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Boundless Creativity, Martha Alderson

Martha Alderson is an author of historical and literary fiction and nonfiction books. She’s written for readers, authors, and writers alike, and hosts workshops to help people discover their most creative selves. Martha Alderson was born in San Francisco, and now lives and writes in Santa Cruz. She enjoys being in the water, tending to her secret garden, and walking along the beach in search of treasures. 

This interview was conducted shortly after the release of Martha Alderson’s latest book, titled Boundless Creativity: A Spiritual Workbook for Overcoming Self-Doubt, Emotional Traps and Other Creative Blocks. It’s available on Amazon and in bookstores near you. We got a chance to chat with Martha about Boundless Creativity.

There are books on creativity and living a creative life, but there aren’t nearly as many workbooks on it. Why is it important to have readers be actively engaged with Boundless Creativity? What do you think are the benefits of working through the book?

Well, in my life before, I was a writer and a plot consultant, and then a creativity consultant. I had a clinic for kids with speech language and learning disabilities, so I really appreciate how people learn, and that a multi-sensory approach is very beneficial. For me, I do much better if I see the material, and if I can interact with the material, rather than just hear it, say. And so I wanted to be able to give the reader an opportunity to engage. Plus, I wanted them to commit. I felt that by actually writing in the book, and answering the questions, they’re committing to the process, and to themselves, and to their creativity. Whereas I think when you just read something, you want to remember it, but it doesn’t always sink down into your body memory. If you’re writing, that motor activity really helps you to integrate it, and have it become who you are.

And I think it’s also that the book becomes your own, once your name is in it and once you’ve made your mark. So it’s just more personal.

Yes, I think that’s very true. Plus it’s like a journal. It would be so fascinating to go through the program. And some people don’t go through the whole thing, because they’re doing it their own way. I have one person who’s going from the end of it and moving backwards, and someone else just has it on their nightstand, and they pick it up every night and just flip to a page, which seems to bring its own relevance. But I think it would be a fascinating thing if you do go through all the exercises, and answer all the questions, to have that. And then, in five years, to be able to open it up and to be able to meet yourself again. Who you were then, to compare to who you are now, and to be able to see your growth and transformation. I just think that would be really gratifying.

In your book, you talk about emotions, state of mind, and a spiritual state of being. Taking these three aspects into account, what would you say the relationship is between creativity and mental health?

Well, I think that creativity is an opportunity to connect with your spirit. And, to me, the spirit is that non-physical part of us. So usually we’re at the human level, and the physical level, which is controlled a lot by your mind and your ego. Whereas your spirit is deeper than that. It’s connected to everything else. And that is where your imagination and inspiration, I believe, come from. So creativity is an opportunity to connect with that deeper part, where your vitality and your energy come from. And it also allows you to step away from the material world. In other words, it slows down time. When you’re in the creative zone, so to speak, time and place disappear. All your problems disappear. You’re in the moment of creativity, you’re connected to your spirit, or the muse, or whatever you want to call it, and you’re being a conduit where the energy is just flowing through you, onto the page or the canvas or whatever you’re working on. And when you step away from it, sometimes you have to almost shake yourself out of it to come back to reality, because you’re in that place.

You also base your book on “The Universal Story,” which has four distinct phases. Can you walk me briefly through what they are?

Sure. [The Universal Story] is something that I found when I was doing plot for writers, because it’s based on Joseph Campbell’s “hero’s journey”. It’s this journey that the protagonist in all stories moves through. But what I realized when I was working on writing and plot, is that the Universal Story is broader than that, in that it encompasses nature and the moon cycles and plants and animals, and we all are moving through this universal story that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. And if you’re aware of what each phase in the universal story represents, you can understand where you are and be grounded in what the expectations of that phase are asking of you. 

You know, at the beginning, things are relatively painless, they’re easy, you’re in your comfort zone, you’re excited about what you’re going to undertake or where you are in life. 

