Monthly Archives: April 2009

Write First, Edit Last

You’ve been asked to write an article on a topic that you both know and like. You sit down to write and . . . you stop. It’s not that you don’t know how to write, or even know where to begin, it’s more that you are filled with a feeling of dread. What if you forget something you wanted to say? What if you say too much? What if that first sentence isn’t compelling enough?

That’s your editor showing up. Your editor is the one who wants to format, replace, cut, polish. The editor has a critical voice and a sharp X-acto knife for a tongue.

The writer part of you wants to get out a lot of information, probably in interesting ways, maybe develop a chart or graph, maybe link to more articles. The writer is dragging in piles of information, colored pencils, games, ideas. The editor is frowning at the mess.

How can you be both a writer and editor? The skill sets are quite different, and while I often insist that one person can’t be both, in today’s world, the demand is for exactly those people who are both. How can you handle both?

By separating the fighting parties and letting each have some time to work. Let the writer come out first. Move away from the linear-structure of the computer and grab a piece of paper. A stack of index cards is better. Write one idea per card and put it in front of you. Don’t edit, don’t stop, don’t wonder where this will fit. Just keep building the stack, one idea at a time. When you run out of ideas, you will have 20 or 30 cards in front of you.

Now feel free to shuffle the cards. Sort them for relevance, for the length of the final article, for sidebars. Shuffle through them to put the most important thing first, along with examples. The final deck should be clean and logical–a story told in pieces on the cards.

The computer is now the ideal tool. Start writing, following the outline you created in a free, non-linear way using your cards. Write all the way through. You editor will show up, but assign the editor the task to go tsk-tsk at the cards you decided not to use this time around. Finish writing.

Now the creative, playful side has had a crack at the article, creating an interesting article with great story-telling and powerful examples. Now it’s time for the editor to come in and tidy up, cut out extra words and stray thoughts, sweep up the mess of wrong punctuation, put in sub-heads with keywords and create a logic thread that runs through the article. If the writer shows up with pictures, colored pencils and games, the editor has the right to ignore the writer or assign a task in another room. Turn-about is fair play.

By being the writer first, then the editor, you can benefit from the right and left sides of the brain, the fun and serious side of writing, the exploration of possibilities, and the linear implementation of logic. And you can do it all without having your head explode. A big benefit to people who must write and edit for a living.

–Image: http://www.twainquotes.com

—Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. See her work at QuinnCreative.com She teaches people how to keep raw art journals.

Book Meets Perfectionist

A friend recommended a non-fiction book, a scholarly work on cultural adaptation in America. Being trained as a folklorist, the idea was appealing. The book was well-written, but it didn’t build ideas. “Too much spinning, not enough weaving,” I thought.

Last night, I noticed I’ve been reading it since early February. It’s about 300 pages, and I haven’t managed to flog myself through it. Each night, I’ll read a few pages at bedtime, then put it down. Each time I buy a book I’d rather read, It gets put at the bottom of the stack growing by the side of my bed.
stack o booksWhen the stack got precariously high, I had to admit that I wasn’t enjoying the nonfiction  book. I felt I was reading the same 50 pages over and over. Kvetch, kvetch, kvetch, I thought. But I’m a recovering perfectionist, so how could I abandon a book? No, I must finish it. I tortured myself for another week.

The habit of completing what you start is a good one. But when it comes to books, it doesn’t apply. (At least not once you aren’t in a class with a reading list.) It’s not virtuous to finish a book that you started in good faith when that book is turning you to a curmudgeon. Drop the book. Quit reading it. Abandon it. Leave it in a basket on someone’s doorstep. Just because it seemed intriguing, just because someone recommended it does not bind your honor to reading every last page.

Tonight I read the last chapter. It was much like the others I’d read. I didn’t miss the 100 pages I’d skipped. And then I cheerfully, grinningly, reached for Anne Lamott’s book, Grace (Eventually), which I hope to enjoy a great deal, for every page.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. See her work at QuinnCreative.com (c) 2008-9. All rights reserved. Image: school.discoveryeducation.com

The Hyping of Twitter

Twitter is a social networking platform. Notice the word “social,” and that it precedes “networking.” Recently I’ve seen a lot of articles on  the relevancy of Twitter, how to make money on Twitter, how to judge your product marketing on Twitter, how to use those 140 characters for Search Engine Optimization, and how to be a “viral Twitter expert.”

Sign posted on Jayzooz (J. Campbell)'s website

Sign posted on Jayzooz (J. Campbell)'s website

Quit trying to make Twitter into a hyper-relevant marketing tool worth controlling, managing and becoming the major part of your business plan. Twitter is not going to make you sales because you want it to, no matter how often you Re-Tweet your own posts under another name.

Are we a culture so obsessed with consumerism that we can not, for one minute, have fun? Does every mild social chat have to have a business plan?

