Category Archives: Inner Critic

Cutting Short Studio Time

Yesterday, I mentioned having a ritual to get you into the studio. Today we are going to take a look at why we leave the studio before we are done–emotionally or physically.

20130303-211539Whether you write or draw, paint or sew, at some point you put down your work and leave the studio. That instant is significant in your creative building. What happens in your head and heart just as you leave the studio defines how easy it is to come back and work again.

If you have trouble returning regularly, and you think of the studio fondly while you are in a meeting or watching soccer practice,  you have a priority conflict. But if you find yourself doing laundry, dusting or making the bed, it’s not a priority problem, you are putting off going to the studio.

There are many reasons we put off going back in. The first thing my coaching

Fully realized dustbunnies.

Fully realized dust bunnies.

clients usually mention is fear of failure. But I don’t think so. I think we fear success. If we do something wonderful in the studio, we are responsible for it. We have to own our own creativity, our creation and the power of being a creator. Better to search for dust bunnies than be powerful. Owning our own power is often hard, even if we want to be famous or recognized. Because once we have created something, there is responsibility in creating more. Doing it again. Competing to outdo ourselves.  Explaining success. Easier just to let it slide.

Sometimes we leave the studio right before a breakthrough, before that Aha! Moment changes our lives. It is so much easier to cut short the revelation, the hard truth, the secret we hide. Ah, but what we resist, persists. And then refusing to return seems like a good idea. We need to “take a break,” or we need to “work it out.” Take your break in the studio. Work out your truth in the studio. Because no place else is your studio–the space dedicated to your own creation, your own growth. That’s where the magic happens–right after the sweat and fear. Stay. Wait for the magic. Give it a chance.

Tomorrow: Tips for returning to the studio with anticipation.

-Quinn McDonald has experience studio reluctance. That’s the only time her house is clean.

Dust bunny image: http://rubyreusable.com/artblog/?cat=110
Comfort zone image: http://www.proteinandpumps.com/breaking-out-of-my-comfort-zone/

 

The Aha! Moment

After two articles on bullying, I spent some more time processing my emotions around the incident. I’ve done stand-up comedy, and knowing what is funny to an audience and the timing of delivery is key to humor.

Pushable button image from http://meridianvitality.com

Pushable button image from http://meridianvitality.com

And then I had an Aha! Moment. In all the years I was super fat (I had a mirror, so I know), and people said hateful things to me (when I was in the middle seat of an airplane, for example) I actually felt sorry for them. I did not feel shame or diminished. I loved to eat (still do), and knew that fat people are one of the few groups we feel free to openly bash. I was capable of compassion.

Because I was not a fat child, I had no buttons to push.

But the incident at Trader Joe’s  pushed all those buttons I had embedded a long time ago.

So the work I have to do is around healing those pushable buttons is about feeling fine about being different. Taking pride in being an outsider. Because when you are outside, you have a bigger view. You aren’t hemmed in. And while everyone inside is bathed in light, it doesn’t guarantee acceptance or happiness.

A good thought for Friday the 13th.

--Quinn McDonald is moving on with a lighter step. (Carefully checking for a banana peel.)

 

Writer (or Artist’s) Glut

Image from Scooter in the Sticks.

Image from Scooter in the Sticks.

Most creative people eventually hit that edge-of-the-horizon feeling that you’ve come to the crumbly brink of your creative world. The next idea doesn’t show up on time. Missed the train. The next train doesn’t show up at all. The track rolls itself up and over the edge of the horizon, leaving you standing alone, squinting as the hot sun burns out the edge of the sky and drops below your line of vision, sending your last hope of creativity into the twilight shadows. Night descends and leaves you standing without a shadow to rely on.

Big_waveIf you have never experienced this feeling, you probably aren’t trying hard enough to push your creativity. And before you crack your knuckles to leave me a blistering reply that you always have ideas, stop. This is about you. This post is about having too many ideas, too much of an idea, an idea that rolls in like a giant wave, flattening you against the floor of your studio, pressing you down until bubbles float from your nose and you can’t inhale. That kind of creative overflow.

It doesn’t happen to me often, but when it does, it is overwhelming. I’ve been creative long enough to know that when the dark side of the world appears, it signals the long roll into dawn. But crushed with too many ideas, I feel afraid–I’ll lose the most important one, I’ll develop the wrong one, I won’t be able to figure out the process of this brilliant idea over here. Now what?

