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Your Third Grade Teacher Was Wrong – You Are Creative!

By Patricia Crisafulli November 06, 2023 Lifestyle

“Oh, I don’t have a creative bone in my body. I can’t even fold napkins!”

Mindy grinned as she said this in response to my invitation to a writing workshop. It was a few years ago and, as part of my Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree program, I had to teach a practicum – an eight-week creative writing class I was offering for free.

I heard many enthusiastic acceptances, and a few “would love to, but …” comments. Mindy, though, was the only one to disqualify herself on the grounds of not being creative.

“Of course you are!” I told her. “Everyone is in some way.”

“Not me,” Mindy replied quickly. “Mrs. Simpson – she taught me in third grade – told me so.” Then she described some elementary school art project that prompted her teacher’s pronouncement. Decades later, Mindy still held onto it as an irrefutable truth.

My intention here isn’t to malign third-grade teachers or to vilify anyone who judged our pipe cleaner sculptures too harshly. But I do think it’s crucial that we acknowledge the chorus of naysayers in our heads – and learn how to stand up to them.

A writer all my life – from scribbling down a first story at age seven to launching my second novel just a few months ago at age 63 – I’ve had to deal with an overactive inner critic. Even now, it tries to dissuade, discourage, and otherwise shut me down. Thankfully, that voice never succeeds.

Here are four steps that keep me tuned into my creativity and can work for you, too.

What’s Your Muse Whispering to You?

Perhaps you have a deep-seated desire to write or create, or maybe you saw something on Pinterest yesterday (it can be a font of inspiration). Whatever the motivation, something has piqued your passion, and you have two choices: ignore it – or go for it. As you can guess, I’m in the second camp.

The first step in encouraging your creativity is paying attention to what speaks to you. Although I’ve dabbled in a few creative pursuits, my true passion is writing, and I think many people are drawn to this form of creative expression.

Has a memory surfaced that you want to capture in words? Do you hear a few lines of a story? Has an image presented itself like a photo in an album? Focus on that invitation and say yes to what really moves you in the creative direction (and no to the naysayers and distractions).

Sign Your Commitment Contract

This step is where that newfound impulse to follow your creativity hits the first major obstacle: How to start? Even though I’ve written for decades – and professionally for more than three of them – I can still get waylaid by any number of doubts and distractions. Is that idea really that good?

That’s why we need to commit – and I’m a big believer in putting it in writing. I have a beautiful notebook given to me by a friend – handmade paper with a leather cover tooled in a floral design shaped like a heart. This is where I write down my commitments to start and finish my next book, my marketing plan for it, and every other step to bring my dream to fruition.

Find that notebook for yourself (even a spiralbound one will do just fine) and write down your initial ideaand your commitment. Still need convincing? Here’s what the Columbus (Ohio) Museum of Art had to say about it: “As with any resolution, it is a deep commitment that will compel and propel change.”

Make a First Attempt

An initial draft – that’s all it is, and without the judgment of our inner Mrs. Simpson leaning over our shoulders. No expectation for perfection, that’s unrealistic and unnecessary pressure. Personally, I like to write out my idea just to get a first draft down. Then – and only then – do I take a closer look.

Multiple books, a New York Times bestseller, two mystery novels in my Ohnita Harbor Mystery Series, and some short story awards later, I still throw out more than I keep. And that’s okay because this is only an initial attempt – what Annie Lamont in her classic Bird by Bird called “sh***y first drafts” (only she didn’t use the asterisks), which maybe produce one really good sentence – and that’s enough to keep you going.

It’s the Nth Draft That’s Worth Keeping

You may love what you produced or feel disappointed by it (my first drafts usually end up somewhere in the middle). But my favorite saying is “art is in the rewrite.” It’s the second, third, twelfth, or twentieth draft that sets the plot in motion, animates characters into believability, and paints a setting you could just step into. That’s the writing process – and also the joy and reward.

Does it take time? Yes. Does it require more effort than you initially thought? Probably. But you are creative, and your expression is worth it.

Mindy never came to my class – even though it was free and just a few blocks from her house. “Maybe next time,” she always told me, and I stay optimistic where she is concerned because Mindy took an important step the day of our conversation, years ago. She told me what Mrs. Simpson had said, probably knowing that I’d refute it by telling her: “Your third-grade teacher was wrong.”

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Has someone proclaimed you “not creative”? Have you taken this as pure truth? How has such a proclamation affected your life? Have you decided to break free and try your hand at something creative? What did you try? What were the results?

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DebraLynn WA

Art for me at 65 is my therapy; I share it freely with friends and family, but what I create is for me.

