Ten Questions

Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit presents a series of questions to help creatives dig into their life story.

I invite you to post your answers to these ten questions. Link back here so I can follow along and read your stories. Here is mine.

1.  What is the first creative moment you remember?  Singing Linda Ronstadt in front of our television set at four years old. I stood there in my red fiesta dress with Linda’s image behind me, singing songs I barely understood. I wanted my small body to be filled up with all that sound that came barreling out of her. More than anything, I wished for a voice that powerful.

2.  What is the best idea you’ve ever had? What made it great in your mind? Trade glamour and perfection for independence and reality. It was hard to confront my life head-on without any illusions, but I had to give up this “perfect face” I was presenting to the world and start figuring out what I wanted. I hit a wall on the path I was on and could keep banging my head against it or find another way, even if that was terrifying.

3.  What is the dumbest idea? That I needed to please everyone and fit in with my surroundings.

4.  What is your creative ambition? To write down truths that make people feel connected and help them change for the good.

5.  What are the vital steps to achieving this ambition? I must keep creating content, stick to what I know, and keep putting it out there.

6.  Describe your first successful creative act. Barbara Moreno (my fifth grade teacher) believed everyday was a good day for creative writing. When I showed her my poem about a penguin she said, “You’re a writer.” It was a descriptive poem of a slippery bird in a desolation of tundra. I was enraptured in my vision, intent on summoning the perfect words to describe the ice, the muted sky, the quality of air. I had traveled to a place that was all my own, even if it was all in my head.

7.  Describe your second successful act. How does it compare to the first? An essay regarding “The United States’ Approach on Infectious Disease in Developing Nations.” I won a national prize and they flew me to NYC to participate in the Model UN. My first successful act was very insular. This was nearly the opposite. I wrote draft after draft, incorporating ideas that strengthened my position, and scrapping what didn’t. I always had the reader in mind. I was looking out at the world and attempting to affect it.

8.  Which artists do you admire most and why? What do you have in common? Hemingway, Steinbeck, Lorrie Moore, Sam Shepard, Anne Enright. I like clear, no-frills writing. It is courageous to tell it like it really is. To not hide behind flowery and frivolous language because your eyes aren’t open and you have nothing to say. These writers understand how to get out of their own way so their stories shine. Like them, I try to write from a place of truth. Capturing the reality and at the same time recognizing there is something greater, the possibilities of what is not visible.

9.  What is your greatest fear? Mediocrity.

10.  What is your idea of mastery? Breaking through pure skill. Transforming/transcending the boundaries of your chosen medium. To make the work alive and timeless, powerful enough to move people on its own.

Note:  This is an excerpt and some of the questions have been combined for brevity. Find the complete list here.


  1. Hey Maryn,

    Here are my responses as promised. This was a tough exercise that really got me to think.
    What is the first creative moment you remember?
    It may have been in Kindergarten, I brought home art made out of a paper bag and my aunts and uncle responded so positively. At the time, I was the only child in a house full of 7 adults in their mid twenties or so.

    What is the best idea you’ve ever had?
    I can’t say, because I am still working on it and I believe in allowing things to the time to be what they are meant to be.
    What made it great in your mind? How effortless it was when it came to me.

    What is the dumbest idea?
    Comparing myself to others. I recently learned from a wise person that comparisons are meaningless and also because no one is exempt from life’s vicissitudes! I also realized that my experience is unique to myself.

    What is your creative ambition?
    To learn the totality of the truth of who I am because only then, can I be useful to the world.

    What are the vital steps in achieving this ambition?
    First I must find my center and then create work whose main objective is creative expression and joy!

    Describe your first successful creative act?
    I actually wrote a novel when I was 15 but then lost the manuscript during a move.

    Describe your second successful creative act.
    There are many but the one that comes to mind at the moment is when I began a summer teen publication in my high school that was distributed in local libraries.
    How does it compare to the first? It is a sign that I am meant to write and create editorials.

    Which artists do you admire most and why? Hmm, I’d have to say Erykah Badu What do you have in common? Being creative on various fronts but in my own way.

