Don’t Be A Dobby, Get Yourself A Rose Book!

A while back, I wrote about becoming a positive listener and the importance of being able to hear the positive things that are being said to us in a singing lesson.

Sometimes the need of training positive listening stretches outside of the singing lesson. We might not only be unable to hear the positive things that are being said to us in a lesson, but we might also be deaf or “immune” towards other positive comments or feedback about our singing in general, or about the shows and concerts we give.

I was reminded of this today, when I worked with a fabulous singer. She has her own show and is touring with it internationally, something many singers are dreaming of doing. Not only does she have a singing career that leaves many singers jealous, she can “sing the stars off the sky” – as the Dutch saying goes (“de sterren van de hemel zingen”). In other words, she can sing challenging repertoire including “Defying Gravity” from Wicked, like many singers would only dream of singing.

I’ve been working with this singer for a while and I can recognize when her “Inner Censor” is kicking in during the singing lessons, analyzing and making opinions about her own singing as the song proceeds. She’s like many other singers I know, making comments while we are singing (either verbally: “that sounded awful”… “that was supposed to sound different”…. or non-verbally, by rolling eyes or with various cringing facial expressions).

What breaks my heart is not only that she doesn’t believe my positive comments about her singing, but also that she is like so many other singers out there who keep telling themselves they absolutely suck at everything, despite all the positive comments they receive from their audiences, teachers or peers. It’s as if there’s this whole bunch of singers who act like Dobby the House Elf from Harry Potter, who keeps punishing himself. Instead of taking in the positive comments, we like to do this to ourselves:



I’d like to share another tip for becoming a positive listener with you, because we talked about it today with the singer I worked with. It’s a simple and powerful strategy: you document and keep track of all the positive feedback and comments you receive (about your singing, or sometimes even about other things). Keep doing this at least for one month.

This is especially good for people whose ‘Inner Critic Voice’ has become way too loud. And in case you wonder if your ‘Inner Critic Voice’ has become too loud, you’ll recognize this if:

  • people tell you they loved your show
  • if you keep being booked to do the job again and again
  • if your vocal coach tells you what you’re doing is great
  • people in your audience are touched or moved to tears
  • or similar things

…but you still can come up with 1000 reasons why you are not satisfied with ANYTHING AT ALL about your singing.


photo credit: studio-d via photopin cc

photo credit: studio-d via photopin cc



Christina Kürstein-Lecocq, who was one of my teachers at Complete Vocal Institute, once called a collection of positive comments “The Rose Book”, and because I really like that name I keep calling it the same. “The Rose Book” could be a notebook or journal (or iPhone/iPad app) in which you write down ALL the positive comments and feedback you receive. Think about those positive comments, and now imagine someone giving you a bunch of roses after a performance you’ve had (see why I love the name?).

…and now, I challenge you to keep a Rose Book for the coming month! 

Here’s how it goes:

Write down every compliment you receive during the coming month. It might be a compliment about your singing. Or it might be a compliment about other things. Read your Rose Book and your compliments daily, or at least once a week. 

Don’t be a Dobby, get started today!


Mini-Breaks and Oyster Moments

This weekend I had to think about the importance of rest and ‘oyster moments’ (let me explain that one later on). Rest for body and mind (emptying your head), and rest as in sleep (so underestimated!). For me, ‘rest’ can also mean a change of scenery, going away from daily life for a while and visiting places I have never been before. That kind of rest can include the two types of rest mentioned earlier, but also another aspect: the ‘retreat’ type of rest that is very necessary for every (creative) human being.

Creative Retreats And Mini-Breaks

I like to think of ‘creative retreats’ as any activity that fills your creative well. If you just keep taking out water from the well it will dry up at some point. Filling the well means you do things that inspire you. Filling the well also means resting, pampering and spoiling yourself.

Julia Cameron writes in ‘The Artist’s Way’:

Making art begins with making hay while the sun shines. It begins with getting into the now and enjoying your day. It begins with giving yourself some small treats and breaks.

A simple change of scenery can give you lots of new ideas and inspiration. It’s not always necessary to travel far in order to fill your well. Enjoying a good cup of coffee in a nice café close to your home can be a treat, and a long walk on a nearby beach can be a mini-break. But sometimes it’s good to get away from your daily routines. Exploring new places makes time pass by slower and empties your head.

