Writing is Visual

You are reading a mystery book or a thriller, and can’t put it down. It’s late at night and you begin to wonder if you locked all the doors. What you are reading is coming off the page and making you feel creeped out. Your imagination has turned words into video. Reading is a visual experience.


Maude White is a paper carver–a visual storyteller who tells her fine, complicated, detailed stories in paper. See her work at http://bravebirdpaperart.com/home1/

If you read a wonderful, fat book about a family, you don’t want the book to end. You love the characters, you feel you know them. You could describe them and entertain them. Words are not only visual, but story-telling is emotional–it triggers emotions of compassion, anger, community, fear, love, friendship.

Some writers can create such vivid images that our brain not only translates them into our lives, but we believe we have experienced the events. Our heart pounds, our eyes well up with tears. A good book is an emotional experience. A sensory experience. A visual experience.

In the long battle of design v. writing, I’ve always been on the side of writing. Yes, of course, because I’m a writer. But also because I know that your imagination is so much bigger and stronger than the image someone interprets for you.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach



Decorating With Collections

This gallery contains 6 photos.

Yes, it’s too early for winter holiday decorations. Unless, of course, you are hand-making them. In which case, it’s time to think about all the Autumn and Winter holidays (because some decorations can be combined or re-used). On October 18 … Continue reading

This Little Journal Stayed Home

On my last business trip, I had to hand-carry corrected workbooks. That shrank suitcase space, so I thought, “this time, I’ll leave the journal at home.” I don’t journal every day, so a two-day trip, well, I really wouldn’t need it anyway. The journal stayed in the studio.

Here’s what didn’t make it into my journal the day it happened:

  • The full eclipse, around 3:00 a.m.,  the kind where the moon is red.
  • I ate dinner overlooking an indoor ice rink and noticed that the youngest class fell as often as the older class, but the younger kids laughed when they fell and did deliberate pratfalls, bounding back up again. No fear, no shame, just ready for more fun. Something about being young that acknowledges the purpose of life is learning. By the time you are eight, you feel embarrassed not to know it all.
  • I missed writing down a dream because it evaporated when I woke up without a way to write it down.
Traveling instant art kit: Neocolor II, water brush, pencil, Pitt Pen, eraser. The bare necessities.

Traveling instant art kit: Neocolor II, water brush, pencil, Pitt Pen, eraser. The bare necessities.

Sure, I can write down the two events I remember, but it lacks the immediacy and insight of writing it down as soon as it happens. And the dream is gone.

What to do when there is really no room to take the journal? Here are four ideas:

1. Buy postcards at the airport when I arrive and tuck them into the folder that holds my schedule. There’s always room to take a few postcard stamps. Write down journal entries on the postcards and mail them at the hotel before I leave. Instant journal page!

2. Take photos of things I want to remember and print them out when I get home. Print it out to the size of the journal page, and write on it, or on the back and add it to the journal.

3. Take a few shipping tags to write on. Send them back as postcards (the larger ones) or tuck them into the journal when I get back. Or keep it simple and simply tuck blank index cards into my schedule.

4. Pick something else not to take. A journal is my idea bank, comfort source and being-bored preventer. And it doesn’t have an uncomfortable underwire. A woman’s got to have priorities.

—Quinn McDonald is leaving for Houston, and this time, her journal is coming along.

Listen to Your Journal

Note: Congratulations to Denise Huntington who won the book giveaway on my blog! Denise, send me your mailing address (to QuinnCreative [at] yahoo [dot] com) and Just My Typo will be on the way!  Many of you were generous and said April Lopez and her Dad should win the book. April, send me your mailing address and I’ll send you a book you and your Dad will enjoy!

*    *    *    *    *   *
listen1Listening to your journal is a skill  often neglected by the very people who would benefit from it. We write a lot in our journals, but then we close the covers, put them on the shelf and forget about the wisdom we just wrote. We are used to writing, asking to be heard–praying for answers. But we often miss the answer when it shows up. And it will show up. That’s one of the benefits of  journaling.

For a while, all the writing is pouring out of you in an endless flow. One day, you will find yourself thinking about what you are writing–the words aren’t pouring out on their own. You are paying attention. And all of a sudden, you write something interesting. Profound. An answer to a question you had. You are now in a deep connection to your own wisdom or a wisdom of your Inner Hero.  You have tunneled deep enough to be away from the distraction, and you just dug up an important truth, courtesy of channeling your Inner Hero. Your Inner Hero gives you permission to dream up solutions.

Truth is surprising. We recognize it and blink. Sometimes we wish it were Quotation-Jonathan-Safran-Foer-music-love-listening-experience-Meetville-Quotes-59162something else. But the flash of recognition is the key. You will know. Maybe it’s not the answer you had hoped for, but maybe it’s exactly what you need.

Your pen may race on, while your mind chews on the answer. You may not want to listen, but you will. You will be drawn back to those words, that flash of recognition. It can be an answer, a key to an answer, or simply a truth you have not believed before. Because you could not.

And there it is, on the page in front of you. Underline it. Save it. You may have to finish your thought, your paragraph, your page, but the answer is right there.

