Tag Archives: creativity coach

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 “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 “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

This gallery contains 2 photos.

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

Copyright Protection or Nothing New in the World

When it comes down to teaching your art, you find yourself in one of two worlds: the kind where you protect your copyright avidly, not handing out how-to sheets for fear of having them stolen or shrugging it off and saying, “everything is derivative anyway. I got my ideas from someplace else, too.”

Those ideas lie at opposite ends of the spectrum, and I’d like to introduce a third idea, maybe a fourth.

First, let me admit I’ve lived at both ends of the spectrum. I was not happy when a fellow artist came into my booth, years ago, took photos of my work, claiming it was because she “loved my display,” then rolled out a line of stunningly similar artwork the next season, priced just below mine.

Nor was I happy when I was in a class on a topic I’d taught often, and was hoping to get out of a rut, and was handed a how-to sheet that looked stunningly familiar. It was familiar, in fact, it was my handout, complete with copyright on the bottom line, photocopied for the entire class.

At some point I decided that everything I taught, every article I published should be something I had already taught to exhaustion, or I was ready to give up. But part of the fun of teaching is getting inspired by students. Would I have to give it up?

Now, I am careful to copyright my work. I send it to the copyright office once a quarter, with payment. That allows me to sue for damages for violators. But I also don’t want to be the copyright police. And I want to promote innovation and creativity. If I do not want anyone to know what I’m working on, I don’t post it anyplace. Or talk about it.

People will always explore, and people will always use what they find. Gracious people ask, kind people give credit. But if you teach, no one can teach the way you do. Your personality combined with your skill and talent make your class. And people will come to your class because you are welcoming and a good teacher. No one can take that from you.

-Quinn McDonald teaches what she knows.


Round the World Blog Hop

If you read this blog and the comments, you know Wendy from Late Start Studio. Describing herself, Wendy says:

“I’ve been messing around with something ‘arty’ since childhood, have always been able to squeeze in time to explore some new creative venture, but still haven’t managed to settle on one thing . . . I’m not unhappy at the prospect of remaining a mucker for life, living on a beach on the wildish west coast of the North Island of Aotearoa/New Zealand.”

Check out Wendy’s latest work, I love her free-range ideas.

Hotel hallway wallpaper, Arlington, VA

Hotel hallway wallpaper, Arlington, VA The paper is flat, although it looks dimensional.


Wendy asked me to be part of a blog hop, which are like postcard swaps–you run into the nicest people anywhere in the world. I eagerly checked out the names on Wendy’s blog hop page, and, to my absolute amazement–I knew them all. Diana Trout is one of the kindest art teachers I know; Violette Clark wrote Journal Bliss about the time I was writing Raw Art Journaling,  and Tammy Garcia from Daisy Yellow is a great inspiration for me.

OK, so here are the blog hop questions and answers:

What are you working on? Wouldn’t it be nice if I gave one, succinct answer? Yeah, wrong person. I just finished a custom class on innovation and problem solving for a training course. I’m so proud that a municipality asked for it. Eventually, it will become the basis of my class on creative problem solving.  I just finished the workbook today.

"White Crow, Black Sun," © Quinn McDonald. Collage on handmade paper.

“White Crow, Black Sun,” © Quinn McDonald. Collage on handmade paper.

On the creative side, I  finished a collage  (White Crow, Black Sun).  I’ve already developed a change I want to make on the next version.

How does your work differ from others of its genre?  Many collage artists today favor “layers on layers” with bright colors, stencils, imprints, and a lot of paint and paper. My work is minimalist. The eye rests on and delights in the texture and color of the background paper. There is time for the viewer to create personal meaning, if they wish, or wonder what I meant. All of my pieces are named, and the name is part of the meaning.

Why do you write/create what I do? Because I can’t not write. Writing is always an exploration for me, a connection, a reaching out to see what will happen. I write for a living and to support my art habit. I also write poetry.

The collage work is purely for self-expression. I make meaning with my work. Creativity is my religion. I draw power and strength and comfort from it.

How does your writing/creating process work? Given enough sleep and coffee, I can write on command, on almost any subject. My corporate life was as a writer, and no one had time or room for writer’s block.

Hotel hallway runner, Washington, D.C.