Engaging in creativity such as color blending, hand-lettering, cursive practice (I still remember my F in handwriting many decades ago), adult coloring, art/doodle journal, watercolor, acrylic, painting rocks, and sketching is a deeply personal and therapeutic experience. It is a time for me to connect with myself without the distractions and noise of the outside world. 


Thank you for your article. My first grade art teacher gave me a C grade. She made me feel like a I was a terrible artist and had no talent. I remember her favoring the kids who were artfully inclined. It took me 40+ years to realize I was creative and good at art. Words matter because words can hurt or uplift.

Patricia Crisafulli

Dear Karene: Embrace that wonderful healing. I’m so glad that you realized your creativity. Every time you make art now, I hope you do so in honor of that young child you once were. Yes, words matter — and YOUR words will help uplift those who want to reignite their creativity.


Don’t use a teacher as an example of someone saying negative things. Even if you think they said that, use another examples. You say your purpose is not to malign teachers yet that was the title of your article and that was essentially what you did. When I read further it is not exactly what you meant so you should have found a better attention grabbing title for your article.
Teachers are working as hard as they can and facing impossible odds and still doing great things.. usually inspiring creativity. We all know teachers who have made a negative impact but they are not in the majority and you just blithely cast them as a negative influence.
I hope you think carefully before you use a negative teacher example to grab your audience.
I love reading sixty and me but if this is an example of the mindset, I may stop reading the articles.

Patricia Crisafulli

Dear Karen – Your point is taken. I have been influenced by many wonderful teachers – and my late sister was a dedicated teacher.

Kelli Enlow

I also said, “I don’t have a creative bone in my body” my whole life until I reached about 57. All of a sudden one day I thought, “how do I know if I have any creativity if I don’t at least try something artistic”. So, I signed up for my first drawing class and learned ways to SEE things and draw what I see, with tips and tricks learned from the instructor. At first I kept comparing my drawing to everyone else’s and in my eyes, I liked all the other artists’ drawings more than mine. I kept at it and started truly feeling what I was seeing and drawing and my thought process changed to accepting mine as unique and mine – it’s too subjective to compare each person’s interpretation of an apple, for instance. I lived in Virginia Beach at that time. I moved often and ended up living in Hawaii for 2 years so I signed up for a 6 week Art session through University of Hawaii and had a marvelous instructor. I learned everything about art along with art history and every week we had an assignment. Sometimes, if the instructor thought the work was exceptional, he would clap. Each week a student or two would get a ‘clap’ and I found myself longing for my clap. Finally, after spending many hours on a still life and making each detail of the scene perfect (in my eyes), I presented it to the class and I finally got my clap!! Oh, it meant so much and the confidence that came from the class and clap catapulted me to love every aspect of art. It fed me in a way I had never felt before. One early morning (2am) I woke up and couldn’t get this picture of Gabaray Sidibe out of my mind and heart so I got up and reached for my pastels and started drawing her from a magazine picture I had. It was the first time I had felt that “art comes from a deep place inside of us” feeling and within 2 hours I had a masterful piece, which now hangs on my wall. A short time after that I bought a good camera and spent every moment I had taking pictures, being tutored and applying my art theory knowledge to my photography….light, composition, rule of thirds, etc. and I am still using pictures as my artistic vehicle at this time. This is rather lengthy yet I loved your article and wanted to contribute. I’m 74 now and photography is my passion and I am also a professional getting paid for my work. I do love to write also. My website is being totally redone so I am unable to share a workable site at this time . When it is back and running, the site is: Thank you! Kelli

Patricia Crisafulli

Thank YOU, Kelli. I have tears in my eyes reading your wonderful comment. “It was the first time I had that ‘art comes from a deep place inside of us’ feeling…” What a breakthrough! Can you hear us all clapping? :-)


Thank you, I too have something that holds me back. I am at beginning of writing, but I suddenly stop. I can not put my finger on it as to why? My inner critics always have something to say.

Patricia Crisafulli

Oh, I can relate. My inner critic is like the sound track of my writing. I have never been able to block out that nagging voice, so I try to reassure it (me) instead. “It’s okay. I love writing. It feeds my soul….” The truth, Alexandria, is you are creative. Your story matters!

Patricia Crisafulli

A coach once shared this advice with me when I couldn’t tune out my inner critic. Her advice was to listen, discern (that’s the big one), then tell the inner critic, “Thank you for sharing – now sit down.” Ninety-nine percent of what my inner critic says is fear-driven nonsense.

The Author

Patricia Crisafulli is an award-winning writer and a New York Times Bestselling author. My first novel, The Secrets of Ohnita Harbor, was published in September 2022 by Woodhall Press, now followed by The Secrets of Still Waters Chasm, out now! I'm also a Communications consultant, mother, and running enthusiast.

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