Why Breaking the Internet Doesn’t Matter

I’m writing my new website so hard, my eyes are bleeding. I keep bouncing from being clever to being simple and clear, from being baddass to being straightforward. I am making all the mistakes I warn my writing clients about: too many objectives, too big an audience and the worst–listening to too many people who are giving me advice. Not that I asked for any, but it doesn’t slow writers down. We love giving writing advice.

i-won-the-internetThe worst advice I’ve gotten is that I need to write copy that will “go viral,” or “win the internet,” or, best of all, “break the internet.” No. No, I don’t.

When an image or a blog post goes viral, it gets passed from hand to hand, eye to eye, quickly. Remember The Dress? The one that was either white and gold or blue and black? That was about a week ago, and in one two-hour segment, The Dress got 16 million views. It went humongously viral. But exactly what did those 16 million people do with the image? Passed it on, defending what color they saw.

There was only one dress, so it didn’t sell a million dresses. I’m sure a lot of people who didn’t know what Adobe Photoshop could do, found out. But Adobe didn’t have a huge increase in sales.

Views, discussions, explanations are great. But they do not translate into sales. Information no longer is power. Everyone had information about that dress. Attention span is power. And, like Gertrude Stein’s Oakland, there was no “there, there” for attention span in the dress story. The wave went from what color you saw the dress to explanations of rods and cones in the eye, to polls on what colors you saw in the dress, to weird science and then. . . it vanished in the churn of the internet.

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By GaryKing and the Enablers, via Imgur.

What holds attention span? Caring. What makes readers care? When the writer gives a damn. (Now if I said “gives a shit” I could have had a cool acronym– GAS). See? I’m just not badass.  But I know a big mistake most writers make–and it’s the same one I’m working on avoiding. Most writers screw up when they write to prove how clever/smart/cool they are. The smart writers don’t write for themselves, they write for their audience. Because they give a damn about their audience.

Caring is always smart/cool/perfect. Caring about your audience, whether you are a writer, a teacher, an artist, or a social media expert, is how you get a bigger audience. A real audience. One that is interested in what you have to offer. And that audience does not care about the color of the dress today.

—Quinn McDonald is not listening to advice about going viral. She’s being her intuitive, introverted self who cares about her training and coaching clients. Because she knows they want to be understood. And she knows how to do that.

 

 

Creativity Echoes and Duplicates

If you do any creative work, you know that you will have a brilliant idea, fall in love with the idea, polish it, then release it to public view. As soon as you do that, you will see the same idea all over. You get angry. Who stole your idea? The answer is–nobody. There are several reasons this happens.

1. Heightened awareness. Once you begin to concentrate on an idea, and certain words, phrases, images begin to repeat in your head. Your heightened awareness makes you see those words “more often,” when you are really simply more aware of seeing them. This happens when you learn a new word–you suddenly see it three times in a day when you don’t recall seeing it before.

2. Mysterious parallel universes. OK, I made that up. Creativity duplicates in our world. If you were to ask a Russian who invented the telephone it’s unlikely they would credit Alexander Graham Bell. They would mention a Russian who invented the device roughly at the same time. Simultaneous invention, writing, advertising ideas do happen. Regularly. And has happened for years. Now, with the increasing speed of knowledge shared through the internet, more people come up with similar ideas more often.

images3. Your grass seed, my lawn. When we talk about our ideas to a friend, the friend often takes the next step with the idea. You talk about creating a journal page using a dictionary page, and suddenly your friend is teaching a class on altering dictionaries. And that’s when things get sticky.

This is the hard part. I know exactly how hard it is, because I have gone through it with one of the techniques in The Inner Hero Art Journal.  Yes, I was angry. Yes, I felt cheated. But I also know that ideas can’t be copyrighted, and that my idea doesn’t belong to me exclusively. What to do? Well, break that list into legal, ethical and generous steps.

Legally, I notified my publisher, so if any of the images I shared or the journal prompts I created and shared appear on another website, the publisher can handle the copyright violation.

