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Jeff: Anyone who creates from an authentic place, from a deep place of truth, I believe feels and knows that there is some kind of healing, some kind of resolution, let’s say, in what they’re doing, so this could be a catharsis, you know, someone who writes a novel, fictionalized novel, about a traumatic experience that they had and they kind of get it out through their story.
Introduction: Welcome to the Become a Writer Today Podcast with Bryan Collins. Here, you’ll find practical advice and interviews for all kinds of writers.
Bryan: My guest today is Jeff Leisawitz. He’s a life coach for creatives and he’s also the author of the book, Not F*ing Around. Welcome to the show, Jeff.
Jeff: Hey, thank you. Thanks for having me here. This is awesome.
Bryan: So, like me, you’ve written a book for creatives about the creative process, but before we get into the key ideas inside of your book, could you give listeners an idea of your background and how you came to be a life coach for creatives?
Jeff: Sure, absolutely. So, I have been a creative and a writer really my whole life. When I was just a little kid, I sort of considered myself a weird, friendless kid and I don’t know if any of your audience may feel that way but, you know, it kind of sparks your imagination.
When I was just probably 8 or 10 years old, I was going to summer camp out in the mountains of Pennsylvania and, in the evenings, they would have some free time where, you know, people could do whatever they wanted. There was an empty cabin that one summer, say ’77, ’78, and a counselor brought his drum kit and a big stereo and a bunch of — a box of records, right? And every night after dinner, he played this music and I as a little kid would sit there under this tree, the sun was going down, the fireflies were coming out, and I would listen to this guy play the music and, one night, he came out and he’s like, “Hey, kid, come here. Do you wanna check this out? You wanna come inside?” I was like, yeah, so I go inside this empty cabin with the guy with his drum kit and he puts on The Who, “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” like an awesome rock song and he starts banging away and my heart is blown out. I’m like music is a thing.
So, I started writing songs, lyrics, poems, all this kind of stuff and, you know, throughout my career, done plenty of music, plenty of writing, as I was telling you before, Bryan. I’ve got a degree in creative writing with perspectives from philosophy, religion, and psychology, which sounds kind of crazy and my parents nearly fell off, you know, chair or whatever when I told them that, but I’ve always been into creativity and empowering people, okay?
So, I studied and practiced something called NLP, it stands for Neuro-Linguistic Repatterning, and that is a psychological method that helps people untangle their subconscious blocks to help them live better lives, more fulfilling lives, because much of what stops us in this life is actually sort of psychological programming that comes to us in childhood, right?
So, we kind of worked through that type of stuff. I did that for a long time and then I was like, you know what, I really want to coach creatives. I want to teach creatives both how to expand their sense of what they’re doing, find focus, and create various systems and ways to move forward and I kind of got there because, throughout my career with music, music more so but also filmmaking and writing and other things, I realized that at its best, creativity and writing is more than just a thing to do. It’s more than just money or going for the top of the charts or that kind of thing.
At its best, writing is a way for us to be seen, expressed, healed, and connected. So what am I talking about, right? To be seen. Out there in the world, it’s really easy to not be seen. At the highest level, you know, when you’re walking down the city street, you know, when there’s not a pandemic or driving your car down the freeway or online, you’re basically unseen, you’re basically anonymous. When you get a little closer, you’ve got your acquaintances, maybe your co-workers, people like that and, you know, they see you, sort of, they kind of know who you are but they don’t really know you, they don’t really see you, and oftentimes they don’t really care.
And then you’ve got your close people, okay? These are your good friends, your family, your lovers, your kids, whatever you got, and hopefully they see you and they understand you and they get you, but they don’t, in my experience, really fully see you. So that’s the being seen part.
Jeff: The second part is expressed. So, what is expressed? In my definition, it simply means moving from the potential to the actual. So, think of a dancer who knows all the moves, right? It’s Saturday night but she’s sitting in the corner while the disco ball’s going and the music thumping. In that moment, she is not expressed as a dancer. When she gets out there and she starts shaking it, then, yeah. Same thing is true with the writer. You’re not expressed as a writer unless you’re actually writing.
Bryan: So it sounds like you’re describing flow state.
