Category Archives: The Writing Life

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:  http://wp.me/p2H1i-3Iz

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.

Beyond Art Journaling

Nothing against art journaling. I still love it. But I need a break from it. So many people have piled on so many products, paints, stamps, stencils, embossers, hole-punchers that I got dizzy and had to sit down.

A page of William Blake's Commonplace Journal

A page of William Blake’s Commonplace Journal

I’m back to using my Commonplace Journal. The one that holds all the facts, ideas, quotes that pile up in my days. It’s so comfortable, like a pair of shoes that are soft and still can be worn to a teaching gig. My Commonplace Journal doesn’t demand painted pages, drying time, or planning. It holds whatever shows up. For me, that includes meaning-making.

Two deep loves for journaling (for me) is watching time pass on a big scale and nature. This time of year (fall for the Northern hemisphere) the days begin to get noticeably shorter. For Arizona, it is a huge relief, as the sun simply doesn’t pack the punch to crisp your skin in five minutes. The pool starts to get cool again. By the end of September, you will need hot water when you shower (in summer, the water comes hot out of the cold water tap.

Because my memory is keyed to weather, its hard for me to remember what happens when. It was easier on the East Coast–my memories were tied to cool weather or a coat I had on. Or mud season and black flies. But here, there is a giant blue bowl of sky above us 322 days a year, so I have to keep track of what happened, and when.

Calendar at the beginning of the month, pencil boxes still in place. Not much filled in.

Calendar at the beginning of the month, pencil boxes still in place. Not much filled in.

In the Commonplace Journal, I draw a rough outline for the month on a page that starts the month. I use a pencil to do this. Then I use a pen and box in days in which something is caught. On the first and last days of the month, I notice the length of the day.  In September, the day of the Harvest (full) Moon, the autumnal equinox, and the progress of my plants. Maybe I add sketches, maybe not. Depends on what happens.

At the end of the month, I add color (if I want) and erase the lines on days that I didn’t fill in.

Feb. 2010, complete with what i noticed around the yard.

Feb. 2010, complete with what i noticed around the yard.

Keeping this calendar doesn’t replace writing, I do that, too. But it shows at a glance what happened outside for that month. It’s great for gardeners, nature lovers, and hikers.

You can, of course, track anything. Birthdays, school milestones, heights of your kids, grandkids or how long you walked the dog.

Calendars keep track of items we want to remember but not use up brain power remembering. A simple, hand-drawn calendar is an excellent journal page.

-Quinn McDonald keeps journaling in ways that make meaning, whatever they are.

 

 

Inner Hero Blog Class Starts Sept. 13

We all need inner heroes. Not all of us know how to find them. We are far more familiar with our inner critics. I want to help people find their inner heroes, even though it is not always easy. The class is about Writing Yourself Whole, gathering up the parts that don’t fit, that may be broken and finding a way to get to your strength through your journal.

Starting on this coming Saturday, I’ll be teaching a week-long class on this blog. YehudaBergQuoteIt’s about finding yourself in your inner hero, claiming your strength, knowing when you run off the rails by listening to your inner critic and all the people who mimic him. Naming your inner heroes help make them real, usable.

Each day you will be introduced to an inner critic you are probably familiar with.  Some you may recognize, some are facing you daily at work or at home, in your family or friends. You’ll then be given several prompts to use in your journal. The prompts will help you explore different ways to climb over the obstructions that block happiness, satisfaction, and contentment.

This is not an art journaling class. It’s a bone-deep writing class. You can make it into an art journaling class if you want, but this time, it’s about the writing. The connection to yourself and your strength. Through your fears and doubts. Doing some hard writing, deep writing.

The class is free. Some people will want to pay anyway. Some will find value and want to account for that. I am leaving it up to you–if you want to pay, you can. If you want to take the class for free, you are welcome to it. Here is the link to my site that allows you to donate any amount or get a gift for donating certain amounts. Again, the class is free; you don’t have to pay unless you want to.

(If, for any reason the buttons don’t work, please contact me at QuinnCreative [at] Yahoo [dot] com. They have been cranky today.)

I’m hoping that you will want to take the class and that it will help you find out the wonderful parts of you that are your inner heroes.

--Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach and the author of The Inner Hero Creative Art Journal

 

Letting Ideas Ripen

Impatient. That’s a word I’d use to describe myself. I am also a Myers-Briggs “J” which means I like things settled, decided, and organized. I make decisions quickly, and if one of them doesn’t work out, I’d rather make another than spend hours weighing pros and cons.

Most of the time this works well. I choose a path and act. It keeps the business going and the artwork progressing. But sometimes acting isn’t the best choice.

banana_ripeningchartA few months ago I submitted a book proposal to my agent. It was a book I had decided to write because I could, because I had some previous research. The outline came together smoothly, but a small voice in the back of my head said, “I really want to get to Chapter 10, that’s going to be a great chapter.”