Ethically, if my idea is similar to another artists, I have to follow the rules The Ethics Guy uses to judge actions as ethical. (Bruce Weinstein, Ph.D. is the Ethic Guy). This isn’t that complicated in theory, but very hard to do with a complete heart.

  • Do no harm
  • Make things better
  • Be respectful
  • Be fair
  • Be compassionate

But the items may be hugely difficult to manage. If someone treats you unfairly, you don’t want to treat them (or anyone else) fairly. But you have to. The entire reason the world doesn’t collapse into savaging each other is that most of us want to be fair and even generous.

How do we act fairly and generously? We give credit. We say “Thank you.” It doesn’t detract from our work, it adds to it. Giving other people credit for helping you get to your own idea is a wonderful way to increase your creativity and your peace of mind.

Thanking and crediting others relieves you of guilt, makes you feel generous, expands your creativity. And that is your work to do.

-Quinn McDonald keeps a gratitude journal and another one for ideas on change. Sometimes she writes one idea in another, and then alchemy happens.

Popular Culture, Fairy Tales, Bolts

Book Giveaway winners: Princess Burning Hair (known as Angie) wins the book giveaway from earlier in the week.  Journalution goes to Angie–congratulations!  Bluestocking wins another book from my journaling stash. Bluestocking said that she is having trouble with journaling book and keep flinging it across the room. Her honest frustration made me laugh, so Bluestocking, get in touch and I’ll send you a different book. Contact me at QuinnCreative [at] Yahoo [dot] com so I can send the books!

*    *     *     *

Every February in Yukon, Canada, there is a hair-freezing contest. Yes, hair freezing. Contestants dip their hair in 104ºF water, then put their heads up into the freezing air. (I will not make air-head jokes. I will not.)

takhini-hot-springs-hair-freezing-contest-8The cold air then freezes the water and the hair. The contestants can mold their hair into shape or let it freeze freely. (Story via Buzzfeed.)

enhanced-8211-1425575578-10There is something funny and wonderful about this contest. It’s not just the color, but it must feel cold on your head while your body is warm.

Kilian Schönberger is a German photographer who has toured Central Europe looking to find locations that illustrate the otherworldly imagery of the stories collected by the Johann and Wilhelm Grimm.

central-european-landscapes-inspired-by-grimms-fairy-tales-by-kilian-schongerger-4You can see more of the photographs on Behance (part 1) and (part 2).

central-european-landscapes-inspired-by-grimms-fairy-tales-by-kilian-schongerger-10On Behance, he says, ” I think there is a deep longing for tranquil naturalness among people in our techonology-driven environment. Therefore I don’t want to show just potrayals of natural scenes – I want to create visually accessible places where the visitor can virtually put his mind at rest and make up his own stories. Possibly this is the real benefit of my work: Resting places for the eyes in an visually overstimulated world.”

Tobbe Malm is a sculptor from Sweden. He found a bunch of old bolts in a barn in Bergsladen Sweden, and decided to use the bolts in sculpture.

tobbe-malm-transforms-steel-bolts-into-evocative-sculptures-1The forms are touchingly human and the sculptures speak to the human condition.

tobbe-malm-transforms-steel-bolts-into-evocative-sculptures-3Via Twisted Sifter, Malm says, “The bolts reminded me of human forms, and I felt they had something to tell. I heated them, forged, bent and twisted. I tried to create relations, meetings and situations and suddenly stories emerged about sorrow, joy, pain, warmth and humour. A kind of poetry was created, hence the title.”

Have a creative weekend!

-Quinn McDonald is encouraged by original art. She is also delighted that today at 9:26 a.m. and p.m. it will be the perfect Pi day: 3.1415926

 

 

 

Seeing is Believing

In another part of my life, I’m a training developer. I create programs that teach business people how to write documents, presentations, even emails. Of all the topics I get asked to teach, the one I never would have guessed is at the top of the

A diagrammed sentence.

A diagrammed sentence.

list: grammar. Grammar is rarely taught in elementary or middle school anymore, so tomorrow’s leaders have to learn syntax and grammar quickly. And that’s what I do–invent creative ways to make grammar interesting.

