Tag Archives: writing

Before You Commit

Some wisdom I’ve known for a long time: Pay very close attention to the way people treat you before they hire you, marry you, work with you, or take a class from you. Everyone’s behavior changes with familiarity, but if your future mate, work partner, client, or boss doesn’t treat you well before you agree to the commitment, it is going to go downhill after you commit.

The door closes from both sides--you can close it as well at the person on the other side.

The door closes from both sides–you can close it as well at the person on the other side.

Often, when we want the job, the guy (or girl), the friend, we deny our own wants and goals and give them up in order to get that short-term goal. “So what if this deal has some thorns?” we think. “Even roses have thorns,” we reason. “And I sure want that armload of roses to carry down the runway.” And then comes the job offer or the class or the friendship, and we are so blinded with the short-term victory, we miss the opportunity to ask ourselves if this behavior is really OK with us. Most often, it isn’t OK. And it’s not a runway, it’s a long hard road and the petals fall off the roses and we are carrying an armful of thorns.

But that short-term victory is huge and ego-inflating.  And right after that, when we want respect, it’s not there. We’ve signed the contract, accepted the lower pay, given up what we really wanted and it’s not going to come your way now. Negotiations are over. Work has started. You have settled for less than you wanted, and you will not get that upgrade. Why should they? You voluntarily gave up your values to get the short-term rush of pleasure. When it fades, the rest of the duration will look bleak.

You may have to open your own window to let a fresh breeze blow in.

You may have to open your own window to let a fresh breeze blow in.

Know your values and stick to them. Your values make up your character, your spine, your self-worth. Give it up to someone and they won’t give it back anytime soon.

Jim Rohn got it just right when he said: “If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.”

If you read the blog regularly, a few weeks ago I had a post that asked “Is it a book?” the answer is it will be a book, but it will be someone else’s book. Not mine. And now that I’ve looked over the values I cherish, I’m just fine with it. No hard feelings on my part, wishing the author much success. My inner critic is screaming at me, “You lost the opportunity to go with a huge publishing company! Are you nuts?” But away from the closing door, the Holder of Deep Values (one of my inner heroes) is opening the window and saying, “Be glad. You did not give up what is important to you, and that is always up to you to choose, decide and protect.”

-–Quinn McDonald is seeing a door close and is waiting for the window to open. She trusts the wisdom of the Holder of Deep Values.



Saturday Prompts

It’s time for a switch. After years of posting links to art and artists, this Saturday I’m posting journal prompts. A lot of art journals are being painted and a lot of journals being bound, but not a lot are being written in. No surprise. Writer’s block strikes a lot of people. Stare at a blank page (no matter how many colors or layers it has) and your mind goes smooth and blank.

PromptsHere are some prompts to get you started filling your journals. Set a timer for three minutes and choose one of the prompts below. Write without editing your own thoughts or censoring yourself. Write down what shows up.

1. Lots of schools require some sort of uniform. Would you like it if your workplace made you wear uniforms? Supposing you got to design the uniform. What would it look like?

2.You’ve been mugged. You aren’t hurt, but you are shaken up. There is a cell phone on the ground, but it’s not yours. What would you do with it?

3. Is intelligence inherited? Which of your parents (or siblings) was the smartest? What criteria did you use to get to your answer?

If you use any of the prompts and come up with an interesting train of thought, leave it in the comments.

Happy exploring!

—Quinn McDonald is a writer who is exploring the interior.

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.


Peaceful Warrior Author’s New Book

Dan Millman is the author of Way of the Peaceful Warrior and several other books on the theme of spiritual awareness. His latest book, The Creative Compass: Writing Your Way from Inspiration to Publication, is different. First of all, he wrote the book with Sierra Prasada, his daughter.

BookThe book is for anyone who is creative and wants to take their work from the imagination out to the world. Because I’m a writer, I saw it more clearly as a book for writers, but it works in a broader sense as well.

The five stages of creative work, according to Millman and his daughter are Dream, Draft, Develop, Refine and Share.

Dream includes getting to know yourself and then developing your “stickiest” idea–the idea that gathers attention and interest and asking (my favorite question) “What if. . .?” The chapter ends with the interesting Dreaming on Deadline.

Draft tackles some hard topics–how to listen, how to read writing books, writing as a solitary act. The chapter is compelling and the father-daughter take on the topics are really useful.

Develop has some good, strong practical advice: sweat trumps talent, never surrender, allegiance to your story and the layers of learning.

Refine covers the ancient skill of trusting your gut, word choice and word order, working with an editor and knowing when that draft is final.

Share helps you understand how to move your readers, summarize your plot, handle rejection  and marketing your book. It also covers self-publishing pros and cons.

Normally, I give away books, but I am not finished taking notes on this one yet. It’s a good book, and if you are going to participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), this book is worth paying for.