You have created the start of a habit. A habit of writing and listening. And when you listen, you’ll find answers. You might have to write a long time to learn to trust yourself, but once you start to listen, you will hear your answers.

Quinn McDonald is a writer who has a lot to learn.


Developing Thorns

1339259The ocotillo in my yard grows each year, usually during Monsoon, when it rains. I’ve written about how it drops and sets leaves in a matter of hours, but I became interested in the thorns.

How does a plant set thorns? Do they grow out of the stems in a separate stage? Do they appear overnight? (I’d believe almost anything about the octotillo).

During the last two weeks my octotillo went into a sudden growth spurt, and I saw, for the first time, how the thorns are formed.

The first thing that happens in the growth spurt is that the stem lengthens and new leaves set. There are two different kind of leaves, and the first ones that set are odd. They have long stems and the fat part of the leaf bends at an odd angle.

Leaves turning into thorns.

Leaves turning into thorns.

The leaf stems are green, but they quickly turn thick, brown and . . . sharp. The leaf ends drop off, leaving the sharp thorns on the stem.

New leaves forming at the base of the thorns.

New leaves forming at the base of the thorns.

And then, almost at the same time as the thorns are forming, small new leaves form at the base of the thorns. They are the real leaves of the ocotillo. They will stay until it becomes too dry to sustain them.

I’ll leave you to see all the metaphor in the ocotillo–how they form protection that looks like a helpless piece of the plant. How thorns aren’t always sharp. They start out as stems, bendable. They harden with time, based on what the plant knows already. And then the leaves come out, at the base, to soften the look of the plant. That should fill your journal for several days.

Quinn McDonald keeps a nature journal because it’s just like real life.

Collateral Damage in Architecture

The phrase “collateral damage” generally means the innocent victims of war–people who got in the way, didn’t understand orders shouted in a foreign language, or those in the wrong place at the wrong time. I hate the word, it makes me cringe. It makes killing the innocent seem somehow accidental and explainable.

Another senseless outcome of war is the destruction of historic buildings. Beautiful, graceful buildings that hold sacred memories, prayers, and art, smashed to dust in seconds.

I’m not interested in knowing that the destruction was necessary or that war is awful. That’s a given. Ask anyone who remembers Kristallnacht, November 8 and 9, 1938, as the Germans smashed their way through Jewish neighborhoods.

The hallways of the Great Mosque of Aleppo.

The hallways of the Great Mosque of Aleppo.

The buildings I’m talking about are in the Middle East, the uneasy part of the world we don’t want to think about. The Tomb of Jonah, sacred to Muslims, Jews and Christians, is now just rubble.

The Buddahs of Bamiyan, giant statues hewn out of a cliff in the year 500 were bombed to dust by the Taliban in 2001.

Another one that breaks my heart is the Great Mosque of Aleppo. The architecture was breathtakingly beautiful. The complicated vaulted ceilings begged the eye to look up into the heavens.

The legend is that the mosque holds the remains of Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist. It was built in the eighth century. It is a house of prayer.

syria_aleppo_great_mosque4The land it stands on has been under siege from one faction or another forever. War is as old as the emotion of fear and anger. Religion has been used as the excuse of hatred for as long as formal (and splinter) religions have existed.

The Great Mosque of Aleppo as it looks now.

The Great Mosque of Aleppo as it looks now.

I don’t have an answer to collateral damage. I just mourn that along with people, so much art, so much history, so much spiritual growth is ground to dust under the boot heels of war.

–Quinn McDonald knows that art describes the rise of culture and the destruction of art brings the destruction of culture.


Book Giveaway: Just My Typo

No, the title is not a typo, the book title is Just My Typo, a compilation of mistakes, goofs, slips and typos by Drummond Moir.

9780385346610I talk a lot about making mistakes, so it seems like a good time to give away a book full of them, from misheard instructions to fat-fingered keystrokes. Twelve chapters that will make you grin, cringe, and push the comma over just a little.

From page 42: “In 1924 Mr. Rockwell compiled the genial orgy of the Rockwell family.”

The chapters include:

  • To be or To Be: typos in Literature
  • The Fourth Mistake: typos in the media
  • The Word Stage: typos of historical and political significance
  • The Lingua Franca: typos abroad
  • Food for Thought: grastronomic typos
  • The Cost of a Comma: the most expenxive typos
  • Immaculate Contraption: kids’ typos

It’s a short book, 168 pages of typos and an excellent index so you can find your article-1290338-0A3CD984000005DC-923_634x402favorites again.

From page 68: “Chocolate potato cake: 6 oz. margarine, 1 oz. cocoa, 4 oz. mashed potato, 5 oz. self-raising flour, 433 eggs, size 3.”

There are typo photos and collected typos and favorites of editors and writers.

How to win the book: Leave a comment, letting me know why this is the book for you. Winner will be announced on this coming Friday, October 10 on the blog. Be sure to check back in to see if you won!

–Quinn McDonald loves typos unless she makes them.

The Last Swim of Summer

One morning, the water begins to chill instead of cool. I swim a little harder, warming it and warming me.