The simplest idea I came up with is to save as many of those ideas as possible, get them into some form you can understand, and save them. You can figure out process later. You can figure out sequencing later. What you need to do now, before your short-term memory sneaks out the back door, is get some of the ideas caught.

My two favorite ideas for capturing represent the high tech and low tech spectrum. Index cards, my long-time companions and art supply, are the low tech side. I write down the bare bones idea. Just enough to balance the memory on the tee, so I can whack it across the sand trap and out of danger. No big discussion, no marketing, no audience. Just the rough idea is plenty. If you can’t reconstruct it later, it may not have been as wonderful as you first imagined.

The second idea is a voice-recording app on your smart phone. The one you want to install is the one you know how to work. My first one was incredibly easy to use, but I couldn’t figure out how to play it back. You can imagine how that little fault messed with my mind. Occasionally I still believe the best ideas of my life are wrapped around the gizzards of my iPhone. The new one works better.

Don’t edit. Don’t worry. In fact, I generally don’t read or sort the ideas for several days after a brainstorm. I’m too critical. Or too immediate. I toss the index cards into a box and let them dry out. I’ll take a nice patina’d idea over a damp one, any day.

What’s your storage/retrieval system when your ideas back up and pour over you?

—Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach who helps people put life to their creative ideas.

Your Creative Work and Your Story

You are a story-teller. Even if you are not a writer, your life tells a story. It is your story. You get to tell it. If you start adding pieces of other people’s story, your plot line will suffer. If you start telling it to please others, and change your story for their approval, your story drifts and disconnects from you.

Poem1Today, while doing a demo of Monsoon Papers, someone asked me if the pieces of paper could be framed as is.

“Sure,” I said, “if that’s what you want. I see the pieces as colors and textures to use in collage or art journals.” The woman asked if I had any pieces of my artwork made with Monsoon Papers with me. I did. I showed her a piece (not the one shown here). She looked and asked what it meant. I invited her to explore what the image meant to her. She frowned slightly and said, “A good piece of art speaks for itself. And this one needs you to tell me what it means. So there is something incomplete about it.”

What a surprising statement. How can art speak for itself? A realistic drawing might be of something recognizable, but even that leaves a lot open for interpretation.

Good art and good stories do not always speak for themselves. They leave the door open for content (which the artist supplies) and context (which the viewer supplies). Together, the same image can mean something entirely different to several viewers.

I found a great poem by Billy Collins that explains this perfectly:

Introduction to Poetry

I ask them to take a poem
and hod it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to water-ski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all thy want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

Billy Collins, Sailing Alone Around the Room

-–Quinn McDonald realizes how much she has to learn every time she asks someone else to speak and she listens to them.

Being Yourself

We want to work like a CEO, delegate like the managing partner of a law firm, produce wonderful art like whoever is popular right now and smile like a Orbits chewing gum commercial.

Become-who-you-areWe rarely want to be just like ourselves. Flawed, working hard, trying to be better is wonderful. It keeps us busy and mindful of change. But when we always aspire to be better, smarter, cooler, and other-than-us, we don’t get to be ourselves very much.

“Sometimes you have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself,” Miles Davis said.

It takes time to discover all the parts of you, sort them out, and make something of them. The best way to do that is to focus on the parts of you, instead of comparing the parts to someone else and falling short. Focusing on the you that exists already helps you discover who you are, what you like, what you want to do with your talent. Comparing yourself to others shows you what you are not, what you lack.

And lack is the home of the inner critic. Bring out The Assembler of the Pieces of You as an inner hero and celebrate all the parts of you that are marvelous.

Quinn McDonald is the author of The Inner Hero Creative Art Journal. She’s happy she wrote the book. It’s not a fast-riser on the New York Times best-seller list, but the reviews on amazon.com are amazingly thoughtful. People are being themselves when they comment. Nothing could be better.

 

Easy, Cheap, No Work

” I want the eight hour class, but I want you to spend no more than half a day. And I don’t want you to lose anything. Can you do that?”

Postcards“The two day class seems like a lot of work. Can you cut out some of the exercises without losing any of the learning?”

“My group really is scared of complicated classes. What can you do to make the topic simple so no one has to ask any questions or see a demo?”

I hear these questions at least twice a month, both about my art classes and my business writing classes. Fun, easy, simple classes are wonderful. Many things that are easy and simple are valuable and worth learning.

