Living a Full Life with My Creative Crush Ilona Royce Smithkin

Photo by Ari Seth Cohen of Advanced Style

Ilona Royce Smithkin is one of the muses for fashion blog Advanced Style. In the blog, she and a collection of fabulous senior women from New York City are photographed by blogger Ari Seth Cohen for their individual and creative style. A documentary about these women was recently added to my Netflix account (it shares the name of the blog). Each woman in the doc is special in her own individual way, but there was one who stuck out to me: my orange-haired creative crush delight, Ilona Royce Smithkin.

It was a specific statement she makes in the doc that really got to me. When describing her artist life, she said, “I came into my own about, maybe ten, twelve, thirteen years ago.” This is a woman who is in her 90s! She had lived an entire life before she started to live one where she was being true to herself. At first her statement really had me worried. Will it take that long for all of us soul-searching creative people to find ourselves?

No, it won’t.

I’ve watched the scene a few times now and I am no longer worried. It did not take almost a century for Ilona to discover herself. It took that long for her to embrace the person she is and focus on the things in her life that bring her joy. Ilona came into her own when she started to teach art and share her talents with the world.

At 95, Ilona still has the vivation to teach, paint, work out book deals, interview for the media, and she has a monthly cabaret show where she sings and performs. She does it all with a lovely confidence and a comfort in her freedom of self.

We all have a limited time to live our lives. People like Ilona – someone who is striving to still live a full life near the end of hers – inspire the rest of us to make the most of the time we have. We’re motivated to embrace the joys and passions in our lives now because we never know when it will be the end.

Here is a video with some clips from the Advanced Style Documentary.

Ilona says my other favourite quote in the video and I think it’s an appropriate ending to this post. “How long will I be able to do it? I can’t buy green bananas anymore.”

Make sure to check out the Advanced Style blog and watch the documentary on Netflix.

Creative Crush – Ira Glass

I’m going to start posting my Creative Crushes. When someone in the creative world inspires me, I want to share their influence, their work and some love.

My first crush is This American Life producer and host Ira Glass. On his radio program, Ira and his team share compelling stories of peoples’ lives based a on selected theme. Themes can be anything from the perils of intimacy to the effects of testosterone levels in people. I like listening to these stories because each one shares the nature of human connection. That connection may be between the people within the story or the connection I feel to the story’s subject. To me, the best stories are the ones we feel inside of us. They help us see a broader horizon in this world, and give us a better understanding of how we fit into it. I’m learning through my own storytelling how difficult it is to naturally build a connection with that power. So for me, listening to Ira do this week after week on This American Life is uber impressive.

Here is a video (the first of four) on Ira’s building blocks for creating a good story. One of my writing teachers shared it with me a couple of years ago. It was the first Ira Glass thing I was exposed to, and he’s been a creative crush of mine ever since.

Character Development Exercise – Clarifying Characteristics Will Keep a Character Consistent and Believable


What words describe who you are?

I am optimistic, practical, critical, intuitive, empathetic, imaginative…

Our personalities are made up of characteristics that will consistently come up in the things we say and do. They make us into the unique individuals we are.

The same can be said for characters in a story.

I made lists of the 10 major characteristics my characters have as a reminder of who they are while I am writing how they interact with themselves and the world around them.

For example, Carine is very expressive so if something was bothering her she would naturally start to talk about it in a conversation. In contrast, Theodore is very reserved so he would likely bite his tongue in a similar situation.

Sometimes I have troubles while I am writing because I am not sure how a character would respond to the situation they are in or what they would say to someone. Clarifying their characteristics will help me keep everyone consistent and believable.

“Think Process, Not Product” – Why the Process Is Just as Important as the Product


It’s been awhile since I last posted. I stopped posting because I have been going through a period of self-doubt. Creative writing is new to me. It’s not something that comes easily, so it can be a struggle to get my thoughts written out into sentences that convey the meaning I am trying to get across. When my written words don’t match my thoughts I get really frustrated. The frustration and my self-doubt began to fuel negative thoughts. I started telling myself I was never going to be good enough, and that because I was a horrible writer, no one cared about what I had say.

Talking to myself like that put me in a shitty mental state. So I stopped writing the story and blog posts.

But I don’t want to be in this shitty mental state anymore. Writing A Gift from Aurth is an important dream of mine. I am not ready to give up on it, and I am not ready to give up on myself!

Over the past few weeks I have been trying to change my way of thinking so I can get back on track. Part of this process has been looking back on what has inspired me. This week I bought Austin Kleon’s new book, Show Your Work! It’s the sequel to his hugely successful book Steal Like an Artist, which is a guide to “unlocking your creativity.” I read it a few years ago when I was first thinking of writing a book. Now that I am having troubles, it makes sense to look at what new advice Kleon has to offer.

Show Your Work! is the next step in the creative process. In this book, which is about how to share your work with the world, Kleon offers 10 tips on opening up yourself and your work. My favorite tip so far is #2: Think Process, Not Product. What Kleon is saying with this second tip is that the process is just as important as the final product. The process is what allows the creator to evolve and the develop the idea. In fact, the finished product can only be as good as the process. He also encourages sharing the development of your work with people because it is interesting for them to see how the idea became what they are seeing or reading. Sharing can also help someone else start their own creative process because they are inspired by what they see.

Reading that second tip was what I needed. My self-doubts are rooted in an expectation I have for myself to reach the final product. I was not giving myself room to grow as a writer. Instead, I was expecting myself to be perfect with every word I wrote. When I wasn’t, I saw it as a personal failure. Now I know the struggle is a part of the process. It’s the necessary work, experimentation and discovery that needs to happen before a final product can be made. If I stop writing, I will never get better because I will not have gone through everything it takes to learn and grow.

The second tip has also gotten me rethinking what I am posting on the blog. I have been sharing with you edited and developed ideas. Maybe I should start sharing where these ideas come from and how they take shape. As Kleon puts it in the book, “Human beings are interested in other human beings and what other human beings do.” Personally, I relate to the struggles people go though and when someone becomes successful at something, I am interested in how they achieved it.

No one is naturally good at anything. It may seem like it when we see a beautiful painting, read an insightful manuscript, or watch a gentle recital, but what we are seeing is the finished product. We are not seeing everything it took for that person to get where they are when they present their work to the world. I think that by opening myself up and letting you see more of my process I will not only free myself of expectations to finish the story, I will hopefully also inspire you to start something of your own.

I am ready to start writing again. What are you going to start?

P.S. – It took me two days, three drafts and six cups of coffee to write this.