Monday, August 20, 2007

MotherTalk- Getting Unstuck Without Coming Unglued by Susan O'Doherty, Phd. - Review

Paperback: 220 pages
Publisher: Seal Press (May 24, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1580052061
ISBN-13: 978-1580052061


I'll be honest, I'm always looking for ways to unblock creativity even though I see myself as a highly creative and productive person. When I heard MotherTalk was looking for reviewers for Getting Unstuck Without Coming Unglued by Susan O'Doherty, I thought this was a perfect way to start off my writing life after grad school as there are some creativity issues I struggle with-- most revolving around the balance of my writing life and motherhood.

I felt hopeful reading the opening. O'Doherty says that some of her early negative beliefs about creativity are with her and she needs to still overcome that every day. She suggests, "I do this by reminding myself daily that I have a right to pursue my dreams. I set aside one day a week in which I do nothing but write for eight hours. . .as much as it goes against the grain, I have learned to say no to request from friends, relatives, and even the PTA if they interfere with my sacred writing day." The book helps women artists and writers set boundaries for themselves and respect the idea that creativity may go against the general path of society, but to welcome that and follow it.
What I appreciate about this book is that O'Doherty hits every issue a woman could have for being stuck creatively. She travels us back to our childhood, makes us look at our role models, past successes and failures, our shadow selves, our lives as mothers and the feelings that come with that, the perils of success, the challenges of being a woman artist and speaking to that issue specifically, as well as growing older as an artist.

O'Doherty was able to share her own troubles and challenges as a creative woman and writer in the world. Since she looks at other women's stories, I thought it was important that her life was also considered. Seeing what she has overcome made me respect her ideas and advice as she has experienced some of the struggles she is helping others with. At first I resisted the early chapters where we return to our childhood to figure out where our negative beliefs about art or creativity came from, though ultimately I was able to take something from them through the other women's stories. O'Doherty also reinforced a few of my beliefs such as to realize that when we're being pulled from our art or not finding a way to have it in our lives is usually "when we most need our art to sustain us."

For me, the section called "The Impossible Position: Managing Motherhood and Creativity" was worth the price of the book for any artist/writer mother. This is the area I struggle the most with in my life and the examples from the author's life as well as another writer mother made me once again realize I'm not in this alone in the plate spinning act.

The main point of the chapter was "it's usually possible to carve out time for self-expression if we truly believe we're entitled to it." And that's seems to be one of the main struggles creative women have--the belief that art is a luxury and by writing or painting or creating, we are somehow being selfish (that phrase that shot us like an arrow as little girls: "Don't be selfish...") I wrote about this a while back in Permission to Write. O'Doherty's book supports the belief that we all deserve to follow our creative passions and how could I not love hearing that message reinforced page after page.

While the chapters on returning to our childhood to figure out who gave us these negative beliefs about creativity were probably my least favorite parts of the book, the later chapters on motherhood, fear of success, and creativity in our later lives were fascinating. Especially the chapter on success where a woman artist begins to have some success and then everything comes to a stop. This chapter explores how "when our work begins to garner attention and especially when we faced with the task of promoting it" we do a little self-sabotage and sometimes just allow ourselves to fail. She suggests, "Self-promotion is even more complicated for women, who have often internalized cultural prohibitions against 'pushiness.'"

She believes that some women fail when they start to be successful because "there is no way to draw attention to our work without attracting notice to ourselves." O'Doherty looks at all these issues we keep as women artists and writers. She offers exercises at the end of the chapters to explore our deepest issues as well as examples of other women's struggles so we can be the outside observer looking in at their lives. Sometimes we see someone so unlike ourselves we know exactly why they are having the troubles they are having, sometimes we can only see ourselves.

This would be an excellent book for a woman who wants to return to an artistic or writing life, but feels as if she's not sure where to begin or why she's having such a hard time creating. If you are stuck, seriously stuck and perhaps, carry some of those childhood issues with you, this book will help you through them. It's as if you have your own handy-dandy therapist to keep in your purse.

And for other women who either aren't stuck or just need the occasional reinforcement, the book does that as well. It's a bit like hanging out with your artist friends and listening to their stories, except in these stories, everyone is being honest. There are no false images of perfect families, no hidden insecurities being covered up. Here, everyone tells you that their life isn't perfect and the struggles they have to be working at their craft. O'Doherty is your own personal cheering section and this book can help return confidence lost and offer insight to why a creative block may be occurring. If you really want to write, paint, dance, create, ____________(fill in the blank) and you have many reasons (a.k.a. excuses) for why you're not doing it, this may be the book to help get you back on track.
The final word on a creative lifestyle: There are no excuses, if you want it, it's there for you.


  1. Kelli, thanks so much for this very thoughtful review. I'm glad you found the book helpful even though you weren't blocked!

  2. The Creative Fire is good (CD). But I like Jungian stuff.


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