making a bigger bet and may not have that sense. .

Take the bet.

Saturday Creativity Quote

As you know if you’ve read my Food Lovers’ Village mysteries, the most interesting people come to Northwest Montana, whether to Jewel Bay or its model, Bigfork, the village where we live. One is Becky Blades, who summers here. She’s a delight, a writer, artist, and former marketer and entrepreneur whose most recent book is Start More Than You Can Finish: A Creative Permission Slip to Unleash Your Best Ideas (2022, Chronicle Books).

Last week, I mentioned a well-known watercolorist, Iain Stewart, saying you had “to be willing to ruin a painting,” and author and teacher Jane Friedman writing about the fear of failure. Becky’s premise is that starting projects is valuable in and of itself — regardless of whether we finish or see them as successful — for a variety of reasons; I’ll touch on a few over the next few weeks. Meanwhile, contemplate this:

We are not the sum of our failures and missed opportunities, or our unfinished work. Nor are we made only of our big wins, the handful of things that turned out just like we wanted.

We are the sum of the imaginings we ignite and our ideas acted upon. We are the curiosities we chase and the potential that they illuminate in us.

We are the sum of our starts.”

— Becky Blades, Start More Than You Can Finish (emphasis original)

Saturday Creativity Quote

Flowers -- watercolor by Leslie Budewitz

Mr. Right and I often go to gallery openings, both for friends’ exhibits and for group shows at galleries and museums we like. An exhibit we particularly enjoy is the annual Watermedia exhibit sponsored by the Montana Watercolor Society, frequently held at the Bigfork Art & Cultural Center. This year, the juror for the exhibit, Iain Stewart, who also taught a workshop, said that if you seriously wanted to improve your work, you had “to be willing to ruin a painting.”

I was reminded of that when I read Jane Friedman’s article “How Can I Set Aside the Cacophony of Writing Advice and Just Write” and this passage describing the writer’s equivalent:

“There are some writers I meet who simply fear messing up and try to gather as much advice as possible before they even begin. Unfortunately, the writing process is more or less defined by messing up and starting over. Writing is revising. Good writing advice can help you avoid the serious pitfalls, or bring clarity to a confusing process, but creative work of any kind is going to involve countless bad ideas. It’s important to work through the bad stuff to get to the good stuff. (And hopefully you’ve gained enough self-awareness to know when you’ve moved past the bad into the good.)”

So there you have it. Go forth and mess up.

More on this theme to come.

Watercolor by Leslie

Saturday Creativity Quote — Virginia Woolf

An open box of colored pencils
Pencils (photo by the author)

“For it would seem… that we write, not with the fingers, but with the whole person. The nerve which controls the pen winds itself about every fibre of our being, threads the heart, pierces the liver…

So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters, and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say…”

~ Virginia Woolf

Saturday Creativity Quote — Marge Piercy on doing the work

photo of welded sculpture of a heron, with a mountain lake in the background

I subscribe to the Poetry Foundation’s free Poem-A-Day email, something I recommend to all writers, whether you think you like poetry or not. It’s a way to stretch how you think about language, and play a bit. This poem by Marge Piercy (b. 1936) was a recent featured poem. It’s a bit harsh and a bit funny, and more than a bit insightful about how art and artists are perceived in our society.

For the young who want to

Talent is what they say
you have after the novel
is published and favorably
reviewed. Beforehand what
you have is a tedious
delusion, a hobby like knitting.

Work is what you have done
after the play is produced
and the audience claps.
Before that friends keep asking
when you are planning to go
out and get a job.

Genius is what they know you
had after the third volume
of remarkable poems. Earlier
they accuse you of withdrawing,
ask why you don’t have a baby,
call you a bum.

The reason people want M.F.A.’s,
take workshops with fancy names
when all you can really
learn is a few techniques,
typing instructions and some-
body else’s mannerisms

is that every artist lacks
a license to hang on the wall
like your optician, your vet
proving you may be a clumsy sadist
whose fillings fall into the stew
but you’re certified a dentist.

The real writer is one
who really writes. Talent
is an invention like phlogiston
after the fact of fire.
Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better than being loved.

Murder on the Nile — The Continued Influence of Agatha Christie, born this day in 1890

Originally published March 5, 2017; reprinted today, in honor of Dame Agatha’s birthday, September 15, 1890. 

A few weeks ago, I was asked to introduce the Bigfork Community Players’ production of “Murder on the Nile,” Agatha Christie’s stage play based on her book, Death on the Nile. That got me thinking about Dame Agatha’s continued influence on readers and writers. The play is great fun—different from both book and movie—and it was a delight to be a part of the show for a night. My comments:

Thank you.