Millman takes a sacred approach to creativity. It’s an appealing way to think of the hard work of book writing and meaning-making. Prasada doesn’t always agree, but they work together to bring a book better than either one of them could have written alone.

Quinn McDonald has an irrational love of books that make the task of writing seem sacred and worldly. Because it is. She just found out that her book will be available in mid-December–two full months ahead of schedule!

The Objective Correlative

That headline alone will cause me to lose half my readers. Still, I press on.

Wheat Field taken by Angel Villalba

Wheat Field taken by Angel Villalba

Every artist and writer has been asked, “What does this [poem, story, artwork] mean? What were you thinking when you created it?” Often, the artist struggles through an awkward self-revelatory answer that disappoints the listener, who had a private idea that wasn’t honored.

It is the moment for the Objective Correlative. It’s a term that serves as a measure of success of a creative work. A work that has an objective correlative allows each viewer (or reader) to become a participant in the art. Each person brings a private vision of understanding to artwork.  The viewer applies the metaphors to his or her own life, and it makes sense. Each person brings a personal vision, and although there are many personal visions, each one works with the meaning of the art.

Hmm, not clear enough. Let’s use an example. Laura Crozier is a Canadian poet. In her book, Inventing the Hawk, she has a series of poems on angels. One of them, “The Motionless Angel” (on p.54) is about a horse standing  motionless in a snowstorm. He becomes white on the side facing the snow and remains black on the other; the dark is so intense that

” . . .anything could walk
right through it
and disappear. “

One person reading those lines will remember the skin-searing winters of their childhood. Another person will remember a relationship with a person who owned a horse and who loved the horse more than the person. A third person will remember a relationship which ended after a midnight walk during which her companion said something that made her feel invisible. Each one of those people is experiencing the objective correlative. And if the poem is well written, it will support all of the different ideas all the way through.

What the writer meant is not nearly as important as what the reader can understand. That’s the great gift of the Objective Correlative. The term was invented by T. S. Eliot, who wrote The Wasteland.  I simplified Eliot’s explanation, and I hope he forgives me.

If you share your art, and someone asks “what did you meant by that line?” or “Why did you take this photo this way?” you can smile and ask what it means to the viewer. It’s the opening to a far more interesting conversation than trying to explain yourself.

Here’s a wonderful poem from Laura Crozier:

The Dead Angels

The angels lie down
in he field. That delicate
rustling is not the wind
playing the thin pipes of wheat,
but the angels’ feathers,
their dead wings.

You can’t see them, but listen
when you check your crops,
the wheat so golden
it seems to float above the ground.

What a beautiful
sad sound they make,
all those feathers
remembering the wind.

–Quinn McDonald is discovering the love of poetry all over again.

The Simple Joy of Reading

What I wrote: We were the only family in town with a library in the house. When the carpenter put up all the shelves in the combination dining room/library/office for my Dad, he asked, “You opening up a grocery story or what?” When we told him it was for the books, he grunted and said, “Past the Bible and the Sears catalog, don’t have much use for them myself.”

The room was soon filled with books, top to bottom. I learned to read early, and

Reductive art: graphite, eraser on pastel paper. © Quinn McDonald. All rights reserved.

Reductive art: graphite, eraser on pastel paper. © Quinn McDonald. All rights reserved.

after I mastered the comics in the newspaper, and the Betsey McCall section of my mother’s McCall’s magazine, I began to read National Geographic.

One day, I considered all the books in our library and asked my father if I could read one. (It wold not have occurred to me to simply take a book without asking. Different times, very different upbringing.) My father told me, kindly, that I wouldn’t understand them.

“Why not?” I asked. “I can read English.”
My father smiled and handed me a physics book. “Read this, then,” he said.
I worked through the introduction, getting the words right, but with no idea about the ideas in the book. At 5 years, physics isn’t a familiar concept.

I remember the mix of awe, anger and concern that I could not grasp the material. It was English. I knew how to read English. Why couldn’t I understand this English?

Slowly I came to understand the difference between reading and comprehension; between seeing and knowing. The complex relationship between seeing words and understanding concepts came slowly to me, but I began to read more, eager for the ability to link words to concepts.

There are still many books I don’t understand, and many I don’t try to understand, but the joy and mystery of reading can fill me with a joy that few other things can reach. I hope the love of reading doesn’t fade away, replaced by electronic pastimes. Reading was my comfort, excitement and cure for loneliness. It still is.

What is your first memory of reading?

Quinn McDonald is pretty sure that people who are good writers also love to read.

