Awaken Your Creative Side: Interview with Melissa Dinwiddie and Book Giveaway

UPDATE: The winners for this giveaway are Alba and Nette Jordan.

Like most of us, I spent much of my childhood creating, making everything from finger paintings and friendship bracelets to leaf collages and Lego castles.

I also spent weeks rehearsing for community theater performances and hours writing poems and stories, with no thought of whether I could make money off any of it.

I created because it was fun and fulfilling, and that alone was enough.

Then, like many of us, I got caught up adulting and began spending far more time working and worrying than imagining and playing.

I wanted to make things with my hands and my heart, as I formerly did, but I feared nothing I made would be good enough, that nothing would come of it, and that I would essentially be wasting my time.

Since I’ve been reconnecting with my creative side over these past couple of years, I was thrilled when Tiny Buddha contributor Melissa Dinwiddie introduced me to her new book, The Creative Sandbox Way: Your Path to a Full Color Life.

Part creativity coach, part journal, and part coloring book, The Creative Sandbox Way will help you overcome your internal blocks so you can reclaim the joy of creative expression.

Through the book, you’ll learn:

  • Melissa’s ten foolproof guideposts that have helped thousands get joyfully creating
  • Five reasons why creative play is good for you, and for the world
  • How to turn creative blocks into friends

A self-proclaimed happiness catalyst and creativity instigator, Melissa believes that we are all creative, and we can all boost our happiness by living a full-color life.

Whether you’re just discovering your creative side or nudging it awake after many years dormant, The Creative Sandbox Way may be just what you need to ditch your fear and return to joy.

The Giveaway

To enter to win one of two free copies of The Creative Sandbox Way:

  • Leave a comment below. You don’t have to share anything specific; “count me in” is enough. But if you feel inclined, share your favorite creative activity.
  • For an extra entry, share this interview on one of your social media pages and include the link in a second comment.

You can enter until midnight PST on Sunday, January 29th.

The Interview

1. Tell us a little about yourself and what inspired you to create this book.

My goal in life is to get people creating, and my ultimate mission is to change the entire conversation around creative expression and play.

We tend to think of creative play as something frivolous and self-indulgent, but not only is creative play not self-indulgent, it’s essential to humans. It’s how you change your life for the better, and, in fact, it’s how you change the world!

The reason I’m such an evangelist for creative play is because for too many years I was convinced that I was not creative. And that belief caused so much needless suffering.

Because the truth is, all humans are creative.

Saying “I’m not creative” is like saying “I don’t know how to be hungry.”

But creativity gets cut off for so many us, and that unexpressed creativity does untold damage. It turns inward, as ennui, sadness, depression, and it manifests as external behaviors like overspending, overeating, addiction, and meanness.

Nothing good or productive comes from unexpressed creativity.

On the other hand, what I’ve experienced in my own life, and in the lives of my readers, students, and clients, is that small daily acts of creative play start a positive cascade in our lives.

I wrote The Creative Sandbox Way as a love letter to my younger self. It is the book that I wish I’d had at age 43, 36, 27, 19, 13, back when my tender creative spirit was getting beaten down, when I could have benefited from an older, wiser mentor to guide me past the pitfalls.

2. Who is the book for, and what do you hope they get from it?

The Creative Sandbox Way is for three types of people:

  • People who believe they aren’t creative, but secretly (or not so secretly) wish they were. The Creative Sandbox Way will show you that you are!
  • Stuck creatives, who desperately want to be doing their writing, painting, music, or whatever their chosen creative expression is, but just can’t seem to get themselves to do it. The Creative Sandbox Way will get you past the stuck and into flow again.
  • Burned-out creative pros, who spend all their time creating for others, so art has become “just a job.” The Creative Sandbox Way will help you rekindle and reclaim the joy that got you into a creative profession in the first place.

I’ve been all three people, so I know the problems of all three intimately.

3. Can you talk a little about how perfectionism can hinder our creativity?

Perfectionism is a curse. Nothing good comes from it, because it leads to paralysis.

Creativity requires action. Movement.

In my pre-Creative Sandbox days, I would see a call for entries for an art show, and part of me would want desperately to create a piece to enter, but the Perfectionist Gremlin would take over and convince me that nothing I could create would ever be good enough.

So guess what I did?


That is perfectionist paralysis.

For too many years I labored under the belief that if I let go of my perfectionism, it would mean letting go of striving for excellence, too.