Jeff: Yeah, absolutely. It’s being expressed, it’s doing your thing, right? So, the next part, the healing. What does that mean? Well, anyone who creates from an authentic place, from a deep place of truth, I believe feels and knows that there is some kind of healing, some kind of resolution, let’s say, in what they’re doing so this could be a catharsis, you know, someone who writes a novel, fictionalized novel, about a traumatic experience that they had and they kind of get it out through their story.
So that’s, you know, sort of taking a negative perhaps and turning it into that healing or that resolution. But it could also be something positive, right? So, you think of maybe a love song or a love story, what is the healing or resolution in that? I would say it’s letting go of perhaps all the loneliness and despair that might have come before that, okay?
Bryan: For the writer or for the listener?
Jeff: Well, both. As the writer, you know, you are the creator of the story and the healing is part of you and I’ve got a whole other philosophy on your question and I’ll get to that but I want to do the through line here. So, seeing, expressed, and healed through our creativity. When we create and we are seen, expressed, and healed, we give that gift of our creativity to the world. And when I say “the world,” I’m not talking necessarily about the New York Times bestseller list, although that’s great if that happens. I’m also talking about the readers that read it, however many that is, that those are.
So, seeing, expressed, and healed, you give the gift of your creativity to the world. Here’s where it gets even cooler, because when you give that gift of creativity to the world, you become the gift because you show others that they can become seen, expressed, and healed through their creativity, right? So what this does is it connects us and this takes me right back to your point, Bryan, you know, or your question, which was who’s being healed, the creator or the audience or the reader, right?
Well, it is both because, as a reader, what we’re really doing is experiencing the reality, fictionalized or not, of someone else, right? And we are connecting. We are connecting emotionally, mentally, psychically, spiritually, if you want to go into those places, to understand that we all have similarities in our lives, right? We’re all different but these themes connect us. We’ve all felt lonely, right? We’ve all felt the fear. We’ve all had failure, right? And a good story, you know, has your protagonist overcoming these obstacles.
Bryan: What about the idea that while a creative makes his book or album or their piece of art, it’s separate from the individual so you don’t own it once you release it into the world?
Jeff: Well, you do and you don’t. I mean, when you create something, it is always yours, right? You’ve created it as you, it is your creation. And once you put it out there, people are going to interpret it in a million different ways, which means it isn’t yours anymore. You know, you give your story to the mind of the reader.
Bryan: Yeah. Yeah, that’s what I was getting at. Somebody can interpret his music differently to the way the songwriter meant, like you often hear people using popular songs at weddings and then when the songwriter is asked about it, they’re like, “Well, this was about a divorce,” or, “This was about death.”
Jeff: Exactly. One of the classic ones on that is The Police, “Every Breath You Take,” you know? Hugely popular song. It’s played at weddings all the time. And Sting has been interviewed on that, “How do you feel about that?” He’s like, “Ah, that song is about a stalker.”
Bryan: Yeah. Yeah.
Jeff: So, you’re right. It is always yours. It means what it means to Sting and then people play it at their wedding and they love it and that’s what it is, you know?
Bryan: So you’re a life coach for creatives, Jeff. What type of issues do clients come to you with and what type of clients do you work with?
Jeff: Well, I work with all kinds. Plenty of writers, everything from novelists and people doing memoirs, screenwriters, worked with some poets here and there, things like that, as well as musicians, songwriters, those types, illustrators, artists, really all kinds of people who just need help, anywhere from kick-starting their creativity to taking it to the next level, to, you know, rekindling the fire, to getting their systems together, understanding what’s stopping them, right? Because like we said, we’ve got the psychological blocks which are often unconscious.
So, I work with clients sort of in two ways. One is what I call the outer world where that is creating specific things, action steps, practical advice that people can do. Let’s identify a good schedule for you. Let’s pick out specific goals and understand why those goals are important to you. Things like that. Make accountability. Part of being a life coach is, you know, you get this accountability, like, “Next week, you know, I’m going to talk to you, Bryan, about your writing and you know I’m gonna ask you how it went.”
Jeff: So there’s that accountability.
Bryan: Yeah, often the fear of somebody asking that question will motivate you to do something.
Jeff: Right. So, I mean, that’s another piece. There’s two drivers in all human behavior when it gets down to it and that is fear and love, okay? So, if you strip it down and you deeper, deeper, deeper, it’s fear and love. So, perhaps fear drives you to do the work, whatever the work is, and perhaps love drives you. Somewhere in the middle and on that spectrum and with that balance is what we need to move ahead. Right? So that’s also part of what I do on the internal state so, you know, like I was saying, I work on the external world and then the internal world and the internal world is identifying what drives you. Is it fear? Is it love, right? Fear isn’t necessarily bad.
