Dear Creativity,

I was recently selected as an Ignite Charlotte 11 speaker.

May 11, 2021, you and I will be dancing onstage together to deliver a talk called “Be a Rebel: Love Your Body from Your Crow’s-Feet to Your Pinky Toes.”

Thrilling, yes!

But I’ve entered the phase of your cycle where I think my talk sucks, and I’m about to tiptoe into “I suck” territory.

By now, I’ve written enough to have moved through your cycle multiple times. I also coach writers on how fickle their feelings are when they are working on something important with you. I have seen hundreds of authors move through these very same phases.

And while the experience does help me know that I won’t wallow in the despair forever, it doesn’t make it less difficult. I thought if I wrote to you about what I go through every time I sign your dance card, it might help me move through your cycle with a little more flow.

The Creative Process

The creative-process phases, as I see them (based on the work of many other creative souls who’ve documented their own phases):

  • Everything is wonderful. I am wonderful.
  • Hmmm, this is harder than I expected.
  • Wow, this sucks.
  • I suck.
  • It’s still bad, but I think I can work with it.
  • This is wrapping up nicely. I might even be proud of it.
  • Hot damn, I’m finished. It just might be wonderful. Even if it’s not, it’s enough. I am enough.

April 1, 2021: Everything is wonderful. I am wonderful.

I’m in! I was selected to be on the Ignite stage May 11. They are giving me a mic, and I am going to say the important things about loving our bodies.

There’s no April Fool’s joke here. This is legit.

I can’t tell anyone but my family yet, but holy moly, I am so stinking excited. I am going to light up that stage with all my sage wisdom about self-love. Word-maven extraordinaire right here. Of course they chose me. I am dynamite. And my talk is going to be the best Ignite talk that has ever been given on any Ignite stage ever in the world.

I know I’ve only got five minutes, but that’s all I’m gonna need to convince the audience to offer their bodies more love. Five minutes means less to memorize. Five minutes means I can get right to the point.

This is an amazing opportunity to open up my public speaking career.

I am awesome!

April 10, 2021: Hmmm, this is harder than I expected.

I wrote the entire talk in my head while lying in bed the other night. I even visualized myself on stage, hitting just the right tone, making people laugh, moving them to think about their relationships with their bodies. So how come what I’ve written feels so flat?

I need to liven it up. I’ll throw some notes in the comments and let them marinate.

Oh, dang—what are the three points I’m supposed to cover? What did I say again? Oh, here they are. Looks like I missed the mark a bit.

Okay, no big deal. This is just a draft. Let me revise.

Images! What images am I going to use for the slide show? Don’t worry, just throw possibilities in a folder and revisit once you’ve finalized the talk.

April 20, 2021: Wow, this sucks.

I haven’t worked on my talk in a few days. I gave it to Terry, my husband and my alpha (first) reader, because I need somebody else’s eyeballs on it.

Nothing is working. It’s still flat. I know it needs more personality, more personal connection, but everything I try to add still reads more like a lecture than an engaging talk. I can’t see what to cut. It’s all important, and also, I know it doesn’t all need to be there.

I feel stuck on the images, too, because I feel like I can’t really work with them until I have the words finalized. And I’ve got to get them finalized because I’ve got to start memorizing them.

Terry came back with his initial feedback last night. My talk sucks. He didn’t say that. He was kind and encouraging, but he’s also truthful, which is why I ask him for feedback. And what I’m hearing is that the talk sucks.

I don’t know how to fix it.

Still April 20, 2021: I suck.

Well, hello. Didn’t take long at all to arrive here. I knew I was close to the line, but this feels like a harsh arrival. Did you push me? You pushed me, didn’t you?

I can’t believe that I applied to give a five-minute talk on a stage. With slides that autoadvance every fifteen seconds. Why did I do that? I don’t know what I’m doing. Why did I think I could handle this?

And oh my god, I’ve told so many people already.

My talk sucks. I have no idea how to fix it. How am I supposed to deliver a sucky talk? Cause that’s exactly what’s about to happen. I’m going to get on that stage with a sucky talk that I’m embarrassed to give, and I’m going to probably forget half of it because it’s so bad my brain refuses to hold onto the steaming dung heap. Then I will be forever known as the woman who literally ignited on the Ignite stage because her talk was so bad. I hope they have fire extinguishers.