I’m Leslie Budewitz, author of the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, set in a fictional version of Bigfork, and the Seattle Spice Shop mysteries.

When Karen Koler asked me to join the fun tonight, we chatted a bit about the play, and our amazement at how widely read – and watched – Agatha Christie remains today.

And that got me thinking about Agatha Christie and her continued influence on mystery writers and readers.

For many of us, her books were the gateway into adult literature. When we’d had enough of Nancy Drew, we gravitated naturally to Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, and my favorites, Tommy and Tuppence. I still remember buying my first Agatha Christie, a paperback, in a dime store in Burlington, Iowa when I was ten or twelve. With my own money. I read it by the pool and begged my mother to let me go back and buy more.

Agatha Christie was born in 1890 and died in 1976. She wrote 75 novels, not all of them mysteries, 100 short stories, more than a dozen plays – some based on her novels, and two autobiographies. She was also a prolific diarist. I’m pleased to have won two Agatha Awards, named for the great lady herself, for nonfiction and best first novel. [And later a third, for 2018 Best Short Story.] The year I was nominated for Best Nonfiction, one of the other nominees was John Curran, an Irish scholar who’s written two books looking at her secret notebooks, where she sketched out her plots and character ideas, and occasionally wrote the first drafts of her short stories. Her books are still bestsellers, and her plays still draw crowds.


Because she was first and foremost a tremendous storyteller. John Curran attributes that in part to her unconventional education. She also had a tremendous curiosity about the world. She traveled widely with her mother, with her first husband, an army officer, and with her second, an archaeologist. Those trips inspired several novels, including Murder on the Orient Express. Her trip to Egypt was no doubt the spark for her 1934 short story called “Death on the Nile,” featuring Parker Pyne, one of her lesser-known detectives. She then expanded it into the 1937 novel, featuring Hercule Poirot, and later adapted it for the stage as Murder on the Nile, making significant changes along the way.

She wrote what are typically called traditional or cozy mysteries, where a murder happens in a discrete, defined community, and has a deep ripple effect. The murder disrupts the community, and comes as a surprise – even though one happens in every book. The murder must be solved not only for justice to prevail, but to restore the community, and help the individuals get their lives back on track – something we’ll see in this story.

She also created highly memorable detectives. Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot are instantly recognizable. They’re both intriguing, he for his experiences, and she for her astuteness despite her apparent lack of experience. That nosy village woman lurks in many of us, and she’s the inspiration for so many modern amateur sleuths, including my own.

Both Miss Marple and Poirot were typically outsiders, although Miss Marple did occasionally investigate an incident in her own village, St. Mary Mead, and that outsider status gave them the ability to see things and make connections others – including the police – couldn’t see. That’s very much an element of the modern traditional mystery, as is the counselor or sounding board role that each often played.

Some of her secondary characters feel like cliches now, but I think that’s the result of time and imitation. She did a brilliant job giving her minor characters the telling details that made them come alive. She also used our assumptions about certain types of characters against us, such as our belief in the innocence of a caring doctor or a devoted child.

We also love her intricate plots. She often recycled plots, or wrote variations of them, which the very prolific can do. The mystery writer Robert Barnard wrote that she could use the same trick a second time – and still fool us. She hid clues in plain sight, and she was a master of the red herring. In fact, we’ll see tonight how she used misdirection to make us think one thing while something entirely different was going on.

She was daring, as anyone who’s read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd will remember, but I won’t say anything more, for those of you who haven’t read it yet.

I admire her ability to create a world. Tonight, we’ll feel ourselves part of the group on the cruise, and feel the friendships and tensions that develop. She had an uncanny eye and ear for the subtle conflicts between people, and as one writer friend pointed out, her subtle hints of inappropriate sexual obsession were way ahead of time. Morality is a recurring theme in her work.

She had wit. The same friend recalls her describing a character’s eyes as the color of “boiled gooseberries.” My friend had no idea what a gooseberry was, but the image totally painted a picture.

And she’s inspired modern day authors quite literally. There’s a mystery set a conference on Christie’s work, another hypothesizing that she wrote a long-lost play during her mysterious 1926 disappearance, and another involving a Golden Age of Mystery book club, structured like her novels. In my books, I use a Cast of Characters, as she often did, as a way to help readers remember who’s who, but also as another form of storytelling.

Dame Agatha remains popular because her stories still tell us something about human nature, and because they’re fun.

I’ll be in the lobby at intermission and after the show, chatting about mysteries – both Dame Agatha’s and my own. And I do have books and bookmarks available.

Thank you – and enjoy your trip down the Nile.

(Thanks to Art Taylor and his article in the Washington Independent Review of Books for the origins of “Murder on the Nile,” and to my friend Ellen Byron for sharing her memories and observations.)