Bryan: What are creatives afraid of?
Jeff: Well, creatives can be afraid of a lot of things. I mean, first of all, to write an authentically personal story or book or whatever takes a lot of vulnerability and courage, right? I mean, putting yourself out there in a real way is a big deal, right? So that’s one thing that will stop people.
From there, it’s all kinds of what we call personal beliefs or identities. So, if running in your subconscious is a concept that says, “I am good looking and charismatic and smart,” that’s a great thing to have running in your subconscious, probably, right? Because all the stimulation of the world comes into you, it kind of runs subconsciously through that filter, and then you think and you act.
However, if you have an identity that’s built on, “I’m really not that smart. I never finish things and, you know, I’m never gonna get paid for what I love,” if that’s running in your subconscious, you can be sure that even if things go well with you, you’re going to sabotage them, right? So part of what we do in the coaching is go deep into this, to find out where this may have happened, which is almost always in childhood, right?
Your mom says something to you and whether she was trying to be mean or trying to be helpful doesn’t matter. If it gets stuck in your brain and it becomes an identity, it’s there. And these things will stay with you your entire life unless you untangle them and work with them.
Bryan: Is this where you’re using the NLP techniques to help people overcome their blocks?
Jeff: Yep, absolutely. Various NLP techniques include using language patterns, guided meditations, different kinds of affirmations. There’s light hypnosis, all kinds of stuff like this. And it really is powerful. I mean, it’s almost shockingly powerful to make these changes because really what’s happened, I mean, if you’re a 40-year-old guy and, essentially, you’ve been thinking subconsciously, you’ve been running these subconscious patterns in one way, whatever way that is, and then we start to tweak that, right? Like, “Hey, there are other ways to process information and to move forward in the world,” this is going to be shocking to your whole system because you kind of won’t — you won’t believe it because your whole life is based on the other belief, right? But as we move it towards the more positive outcomes, things will start to change in your life.
Bryan: So I’ve experimented with some of those techniques you’ve described, Jeff. I’m curious, like people listening might not necessarily be motivated to go out and hire a life coach for writing a book until they’ve seen how some of these techniques can work, like you mentioned meditation. So, what technique would you recommend people use at home if they’re afraid of something in their work? If you could give one technique, what would it be?
Jeff: So this is so simple. It’s simple but it’s not easy, if you haven’t done it before, and that is simply meditating, right? If you can quiet your mind, if you can sit there and create a practice where you quiet your mind, whether it’s, you know, through breathing or counting or looking at the candle or, you know, however it works for you and really get quiet, the fear that’s around you is going to become conscious, right? What’s stopping you is going to rise up and you can even like literally ask your subconscious, “What is stopping me? What is keeping me from success?”
Questions like that, whatever is going — and when you get to a quiet place where literally your brain, your consciousness kind of turns down — or let me say when your mind turns down, when your intellect turns down, that is when your consciousness can expand and will expand automatically and that is when new information will appear in your mind.
Bryan: So I was talking with somebody trying to meditate on their own recently and they said that it wasn’t for them. They couldn’t sit still long enough. How can somebody get started?
Jeff: So, first of all, that’s a subconscious belief, right? “I can’t do it,” right? It’s become conscious, “I can’t do it,” he’s telling it to you, but the truth is, if that is your belief, that is an extra reason to do it, right? Because when you get to that point, it will affect you profoundly. So how do you do it? You start small and you don’t judge yourself for how it’s going. So you create the time, “For 10 minutes every morning, I’m going to sit here with my eyes closed, breathe, and count to 10,” and the first day it’s going to be a disaster and maybe even the first month, it’s like, “This isn’t even doing anything for me,” but at some point, you’re going to notice like, “Wow, I feel different. Energy is flowing through me in a different way. I’m experiencing the world in a different way.”
Bryan: And are they doing this before writing or painting or composing?
Jeff: Well, that would be a great idea too. I mean, you could do it any time but, sure. I mean, I do that. Take some time to, you know, breathe, center yourself, and get into that space where you’re receptive to the creativity. If you’re trying to summon all the creativity from your brain, you’re not getting all of it. If you listen to interviews or read interviews with rock stars, writers, other poets, painters, all these creatives, in the really good interviews, they will always say some version of the same thing, which is essentially what you’re talking about with the flow state, and that is, “I get to this point where I don’t even feel like I’m doing it.”
