Ep 46 - James Miller, Author, A Small Fiction: Freedom via Limitation - The Magic of Discipline Inside Your Creative Practice


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Episode Summary 

In this episode of the Creative Genius Podcast, host Kate Shepherd has a captivating conversation with writer James Miller, the mastermind behind the immensely popular micro-fiction series, A Small Fiction. James shares his journey of starting the series, committing to daily writing for eight years, experiencing significant shifts, and ultimately gaining a massive readership and a publishing deal. The episode explores the profound connection between creativity and personal growth, highlighting the power of creative expression in processing emotions such as anxiety and depression. 

James offers practical prompts for generating flow states and presents a genius solution for utilizing cherished but out-of-place creative gems. 

The conversation delves into the importance of discipline and flow in a healthy creative practice, the value of human creativity, and the concept of ownership over creative works. This conversation prompted Kate to create the 21 days of Rituals for Creativity which you can access by signing up for a Creative Genius Patreon Membership

James also shares a poetic vision for society's relationship with creativity, leaving listeners inspired and motivated to tap into their own creative potential.

What we talk about

  • James Miller's journey as a writer and the genesis of A Small Fiction
  • The commitment to daily writing for nearly eight years and its transformative effects
  • Harnessing creativity as a tool for processing emotions and overcoming anxiety and depression
  • Practical prompts for accessing flow states in creative endeavours
  • Ingenious solution for utilizing beloved but misfit creative pieces
  • The relationship between discipline and flow in a healthy creative practice
  • Exploring the value of human creativity and ownership of creative works
  • James's poetic vision for society's embrace of creativity

One of the most powerful moments in this episode was when Kate and James talked about James's commitment to daily writing for nearly eight years. The transformative power of a consistent creative practice is hard to ignore. Through his journey, James experienced significant shifts, gained a substantial readership, and secured a publishing deal. The conversation emphasizes the therapeutic nature of creativity, particularly in dealing with anxiety and depression. Listeners are encouraged to tap into their own creative potential and explore the ways in which creative expression can facilitate personal development and emotional well-being.

Thank you for joining us on this marvellous conversation with James Miller.

Remember to sign up for the 21-day Creative Ritual Challenge on the Creative Genius Patreon platform to experience transformative shifts in your own creative practice. Explore the wealth of bonus episodes, journal worksheets, painting workshops, guided meditations, and more available to Creative Genius Patrons. Visit Kate Shepherd Creative.com or go to Patreon.com/CreativeGeniusPodcast to activate your membership and unlock the creative genius within you.



Kate Shepherd: Hello. Lovelies. It's wonderful to be here with you today. Thank you for making time for the creative genius podcast for yourself and for a nourishing. Exploration into what's possible for you when you. Explore the creativity , that lies at your own depths. I'm really glad you're here.

If you've ever fancied yourself a writer or are in the process of learning how to write or refining your writing chops. You're going to want to stick around for this whole episode. I felt like this conversation was a masterclass in what's actually important about creative writing.

Kate Shepherd: I'm very excited about our show today. I'm talking to James Miller. Who's the writer behind the wildly popular series. A small fiction.

He shares why and how he began writing this micro fiction series in the first place, how he committed to writing them every day for nearly eight years. The three huge shifts he experienced in the process and how the whole thing ended up gaining a massive readership and led to a publishing deal.

He offers us some practical prompts for generating flow states, things that he does, simple things that you can do every day. And he has a genius. And I mean it, when I say this genius solution for what you can do with those little gems, if you're a writer and you have. Those little gems you create you know, the ones you want to call, but you've fallen in love with, and they're beautiful, even though they just don't quite fit in the project or the piece of writing you're working on. Well, here's an amazing idea.

Of what to do with those, you are going to love. James. . I first came across James's work earlier this winter. Scrolling Instagram from my cozy perch in the window of my favorite bakery.

I was waiting for a piece of much needed Midwinter cherry pie. Sipping a dirty chai latte. And I was looking out over the speckly drizzly, February ocean. In west Vancouver. And I came across one of his stories in my feed and it stopped me. In my tracks.

And I'm going to read it to you at the end of the show. But right then and there. I reached out to James. I told him how I believe so strongly. That humanity can stop glitching. If we all begin to look inward and get quiet and listen to this important voice that's inside of us, that wants to get out.

And even though James is a very, very private person who seldom gives interviews. He responded that the vision I shared with him inspired him to step out of his comfort zone. And have this chat with me and I'm so glad he did. We talk about struggling with anxiety and depression and how creativity is such a powerful tool for helping us process a lot of that gunk inside, getting it up and out.

We talk about the amazing things that can happen when we commit to our practice for a long period of time. how to build a life that makes room for the creative expression that you love. Even if, and when it doesn't pay the bills, We talk about the relationship between discipline and flow in a healthy creative practice.

We explore the value that human creativity has. And what ownership does anyone have over what they create?

And he shares with us his absolutely poetic wish for society as a whole. When it comes to creativity. This conversation inspired me so much. You know, we had talked about rituals.

