My favorite muse on inspiration, Netflix, and telling other writers what to do

Sandy Ackers

I first met Sandy Ackers 20 years ago when we joined the same writing class in San Francisco.  Sandy’s writing dazzled  me at the time.  Two decades later, she’s inspiring a legion of creators as an online, certified muse for the masses.

Following is an interview I did recently with Sandy from her home in San Francisco.

Sandy, thank you for being everyone’s muse! What is the secret to phenomenal creativity?

The secret is that there is no secret! Working on your craft regularly, whether you feel inspired or not (also known as the butt-in-chair technique) is the path to opening up your creativity. I’d also add that allowing yourself to enjoy the journey, rather than focusing on the result, is crucial. That sounds simple, but many of us judge ourselves harshly if we don’t write something magnificent every time we sit down to work. When we write, we construct a reservoir of creative experience that fills a bit more with every writing session. As you become more seasoned as a writer, you’re drawing on that reservoir and your lifelong experience. Everything you write, even if it’s terrible, adds to your inner writing wisdom. (It’s as important to know what doesn’t work as it is to know what does work.) We live in a culture that values success and results, and it’s crucial to constantly remind ourselves that creativity follows different rules and can’t be measured in that way.

And don’t beat yourself up if you fall off the creativity wagon! We writers can be very hard on ourselves, and I’ll bet that every writer who says something like “I write every morning before work,” has also had periods when they weren’t writing. (I’m raising my hand here!) I wrote more about this in this blog post:

Our culture doesn’t really value taking time for creative pursuits, so unless you’re independently wealthy or have someone supporting you, you’ll probably have to set up your creative life in the cracks and dark corners of your “regular life.” But that can lead to some potent creative juice, because your writing time is so concentrated – and exciting, like a secret affair. Use that energy. Treat your creative time like time stolen away with a secret lover!

Who’s your own personal muse?

Good question! I’ve written about my muse on my blog a few times (like I did here:

I enjoy personifying my muse for fun. And I find that the qualities I need in a muse vary, so that muse character I create for myself changes over time. But if I get serious about it, when I’m writing or creating art and I’m in flow, I feel a deep connection to the universe and to everything. And that feels like my muse: connecting to something larger than myself that allows me to access more (words, images, thoughts, vision…) than my mind could think up, but is then filtered through my unique personality so it becomes something that only I could create. I find my muse arrives more frequently when I’m in the flow state that comes with a regular creative practice.

You also write for Netflix. Name a movie every artist must see.

A disadvantage of working for Netflix – and of being a lifelong movie buff – is that I have a catalog of so many movies filed in my brain that it’s hard to answer a question like this! So instead of choosing a classic or a go-to movie about creativity, I’m going to suggest watching a recent documentary that I’ve been recommending lately: “Sky Ladder.” It tells the story of artist Cai Guo-Qiang, who makes art using gunpowder explosions and fireworks, and his quest to create a fireworks ladder 500 meters up into the sky. The story ties together his art, his family, his history growing up with an artist father in China during the Cultural Revolution when art became controlled by the government, and so much more. His creative works are awe-inspiring, and the movie is emotional and breathtaking. Everyone I’ve watched it with has been visibly moved by its beauty and power.

(Here’s the trailer for Sky Ladder:

You are one of the best-read people I know. Name a writer every writer must read.

Well, I’m not big on telling creative people what they “must” do. I tend to balk when people give me absolute directives.  I remember reading a writing book by a famous novelist years ago who said that every writer must spend a couple of years learning Latin and Anglo-Saxon, and if they’re not willing to do that, they’re not willing to be a writer. That’s ridiculous! (I’m pretty sure I threw that book across the room after reading that passage.)

But if you’re looking for books that have helped me as a writer, I’ll go with Ann Lamott’s Bird by Bird. It’s got lots of fantastic advice for writers that focuses on taking the pressure off yourself and getting the work done. If you’ve already read it, it’s worth a reread once a year or so. I also find it useful to read poetry because it helps me stay in touch with the beauty and rhythm of words at their most essential, even if I’m writing prose at the moment.

San Francisco – best city on the planet? 

Ha! Well, I’ve loved every place I’ve lived, but I moved to San Francisco right after college, and I’m still here. I was with my brother and a few other people some years ago when my brother asked everyone, “If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live?” Beach towns and tropical locations were being mentioned, but as I thought about it, I suddenly realized: “I’m living there!”

San Francisco has all the big-city cultural advantages – great bookstores, theater, film, museums, amazing and diverse restaurants, etc. – but also, I can walk three blocks from my home and be in a Redwood forest in Golden Gate Park. And the beach is just three miles away. Not to mention all the interesting writers, artists, and other people I know here. I think I’ll stay for a while longer!