The sun stays off the water longer, hiding behind the hedge, slowly edging up. Not like the August sun, brassily reflecting in the water long before I dropped into the deep end.

palm trees reflected in a swimming pool © Quinn McDonald, 2009

palm trees reflected in a swimming pool © Quinn McDonald, 2009

Not like the summer sun that crisped all skin not hiding under a least one foot of pool-blue water.

The September sun kept the water warm enough to trust.

Until the last week of September, when the wind turned. Days still hot, but the night air sucked the warm right off the water.

I went in one foot at a time, hoping each time it was not the last.

Like saying goodbye to a lover, I always hope there is one more day, one more weightless hanging between dawn and work. One more sliding through the water looking at a fierce blue sky.

This morning it was too cold to swim and I did anyway, lips as blue as the last

August sunrise in Phoenix.

Sunrise in Phoenix.

berries in the store. Looking up, wanting the sun to rise, I saw the first V of migrators arrive.

The pool rocked water up the stairs as I ran for my towel just as a tired duck took up the space I left in the water. We looked at each other, as we exchanged places and the seasons changed.

-Quinn McDonald won’t be in the pool anymore this year, but she can walk the sun up every day.

Rumors and Rumor-Mongering

Last week found me traveling back from Dallas with a head cold I had picked up somewhere along the trail. The news of where I’d been hadn’t been out of my mouth for three seconds when a well-meaning friend said, “I hope it’s not Ebola.”

Big sigh.

Fear. Fear-mongering. Fueled by rumors. Let’s take a look: I was nowhere near

From healthy-lifestyle.com

From healthy-lifestyle.com

Thomas Eric Duncan while I was in Dallas–I was in a hotel and at a client’s office. The incubation period is from two to 21 days, making Dallas unlikely as a source for my cold, let alone Ebola. You have to come into direct contact with bodily fluids to get Ebola, so all of this is just stirring the fear pot.

Sadly, I’ve seen this twice before. Once in the 1980s, when AIDS first was defined as an incurable, death-causing disease. There were nasty rumors about gays then, too. The other time was after 9/11, when all Muslims became painted as terrorists. I sat in on a class of a fellow instructor, a Muslim woman who wore a headscarf, and shook my head at the advice she was given: just take off the scarf. Interestingly enough, none of the terrorists had been women.

UUaJbEDMeanwhile, we are growing a fresh crop of panic over Ebola. I’m not saying it’s a harmless virus, it is not. But I am saying that we have serious problems in this country—heart disease is the number one killer of humans in the U.S. About 68 people die every hour in the U.S. of heart disease. In a year, it adds up to 600,000. Over half a million. Not a single person has ever asked me if I still eat bacon. Or if I exercise. Nope. Because Ebola is more dramatic.

The people who are fear-mongering over Ebola are not nearly as worried about heart disease, diabetes, or cancer. AIDS has claimed about 636,000 lives, but we don’t talk about it anymore.

Let’s not get hysterical about Ebola. Yes, it’s a serious disease. No, there is no cure for it. Yet. (And there is no cure for MS, diabetes, ALS, cancer or the common cold). Take a deep breath and realize that you have better things to worry about. And let’s not talk about shutting down air traffic between the U.S. and Africa. That would have been a brilliant strategy in 1619, but we’re about 400 years too late for that.

Fear leads to fear-mongering. Leads to rumors. To lies. To hatred. To victimizing. Let’s stop it early.

Quinn McDonald is feeling well enough to rant.


I Hab a Code

It’s been a long time since I had a cold. I can’t remember the last time, although I do remember I was offended that it ruined the beginning of a good summer–so maybe 2013. Yes, I am very lucky to be healthy. While I do wash my hands often, I never wipe the handle of the grocery cart, do not carry hand-santizer in my purse, use the markers and eraser that others use in classrooms. Builds strength for my immune system.

What surprised me today was how completely unprepared I am to be sick. lazy4Having just arrived home from a teaching gig, and having to lead a celebration of someone’s life tomorrow, and then leave for another teaching gig on Monday, I had work to do. There is no time to be sick.

Yelling at your body doesn’t work. It’s better to be kind. A dozen times today, I reached for my car keys to run errands. Then I changed my mind. Instead, I created a to-do list of items that needed to be done, and grouped them into tasks I could do with minimum effort. Harder stuff can wait a day or so.

napSeveral tasks done, I headed for bed. In the middle of the day. And I took a nap. The best cure I know for colds, flu, general poopy feeling is lying down and staying down. Naps are suspect, but naps are a great idea. I’m fond of coffee naps–drink a cup of coffee and lie down. For 20 minutes, while your body revs up with coffee, you can get in a good nap.

Your body needs to rest. While you are resting, all those antioxidants you take can get busy fighting for your immune system.

For years I refused to rest when I was sick. I went to work, spread my cold to others and felt awful for two weeks. Now that I own the business, I’m smarter. No spreading the cold, rest and hope I’ll feel awful for one week.

Take care of your body. It’s the only one you will have in this life.

–Quinn McDonald will be happy when the cold goes to play with someone else’s sinuses.