Creativity Lessons from My Motorcycle (Cont’d)

Last week, we took a ride up the Blue Ridge mountains in Eastern Virginia. I came late to motorcycle riding and have to make up for lost time. The lesson of riding is as complex and refreshing as the scenery.

We were riding along easy switchbacks (twists and turns in the road as it winds up a mountain’s brow) and I noticed “Road Work” signs. I wasn’t driving fast, so I figured I ‘d see these workers before I had to make adjustments. We passed an abandoned yellow V-Dot truck and I wondered where the workers were.images.jpeg

Around the next corner, I found out. Sort of. As suddenly as I could see around the corner, I saw a patchwork of color and texture on the road. They were patching the road and what I saw was loose gravel, the motorcycle rider’s nemesis. Smart not to hit the brakes, just roll off the throttle and stay in the lane. No fancy steering. I felt the front wheel bite into the gravel and felt the back wheel chop over the soft road surface, trying to find a comfortable spot. It was, no doubt, a skid. It takes real will power not to jam on the brakes, even more not to simply use the front brake, conveniently located right next to the throttle.

I accelerated a little and the back wheel settled down. I used the uneven surface to slow the bike, grateful that I wasn’t going fast enough to have the wheels spit up rocks.

And I had that sudden understanding that creativity works like a motorcycle: when you aren’t on solid ground, don’t do anything quickly. Continue doing what you always do until you get used to your surroundings.

About half a mile later, we came across a road worker holding a Stop sign. We rolled to a stop and asked her what was up. She was stopping traffic on this side so the car leading the stream of cars from the other side could use the whole road. I wondered what the rest of the road would be like. I imagined harsh switchbacks covered in gravel. I began to sweat. Many of the mountain roads don’t have guardrails, just a 90-foot drop into a rocky valley.

Another good creativity rule: Plan ahead, but don’t let fear do the planning. Depend on what you know to develop thoughts for what you don’t know. And leave room for new ideas.

The ‘follow me’ truck slid to a stop next to the road worker. Cars trundled by us in the opposite lane. We waved the line of cars ahead of us to go first. Then, leaving lots of room between the last gravel-flinging car and my helmet, we started to follow the road. Creativity rule: If you aren’t a leader, let others take the lead. Decide what you want to contribute.

The joke was on me. The first half mile behind the ‘follow me’ truck were over gravel, but after that, the patches were fresh, but had been steamrolled. The dangerous part was behind me. I could use the whole road to clear the fresh patches without worrying about oncoming traffic. The cars rolled over the fresh patches, tar rattling under the car, spinning out behind their wheels. Creativity rule: you don’t have to act like everyone else, do what works for you, take advantage of opportunities that work for you.

We arrived at a pull-out and stopped the bikes to enjoy the magnificent slope of the green mountain sliding down into a mountain pool below us. The cars sped on, eager to make up lost time. You already know this rule: Enjoy what’s around you while you can. The gravel will hit you soon enough.

–(c) 2007 Quinn McDonald. All rights reserved. Image: Quinn McDonald is a writer and speaker and certified creativity coach. See her work at

Undercover, Underwire

In almost every bra I own, there is a torture device called the underwire. I have no idea what this useless device is supposed to do, but whatever it is, it doesn’t work. An underwire is a flat piece of metal (the one shown here is half an underwire) in the bottom of the bra cup. Yep, flat piece of metal. One end is covered in the same kind of plastic that you see on pliers and screwdrivers. The other end is filed flat  that immediately begins to plot its escape the day you buy the bra.underwire

No matter how careful you are, the metal begins to move, and at some inopportune moment, it will poke you in a soft part of your body that doesn’t need poking. The one shown here broke when I pulled it all the way out, after enduring being poked for hours while on the motorcycle. One does not begin to mess with one’s bra while riding a motorcycle down I-66.

I’ve always been baffled as to the purpose of an underwire. I’ve been told that it adds support. No, it does not. Does your collar support your chin? Does your belt support your waist? Of course not. And an underwire doesn’t support a bosom. It hides underneath it, a flat piece of metal, reminding me that my body is not shaped like a flat piece of metal. I already knew that.

