Category Archives: The Writing Life

How’s Your Word of the Year?

It’s already March, and time to check in on your word of the year. Do you remember it? If you don’t, consider

  • The word may not have been the best one to move you through a whole year
  • You may be avoiding the word because it calls you into action and you don’t feel up to it
  • Your inner critic wants you to use an easier word
  • You wrote it down somewhere, and it’s time to find that

If you do remember it, what have you done with the word you chose? Is it supporting you? Are you using it as a tool? Is it something you think of every day?

Do you use it in your journal? Do you use it to be creative–in your thoughts, in your music, dance, singing, parenting, idea creation?

My word was “heart,” and I think about it every day. I’m rebranding my business and re-inventing myself, and every decision is done with heart in mind. Is this what I really want? Does this feed my heart? Because if it doesn’t, I am not bringing it one step forward.

Tell me what’s happening in your world with your word.

-Quinn McDonald is realizing that she chose a really demanding word of the year.

Good Writing Blogs

If you are a writer, or a writer-hopeful, you’ll need to look at some other writing blogs and posts.

Here’s a list that should get you started in the right direction.

1. Goins, Writer has a great post on the difference between good writers and bad writers. I so love the first paragraph because I personally know how true it is.

2. K.M. Weiland is Helping Writers Become Authors. Here is her post on fixing the most common writing mistakes authors make.

3. Jane Friedman will help you with a 7-Step Business Plan for becoming a writer. One that gets work.

4. Linda Formichelli is the Renegade Writer. She helps you deal with trolls who hate what you write. Also friends who rip you to shreds.

5. Joanna Pen from the Creative Pen shows you how to write, publish and sell your book.

6. The Artist’s Road is run by Patrick Ross. He talks about living an art committed life.

That should get you started finding your way as a writer, nodding your head and smiling. And that’s what writing is about.

Quinn McDonald is a non-fiction writer who teaches writing.

The Confusing Message of “Not Giving a F**k”

We’ve worn out a lot of words in the last five years. “Awesome” used to mean “fall on your knees, drooling, in fear or amazement.” Now it ranks around “OK” (or to use the common term, “K”) or just a shrug. We’ve also bleached out the meaning of “basically,” “literally,” “absolutely,” and “good job,” usually accompanied by a high-five if said to a child under the age of six.

This image is often seen with the phrase, "this kitten does not give a f**k"

This image is often seen with the phrase, “this kitten does not give a f**k”

Watching how Americans use English is something that fascinates me (but is not “a passion” of mine–we wore out passion when we brought it into the office and substituted it for “mildly interested.”)

Culturally, we are now wearing out the F-bomb. I will freely admit to being a bit stodgy about using this word freely. It makes me uncomfortable, and I’ll confess that I didn’t use it at all until I was about 23 years old. There were two reasons:

1. For me, it was a shocking, violent word best associated with rape, darkness, and the opposite of love. (Your results may vary.) I also had to say “Cheese and rice” in the homes of my Catholic friends, instead of naming the Christian deity’s son outright.

2. The F-word was considered vulgar, and writers (particularly women writers) were encouraged to use move vivid, powerful, and vibrant words. It made for lively combinations of adjectives, adverbs and interjections. It made me an excellent collector of exciting phrases that would pass the editor’s inspection and still allow the reader to know what we meant.

We use f**k  so commonly that we have made up substitutes that are used in zappa3even the most proper corporate meeting: “freaking” came first, and sounded quite harmless, so we upped it to “fricking.” And then we just forgot about talking around it and went right for the f-word.

Note: Many of my friends use the word frequently. I do not correct them. Nor am I shocked. Loving language is more about observation than being the f**k police.

What does interest me is the adaption of the phrase “Not giving a f**k” and its best friend “Not a single f**k was given that day,” to mean two different things entirely. (Google the phrase, then click on images. NSFW).

You would think (or at least I did) that “not giving a f**k” would mean not caring, indifference,  not being involved in an outcome, having an ability to walk away from any situation.

It may mean that in some circles, but it also means being so sure of yourself that you don’t care what other people think. You are rooted firmly in your values. Now, that’s a use I find interesting.  Mark Manson described this meaning in an article on January 8, 2015. Yes, “giving a f**k” means caring, but that’s the point–he discusses why caring too much can drain your focus of what you should be caring a lot about. And on those issues we care deeply about, well, then you give a big f**k.

Here’s what Manson says: “Indeed, the ability to reserve our fucks for only the most fuckworthy of situations would surely make life a hell of a lot easier. Failure would be less terrifying. Rejection less painful.”

What all this means is that indifference breeds drama, and drama is empty of power and force. Caring about others, choosing to protect what is important to you, well, that is what we want to give a f**k about.  An interesting twist of events.