What I’ve learned along the Creative Sandbox Way is that you can still pursue excellence, still aim for continual improvement, while allowing yourself to create what you’re capable of creating right now—which may very well be crap! We get to allow ourselves to be human in our pursuit of excellence, rather than beating ourselves up for our failure to be superhuman.

It’s a fine distinction, and one that took me well into my forties to come to terms with. I only wish I’d gotten here sooner!

One thing that made a huge difference for me was to remember that, although nobody wants to make crap, we need the crap to fertilize the good stuff.

Also, just because you allow yourself to create crap doesn’t mean you will, but it does mean you’ll create!

4. On page 46 you wrote, “In art the only real rule is ‘Whatever works is right.’” Can you elaborate a little on that?

In every art form, you can find people espousing rules that, if you follow them with precision, will lead to a known outcome. Early on we learn from our teachers and our friends that horses aren’t blue, and which end of the paintbrush is the right one to hold, and what part of the guitar to touch, and how to get the proper sound out of it.

I don’t have a problem with knowing any of these rules, but the question I want people to ask—and it’s a question that too often gets overlooked—is, what’s the outcome you want to achieve?

Once you know where you’re trying to go, whatever route you choose to get there is up to you.

There may be ten or fifty or a zillion different paths to achieve the same outcome. Someone else may choose a different route, may even label your route “wrong.”

But this is art, not brain surgery! If it gets you where you want to go, and nobody was killed or maimed in the process, then that’s all that matters.

5. What is it about childhood that nurtures creativity, and why do we lose our connection to creativity as adults?

We are born zestful, curious, inherently creative creatures, with wildly active imaginations. Unfortunately, we live in a culture that gives us very mixed messages about creativity and creative expression.

Very young children are typically given a lot of freedom when it comes to creativity, but as we get older, we’re expected to rein it in. Creative expression, we learn, is “frivolous,” “self-indulgent,” and “unimportant.”

Confusingly, at the same time, the arts are treated as something special, reserved for the elite few—the “special, talented ones,” not everyone else.

And while we laud our top creators—artists, actors, filmmakers, musicians, dancers—the culture is also rife with negative myths about creatives.

Films, television shows, and books are filled with images of starving artists, mentally unstable painters, suicidal writers, flaky creatives.

These are just a few examples of a very long list of negative associations. Although they don’t actually have anything to do with reality (artists are not all starving, painters are not all mentally unstable, nor do they have to be!), the images are so “sticky” and prevalent that people believe them. If this is what it means to be creative, it’s no wonder we lose our connection to our creativity!

6. You wrote, “creativity often happens in uncertainty,” outside of our comfort zone. What did you mean by this?

Actually, true creativity always happens in uncertainty.

Jonathan Fields, author of Uncertainty, pointed this out to me. He puts it something like this: If it’s not uncertain, that means it’s been done before, and if it’s been done before, that means it’s not truly creative.

Now, this is not to say that reproducing what’s been done before can’t be valuable, but in order to push into our most fully creative realms, we are, by definition, required to step outside of our comfort zone.

My Creative Sandbox Way Guideposts are designed to help make it easier to do just that.

7. How do comparisons kill creativity, and how can we avoid this trap?

First, it’s important to acknowledge that we are creatures of comparison. Part of being human is our exquisite propensity to notice, to recognize patterns and differences. We’re not trying to change this!

Comparison itself is not the problem. The problem comes when we allow judgment to seep in and dictate what comes next.

In fourth grade, I remember getting a print from the Scholastic Book Club of a painting of a rabbit that was so realistic it was like a photograph. You could see every hair in its fur.

The adults in my life told me I was a “good artist,” but when I looked at this print, I knew I could never paint like that. I felt a deep sense of despair.

Of course, there were all sorts of assumptions going on:

I assumed that being a good artist meant painting in a photographically realistic style, and that this was the only way to be an artist.

I assumed that because I didn’t already know how to paint as skillfully as the artist who’d painted that rabbit, that there was no hope for me.

In fact, of course, there are an infinite variety of ways in which to be an artist. In fact, of course, painting in a photographically realistic style (or any style) is a skill that can be learned.

As for avoiding the Comparison Trap, I find it comes down more to learning how to spring the trap, rather than avoiding it altogether.

Personally, I step in the Comparison Trap at least six times a day. But the simple act of noticing when the Comparison Trap Gremlin has taken over allows me to then make a mindful choice about what comes next.