And it made me want to create something for you that you could actually bring into your daily life and experience some of the shifts and transformation that James experienced through committing to his writing practice for those eight years. I've created what I'm calling the 21 day. Creative ritual challenge. And we all know that 21 days is a really magical number when it comes to creating new habits.. And it's available to all of the creative genius patrons There's a whole other world of this podcast that exists inside of the creative genius Patrion membership. Juicy bonus episodes journal worksheets and painting workshops and guided meditations, new things every other week that support and spark your own creativity.

Everything that's already been created is in the creative genius Patrion library, and will instantly become available to you. And you activate your membership. So I hope you'll take this as the sign you've been waiting for to join the creative genius. Patron

Get a pen and paper. Make yourself a beautiful cup of tea.

But on your walking shoes and head out into your neighborhood for a walk. And enjoy this marvellous conversation. With James Miller.

Kate Shepherd: I talk to artists and writers and standup comedians and I mean basically anybody who has a deep current of creativity running through them about it's like to have this thing inside of that.

Because I think a lot of people believe they don't have it

James Miller: Mm-hmm.

. it's very easy to be creatively disconnected right now. I think, after the pandemic,

Kate Shepherd: And it's ironically, I feel like being creatively connected is like the solution to all of

James Miller: Mm-hmm

Kate Shepherd: like everything .

James Miller: right

Kate Shepherd: so before we get too far into that, I wanna, I wanna introduce you, James, to everybody. and thank you cuz I gather you're somewhat of a recluse, which makes it extra wonderful to have you here,

James Miller: Yeah I am

Kate Shepherd: you.

That made it really even more special. So thank you for coming.

James Miller: Yeah When, uh, when published, they asked for

a press kit of like author

materials and was like, no, no thanks.


anything involving the book. Sure.

I'm not the important part, you know.

Kate Shepherd: Well, you are, which The vessel for it. Right. I get what you're saying too, but, but it is a fine line to walk between when you're like, is is it the work or is it me and how do I show up with the work? And Yeah, I totally get that. But you are the writer of the book you're talking about as a small

James Miller: Yes


Kate Shepherd: I have to tell you, I love it.

James Miller: Oh you

Kate Shepherd: So much like I love it so much. let's back

James Miller: Mm-hmm

Kate Shepherd: for the listeners who don't know what it is, can you tell us a little bit about what it is and your, what else you do and you are?

James Miller: Uh, sure. so a small fiction, it's a, a lot of things. I guess it's mainly started as a, like a Twitter twit thick kind of deal, like micro fiction posted on social media. and. largely originally just as a, a, like a personal writing exercise that then unexpectedly picked up, readers, which then made it into more of I feel like a project of, of, like a two-way street when it started out more as, just something for me. and then it picked up a, a lot of readers and then like a publisher and some other stuff, and now it's a book. And the book is just a collection of these little tiny short stories, and illustrations to go along with them.

Kate Shepherd: and they really are short.

James Miller: very

Kate Shepherd: is the longest one

James Miller: Well, because the originally that started on Twitter, it was, it was 140 character limit. I think the shortest, there's, there might be one that's like a Hemingway, homage with the six, six words total. but generally they stick to a couple of sentences, maybe, a hundred characters, 140 characters. even after the, the limit got expanded, I kind of tried to stick with it for better or worse.

Kate Shepherd: It's amazing to me how much you're able to convey, I've moved by them often. I love them.

James Miller: thank you

I'd encourage anyone reading them to maybe read 10 to 15 at least, because, one of the things that I think predominantly defines it is that there's no single genre. I always tell myself it's like, well, none of them are for everybody. there's a very wide range in tones and subjects, so there's gonna be some that you just either do not get or don't think are interesting or funny, and then maybe those ones aren't for you.

Kate Shepherd: There was one, I, I'll try to remember what it is and if it comes back to me, I'll, I'll, I'll mention it. But when I, when I first started reading your work, I wanted to have you on this show to have this conversation with you about, I, the way I put it is I feel like humanity's

James Miller: Mm-hmm

Kate Shepherd: because we've become disconnected from creativity.

I say creativity, I mean got instinct and inner knowings and inspiration and intuition and that magical place where ideas for poems or stories or songs or paintings or architecture, you know, new ideas, that it's that place in us where that magic comes from. as an artist myself, after many years, in the public with people interacting with them and hearing over and over again this wish, oh, I wish I could be creative.

I wish I could,

James Miller: Mm-hmm

Kate Shepherd: I could paint. I wish I could draw. I wish I could. There was just this wish I thought about it for a really long time, like years. I thought about what is this about? And it finally hit me that It's that wish inside of people that it is, that is creativity trying to get out.

It's saying, I actually am in, you we're wishing for it because that, I'm trying to, I'm trying to get your

James Miller: right

Kate Shepherd: and then I went kind of further and I thought about, well why, why have we disconnected from that? And if you look at sort of humanity over the last hundreds, maybe even thousands of years, you

We've just gone through a lot, like we've . It's, been a difficult path, the human race, and we've done some pretty nasty things and

James Miller: Yeah

Kate Shepherd: we've,

James Miller: Yeah

Kate Shepherd: some things to survive and a lot of that is about putting creativity on the

James Miller: Mm-hmm

Kate Shepherd: And so we've kind of these ideas around creativity around who, you know, who's for and what it is, and whether it's actually even safe to dig in and find it and express it.