And finally, because I’m worn out from clicking on all those asterisks, here is a poem I found about living that life of deep caring, real coherence and authenticity. Without once using the f-bomb.

I found this poem on The Practical Mystic, credited to The Awakening Woman Institute.

You are the well-trodden, dusty tracks of habit
and you are a freedom so brilliant it brings
deities to their knees.

You are the hesitation and the mistrust that make us
so desperately cling to the plastic replicas of who we are,
and you are the ache of the real calling us from the other side of risk.
You are that mystical courage
that makes us get up and out of bed each morning, despite it all.

Achingly beautiful, dull, exhilarating,
horrendous, paradoxical, cosmic, dense,
dark matter and radiance beyond measure.
Here is your world.
Here it is.

You have been so busy creating walls,
squeezing your tail and your wings
into this digestible hand-me-down dress,
trying so very hard to compartmentalize the
unfathomable wilderness that you are.

There is no action, no withholding,
no sprouting or rotting,
no lover or predator,
no loser or hero,
no wound nor victory
that is not you.

Here is your world.
Here it is.

:: Chameli Devi

-–Quinn McDonald is careful what she cares about. Language is right up at the top of the list.

Warning: If you use the spelled-out f-word in your comments, the comment will automatically go to spam. I’ve been a blogger for eight years now, and that control is a comfort.

 

Creative Link Hop (Feb. 14, ’15)

Normally, I post links to paintings, photography, or street art on Saturday. But it’s Valentine’s Day, and you may be writing cards, so here are some lovely people doing caligraphy and hand-lettering.

Joanne Sharpe is a delightful teacher of hand-lettering. She never runs out of ideas. You can see her demonstrating hand-lettering here:

And here is one of her colorful journal pages:

© Joanne Z Sharpe

© Joanne Z Sharpe

Joanne Fink also does wonderful lettering. Here’s a video of her using Koi (watercolor) pens, making it look easy:

Here’s a series of hearts in her loose, doodling style.

© Joanne Finnk

© Joanne Finnk

My friend, Michael Noyes, is an amazing calligrapher. He did my first logo:

Design by Michael Noyes

Design by Michael Noyes

And he does amazing work with images combined with calligraphy.

product_220_border

I love this quote he illustrated by Henry David Thoreau. And yes, he sells his work.

The late Lisa Engelbrecht made wonderful art and was a kind and inspiring teacher.

© Lisa Engelbrecht

© Lisa Engelbrecht

She called herself a Letterista, because much of her work was new, inventive and got her in trouble with traditional calligraphers.

Laurie Doctor is a calligrapher whose work is both powerful and gentle. She’s an inspiring teacher, too. She has a series, Another Night in the Ruins, a response to a poem by Galway Kinnell.

© Laurie Doctor

© Laurie Doctor

Above is Night Vigil, a combination of writing and figurative work. She will be coming to Madeline Island School of the Arts in September (2015), but she does many workshops each year.

Go have a wonderful weekend writing wonderfully.

-Quinn McDonald is a writer who loves hand-lettering.

Words in Words

Words are an endlessly fascinating playground of letters. They help you (sometimes) keep from tripping up. There are fun shortcuts to make up or discover. Stationary means staying in one place. Stationery is writing material. Lucky that the letter kind of stationery had an E in it, just like letter does.

When I talk about the difference between there, their and they’re in class, I can point out that there is the opposite of the word here, conveniently stuck in there. Moving on, their is a word that shows ownership (their car was parked on the street) and has an ownership word in it–heir.  OK, not every example is brilliant, but it’s fun to look for one word hidden in a larger word. When one defines another, it’s even more interesting.

So there is an EAR in HEARD.

ID in INDIVIDUAL.

If you want your eyebrows to rise in surprise and wonder if that was intentional, there is a GRIN in GRIND and BRA in VIBRATE. And, of course, there is WANT in WANTON.

Snark lurks in words-in-words, too. There is MENTAL in FUNDAMENTALIST and RED in CREDIT and IRK in QUIRK and GIN in ENGINEER.

Some may just be a spelling tip. So there is VERY in EVERYTHING, TAG in HERITAGE, TIP in MULTIPLY and RATION in INSPIRATION.

Now that you know, you’ll see small words in bigger words and smile while you are reading. There is SIN in EASINESS, but it doesn’t mean you have to give it up.

Quinn McDonald has fun with words.

Re-Invention and Updating

Re-inventing yourself is another way of saying you are deliberately making a decision to grow. It’s a sore point for some. “I like you the way you are,” is a powerful threat, particularly from those who love you. We all know people who still have the same hairstyle, clothes, and beliefs they did in Middle School.

Tough seedpods protect small seeds.

Tough seedpods protect small seeds.

Nothing against loyalty, but often we outgrow that look, those ideas, and even the dreams we had. In fact, we should. We should allow dreams to grow up, too.

