What Are You Creating? Thoughts on Banksy, NaNoWriMo and Doing What You Love

in Do What You Love, Joan's Posts


Note: This is a post from Joan Concilio, Man Vs. Debt community manager. Read more about Joan.

I don’t believe in coincidence or luck, but I do believe that sometimes things come together in a way that can only be considered amazing.

Call it God… call it the stars aligning… call it fate… whatever you believe the cause might be, I’ve been feeling the collision of forces in my life in recent weeks with one message:


All through October, I followed along as urban artist Banksy turned New York into a daily “installation,” leaving a new piece of graffiti, sculpture or other urban art somewhere in the city. You can see all of his NYC works here – and the photo atop today’s post is a Banksy creation in Liverpool, England, from several years ago. 

The key to great art is all in the compositio… n? I loved that as soon as I saw it.

Banksy’s “art” is not for everyone. Some people pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for an authentic work from the pseudonymous artist; some view it as a public nuisance at best, a crime at worst. I’m a huge fan of reclaimed art, graffiti and generally making the world a canvas, so I guess you can tell which view I take… 😉

But as I watched the photos and story of Banksy’s “Better Out Than In” month in New York evolve online, from a cinderblox Sphinx to a tribute to musicals (er, sort of) to a traveling meat truck full of adorable things no one would slaughter, I felt called to look differently at the world around me. 

To see the art in the day-to-day sights of buildings and signs near my home.

To look for the beauty in the commonplace.

Especially, I’m trying to create beauty where it’s hard to find.


The day after Banksy’s month of stealth art concluded, my social-media streams filled with friends taking part in November’s NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month – in which the goal is to get 50,000 words hammered out in a month through daily commitment to sitting down and making it a priority to write.

And it’s not just an “aspiring” novelist kind of thing… every year, bunches of books from NaNo get published and sold. Some of my friends, already published writers, are working on their third or fourth or eighth or 10th novel. One’s almost 6,000 words in already – in three days!

I signed up, too. Not because I (necessarily) want to write a novel – I’m pretty well entrenched in nonfiction, and across my various writing jobs have a sad commitment to more than 50,000 words a month already – but because I want to be surrounded by people who love to write. Hanging out on the NaNoWriMo message boards, even if I never get past typing “Chapter 1,” is making me remember how much I love doing what I do.

Whether we’re writing fiction, crafting blog posts or writing ebooks, we’re all there because we love putting words together in just the right way.

Reading about the things others are working on, maybe providing some advice or just a friendly “keep at it,” is another way in which a creative project causes me to see things differently. In the past few days, I’ve taken more time with my words.

I’ve worked to say what I really mean in conversations.

I’m taking more time in my writing to focus on meaningful phrases, not just “the first thing I think of.”

I’m trying to make sure my words matter.

I’m striving to make the things I say (or write) have lasting value.


Finally, I got a message today about something that I’ve dreamed about for quite a while.

In recent months, I’ve been creating art with an amazing mentor who’s become a friend as well.

It’s a new style for me – one that’s abstract, and messy, and hard to control.

One that has taken a huge leap of faith to get even a little bit comfortable with.

And when my mentor/friend emailed me today to talk about being part of a creative mastermind group starting in a few weeks, I was floored.

A chance to create – and to be part of a shared mission to create space for OTHERS to create?

I’m no genius, but I get it when the universe is trying to remind me of something.


In my world, creation is a lot about words and art. That’s awesome – and it’s just right for me.

You might create in other ways.

Maybe you help people create connections with each other.

Maybe you create comfort by being a good listener.

Maybe you teach or mentor – and in so doing, help people create themselves.

There are any number of ways to create.

Part of doing what you love is finding your own way to create awesome things, and doing it DAILY. 

My challenge to you today is to Commit to Create.

What are you creating?

We’d love to hear your vision in the comments!

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

Rob November 4, 2013 at 9:33 AM

Great post Joan, and just the right timing for me. I’ve been focussing so much on beating away at the debt and have put several creative projects I’ve been planning on hold. Time to get some momentum going with a regular daily commitment. I’m in!


Kostas November 4, 2013 at 3:26 PM

I’m in the same boat, Rob, I’ve put off creative projects because I didn’t want to expend unnecessary funds. Perhaps that was just an excuse I was using to suppress my creativity as there are creative things I can do that cost nothing.


Joan Otto November 5, 2013 at 9:28 PM

SO TRUE, Rob and Kostas. I definitely want to remember to focus both my time and, when I have it, the right amount of discretionary money on creation, but even when I don’t have the second, I want to prioritize the first! So glad to hear you are both “in!”


Apryll November 4, 2013 at 9:53 AM

LOVE this! Thank you for the challenge. It is definitely time for me to begin creating more.


