Light on the Intensity

Life is jammed with detail, color, reactions, music, noise–both visual and felt. I’ve been working on ways to re-write the past in a way that lightens the darks and fades the shadows. Could I do the same thing visually?

Today was a day of too-saturated color, too much high dudgeon, too vivid emotions. Dramatic clients, fierce news, people shrilling for attention, credibility, everyone demanding to be heard and admired.

Poppies. Graphite, watercolor, pen on watercolor paper.

At the end of the day I was exhausted without having done any heavy lifting. So I decided to draw some cheerful flowers. Poppies are always cheerful, breezy. But the colors were too much, too bright, too assertive on my retina’s rods and cones. (Rods distinguish light; cones distinguish color. There are more rods, but they are not as sensitive as cones.)

Looking for another way to tone my day down,  I did the equivalent with drawing. Using my monotone gray Art Graf Stix, I drew the poppies, using shades of gray and black. I added very faint touches of red-orange and blue-red. Just a touch.

The final effect is light and airy without too much burden of color or detail. For right now, that suits me perfectly. Tomorrow may be different.

-–Quinn McDonald is a writer who likes to explore the drawing side of writing from time to time.

10 Commonplace Journal Ideas

For more than a week, I’ve posted about journaling and Writing Yourself Whole. It’s not always easy to keep a journal, so why do it? Who cares? Who will ever look at all that writing? The answer is simple: this is your life. You are keeping track of it. Your journals are not for your children to admire, your friends to share, and strangers to copy.

The journal you keep is to document your life. To prove you were alive. To write history the way you experienced it. Many of us don’t watch news because we are overwhelmed. Our own lives overwhelm us. Journaling puts you in control. Write about what happened at work, how you reacted, what you really thought. Putting it down helps us look at our reactions, our emotions, at arm’s length.

What else can you put in a journal? I’m a big fan of a Commonplace Journal--a journal that connects closely to what happens to you every day. Here are some ideas of what to put in a journal that will make it interesting to you:

1. Weather. Rain, sunshine, wind changes how we see the world and how we feel about it. A bright crisp day brings on different thoughts than low clouds and rain. Write down the temperature, the kind of day it was, and how you felt.

2. Movies. Glue the ticket stub into your journal and write a few sentences about the content and your level of enjoyment. You can do the same for movies you watch at home. Was it a good plot? Were the characters believable? Did you like a character or hate another one?

3. Food. I’m not talking about a food diary. What did you eat that was delicious? Do you remember what you had for breakfast? Is food an enjoyable experiences or just something to get over with? What was your favorite snack today? What would you like to remember to cook more often?

4. Music. What did you listen to that made you feel like dancing or singing? Do you have a favorite singer or performer? If you could create a soundtrack to your life, what five songs would you include? Maybe you don’t listen to music or even like it much. What’s the background noise to your life?

5. What’s the cost? How much did you pay for a tank of gas? How much for milk? Eggs? Liptstick? The price of the small chunks of life rises and falls, but it also creates a sort of set point in your life.  Compare the price to a gallon of milk to a gallon of gas and think about what you get from each. As you get older, you will think things are different than they used to be. Now you’ll be able to check.

6. Titles. Create a whole page of titles you like. Book titles, song titles, the names of restaurants, hair salons, or any other name or title that makes you smile or think. You fill it as you go along. Keeping it all on one page gives you a fascinating look at your sense of humor.

7. Maps and diagrams. Where did you go? What route did you take? Do you always take the same road to work? To the store? What other route could you take, even if it is longer or slower? Is speed the most important part of travel? What does that mean about your sense of time or necessity?

8. Quotes. Not just famous quotes you come across, although that’s handy to write down. What people in your life said that made sense, was funny, was ridiculous. What you said in return. Keeping track of dialogue makes you a better listener, a smarter speaker, and a wiser soul.

9. What catches your eye? Ads, headlines, photos, good designs. Cut them out of magazines, or photograph them and print them out.  I photograph the wallpaper in hotels. I’m amazed at how many of them are interesting abstract designs.

10. Spend time in your journal. Look back over old journals. Has your taste changed? Your ideas? The music you like? Your life is a mosaic and you can decide on the shape and color you want it to take. Watching it change over time is part of growth.