They're really prevalent in our society. And I, I, I had this moment where I was like, I knew with my whole heart that if we. Could begin to reactivate and trust this intelligence that's inside of us. And not just for writing poems and paintings and but you know, to really lead our

James Miller: right

Kate Shepherd: that so many of the dysfunctions that we experience in our society and in our current culture would just spontaneously begin to resolve and heal.

And I, I just had this intuition that you and I could have a really great conversation about that cuz you seem like somebody who's really tapped into your own creativity. Would you say that's true?

James Miller: Uh, yes, I would say that's true. it's definitely, I think, a means of processing what's happening around you. I'm sure if you have lots of, of standup comedians and, writers and stuff on your podcast, that a lot of it comes from processing, uh, trauma a lot of creative people are people who need means to process internal things externally. everyone could use that. that outlet, I think, and the people who end up strongly creative, uh, were people who figured out that there was a lot that they had to sort through early on, maybe.

Kate Shepherd: Has that been true for

James Miller: Oh

Um, and culturally, we haven't been valuing that cuz you know, what we spend time on is we're told is valuable and what, what is valuable isn't creativity. It's productivity and it's kind of a different value set what you do for money is who you are. And unless like what you produce or what you create, it's not the best, I think, way to meet yourself.

Kate Shepherd: Right? And when you try to apply those kind of productivity principles or the way to pr. Reduce and generate efficiently in that system of mind and busyness. And you try to apply those, and we do, I think as creatives, we often do try to straddle both of those worlds. Like I'm gonna be productive with my.

James Miller: yeah. It's very like, oh, what's my output? And then also the, I feel like the refrain from, from anyone creative is how do I commodify this?

You know

And then I feel like that kind of says a lot about, um, where we're at.

Kate Shepherd: but it's true. Like if you are somebody who has a, a big current of creativity running through you, and that's your thing, at some point you do kind of have to figure out how to monetize. It is a, it is a fine line that we have to walk. Like, how do I survive in the, I do live in this world. How do I, that's your gift, that's your

James Miller: Yeah

Kate Shepherd: that's your interest.

It's a thing that you wanna pay most attention to.

James Miller: Is necessary

Kate Shepherd: Yeah.


How has that been for you with your

James Miller: Uh, I would say that it's definitely walking that fine line. It's, , it's a love hate push pull kind of thing. I think, in that there's, they're not necessary complimentary urges where you wanna make something, but also you want to sell something. Like selling things to people isn't usually,

techniques and the marketing and the advertisement sort of like biosphere out there isn't

collaborative not cooperating with the consumer. It's, it's taking advantage of the consumer more or less. So, um, resisting as much of that as possible while still making any money is difficult. I feel like when you put the work out there, and let it just exist and let people find it. I never paid to advertise on social media. I never advertised a post. I never promoted a post. I just found it distasteful and I found that really it also, you know, is measured by like cost per click. And it's like, oh, if you spend $10, you'll get a hundred clicks. And, if you write, 10, 15 bits of material and offer 'em out there, you'll get way more clicks than that because you're giving people something of value that they want to share. You know, you don't need to force yourself onto people's timelines and feeds and in front of their eyes and, and buy your way into people's lives. If you, if you make something that they want to share with their friends and family, they just will.

Kate Shepherd: Well, and what's coming up for me, as you're saying this is like a decision that you made to where of where you're gonna put your attention and

James Miller: right?

Kate Shepherd: right Like, cuz you only have so many units of attention and focus a day to put it towards things you can spend that, you know, optimizing your feed and your, I don't even know about that world, but,

James Miller: Yeah

Kate Shepherd: advertising and cost for click and SEO and all the words that we

James Miller: right?

Kate Shepherd: all the things we should be doing. It sounds like what you've done is you've really kind of turned inward to your work. And it's the, it's the work that you're actually making and creating and allowing to move through and what's where you're putting your attention.

And I wondered, as you were saying that, people can feel like your work is better because you're not divided. You're not trying to do multiple, you're not trying to get it out there, you're just trying to make the work and you're letting it go. ,

there's a different energy to


James Miller: I'm naturally resistant to advertising. I made the decision to be resistant to writing towards the audience. I'm writing what I want to write, if I'm making what I want to make, that's what's people are, are resonating with in the first place.

And then if you create something and people really love it And then you say, oh, I'm gonna create that exact thing again, you're just going to kind of echo it and it's not going to impact the same way. It's obvious when you start pandering or if you start trying to play to a formula, when you are

creating things with, with the mindset of, oh, I'm making this to get clicks. I'm making this to. get attention. I think that it, people can tell , you feel sold too.

Yeah. as like a six year old was cutting up printer paper and binding my own books I found actually, I would say probably a spiritual precursor to small fiction. When I was going through boxes at my, at my mom's house where it's like little like short snippet, I'm like, oh, this is actually really similar.