From Lisa Loves Learning

From Lisa Loves Learning

But there is value in complicated. Struggle with something and conquer it and you have two valuable outcomes–you’ve learned something new and you have learned that you are strong enough to stick with something worthwhile.

Sadly, challenges are getting a bad name. If something is hard, it is the teacher’s perceived job is to make it easy. I’ve seen the title workshop become “playshop” because, you know, work is hard.

Teachers are not meant to hand people pre-digested solutions to solve problems or to complete a project. Part of  personal growth is in the struggle, is in finding solutions, is in completing the work. No one loves failure, but it can be part of a larger success. A life that has no challenges, whose answers come supplied by others does not add any significant learning or meaning.

Struggle for the sake of struggle is not useful. But working hard for what you want brings rewards independent of winning. And rewards are worth working for.

Quinn McDonald draws out the brave in people. She admires the brave meaning-makers far more than winners.

 

Loose-Leaf Journal Box

Loose-leaf journaling is practical and fun; I’ve talked often about why. But when you make loose-leaf journal pages, you need a place to gather them.

box1Some weeks ago, I found a lovely box of stationery. The box was well designed and sturdy. Once the stationery was gone, the box was the perfect size for 5-inch x 7-inch loose-leaf pages.

Box2Using a piece of lavender ribbon, I glued it to the back, long side of the box and about one-third of the way across the bottom of the box, leaving the rest unglued.

box3Once the ribbon was dry, I placed the loose-leaf pages into the box. This happens to be a group of inner hero cards from the last month.

Box4The ribbon, because it is not glued to the entire bottom of the box, allows me to lift up all the cards easily. One or all can be lifted out without wearing down the corners or breaking a nail. It’s an easy way to carry the cards and a sturdy way to store them.

—Quinn McDonald has an ever-growing collection of inner heroes.

The Pull of Inner Critic and Inner Hero

It’s hard to admit that after writing the Inner Hero book, I’m still bedeviled by my Inner Critic. People expect me to be over it by now. Sadly, not. I’ll have to face down my Inner Critic many times in the coming years. If I’m lucky, I’ll get good at facing him down. Why won’t he go away? Because I’ve got faults, and he’s an expert at noticing them, showing them to me, and then helping me believe I am that fault, and am helpless in the face of it. Oh, and while I’m worthless, I might as well destroy all my art, too. And toss in the writing for good measure.

Which brings me to something I said in the comments yesterday, and which keeps coming up with my creativity coaching clients: Your faults are your strengths turned up too loud.

Image from The Music Ninja.

Image from The Music Ninja.

Turn up your favorite music too loud and your sternum shakes and all you can hear is a base beat and distorted sound. You can’t make sense of it. You just want to get away from it. It’s not music, it’s ear-splitting noise.

Your strengths and faults work in much the same way. Let’s say a strength is a good sense of humor. Great. Helps you get through the tough patches in life, helps you not take yourself so seriously, helps you be easy on yourself as you make learning mistakes.

Turn up that sense of humor too loud and it is easy to be insensitive, even obnoxious. Your friends can’t hear you making life easier, all they can hear is the jarring noise of not-caring.

Image from InnerFidelity.com

Image from InnerFidelity.com

Maybe your strength is teaching others life skills. Wonderful. Your guidance helps people find what skill they need to work on, focus on it, practice it while you help them see and avoid the pitfalls until they get good at the skill.

Turn that up too loud and you are micro-managing, pointing to all they do wrong, insisting on your way as the only way to to be “right,” suffocating any ability to learn by making mistakes. Too much advice, and they lose the freedom of making their own choices and learning from the results.

I often ask my creativity coaching clients to make two lists: three characteristics you are really proud of, that you are good at. The second list is three characteristics of faults you have. Failings you feel bad about. (Just three, not 10). Now compare them. Almost always,  the client sees how the fine characteristic can get too big, too loud, too jarring, and turn into a fault.

Still, faults need to be worked on. We can’t just say, “well, that’s my authentic self, it’s the me you get, like it or not,” and continue on our way, pleased that we are being”real.” Our authentic self is our self-realized self. Flawed, but aware and working on it.

When we pull our out faults by the roots, we also pull out the very ability that is a strength. Best not to try too hard to discard those faults, they contain the possibility of change.  Instead, try dialing them back until they talk to you, sound resonant and useful. That’s your Inner Hero, holding the space where you do good work.