Please, for the gullible among you–no one can “make” your tweet, blog, or YouTube video “go viral.” It’s a phenomenon that happens when a lot of people like the same thing and pass it around. So far, it can’t be planned or forced. Don’t believe people who tell you they are so in touch with the zeitgeist that they control how “viral” works.

Even the Twitterati are obsessed. I don’t mean the “internet marketing experts” who follow you and when you click on their sites to see who they are, immediately send you a “free” link that demands registration and giving up personal information. No, I mean seemingly normal people on Twitter who are focused on getting 1,000 or 10,000 followers.

If you don’t know Twitter, you can’t possibly sensibly read that many posts, even with the Twitter dashboard to organize it for you. This is the virtual equivalent of crazy cat ladies collecting 47 cats and not neutering them.

Gathering a huge list of followers may be an ego thing, it could be an obsessive action of people who have no life, but I really think it is triggered by the part of our brain that is senselessly competitive. You know, the part that doesn’t want to win because they have trained and practiced, but rather the one that wants to win to make someone else lose. It’s the same part of your brain that tells you watching “The Real Housewives of [fill in some city here]” is culturally important.

The kids who fanatically collected Beanie Babies grew up and are now collecting “Follows” on Twitter and “Friends” on Facebook. It’s a game. It is not about knowing people or caring about them. It’s about numbers.

Shortly, these people will become your boss and raise your sales goals. If you are a writer, they will raise your words-per-hour, but insist you make all your emails no more than 140 characters long.

So all you analysts our there–stop trying to figure out how to make money from Twitter. Stop calling yourself an SEO expert and Web 2.0 marketing expert just because you spend 21 hours a day on Twitter and consider it your social life.

Some things in life are just better for being uncomplicated. Twitter is like standing in line in a supermarket. A slice of life passes you by, mentioning things. The guy in the net undershirt and inked arm-sleeves walks by, flexing to be admired. The cute chick in the Daisy Dukes walks by, working it hard for raised eyebrows. A couple holding coffee cups and a basket of  whole grain discusses locovore diets and slow food. A mom explains why the sugary cereals are at kids-eye-level to her 10-year old. Snatches of conversation, posing, preening, explaining, helping, all flow by. It’s not a whole life, but it can be interesting. It’s fun, it’s fast, it’s short and it’s a form of communicating that doesn’t allow for background, details, or much analyzing.

Let’s not try to frame it as an intellectual pursuit or a brilliant marketing tool. Social networking is not really any of that. The people posting a good read or a good lunch are just documenting their life as a form of communication. Let’s not become the snake-oil shil at the travelling circus and claim it’s a cure-all for the new economy. The economy collapsed because of greed, because we built one bubble after the next. The economy needs meaningful communication, problem solving skills, creativity and imagination. Maybe we can overhear snatches of information on Twitter, but it’s not the answer all by itself.

--Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach who teaches people how to write for business and for themselves.

Product Review: PanPastels

Pastels have never been my thing. They are too chalky, stick to my fingers, break, get all over everything. And I was completely wrong. I have discovered  soft PanPastels.

PanPastels in gray

PanPastels in gray

Soft, blendable and easy to apply, Pan Pastels have real sticking power. You apply them with a sponge applicator that looks like a makeup sponge. The company makes them in several shapes and sizes.

You can buy them individually, but they also come in groups of five, in plastic rounds that screw, bottom-to-top and make a handy stack to take with you.

Because I am currently on a black-and-white neutral kick, I ordered the five shades of gray. They blend with the use of a sponge on a stick and after a few minutes, won’t smear. I rubbed a paper towel across the colors, including the black, and got no rub-off.

I use the Pan Pastels in my journal, which means the pages rub against each other, but it

Blending is easy

Blending is easy

doesn’t matter–the color stays put.  To get the color off, I had to use an electric eraser. They blend for backgrounds, creating sweeps and veils of color. You can buy a variety of tools for application.

Available from serveral art supply stores including Dick Blick, they cost about $5.00 each, or come in pre-selected sets of five, 10 and 20 in various shades. Sets of five are $18.49; sets of 10 are $34 and sets of 20 are $65.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach. She teaches seminars and workshops in writing skills and raw-art-journals.

No More Art/Craft Kits

Many artists may have started with art or craft kits, but the more I see them, the more I get grumpy about the expectations they raise and don’t complete. And I think the same kind of thinking that went into the real estate bubble (consumerism, greed, and the idea that if you don’t have the latest gadget, you are nobody) is hitting the art market.

Survival kit in a sardine can, courtesy boingboing.net

Survival kit in a sardine can, courtesy boingboing.net

For a long time I believed that kits and assembly-projects were art portals. People would understand art, get the fun and creativity, and strike out on their own. But I don’t see that happening. Instead, I see people demanding perfect, gift-ready products at the end of a two-hour class.