The Complicated Landscape of Loss

[Note: This post was previously called “The Geography of Loss.” After I hit “publish” I discovered/ remembered that Patti Digh, the author of several well-known self-discovery books, is writing a book and class with that title. On my own (Patti did not contact me)  I changed my title because the word “landscape” is less of the study (as geography is) and embraces more of where one finds oneself and includes the struggle of change and creation. (As the image below shows). I also have a chapter on Imagined Landscapes in Raw Art Journaling, and this change suits the whole experience better. ]

The week in Cincinnati was hard work, fun, interesting and well organized. North Light, my publisher, treated me well. Of  course, a company is made up of people, and the two people I spent most time with, Amy Jones (editorial) and Christine Polomsky (photographer) were patient, professional, and spoiled me. I would say, as I often do in my studio, “OK, time to change the watercolor brush

Christine getting a completed piece just right.

Christine getting a completed piece just right.

water,” and Amy or Christine would reach over and do it. (That never happens in the studio!) Amy stood in for Tonia Davenport, my editor, who is based in Phoenix. That means more work for both of them, too, as they communicate back and forth over details that Tonia can’t see and Amy has never read the text for. It’s enough to make their heads hurt and eyes water.

I met the design team, the cover designer, the sales and marketing staff. And for one solid week, I reproduced the art, step by step, for the book so Christine could photograph it.  At night, I’d edit the text, finish diagrams, and write the bits and pieces I’d left undone. I have never spent so much continuous time making art. (I have a day job– a thriving creativity coaching business as well as developing and teaching writing, from grammar to technical writing, to business clients. I own the company, but it’s still work.)

Christine directed and photographed every project in the book, but not  any of the illustrations –and there are a lot of them– scattered throughout journals, and done on separate pieces of paper. I thought they would be photographed this week, too. Nope, separate step. “When will that happen?” I asked, thinking maybe the next week. Nope, again. And when it is photographed, the artwork is kept until the book is delivered to make sure that nothing is lost and it’s all kept together.

Amy, numbering and describing photo files

Amy, numbering and describing photo files

That means I won’t see my journals and the free-standing pages, the covers, the folders, the contributors’ art until January of 2014. I wasn’t expecting that. And it doesn’t matter that I understand clearly why that needs to happen. It was a huge feeling of loss. I didn’t use “prepared” journals–these are my daily journals that I write in, figure stuff out in, and deal with life. And they are gone, for a long while.

Yes I can make more; yes its a privilege to have them in the book; yes, I will get them back, but my journals are part of my life in a very intimate way, and for now, they are missing. It triggered a lot of  emotion about “missing” happening in my life lately. The food I no longer eat, the changes to my behavior that’s healthier for me, the consequences of some decisions I’ve made, some health issues, the loss of a friend who was threatened about the changes in my life,  illness and bad news in my family group—things I don’t talk about on the blog or Facebook, because I believe that not every aspect of life is a sharable moment.

So there I was, facing the things I talk about–fear, sadness, mixed in with joy and relief (my part of the book is largely done!) but washed over by a huge sense of loss. I’d just finished reading Stella Pope Duarte‘s Writing through Revelations, Visions, and Dreams, and a powerful idea from her book came back.

Darkness is a teacher. If we look into the dark parts of our lives, we will encounter the truth, explore our dreams, come to term with our ghosts, and we will see parts of ourselves alive and well in the darkness, and they will live on in the characters we create

Or, in my case, not characters, but art. While re-creating a piece for the book, I brought with me letters from the friend I lost, menus and wrappers of food I no longer eat, photos of places I will never see again in the way I did when seen with those who won’t travel with me again.

The Landscape of Loss. © Quinn McDonald 2013, All rights reserved. For reprint permission, contact Quinn--see contact box above page header image.

The Landscape of Loss. © Quinn McDonald 2013, All rights reserved. For reprint permission, contact Quinn–see contact box above page header image.

I created a landscape from the shapes I use as icons and talismans–the wavy lines that connect us all, and I stitched over them to hold them in place. It was a piece of mourning and a piece of memory, and I will recognize it in a different way when it comes back to me in a year.

We can run from fear and pain, and then we will spend our lives running. We can hold still, let it catch up with us, wash over us. It will not drown or kill us, because the human spirit is resilient and grows, even in fear. It may not be fun to sit with hard emotions, but there is peace in it. And after peace, we change, and we continue the journey changed, but we are no longer hiding and afraid. And that, for me, is success.

Quinn McDonald has completed the Inner Hero book. It will be in book stores in January of 2014. She is now developing classes to go with the book. One of them will be about the landscape of loss.

Typing Fingers, Thought-Out Brain

Ink and graphite on watercolor journal page. © Quinn McDonald, 2012.

After getting up at 5 a.m. this morning, I did three coaching sessions, then spent the rest of the afternoon writing seven articles (about 5,000 words in total) for three different clients.

That many words (5,000) is about the length of a book chapter. I did not write a single word in the book today. I’m not sorry about that.

Writing for clients serves a very important purpose in my life: it helps me pay my mortgage and my health insurance, which is now more expensive than my mortgage.