Allowing yourself treats and taking mini-breaks sounds very simple, but actually doing it can sometimes be difficult. Being my own boss, I found one of the hardest things is actually to schedule my free time and allow myself to take (mini) breaks. I have even had to learn not to feel guilty about taking time off for myself (can you believe that!?). I never felt guilty about my free time when I had a so-called ‘normal job’. Isn’t that strange. I am getting better at being a much nicer boss for myself though, because I have learned that if I don’t take breaks my (creative) work suffers.

Last weekend I went for a mini-break to Ghent in Belgium, a town that had been on my list of nearby places to visit. I stayed in Bed & Breakfast Bel Etage, a studio apartment on the first floor of a neoclassical building very close to the historical center of Ghent. The apartment has been recently redecorated with good taste and attention of the authentic details. The hostess Sofia is very friendly and will give you lots of nice tips on cafés, restaurants, and shops. The street outside of the apartment is pretty busy, but I still slept like a baby!


There are signs like these all across town in Ghent. It made me think of how important it is to pause, even if it’s just for a little moment. The sign might as well say ‘mini break’!

Oyster Moments

Belgians enjoy the good life and eating out, and there are lots of good restaurants to choose from in Ghent. I think making a reservation is smart especially during the weekend. If your favorite restaurant is fully booked, you can perhaps still manage to have a culinary experience like I did, by scoring some fresh oysters and cava from the street vendor on the Groentenmarkt (opposite of the Yves Tierentyn Mustard Shop, which is a must visit for foodies). Having delicious oysters and cava on a Saturday afternoon get you in a perfect relaxed mood!


You might ask yourself, what do oysters and cava have to do with creative retreats? For me, they have everything to do with feeling alive and relaxed. These kind of ‘oyster moments’ also give me a sense of luxury and abundance, and feel like a reward for taking myself and my creative work seriously. If you don’t like oysters, you can invent your own ‘oyster moments’. And remember, luxury doesn’t even have to cost money.

When is the last time you took a mini-break or treated yourself for something special? How do you fill your creative well? What makes you feel inspired and rested?

©2012 Katja Maria Slotte


Originally published in my blog katjamariamusic in March 2012.

Everything In-Between

Today I wanted to write about a DVD that inspires me. Everything In-Between: The Story of Ellipse. It’s the story behind the scenes of the making of Imogen Heap’s Grammy Award winning album Ellipse. Imogen Heap is one of the artists whose work inspires me a lot. If you have never heard of her before, you might want to check out her website or read her biography (written and inspired by fans via Twitter). Perhaps your taste in music is different. That’s perfectly fine. Perhaps you’re not a musician. I still want to recommend the DVD to you, because it gives wonderful insight about the creative process. It is a very personal story of one woman and her music, about the process of songwriting and album-making with all its beautiful and tricky moments. Here is a little preview:


Here are some things that I have come to think of after watching the DVD:

The need to create comes from the inside and cannot be directed by outside things like the market.

An artist creates because of an inner need. If you worry about what people would like to hear or what kind of songs make it to the charts, before actually listening to what’s inside of you, you’re on the wrong track. If a song becomes a hit, is actually not in your power. Focus on the things that are in your power and the reason why you create (because it makes you happy, fills you with enthusiasm, and so on).

An artist needs time and space to create. 

In order to tap into the creative ideas inside of us, we need to tune in to our inner voice and the space where these ideas come from. It means creating ourselves the environment and the possibilities to get inspired and to do our creative work.

But there’s more to this ‘time and space thing’. When I watched the DVD together with students of mine, I got the reaction ‘yeah but she has the money to do whatever she wants’. Remember, this kind of talk is actually just your fear talking to you. That voice wants to tell you that ‘everyone else can do it but I can’t, because….’. It’s true that not everybody’s circumstances allow them to make extended songwriting trips to faraway countries, or to own a fancy home studio. Much too often though, we focus on these kinds of ‘outside things’ first. Then, concluding that we don’t have the money / possibilities etc. etc. to buy a certain item, or to take a big block of time and dedicate it on our creative process, we end up doing nothing at all. Does that sound familiar to you?