And then something happens that moves you into the middle, you know, you leave home to go to school or you’re committed to a new project, and you move into the middle. You move into the territory of the antagonist, and what that means is that you start to confront obstacles. And what happens to a lot of people when they confront obstacles is they internalize that as personal. Like, “I’m not good enough,” “oh I can’t do this,” “why is this so hard for me?”. But those moments are where the learning takes place. You’re not being stopped to send you into a tailspin, but it’s more that you’re being stopped to learn something new that is going to serve you in whatever you’re doing. So it’s a positive thing. 

Then, at a certain point, you need to recommit to what you’re doing, and you understand that you have all these new skills and abilities, a new belief system, you know what’s happening. And then in the second part, in the middle, you move up to what I call the Dark Knight. And that is where a crisis might hit, and this can be a dangerous time, almost, because it’s where you feel like you failed, and everything turns bleak. You get a horrible critique, you lose everything that’s important to you, you find out you’re not who you thought you were, and your whole life is turned upside-down. This is an opportunity, really, to let go of all those things that we’ve accumulated through other people’s expectations, in order to be able to resurrect or be reborn into who you really came here to be. Because sometimes we get so bogged down by trying to keep up, trying to conform, trying to be like everyone else, trying to meet everybody else’s expectations, that we lose our own authenticity, and who we really are, and the gift that we’re here to bring forward. And so, sometimes you really have to go through a Dark Knight to remove all of that, let all of that burn off and fall away from you. 

So you can then go into the last part of the universal story, which is moving up to your triumph, where you achieve what you didn't think you could have. You needed to go through all those steps before — all the heartache, or the hard times, or the learning, or whatever — to get to this place of triumph. And then you calm down, and you get to celebrate. And then you start again, only you start at a higher place because of everything you’ve learned, and then you go through the cycle over and over and over again, and each time you do, it’s easier to get there. Each time becomes a little bit easier because you know what to anticipate and you know what all these steps entail. Also, the creative muse almost embraces you because they see you’ve got better access to your spirit, so all of a sudden you’re getting lots of hits of inspiration, imagination, dreams, and your life just sort of moves into a higher place. You’re happier and more well-adjusted, and you’re living your life path and not what everybody else expected for you. 

What other kinds of feedback have you received on Boundless Creativity? Have members of your audience discussed the impact the book has had on them?

Well I think it’s fascinating that the book came out right at this time [during the COVID-19 pandemic]. We’re so used to running so fast, and doing this and doing that, it’s like we evaluate our life by how busy we are, and all of a sudden some of that busy-ness was removed. I’ve heard from people who have learned how to cook. One woman used to be an artist, and she wants to pursue that again, so she had to go through cleaning out a whole room, and that whole process. She’s taking a class online to rejuvenate herself through the art, and she’s working through the workbook step-by-step, confronting her demons and her self-doubt, and all the things she’s grappled with that are why she hasn’t kept going with her art. 

Another woman wanted to learn Spanish and she’s going through that, and someone else who went through the workbook always wanted to be a comedian, or a stand-up comic, but she never gave herself that permission and instead got a straight job, doing what she had to do. And she said that reading the workbook, she decided that what she wanted to commit to through the program was writing a couple of jokes a day. Then I said, ‘Well, why don’t you have as your deadline, at the end, that you’re going to actually stand-up, you know on Zoom, or if we’re out of quarantine and you can have people come see you, as a stand-up comic?’. And I could feel her, and that trepidation, but also that exhilaration of, ‘Oh my god, if I did that, I’m living my dream!’ and that was really exciting to me. 

So just things like that, I’ve heard a lot of stories of people taking a risk and trying something new, because really the whole intent of the book is to help you create fearlessly. So that you can really tap into your gift, and bring it forward without worrying about judgement. 

So, we talked about how this book has been helping a lot of other people during this quarantine, but what does it look like to you? What have you been up to?

Two things. One is that the book came out right as we went into quarantine, so I’ve been promoting. I know this workbook can really be of benefit to a lot of people, and that’s what I wanted to spend a lot of time on: getting the workbook into the hands of people that will benefit most from it. Because I’ve worked with so many creative people that are just brilliant and so good at what they do, but they’re so stifled and afraid. It breaks my heart because I know that they have a gift to give to the world, but they have to get out of their own way to get there. 