Hotel hallway runner, Washington, D.C. Inspiration plenty here.

My collage work reaches back to a time before I knew who I was. I dream and develop concepts, plan an image. But I can’t anticipate design problems, so I solve what shows up along the way, or create a series that builds on what I’ve learned from the last piece, the last mistake.  I often make sketches to remind me of what I want to do.

My heart of my work is as a creativity coach, and I learn so much from my clients–about life, growth and change.

I have a small studio in my home, and I just re-did the studio to avoid too much product and having too many distractions. I find the room brighter, airier and the creative process seems lighter as well.

Next week, be sure to stop by Claudia Mazzie-Ballheim’s blog. She’ll be catching you up on her creative life. Visit Claudia’s website, too. There are two more bloggers, but I’m saving those for another day.

-–Quinn McDonald is going to Minneapolis tomorrow to teach. She is waiting for whatever may happen.


Traveling Shrine

Traveling is an adventure–you meet new people, eat interesting meals, and are awake to new experiences. Traveling is also exhausting and frustrating–airline delays, people acting out, and hotel rooms that make you feel like a stranger missing the comforts of home.

To lighten the discomfort of traveling, I’ve developed some self-care habits that make it possible to put up with frustrations, sleep better, and return home without needing a whole day to fit back into my body.  Some examples:

  • Buy a complete set of makeup for your travel kit–no more plundering your drawer before and after every trip.
  • Treat yourself to a pair of very comfy slip-on shoes to wear on the airplane so you can run through the airport if you have to, and take a walk when you get to our destination if you want to.
  • Switch to a Commonplace Journal. Packing a sketch journal and a notes journal and a travel journal means nothing will get journaled.
  • Bring non-work-related reading material and use flight time to read something fun or interesting. You really can’t work all the time.
  • Create a ritual for your hotel room. Make it something pleasant or soothing. Using a hotel room as an office then going to sleep with the TV on wrecks your sleep.

My ritual started with a tin of Trader Joe’s breath mints. They look like this:

Box_mintsA perfect little plastic window in a 2-inch square box. I wanted to make a small traveling Inner Hero shrine, filled with inner heroes that I can call on when I’m in a strange city. Something that calms me to a better self.

Box_openThe box is well-hinged and stocked with mild breath mints that are also low in sugar. Perfect all the way around. Note the label blocking the window in the lid. Remove it slowly, heating it with a hair dryer, to get it off. I had to use Goo-Gone to get off all traces of the label. I wiped the inside out with alcohol to get rid of the mint-dust.

Box_templateBecause the tin is already bright green, I don’t need to paint it. But I wanted to make a series of inserts for the tin, so I cut a template that would fit.

Box_insertsUsing pieces of Monsoon Paper, monoprint scraps, brayered-off pieces of paper, and other colorful scraps, I cut out colorful pieces of art. On the back, I scoured my journals for Inner Hero characteristics. I rounded the corners of each piece then wrote on the back.  My Inner Heroes have characteristics that I have or almost have and will get used to, with some practice. Here are a few:

  • She listens with curiosity, not to form an answer.
  • She hears fear in angry outbreaks. There is no need to reply in anger.
  • What is the speaker’s perspective? Can I stand in that space?
  • She notices when she judges, and considers.

Box_DoneSometimes I flip through the colored side, pick something that appeals to me, read the back, and that becomes something to pay attention to the next day. I put the card on the top, so the colored side shows through the window as a reminder.

Box_shrineOther times, I put my talisman necklace in the shrine with one of the cards to create a focal point of home and heart and use it as a meditation focal point at night or in the morning. It’s easier to meditate in a strange place with a well-loved and comfortable focal point.

Sometimes, I just shuffle through the colored sides, remembering the work they came from originally. It’s calming and grounding. And best of all, the box takes up a tiny bit of space that fits in the side pocket of my backpack, easily available.

—Quinn McDonald travels and teaches. She learns something about every city and she learns something about herself in every city.



