Tag Archives: 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?”


10 Writing Tips for Happy Readers

This gallery contains 2 photos.

The newspaper and internet deliver a long stream of articles to my brain, and a good deal of my daily aggravation. Sometimes it’s the contents, but more often it is the writing itself. Where are the editors when the ad … Continue reading

Day 19: The Work of Writing

Day 19: What’s turned up for you as you write? (or, start with the first post in the series.)

Ink and watercolor pencil on paper.

Wisdom from the comments:
From Dawn Herring: “Yes, we need to pause and pay attention to the wisdom we hear as we write in our journals. It can be rather forthright, definitely intuitive, and sometimes obvious without our realizing it.”

From Marjorie: “. . .more often than not, I go back and read one or two (or more) of my prior posts before beginning to write. It helps me orient myelf, but I also notice things I’ve written that I hadn’t noticed while writing them. Or I’ll see what I’ve written in a different light than when I wrote it.”

From Daien: “After getting off to a great start, five days in I did what I usually do, which is to stop. What was different was that I continued to read your posts and everyone’s comments, as well as continued to count myself one of the sojourners. But I wasn’t writing, and I wasn’t walking.”

*     *     *     *

Like Daien, I haven’t been writing every day. I’m still trying to find the time to write without interruption. In the morning, which is really a preferred time, things need to get done. If I put it off, I lose East Coast time–the time when the East Coast is awake and starting the business day.

I’ve been walking later in the day–at lunch–because the weather is perfect, and this is the time of year I want to walk and know I’m in the desert. January is a time when Brittlebush and a few other trees bloom. I want to experience those subtle desert seasons, so I have to build in a time to walk in the dry riverbed of Skunk Creek.  I’m trading working early morning for a lunchtime walk. This won’t work if I’m teaching, but it works for when I’m not. So I’m writing when I get back from the walk. I have the most benefit of meditation then.

And I’ve made another switch. I’m writing on the computer. Shocking, I know. All that truth about having to hand write. And I still want to write in a journal. But I’m experimenting with writing on a computer. For several reasons: I type really fast, and can get more written down–process more. I’ve been touch-typing since I was 10, and I simply feel very comfortable typing. So comfortable, that I type my pages with my eyes shut. It keeps me from editing, and I can do what I was doing using a pen before–ripping through words down to meaning.

I separate journaling from this kind of writing. For me, journaling is a creative act that encompasses both visual expression and writing. And I do that in heavy-paper journals. I might do some collage, I might build a journal. But the pages I write after walking help me dig down into the creative well and make sure the stream that comes up from that is a fresh spring of ideas. That work is best done, at least for me, with a keyboard, an open heart and closed eyes.

What discoveries have you made? Have you quit, but still lurked with us? Let us know how this time is working for you.  It’s not about success and failure. You are exploring the wayward path of your wandering. Where have you walked and what have you seen?

-Quinn McDonald is a writer who is digging for her own creative source for 30 days in the company of some interesting people.

Day 3: Diary? Journal? Notebook?

“Day 3 of What?” you ask? Find out, join us if you feel called. And thanks for spreading the word: Life of Deb and  Blue Twig Studio.

Worth Noting:
In her blog iHanna asked an interesting question about questions–how long to do wait for the universe to answer you?

Krystyna faced wind and rain and decided it wasn’t a walking day. What then? Here’s her image-rich answer:  “I nearly gave up on the meditation, then decided it was ok to do it lying in my warm and comfy bed. The idea of hatching myself arose as a result.”

Paula S. in Buenos Aires wsn’t sure about walking. Then she did:  “Still I got my writing and walking in.  I almost cried after the first block in an “I´m REALLY doing this” way. It was surprising how powerful the feeling was.”

*    *    *    *    *
What kind of writing are we doing here? Journaling? Writing in a notebook? A

A hidden stash with a secret door. Probably filled with journals.

diary? The short answer is easy: it doesn’t matter what you call it, as long as you are writing at the same time every day.

The longer answer involves your history. If you haven’t done this before, you may be more familiar with the word diary. You may have had one when you were younger. You may think of a diary as a place to write secrets and a journal a place to write your private thoughts. Some people think of diary as a calendar, a way to track what happened in a given day, where they ate, how much they exercised, or other regular activities.

People keep journals and diaries for different reasons:

  • To track business calls, miles driven, money spent for business reports or taxes
  • A to-do list, perhaps with details added
  • A place to write their ideas and work out projects, perhaps with drawings
  • A way to track scientific notes, which are used in peer review
  • A place to capture quotes and interesting phrases, maybe write poetry roughs
  • A place to write story drafts to share with others
  • An art book to fill with colorful pages to show others
  • Any of the above to be strictly private

The work we are doing here is different. To my way of thinking (you are free to make up your own rules), this writing is very personal, maybe difficult to write and admit to, and something to be kept private.  I’m writing in a book that I stick in a bookshelf. It looks like a lot of books in a bookshelf and would be hard to pick out in a house filled with books. Why am I so secretive? Because I am being brutally honest in these pages, writing down my confusion, admitting to what I don’t know and can’t figure out, what I need and don’t have,  and not editing it in any way.

Is this really the path to creativity? For me it is. Creativity is my religion. I need to speak to the Creator openly, so I can get answers, inspiration, conclusions. As I show up completely honestly, I will develop honest, solid answers. And for me, that’s where creativity starts–with meaning making.

What is the source of your creativity? Where do these good ideas come from? If you want to use that as a starting point for writing, please do. If you want to share an answer that’s not too raw and private, welcome.

Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach who is spending 30 days exploring and refreshing the wellspring of creativity with a group of strangers who feel like friends already.

Image source: http://stashvault.tumblr.com/post/422159488/secret-bookcase-door-in-library