Growth includes overcoming resistance, from the seed breaking out of the shell to the flower breaking out of a bud. Friends and family can be despicably  mean in the face of your growth, but it is your growth. If they don’t want to come along, they will make that decision for themselves.

In about six weeks, I will have a new website, and after seven years of having a website and a separate blog, the blog will move over to the website. When that day comes, I’ll lose all my readers who don’t come over and sign up again. I will have to ask people to change with me.

It was never my idea to track my readers, except if they choose to comment. You can sign up or delete the RSS feed to my blog and I’ll never know. Readers have always had the freedom to come and go.

The good news is, it is still in your control to read my blog (or not).

Fencepost cactus flower photographed with iPhone, no flash. Illumination with flashlight. © Quinn McDonald 2014

Fencepost cactus flower © Quinn McDonald 2014

The bad news is, you will have to re-sign up on the new website. It’s not ready yet, and I’ll give you plenty of warning when it is. This blog will stay up for a while after the switch, but no new posts will be added. Some of the old posts will be moved and all new posts will be on the new website.

Another change is the tagline. For years, it has been “tips, slips, stumbles and leaps on the creative journey.”  While creativity is a huge part of my life, my website will concentrate on writing, teaching and coaching.

The writing focus comes in two parts: corporate training and online training. I’ve been a corporate trainer for 20 years, but never talked about it much–some of my clients have non-disclosure clauses, and it was easier to be quiet about all of them. I’d like to welcome more corporate writing-training clients. I have a killer one- and two-day course on business writing. In person. Grammar, punctuation and syntax with lots of exercises and lots of personal attention. I don’t know how to teach without customizing my class to the specific participants.

I will also welcome invitations to teach writing to retreats and small groups. For retreats, I will be concentrating on the healing, growth-inspiring aspects of writing. Most of it will come from the exercises I’m developing for the new book. [Working title: Write Yourself Whole.]

I have two suggestions for a new tagline:

1. QuinnCreative: Be understood.  Everyone, especially writers, wants to be understood. Having the audience understand your writing and message is just as important as the deep personal need to have your values understood. Corporate clients need their teams, departments, sales reps and speeches to be understood. That tagline has both an emotional and a benefit appeal.

2. QuinnCreative: Clarity starts here. Most corporate writers think that jargon makes them powerful, when it weakens the message. Crisp, short, focused writing delivers a message that everyone can grasp and use. I teach a kind of writing that sucks out the bloated, vague words and concentrates on speedy verbs and muscular nouns to get the job done. That tagline fills a tool-using benefit.

Opinions, please: which would offer you more–the real you, not second-guessing what a corporation would prefer.

QuinnMcDonald hopes she never gets tired of change.

 

The New Book

I don’t talk much about the book I am writing. It’s not that I’m secretive or hiding anything. From long experience, I know that if I talk about it too much, I’ll pull the wind out of the sails. The ideas will shrink.

Without memory, there would be no books; without books, we would have no memories.

Without memory, there would be no books; without books, we would have no memories.

This week, I’ve been having a hard time with the book. I keep writing around the issue at hand. Finally, early this morning, I sat down and wrote a very hard section. A section that did not cast a flattering light on my own Story. Or me.

And that was the whole point. I did dumb things. I still do. But I am no longer making them the heart of my Story–the reason for my mistakes. The excuse to continue making the same mistakes. Once you own your mistakes and admit them, you take away the feeding frenzy of your Inner Critic.

We love our Stories. They are the meat and marrow of the decisions we make every day. Unfortunately, they are also the main meal for our Inner Critics.

“My parents never encouraged me,” we sigh, feeding the Inner Critic the “you can’t be enough because you weren’t nurtured” broth.

“At home, the boys got all the attention,” we complain, spooning the sweet accusation that we aren’t worth the effort of love, attention, or praise into the mouth of our Inner Critic.

“No one ever loved me enough,” we say, giving the Inner Critic a meaty bone of self-doubt to chew on for years.

The saddest (and funniest) childhood comment I’ve heard as a coach came from

from anagarcialopez.com

from anagarcialopez.com

the client who said, “My parents gave me everything. They encouraged me and praised me. No wonder I never learned how to deal with disappointment. I don’t have the ability to be self-critical. It was my parent’s fault, really.”

Poor childhood. It can’t win. If we’re treated badly, it ruined our life. If we were treated well, that’s wrong, too.

Yes, I take seriously the grim stories of childhood I hear–stories of abuse, abandonment, loss. No one can take any of those stories lightly. They cause terrible damage. But not irreparable damage.

The sign of growth, the sign of change, the sign of reinvention is the willingness to admit that we can’t go back and change the past. It happened. Blessedly, it is also over, and in the past. The next step is yours to make and live. And that’s what the book is about.