Joan Otto November 5, 2013 at 9:27 PM

Apryll, you’re very welcome! Keep us posted :)


Annie Sorensen November 4, 2013 at 10:15 AM

I needed this, Joan, thank you! Like any busy mommy and wife, I tend to get some “real” work done and reason away why it was “enough.” You know what I mean? And I know that the fastest road to burnout is to set unrealistic expectations for yourself, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t moments – periods of days or weeks – where I could push myself further. I’m currently working on my first children’s book. It’s already written, I’m just navigating the illustration and self-publishing process. I am making steady progress, but I could be moving things along so much faster. Also, I have several outlines for additional books related to this first one (a series! look at me go!) that I’ve been telling myself have to wait. Why does their creation have to wait? Why am I ever ignoring *any* moments of inspiration? If I had a flash of I’ve-gotta-create I could flesh out one of those into a book in a couple hours. Yet I’ve been putting them off for months. So I guess this is my long-winded way of saying that I accept your challenge to Commit to Create and will flesh out two of those book outlines in the next week. No excuses. Thanks for this post, Joan! And from a NaNoWriMo 2012 winner, you can totally do it! It’s a wacky experience. :)


Joan Otto November 5, 2013 at 9:27 PM

Annie, OH… you nailed it. “Real” work over all else, right? That is so much my problem. I’m super-excited to hear about your children’s book – and I can’t wait to hear about your next outlines! You better keep me updated!! :)


Scott November 4, 2013 at 11:14 AM

Joan, Thank you for asking and talking about the importance of creating. In the name of creating, I started a company with the goal of helping families stay better connected when one parent has to travel far away.

My Dad Reads to Me is a simple and intuitive way to send kids stories read with your voice to your loved ones.

I spent 12 years in the US military. Before long deployments I would create a DVD recording of myself reading a book for my young son to watch while I was away. I’m trying to streamline this process using mobile and cloud technology, some creativity and some ingenuity.

Video demo link: http://bit.ly/1829s7r

ON November 10th I am launching a Kickstarter campaign to let other people be involved in the creation of this application and to get early access to creating kids stories with their voice.

I will add, that is has been an exciting and invigorating process, starting and building the project and company. Executing the idea (creating) is much more satisfying than just thinking about it.


Martha November 4, 2013 at 6:53 PM

Oh Scott, I love that!! When I was growing up (think early 60’s) my Father worked dawn to dusk, and we hardly ever saw him. My Mother worked too, and my Grandmother was the one waiting for us at the end of the school day. But anyway, my father put together tapes – we had a reel-to-reel Wollensak gigantic heavy machine, and I still remember the tapes of him reading Bambi to me and my sister and singing some of our favorite songs. We’d go to sleep listening to those tapes, and they were our main connection to our Dad. What a wonderful thing you are ding!!


Scott Warren November 5, 2013 at 10:27 AM

Martha, Thank you so much for your thoughts and sharing your memories. I’m hoping to help create similar memories for today’s kids. Someday they will share memories of how their Dad, Mom, or Grandparents, used to read stories to them on and Ipad, and their kids will have to ask “what is an Ipad?”.

You have made me re-think my comment, above. I said that I am trying to create connection, when really I may be helping to create memories. I like that.

Thank you


Joan Otto November 5, 2013 at 9:26 PM

I loved hearing your story, Scott, as well as your memories, Martha! What a beautiful idea. I had the reverse – when my dad served overseas in Desert Storm in the early 1990s, our school sent him a cassette tape of us singing patriotic songs that he listened to all the time. My dad passed away only a few years later but we kept that tape. I keep thinking I need to have the audio preserved for exactly the reason you’re describing – to create and preserve the memories!


Scott Warren November 6, 2013 at 12:10 PM

Thank you Joan, Further down the road, I’d like to be able to offer an archived copy of the book/voice, for just the reason you describe.
I’m sure your Dad LOVED the music you sent him and shared it with many people.

Scott Warren November 13, 2013 at 1:01 AM

The project is now live on Kickstarter. Please stop by and ceck it out!


Dawn Gaylor November 4, 2013 at 12:15 PM

Hi Joan,

You are right on. Life is so short! I feel like the American way is to rush, rush, rush, and I am guilty-as-charged. I’m trying to be more aware of the here-and-now, stopping to truly listen to my children, taking time to laugh, slowing things down just a bit, and making room for creative moments. My daughter sacrificed greatly last Christmas and purchased a Canon DSLR camera for me. AS I opened the box, I cried. We are in our forties, and my husband and I have recently taken up the hobby of photography. We enjoy taking pictures together and have “friendly” competition with our photography. We were so busy working, trying to pay the bills, and being stressed over the daily stuff. It’s been nice seeing the beauty through the lens of a camera and recording memories. Thank you for your article. I liked your “other ways to create” as well. We all have different interests, different strengths.


Joan Otto November 5, 2013 at 9:24 PM

Dawn, that’s a wonderful way to create – and I love that you and your husband are sharing that new interest together! How beautiful. I’m a pretty die-hard scrapbooker, so to me, creating and capturing memories is a huge win. :)


Lamisha November 4, 2013 at 12:42 PM

I am creating a business. A sustainable, creative, love-my-work-and-my-clients life coaching business. I am also writing and creating outside of that business. I have thought about writing a children’s book around my life coaching philosophy so maybe that will come together sooner rather than later. I love it when the creative juices get flowing again…and being around other creatives certainly adds fuel to the fire!