, they're nonsensical, you know, I was six. , but then there's also, the idea that that's going to, support a life that was, never something that I was certain of. you know, there's, you, you go through all the permutations. I, I went to uh, school for, art and animation actually, and I worked a bunch of different jobs and I've tried different careers and it was never like, oh, I'm gonna write and people are gonna pay me to write, and that'll be how I support a life.

It was always very clear societally that. If you're gonna write good luck and you also should probably have a job . It's a, a lot of perseverance and luck. I think that that ended me in a place that I actually do write for a living. predominantly that's still not, for myself, that's still not a small fiction.

That's still not, books and that's still my personal projects for, for a career. I write for video games. I'm a narrative designer, because that's the industry where the money is.

Kate Shepherd: That, that journey away from, from our creativity. I feel like, I mean, I've talked to a lot of artists now and that seems to be like, I just think it's so fascinating that there's something that we love when we're so little and you know, We find these, I mean, you found those artifacts.

Like that just blows my mind cuz that I hear that story over and over again. I loved the sewing or I loved the textures, or I was reorganizing rooms, or I was, whatever it is, I was doing it when I was so small. And then life came along and I had to sort of try to figure out how to be in this world. And I went and studied this other thing or I was doing what I thought I had to do to make it work.

And then there's often in this, in this story that I hear from people, there's often like a set of. Sort of it fa usually fairly dramatic circumstances that bring us back to our creativity and sort of force us to ha has that been true for you? Have, did you have a, a moment where you were like, you know what, I actually really do need to have aligned myself with this gift and follow it and let it take over.

James Miller: It's been a common thread, so I've I've, I've come to it and I've walked away from it in different formats. and I've tried different angles and I've

tried to figure out how to fit it into a functioning, life where you have income and can support yourself and you have security. and even when I gave up on doing that, I never really gave up on doing it. So I, I, you know, while I was working customer service in my early twenties, I was running web comics.

when I

Was working

at an insurance company or, yeah, travel insurance company. I was doing NaNoWriMo when I, and actually an insurance company is, is where I was working, doing like, claims processing. and that's where small fiction started because, I would be processing claims forms, and something would pop into my head, Like a little story a little idea, the seed of something and I didn't have time to, to write it And I didn't have, bandwidth to turn small things into larger, like I was very focused on novels at the time, I, And I didn't wanna lose those things. and also processing claims forms was dragging me insane. so I just started putting them on Twitter cuz I had my phone with me and that would be an easy way to process that. and that was 2009.

that was my outlet. I had to write, I still had to make things. I could never really walk away from making stuff. because I think it is my main means of, processing my feelings and my, my thoughts and the, what I see in the world.

Kate Shepherd: I'm really curious about the, the process for you when we were talking about processing. So can you give us an example of how it, how writing has helped you process things?

James Miller: I would say whatever struggles with mental health. I've had depression since I was,

preteen, , clinical depression, anxiety, and a d d .

anyone sort of in that

that place knows that there's a lot of whirlwind things happening. There's a lot of internal narrative. a lot of it's not positive.

A lot of it is catastrophizing or dwelling or running over, scenarios in your head. a way to structure those things and to externalize those things is through writing. when something terrible happens or when something wonderful happens,

a way to

crystallize what I'm thinking about it, or what I want to think about it is to put it down into words. The first thing that I did, , when my, when my grandpa died, was to write a story about that because I wasn't sure how else to process that loss.

There was the, nightclub shooting in Florida, that was just a really dark day where I wasn't feeling good about people. And that's the day that I wrote, the small fiction, that, , ends, uh, love is quieter than gunshots, but there's more of it because I was trying to tell that to myself and whether that resonates with other people or not, I think initially it, it comes from a place of trying to understand what's good about the world

and what you. can draw from your own


Kate Shepherd: Thank you. that's really powerful and it's really tangible for somebody who maybe doesn't. You know, hears over and over again. Oh, you can use art to process things like I think we hear that, but we don't Like that answer that you just gave was so clear and I feel like such a good entry point for so many people.

Even if you don't want to go and write a novel, maybe writing can help you just process your immediate world and get it out of you. Like, cuz you're right there. I mean, even I think people who don't suffer from. Extreme, you know, anxiety and like we're there, it's po. We have all moments where we're, we have the swirling thoughts that we wake up at three in morning and we're worried about the taxes or we're worried whatever,

and to have a way to get it out of you.


James Miller: Yeah. The, the number of small fictions that are written,

um, on the bedside table at

Kate Shepherd: Right.

James Miller: AM uh, are, it's a lot

Kate Shepherd: I bet. how disciplined are you about writing a new

one every day?

James Miller: I used to be currently since the pandemic, I kind of have put It on hiatus ish where, now it's just whenever I, it dawns on me to write something or I feel like I need to write something. but originally, the, project was similar to that. It was just whenever I thought of something, but it began to take off and, and gain a readership when I decided,

well, could I do this every day? Is that like a creative challenge to myself of just, is this something where I could think of something new to say every single day?

seven days a week. And then I became very strict with myself to try and to reach that goal. And for, I think like 2012 through you know, it was pretty much every single day. I was very strict with myself. I, um, had a document, like a workshop document where I would like, have ideas that I was tinkering with that like weren't ready to write.