The very field that encourages thinking, creative problem solving, experimentation, delightful mistakes that lead to interesting discoveries is now fraught with kits that assemble in under an hour and guarantee “perfect” results.

No creativity here. No problem solving, either. No

A can of worms. (www.runningahead.com)

A can of worms. (www.runningahead.com)

experimentation. You might as well be assembling a bookcase from Ikea. The last time I did that, I didn’t claim to be a carpenter or a woodworker. I did learn how to use an Allen Wrench, though.

The problem with kits is that they don’t encourage artistic exploration, they encourage consumerism. You often have to purchase that special tool, which comes in three sizes, so you’ll need the container to put it in, and the book with other projects that require six more specialized tools.

There may have been a reason for kit creation. I could also be lining my hat with aluminum foil and designing conspiracy theories. Here’s the logical thread: artists who spent time and effort developing a useful technique would teach it. The class participants took the class and promptly began to teach the same thing with less experience. The original designer began to create shortcuts to blur the process but produce uniform results, which pleased art retreat promoters who could teach more classes in a day. It pleased the participants, too, who began to walk out with “can’t fail” projects.

Craft tool manufacturers loved it because instructors could demand more specialized tools.

The whole thing has gotten out of hand. In a recent class, I passed out samples of some of the explorations of the technique I was teaching and one woman immediately began to make sketches of the pieces I was passing around and write down notes I’d put on some of the pages.

There was no doubt that she was copying, word for word, my copyrighted material. What’s interesting is that by the time class was over, she had learned the technique but had not recognized it because she was busy copying information, not experimenting with a technique.

As a culture, we’ve over-scheduled our kids and ourselves to the point where free time has to be productive, result in a gift or something “creative.” We don’t feel joy or pride when we complete a kit, we feel relief at duplicating the picture on the cover in the time allotted.

We haven’t learned a thing, and certainly not made meaning or art. No wonder people don’t “get” art, they’ve never experienced the joy of creation.

There is a legitimate place for kits, and it’s the equivalent of the Ikea bookcase. If you want to assemble something in a short time with little hassle, a kit is just perfect.

But I’m submitting a new analogy for the SATs. Kits are to art like reality shows are to real life. You can participate in a passive way and be glad it’s not all your idea.

It took me a while to figure out why I am so enthusiasitc about raw art journals. I finally figured it out–it’s all technique. I can’t tell you if you are doing it right. You’ll know. You’ll sit down and time will fly and you will like the result or know how to change it to love it next time. It’s meaning making. And for me, that’s life being art.

-Quinn McDonald is a writer and raw-art journaler. She gives workshops in writing and raw art for businesses and  people who can’t draw.   © Quinn McDonald, 2009. All rights reserved.

Bring Back the Real Butter

Turns out that you should have been eating butter all along. Yep, margarine is bad for you, and no matter how much they juggle the formula, all those fake butters aren’t helping reduce your cholesterol at all. And while our mouths are open in astonishment, eat some healthy fat, because it turns out that some trans fats are fine, too.

butterIn other words, mom was right all along. And the corporations were not. All those trans-fats, the hydrogenated ones, were created for cost reasons. Solid corn oil (margarine) was cheaper to make and store than naturally solid fats, like butter.

All this comes from a well-researched article in the February, 2008 edition of Bon Appetit magazine.  The article, written by Nina Planck, author of Real Food: What to Eat and Why explains that the problem “was not science, it was politics.” Quoting Dr. Walter Willet, chairman of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, the article says, “Trans fats are the biggest food-processing disaster in U.S. history. In Europe [food companies] hired chemists and took trans fats out. . . .In the United State, they hired lawyers and public relations people.”

It’s not over. While you are busy buying “trans-fat free” food, the label just means that one serving has less than half a gram of trans fat. And serving sizes vary. So if you eat three servings of a trans-fat-free labeled food, you may have just eaten 1.5 grams of trans fats, Planck explains.

The best advice in the article is, “Don’t buy fake foods (margarine) or industrial versions of real food (hydrogenated lard.)

Bring back the butter. Use the fat of previous generations: butter, lard, beef tallow. You know, all the things people ate when there was less heart disease.

Butter image: http://www.justhungry.com

Quinn McDonald is a writer who loves to cook. She’s married to a personal chef. Now if only she could get over that thing she has for creme brulee.

Page from a Raw-Art Journal

One of my favorite quotes is from Dogen, about enlightenment being like the moon reflected in water. The moon and sky can be reflected in a tiny drop of water and hold the whole reflection, without getting the moon wet and without disturbing the reflection.
If I were a calligrapher, I would spend hours playing with this quote.
But I’m not a calligrapher, so I created several pages in my journal of how I see and feel the quote.
That’s the joy of a raw-art journal–you don’t have to be an illustrator. You simply let the quote move onto the page in its own way.

