Motivation Monday: Wear Your Art on Your Sleeve


Happy Monday, readers, writers, and shark fans! We hope you had a wonderful weekend!

We’ve all heard the idiom about someone “wearing their heart on their sleeve,” and for this Motivation Monday, I wanted to talk about the importance of being vulnerable, at least while in the process of creating our art. I was going to talk about how it’s important to let all of our emotions, opinions, and questionable ideas fall onto the page, so that every little piece of creativity is there for us to peruse, knowing that we can later cut away the fluff, the stuff that isn’t working as well, and what we simply aren’t ready or willing to share with the world that lives beyond us and that piece of paper.

I still agree with that—every last bit of it—but now I want to talk about it through the lens of a surprise poem I wrote this weekend.

Only Writing When You’re Inspired

Growing up, I was one of those kids who liked to push ideas beyond their face value. One example I still come back to now is when I came face-to-face with my relationship with inspiration. I was taking a creative writing class in high school, and a friend from that class was complaining about the homework (to write a short poem; I think the only parameters were how many lines the poem had to be) and how he couldn’t think of anything to write about. “I can only write when I’m inspired,” he said, somewhat haughtily.

I sensed that he was placing his understanding of Inspiration on a pedestal and that only writing that came from The Grandest Time of Being Inspired was worthy of Being Read or Being Written. So I asked him, “How often do you get inspired, would you say?” He laughed and said, “Oh, I don’t know…” There was a long pause. “Once a week? Maybe twice? Sometimes once a month? Most of the time, I really don’t feel like writing.”

Nodding, I thought to myself, “Inspiration shouldn’t be such a difficult thing to find… or to be.” I offered to him, “Maybe you should try finding inspiration somewhere else. Look at something commonplace. Maybe you’re making this too hard on yourself.”

He didn’t accept that advice, but I certainly did. Later that week, I was watching a tree through a window and how its branches rotated on a windy day. I paid attention to how it moved, thinking of how I might describe it in a poem, when I fixated on its leaves. Its leaves were translucent green, yellow when the sun passed through them, and when they twirled in the wind, they flickered like spun coins on a table. That turned into a poem about being cheated out of hope, about overthinking coming at too high of a price, and it all hinged on a simile about leaves that looked like spinning coins.

Welcome Inspiration From Anywhere

While I wish that conversation had been more productive for my friend, I took something vital from it that I still carry with me: Some people might say that they can only write when they get inspired, and if I’m going to agree with that, then I need to welcome inspiration from everywhere, so I can write at any time.

That happened to me this past weekend while I was reading submissions for Issue 6 of Lit Shark Magazine: The SHARK DOG Edition (you can submit here if you haven’t yet!) and June’s Poem of the Month Contest (there’s still time to submit to that, too!). It makes sense that a person would be inspired to write poetry while reading poetry, of course, but the way that it came about was still surprising for me. I was reading a poetry submission, and one of the lines was, “death is a door,” and I stopped like my whole body had been slammed against a wall. I waited a moment, I thought of a title of a collection of poetry I’d love to write and what the primary topics for the poems in that collection would be, I Googled to make sure a poetry collection didn’t already exist with that name (it does not), and then I proceeded to write a poem, entitled, “Death Is a Door.”

The interesting thing about that poem is that it did not come in the style in which I usually write. It was lyrical and imagistic, like my usual work, with twinges of narrative sewn in, but it also functioned like a word association game, jumping from image to image, simile to simile. It talked about death, beauty, and hope, with images of ships, animals feeding, and dusk. For a first draft, it’s a lovely poem, and what it made me feel was wild and intense.

What if I had closed myself off from being inspired by other people’s work? If I had closed myself off from being inspired by animals, water, and insect life? What if I didn’t bother to run that Google search? Where would that poem be? What about that concept for an entire poetry collection? They’d be out the proverbial door of Short Term Memory, scrambled down into recycled bits, other pieces that are transforming into Long Term Memory looking on.


Wear Your Art on Your Sleeve

I say all of this, because I think that we often shut ourselves down to being inspired by our emotions and the life events we are going through. Maybe they feel too sentimental, too “done before,” too cliché. Maybe they feel too hard; I’m certainly going through some things lately that are hard to face. Maybe they feel too personal to even put on a page; what if somebody sees them?

But that’s what makes it so important to let ourselves do it. When we feel like our idea has been done before, it’s important to let ourselves do it anyway, to feel connected with other people through these common human experiences, the wild human condition, and then potentially surprise ourselves by taking the piece somewhere we never thought it could go. When it’s hard or it’s private, it’s important to get it out to help us process it ourselves, to experience that catharsis, and to get really honest with ourselves in a way that we might not be if we just lock all of that stuff up in our heads. It’s important to come face-to-face with all of these feelings, play with them creatively, and then be content, amused, surprised, impressed, or even shocked at what’s tumbled out on the page. By letting our emotions out, we can create some of our best art, and some of our most important art, at least for us personally.

Whether you’re feeling inspired or not, you’re always feeling something that you could work with, whether it be boredom or love or sorrow or excitement. But if you don’t feel inspiration come in very often, ask yourself how high of a pedestal you’ve placed Inspiration on. Do you get inspired by a worm washed onto the sidewalk after a storm, or a tumbling trash bag? Or do you only find yourself getting inspired by sophisticated art sources? I’m not knocking the opera, ballet, or plays—I adore them—but there’s so much more to life, especially when you allow its smallest moments to wake something up inside of you, something that wants to be expressed. But you have to be willing to express yourself, too.

Get it all down on the page. Wear your heart—your art—on your sleeve.


Happy Monday, readers, writers, and shark fans.

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McKenzie Lynn Tozan (she/her/hers) lives and writes in Europe with her family (originally from the Midwest). In addition to being the Editor-in-Chief of Lit Shark Magazine and the Banned Book Review, she is a novelist, poet, and book reviewer. She received her MFA in Poetry from Western Michigan University and her BA in English/BS in Education from Indiana University South Bend, where she began her work in publishing. Her poems have appeared in Rogue Agent, Whale Road Review, Young Ravens Review, The Birds We Piled Loosely, and Encore Magazine, among others; and her book reviews and essays have appeared in The Rumpus, Green Mountains Review, Memoir Mixtapes, The Life Collective, Her Journal, Motherly, and more. When not writing, she enjoys reading, appreciating nature, and spending time with her husband and three children.




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