Who designs these thing? If you are listening, please make a few other changes–at least for us generously proportioned women–stop already with the elastic straps. Who needs all that bounce? All you lacivious imaginers out there, stop it. I’m no longer pushing 50, I’m dragging it, and no one wants to see-or live with–that bounce.

And what’s up with the teeny, narrow straps? If the idea of stretch is bounce, the narrow straps don’t defy gravity–they just dig into the shoulder.

For heaven’s sake, get a grip. Put some comfortable straps on the bra, and lose that pointy metal thing. If you want me to look decent as I age, give me some lift. That little rose tattoo I got at the edge of my bosom as a teenager? It’s a long-stemmed rose now. And your bra design isn’t helping much.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and defender of garments that are practical and fit right. See her artwork at

Blue Ridge Pig: World’s Best Barbecue

Barbecue is one of those fighting words. You love it and you have your favorite spot. Whether it’s vinegar-based South Carolina or tomato-based Virginia ‘cue, there are defenders of every style and spice. Good thing, too, it gives everyone a chance to try every style at every chance. img_0858.jpg

Lay down your arms and pick up your forks. You are in for a treat that will make your tongue throw a party for the rest of your mouth. The drive is worth it, even if you live in Iowa. Head to a tiny spot in the Shenandoah Valley called the Blue Ridge Pig. Officially, the spot is at 2190 Rockfish Valley Hwy in Nellysford, Virginia. You’ll never find it that way. Instead, get on Virginia 250 about five miles East of the town limit of Waynesboro. Turn South on Rte 151 heading toward the ski resort of Wintergreen. Before you get to Wintergreen, you’ll find The Pig on the East side of the road (that’s left side if you are driving from Rte. 151 to Wintergreen).


It’s in the center of a (kindly called) strip mall, consisting of a tiny row of three stores held up by old paint and dust. The Blue Ridge Pig is a tiny store decorated in pigs–stuffed, wood, metal. Never mind. Walk ten feet through the entire place and order up some barbecue.

The sauce is subtle and powerful. Neither over-sour nor dull, it coats slivers and chunks of pork, beef or chicken in a taste that combines a hint of smoke, a deep satisfying wave of herbs, spice enough to make it interesting but not so much to overwhelm, and flavor enough to call people from hundreds of miles away.

A “plate special” will have dilled potato salad that is rich and creamy, but not a spec of greasy mayonnaise in sight. It has a circle of dill pesto and a great crunch mixed with smooth potatoes. Next to that, you’ll get a scoop of beans and meat, lots of meat. Hardly a side dish, it’s rich enough to be a meal in itself, but you get it as a side dish.Blue Ridge pig roof

If after this delight, you are still hungry, visit the Abrosia bakery and deli next door. The cannolis have a fresh and lemony flavor. The key lime pie or the raspberry torte are incredible.

Both are worth the drive from anywhere. Don’t miss them.

–Quinn McDonald rides a motorcycle and is glad she found The Pig, about 150 miles from her house. See her work at

Riding the Ridge

If you are in need of stress-reduction, a big nature fix, or just a breath-taking ride with an endless view, go out in the Shenandoah Valley. This past Thursday and Friday we did just that–took the motorcycles and left Washington, D.C. behind for a rest at the Tree Streets Inn in Waynesboro, Virginia. We’ve been there before, and the cheer of hosts Bill and Nickie Aldridge and their incredible Revival-style house lured us back.Main hall tree street inn

Nickie and Bill know the area so thoroughly that you get the latest restaurant recommendations, the best breakfast granola (Nickie makes it herself and it’s worth the trip!) and the best scenery information.

We mentioned we were in search of a great-view drive, and Bill didn’t hesitate. Out came the maps and with a few questions (winding roads to give the motorcycles a good workout, not too much traffic, and great views), he suggested a loop of about 200 miles–and ambitious drive when much of it includes switchbacks that test your ability to shift down quickly. Sounded just right. We got on the bikes and headed toward Staunton, a town tucked into the Blue Ridge Mountains.rockledge

The trip took us over the Blue Ridge, and up to Monterey, tucked into the Alleghenies. We then drove South, along the brow of some magnificent old mountain ridges where George Washington hiked, to Warm Springs, just five miles West of Hot Springs. We came to the foot of the mountains in Goshen. (“Land O’ Goshen!” is a phrase I remember from my childhood. It was uttered by older people instead of “Dang!” the coarser choice. Hey, it was a long time ago. Goshen is actually a biblical spot, see Genesis 46 for that story.)