When I call the Inner Hero book “my second book,” it’s with a touch of irony. In the last year, I’ve written half a dozen workbooks on technical writing, grammar, email communication and creative problem solving. But they aren’t sold in bookstores, so I rarely mention them.

Last week a client said something that made a lot of sense to me. “We offer a lot of classes, and we want people to take grammar, but they have to see the value in it. And grammar sounds boring.” Yes, yes, it does. She said, wistfully, “I wish you could do a cartoon instead of the outline of what’s in the class.” What a great idea my client had! So I sat down with the “boring” outline and made it visual.

begr_visualWe are visual people, and looking at something colorful and interesting makes grammar less threatening. Looking at a busy, colorful “map” of the course is a better way to sell it than an outline.

When I was done, I did one for Business Writing, too. I hope it helps the visual people see the benefit of the class. It doesn’t show everything we do in class, but it shows enough to pique interest.

biz_writing_visualUsing visual creative tools to explain everyday topics shows the utility in a new, fresh, appealing way. The client knows her audience. And now I have a new tool in my training tool box, too.

-–Quinn McDonald loves mixing different skills to solve old problems.

 

 

Book Review and Giveaway: Journalution

Cover

Cover

Sandy Grason wrote Journalution in 2005, and it still stands as one of the best books on deep-writing journaling. She writes in an easy-to-understand way, and combines the wisdom of Julia Cameron with the emotional nurturing of Shakti Gawain. (One of my favorite lessons from Gawain is, “to feel more love, you have to let go of more anger.”)

Grason handles journaling in a simple, direct way. If you have been swamped by the responsibility of art journaling, if you are tired of trying to think of something to journal about, if a sketchbook journal disappoints you because you can’t draw, you will enjoy this book.

The subtitle of the book says it all: “Journaling to Awaken Your Inner Voice, Heal Your Life, and Manifest Your Dreams.” That’s a lot of journaling, but it’s packed into 200 pages that you can dip into, study, or read from front to back.

Table of Contents, page 1.

Table of Contents, page 1. Click to enlarge the image.

If you haven’t been deep-writing journaling, start now. Grason helps you getstarted and answers some simple-sounding but meaningful questions like “Where do I start?” and “Why do I need to journal?”  The answer to that is in a quote from the introduction:

“You must first be who you really are, then do what you need to do, in order to have what you want.” –Margaret Young

Grason gives you tips on writing when you don’t feel like it, figuring out what’s important to you, getting to your truth, and facing a blank page. There are tips for keeping track of your hopes, dreams and visions. There is an index to find all the exercises, from playing small to living large and how to set intentions and remain detached from the outcome.

The book is gently used, and from my book shelf. It’s time for it to bring ideas, clarity, and inspiration to someone else.

Table of Contents, page 2.

Table of Contents, page 2. Click to enlarge the image.

Quote from the book: “Inside, we are all just little children trying to heal, trying to do the best we can in this world. Many times it doesn’t look like that to others, though. Often, the child inside is angry and resentful; it may even want to hurt others.”

Giveaway: Leave a comment telling me why you want the book, and you’ll be in the drawing. There is just one book. The drawing is random, so you don’t have to be brilliant. International entries are welcome. I’ll announce the winner this coming Saturday, March 14, so stop back and check in!

Quinn McDonald is making room on her shelf for more books.

 

Punctuation and Assumptions

You’ve seen the meme on Facebook: “If you are over 50, you probably still use punctuation in texts.” There are various version of this poster, most of them showing women in hoop skirts.  The idea is right there: be an old geezer and stick to punctuation or a cool young thing and skip it.

From grammarly.com

From grammarly.com

I was amazed. Peer pressure to stop using punctuation. So you can be younger. Use fewer commas and your wrinkles will disappear.

As a life-experienced person (see how I did that? Avoided an ageist comment while sounding wise), I know that reasoning has a big fallacy. One assumption is not logically connected to another. You might as well say that young people only text when the moon is full. One part is not connected to another.

My classes are filled with people who know that punctuation isn’t about the writer, it’s about the reader.