HeroBook* * *   This week is the local launch of The Inner Hero Creative Art Journal. (If you are in the Phoenix area, it’s at Changing Hands independent book store on Thursday, Feb. 20 at 7 p.m. Bring a pen, we’re going on an Inner Hero hunt!)

Note: Congratulations to Jeff (@fernseeds), winner of Get It Done by Sam Bennett. Congratulations, Jeff! Send me a note at QuinnCreative [at] Yahoo [dot] com with your mailing address and the book will be on the way!

–Quinn McDonald is busy turning down the volume so she can hear the Inner Hero better.

Leading With the Left Hand

A comment on the last blog reminded me of something and that led to another jump and. . .a blog post.

I’m left-handed. Born that way. In a time when being left-handed was not acceptable. As was quite common in the years when I was growing up, my mother took the pen from my left hand and put it in my right hand. There were some shaming words that accompanied it. In seventh grade, it became Sister Michael Augustine’s goal to turn me into a right-hander. Skip forward several decades.

left_handedI’m still left-handed. But I write right-handed. Except when I write on a flip chart of white board–a task I took up as an adult. And I write on flip charts and white boards left-handed. Unapologetically.

Part of what I learned as a left-handed person is that I was not good enough, and that I was flawed. To prove to others (and, of course, myself) that I was good enough, I fell into the habit of overwork. Now that I own my own business, it looks great to work hard. A 70-hour week is one in which I’m coasting.

Today, when I came home from teaching a fun class, I was exhausted. It was warm out, and instead of sitting down for a few minutes, I assessed the yard work that had to be done and began to fret about the DVD project which has to be planned. Samples made. Projects half-made to save time on the set.

The only one who can slow me down is . . . me. Taking a break feels exactly like being lazy. So I sat down with my Inner Hero called “Left-Hand” (I’m not one for fancy names) and did some artwork. Listened to what she had to say. Did not talk back. Here’s what she said:

“There will never be less work. When there is too much work, you worry. When there is not enough work, you make more work and worry more. So just for tonight, close the computer, grab those art books you want to read, and put your feet up. No one will do the work for you. It will still be there tomorrow. But you will be rested. And bolder. And begin to think with your left-hand first. Because that is the sign of bravery for you.”

Good idea. How will you free yourself from destructive noodling and step into a healthier mindset today?

Quinn McDonald has nut bread in the oven and a DVD ready to run.

Get It Done: Book Review (and a Giveaway)

What better day than Valentine’s Day to love yourself enough to give yourself the creative help you need to finish your work? Creative people are wired differently and see the world a bit differently–but the one thing they have in common with every other person is a lack of time to work on projects that are due, projects that sound like fun, and projects that need to be explored.

SamRt443-199x300Sam Bennett created the Organized Artist Company and she wrote a book that is part coaching, part time management, and part kick in the butt. Get It Done, from Procrastination to Creative Genius in 15 Minutes a Day is a book with suggestions, how-tos, and clever ideas to help anyone (but especially artists) choose their work, get their work done in a time frame (by working 15 concentrated minutes a day), and complete their work.

Here’s are some chapter titles:

  • Procrastination is Genius in Disguise
  • Which of Your 37 Projects to Tackle First
  • Overcoming Perfectionism
  • How to Do Your Could-Do List
  • Where Will You Find the Time?
  • Organizing Your Space
  • Why Is It So Awful When Everyone Thinks You are So Wonderful?
  • Do You Quit When You’re Almost Done?

When you read Bennett’s book, you know she is an artist, has been in your shoes, and can teach you how to dance in them–backwards–to success. Her worksheets are realistic, her steps doable and her process powerful.

sambennett-412fab8b-eff5-4bda-bf24-8f7aa46f6602-v2The book is a fast read but one you will want to concentrate on to overcome perfectionism and the destructive procrastination that goes hand-in-hand with it. She’s knows art is important to culture, supports the necessity for excellent work, but won’t let you ruin your success with senselessly chasing perfection.

It’s 204 pages that are packed with good advice, success stories, and real help.

Giveaway: I’ll be giving away this copy. so leave a comment for a chance to win. The drawing will be random. And the winner will be announced on Monday’s blog. Stop by and see if you were the lucky one!

Disclosure: The book was sent to me for review from New World Library. I did not purchase the book I read. However, I did purchase one after I read it, as I’m giving away the original.

Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach who will be using some of the ideas in this book in combination with the ideas in The Inner Hero Creative Art Journal.