Keeping a journal doesn’t require daily deep soul-searching. It’s a way to keep track of the tiny grit that you turn into the pearls of your life.

–Quinn McDonald is a journaler and a creativity coach.



The Slow Work of Change

My thanks to everyone who participated in the last week of Writing Yourself Whole. And thanks also for your generous contributions. I was happy to see that so many people participated. Your generous contributions will help many homeless families in Phoenix have clean and safe drinking water. Thank you so much for that, too.

Now what? Taking a course online doesn’t really lend itself to community. You might have felt that you were falling behind by the second day. Maybe it was hard to concentrate, or when you sat down, your mind went blank. If you thought, “I need more time to write,” but didn’t get started, you have encountered the most common stumbling block to self-care through journaling.

Like anything else, journaling takes practice. Writing down your thoughts and looking at them is hard. You want to avoid some hard thoughts. Pema Chodron, in her book, When Things Fall Apart, tells us to lean into the sharp points, but who wants to do that?

“…feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.”

Journaling is hard work. It is not always fun to know our weak spots. It’s certainly not fun to work on the weak spots. But the effort itself can be invigorating, and the effort is always worth it. Stick with deep journaling and you will learn what you need to learn about yourself. You will begin to accept yourself and those around you. Your life will become brighter, and you will begin to enjoy the happiness you build.

Journaling takes practice. You don’t have to delve into yourself every day. There are other ways to journal–and you can mix them up any way you like. Tomorrow’s blog will help you with some ideas about journaling.

Keep building inner heroes. You are filled with sparks of joy and healing. With flashes of understanding and beauty. Gather them to you and build a fire that keeps your heart and soul warm and that lights your path.

—Quinn McDonald has returned to journaling with many emotions. She’s glad she did, though.

Confronting the “Turn Back” Critic

QUNN’S NOTE: This is Day 7 of  a 7-day Write Yourself Whole journaling class to discover your Inner Heroes and name them. It’s free, but if you want to donate something because you like that idea, there is a donate button on my website.

Previous posts in this series:  Day 1: Getting Started details here.
Day 2: Distort and Shrink Inner Critic.
Day 3: Perfectionist Inner Critic.
Day 4: You Are Not Enough Inner Critic. 
Day 5: The Story Inner Critic.
Day 6: The Danger Everywhere Inner Critic.

The Scene:  Your Inner Critic has a lot of company among your friends and family. If you are like most people, you will recognize this Inner Critic quickly.

Change-the-way-you-look-at-things-smYou have decided to make a change. Eat more healthy foods, get enough sleep, exercise regularly, stop gossiping. The work is hard, and slow, but it’s paying off. You are feeling better and your friends and family are noticing the change. The next thing that happens surprises you.

The Tactic:  Your friends and family begin to give you Change-back signals. “You were more fun when you weren’t so picky about what you ate,” they’ll say. “Let’s go for coffee and a cinnamon roll, you can go back on your diet tomorrow.” Or, “Don’t be such a goody-goody, we aren’t gossiping, you know it’s the truth.”

It’s hard to stick to your plans when your family or friends ask you to change back to the way you were. When you change, you automatically require your friends and family to change. You are different and you behave differently toward them. You also want to be treated in the new way you are working on. But your family and friends don’t want to make the same effort.  So they try to get you to change back.

Your Inner Critic loves this. Your Inner Critic shows you how much more fun it Judgement20would be to go back. To have your friends back the way it was. To have your family approve of you again. It’s tempting.

Write Yourself Whole Journaling Prompts:
1. Write down the decision you made to change. Add a list of the steps you took to make the change work. Spend 3 minutes writing how proud you are of your achievements.

2. Think of some things to say to show your family how important your changes are to you. (3 minutes). Listen carefully to their answers. If they aren’t supportive, you are learning a lot about them. You already know about yourself.

3. What did it take for you to change? That’s the name of your Inner Hero. It might be a simple name like “Steadfast” or “Certain.” Or you might want to make it more complex, like “One who stands strong in the face of opposition.” Or, if you are more casual, “One who knows poop from pearls. And chooses pearls.”