And, so I could pre, pre-write


and then when that

wasn't working, there were a lot of nights where I would just be sitting on the chair in

my office staring at a wall, just letting my thoughts drift or walking around the, block or the town, just thinking and like trying to see if something would come to me until it would, and sometimes it wouldn't until midnight ish.

But I was really strict with myself for a really long time to see

how I could keep that going.

it was never really,

exter, Like, no one made me do that,

I just decided that was really necessary. and then, you know, with the with

the pandemic, it did recontextualize some things and, I did take a long break.

Kate Shepherd: In that time when you were really committed to it, did you notice any sort of, transformation , how would you say it affected you personally the most? The act of doing that every day?

and having that discipline?

James Miller: , it definitely exercised a muscle. and it created new avenues of, of thinking about it. I was definitely an overrid I think before. and it taught just so much about brevity. Like the, the amount of times that you write the thing first, and then you look at it and you think, okay, how do I get this entire idea that's 370 characters down to 140?

What other words can I use? What if this isn't actually useful? Like, what am I putting in here that isn't serving the actual idea and it's just fluff or description or what have you? that was a huge one, but it also trained me to think about my ideas in a constructive way where I think everybody walks around and they have like stray thoughts and questions and daydreams, and you just let them go because you're, you're, you're living your life.

but . Having to do it every day really helped me focus on

those thoughts and of hone in on them and think, well wait, like, what's that? Like, let me write that down. Maybe that's something that I want to think about later. Or maybe that's a thread that I am more curious about. And, and it drew my attention to the number of just sort of thoughts and ideas you have in a day that are, your brain's always kind of churning through things and looking at the world around you you're you, you're never off.

So it's just about how much of that you're kind of capturing and how much of it you want to explore. And then also, it was a big lesson in all of

those nights where I really didn't have anything to say that day. Nothing

really came up. just sit down and do it as someone with, with a d


you know, like just the

executive dysfunction of it.

Just like, just do it. Just sit down until it's done.

and, you know, brainstorm something. And that lesson of like, you can, like you every day, you can, you'll think of something. and

um, and I'd say the last thing that it really retrained in me was, perfectionism, the number of stories that I've started that are like two chapters in. And then I rewrote those two chapters for a year. being able to tell yourself every single day is a new thought and write something and you look at it and you think, is this my best work? No. And you just put it out there for people to look at it and be like, this wasn't your best work. And give yourself permission to be like, that's fine, and tomorrow I'll do something else. And, and let the process create things that aren't perfect, and forgive yourself for that.

And that's, that was, I feel like

probably a big one.

Kate Shepherd: yeah.

And I, I can see so much value in the letting go and in the, well, I mean, a couple things come up. One of them is I've put work out there. Before that I felt that way about where I was like, oh, this is not my best work, but I'm putting it out there because I've gotta keep the thing moving.

Cuz to me, move, keeping the energy moving is really important.

and then people love it. and, you're like, What, like you that

the people that, really moved me, and that's your best work and da da, da. I'm like, wait a minute. No it's,

James Miller: of times. yeah.

Kate Shepherd: yeah.

James Miller: Yeah. I agree. Full. Yeah. Like so many times it's just like, oh,

an incredible, like gr it's like, this was, I did not you know, I did not think this. one was great. and then the opposite, it gives you a little bit of humility on the ones where you're like, this one was great I really nailed this one. Like, I'm very impressed with myself. And you put it out there. one cares.

Kate Shepherd: It's crickets.

James Miller: That's fine. I still like

it. You know

Kate Shepherd: Yeah. , it really is just about the work. Like it's, not your job to shepherd it or own it or facilitate it or nurture it or once it's, out there, it really is our job to just do it, get the gift from it ourselves and let it go.

I think

the one thing that I got out of university, it was one sentence that one Prof said one day, and actually I still haven't mastered it, but he said, he was an English professor and he was like never fall in love with your own writing. And it has served me. I haven't, but I haven't mastered how to call relentlessly.

James Miller: Hmm.

Kate Shepherd: when you're in that.

process, but there's something That you feel like is like, oh, but this is actually good. But I, but I know it's not serving this piece, but what do you do with that little bit of goodness?

Like, do you just let it go or

James Miller: I feel like the easiest thing if you have that kind of impulse, , is trick yourself, . just have a document and it's like, oh, this piece is really good.

I'm not killing it, you just put it in that document and it's just like, whatever, miscellaneous, all the little like gems that you ever had that you had to remove that just didn't fit or didn't work quite right, quite right.

Just move it over there and you're like, well, I didn't really


it. And, and you, you didn't have to kill your darling. You just locked your darling away.

And then it's also great because when you're really stuck, you can kind of go over to that document and read through it, and maybe you'll actually be able to pull something back for something else and it can be handy.

Kate Shepherd: Yeah. I love that. I think that's I can, see so many ways that I'm gonna use That

in my life.

there's a part of me that, and, and this is because we live in this world where we do want to commodify everything. There is a part of me that feels like, well, doesn't he wanna. Teach what he does with a, like, I feel like the process you went through for yourself with, with a small

fiction, especially when you're dedicated it to like, I can see how it transformed you.