Here’s an example:  “I enjoy cooking my family and pets.” Doesn’t sound like someone you want to know, does it? Add two commas and you get “I enjoy cooking, my family, and pets.” Different person? No, different punctuation.

comic_grammar

Punctuation isn’t about the writer, punctuation is about helping the reader understand what you mean. If you don’t make it clear, if you leave doubt, people will not know what you really mean. They’ll guess. They’ll make it up. And it won’t always be pretty. Or accurate.

You don’t have to waste energy dancing around other people’s assumptions. If you use punctuation, your writing will be clear without excessive explanation.

There is a corollary to life here. We waste a lot of energy in life dancing around other people’s assumptions. When people talk to me on the phone, they often assume I’m a man, because I have a gender-neutral name and an alto voice. When they see me, there is an awkward moment, which I simply ignore and move into the business at hand. I do not have to dance around with their assumption.

Many people hear my name as “Gwen,” which makes sense, as it’s a more common name than Quinn. If I hear it, I politely correct the mistake, so the other person won’t feel awkward and I’ll get my name said right. I used to dance around the issue, trying to say my name several times, or apologizing for it. Not necessary. I don’t have to make their assumptions mine. I don’t have to apologize for something that is a hearing error.

I like to dance, but not around other people’s assumptions. And I’ll keep my wrinkles and punctuation, too. I earned them.

 

Questioning Your Motives

When I was first married, I had to learn my husband’s family’s Christmas customs. There was a lot of gift buying, and because we didn’t live close, a lot of gift shipping.

As December flipped onto the calendar, I began to panic. My husband hadn’t purchased gifts for his family yet. We had decided it was his job to do that. He enjoyed it. Because Christmas starts in August, by early December I was in high panic. My husband has a different view of time than I do, and he wasn’t concerned.

From history.org

From history.org

Finally, in week three of December, he said he was finished shopping. I took a day off work, and, unasked, spent the entire day furiously wrapping, labeling and packing boxes for his family members. I then loaded the car and stood in line at UPS for hours waiting to ship his packages. My credit card took a serious hit on rush charges. I came home feeling virtuous. He owed me now. He would look at me as the hero I was and heap praises on my head. I could taste my victory and it was sweet.

I strode into the house, filled with more that a touch of vindication. “Your packages went to your family today, and they will make it in time for Christmas,” I said, pausing for praise. When it didn’t come, I prompted, “I used a vacation day to get them all out.” When I looked at him, I saw. . . hidden anger.

Available as a poster from http://www.topatoco.com

Available as a poster from http://www.topatoco.com

“What’s wrong? I took a whole day off to do this for you! I stood in line and put a lot of rush shipping on my credit card!” He looked at me and said simply, “I didn’t ask you to do that. I had planned to take tomorrow off to do it. I like doing it. You don’t. But mostly, you did something you hated so I’d appreciate it. And instead, you deprived me of the joy of listening to Christmas music and wrapping presents while you were at work.” I was furious. How could he be so selfish?  I had taken a day off and done a whole day of furious work for him, and I did not get one word of appreciation.

With time, I realized my totally inappropriate level of control and, well, wrong thinking. My husband was right.  Wrapping and shipping the presents was not my work to do. I took it on without asking. I did the work not because I enjoyed it, or even because I wanted to do it. I did the work to be appreciated. Instead of focusing on holiday joy, I focused on what I didn’t have: time, appreciation, enjoyment.

And the trouble with focusing on “What don’t I have?” is that the answer is always “I don’t have enough.” Always a sad realization.

In the years that followed, I learned to do things for others because someone asked me to help, or because I wanted to. Occasionally, I did things because they needed doing and no one else was available. But I no longer do things to be appreciated. It’s a losing proposition, every time.

—Quinn McDonald appreciates giving help and asking for help, which allows others to feel generous. She does the work that is hers to do.

 

Know Yourself, Be Yourself

The girl was walking toward the river when she saw a snake sunning itself on a rock. The snake was beautiful, but the girl knew it was a viper whose bite kills.