I could quit. That would feel like a relief. And also shame. I am not wired to break a commitment I’ve made. Quitting would be a mercy for the audience. Oh god, the audience. What if my talk is so bad they ended up hating on their bodies more? What if my talk inspires them to ramp up their nastygram narrator? Why wouldn’t it? Mine is running wild right now.

I feel like a hypocrite. With a sucky talk.

I have done this to myself with my grandiose notions of being a public speaker.

I suck.

April 23, 2021: It’s still bad, but I think I can work with it.

Okay, I don’t suck. I know I don’t. It just felt that way for a short bit. Thank you for staying with me through the hard part.

Because you were still weaving your inventive magic behind the scenes while I was melting down, I figured out that the structure of the talk was off. I’ve added clear through lines and transitions, so the audience will be able to follow along.

There’s a lot more revision work ahead. I’m going to have to make the talk more personal. Part of what was missing was my own story, or at least a peek at it. So now I’m adding color and telling microstories. Making connections across gender identities and different body types, finding the common threads while honoring our different experiences.

I’ve got lots more image ideas now too. I’m still stuck around this, but now that the talk is moving forward again, I know I can make progress on the slides.

I recorded myself reading what I’ve got. The timing is solid, which is a huge relief. I can work with this.

May 2, 2021: This is wrapping up nicely. I might even be proud of it.

High five, me! And you, dear creativity! We are doing this thang!

The talk is complete. And it feels good. Sounds like me.

I’m so grateful for the feedback that helped me refine it. After a family car trip where they patiently listened to me deliver the talk, Terry and the girls gave me stellar advice. Then a longtime edibuddy (talking about you, Shannon!) went above and beyond to give me helpful editorial feedback and some brilliant suggestions for images to use.

One of the things I enjoyed most about receiving their feedback was listening to myself and deciding yes, that’s a really good suggestion or mmm, no, that doesn’t work. I love that I can trust myself to make the best decisions for me and for my work.

I was still stuck around my opening. The joke I’d conjured early on, while funny, didn’t quite fit my vibe or match my message. Terry was an excellent sounding board and helped me figure out where the dissonance was so I could decide how to tweak things.

The slide show is close to complete too. I’m ready to source some feedback on that, but I think any changes will be minor.

Thank goodness, I have a coaching session with Ignite 11’s speaker coach, Sonja Stetzler. I’m in great headspace now to really listen to her expert guidance.

Time to rehearse. And rehearse. And rehearse.

May 10, 2021: Hot damn, I’m finished. It just might be wonderful. Even if it’s not, it’s enough. I am enough.

Nicole stands in front of an Ignite Charlotte sign. She is smiling and holding a microphone.

I just got home from the Ignite Charlotte walk-through rehearsal, and I am so excited. Well, nervicited (nervous AND excited a la My Little Pony).

Bridget B. Sullivan, the founder and event producer of Ignite Charlotte, has such a calm presence, and she’d set everything up so that I could rehearse with confidence. She nodded in encouragement as I spoke and gave wonderful advice. I’ll be in good hands tomorrow night.

Even though, during the rehearsal, nerves made my voice shaky at times, and allergies made my throat scratchy, a shaky, scratchy voice will always win out over a silent voice.

I know my talk inside and out. There’s a solid chance everyone in my family could give this talk now that they’ve all heard it so many times. I’ve even taught a workshop in the space where I’ll be speaking, so I’ve confidently spoken in that space before. And best of all, I know that someone listening needs to hear this message about loving their body.

When I had the coaching session with Sonja Stetzler, that was one of my two takeaways. She reminded me that I wasn’t speaking for myself. I’m speaking to be of service to the audience. This was a concept that I knew but had lost hold of as I’d spiraled through the harder parts of the creative process.

Shining a light on the path of body acceptance and love so others can begin their own journeys has always been my why. This talk is just a new way to spread the message to more people.

So I’m surrendering my nerves to Divi.

I’m using my second takeaway from Sonja’s coaching session, which is to use my breath to calm my nerves, something else I knew but still need reminders for when my energy is so high.

And I’m going to be so kind and compassionate to myself for the next 30+ hours because I have done my best, and it will be enough. It may even be wonderful.