Can You Learn Creativity?

When people look at my business card, one thing stops them. On the back of the card it says, “creativity coach.” biz card

“Can you teach creativity?” Debra asked.
“It’s not so much teaching creativity; it’s more a matter of reclaiming it.”
“But I’m not creative,” she insisted.
“You don’t remember what it feels like to be creative, but it’s there.”
“Why don’t I feel creative?” Debra asked.
She’s got a great point. At age 4, when monsters are under the bed, and children have problems separating truth from imagination, a strange socialization begins. We are told to “act like a big girl” (or boy), we are told to use things for what they were made for. We are told they are no monsters, no fairies. Once the tooth fairy has delivered the cash, we make her disappear.

Creativity is frowned on. We are sent to school, where big classes make individuality a burden for the teacher. We are encouraged to be like the others, to work in teams, to have limited dreams and choose an acceptable career. And a career in the Arts is not an acceptable career to be considered successful, according to most parents and teachers. Ccalogowebmedium
When my son said he wanted to be a musician, I heard a chorus of “Tell him that’s fine for a hobby, but as a career. . .” followed by clicking tongues. Not only was he wrong, his mother was odd, too. I let him study music.

I’d heard it all before. From my parents. In the years when parents told their children what to do, both parents nixed the idea that I become a writer and refused to let me study art. This was particularly odd as I had earned a full scholarship to college and wasn’t “wasting their money.”  But I digress.

In most children, the creativity stays no matter how hard it gets steered off course. It gets buried under years of training. But it keeps peeking out.

How did it get buried for you? Maybe you are a great party planner; maybe you can calm people who are angry. You may have a skill of seeing several answers to a problem. Those are all examples of creativity. Creativity is not being eccentric, weird or difficult. Creative people use their skills in different ways to make the world a little better, one person at a time. Explore your creativity–you’ll be amazed and delighted at what you find.

–To read more about creativity coaching, visit Quinn McDonald’s website,

Should You Write on Spec?

Creativity coaches hear some problems more often than others. “I’ve started 10 projects and finished none of them,” and “I just can’t seem to find time to write/paint/practice,” are probably the two problems that bring clients to me most often. Today, a writer client who is busy writing, but hasn’t published in a while, got an offer to write on spec. “Should I take it?” he asked.

Writing on spec
I hadn’t heard the term in a long time. ‘Spec’ is short for speculation and it can have two meanings. Both meanings are often directed at freelance writers, although illustrators and composers can be asked, too.  The first (and not so common) meaning covers articles that a writer researches, gets quotes on, writes, and then offers to a magazine or publisher without knowing if it will be accepted. If it is accepted, the writer gets paid only if–and only when–the article gets published.

The second definition is the more common one. A magazine or newsletter, for a variety of reasons, doesn’t pay for the work. The writer knows this ahead of time, so there is no deception. The question is, should a writer accept these conditions?

Circumstances make a difference
Sometimes writers who have trouble publishing will write on spec because it is more important for them to be published than to get paid. New writers who want to have a publication on their resume will often reach for this way to get the notice. Other writers will “donate” an article to a cause they believe in, because they want their opinion heard more than they want to get paid. Or they consider it a way to “give back” to a cause they support passionately.

Seeing the other side
Writing is a skill. It is often a highly focused skill that can’t be automated or easily outsourced. In that light, writing is a valuable commodity. It should be paid, as is any other commodity. I have never been able to go to a grocery story and announce, “I have never shopped here before, so I don’t know if your produce is fresh and your butcher skilled. I want to take home a week’s worth of meat and vegetables today. If they please me, I will begin to buy here and pay you.” I’d get laughed out of the store. Or more likely, dragged out by the police called in by the store owner.  With gas prices over $3.10 in my area, I’d love to drive in with the van, tell the person behind the window that I don’t know if their gas is good and demand a free tank full, promising to come back if I like the gas. I won’t get far, though.

Solid communication solves most problems
No doubt, some editors have been burned by new and established writers who don’t hand in the work expected of them. The solution lies in good communication up front. Any smart writer will hand in a draft, expect edits and will make changes as part of the original price. If the piece has to be re-written because of poor communication on the editor’s part, or because a client changes his mind about the main point or the people interviewed, the writer gets paid for both the original and the new piece. If the writer was given a point to drive home or a call to action to end with, and didn’t deliver, the writer needs to rewrite until the client’s original request is satisfied. Communication, even during the interviewing and writing stage, is vital.

Self confidence is another answer
Just as often, a company will create a policy that demands one or two articles on spec. The writer does the draft and the changes for no payment at all. Often the writer lacks the self confidence to turn down jobs that don’t pay. They want to “get along” or be thought of as “nice to work with.” Frequently, the writer is intimidated or doesn’t want to stand up for the profession as a whole and the years of practice it took to get to this point as a writer.