My agent was on an extended trip, and I noticed an interesting drift in her absence: I didn’t start the book. Instead, I began to see a huge structural flaw. At first I thought it was my inner critic showing up. In a moment of clarity, I put the outline away. It needed some time to ripen. To develop. I needed to wait for another vision, or as I call it, a re-vision.

Two busy weeks later, I opened the outline again. It had time to ripen, and I 0628sp_tomatocould see clearly that the flaw was real. It wasn’t the inner critic. The flaw was small, but crucial. It shifted the book away from the point I had been working toward.

But Chapter 10 was still the best part. The idea that had ripened was the idea that Chapter 10 could be a book on its own. This time, I didn’t rush to re-write the outline. What I did write was a note to the agent. I told her about the flaw and that I wanted to consider scrapping the idea for another, smaller idea.

Ideas need time to ripen. This one is not yet ready for an outline, but it is ready for some back-burner-ing. Letting it develop. Because writing borrows some great techniques from cooking–choosing and chopping and careful preparation. And choosing the perfect, ripe ingredients when the time is right.

—Quinn McDonald is waiting for an idea to ripen before she starts working with it.

 

Five Ways to Stay Organized

It’s Monday, and organizational skills might be running thin.  If you are at work, you may envy the CEO or agency head for their organizational skills. (And the help they have.) Even without administrative assistants, you can use the ideas and organize your day. Maybe even your week. Here are some tips.

1. Write everything down on one to-do list. Not one for personal items and one for work, but just one list. And while you are at it, write down all your fears and worries as well. The more you separate work, worries, events, appointments, the more your brain has to scramble to sort and repeat it. It’s called a rehearsal loop. (Daniel J. Levitin describes the neuroscience in his book.) That repetition makes the worries and work seem like its more and worse.  You don’t need the stress.

This mess is great for a dropcloth, but not so much for your head.

This mess is great for a dropcloth, but not so much for your head.

2. Once it’s on a list, divide it into four categories. I got this great idea from Getting Things Done by David Allen:

  • Do it
  • Delegate it
  • Defer it
  • Drop it

Now take those items and sort them using the Eisenhower method. Yep, that long-ago President. He  is supposed to have said, “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”  How do you divide urgent and important? Here’s the chart Eisenhower used:

Eisenhower-urgent-important3. Don’t read emails first. I know, that is not at all what you have been trained to do. When you read emails, you begin to answer them. It’s like opening your front door and having random people come in and ask for help. You wouldn’t dream of doing that. So don’t start the day with other people’s work. For the first hour at work, pay attention to your own work.

Using the chart above, and do two items from the “urgent and important” box and some action to move one “important but urgent” item one step ahead.

Bonus tip: Break down the whole chunk of work into smaller segments you can do in 20 minutes. That’s what goes down on your to-do list. If you see, “Write presentation for convention,” you will not know where to start. If you see, “brainstorm three ideas for presentation,” you will tackle it.

4. Send some emails. Your inbox is filled with what other people consider urgent but not important. Don’t fall for it. Fill up someone else’s inbox with what you consider urgent but not important. This doesn’t have to mean a direct report. Someone who is better at that task that you will do nicely. And say “please” early on.

If your boss has trained you to be available and ready to jump at the slightest notice, just open the boss’s emails and put them in one of those four categories.

Do not allow your boss to plan your day for you. You won’t have a decently planned day, and you won’t do enough for the boss anyway. Otherwise, your life will turn into this quote. (One of my favorites.)

d02bd27c2f315917f42326435dd12f805. Use your phone as a timer and reminder. Set your timer so you won’t be late for meetings and appointments. Use the same timer to divide your time so you can move several projects ahead. Think of it as a circuit workout at the gym–two minutes on 10 different machines builds better muscles and burns more fat. And fat-burning mode is great for Monday morning work.

Trying to work on one thing for a whole day will just turn you into someone who cleans their desk, makes four pots of coffee and stirs the office gossip pot. One of the best way to avoid getting caught up in office politics is to be busy getting your own work done. And you’ll feel virtuous.

There. Now you’ve done something worthwhile on Monday morning. And I have to get to work.

—Quinn McDonald makes her to-do list every night before she goes to bed. That keeps her worries written down so she can sleep well at night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Journal Entries in Shorts

The tag Lisa uses for this journaling challenge.

The tag Lisa uses for this journaling challenge. Don’t click, it doesn’t work. Use the link up on the left, in the text.