I could see how it would've really deeply served mental health. I could see how that would be

a deeply healing journey that somebody could go on and

Don't you wanna teach it and help people and make money doing it? And

there's, are you tempted at all to try to bring the actual practice of it and teach that in any way, or No, not at


James Miller: Not, not really. I've had, people approach me from the different kinds of,

things like that where it's,

like, oh, you do a little course, and you know, and there's different apps and services and things where you can go and, you know, learn from the people who do it Um, I don't, it it that and it might just be coming from a place of, of more of that anxiety again and like, imposter syndrome kind of stuff.

Like, oh, well no one needs to hear what it's like my, you know, it's like, oh, well there's nothing really to it and You just go and you write, stuff, you know, that It might be partially that.

but also, like you said, I'm, I'm a bit reclusive, so,

uh, the,

Kate Shepherd: Yeah, you gotta know. You know yourself. You know

James Miller: putting myself out there is, is

not my favorite

Kate Shepherd: Yeah, I don't, it's, I don't, I, me neither. and it's weird that I have a, podcast. Like I didn't, I answered a, voice from somewhere to do this show. Like it was not on my list of things to do at all.

I wanted to ask you just while we're kind of in this realm of um,

the relationship between discipline and freedom when It comes to our creativity,

because it sounds like you did get a lot from.

That, you know, being disciplined with yourself during that process. And I can see how that was really transformative for

you on a lot of levels. but then there's also this sort of other wisdom around, you know, letting it come to you and being flowy and not forcing

it. Cuz I think we can, especially if we deal with anxiety,

we can

stress ourselves out and actually shut that part of our, and we can get into shame. like, that gets into kind of shame territory. Like, well you didn't do the thing today and

you, so what is the, what is the relationship

for you between discipline and


James Miller: I think that the discipline is, is incredibly necessary, , in some form or another. So there's that thing of, the anxiety of of, of the blank page and being like, I have to write something. I'm, I have to do a thousand words today. This is my structure. And, psyching yourself out. I think a lot of it is framework. discipline or structure or, restraints or, or any sort of term you put on it can breed a lot of the freedom like that.

That was what I learned from, from the idea of, of small fiction, of that you have only a limited amount of space and you're constrained.

to this, and you have to do it this way. This, this is your structure. You can't just go write, you know, seven pages. It eliminates a lot of opportunity and a lot of, freedom, but it also creates a boundary that you can work within.

And then a lot of the time that that gives you the opportunity to have ideas that you wouldn't have had before. The discipline is good, but the expectation is bad. So if you say, I have to write a thousand words today, that's good. If you're thinking and they have to be great, and they're my final work, and that's going straight into the book, that's bad. You can, you can sit down at a computer and write a thousand words of just stream of consciousness about your day and say, that counts.

That was my thousand words. , and not put expectation on yourself to what the end result will be, but the discipline of doing that and doing the work anyway, that's where a lot of the freedom will come from. External constraints that you're putting on yourself are going to give you different options from your internal constraints that you already have, cuz you're never fully free.

Every blank page is already like something

that is giving you this sort of mental roadblock and giving yourself something else to focus on is just a way to get past that roadblock. you're, you're never fully free

Kate Shepherd: No,

James Miller: you know,

Kate Shepherd: it's so true. It's, it is really true. when you are in a flow state, with any of your work, what does that feel like to you? I heard an interview with Neil Young where he talked about how, he knew a flow state was coming because he could feel this sort of cold air coming up through his nostrils.

And like that was just physically how he knew. Are there, is it a physical experience for you to be in a flow state? Like do you know,

when it's happening or is it

more that when you're out of it, you're like, oh, I was in there for a minute.

James Miller: I think it's, it's less of a physical thing and more of a, a, maybe an absence of physical things because it's really difficult to get into those kinds of, of like focus when your brain is trying to go everywhere all the time and you've got a lot of distractions. so really a flow?

statement. It almost feels like the opposite where I don't fully notice that it's happening. because parts of of me that are usually trying to ping off and

look at my environment and think about something else and like, do I have enough water? And like, well, maybe I should go check, you know, something up, like shut down. And then I just realize at some point it's a little bit like falling asleep.

Kate Shepherd: right.

James Miller: I've written three or four pages and as soon as I realize that I'm in it, then it sort of breaks and it's like, oh, that was really great. I wish I could do that all the time. .

Um, so it's, yeah, it's more

like slipping into it and losing a lot of ex externalities rather than really feeling


Kate Shepherd: Have you noticed common things that you are doing right before you go into those things? Like can you set yourself up

for a flow state, do you think?

James Miller: Yes, definitely. I am a big believer , in setting yourself up it's gonna be different, I feel like, for everybody, but

going on a walk taking a shower or doing one of those things where you strip a lot of, external focus away and you're just kind of dwelling in your own head and starting that process of, of just thinking about your ideas and observations

and not doing

something or, taking anything in.