Making a decision
When my creativity coaching client asked me what to do, I asked, “Why would you consider doing it?” He thought it over and said, “If I refuse, the editor won’t use me again.”
“How do you know that?” I asked.
“I just think that’s why I’m being tapped for spec,” he said.
“When you worked in a business, did your boss ever ask you to work a day for free?” I asked
“No, but I did put in a lot of overtime that I didn’t get paid for because I was on salary,” he said.
“And you did that because. . . ” I asked.
“I wanted to show my loyalty,” he said.
“What is the advantage of showing loyalty in this case?” I asked.
“Well, if I write the first article for free, I might get more work,” he said.
“Do you know you will?” I asked.
“No. I just think I will,” he said.
“I don’t hear a lot of enthusiasm for this project in your voice. How long will it take you to write that article?” I asked.
“Well, with the research and interviews, maybe 12 hours or so,” he said.
“You’ve been writing a while. What are you getting paid by other clients?” I asked.
“Well, hourly it’s $75 an hour. Some clients pay me per word. But that depends a lot on the publication. A well-known national publication will pay me $5 a word, a small start-up maybe fifty cents a word,” he said.
“So we’re talking about $900 dollars on an hourly rate, maybe $750 for a 1,500-word article for a start-up. Would you risk that on a stock that may turn into something? Would you bet it on a horse race, knowing you could lose it all or win a lot?”
“No,” he said, “And I’m starting to see that giving away what I’ve taken a long time to perfect doesn’t sound like a good business decision. I was making it out of fear,” he said.
Another great lesson: never make a business decision out of fear.

–For more on life coaching and creativity coaching, visit Quinn McDonald’s website,
(c) 2006, Quinn McDonald. All rights reserved.

Art and Inventory

My art is about to become inventory. Again. Every show I go to, every piece I sell from the website passes through this stage.

Art does its magic
Art turns from magic to business in a walk up the staircase from my studio. As long as the artwork is in the studio, unfinished, it’s a holy thing. It’s what gives me a reason to keep working. To quote one of my creativity coaching clients, making art puts oxygen in the world. My art is a part of me, a secret, sacred part of me that I don’t often reveal. In my studio, with it’s piles of handmade papers, paints, brushes, glues, fasteners, ribbon, bookbinding materials, I make my own kind of magic. I take unrelated things and make meaning out of them. No one, artists least of all, find meaning in their lives. You make meaning in your life.drop of water

And as an artist, each piece I make is meaningful. Once it is complete, it goes from being very private to being very public. I hug it, and set it into the world. This is my calling. I set a piece of art into the world to see if it speaks to someone else. At art/craft shows, it is a moment of huge private excitement when someone comes in, sees a piece, and says, “Yes! That’s just right! It speaks to me!” For that second, I know that they are also making meaning in their lives. For a moment, we speak the same language of life.

Letting go
But there is that tiny instant, the moment in time as brief as when the water drop from the shower head drops, falls, and splats with a hollow thump on the shower stall, that I have to take a piece of art, a piece of meaning in my life, and recognize it not as my calling, put as a piece of inventory. At that moment, I have to let it go. If people say they hate it, or it doesn’t match their couch, it won’t hurt me. I will have gained detachment, distance. It’s a moment in unmapped time that happens in every artist’s heart.

–Water drop image from

–For more information on life coaching, creativity coaching, and the life of an artist, visit Quinn McDonald’s website.

Artist’s “AHa!”

It’s amazing, really. I’ve been an artist all my life, and there is no end to what I still need to learn. Sometimes I feel as dumb as a box of warm rocks.rock, hidden

Creative Lessons Arrive From Weird Sources
The lessons come from any creative source. And many people in our lives are hugely creative–we just don’t notice it.

As I forge ahead in my return to handmade paper, I am meeting all sorts of stumbling blocks–negative self-talk, low show income, and lots of questions about art from people in my booth. The one that amazes me the most is, “What is art going to DO for me?” We have created an interesting culture. Nothing in our culture can exist without a goal, a purpose, an objective. Art can’t be for beauty, art has to be competitive and functional. “My art not only does X, but it does it fast!” Could someone please apply this demand to television? We’d be watching blank screens by next week.

rock2Growing into Art
We no longer go to school and learn music, philosophy, art. All that is considered a waste of time. We have to get to the goal–a job. Most universities are no more than Trade Schools for careers. Yesterday I heard that the public schools in my state want 14-year olds to declare a ‘major’ and then learn that trade.

I changed my mind about what I wanted to be many times. . .in fact, I just switched my art medium from jewelry to mixed media, well into middle age. And that switching privilege is important for creative growth. Schools are spendng a lot of time training us to DO something instead of to BE someone. I had learned a lot from jewelry, but over time, I knew that returning to my roots of mixing images, colors, textures and words was where my artistic truth is.

Life IS Art, Life is AN Art
If I had been sent to school for what I wanted to be at 14, I’d be a horseback-riding ballerina. Why rush children through the only childhood they will have to live in a career they don’t like when they are 25?rock3.jpg

Most of my life coaching and creativity coaching clients are on their second or third career. Creativity can’t be pointed out and beat into shape at age 14. Creativity grows with us our whole life.

It’s OK not to know at 7, at 14, and at 55. Because not knowing is the only sure way to knowing. And once you know, you also know what you don’t know. It is not the endgame, it’s the path. It may be the biggest “Ah-HA!” I’ve had in years.–For more information on life coaching, creativity coaching, and the words-and-images work of one artist, visit Quinn McDonald’s website.