The trip turned East to Rockbridge Baths, across the valley floor. The Shenandoah Valley is breathtaking. They don’t make them more beautiful. A few of the left turns require good steering and calm nerves. There are no guardrails and the drop is easily 90 feet to the river below. When we got closer to the river, we noticed fly fisherman, also making the most of a beautiful day.

cowpasture riverWe climbed another mountain as we drove East to Brownburg and Montobello. We turned North to get to Wintergreen and Nelly’s Ford, where we had the best barbecue I’ve ever eaten–and that’s saying something. That review is for tomorrow. Meanwhile, before it gets too hot, grab your motorcycle and a map and take the trip. You’ll come back refreshed and your blood pressure will be lower, too.

–Quinn McDonald is an artist and writer who teaches journal-writing courses. Learn more at

Sedona Scenery

The pictures are back from Sedona. They were a little hazy, but I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that it was the X-ray, as I sent the camera through the machine in my purse. It was rainy in Sedona, but nothing a little Photoshop couldn’t sedona mtnsfix. (Here are the un-Photoshopped ones.) On the left are the red mountains in the distance from my hotel room. The colors change every minute with the clouds and rain. And yes, the colors are a lot more saturated when the clouds blow over and the sun comes out.

Sedona is 4,000 feet above sea level, and the mountains were made by volcanoes.

From almost every street in Sedona you can see an amazing site.

Below is a blue agave in a bed of pansies. Hidden in a courtyard art gallery, with the tongue-twisting name of Tlaquepaque, it took me a bit to figure out that the agave is glass. A sculpture by Bruce Freund, the agave is

glass agave

tall and elegant. The color is considerably more intense. As you approach, you recognize it as glass, but it doesn’t spoil the effect.

Below on the right is a briar rose in both white and red. While there must be two plants, as in so many folk songs, twining in memory of two star-crossed lovers, it is still surprising to find a drop of blood red in the snow white of the surrounding roses. The tile sign makes the setting just perfect.

briar rose

Eric Maisel on “Ten Zen Seconds” (Part II)

Today we continue the interview on Eric Maisel’s book Ten Zen Seconds. If you missed the first part, it was published on May 7, 2007. In today’s discussion, we focus on some of the incantations that writers and artists may have difficulty with. They are also the key for centering and mindfulness in difficult cover

Quinn: Incantation 2–I expect nothing is about detachment. What’s the difference between detachment and not caring?

EM: To do excellent work is different from expecting that our excellent work will be rewarded. To live a moral life is different from expecting not to be hit with an earthquake just because you’ve been ethical. To care about your child is different from expecting her to become a brain surgeon or a millionaire. Caring is completely different from detaching from outcomes.
You want to have dreams, goals, principles, desires, and all the rest—while at the same time detaching from outcomes.

Q: How does admitting that we are not in control of the outcome compare to taking responsibility and planning? Isn’t visualizing success–as you discuss in the book the top of p. 170–expecting an outcome?

EM: To visualize success is not to expect success. Every process of affirmation, whether verbal or visual, helps you do your good work and opens you up to the possibility of betterment. But opening up to the possibility of something and expecting something are two very different things. Your visualization process may help move you from the fifth-best player in your
league to the third-best player in your league—but if you are expecting the MVP trophy for your efforts, you will be disappointed and you’ll have negated a lot of the good work you did during the affirmation process.

Q: How does emptying yourself of expectations mesh with making an income?

EM: If you expect your novel to be liked just because you wrote it, a narcissistic stance adopted by an awful lot of people, the likelihood is that it will not sell and you will make no money. If you do the work of writing an excellent novel and the subsequent excellent work of marketing it
to agents and editors, and then let whatever happens happen, you are entirely more likely to make money. When I circulate a book proposal, I expect nothing, because I have no idea what might be wanted at any given moment, what shape the industry is in, and so on. But because it is as good a proposal as I can make it, it sells—more than twenty different times in the last dozen years.