Moving Ahead:  Switch-Back messages are easy to spot. It’s a bit harder to not to feel alone when you get the messages to “come back to the way you were.” Remember your goal. Look at how you reached it. The people who don’t want to help you are not as strong. They are afraid of change. You have already changed.

You may lose some friends, but the ones you keep will be the worthwhile friends. Once you know who they are, support their change, too.

—Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach and writer. She knows it is hard to make change work and how lonely that can be. But not as lonely as not changing. Quinn is a writer, trainer, creativity coach and author of The Inner Hero Creative Art Journal.



Confronting the “Danger Everywhere” Critic

QUNN’S NOTE: This is Day 6 of  a 7-day Write Yourself Whole journaling class to discover your Inner Heroes and name them. It’s free, but if you want to donate something because you like that idea, there is a donate button on my website. You can read Day 1: Getting Started details here.   Day 2: Distort and Shrink Inner Critic.  Day 3: Perfectionist Inner Critic.    Day 4: You Are Not Enough Inner Critic.  Day 5: The Story Inner Critic.

After today, the next post will be on Saturday, September 20.  I normally don’t post on Fridays, so you can use tomorrow as a catch-up day.

The Scene: You need to make a decision–not a life-or-death decision, but something you care about. You are not positive of your next step. You make a “pro” and “con” list, but it’s not conclusive.

So you ask your friends for help. What do they suggest? Your friends are happysigndangrspsbl to help. But as each suggestion is put to you, your Inner Critic bats it aside. You speak as if you were the Inner Critic. “That won’t work, I’ve tried that before.” “That won’t work, it will take too much time.” “That won’t work, I can’t do that kind of work.” “That won’t work, either, I don’t know how.”

The Tactic: Your Inner Critic shows you danger everywhere, and you blow off your friends’ suggestions because all you can see is the dark and fearful side of every choice. Part of you knows that there can’t be all that danger, but it’s fun having your friends make all those suggestions. You take no action because everything looks scary. The Inner Critic has frozen you in place.

Write Yourself Whole Journaling Prompts:
1. Think of a recent decision you made that required consideration What fears did you notice? Which ones were real concerns? Take a look at the fears and see which ones are inflated that you are accepting.

2. Who feeds your fear? Write a poem about feeding fear. It doesn’t have to be long. Just choose your words carefully. You might find it easier than you think.

cloaked-in-danger3. Your Inner Hero supplies words that help. A new vocabulary will arm you with strength. Think of a name for your Inner Hero. A short one like “Strength” or “Purpose.” Or consider your Inner Hero a muse and think of it as “One who writes Truth, even if it is hard to hear.”

Moving Ahead:  When you reject help, answers to questions,  solutions to problems, you can’t grow. You refuse growth. But you don’t see your refusal, it feels more like you are checking in on your growth. It’s like pulling up a seedling every hour to check on growth. Set some limits on your fears. When you notice old fears surfacing, ask if you want to make time for them. How much you want your life to be limited. The more walls and fences we build, the more your freedom is limited.

—Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach and writer. She knows it is hard to choose freedom and have a large world to grow into. Quinn is a writer, trainer, creativity coach and author of The Inner Hero Creative Art Journal.



Confronting the “Story” Critic

QUNN’S NOTE: This is Day 5 of  a 7-day Write Yourself Whole journaling class to discover your Inner Heroes and name them. It’s free, but if you want to donate something because you like that idea, there is a donate button on my website. You can read Day 1 Getting Started details here.   Day 2–Distort and Shrink Inner Critic.  Day 3–Perfectionist Inner Critic.    Day 4: You Are Not Enough Inner Critic.

The Scene: Everyone has a “story.” Your story is the belief you build your life around. “I’m the organized one.” “I was always the class clown.” Sometimes the story it stuck onto something that happened in the past. “Of course I can’t trust anyone. My father abandoned the family by drinking.”

Stories can be interesting, tragic, bold, brave, or amazing. What makes them tragic is our own belief that other people’s decisions still guide our life.

Paqui_highlightHere’s what that sounds like: “Well, no wonder I can’t ever get to work on time. My Dad was so undependable, it is all I know.” Or, “You can’t blame me for not getting this book started, I’m a perfectionist from birth, and we have trouble getting started.”

