Welcome, Word Wonderers!
So much of creativity is the ability to make space for yourself. It’s too easy to talk yourself out of an exciting project before you even begin because someone else has already accomplished it. The ability to push that mind trap aside and allow space for your creativity to bloom is why I was immediately interested in this picture book debut by another Alabama author, Shae Owens Holley. Welcome to the Wonder of Words, Shae! What inspired you to write Rue the sparrow’s story, IT’S ALREADY BEEN DONE BEFORE?
Shae: I wrote “It’s Already Been Done Before” around 9 years ago as an unfinished rhyming story with no defined main character at the time. I was inspired by my own personal struggle with self-comparison as a creative entrepreneur, a photographer in the middle of juggling a business and a toddler. The world of social media was taking a toll on my time and mental health. I quickly realized I was literally talking myself out of doing projects I wanted to do because I was watching others do it better – so I told myself, why bother? It’s already been done before! As we allow doubt and feelings of overwhelm change and rule our mind, creativity, effort and work suffer and cease. In most industries, especially those of a creative essence, whether it’s photography or writing or artwork, we are constantly bombarded with self-inflicted comparison. It shuts down our creative license because we already have allowed it. Those thoughts became the inspiration for this story, which was really just a framework at the time. It was only in recent years when I made the characters animals instead of humans and the setting in a forest. I wanted the characters to be relatable to all people and ages so I opted out of the human element.
Candice: The quote you included at the beginning of your book is perfect: “Comparison is the thief of joy”–Theodore Roosevelt. It’s so true. What is your favorite part of the creative process?
Shae: Actually putting the book together and seeing the layout with both text and illustrations was my favorite part! I love design, so being able to contribute and tweak things along the way was really exciting to me. My book (and maybe most children’s books) would not be what it is without the artwork bringing life to the words and giving them a relatable face. I definitely learned the importance of editing – even with a one-page poem – and realized why this process takes time. This can obviously take years. A book isn’t a blog and cannot be changed or corrected in real time.
I would also add that the beginning is also my favorite part of any creative process – that moment when you actually start and form the idea. I think getting to that point is one of the hardest, but once you begin, the world is your oyster.
Candice: I agree on the importance of artwork in picture books! Do you have other creative outlets or hobbies? Do they cross into your writing?
Shae: I was a professional photographer for twelve years which influenced WHY I wrote this story – but photography definitely inspired the illustrations and to whom I choose to outsource the artwork. I also love to be outdoors and hike so I’m sure the fact that my characters are woodland creatures was influenced by my love for being amongst trees.
Candice: I loved the artwork! (Probably because I too love to be outdoors amongst the trees.) So vibrant and fun. Do you have any tips you’d like to share about finding creativity?
Shae: I think not boxing yourself into one avenue is key to unlocking creativity. We can become so consumed with defining ourselves by what we do, that we become ‘that one thing’, but we are so much more complex. Sometimes constraints and limitations make you more creative because you have to utilize what is available. Also, realizing creativity can be found in all things, from cooking, parenting, to even rearranging a junk drawer. We just have to embrace life experiences and even times of quiet or waiting for the next thing, and see the routine from another angle. I’m not sure if any of that is an actual tip, but my advice is to look for the beauty in routine and make something from it. Pay attention to the details of your life, your house, expressions, the way light changes the same object throughout the day, the little things. I also get inspired by music – listening to songs that speak to me actually helps me write or paint at times and can help spark creativity.
Candice: I’m still searching for my creativity in rearranging junk drawers, lol–and I love that you included mundane tasks in creative ventures. Do you have another book project you’re working on that you could give us a hint about?
Shae: Sure! “It’s Already Been Done Before” is my first published children’s book. I’ve written parts of two or three other books but this has been my only children’s book and was the most complete which is why my publisher pushed this one first, besides its message. My next project is a bit ongoing as it’s inspired by my daughter who is eleven. It will be a compilation of memories and poems but written for a larger audience. One of those coffee table books that’s already been done before, you know? 😉 But that is what makes it unique – that it is personal, it is written from my experience and thoughts, and despite being a theme that has truly been done, this version has not.
Candice: That’s absolutely right! It’s the parts of ourselves that we pour into books that makes them stand out–even if they’ve been done before. Thank you for being here, Shae. Congrats on your debut children’s book and finding creativity even in mind traps!
Shae Holley is an entrepreneur, environmental engineer, blogger, photographer, recipe-destroyer, and tea addict. She loves sharing the message that we have all been given unique gifts and God-given talents. Although they may be similar to others, we cannot compare ourselves or cease effort simply because it’s already been done before. You may find her at shaeholley.com.
Illustrated by Maryam Fiaz.