But it made me think of the quote by Henry David Thoreau:

“The price of anything is the amount of your life you exchange for it.”   Indeed.

--Quinn McDonald is a writer. She’s working on a book and about six other projects. So far, her head has not popped off and rolled on the floor, but she’s got a roll of duct tape on her desk, just in case.

Putting Out the Effort

New book: ready, set, go! I sat at the screen for an hour. Nothing. I wrote 1,000 words. None worth keeping. I wrote another 300. Lame. Yep, even writers who have been working at it for a long time are not a faucet that you crank on and the words come pouring out. There are still rough spots. Still scree that you slide on and are afraid you’ll fall.

I’d love to tell you exactly how I got out of it, but I can’t. Because I’m still stuck. Tomorrow is another start. Today, it just didn’t work.

Strength is required to work the rings.

So I watched the Olympics. Watched a swimmer get disqualified, then re-instated. Watched a male gymnast take a run and get it just right. Take another run and mess it up. Watched another one jump up on the high bars and do everything just right, then slip and fall, hard. You could hear his breath being slapped out of him.

Even with years of practice, these swimmers and runners jump in, unsure of what is going to happen. The difference between winning and losing can be 1/100ths of a second. That’s not even noticeable, but it can be the difference between standing on the podium and never being mentioned.

Without knowing what will happen, which side of the 1/100th of a second they will land, the athletes still run, jump, dive. Knowing that years of practice may not make perfect, they still show up and do their best this day.

That’s all they can do is show up and give it their best combination of effort and skill. That’s a lesson I can understand.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach who knows that books are not written, but re-written. But to re-write, she has to do the writing first.

Wise Words for Writers

Pine tree in Sedona, AZ © Quinn McDonald, all rights reserved. 2012

Pamela Wilson studies and teaches on satsang–“a gathering of people to honor Truth, to rest from the conflict and confusion of the world, and take refuge in the Heart.

What a better day to honor taking some refuge from the harsh and difficult world that is so difficult to understand. Often it is our past that fills us with despair, or the current news.

Pamela is a soulful teacher, and today a wisewoman friend, Donna McGuigan,  sent me this quote. It reached me exactly where I needed it, and I hope it brings you light and warmth, too.

“ I’m not in the don’t-touch-it school. Maybe it’s my Italian heritage. I call it Mediterranean satsang. I say, “Come here, poor little story!” If the story keeps coming back, it means it’s desperate for a little loving attention.

If you are always going, “Oh, it’s just story,” of course it’s going to renew its effort: “No, I’m not!”

If a certain situation continues to arise, just let it sit with you. See it as your devotee. Grant it the compassion to be able to sit with you. Say, “Yes, you are welcome here.” Even story. In the beginning it’s good to get firm with stories, because there are way too many of them. But it’s like Reader’s Digest; you have them condensed down to the top five issues, right?

Red rock in Sedona, AZ. © Quinn McDonald. All rights reserved. 2012

When you’re feeling strong, or if you have a friend to sit with, just sit in the silence until you’re soothed, until the body and brain are soothed, and then invite the story to come sit. It will start to activate the body, and then the brain will start to bring in strategies to fix it and try to help. So thank the brain, and then attend to what’s happening in the body. Stories have another function, other than bothering us. They’re designed to dissolve the defenses in the body. They’re like armor. So you sit with the issue, the upset, and see where it’s triggering in the body, and then just allow awareness to move into it and permeate the upset – like awareness has hands, and it’s soothing and loving.

What you’re doing is helping the body let go of the past. One of the ways the body creates release is by recreating something from the past in order to pull it out of the earth of the body. Otherwise it stays deep. This system of release is strange – almost reptilian, it’s so ancient. These bodies are from another time. Even though you get a fresh, new body every time, a lot of the defenses are recreated through thought. That’s why I say bring the story here. There’s no lack of brilliance in the design of either the body or the way it lets go, or even that this world is so harsh. Robert Adams used to call this the remedial planet, because when you really want freedom, this is where you come.

It’s sweet: the body asks for a blessing through its upset, its agitation. It’s invoking the Beloved, awareness-consciousness: “Please, master, come here. Please heal me.” And if it’s really frantic, then it will be sending out distress signals all the time. So it has another function: to awaken the Beloved. It awakens the satguru through its distress.

Ramana used to say, “I would follow a devotee into hell if need be.” So when hell or agitation arises in the body, it’s luring the satguru out of the heart. Everything is an invitation for the Buddha to awaken and bring peace, even to the body. It calls for the laying on of hands, the welcoming and soothing. Even doubt is asking for your love. Doubt is talking to you, saying, “Master, is this true?”

When you see your body and thought as your devotees, you have a completely different relationship with them. Where else are they going to go for truth?”