The Tactic: When your story begins to run your life, when you make other people bear the burden for your own shortcomings, your life runs off the tracks. Your Inner Critic is quick to help you find blame with others. This is tricky, as your Inner Critic often directs blame that isn’t yours to you. So when you don’t take control of your life, because of others, it feels natural.

Write Yourself Whole Journaling Prompts:

1. What is your Story? This is rarely a fast answer. Spend some time making lists of how you see yourself. Look for big, sweeping explanations that pin the past to the future.

landoflongago2. What part of the story is holding you back? How do you blame yourself for this? How do you blame others? Your Inner Critic will help you with both of those answers. This is also tricky. Your Inner Critic is not always wrong. Watch for two part sentences with logic flaws. “You can’t blame me for not getting this book started, I”m a perfectionist from birth,” is an example. So is the same sentence with someone else “turning you into a perfectionist.”

Even if you are a perfectionist now, you can become a recovering perfectionist. See who you are blaming for your story.

3. Re-write your story with the ending you want. It’s OK to want (and write) a happy ending. Look at the characteristics you need. Those characteristics are the ones your Inner Hero (and you) have. Maybe you are “Discernment” or “Positive Attitude.” Or maybe it’s more complex, like, “One who does not let me confuse the past with the present.” Or, “One who is authentic, even if that means losing friends.”

Moving  Ahead:  Your Story may have been started in your past, but you get to write the ending you want. Your authentic self is not who you are right now, it is your best self, which may need some dusting off and a quick rinse. Take a look at the way you want your story to end. Call on your Inner Hero to boost you up when you begin to slip into old ways.

—Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach and writer. She knows it is hard to re-write your story. But you are the only one who can. Quinn is a writer, trainer, creativity coach and author of The Inner Hero Creative Art Journal.



Confronting the “You Are Not Enough” Critic

QUNN’S NOTE: This is Day 4 of  a 7-day Write Yourself Whole journaling class to discover your Inner Heroes and name them. It’s free, but if you want to donate something because you like that idea, there is a donate button on my website. You can read Day 1 Getting Started details here.   Day 2–Distort and Shrink Inner CriticDay 3–Perfectionist Inner Critic.

The Scene:  Maybe you’ve saved a little money for something important. Maybe you have a chance for a new job, found the right car or something you really want. Whatever it is, someone or something special has come into your life, and the relationship feels fresh and special.

Glass-half-full-webYour inner critic shows up, maybe along with your parents, a disapproving sibling, or your boss and looks at the great chance and says “Do you really think you can make this work? You? Sure, maybe for a while, but in the long run, you just don’t have what it takes.” Often they mention someone else who is more likely to be successful,  or would be their first choice.

What was certain just a few minutes ago is now wavering, like a heat mirage in the desert. You aren’t sure. Maybe you are not enough or don’t have enough to make this work. And certainly not to make it a big success. You were just fooling yourself.

The Tactic: The inner critic’s favorite attacks are lack and fear. “You aren’t enough,” “You don’t have what it takes,” “You aren’t strong [or smart or experienced] enough.” Whatever the task needs, you just fall short.

And in less than 10 minutes, you are pretty sure they are right. You were sure,im-not-enough but now you aren’t. Maybe this isn’t for you. You are the black sheep of your family anyway, right?

Write Yourself Whole Journal Prompts:
1. Who tells you that you are not enough? Be specific–who was the first person to give you that idea? Who did it most recently? Did the words feel the same? Did it feel familiar? Write about this for one minute)

2. How do you know you are not enough? Be specific. No shrugs, no thinking someone else is better. No thinking “everyone knows. . .” Be specific about what you are not. Is this thing you are not crucial to your continued growth? Is it true? Is it always true or just this time? (If it’s just this time, it needs a lot more examination. You may be fooling yourself.) (One minute).

3. If you had even a short feeling of pride or joy in your original thought of success, go back to that feeling. Write down what you felt. Connect it to what you know about yourself.  You may need a few minutes to remember what you know about yourself, because you might be overwhelmed with fear of your own success. Give the feeling of pride or success a name. It might be something like “Trust” or “Intuition,” or it might be more complex like, “One who knows when to call on her skills.”