Q: Can we achieve all that in 10 seconds?

EM: That’s ten seconds multiplied enough times to make it a habit. If you use the Ten Zen Seconds method once a year, it will serve you that one time but that isn’t the same as having turned it into a practice. If you use the incantations on a daily basis, using your favorites with real regularity, you will begin to achieve the outcomes available to you: less stress, more
calm, more power, and a better sense of what meaning you want to make.

Q: So, is this cumulative—do many 10-second centerings begin to add up to more?

EM: Yes! It begins to fundamentally change you, so that you are less impulsive and more thoughtful, less reactive and more active, less scattered and more centered, less depressed and more optimistic. It is actually a complete program for personality change and betterment, despite its apparent modesty and simplicity. You really can’t “completely stop,” “trust your resources,” “do your work,” “free yourself of the past,” “open to joy,” “make your meaning,” etc. on a regular basis without dramatically changing your personality and improving your life.

Q: Why are these 10 seconds particularly useful to writers?

EM: The hardest thing that a writer has to do is not to write but to get herself centered to write. She has to move herself from her everyday pace and her everyday monkey mind into the trance of working, which most writers and all would-be writers have great difficulty doing (and don’t actually know to name as the problem). The incantations and the TZS process are perfect for helping a writer make that profound daily movement from ordinary mind to creative mind, because they are simple, concrete tools that support that exact movement. When a writer incants “I am completely stopping” and “I am working on my novel,” she is doing precisely the thing that she needs to do to ready herself to write.

Q: Let’s say we have success in Moment One–right after an incantation. Then we fall back in on ourselves–house uncleaned, angry, bills to pay–all very un-Zen behavior. Also pretty likely behavior. Now what?

EM: More mindfulness! You want to notice where your mind just went and get it back. So you say to yourself, “Here I am working on my novel and I just hit a rough patch and so my mind sent me off to think about the messy house, so as to help me avoid thinking about my novel, and I won’t tolerate that. No! ‘I return with strength’ to my novel. I won’t let my mind—and a little
anxiety—pull me away from my work.” That’s exactly what mindfulness means: noticing what your mind just did and evaluating whether or not you are happy with what it just did. If you aren’t happy, you decisively get your mind back under your own control.

Q: You often speak of meaning making as a vital part of art–how can 10 seconds make meaning?

EM: You make your meaning by consciously making meaning investments in the very next increment of time in front of you. You decide to write your novel or to watch television in real time, and it is in real time that you make your meaning or fail to make your meaning. You’re done with your chores and now it is work on the novel or turn on the television: this is the meaning choice point of your evening and exactly the right time to incant “I am completely stopping,” “I am working on my novel,” and “I make my meaning.” Those thirty seconds of aiming yourself in the direction of meaning can make all the difference between a stint of creativity and some ordinary entertainment.

Q: How can customizing the phrases make 10 seconds resonate throughout your day?

EM: When you create an incantation of your own that you love—one client loves “right here, right now,” for instance—you have produced a personalized centering charm that contains everything you need to say and everything you need to know to keep yourself present, productive, focused and calm. It is a great blessing to land on an incantation, whether it’s one of mine or one that you create—that holds a wealth of centering power in just a few words
and a few seconds.

Eric’s book, Ten Zen Seconds, is available from or, in book- tape- or download format on the Ten Zen Seconds website. On the site, you can practice the incantations while looking at calming watercolors

–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach and writer. She is teaching a course in one-sentence journaling, starting May 14.

Eric Maisel on “Ten Zen Seconds” (Part I)

Eric Maisel, the godfather of Creativity Coaching” recently published Ten Zen Seconds, a book of incantations and how to use them for centering and mindfulness. The website for the book explains, “Marrying Eastern and Western techniques, it builds on the simple idea that deep breathing coupled with right thinking is the perfect tool for growth, healing, and transformation. Ten Zen Seconds offers you the tools to make changes, solve problems, and simply feel better.”

eric maisel While I call Eric the “godfather of creativity coaching,” he is much more: Eric is a San Francisco-based creativity coach and trainer of creativity coaches. (Full disclosure: I did my creativity coach training with him.) Eric is also a California licensed marriage and family therapist and a national certified counselor. He focuses on creativity coaching and not any therapy or counseling. He has been working with creative and performing artists for more than 20 years and have been writing for 35 years.