Writing Wild (Book Review and Giveaway)

Tina Welling is a fiction writer, known for Cowboys Never Cry, Fairytale Blues and Crybaby Ranch. This book, Writing Wild, is non-fiction; in fact, it is a book about writing.  Here’s how Welling describes the book:

Everything we know about creating, we know intuitively from the natural world. Over and over, nature shows us the rules of creativity. . . Writing Wild offers writers, journal keepers, and those others of us who wish to live more fully a direct pathway into a stronger relationship with wildness, both inner and outer. The result is writing that inspires, heal, enlivens, and deeply engages both writer and reader.

writingwildAs a model, she takes Joseph Campbell, who wrote, “The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.”

Welling lives in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, a place where (I imagine) you love the natural world, or you move away.

She believes in using all five senses in writing, and has several exercises to show you how to do that, too. She uses a method called “Naming, Detailing, Interacting,” which she describes in detail, so you can learn how to get the most out of a nature walk, and bring it into your writing.

She also shows us how to truly inhabit our body. For many of my coaching clients, the body ends right at the neck, there is a vague connection to fingers (for writing or typing) and then. . .nothing. I’m always surprised at how many writers live their entire lives in their head. Welling pries you out of it with gentle, easy exercises that make you realize how much of your truth lives in your body.

Once you have learned to connect your body to your head, she guides you to understand that intuition is a knowledge we all have, but often don’t trust. And that writing is the healing action that combines body and soul.

One of my favorite parts of the book is the idea that we do not, after all, write what we know. Instead, Welling says, we write to know something, and that something is ourselves. (I found a hint of Inner Hero here.)

Chapter titles include:

  • Nature as a Writing Partner
  • The Body Never Lies
  • Creativity and the Four Elements
  • Lessons from the Natural World
  • The Energy of Writing
  • Follow Your Longing
  • Wild Spirit

This book is certainly not for everyone. But for hikers, naturalists or writers curious about the world around them, you will find help, validation, and some interesting exercises to help you become the writer you already know you are.

Giveaway: Leave a comment that you want a free copy of the book. On Saturday, I will announce the winner. Make sure you stop by on Saturday, May 10 to see if you won and send me your mailing address. Good luck!

Note: Congratulations to Kaisa Mäki-Petäjä, who won Writing Wild. I love her blog, here’s the link to the boulders she draws in her journal. Send me your mailing address to QuinnCreative AT yahoo DOT com. The publisher sent me two books, and I’m giving away the second one as well. Congratulations to Diane Becka, new owner of the second book!

Thanks to everyone who left a comment!

Disclosure: New World Library kindly sent me two copies of the book because I wanted to keep one and give one away.

—Quinn McDonald is a writer who loves to read books about writing.


Creative Hop: May 3, 2014

Federico Uribe creates color-pencil art. Sure, he might use the color pencils to put down color, but mostly, he uses the whole pencil as part of the artwork. Uribe, a Miami-based artist, uses found objects in his sculptures and his artwork, integrating them so carefully, they look as if they belonged exactly where he put them. Because they do.

uribemixed3Uribe says that using found objects is like interpreting the shape of clouds. He says that each object is like a word, providing context as well as content.

In the top artwork, you’ll see the background is a long line of yellow #2 pencils.

*    *     *     *   *   *

Andy Ellison is an MRI technician. He takes scans of people’s brains to earn a living. One day, in order to check the settings on the machine, he scanned an orange. He was amazed at the detail, the shape, and the movement.  It’s the movement that mesmerized me. Below is an artichoke, and it doesn’t move. Click on the link below to see the magical moving scans.

MRI of artichoke by Andy Ellison.

MRI of artichoke by Andy Ellison.

In Ellison’s blog, Inside Insides, he has a series of animations that seem to grow, shrink, multiply. Art and nature makes a great combination.

*   *   *   *

Ron Isaacs delicate vintage clothing is certainly art. It gets more amazing when you realize it’s not fabric, it’s wood. Finnish birch plywood, to be exact.

isaacs-2Isaacs sees his work as a combination of painting and sculpture. Of his subjects, he says, “My three primary recurring subjects are vintage clothing (for the way it continues the life of the past into the present, for its rich structures and colors and shapes, and for its anthropomorphic presence as a stand-in for the figure); plant materials in the form of sticks, leaves, and flowers (for too many reasons to list); and found objects. “

Have a creative weekend!

—Quinn McDonald is constantly amazed at the creativity of people who make art.