More on this in the next question!

8. You wrote that everything that goes well in your life boils down to two elements. Can you talk a little about those elements?

Yes! I refer to these two elements together as my Golden Formula.

Melissa’s Golden Formula: Self-awareness + self-compassion = the key to everything good.

Self-awareness means noticing what’s working and not working in your life. Noticing your likes and dislikes. Noticing your reactions to situations.

It means being a scientist and a detective in your own life, getting curious, and putting yourself under the scientist’s microscope and the detective’s magnifying glass.

Self-compassion means responding to whatever you discover with love and kindness. It means not holding superhuman expectations of perfection, but acknowledging that you are just like the other seven billion people on the planet, and that’s okay.

Self-compassion means forgiving yourself for being human.

As a dyed-in-the-wool perfectionist, it took me well into my forties to loosen perfectionism’s grip on me, but when I final started living my life according to my Golden Formula, holding self-awareness and self-compassion as the key to everything good, life became a lot kinder and gentler. I now call myself an intentional imperfectionist, and highly recommend imperfectionism as a practice.

(Hint: in practice, imperfectionism is really the same thing as self-compassion, and we get to practice imperfectionism in our practice of imperfectionism, because we are going to be imperfect at it! For a deeper dive into the benefits of and research behind self-compassion, I highly recommend Dr. Kristin Neff’s book, Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself.

9. In Part Two of the book, you talk a little about the link between creativity and our emotional state. How does creativity affect our mood?

Here’s an excerpt from The Creative Sandbox Way:

First off, when you do your art (or if you’re still uncomfortable calling it art, call it your creative thing), it nourishes you. It fills you up, feeds you, makes you happy, and gives you joy. This alone is a radical, world-changing thing! I’m not saying you’ll achieve world peace, but you are part of the world, after all, and if you change your emotional state from negative to positive, you have, therefore, changed the world.

Now it’s true that doing creative stuff may also frustrate you at times, maybe even a lot of the time, but something about it feeds you or you wouldn’t crave it, right? Think about it: If you’re unhappy, hungry, cranky, and resentful from never giving yourself what you need, you bring this negative energy to everything you do and everyone you interact with. You spread negativity, or victim energy, or plain old crankiness everywhere you go.

On the other hand, when you’re happy and your soul is fed, you bring happy, well-nourished energy to everything you do and everyone you interact with. You bring more positivity and joy everywhere you go. Instead of a little rain cloud, spreading darkness and dreariness, you’re like a little sunbeam, spreading warmth and light, and that, on its own, changes the world for the better.

This is not just fluff, either; science has proven that not only is happiness contagious, but people who live near a happy friend have a 25% higher chance of becoming happier themselves, and that increases to 34% if you simply live next door to a happy person.* Even more surprising, this “happiness effect” actually extends beyond the people we come in direct contact with. When you become happy, it reaches not just to your friends, but up to three degrees out, to friends of friends of friends.

You may have been taught that doing your creative thing is selfish, but in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Doing your art spreads ripples of joy, and this enables you to offer up your best self to the world in everything you do.

Doing your art is an act of generosity of spirit to others, not just to yourself.

Even if you impact just one other person, even if all you do is make them smile, guess what? You have changed the world for the better.

* See this Harvard Medicine article and this NPR article.

10. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Only this: small daily acts build creative confidence and joy.

Don’t wait until you have big chunks of time, or you will likely be waiting forever. Start now, start small, and start anywhere.

And thank you so much for the opportunity to share with the Tiny Buddha community!

Go get creating!

You can learn more about The Creative Sandbox Way on Amazon here.

FTC Disclosure: I receive complimentary books for reviews and interviews on tinybuddha.com, but I am not compensated for writing or obligated to write anything specific. I am an Amazon affiliate, meaning I earn a percentage of all books purchased through the links I provide on this site. 

About Lori Deschene

Lori Deschene is the founder of Tiny Buddha. She started the site after struggling with depression, bulimia, c-PTSD, and toxic shame so she could recycle her former pain into something useful and inspire others do the same. She recently created the Breaking Barriers to Self-Care eCourse to help people overcome internal blocks to meeting their needs—so they can feel their best, be their best, and live their best possible life. If you’re ready to start thriving instead of merely surviving, you can learn more and get instant access here.

See a typo or inaccuracy? Please contact us so we can fix it!