Joan Otto November 5, 2013 at 9:23 PM

Lamisha, that’s a beautiful idea – and you are so right that surrounding yourself with creativity only serves to spark more!


Debt BLAG November 4, 2013 at 1:26 PM

Perhaps. I grew up in a part of the country where there was a lot of graffiti on the streets, and appreciated much of it because it gave voice to communities who felt like they were being trampled upon. It was also an outlet for skills that were clearly being wasted in a place with limited opportunities… There was something beautiful and tragic about it.

Objectively, many of Banksy’s pieces are of very high quality and thought provoking. I just don’t know enough about the struggles he’s faced to appreciate it on the same level as the graffiti I saw growing up or that I still see in disadvantaged parts of New York.


Joan Otto November 5, 2013 at 9:22 PM

I agree – beautiful and sad at the same time, much graffiti is. I’ve loved graffiti art for a long time; most of my family is from the Philadelphia area, so I grew up seeing a lot of it and it was definitely an eye-opening experience for a kid!


Maribeth November 4, 2013 at 4:08 PM

I am creating my autobiography. My story is unique, as is everyone’s. There is no one on this earth exactly like me!


Joan Otto November 5, 2013 at 9:21 PM

Maribeth, WELL SAID! :)


Martha November 4, 2013 at 6:58 PM

I have wanted to start writing a blog for the longest time…. but I always put it off because of other more pressing things that I need to do. I love to write, but I always put it behind other things that need doing!

Perhaps this doesn’t seem like much, but I have created a side business where I host dogs in my home. I now have so many customers who tell me that they can finally go on vacation or go out of town for whatever reason they need to… and they no longer have to be anxious about how their furry family members are doing. They know that their pups are getting loving care from me, and they can relax.


Joan Otto November 5, 2013 at 9:21 PM

Martha, that is a WONDERFUL thing to have created! I know with my cats and dog, IF I ever went anywhere in which there was no one left at my house (hahaha – there are lots of us, that doesn’t happen!) I would value such care immensely! We hated leaving our dog kenneled the only time we had to do that; he’s a “home dog” and needs to be with people.

I think that’s excellent. And I sure do hope you start blogging! :)


Scott Warren November 6, 2013 at 12:04 PM

Wonderful, taking animals into your home. I have a small dog, and its always an issue when we travel. I’d love to be able to let him stay at a dog friendly home.


Ann Beardsley November 4, 2013 at 8:41 PM

My last year’s Nanowrimo novel got published in July this year. I’m holding off this year because I’ve got a gazillion other committments (creating memory quilts for friends who have spouses who died), but the desire to create is simply ever-present (omnipresent?). I think it’s all related to the desire to “pass on” something of ourselves, whether it be children, quilts, books, art, music…anything that we create and that brings to us a sense, a hope, of immortality. (Disclaimer: wine was involved with tonight’s dinner….)


Joan Otto November 5, 2013 at 9:20 PM

Ann, WHOA! Congrats on your published novel – and I love that idea of the memory quilts as well, what a gift!

Wine or no wine, I think your ideas about passing things on are exactly true and beautiful. :)


Tom Owens November 4, 2013 at 10:03 PM

Great post, Joan. Me, too!

In October, I vowed that I’d be a poet. Not a secret poetry writer, but someone who stood up and said, “Here. I made this!” The result is the Kindle e-book, 101 PO’ed Poems: Frustrations in Free Verse.
I’m selling the collection at just 99 cents, less than a penny a poem. Poetry on the value-priced menu? So much for the beret and black turtleneck. It’s time to have fun. Instead of waiting for an editor or agent to pick me, I chose myself.


Joan Otto November 5, 2013 at 9:17 PM

Tom, that’s awesome! And I love your frame of mind – “I chose myself.” A good choice you made, if I do say so. :)

Congrats on getting your work out there and not letting anything stop you!


Neil November 6, 2013 at 5:35 AM

Inspiring post Joan….sometimes we get so tied up in our commitments everyday that we forget to do the very thing you are suggesting and create! For the last couple of years I have been writing my own script for life at the neverendinglist. This is allowing me to do the something different and more importantly create a different path. Since starting this adventure it has been a real catalyst for creativity along the way and thankfully one I am able to share with family and friends. Yes I still have commitments, but looking at my options creatively has allowed me to open up new opportunities that I would otherwise have missed. Creativity through art, photography, music, words etc should never be underestimated and is an integral part of evolution allowing us to see the world differently and hopefully change it for the better.

The best way to predict the future is to go an create it! Time to that advice and make today a productive one. Thanks


Joan Otto December 4, 2013 at 12:17 PM

Neil, I’m late saying so, but thanks for the kind words – and congrats on pursuing your own dreams that way! You are so right about opportunities that you would otherwise miss; at least, that’s my experience!


Mich November 6, 2013 at 5:04 PM

Banksy’s graffiti is great. It reminds me of the Wynwood project they did a few years back in Miami. Check out the Wynwood art district if you’re ever in South Florida.


Joan Otto December 4, 2013 at 12:14 PM

Mich, I’ve heard of that, from some family members in the area, but never seen it in person! I will definitely check it out if we go visit!


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