You're just sort of living in yourself.

and then bringing that forward as much as possible by having any kind of, whatever soothing noise

there is, whether that's some people like brown noise or white noise or, coffee chop chatter noise or rain sounds or music. something that continues that, that track of being able to focus on yourself works for me. I think it's.

helpful to prime yourself that way instead of expecting yourself to be able to just like, sit down and be like, okay, go. Like, let's done. Let,

it's, that's, you know, it's, it's really hard to switch gears, without jamming

yourself up,

Kate Shepherd: Well, it's like having a nice dinner. Like the image I had when you were saying that was like, oh,

you're not gonna just like sit down and start eating it and expect to have a nice dinner. You want, you wanna set the table, maybe get the nice lap napkins out. Like you, you do come, there's a little bit of setup that you gotta do to set the tones, set the mood

James Miller: yeah. Rituals. Maybe it's a little bit like, these are the things that I do before I

have the nice, or these are the things that I do before I, you know, create something. These are

the little things that I lay out my stuff and I do these small rituals and it leads me to the, to the water, you


Kate Shepherd: What are the rituals or activities or behaviors that

you. Consistently do maybe spontaneously that like no one's forcing you to do them, that you think serve your creativity the most. you stay connected to this part of you?

James Miller: for me it's a lot of giving myself time with myself. our son's turning one, so the

last year

that's difficult.

Kate Shepherd: Oh,

James Miller: Um,

Kate Shepherd: that is a hard time.

James Miller: yeah, it's walks and showers and

and things where, I can wind down. it's a lot of really cliche stuff. I keep out, there's a

candle on my desk.

I've got teacup like it's tea, candles, rain sounds. sooth yourself into, being comfortable existing inside yourself. Like whatever you can do to make

yourself as comfortable as possible, inside, that's the best

I can

Kate Shepherd: I love that. Yeah, that's, yeah. and, you know, yourself, you've gotta, you've gotta know, like I've started, one of my friends teases me a little bit about this, but I've started calling myself, sweetheart. Like, I'll walk into the kitchen and I'll say, okay sweetheart, what would you like for breakfast today?

, and, that just makes me feel better being my own really good friend. I know it's super goofy And weird, but like it feels good. What's wrong with


James Miller: Everyone, everyone should be their own good friend. That's, I feel like that sets you up for a good day. For


Kate Shepherd: I think so.


I love humans so much. I mean, I hate , so many of the things that we do, but underneath it, like I love how

sweet and. there's an innocence to human


and I often feel

I don't know if empathetic is the right word, but I, or compassion, I don't know, but I can feel that we're this collection of, beings running around telling ourselves these horrible things Like we're, you know, we're, and we're outside. we look fine and we're doing all the things that we need to do, but inside we're like, well, the dooms dang stuff. and and not everybody's doing it all the time,

but we do do that with our creativity for sure. We do that. with like, I, well, I don't, I don't have

a. a.

way to express myself or I don't have a gift, or I'm not special, or, You know, all the


And you know, , the way I look at it all those things collected together have us shut down this part of ourselves or shut off the connection to this part of ourselves, which is, then causing everything to glitch. Like it's, that's why I'm saying

like, I, honestly, I feel like mental illness, addiction, The

ridiculous over consumption, like everything is all can be traced back to us not expressing, connecting with, activating and expressing creativity.

I really, I feel like it's the thing we should be paying the

most attention to.

and I wanted to ask you what you think

out of all of the sort of false, harmful beliefs that we tell ourselves in our mind, what do you think is the most,

common unconscious or unconscious belief we have about. creativity and H, and how we can relate to it that we carry.

That should just be like, forget it.

Let's annihilate that idea.

James Miller: just that you can be good or bad and that it matters.

And from that, that the things that you make have to have value to someone else, that if you were like, oh, I can't draw, like no one would like my draw. Like, it, it does to fundamentally doesn't matter.

every rubric of, whether what you make is good or bad is subjective and culturally defined the number of times that I've written something and put it out in the world and had someone say, this is my favorite thing you've ever written, and someone else say, this sucks It just doesn't matter. there's no

objective, good or bad. So telling yourself, oh, I can't write, or I can't draw, or I can't. Paint. I can't sing, I can't just, it is just not true. You can do all those things and even the idea that you'd be good or bad at it is an invented idea anyway. people I think, idealize the idea of being creative and they put people who can write or who can draw in their head, you know, oh, they can write, they can draw, they're on, a pedestal.

And it's like, that's someone who can do those things and I'm not that person.

all that person is is just somebody who's sitting down and doing it, just the same way you would

Kate Shepherd: brilliant. what is your wish for us as a society as a whole when it comes to creativity?

James Miller: I hope that we can see some of that for what it is, and especially looking at what's going on with, generative art and, writing and, you know, writer strikes and, generative art being trained on, on artists' models. there's a discussion right now of, what valued. does creativity have, like what value does human creativity have and what ownership does anyone have over what they create? And the central thrust of that is still, money value, you know, like what value do you bring to the table? I would love for us to see , that these things have inherent value and that the value of, creating things is that it, affirms who we are. It puts us in touch with our individuality and with each other. the number of times that you've seen something and it's spoken to you and you. said, oh, I didn't know anyone else thought that. or that's like, oh, that's so me. You're like these four characters are us. You know, that's identifying with someone else's life experience and that's inherent value and it can take us closer together and it can remove so many of the divides. All of creativity is, is a way of communicating and it's something that we need to do more.