Journaling every day is tough. Staying current on Lisa Sonora’s 30-day journal challenge is even tougher. So far, I’ve made it through 22 days. It has not been easy. A lot of the prompts are interesting, but for me, there are some that don’t jump start me.

Now, I’m a writer, but some times I do not like to write essays on a prompt. In fact, I hardly ever like to write an essay when I’m told. It sounds suspiciously like work. Admittedly, Lisa is encouraging art journaling, but I wanted to try getting down to content, not allowing myself to hide behind color or hand lettering.

This is hard. And then I had a weird idea and tried it. And it is working, although not quite fully developed.

Rather than writing down my thoughts about the prompt, which can be kind of thin, I created a list of words that the prompt made me think of. It didn’t matter if they made sense to someone else, or how I connected them. Simply words that jumped to mind.

journalWhen I read the list, some of them were strange, almost-poems. One of the prompts was a quote from Rainer Maria Rilke:

“Let nothing in me hold itself closed. For where I am closed, I am false. I want to be clear in your sight.”

Without over thinking (a habit of mine), I wrote:

Closed
silent
strong
false

Clear
windows
sunlight
warm
hot
burn

balance

Certainly not a poem, but also certainly an idea for one.

Another quote was “Solitude is the cure for loneliness.” –Caroline Casey.

And the list:

Solitude is peace
Loneliness is heartbreak
Welcome solitude
Inner warmth
Comfort

Loneliness runs from itself
can’t escape
runs to others
who can’t hear you

in their solitude
which they want
to protect.

Again, not a poem, but certainly the blip on a radar screen of one. If you are a list-maker, this idea may be something that works more than writing three pages a day. Just a list of words that come to mind. Then leave it alone. When you return, it will have done some work on its own, and you can take what you need for your poem.

--Quinn McDonald is developing an affection for list journaling.

Begging The Question: Getting it Right

Ahem.

[tap, tap, tap].

Can everyone hear me? Thank you.

Today’s aggrieved English phrase is “begging the question.” First, what this phrase does not mean. Begging the question isn’t the same as “raising the question,” “asking the question,” or “brings up the question.” No. It is completely different.

“Begging the question” is an example of faulty logic. It actually has nothing to do

with asking a question. Another name for it is “begging the claim,” which makes the working parts easier to understand.

When someone begs the question, the speaker draws a conclusion, not from facts, but from something else stated in the sentence. For example:  Mean and ignorant people like John should never become department heads.

While “mean and ignorant people should not become department heads” is  logical, the very thing that needs to be proven—why John is not good leadership material—is assumed in the sentence.

log4p6Another example: She is a slob because she is unattractive.  Maybe the woman is unattractive, but that does not immediately make her a slob. More proof is needed. The sentence relies on proof that is assumed and not proven.

One more: Pollution-spouting monster trucks should be banned. The very conclusion that needs to be proven–that monster trucks create a lot of pollution—is missing. It’s just assumed.

Saturday bonus: Confusing words explained

Staunch means loyal or committed in support. “She was a staunch supporter of civil rights.” (It rhymes with paunch.)

Stanch means to stop or restrict, like a flow of blood. (It rhymes with blanch.)

Both words come from the same Old English (via Old French) word meaning “watertight.” While there is a strong trend to let both words mean both things, part of the beauty of the language is in the subtle differences in words that give specific, shaded and nuanced meanings to sentences.

Thank you.

Have a nice day.

—Quinn McDonald loves the English language in all it’s maddening confusion.

 

 

Time Travel

Time moves on whether we use it or not. We can’t speed it up or slow it down, but we are experts at ignoring it.

It's not time, it's a tattoo.

It’s not time, it’s a tattoo.

Reading through Facebook this morning, I had no desire to post anything. Some days Facebook is like a statue and we are pigeons–swoop in, deposit something, and fly off.  I was not connecting to anything.  Cute videos, tragic abandoned dogs and car accidents . . .I forget them as soon as they move off the screen. Really, it was just floating in a half-world of unreal experience, none of it memorable.

I got up early this morning to get work done. But first, check Facebook and emails and Pinterest and stop by Twitter. Because, no kidding, I feel guilty if I don’t check in on my. . . what, exactly? My displaced feeling of connection is what. Bumper-sticker philosophy passing as thoughtfulness. Beautiful photographs, funny cartoons. This is not connection.  This is not friendship. This is also not doing nothing. It is fueling a low-grade irritation about ideas I have already considered.   Still, I can do this because on the internet you can do nothing and rationalize it as social networking, and call it working.

By 7 a.m. when I’d been up for ovr two hours, I has spent the entire time sitting at my desk, staring at my laptop.

Who knows if you are wasting time with the Un-Time clock from randomization.com

Who knows if you are wasting time with the Un-Time clock from randomization.com

I was not relaxing. I was not doing anything, either. I was in some sort of half-awake world of semi-attention, hoping that something would inspire me.