Eric is my guest today. After reading the book, I was interested in how ten seconds could have an impact on anyone’s life.

Today and tomorrow’s blog space will give you the details of the power of Ten Zen Seconds in your life.

Quinn: The breathing technique you describe is just 10 seconds long. Why 10 seconds?
EM: To experience a long, deep breath you need to take about four or five seconds on the inhale and four or five seconds on the exhale. That allows your lungs to really fill up and really empty and provides the positive physiological and emotional experience we associate with deep breathing. Anything much shorter than that doesn’t amount to deep breathing.

Q: How is breathing linked to the brain/thinking/physical calming?
EM: When we interrupt our ordinary shallow breathing and consciously and mindfully opt for some deep breathing, we are sending a whole-body message to our brain that we want to alter our current experience. The brain recognizes that we are intending to slow down and grow calmer and more aware as soon as it registers that we have opted for some deep breathing.

Q: What is ‘mindfulness’ as you use it and how does it link to cognitive therapy?
EM: The traditional definition of mindfulness has to do with our ability to notice our thoughts without attaching to them and, by not attaching to them, not causing ourselves pain and suffering. The way I use the phrase is closer to the way cognitive therapists think about how we can get a better grip on
our mind: first, we notice what we are thinking, second, we evaluate what we are thinking (because many of our thoughts don’t serve us), and third we substitute more useful language for our currents thoughts, if those thoughts aren’t serving us. The Ten Zen Second incantations serve the same function that “thought substitutes” do in cognitive therapy: they are the “better” things that we want to make sure we are saying to ourselves.

Q: How important is getting the 10-second rhythm to centering success?
EM: Getting into a precise 10-second rhythm is much less important than committing to deep breathing and right thinking. If your deep breath is eight seconds long, that is no problem, and if it is sometimes eight seconds long and sometimes ten seconds long, that is no problem either. Just as long as you experience your breathing as significantly longer and deeper than usual, then you are working the program.

Q: You say several times that the incantations are quite important. How did you come to develop these particular incantations?
EM: I came by them in my twenty years of working with creative and performing artists. I have always been very aware of the sorts of things that people say to themselves, as it appears in a therapy session or a coaching session, and whenever I heard a self-unfriendly or self-sabotaging
phrase I would ask my client to try to think of something more affirmative and useful to say. By asking that question repeatedly for two decades, these phrases emerged as the “top twelve” in utility and power.

Q: Do they have to be said in any particular order?
EM: No, although I think that the first, “I am completely stopping,” is a good one to use before and in conjunction with any of the others. But each incantation is a stand-alone idea and they can be used alone or in any combination a person finds useful. Some people use two together, some use three, a few use more than that. But their actual use is completely personal and not programmatic.

Tomorrow: Eric discusses how not being attached to the outcome of your work is completely different than not caring about it, and how incantations are particularly effective for writers and artists.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach. Her website is

It’s Still Not Luck

It happened again. When people don’t understand something, the reason has to be luck.

I’m at my last art festival. There is a sign in my booth, in 75-point Optima bold that says “Last Show! Thanks for 15 great years of art festivals!” I don’t want people thinking I snuck out the back door.

The strongest reaction is from other artists.
“Are you retiring?”
“No, I’m changing how I sell my work.”
“Yes, but with 100 million sites, that’s a long shot. I’m selling to galleries and wholesaling to interior design stores. And I’m starting to teach journal writing classes online.”
“How do you plan on getting galleries?”
Uh-oh, I’m in dangerous territory.
“While I was out of state, taking a course, I asked my husband to check out some galleries. He found some interest and I’m following up.”
At this point, the other artist looks up, nods wisely and says,
“I knew it. Your husband must be a great sales person. Galleries. You are so lucky.”
And that ends the conversation.
My husband has great sales skills. And I’m lucky.
Why is it luck?
Because if it’s luck, it doesn’t have to be hard work–it was “meant to be.”