And that's more

valuable than whether or not a computer can pretend to do it.

Kate Shepherd: It's absolutely true. I don't wanna put you on the spot here, but I just had this flash. One of the last questions that. I ask

is the billboard question.


the question is,

and don't answer it yet, cause I want to, I want to I'll say the question and then I wanna tell you my


if you had a billboard that every single person in the world who had this longing to activate And express


creativity. But for all the

reasons we've talked about, all the anxiety and,

the negative limiting beliefs and all the, cultural stuff about expressing creativity and trusting


they just felt like they couldn't, they felt like they didn't have it in them, and they're not good


But reading

this billboard from you,

the words would land in their heart

What would you put on it? and

this is what you do. This is your, you,

you're good at billboards,

James Miller: I would, let's see, what would I put on the billboard?

there's something inside of you, that can make someone else out there, feel less alone.

Kate Shepherd: That's really beautiful.

That's so true.

I, feel like that's why we're

here is for each other. We're, you know, we're relational and the whole reason

creativity is moving through me is that I can create something that you can see and we can enjoy together. Thank you so much. what are you, what are you most excited to be working on now? What's your, what's your next thing?

James Miller: there's a couple answers to that. I'm most excited to be working on this kid. I made a person, you know, we're,

my wife and I are making a, like a, a human . seeing

how that. becomes an unfolding fractal individuality from. what feels like nothing is is insane.

So that's most of my focus. I'm sure that the studio I work for would love for me to be mostly excited about the video game that's coming out in a couple years called Tavern Keeper, of, which I'm, writing and, and building the world for. And

Kate Shepherd: where can people find a small fiction? Where, where's a good place, where would you like at the ideal place for you? What benefits you the most? If they go on, they wanna

get the book, what should they do?

James Miller: This day and age, I mean, it lived for the longest time on Twitter

and that's, a


amphitheater right now. it's just out there. Google a small fiction. There's a website, a small fiction.com, and there's a Twitter, there's an Instagram, there's

a, it'll, you'll find

it. on

various social


Kate Shepherd: too.

James Miller: Yeah,

if you go to small features.com, there's a, a link tree to places you could get the book if you want. And you can also just read a bunch of little

stories. There's no ads on the site. I don't advertise it. I don't monetize the site. You just read a story and click a button and it'll

give you a

new one.

Kate Shepherd: Can people send you money if they want to?

James Miller: Can they send me money? I do

have a Patreon

Kate Shepherd: there you go.

James Miller: If you wanted to sign up for the Patreon, you could do that.

Kate Shepherd: Okay.

James Miller: a, there's a small fiction


Kate Shepherd: I'll put a link up for that for

James Miller: that. Yeah. I like the patron idea that people can just support the creatives that


Kate Shepherd: Yeah. it's wonderful and, and there's so many people who want to and who can, and I think as the starving artist, we forget, right? We're like, oh yeah, there's other people out there who have tons of money and who actually really appreciate what I'm doing and wanna help

me make

more of it. Right? Yeah.

James Miller: lost on me.

Kate Shepherd: Yeah. I know we have to.

Well that's why I'm reminding you cuz they're there and a lot of them are probably

listening to this today.

Thank you for coming.

I've thoroughly and deeply enjoyed this conversation and I really appreciate your honesty and your candor and your, you're just such a genuine person and I really, I feel like so many people who were hearing this conversation today will really benefit from what you shared.

So a huge thank you from my heart for this


James Miller: Thank you, so much for, for inviting me to talk. it's not something that I, I like to do often, I pick and choose and this was one that I really wanted

to do, so thank you for a

really good conversation.

Kate Shepherd: thank you. It was wonderful.


Kate Shepherd: I loved that conversation with James. You know, when we talked about being your own good friend, And how that can set yourself up for the day. We can do that in so many moments of our day, where are we being kind to ourselves? Where can we be even kinder to ourselves? I shared how I call myself, sweetheart. I know people tease me about that, but actually.

It's been such a wonderful shift in how I look at and interact with and talk to myself.

I love what he articulated about how we have these notions of what is good or bad when it comes to creativity and how all of that is invented.

How we put others on a pedestal. Thinking, oh, , they know how to do it better than I do. They can write or they can draw, or they can paint better than me. I could never do that. We project our own securities onto others. We think, oh, they have something that I don't.

When really all that person is just somebody who's sitting down. Day after day and doing it. Just the same way you can.

Which is why I put together this 21 day rituals for creativity. And I hope you take me up on the invitation to join the patron and take this challenge.

You can find everything you need to sign up on. Kate Shepherd, creative.com. Search for patron. Or go to patrion.com P a T R E O n.com. Slash. Creative genius podcast

Kate Shepherd: And I'll leave you with this one thought today.

What might become available to you If you were to let go of any idea you have about being good or bad at any of it And simply began To focus On Allowing it out of you

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