I’m always curious about other people’s creative process. How do they produce their creations, especially when there are sooo many distractions? What obstacles do they run into? What helps them to keep going when the challenges pile up (because challenges inevitably pile up)?
Today, I’m happy to share my interview with author and therapist Julie de Azevedo Hanks, PhD, MSW, LCSW, who gives us a behind-the-scenes look into her book writing process. Julie is the author of the new book The Assertiveness Guide for Women: How to Communicate Your Needs, Set Healthy Boundaries, and Transform Your Relationships, which comes out today.
The book features valuable suggestions and poignant real-life examples to help us speak up and effectively express ourselves. As I mentioned in my endorsement, I truly believe it should be required reading for all women and girls. Because setting solid boundaries isn’t something we’re normally taught. And yet it’s the foundation for everything: healthy relationships, a meaningful, fulfilling life.
In the below interview, Julie shares what inspired her to write The Assertiveness Guide for Women; the challenges she faced while writing the book; what surprised her along the way—and much, much more.
Q: What inspired you to write The Assertiveness Guide for Women?
A: After working with women in clinical practice, being a woman, and listening to many women in presentation and workshop settings, I realized that a common experience that many women have is difficulty knowing what they think, feel, want, and need. Women have been taught how to decipher the feelings, thoughts, wants, and needs of others, but have rarely been taught to identify those things in themselves.
Additionally, I grew up in a family where my dad had a strong sense of self and confidently expressed himself regularly. He had no problem asking for and getting what he wanted. My mom, on the other hand, had difficulty knowing and articulating what she wanted, and was frequently overwhelmed as she cared for 9 children full-time. Growing up I felt a longing to integrate both of those aspects of my parents—the strength, creativity, and expressiveness of my father, and the nurturing, sensitivity, and unconditionally loving parts of my mother. I think this book represents and integration of those longings to merge strength with caring.
Q: What challenges did you face while writing the book?
A: Finding the time and the space to create, to write, has always been challenging for me. I’ve learned to take mini writing retreats where I go somewhere by myself for a 2-5 days and write without interruptions or distractions.
Exhaustion was another challenge for me. Juggling multiple demands gets tiring so self-care is really important—getting enough sleep, exercising somewhat regularly, and maintaining social connections are huge for me.
It was also very challenging to meet the publisher’s deadlines while balancing many other aspects of life. Luckily New Harbinger was great to work with and were generally very flexible.
Another challenge in the writing process was the recurring periods of self-doubt that bubble up on a regular basis. During times of intense stress I often wonder why I take on big projects, why I commit to “putting myself out there” on a regular basis, why I complicate my life! But then I realize, or my husband reminds me, why I do the things I do…because it is an opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life.
Q: What has surprised you about the book writing process? What have you learned?
A: I have been surprised at that writing a self-help book would be such a creative process. Of course, writing is creative, but it seemed that a self-help book would be more about conveying information than creating something new. While it is difficult and demanding to write a book—any kind of book, I imagine—this was also fun to be able to weave together stories, theories, and strategies that I have found to be effective personally and professionally in being able to know myself and to express myself effectively, and to help others do the same.
During the writing process I learned that perfectionism and shame are tenacious and tend to visit me regularly when I’m doing anything that feels new, scary, and vulnerable. I always think that at some point those tendencies will go away…but, no! They come to visit regularly.
Q: What are your go-to resources on writing and/or creativity?
A: I wrote my dissertation on the topic of supporting creative productivity of mothers. I developed a partnership model of family organization that supports creativity in women with children and that model has helped me in my creative process and in my life, in general. Reviewing the literature for my study helped me to feel less alone and isolated (which is a big barrier to women’s creative productivity that emerged in my literature review). It also helped me to realize and remind myself to ask for support from my husband and children in the creative process—that my wants and needs are just as important as theirs.
Other people’s creative works inspire me. Whether it’s great film-making, great books, paintings, or an approach to life, I am greatly inspired by other people.
A huge source of inspiration was the stories of the hundreds of clients I’ve worked with through the years. Experiencing the resilience of human beings and the powerful desire to grow is probably the biggest source of hope and inspiration, and also a source of confidence that I help others on their life’s journey.
Q: What else would you like readers to know about creativity, your writing process or your excellent new book?
A: No creative endeavor is ever done. Is ever complete. I just reread my book and clearly saw the flaws, the things I wish I’d said in a different way, parts that could have been more developed, sections that I wish I could revisit. I’ve experienced this in my work as a songwriter, too. At some point you have to just stop working on something and move forward with it, in all of its imperfections. I’ve learned that there is no perfection, only “good enough” when it comes to creativity (and pretty much any other area of life!).
Julie de Azevedo Hanks, PhD, MSW, LCSW, is a licensed therapist with over 20 year experience counseling women, couples and families. In addition to owning Wasatch Family Therapy, LLC and serving as executive director, she is a women’s self-care evangelist, author, relationship expert, media contributor, blogger, speaker, songwriter, and online influencer.
As a sought-after media personality, Julie has been interviewed for The Wall Street Journal, Cosmopolitan, Women’s Day, Parenting, Reader’s Digest, Redbook, and numerous other publications, and has appeared on-camera on Fox News, Fox Business News, KSL TV’s Studio 5, Discovery Health, TLC, and Reelz Channel.
P.S., I’ve talked to Julie about her creative process before for my “How I Create” series. Check out her insightful interview here. This is one of my favorite quotes: “Creativity is not only important to me, it defines me — it is the way I do life.”