The fearful voice wants to create the perfect circumstances first. Why? Because if you’re busy trying to create the perfect circumstances, you actually don’t have the time to really get your hands dirty on your creative project, dream or idea! Getting your hands dirty, or actually just getting started (even if it’s just a baby step) can be very scary. So it feels safer to look for reasons why other people can do it and you cannot, than to actually get started.


Photo credit: Georgie Pauwels via Photopin

Creating the (minimum amount of) time and space that allows you to create, in your daily life as it is here and now, comes first. The bigger things (like for example an extended songwriting trip to some faraway destination, or some new gear, and so on) can happen later.

If I take myself as an example, I used to think of ‘creative time’ as big amounts of time. Preferably I would have a week, or a month, time to just focus on one creative idea or project. Drop everything else and just have time for me, myself and my ideas. This constant ‘looking for a big amount of time’ became like a block for me. I have learned that instead of looking for a big amount of time, I need to block a certain amount of time every day (or week, if every day is not possible) for my creative projects.

I have also learned (and I am still learning) that I really need to guard that time. Otherwise I tend to deal out my time to everyone else, and find out that I left myself with the smallest bit (or in the worst case: no time at all).

As a freelancer, it can sometimes be tricky to ‘guard your time’, because very often there can be a fear that ‘if I now say no I will end up losing this (possible) client / contact’. But as some wise person once said, sometimes we have to say no to other people in order to say yes to ourselves. Because if we don’t say yes to ourselves, how can we expect our own dreams or creative ideas to grow at all? Find out what the minimum amount of time that you need for yourself is, and then learn to block that time in your weekly schedule. Think: “What is the 1 action I could do for my project today?”. One. That’s all it takes.


Photo credit: Hartwig HKG via Photopin

Your ‘inner artist’ needs to be fed with whatever s/he loves and finds beautiful or inspiring. (Even if some of it might seem a bit silly to the outside).

Julia Cameron refers in her book The Artist’s Way to your ‘inner artist’ as a child that we need to take care of. We need to feed that inner artist with inspiration. Watching Imogen Heap in the DVD and in her video blogs, I get reminded of how true this is. The whole renovation of her house is based on making it an inspiring working environment. Here again, remember the baby steps. You don’t have to rebuild your whole house in order to be able to create! But try to surround yourself with objects – or taking the time to visit places – that you find beautiful and inspiring. It can mean small things, like having flowers in a vase. Or a silly little object that inspires you or reminds you of something.

I bought a totally unnecessary thing last summer at the airport in Helsinki. A snowball. It’s a rubber ball filled with some crunchy material. You can shape it, and it feels and sounds like snow in your hands. This silly little thing made me think of building snowmen, and winters in Finland, and other things that make me happy and inspired. Places that I like to visit for inspiration include the beach and the bookstore. Or sitting in a café drinking a good cup of coffee and observing people (I don’t mean that in a creepy way 😉 ) I found long train rides to be inspiring too, provided that I have a window seat and can look at the places that I drive through. Anything related to traveling inspires me, really. Airports. Walking through the streets of a town I’ve never visited before. Going on a little adventure, and “getting a little bit lost” – even if it means visiting a place nearby, and not knowing in advance exactly where to eat, what to do, and so on. Going to the theater or an art exhibition. Doing something in your own town or country that usually only tourists do. These are just some of the things on my inspiration list.


Photo credit: Victor Bezrukov via Photopin


In every creative process, there comes a point when you doubt everything.

This happens to Imogen too during the making of her album. This part of the movie is actually one of my favorites, because it’s so honest. It’s good to remember that it’s part of the process and that it happens to everyone.

Every artist needs a network of people who supports them and believes in them.

You cannot do it just by yourself. Because remember those doubts will get to you at some point. Your support network should consist of people that bring out the best in you. It doesn’t have to consist of a big amount of people. It might consist of family members, but it doesn’t have to. Sometimes family members (although they love you and believe in you and support you) are not the right people to brainstorm your creative ideas or share your creative doubts and fears with. You might find support in a mentor, a coach, a colleague, or a friend. Just make sure you have a supportive team cheering for you during all the steps of the process!

What are your experiences with creating time and space for your creative projects? What works for you and what doesn’t? What kind of things are on your inspiration list? I’d love to hear from you!

©2012 Katja Maria Slotte

This blog post was originally posted in my blog katjamariamusic in January 2012