    What is your greatest fear? That I will not have an opportunity to execute my creative ideas
    What is your idea of mastery? The ability to work in a detached manner

    1. Hi Neema – Your responses are so beautiful! I especially love this one:

      “To learn the totality of the truth of who I am because only then, can I be useful to the world.”

      I can already see that you are returning to your writer self and can’t wait to follow along and see what you create.


  2. Hi Maryn,

    What an inspirational post. I love how you’re not afraid to open up to your readers.

    #3 – This is me, most definitely! I am always trying to please others. Somehow I feel like everyone should be my friend and if they’re not, I’m doing something wrong. Where the hell do we get ideas like that?!!

    #8 – I don’t like writers who write with a lot of words either. It just distracts too much from the story and it’s unnecessary.

    #9 – Typical for us millennials / gen-y kids 😉

    #10 – I love what you wrote here. We sometimes forget that there’s more to life than making money and going up the social ladder.

    I’ll be back with a link to my post soon!

    1. Yay, can’t wait to read your responses! It means so much to me that you relate to the things I put down here. This blog and the connections I’ve made have really given me strength to continue down this “road less traveled.” So glad we connected in this bloggity blog world 🙂

      1. Read it and loved it. I’m going to link the responses on my blog later this month/early next. I’m just waiting on a few more…thank you so much for your encouragement. I feel the same about yours. You really have the best of both worlds – gorgeous photos and heartfelt content. Cheers to being real in this glossy/bloggy world!

  3. “To make the work alive and timeless, powerful enough to move people on its own.” Love this! It’s a beautiful thing to aspire to, and I wholeheartedly believe that we are merely vessels of what we’ve learned, and we create in order to provide meaning to both ourselves and others.

    Thanks for providing this prompt! Here are mine: http://www.liafetterhoff.com/ten-questions/

    1. Thank you for sharing your story Lia! It is an inspirational one and I loved seeing the creative stepping stones that led you to the work you’re doing today.

  4. Hi Maryn, Several of your answers caught my attention; I too have been wowed by Linda’s voice and wished I could sing out that boldly and strongly. I love your definition of mastery and I appreciate your view on simple writing. I hope to live up to your high ideals. 🙂

    1. Linda is the boss. I’m jealous that my dad saw her perform back in his twenties. I asked what he thought of the performance and he said, “She wasn’t wearing any shoes.”

      Thank you as always for your nice comments. Perhaps you would like to take a stab at these questions too? I’m learning so much from reading others’ responses and would love to hear yours if you are game!

  5. Maryn-

    #7 “I wrote draft after draft, incorporating ideas that strengthened my position, and scrapping what didn’t. I always had the reader in mind. I was looking out at the world and attempting to affect it.”

    It took me a long time to understand what audience was. And even now, sometimes I have run ins with Uncertainty.

    #8 “These writers understand how to get out of their own way so their stories shine. Like them, I try to write from a place of truth. Capturing the reality and at the same time recognizing there is something greater, the possibilities of what is not visible.” I’d love to talk more about that place of truth with you. I sense you have more opinions about that matter, and am curious to know what they are.

    I took you up on your invitation to answer the same questions. I struggled with remembering key events, but managed to conjure up a few memories that were fun to reminisce. This was a fun exercise to do. I may need a nap after this though.


    1. Your responses were lovely, thank you! I too feel uncertainty – pretty much everyday. I’m beginning to think it’s just a part of the creative process. Maybe once we accept that we are living/working/thinking/feeling from an uncertain state, we can begin to create something out of it that is a bit more – solid. I am really enjoying our dialogue and look forward to exploring more with you!

      P.S. If I can get a few more people to share their responses, I’ll post them all up on my blog so others can see! This is turning out to be such a fun exercise.

  6. Your answer to #10 was inspiring. I loved the thought behind all the responses, but in that last one, when I read the words about making your work alive and powerful enough to move people, I thought, ‘yes!’. Great questions here, but even more enjoyable are the thought provoking responses. Plus, the story about Linda Ronstadt made me laugh.

    1. Lisa, I so appreciate your comment! I haven’t done one of these in ages and felt vulnerable about posting it. It makes me feel better to know that you got something out it. I hope to hear from you and others…Getting insight into the workings of artistic people is such a treat.

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