Moving Ahead. Read the following passage and write your reactions in your journal:  You have skills and talents that you must admit to and embrace to become a whole person. Skills have a responsibility, and you might be afraid to admit them. Maybe they need practice, but it’s unlikely you would deliberately choose to do something way out of your range. Practice finding the crack in your imagination that trips you up. That spot where “This is great! I can do this!” turns to “Maybe X would be the better person to do this.” Explore that spot. Do you need more practice? Courage? Encouragement? Discover what you need and how to invite it into your life.

 —Quinn McDonald knows it is hard to believe in yourself and knows if you don’t, no one else will. Quinn is a writer, trainer, creativity coach and author of The Inner Hero Creative Art Journal.


Confront Your “Perfectionist” Inner Critic

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QUNN’S NOTE: This is Day 3 of  a 7-day Write Yourself Whole journaling class to discover your Inner Heroes and name them. It’s free, but if you want to donate something because you like that idea, there is a donate … Continue reading


Confronting Your “Distort and Shrink” Inner Critic

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QUNN’S NOTE: This is Day 2 of  a 7-day Write Yourself Whole journaling class to discover your inner heroes and name them. It’s free, but if you want to donate something because you like that idea, there is a donate … Continue reading

Discovering Your Inner Heroes

Starting today on this blog,  you are invited to go on a week-long adventure HorizonCollageto discover some of your inner heroes.   The class is called Writing Yourself Whole, because it is a deep-writing journaling class. There are six inner heroes you are going to discover, and you’ll do it by facing the inner critics you know so well.

For new readers, “Inner critic” is the negative self-talk we use to beat ourselves up about our shortcomings or skills we don’t have. Often we are scared of the skills we do have, and fear they are not enough. The inner critic is always about what we feel we don’t have enough of (lack) and someone taking our ideas or mistreating us because of our creativity (attack.)

Some inner critics are ones you may not have thought were destructive to your creativity. Sometimes inner critics show up in people we know, people we work with or in our family.  The negative self talk we use on ourselves is much more easily heard from someone else. They are being “helpful” or “fixing” us in someway. We don’t know how to handle it because they keep telling us that they have our best interests at heart or that some idea they are proposing are “industry standards,” and we don’t quite measure up.

We will learn about inner heroes through knowledge of our inner critics. It’s easier to discover where our bravery grows if we have the inner critic leads us to the places we need to be brave.

The course will appear on this blog, for the next six days. Here is what you will need if you want to participate in Write Yourself Whole:

  • Something to write in. You can use a journal, or write on a series of index cards, to keep the inner heroes separate and in front of you.
  • This is not an art journal course. You can turn it into one, if you prefer. But I created it to open your heart through deep writing.
  • You’ll need a timer–a mechanical one or one on your phone, or an app.
  • A pen or pencil of any sort that you really like writing with. This is important. It has to be comfortable.

That’s it. Choose a time that works for you and get ready to write regularly (about the same time each day) for a week. You don’t need to post your answers on this blog. Keep them in a journal, where you will be able to use them in the future. Your inner critic doesn’t go away.

The class is pay-as-you-want. You don’t have to pay a thing. If you want to contribute, you might want to work through the first two days before you decide to contribute. That way, experience will help decide value. If you want to pay, you can use the buttons on my website.  WordPress. com blogs (like this one) can’t use pay buttons, so you will need to use the button on the website.  And only if you want.

Reach tomorrow’s class by clicking on the right-facing arrow above the blog post, or go here:

There are benefits to some of the contributing.

Contribute $30, and you will receive six postcards. (Two each of three different collage postcards). The collages are of a raven, a pear, and a tree, all done in type. You can see the collages here.

Contribute $50, and you will receive a copy of my book,  The Inner Hero Creative Art Journal.

Contribute $75 and you will receive both my DVDs “Art Journals Unbound”–ways to gather and keep your free-standing journal pages–and “Monsoon Papers,” making the beautiful, color-saturated papers that became my signature style.

Or, you can donate any amount you want. But again, only if you find value.  Go to the classes page and scroll down to the “donate” button.

–Quinn McDonald is a blogger, writer, and a certified creativity coach. She has a whole group of Inner Heroes, developed through confronting her own Inner Critics. She is the author of The Inner Hero Creative Art Journal.