If it’s luck, then there is no sense in trying hard or facing your own talent.
But it’s not luck.
I chose the course carefully–for the teacher, content, and location.
I prepared an information packet–art bio, photos of my work, artists’ statement. In print and on CD.
I researched some galleries and their hours.
My husband agreed to go to the galleries that were open when I was in class.
They liked the work. They gave me a specific assignment. I followed up. It worked.
It’s not luck. In fact, I don’t believe in luck. Or that the universe is my concierge of artistic delight.
This sounds suspiciously like my thoughts in yesterday’s review of The Secret.
At least I’m consistent.

This same weekend, someone asked why I had left jewelry design and fabrication. The answer is long, complicated and difficult, but I gave the one that stops people dead in their tracks.
“Because I had reached the limits of my competence and I can’t imagine 20 years of no artistic growth.”
The person looked at me, slightly fearful and horrified.
“Well, how did you know you could figure out something else to do?”
“I didn’t know. I tried. I made mistakes. I kept trying.”
He looked at me for a bit and then said,
“What a story. You have all the luck.”

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and artist. She is also a certified creativity coach, who is neither lucky nor unlucky. But her timesheet clocked in at 120 hours this week. See her work at

It’s No ‘Secret’

Rhonda Byrne was on the Oprah show with her book and DVD. I didn’t see all of it, but I did buy the book and read it all–including inconsistencies, bad science, poor transitions, lots of repetitions,  graphic mess, topic-hopping to the point of confusion and some excellent ideas poorly described and almost lost by all the weaknesses of the book.cover of The Secret

To be clear– I think Rhonda Byrne did a lot of work on her book. She put effort into it, kept her focus on creating what she wanted and was successful. If only she had used herself as an example, the book would have made a lot of sense. Had she said, “To get what you want from life, work really hard, focus on the goal, try different approaches and be polite to everyone who helps you. Say ‘thank-you,’ and stay positive,” she would have had the main point of the book in a way everyone could agree with.

But that’s not the lesson from the book. Byrne starts by saying “You contain a magnetic power within you that is more powerful than anything in this world. . .” and continues that “the law of attraction says like attracts like.” [p.7.] But that is not at all what science says. Magnetism is a physical law, and in magnetism it is opposites that attract. The continual repetition that our magnetic forces attract like thoughts and results is simply bad science. Which casts other things she says into doubt, including, “You are the most powerful magnet in the Universe!” [p.7.] and comparing the universe to a genie who is at your command to bring you everything you want [p.46.]

Byrne also talks about ‘frequencies,’ and how bad thoughts are on the frequency to attract bad things [p.31] Another logic pitfall. Yes, thoughts do have frequencies. At best, thoughts attract other thoughts, and not money, disease, or objects, which are on different frequencies.

Which leads me to another Byrne confusion. She says that we must concentrate on good thoughts. Good thoughts attract good things, so Byrne encourages us to choose good thoughts. [p.32] Not to pick nits, but let’s be logical. In order to choose, there must be choices in existence. Which means, if we want to choose a good thought, there must be a bad thought to distinguish among. Uh-oh, now there is a bad thought, which, according to Byrne, will attract bad things into our life. But she has an answer for that. She says we have some time to turn back the bad thoughts. [p.33] But by p. 160-161, she tosses in more confusion by telling us that the Universe has no time or space restrictions–it is all one time, everywhere and covers everything.

The biggest problem I had with the book is “Nothing can come into your experience unless you summon it through persistent thoughts.” She stresses that everything in your life–illness, car accidents, come to you because you thought them into being. Really? Did the children in Darfur bring their horror on themselves? Do orphans choose to kill off their parents? No one chooses cancer, AIDS, or, for that matter, migraines. And the universe is not your personal wish-o-mat. I find it the ultimate of self-centered behavior to think, “Your are the Master of the Universe, and the Genie is there to serve you.” [p.46] And, “This is really fun. It’s like having the Universe as your catalogue. You flip through it and say, ‘I’d like to have this experience and I’d like to have that product. . .It is You, placing your order with the Universe.”