Bryan: Yeah, it’s important to get into that state, I think, if you’re doing any difficult writing and maybe not to get interrupted as well. It’s interesting that you mentioned rock stars because I was going to ask you, it seems like a lot of famous artists, you know, have troubled backgrounds, problems with drugs and drinking, and they’re writing about their personal demons and that’s why their music is so great or their books are so great. Do you think that’s true for creatives, that they need to have some sort of personal demon that they need to figure out to create something that people enjoy?
Jeff: No, I do not think you need a demon. However, what I do believe is that you have some strong, what I call a strong emotional resonance with a subject, okay? So, in the case of a demon, you know, whatever that demon is, that is a strong emotional resonance. So, let’s say for a rock star, they struggled with addiction, okay? And then they write songs about addiction, okay? That’s healing, like I was talking about before, through being seen, expressed, and healed and connected. However, the strong emotional resonance can also be something positive.
So let’s say you’ve got a kid, a little kid who’s having trouble reading and, in third grade, they finally get this teacher who really helps them learn to read, get it together, this kindness that really helps them so this kid grows up and they decide they have a strong emotional resonance with reading and helping others to read so they become a teacher of reading for little kids. And, in this case, you could write the story about that. You could write your book about that. So you need a strong emotional resonance with some subject but it doesn’t have to be negative. It can be positive. “Hey, I have this amazing love story. Yeah, I wanna write about that.”
Bryan: Yeah, I get where you’re coming from. So those are some of the ideas that are in your book as well. Did it take you long to write the book?
Jeff: It didn’t take that long. First of all, the book isn’t that long and I sort of live and breathe this stuff so it was really kind of like getting into that flow state. Again, it was that positive emotional resonance for me and I just kind of sat there and wrote it and rewrote it until it was done.
Bryan: It has an unusual design, your book. There’s a lot of illustrations and pull-out quotes and so on. Did you purposely set out to do that or was that something that you decided to do after the first draft?
Jeff: Good question. I did not decide to do that until I started designing the book.
Jeff: What I realized about the book after I wrote it was that it was short, it was a simple and easy and quick read, and it was chewy, meaning it had a lot of big ideas that were written about in simple ways. So, I wanted the design of the book to feel accessible and fun and easy and that’s what I do with my coaching and my teaching and stuff too. It’s big ideas but we can have fun with them. So, it’s not a big, heavy trip, it’s like, “Let’s have fun,” so that’s where the book came from and I’ve always loved like magazines and you see those big pull-out quotes. I’m like, yeah, that’s right, you can just read those quotes and you get a lot just from that and then you read the magazine or the article and, you know, you get more out of it so that was that. And then the illustrations, yeah, I just wanted it to be fun. I looked all over the freaking world to get the right illustrator for that. Those aren’t my illustrations.
Bryan: Did you come up with the concept and asked them to turn it into an illustration or was it some other way?
Jeff: Yeah, it was, you know, I sort of art directed. I’m like, “Here’s, I don’t know, 20 images that I need for this thing, go do a sketch of them please and then, you know, I’ll tell you what I like, what I don’t,” and they revised it, you know, sort of like an editor on a book or something and, from there, you know, we got it and we put them in.
Bryan: So one of the chapters that stood out to me was the chapter about “Say Yes, and” and you have a template that readers can use. Could you elaborate on that?
Jeff: Sure. So, the world gives us many opportunities and if we approach the world with fear, we often don’t even see the opportunities, and, two, don’t take the opportunities when they are available. So I kind of learned this concept from — I took a class in improv comedy and one of the tenets in improv comedy is “say yes, and” so what does this mean? It means that if you and I, Bryan, are doing an improv comedy sketch, I start and I say something crazy. I say whatever I say. “Hey, the aliens just came down and they’re eating all the green spaghetti.”
Bryan: Yes, and…
Jeff: Exactly, yes, and, so your deal is you must agree with what I’m talking about so that’s the “yes” and the “and” is how can I add value to this story?
Bryan: So I’m filling in the blank.
Jeff: So you’re filling in the blank. So, you know, I’m like, “Hey, aliens just came down and they’re eating all the green spaghetti.”