Dogen enlightenment In the first page, the words are important, and the image adds movement, although it doesn’t illustrate what the words say. Nor does it need to. The curvature of the path of the moon and the increasing size stir memories of seeing big pale moons rise into the sky on a fragile spring night.
In the next one, the quote is not used at all, only the words “enlightenment” and “satori” (Japanese for ‘englightenment’) are used. One is bold and graphic, the other is a reflection of enlightenment in it’s absence of form. It shows the power of the quote, without ever referring to it specifically.Satori

A raw-art journal can let you explore your intellect and emotions without entangling either one.

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–Images: journal pages by Quinn McDonald. (c) 2008-9 All rights reserved. Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach and writer. She teaches workshops on raw-art journal writing. For more information, see her website, raw-art-journals.com

Raw Art Journaling (Online) Starts April 22

Raw art journaling (an online class) is for everyone who can’t draw and wants to keep an art journal. You’ll learn to express yourself in ways that include framing your words, creating a focal point on the page, and using abstract designs to express emotion.

I’m starting an online class on April 22. It’s a 3-session class and will continue on April 24 and 29. Once you sign up, I’ll send you a Yahoo Group address (different from the creativity incubator I moderate).

Raw-art-journal page © Quinn McDonald 2009

Raw-art-journal page © Quinn McDonald 2009

The class will be held on the Yahoo Group. I’ll post a lesson and example on each of the 3 lesson days. The lesson will be a visual and a prompt. You’ll practice and post your results, comment on other people’s posts and see what develops.

Raw art doesn’t require any special tools–a journal you don’t mind experimenting in and a pencil or pen. That’s it. You can get much more complicated, but you don’t need to.

Please join us for this exciting, fun class and learn how to keep a Raw Art Journal! More details and registration on the raw-art-journals site.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. She runs workshops in person and online on writing, presentations, and raw-art-journaling.

Albino Gila Woodpecker, Again

For months, I’ve had a female albino woodpecker hanging out in my yard, draining the hummingbird feeder, drilling holes in a tall stump. She successfully drilled a nest hole, but a starling moved in.

I’ve taken photos of her, but without a close-up lens, you couldn’t distinguish the bird from the tree trunk. The bird is not white, as most albino mammals are, but it is very pale, with very pale markings. Here is Tom Pawlesh’s image of a regular female.

Bo Mackison, the nature photographer, was passing through Phoenix, and caught the female on the palm trunk. At last, a really good photograph by a professional.

Gila Woodpecker, (c) Bo Mackison

Gila Woodpecker, (c) Bo Mackison

Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach. She also teaches people who can’t draw hot to keep an art journal.

Fire Rainbow in New River

The sky held a fire rainbow over the New River foothills North of Phoenix today. It lasted for about half an hour. I was at 5 Acre Arts, Lynda was giving me a ride in her ATV through some pretty uncharted terrain when I saw it. I didn’t think it would show up on my iPhone camera, but it did, and quite nicely, too.

Fire rainbow in New Rivier, AZ (c) Quinn McDonald, 2009

Fire rainbow in New Rivier, AZ (c) Quinn McDonald, 2009

Technically, it is not called a fire rainbow, as it has nothing to do with fire and isn’t really a rainbow, it’s a halo. I like the name, though, so I’m going to be less precise and call it that.

Victoria Gilman, a writer for National Geographic, explained the phenomenon in a 2006 article:

It looks like a rainbow that’s been set on fire, but this phenomenon is as cold as ice.

Known in the weather world as a circumhorizontal arc, this rare sight . . .isn’t a rainbow in the traditional sense—it is caused by light passing through wispy, high-altitude cirrus clouds. The sight occurs only when the sun is very high in the sky (more than 58° above the horizon). What’s more, the hexagonal ice crystals that make up cirrus clouds must be shaped like thick plates with their faces parallel to the ground.

When light enters through a vertical side face of such an ice crystal and leaves from the bottom face, it refracts, or bends, in the same way that light passes through a prism. If a cirrus’s crystals are aligned just right, the whole cloud lights up in a spectrum of colors.

You can see the cirrus clouds in the photo–those thin row-like clouds. They  carry ice crystals and generally signify a change in weather.

Circumhorizontal arc, 16 April, 2009 (c) Q. McDonald

Circumhorizontal arc, 16 April, 2009 (c) Q. McDonald

These halos are rare, and not visible north of 55 degrees N (Northern Europe) or South of 55 degrees South (the Southern end of South America). I could have easily been inside, or not paying attention. It was a gift, and one I’m profoundly grateful for.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach. She teaches people who can’t draw about raw art journals.