Something from Nothing: How to Use What Bothers You to Fuel Creativity and Inspire Positive Change

Something from Nothing: How to Use What Bothers You to Fuel Creativity and Inspire Positive Change

by: Katy Farber

I don’t have to tell you that we live in a deeply divided and troubling world. It is a constant barrage of mostly unsettling, disturbing, and upsetting news. But it is also the most connected world we have ever lived in, and every single person alive right now has a chance to tell their stories.

Like most people, I have a long list of issues that concern me greatly. In my writing workshops, I like to help people consider: What is bothering you? And I don’t mean waiting in traffic, or the fact that you have to go to the grocery store (again, already?). No, I mean those deep, systemic bothers that cause your heart to beat a little faster and your get your mind pumping, thinking: Just how can we change that?

We all have fleeting, clear minded and beautiful ideas about how to solve problems, bring awareness, share a perspective, or make a community better, I see my ideas as a line of small children, waiting, tugging on my pants with various levels of persistence.  The ones that keep tugging– they need my attention. If I don’t pick them up, nurture and develop them, they will surely tottle on to someone else.

And that is where the magic is. Deciding what matters to you, and how you can use your creativity to make progress on an issue. Every single person can use their creativity in this way. Whether it is to write a personal essay, a poem, a song, a nonfiction piece, or a novel,  about an issue and perspective that hasn’t been shared, it is all in service to the idea and the greater good of improving some local or global condition.

That’s what I have used to fuel most of my projects. They stem from a strong sense of wanting to create a world that values nature, the environment, children, engaged, relevant educations, to name a few. From writing about climate change and children’s health on Moms Clean Air Force, to a novel rooted in a deep connection to the forest, to my latest, Salamander Sky, a picture book about the great (and often unnoticed) salamander migration, everything for me has stemmed from a deep place of wanting to illustrate an appreciation for nature, or a prioritization of children’s health and education, and inspire activism and action.

So many issues are swirling in our 24 hour news cycle it is hard to see one thread, or follow one issue, and grab and idea to turn into creative fuel. This is becoming harder each day, as America’s attention span is shortened with every day of relentless and often negative news. But we can take the one thing that is chasing us around like a small but persistent child, pick it up and ask, what can I do about this one thing? Then get to work.

There are abundant examples of how much stories matter every single day. The brave stories of women who have been sharing their experiences around sexual harassment are one deeply relevant, personal and critically needed example. And as others have said, every single time a woman shares her story, she makes it easier for others to do so as well.

One roadblock a lot of people fall into is “that’s not my genre” or “this has been done before.” I say that genre is a box you don’t need to care about. Just because you have written personal essays only doesn’t mean you can’t create a nonfiction book proposal about the coal industry. The only limitations to your ideas are the boxes you put yourself in. Every single person with an idea wasn’t necessarily an expert on that topic until they began working in that area. So just start doing that. Don’t leave it for someone else. Also, even if the topic has been explored before it wasn’t by YOU. You bring your own unique lens on any subject, and that can be just what the world needs.

How to get started:

  • Make a list, a sketch note, or a note on your phone. What keeps you up at night?
  • Circle the one you are the most interested in exploring, for now.
  • Consider your medium. What are you drawn to do? What can you create?
  • Write, draw, create something where there was nothing.
  • Day in and day out, until you have something.
  • Don’t stop until you have made something you are proud of (this is the hard part).
  • Share it. In some way– with a friend, with your children, with the inter-webs, just share it somehow.

So, go ahead, grab life by the bothers. Then use your creative capital to make a dent in that bother. Pick up that idea baby and put it to use. The world will be better for it.

 Katy Farber is an educator and author from Vermont. She writes about parenting, the environment, education, and for children. Her latest book is Salamander Sky, a picture book for young readers. Connect and learn more at


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