Bryan: Yes, and now they’re coming to your house.
Jeff: That’s right. They ate all my spaghetti so they’re coming to your house. Get ready, man. So that’s how it works in improv comedy. How it works in life is spot or identify the opportunity, that’s the “yes,” and then how can you add value? You know, if somebody says, “Hey, I’m doing this, I’m having a party next week with a bunch of my writer friends. You want to come?” “Yes.” “Okay, great.” And maybe, “Hey, how about if I come up with some writing games that we could all play at the party?” Right? So that’s the “and,” like I’m bringing that value to the party.
Bryan: Yeah, so you’re kind of — rather than putting barriers or blockers in the way, you’re trying to figure out something that’s a solution or a different idea or a different approach. It’s almost like abundance.
Jeff: Abundance, yeah. The expansion into that, like this guy’s just having a party for writers. Obviously, he’s into writers and parties, I guess. He didn’t even ask for any ideas but the “yes” is the party, you as the person bringing it is what can I do to add value? Well, I could create writing games. “Hey, I could think of famous writers and what cocktails they like and, you know, we could make up those cocktails and talk about them, you know? We could, you know, I could facilitate a, you know, maybe a book club type thing.” There’s a million ideas of things that you could do with writers at a party but the real piece here is the “yes, and.” What value can you bring? So that’s true in life. It’s true, you know, with your authors. You know, if you’re an author, how can I bring more value to my readers besides the book? And that’s kind of what social media is. It’s what you’re doing with this podcast. This is the “and,” you’re bringing all this value.
Bryan: Speaking of more value with the book, what’s working for you right now for selling the book?
Jeff: Well, this is interesting. I started doing guided meditations with electronic beats so I do, you know, music, like I said, on this app called Insight Timer.
Jeff: Insight Timer — I don’t know if you’re familiar with this —
Bryan: No, no, I’m not familiar with it.
Jeff: So, you can download this app for free and there’s a ton of these guided meditations of all kinds, for all kinds of reasons, help you with your anxiety or find mindfulness or, you know, all these things. Mine are centered around creativity.
Jeff: So, you can record these and you can do them live, which I’ve started doing them live so I’m broadcasting through a system like this, through an internet system, and I’ve got, you know, 7,500 people listening to these guided meditations. I’m actually doing one, I think, tomorrow or the next day about writing stories that matter.
Bryan: Oh, wow. Okay. It’s certainly an original book promotion strategy.
Jeff: Yes, it is.
Jeff: So, you know, that’s —
Bryan: Most people are running Facebook ads but, yeah, I must check that out. That’s quite clever.
Jeff: It’s pretty cool, yeah. You can find me on there, just look up my name and —
Bryan: And how long are your meditations?
Jeff: Those meditations are about half an hour.
Bryan: And are they based on principles from the book or something else?
Jeff: Yeah, I would say so. They are based on principles from the book and other stuff and it’s experiential, like the way this is supposed to work is you come on to this app, you put on your headphones, you sit there, and I talk to you for half an hour and guide you into a space that opens up your heart and your energy system so that you can access your creativity and move forward and get past these blocks. So, hopefully, at the end of the experience, you’re like, “Okay, I got something, let’s go, let’s write.”
Bryan: Are they all live or are some of them pre-recorded?
Jeff: Some are pre-recorded and some are live, but if you follow me on there, it’ll tell you, yeah, it’ll tell you when the live ones are.
Bryan: Okay. Yeah, that’s an original strategy. I’ll check that out. So, Jeff, if people want to find your book, apart from the guided meditation that we talked about, where should they go or where can they read your work?
Jeff: Well, you can certainly go to Amazon, which will be happy to print you one or send an e-book. You can also come to my website where I’m happy to do 15-minute complimentary Zoom coaching sessions with writers or anyone to see how I can help you move forward, you know, with your creativity, with your writing, with your business, you know? We’ll come up with something. As weird and cool and effective as guided meditations for book promotion, there’s a million ideas and the internet creates so many opportunities that most people simply don’t see.
Bryan: So that’s jeffleisawitz.com?
Jeff: Dot com, you got it.
Bryan: Great. Great. I’ll put it in the show notes as well for our listeners to check out, but it was really nice to talk to you, Jeff. Thanks for sharing your original insights into creativity.
Jeff: Fantastic. Thanks so much for having me here. It was great.
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