What would really inspire me was rest. It came up like a huge bubble from under a deep pool–if I wanted to rest, I should rest. Stop fooling myself. So I got up, closed the computer, and went back to bed.

I lay on my back, wondering if I should be working. No, I was tired, so I closed my eyes. It felt. . .good. I fell asleep quickly. Slept for two hours. Woke up rested.

When I returned to the computer, I did not check in on Facebook. It ran just fine without me. Instead, I wrote down what I needed to do, set the timer on a reasonable amount of time to accomplish it, and started writing. It worked. Because I was rested.

Lying down is resting. Lying down and opening your iPad is not resting.
I like Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter. But it’s not work and it’s not research. It needs to fit into my goofing-off time. So if I don’t have time to goof-off, I will not call posting on Facebook “working,” and spend 45 minutes reading what semi-strangers are doing.

Rest when I’m tired. Work when I need to work. Goof off when i am done working. That feels better.

Quinn McDonald had a good nights sleep. Finally.

Journaling Experience

Lisa Sonora is running a 30-day journaling challenge. The challenge is free and she posts about the prompts every day.  It’s been years since I journaled on someone else’s prompts. Seemed like an interesting idea. And so far (this is day nine) is has been.

The tag Lisa uses for this journaling challenge.

The tag Lisa uses for this journaling challenge. The “click here” doesn’t work in this photo. Use the link in the first line.

Something I’ve noticed–when you have a lot of life’s experiences under your belt, you see journal prompts in ways that life has shaped you. (Or that you have shaped yourself in reaction to your life).

While this journaling experience is an art journal, I’m not doing it that way. I find it too easy to slap down some color or use a stencil and then create a facile reason in my head. Because I have a big imagination, I’m also really good at rationalization, and that’s the wrong direction for this journaling trip.

This is a written journal for me. But I’m allowing myself to think and write visually, as I usually do when I take notes. So it’s part written, part sketch notes.

One of the questions this week was about our life’s purpose. I realized with a bit

My journal entry considering your life's purpose

My journal entry considering your life’s purpose

of a shock that I better have that figured out by now. I’m well past the time when I have the steak portion of my life ahead of me, ready to slice and serve.

So I drew what appeared in my head: a closely fit puzzle, in which your purpose trickles through layers and connections, changing and remaining the same. Arrows show that you move in more than one direction at once, that experience shapes decisions, and that the goal is often pushed off into a corner, forgotten for the rush of the experience. And those two empty blocks? Well, they come at the beginning and the end.  There is always room for growth and not knowing.

-–Quinn McDonald held the door open for someone at the bank yesterday. She felt the cool air rush over her as the other person slowly moved inside. And she knew it was her purpose in life. To hold the door open without expectation, and to feel the cool rush push away the stinging heat in delight.

 

Journal Words That Trip You Up

images1Writing in a journal, especially when you write by hand, leaves you open to making mistakes. One word sounds a lot like another. And before you know it, you’ve said the wrong thing. Here is a list of words I’ve seen misused frequently (not just in journals, but in newspapers, on TV, and spoken by people who should know better.)

Simplistic. Doesn’t mean easy or simple. It means oversimplifying by leaving out important factors. Use “simple” instead.

Podium. A riser. You have to step up on it. Comes from the Greek for ‘feet,’ as Podium_of_2009WAGC_Beamdoes podiatrist. The tall piece of furniture you stand behind to deliver a speech is a lectern.

Pacific. Means peaceful. The ocean on the West side of the U.S. is called the Pacific. If you want to talk about precise or exact, that’s specific.

Disinterested. Fair or impartial. Does not mean “used to be interested but not any more.” That word is uninterested.

Towards: No S. It’s toward.

Actionable. Not an action item on a list. Much worse. Something that will get you sued. “Patting the tushy of my boss not only is actionable, it got me fired.”

One off.  Short for “one of a kind,” not “turn this one off,” or even “off the last ‘f’ in this word.” So it’s “one of.”

For all intensive purposes. Words that got squished together by sound. It is For all intents and purposes.

Chomping at the bit. Nope. The sound is not a big bite (chomp) it is a noisy grinding (champ). So the phraseimages is Champing at the bit.

Rain, reign, rein. The first is water, the second is the rule of a king or queen, the third is how you control a horse. So you give someone free rein, so they can go wherever they want, not become a dictator, which happens with free reign.

Sherbert. No R for the ice-cream like treat. It’s sherbet.

Restauranteur. If the person owns a restaurant, it has no ‘n’ in it–it’s restaurateur.

—Quinn McDonald loves the English language and occasionally fears for it.