0The snake spoke to the girl, “Little girl, I cannot swim across the river, and I cannot row a boat. I need your help. You are kind and generous. Will you carry me across the river in the boat?”

The girl was taken aback. “No, you are a poisonous viper, and if I pick you up, you will bit me and I will die.”

The snake looked aggrieved. “Little girl, I must cross the river to get back home. You would offer me a kindness if you helped me. What reason would I have to bite you when you are helping me?”

The girl thought for a moment, then agreed. Kindness is the best choice, she thought. She picked up the snake, laid it around her neck and headed toward her small rowboat tied to a post in the river. Before she could untie the boat, she felt a sharp pain in her neck. The snake has bitten her.

The bite was deadly.  The girl was confused. “Why did you do that? I offered to help you!” The snake dropped from her shoulders. Before he disappeared in the grass, he hissed, “You knew who I was when you picked me up.”

That fable always upset me when I was younger. Kindness was not rewarded, generosity and trust was punished. But there is another concept at work here. The snake stayed true to form. The girl, who was smart, ignored her own brains and let the snake sweet-talk her into doing something she knew was a bad idea. She acted against her own character.

Had the girl remained true to whom she was, she would have trusted her native intelligence and walked away from the snake, no matter how charming it was.

Know-YourselfThe real point of this story is the importance of self-knowledge. You know who you are. You know your skills. You know what you do well and what you are horrible at. And yet, it’s still so tempting to take the wrong job because the money is good, to start a relationship with the wrong person because of looks or wealth, to try to fit into a group that you have nothing in common with.

Make the most of who you are. Honor your own wisdom. If you aren’t sure of your values, there are tests like Via (you can take a free test here) or Myers-Briggs (you can take a free Jungian test here) that can help make it clear. Play to your strengths.

Knowing yourself is the first step to being yourself. Fighting against your true nature is a hard battle. You can choose to grow, to change, to become who you want to be. But start with who you are.

-–Quinn McDonald helps people know themselves and thrive.

Hidden Costs

Every artist deserves to be paid for work of the heart and hands. No artist should have to hear “I’ll offer you half that because it’s the end of the day,” or “I can get something just like that and a lot cheaper at Wal-Mart.” That’s just insulting.

Artists are sometimes afraid to ask for the full price, so they begin to add small extra charges to their work. This week I had a transaction that got tarnished by those charges when it didn’t need to.

mousetrapI ordered an item on Etsy that said that the writing shown was simply an example and you could have anything you wanted engraved on the piece. Great. I asked for the words I wanted. Oh, well, that would be extra, because it was custom work. I had also mentioned that I did not need the included chain. The price remained the same.

If I used a credit card, it was one price. But I prefer PayPal, as it protects my credit card numbers. Oh, well, that would be a few dollars more.

And, well, shipping would be extra, too. I understand that. Distance makes a difference. But this was something else. I could get it “regular” mail, with no tracking number. It’s an overseas shipment, so a tracking order is really important. “Regular” mail, it turns out, will take four weeks. I could get it in two weeks for double the shipping amount. And in one week for four times the shipping amount.

And then there was a packing charge, an automatic one for all items shipped overseas. Surprise!

alibibox

It’s not honest to keep shifting shipping and handling charges. They should be simple for the client to understand.

When the transaction started, I liked the artist and the designs and was willing to pay for quality work. I would have happily paid a higher price. But inching up the price in ways that were not mentioned bothered me. It made me start to doubt the quality of the work, although it had nothing to do with quality.

It had to do with integrity and honesty. Inching up a price doesn’t feel like integrity. Hiding the price to make the reader click through three more pages of advertising doesn’t feel honest.

If you are worried about your prices, change them. Being honest with your prices and posting them where they can be seen is a sure way for your clients to know what you charge. If they can’t afford it, they will not contact you. If they do, and ask you to lower your prices, you can say that your prices are firm. But adding 30 percent to the price of a piece in tiny increments seems, somehow, unworthy of an artist.

-–Quinn McDonald is a writer, creativity coach, and writing instructor.

 

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.