The other thing is that I have a novel that I’m getting ready to release, which should be toward the end of summer. So there’s just all the steps of getting that in order. It’s sort of these two-tiered things. Plus I live at the beach, so I love to get in the water and boogie board, and go beachcombing, and I’ve got this really vibrant secret garden, where I love to putter around. So I’m keeping busy. 

Trigger warning for mention of sexual assault in the next answer. 

How did you discover the beauty of creativity, and what was your journey to becoming your most creative self? How did that start?

Well, I grew up with a mother that was outrageously creative. She never stopped until a couple days before she died. But she was constantly creating. She was an artist and worked in oils primarily, but she did everything. She worked in every medium, and was fearless in that way. But because of the journey that I went through and the things that I had to overcome — I was non-verbal as a kid, and I was dyslexic, and I was sexually molested repeatedly — I grew up with a lot of self doubt, a lot of feeling like I wasn’t good enough, smart enough, or worthy. And a lot of my getting to creativity was to get past my self-doubt, and was to be able to understand the gift of who I really am. 

I’m really different from a lot of people in my family. I’m just a homebody, and really introverted and shy, and I just like to really be in my own space. So I had to be able to embrace my own story, to be able to talk about what I had gone through when I was young, rather than keep these secrets — these secrets are just deadly — and to be able to own it, not feel like it was my fault, or like I was a bad person because it happened to me. It’s been a fascinating journey and it’s brought me to wholeness. 

Here at mindyourmind, we like to ask this question because the answer can be quite powerful: If you could speak to your younger self, what would you say?

One thing that I’ve learned that is really helpful is the term ‘so-what’? Because I used to really care, deeply, about what people thought of me. Any kind of negativity, or anything that was said to me, that I didn’t do right, I took to heart. And I used to say that I didn’t care, but I did. I cared deeply. And it really affected me, and it prevented me from moving forward often.

But then a friend, who has a brother that is autistic, told a story about being bullied in school. And he went up to the bullies and he said, ‘So what? So what if I’m different? So what if I’m weird? So what?’ It was sort of like taking his own power, and coming face-to-face with his fear, but also allowing the bullies to ask themselves, ‘Yeah, so what?’ 

Once I embraced that, it was great. If I get a bad review, or if something doesn’t go the way I wanted to, or I tried something and it feels like it failed, I just say to myself, ‘So what?’ I learned something, I enjoyed it while I was doing it, and so what? What does it matter what anybody else thinks? This is my journey, it’s about me and my relationship with myself that matters the most. 

If our audience wants to know more about you, your work, or your teachings, what’s the best way for them to find you?

My website is I’m on a lot of social media as well, like TwitterFacebook, and Instagram. You can find the rest of my outlets on my website. I’ve also put up four online video programs, three are for writers and one is about picture books, and how to write and sell a picture book. One is about the 27-step tutorial on how to write a novel, memoir, or screenplay, and one is about how to revise your novel, memoir, or screenplay. Another one is what the workbook was based on, a sort of spiritual guide for writers and creatives. I usually sell them, but once we went into quarantine I put them up for free because I wanted to give back, and do something for people while we were in these tough times. So people can go to my website and look into those as well.

Is there anything else that you’d like to share with our audience?

Believe in yourself. Have fun with life, and don’t get too wrapped up in your mind. I love the title of mindyourmind, because I think sometimes our mind works against us. If you can really sink down into your spirit and stay connected to it, and be guided by that internal energetic force, you’ll find a lot more joy than if you reside in your mind. Because sometimes the things we tell ourselves, we would never say to anybody else. We’re so mean to ourselves sometimes, and we don’t always hear it. We’re constantly tearing ourselves down, or can be, and we need to become vigilant about what we say to ourselves and try to change that into a positive affirmation. 

Photo by Taylor Boone Photography. Workbook cover design by Amy Daniel.