Creative Identity

Today, I’m welcoming James Navé to my blog. James , who runs The Writing Salon in Taos, New Mexico, and I share the belief that writing, while a solitary practice, creates a global community. “Whenever a writer lifts a pen, ” James says, “to invent or reinvent, to speak truth or tell a story, to collaborate, to dream, to make it messy then clean it up, to communicate–the world is a better place.”

Recently, James wrote a newsletter on Creative Identity. I thought you’d like to see it, too.

* * * “How do you find your creative identity? We ask all kinds of questions, but could it be that you actually find your creative identity by just showing up and doing the work? When we engage the work, often with great joy, that engagement inspires different perspectives. Then, as artists, we translate what we perceive into some kind of form. . . for example, music.”

“I bring this up because my father was an Appalachian fiddler who also played guitar, mandolin, accordion, and piano. As a boy growing up in Western North Carolina during the sixties, I learned how to play guitar while sitting in a circle with other great musicians like Tommy Bell, who bowed Listen to the Mocking Bird so beautifully that his fiddle became the bird’s song.images.jpeg

Never in all that time do I recall anyone ever wondering about creative identities. Whatever they did for a living–tobacco farmers, nurses, lawyers, mechanics, truck drivers, plumbers–if you asked any one of them what they did, the response would always be, “I play music.” Even now I still get a thrill when I hear old songs like Sweet Georgia Brown, Bill Bailey . . . and Alabama Jubilee. Years later, even though I’ve happily wandered far afield to become a poet, a writer, and a traveler, I still identify myself as a musician. And when I return to Western North Carolina, which I often do, the music is joyfully alive and well, perhaps now more than ever.

If you’d like to see what I mean, and happen to be driving I-40 through Asheville on any Thursday evening and you have a little time to spare, take the Brevard Road exit and drive south about a mile past the farmers’ market until you see the cars lining both sides of the road and musician walking up the driveway beside the large oak trees that surround a small frame house. You’ll hear music rising from backyard doors of the garage. Everyone calls it Mrs. Hyatt’s Opera House.

For the past fifty years Mrs. Hyatt–along with her husband, Wayne, until his death in 1984–has hosted a traditional music jam every week. When her health allows, Mrs. Hyatt, now 89, welcomes everyone. . . .playing the old tunes as if for the first time, their joy of making music unbroken like the circle in the song.

Because they’re doing the work of playing, music has become the artistic essence of who they are, what they’re about, what they make. In short, it has become their creative identity, which grows with every tune they play. Happily, this idea applies all of us, regardless of our art form or level of mastery. When we do the work, the work rewards us with a creative identity. To anyone who asks, we can tell, with great joy and confidence, who we are as artists. ”

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–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. See her work at