life (and creativity) shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage


To create takes courage.

It’s an easy thing to say. Sounds simple, right? But to actually sit down and do the work of creating. This is in that confounding category of things that are simple, not easy.

A little about my creative process

Always when I write, it is a total surprise to me what is going to come out on the page. This is the same way I paint, and work in my sketchbooks and journals.

For years I practiced being tolerant, even comfortable with the unknown territory of the blank page. Now, it’s one of my favorite things in the world. But it wasn’t always that way.

How I write

I begin with what I know, and sometimes all I know is the date. I might have a general idea of what I’d like to write about, but most of the time I don’t. The general idea might be a simple topic. So I write this down on the paper, like a prompt.

The ideas begin to flow once pen is put to paper. And this is because I’ve spend years practicing the art of sitting down and writing.

Which is sitting down and confronting the blank page.

Which is a continual practice in confronting fear.

Fear that I won’t have anything to say. Or that what I say doesn’t matter. Things like that.

Take heart

Doing creative work takes courage. It takes practice. It takes consciousness.

Courage and practice and consciousness grow from doing the practice.

It’s a positive feedback loop that provides structure and support for creating.

Which is daring to make up something out of nothing.

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”

Anais Nin said that.

The photo that goes with this post is a close-up of one of the pages in a tiny visual journal I created. It was tiny, because I was traveling for a year and needed something portable.

I was on a pilgrimage of the heart, meaning I was actually having a sort of breakdown of my life as I knew it, and I gave it a fancy title while I went on a bunch of retreats and tried to get myself together.

Along the way I filled this tiny journal with wisdom from other artists and spiritual teachers who gave me courage to keep going.

If you’re going through hell, keep going,” something Winston Churchill said, is also in this same journal.

This is just one example of what keeping a creative journal can be and do. Sometimes, a creative journal is a lifeline of inspiration.

How about you?

Have you ever thought of courage as an ingredient in creative action?

What shrinks you back from working? What do the fearful voices say?

What might your wise self say in return? The part of you that is expansive, and courageous?

32 Responses to life (and creativity) shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage

  1. Judith Fine-Sarchielli February 2, 2014 at 8:57 pm #

    When you write about courage I add Valor!

    I think Lisa may be familiar with Jung’s and Von Franz’s archetypes and fairytales and the process of journaling one’s shadow figures as a means to reach the Wise Woman we all have at our core.

    Hooray for us all who ar a dream team! I look forward to embellishing the quickies along the way with images, thoughts, and more quotes.

    Thanks again for this fun adventure Lisa! I am more focused on the importance of creative actin and images than I have been of late.

  2. Gena January 31, 2014 at 7:17 am #

    Hi Susan, I too want to thank you and all the wonderful souls who have added their inspiration and energy to this adventure 🙂 I am going at my pace and loving it – a little direction in an arty way, sort of like permission, though I know I don’t need it, but the daily ness is so much fun… thank you for this inspiration to garden with our souls and cultivate COURAGE, yes… Erich Fromm says it nicely, he says, creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties. I honor the courage of each person here! Thank you once again Susan for sharing your living example of the courage to not let yourself fall into the void!

  3. Nancy Miller January 26, 2014 at 7:55 am #

    I admit to be struggling a bit with this project. For some reason, I was expecting something a bit different… but since I cannot with certainty express what that was either, the problem obviously lies at my doorstep alone. Maybe I’m just in the wrong mindset to take advantage of this opportunity right now. However, I will continue to persevere & complete the process. Plus, I am keeping all of my emails/daily prompts so I can try this again in the future.
    Thanks for this great opportunity. It is a wonderful gift you have given us.

  4. Stacey January 25, 2014 at 2:59 pm #

    First and foremost, I just want to say thank you Lisa. Your 30 Day Journal Project has helped me in so many ways. I often lose focus on myself and my goals and get side tracked helping others in need. Making the time to read your prompts and journal has allowed me to make time for myself. Using this time to dig deep for the answers has served as a time for self discovery. Not answers that are just sitting on the surface…I mean the answers that are deep within my soul. It’s helped me to push through my fears and dig down deep inside.

    Additionally, reading through others comments and responses has helped me realize that I am not alone in my dreams, hopes and fears.

    So THANK YOU Lisa for doing this for all of us and thanks to everyone who is participating and providing such great feedback to your thought provoking prompts.

  5. Susan Stokinger January 22, 2014 at 1:09 pm #

    Hi everyone. I have been playing catch up. I sometimes choose to do other things and I don’t have time to catch up. For me it works best when I work on my pages first thing in the morning. I will not give up. Lisa I wanted to check in on Day 15 although I am not sure if I should be on the current day with my comments haha. I can feel so out of sorts and down before I set to work and then, before I know it, the burden has been lifted. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share.

