CS: Why did you write The Creativity Cure?
Dr. Barron: Alton and I wrote The Creativity Cure as a response to a clinical need. Creativity has been described as the “original antidepressant” but is underused as a treatment form. We wanted to show people how a creative process can have a significant impact on happiness and wellbeing. As clinicians, we observed that when other forms of treatment don’t help or don’t help enough, creative action; projects, prose, community plans, painting, crafts, can be very useful for boosting mood. Creative action is excellent for mental, and often physical, health.
CS: How did you develop the therapeutic creative process you present in the book?
Dr. Barron: The method came out of both years of clinical experience – and personal experience. We have both been active participants in creative and athletic activities.
CS: How did you decide in what manner to present it in writing (e.g. how you split it into chapters, how you address the reader in the writing, etc.)?
Dr: Barron: Scribner [the publisher] guided us with how best to communicate information and connect with readers. The chapters changed and evolved as we wrote. We had a basic structure but we deviated somewhat because that seemed more organic. The chapters follow the natural trajectory of a therapeutic/creative process.
CS: What was your experience in combining the more scientific aspects with the more creative aspects of the writing?
Dr. Barron: Science is throughout because it’s important for people to know that there are sound reasons for changing habits. It’s hard to change your ways and people need to know it is worth it in order to stay motivated, to be persistent. The creative part is in trying to impart the science in a digestible, interesting, light manner. Creativity comes from when your mind is free and anecdotes, recollections and free associations bubble up and we experience this in the writing, recalling personal moments. We offer more science in the beginning and less later. As we move through the book, the creative process deepens for the reader; he or she becomes more reflective, introspective, playful, free.
CS: You co-wrote The Creativity Cure with your husband, Alton Barron. What was your experience in co-writing a book with another person? What are some of the benefits and challenges of this?
Dr. Barron: Alton and I never stop talking! We like to talk about lots of things and this was a natural expression of how we are together. We collaborate well because we’ve been together for almost 30 years, can read one another and fall naturally into certain tasks and roles. We have had some disagreements about word choice or rhythm of phrases and at times it is hard to take care of three kids, two practices and other responsibilities, but we work it out.
CS: How do you get out of your own way or get over any self-consciousness in order to write?
Dr. Barron: I think the ritual, the habit, is the most important thing. Even if you can only write for five minutes a day, it is important for keeping the process alive. This is better than dropping your writing for a month and trying to pick it up because all the resistances and defenses have strengthened in you again and you have to break them down. A little every day helps you keep the pulse of the process, the connection to a deeper self. Also, your identity as someone who writes daily stays strong when you are consistent. When you maintain the mental space for it, you feel better, energized, purposeful. I think the self-consciousness is not a problem when you stay with it, stay in it because your defenses and self-judgment remain at bay. Once you cement the process, it carries you. It becomes far more interesting than your self-criticism or insecurity or self consciousness!
CS: What methods do you use to overcome writer’s block? What methods do you use to avoid it?
Dr. Barron: Writers block is also helped by routine. If I’m really stuck, I write pages on a yellow pad by hand – anything, nothing, whatever – and just throw them away. The hand movement—handwriting—has a way of making it physical, which helps to enhance any creative process. The involvement of the body is key in creativity.
CS: What were some of the challenges you experienced while writing the book? While getting it published?
Dr. Barron: We had a chapter title—I think it was something like “The Strength of Knowing your Limitations,” but when I started to write it, I did not have anywhere near a chapter full of material in my mind. It didn’t come—I couldn’t summon it and I couldn’t force it. That unsettled me for a few days, but then Alton and I talked it through, decided to change course and all was well.
We had several publishing offers. Our fabulous agent Jeanne Fredericks and our super book proposal coach – Lisa Tener – helped us prepare well. There are many details to cover once you hand in the manuscript, read-throughs and corrections, but we had help from our editors at Scribner, which was great.
CS: How did you overcome these challenges and move on in the writing process?
Dr. Barron: Once we had a contract and only nine months to produce a book, we became very disciplined, perhaps panicked is a better word….. I became stringent! Deadlines for each chapter had to be met, no matter what. I did most of the writing, so I had to be single-minded, very focused. I let many things go during that time, from lunches with friends to minutia, but people understood and I managed to catch up later. My mind just clicked into the work when it had to. Solitude was essential for the writing and I found ways to get blocks of time because I had a lot of support from friends and family.
CS: What specific steps did you take to bring the book together, such as committing yourself to writing it, writing an outline or structure for it, writing a proposal for it, etc?
Dr. Barron: Structure, structure, structure outline, proposal! This kind of organization is hard for me because my mind is all over the place, but Lisa Tener helped me so much with that. Staying crisp, clear… If the outline is organic, and really and truly represents what you are trying to say, it makes the process so much easier.
CS: Do you have any particular practices that helped you get into the space for writing the book? Do you have a specific writing ritual?
Dr. Barron: I am a great believer in the right environment. It could have to do with nature, architecture, sound. I am a café writer and there are two cafes I always write in. The minute I enter, my mind just goes where it needs to go. Maybe it is the light, or the hum or the smell of Moroccan spices, but the sensory/ mental effect of these two places is powerful.
Sometimes I can write in my room if it’s very quiet, but when I’m home, I tend to get distracted by chores, calls, etc. during the day. Early morning hours work well at home. If I light a fire and then write for about two hours before my kids get up, that’s as good as the café. Coming right out of sleep has an interesting effect as the unconscious/dream state still influences things.
CS: What suggestions do you have for aspiring writers?
Dr. Barron: Make a commitment. Establish a ritual. Let go of the non-essentials. It’s worth it. Even if you only have a little time, just keep up the process. Figure out how to carve out the time. Tune into to your drive!
CS: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Dr. Barron: It really helps to have a friend, mentor, coach who understands what you’re trying to do and supports you. And don’t let the Irrational Critic, that cutting inner voice, take hold. You can have an inner critic but she or he has to be sane. Honor the Rational Inner Critic who fosters a growth process, does not shut you down and takes you where you need to go. I never would have thought that this would happen for me but it did. It is all about small steps and finding a couple of wonderful people to support you.
CS: How can readers or aspiring writers get in touch with you?
Dr. Barron: Our website, The Creativity Cure.
Carrie Barron, M.D., (Grace Caroline Barron, M.D) is a board-certified psychiatrist/psychoanalyst on the faculty of the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons who also has a private practice in New York City. She has published in peer-reviewed journals, won several academic awards and presented original works on creativity and self-expression at national meetings of the American Psychoanalytic Association. She is co-author with Alton Barron, M.D. of The Creativity Cure.