-Quinn McDonald is writing a book. Again. It’s turned into a habit.

Things I Never Thought I’d Say

Life is weird. At certain times in your life, you are sure you would never say anything odd, embarrassing, silly or just plain dumb. But then, technology changes, you change, and you are saying things you could not have imagined yourself saying 20 years ago. Or ever. Travel is broadening, but in so many ways I had never imagined.

Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 9.35.07 PM1. If you remember a time when there were only landlines, phones were attached to the wall or sat on a small table. When you phoned someone you never had to ask, “Where are you?” because the answer was one of two rooms where the extensions were.

2. “I need Botox.” Botulinum toxin is a neurotoxin that for all of my life lived in poorly canned meats and killed people. You didn’t need it, you feared it. The idea that some people cheerfully inject it into their faces is still a bit jarring.

3. “What day is it?” The first time I walked into a rest home and saw the day and date on the bulletin board, I was horrified. People didn’t know? But when you are teaching grammar on Monday and editing on Tuesday and persuasiveScreen Shot 2015-02-02 at 9.36.53 PM writing on Wednesday, and copywriting on Thursday, and you always wear black dress pants when you teach, it’s easy to get up in the morning, shower, put on those black dress pants and then wonder, “What day is this and what am I teaching?” It’s a bit scarier if you are in a hotel room on a 12-consecutive-days teaching gig and the hotel room in Dallas looks like the one in Cincinnati and you aren’t entirely sure where you are, much less what you are teaching today.

4. “Please don’t lick my phone.” Said to a child on an airplane.

5. “Yes, I am the last drop off, but that doesn’t automatically mean that suitcase is mine.” Said to a shuttle driver in some city where I arrive in the middle of the night.

Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 9.52.10 PM6. “It’s a fountain pen. You use it to write with. The tip is sharp, but not dangerous. No, it’s not a blow dart.” Said to a TSA inspector.

7. “No, I never told him not to steal the car.” Said to an angry Human Resource inquisitor when one of my direct reports stole the company car and went joyriding, then blamed me because I hadn’t expressly forbidden him not to steal the car.  “And I didn’t tell him not to pee in a wastebasket, either, because some things seem pretty clear to me.” He stayed. I got fired.

8. “No, I don’t have a spare condom you can borrow.” Said to a young couple in an elevator. “If I had one, I’d give it to you, not lend it to you.” And then realized they didn’t understand why I added that. Because when you teach grammar, everything is a learning experience.

Are there phrases you never thought you’d say or would have to say? Leave them in the comments. It’s a good day for a laugh.

Quinn McDonald lives to laugh at herself. Lucky for her, life gives her plenty of opportunities to do just that.

 

 

 

 

Burning And Other Words

Pay attention to the words you read, and a whole new life starts up in front of you. There are tiny differences in words we use every day and hardly notice. Language and culture are interlaced, and meanings shift through time and through use. I teach writing and grammar and I’m often asked to explain subtle differences in word use to people whose native language is not English.

words, burningLast week, a participant in one of my classes asked, “which is right, ‘My house burned down,’ or ‘My house burned up”? As native English speakers, we don’t notice those small differences.

I explained that when something “burns up” it is exhausted, like fuel. So, it would be fine to say, “I burned up all the papers with private information in them.” And, yes, it would also be correct to leave out the “up” and say, “I burned all the papers with private information in them.” But adding “up” indicates the entire pile is now ashes.

When something “burns down” it means that nothing is left of a structure. The complete phrase originally came from “burned down to the ground.”

There are other burning words. Overwork makes people “burn out,” but not “burn down” or “burn up.”

If someone deceives us, we are “burned,” without any preposition at all following it.

The same preposition problem shows up in “tie up,” and “tie down.” The former Screen Shot 2015-02-01 at 12.24.35 AMindicates a rope being used to secure hands and feet, but not to another object. The latter is a rope being used to tie a person (or an object) to a stationary object. So “He used the rope to tie up his victim,” but “He used a rope to tie down his victim to the bed.”

That wasn’t the end of the conversation. Because “don’t tie me down” isn’t a plea from Fifty Shades of Grey, (or it may be, but I don’t care), it also means to limit someone’s freedom. And “don’t tie me up” can also mean to load someone with excessive amounts of work, or to make them late for an appointment.

Words concerning time have great importance in our business culture because we can’t manufacture time, and it’s something no one has enough of.

English isn’t easy to learn because there are many subtle differences, but it makes being a writer a lot of fun.

Quinn McDonald is a writer who teaches writing.

Gallery

Give Away Your Work? It Can Work

This gallery contains 2 photos.

If you are a freelance writer, artist or have a talent, offer a service or product, you will be asked to give it away for free. Often it comes with the promise of “getting your name out—good marketing.” I’ve talked … Continue reading