    • Lisa Sonora Beam January 22, 2014 at 1:31 pm #

      no worries, Susan – people are signing up every day – and the idea is that you start with the first prompt, and do them as they arrive.

      We are not on a calendar, in other words, if that makes sense.

      Also – everyone please go at your own pace. One a day like a vitamin, or however you wish.

      the last thing I want to happen is for people to feel burdened by a “to do” – we all have plenty of that.

  6. Susan Heffron Hajec January 21, 2014 at 4:56 pm #

    Meeting fear with courage….My WiseSelf applauds my many, many times of doing this in my life of 71 years including the very courage to live on at my complicated birth, following the death of my mother. Like Dorothy of the Wizard of Oz, I’ve had to learn I”VE ALWAYS HAD THE POWER….usually facing and transforming fears in my life along the way has always resulted in building an inner knowing that in some way, in some place deep within where the True Essence awaits me that as one holy and sage Mystic saint continually proclaimed, “All is well in the world, so very very well.” Meeting fear with courage has taught me an important skill and quality of “looking beyond appearances” where the Truth resides. And Truth will always support me and assist me in BEING my Power.

  7. frannie January 20, 2014 at 11:11 pm #

    Dear Lisa and fellow travelers , This is a new edge for me to be writing and painting and allowing the prompts to perculate – sometimes for a few days at a time. I have kind . of jumped around a bit too.But am still showing up when , as , however I can . Thanks so much for giving me. space in which to do this.Love and courage to you all !

  8. Lay Hoon January 17, 2014 at 6:35 am #

    I’m enjoying the daily prompts and i still keeping up the pace.
    Thank you Lisa !

  9. PAT MARTIN January 16, 2014 at 8:34 pm #

    I am enjoying this journey of the soul, too. I write a post and once finished post it on my FB page before I have a chance to edit it into non-existence! My FB friends have asked me to cvontinue, as they are getting inspiration and motivation from them. and I from you, Lisa–thank you!

  10. Lynn Fisher January 16, 2014 at 8:46 am #

    Oh, and dear friends if you are missing any daily prompts, check your junk mail…mine were there for a couple days (?)

  11. Lynn Fisher January 16, 2014 at 8:44 am #

    Hello everyone and Happy Half Way Day! The 30 day journal project couldn’t have come at a better time in my life. I am in the middle of a job overhaul process that could include a layoff….stress, stress, stress…the prompts have been cathartic. Thanks so much!

  12. Molly Morrissey January 15, 2014 at 11:42 pm #

    I also wanted to say a Thank You for this month of journal prompts. I am not a regular journal-er – nor do I expect to be – but this program came just at the right time. I have been enjoying it every day. Thanks so much for your beautiful effort.

  13. Michelle January 15, 2014 at 8:36 pm #

    I am loving this journal project and getting so much out of each prompt. Not posting my journal entries for now, but just wanted to say thank you!

  14. Marialena January 15, 2014 at 2:55 pm #

    “Pilgrimage of the heart.” My breath caught in my throat when I read it. So beautiful. So fitting. I am battling with resistance and avoidance. But I’m also listening to what the avoidance says, the resistance. Rather than revealed, the answers are being unfolded.

  15. Darlene Rose DeMaria January 15, 2014 at 10:20 am #

    As Alice in Wonderland showed us sometimes she was BIG and sometimes she was small, love the way Lewis Caroll told us the truths through those cards, smoking caterpillar, ADD Bunny, upside down characters . . . all through a DREAM . . .

    I have written everyday. I notice that what I think I am going to write upon changes once my pen touches the smooth pages of my journal. Pictures, deep ideas, even sleeping dreams have emerged on my pages. All a very fun, creative expression of “ME” a me I had pretty boxed in and still do but not strangled in PERFECTIONISM . . . strangled in PRACTICALITY maybe, living in a highly competitive expensive area does crazy things to the creative expression within that’s for sure.

    I appreciate this opportunity with all of you to write, to draw, to dream, to allow myself pages to express so I can listen to my purest heart of hearts. My pages listen more deeply to me than any person out here.

    This experience has taken my writing to a new level. It also has allowed me to be more spontaneous in my ART and to allow the ideas to run out of my pen . . . thank you for this time and space and en COURAGE ment. I work as an Educational Therapist and I use this technique of creative journalling with all of my clients/students. The work has been brilliant. The insights spectacular ~ Like a FULL OCTOBER MOON GOLDEN ORANGE SHINING ATOP THE SAN FRANCISCO BAY . . .

    Looking forward to 15 more days . . .