Now for the good news. Byrne encourages meditation, visualization, gratitude and the Alcoholics Anonymous exercise of “act as if.” None of these are new. None of these are startling. All of them work, not because of magnetism, but because they help you focus on the goal and work toward achieving it. Bryne explains in the book that she contacted other people to help her with this book. (Another disappointment–she has well-known and well-respected people helping her write this book.) She flew to the US where they lived to work with them. Was that all really necessary? Why not just call it up from the Universe? Because that doesn’t work.

Hard work does. Accepting that you can’t have everything you want will make it easier to live a realistic life. I can put the thought that I am a prima ballerina out to the universe all I want. When the universe stops laughing, it may remind me that I quit taking ballet 50 years ago, am generously proportioned and have arthritis. Ballet isn’t in my future. But other things can be. If I work on them regularly.

–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach who believes in working to get what you want and understands that not everything is possible to everyone. But that doesn’t mean you can’t overcome difficulties and live a juicy, enjoyable life. See her work at 

The Good Editor

Last January, I wrote an article about the changes involved when I switched my art medium from jewelry to paper. I submitted it to The Crafts Report, a magazine I’ve been published in over many years. The magazine is under new ownership, and I had no idea what to expect. At the same time, I submitted my handmade paper bowls to their “Focus on. . .” section. The double submission was coincidental–the topic for “Focus on. . .” changes every month and the Paper and Book Arts deadline was at hand.

It is unusual for me to write a first-person story for submission, but changing your art medium is a difficult task, with lots of physical, psychological, and financial pitfalls. I thought it might help other artists. The story contained my ideas, mistakes, recuperations and survival. Enough to help other artists avoid my mistakes.
When I didn’t hear from the editor, I send a follow-up email. Meghan Reinke immediately replied, confirming the receipt of my photos as well as a suggestion for re-casting the article.

Had this happened 10 years ago, I might have jumped up on that high horse I have stored somewhere in the studio and refused. After all, it was my story and I would tell it (drum roll, please) my way, and what does an editor half my age know anyway? (OK, Meghan, I have no idea how old you or Mike Harbridge are, but my imagination got the best of me.) But I’ve learned a lot in 10 years, including that editors are objective and know what will work for their readers. So I didn’t even search for the high horse.

Meghan Reinke had not shot down the first-person angle, indeed, she liked that. She and Mike did feel that the story was too negative, with too much focus on the sorrow of leaving jewelry design and fabrication. I didn’t remember the story that way at all. So I closed the email program (to prevent what I call finger-blurt–writing an email I will regret later) and opened the article instead.

The editor was right. I had not seen it from that point of view at all when I submitted it, although it had undergone the mandatory 48-hour resting period I give all articles. I re-wrote the article. When it was done, I had kept two sentences of the original, and re-cast and re-written the rest of the article. And I’d added a sidebar of tips on how to survive a medium change. It made it longer than the original assigned word-count, but they could always spike that portion. I shipped it off again.

In a short time, I received word that my work would be included in the “Focus on. . .” section, and that the image I had sent would be used on the cover. I was thrilled. But too embarrassed to ask about the article. I’ve been writing for well over half my life, and felt gratitude that the editor had not thrown it out and instead, guided me to a new view.

That’s what a good editor does–see the value in a piece and tell the writer how to fix it. The best editors know how to explain needed changes so that a writer can understand them. And this editor had done exactly that. Simply, and to the point, here’s what our readers would find useful.

Time passed. I actually forgot about the article. I have set times each month that I check on the progress of article pitches and submissions, so I don’t worry too much in between times. And then I got an email from Meghan. They were printing the article in the May, 2007 issue. Page 56. With the sidebar.

So for two months in a row, I’ve been in the same magazine. The only time that has happened was my regular column on the business of art in Somerset Studio magazine. And yes, they used the sidebar. A good writer can’t be an editor for her own articles. And a good editor knows what needs to be done and how to suggest changes. And a good writer listens to smart ideas.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and artist. She also teaches classes in how to write in a personal journal.