    From a bright LOVE space in my heart,
    Darlene Rose DeMaria

  16. Vesna January 15, 2014 at 10:00 am #

    I didn’t receive day 13 and 14 journal prompts. Can you add me back to your list. Thank you. I am enjoying the exercise!

    • Lisa Sonora Beam January 15, 2014 at 10:14 pm #

      We do not add anyone to the mailing list – in compliance with anti-spam laws.

      As a free project with thousands participating, and no staff, I don’t have the resources to personally track down errant emails.

      My hope is that except for the few inconveniences there will be mostly smoothly working parts here.

      The project page will allow you to sign up again, and review the FAQ troubleshooting questions where you will find answers and suggestions.

  17. susan January 15, 2014 at 9:09 am #

    Hi lisa,
    I can’t say enough about how much I am enjoying these daily emails. I made a commitment at the start to make a page for each day. Just do It…..It has been an eyeopener and I have learned alot from the all of the new people/quotes you have introduced into my world. I look forward to holding my completed 30day journal in my hand and proudly saying…I DID this! I have dabbled in journaling and this is the first time I am really seeing the benefits of putting this practice into a daily routine.THANK-YOU.

    • Lisa Sonora Beam January 15, 2014 at 10:05 pm #

      Having that vision of the completed journal is motivating- I am doing the same.

  18. e tobin eckian January 15, 2014 at 8:40 am #

    thank you. I am well into the largest oil painting i have done 4 x 4 feet. i set 2 times a day to paint it along with 2 other pieces i have going in a different studio. I am practicing painting and breathing and listening to which colors go where. thats how i do it. it is not that difficult. i have spent many years in front of pain-table surfaces. now i am doing yoga in the morn…and writing and painting…practicing music when i can. i have a voice lesson today. and i have been avoiding practicing. singing, opening my mouth, making sounds…that is where i really feel the wish to shrink back…..

  19. Brennen McElhaney January 15, 2014 at 8:33 am #


    Thank you for the Root Art Journal project! I am enjoying the process of writing and drawing in response to the prompts. 2014 is a good year already.

    With gratitude,

    Brennen Mc.

  20. Susan Pope January 15, 2014 at 8:31 am #

    thanks for sharing your story. sounds like during your breakdown year, you were still able to do good things for yourself. I love the idea of the tiny journal. I have several tiny journals into which I wrote inspirational quotes. However, now i want a tiny journal with quotes AND visual journaling. Tiny because i just love tiny books. I make them myself. Most of my visual journals are 8 by 10. Hey, maybe doing a tiny journal means I will travel!!!!

    Thank you for your courage in putting yourself and your stories and your creative ideas out there into the world. be well, Susan

    • Lisa Sonora Beam January 15, 2014 at 10:16 pm #

      Susan, do you ever show or sell your tiny journals? If so, links please 🙂

  21. Brennen McElhaney January 15, 2014 at 8:29 am #

    Root Art Journal – Day 15 (Excerpt)

    “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” — Anais Nin

    …Yes! Courage is a barometer of the depth/meaning of one’s life.

    What is courage?

    Courage is forward movement in the face of adversity.

    Courage is necessarily under-fire, otherwise it is just a good principle. Courage always moves forward — that is to say that courageous action must be in alignment with one’s moral values. You HAVE to have character in order to act courageously…

  22. Debra January 15, 2014 at 8:19 am #

    I am a bit of a perfectionist…about some things. Art, writing, music…my creative retreats are the areas that I am most critical about. Then I look back at things I’ve done in the past, some long ago, some more recent, and I think “hey, that wasn’t bad at all.” Do I just keep pushing? I was unable to respond artistically to a couple of our “inspirations.” I felt guilty about it, but left the blank page there in the journal and went on. There is one that I want to go back to but I’m a bit afraid of it. I want to “paint as I like and be happy” but I am not so gifted with paints. I am much better at graphite and pen so I am really hesitate about the paint…but it sounds so much like fun! Shall I leave them blank or not…that is the question. Thanks!

    • PAT MARTIN January 16, 2014 at 8:29 pm #

      Debra, I took the word paint to be a figurative concept, meaning paint, draw, write, sculpt, work, live, create. So if you replace one of your art outlets in place of the word paint, I think you would fill up that blank page and more!!

      • Debra January 16, 2014 at 11:05 pm #

        Thanks Pat for your encouragement!

    • Gena January 31, 2014 at 7:00 am #

      Debra, all painting is about is expressing yourself in color. There is an element of vulnerability there… but you do not seem afraid of vulnerability 😉 as you have pretty well described those vulnerable sides of you. The idea is to have fun and to let go – those two are the goals… I think you know how to do that 😉 So go for it! Get out the paint and have a splash. You will not regret it!


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