Book Review: Live Your Life; Two Giveaways

OK, I’ll admit it—I like self-help books. Here’s why: I don’t expect them to change my life. Or even the next month. I do expect a good self-help book to have at least one solid idea that can help me see a situation, a habit, or a person in a different way.

A book that gives me a fresh perspective is a book that may move my decision-making machinery in a new direction, one that helps me make better decisions.

Ann LeFevre’s book, Live Your Life, 14 Days to the Best You, takes an interesting approach to self-help. In addition to taking a holistic approach, there is a lot of support, including a downloadable workbook (url is listed in the introduction, another reason to read those.)

In each of the 14 days of the book, you get stories from LeFevre’s own life (which makes the book seem human and the tasks seem achievable.  Each chapter has “Thinking Points,” and “Action Items” which allow you to take the lesson and make it yours, just for your goal.

Each chapter is a day, but it can be a week for you, or a month. The book (paperback) is a slim 130 pages, and you can set the pace that works for you. You might find some of it challenging, but that’s the point, right? If your life is not working now, reading a challenging book will seem like the perfect excuse to blow it off. Dig in instead.

Here’s a sampling of the chapters:

  • Silence the Voices (Yep, she believes in the inner critic, too!)
  • Stay the Course (Making a commitment isn’t hard, keeping it is.)
  • Start Somewhere, Anywhere (Dealing with the overwhelmed feeling.)
  • Just Breathe (Dealing with stress.)
  • Show Yourself Compassion (With  the imposter feeling, shame, or guilt)
  • Let it Go (Making space in your home and your life.)
  • Find Balance (in everything, from bad habits to good)
  • Look for Opportunities (you save yourself, no one comes to do it for you.)
  • Do it Anyway

Was there any part of this book I didn’t like? Sure. I ran across a few grammar errors and they always trip me up (because I teach grammar and am sensitized to it).  There are also a few thoughts that contradict each other, but not in the same chapter.
For example, in one chapter, a cruel professor berates LeFevre (as grad student) for “not being born brilliant . . . you are just a hard worker. . .” In that crushing blow, the professor defines brilliant as the ability to have abstract connections among ideas or emotions.  In another chapter, LeFevre advises ridding your space of items that are not necessary, vital, or have a specific purpose. Those are pretty concrete definitions, and don’t leave much room for emotional attachment and just plain liking, but not loving, an item. Those abstract ideas become important in this chapter.

None of those bring down the ability of the book to help. But if I’m reviewing a book, it’s a good balance to point to things I don’t like as well as those that do. These few small imbalances don’t tilt the scale. It’s firmly in the “helpful” category.

The Giveaway, Part 1: On Friday, February 23, 2018, I’ll give the book away. All you have to do is leave a comment on this blog. You don’t have to give a reason, just let me know you want the book. I’ll do a random drawing. Winners will come from the continental U.S. for this drawing.

The Giveaway, Part 2: I’m a coach, both a life coach and a creativity coach. I’m giving away three, one-hour coaching sessions, one session to each of three people. There is no obligation, no pressure, no sales pitch and it’s free. Leave a comment. This is in addition to the book giveaway.
Let me know in the comments that you want to try a coaching session. I will do a separate drawing for the book and the coaching sessions, so if you want to try for both, you can do it all in one comment.

Common-sense stuff:

  • If you are a current or past coaching client of mine, please let someone new try out for the coaching.
  • Winner must be able to call me in Phoenix at an agreed-upon time.
  • Winners must have phone numbers from the continental U.S.
  • Winners must be able to speak to a reason they want coaching–not in the comment. If you are one of the winners, I’ll be asking you.

The book was given to me to review. I am not paid for the review or compensated for the free coaching sessions.

Winners of the giveaway: Kelly Harms has won Ann LeFevre’s book, Live Your Life, 14 Days to the Best You. Winners of the coaching sessions are: Cynthia Pepper, Linda Marsh and Lynn Thompson. Congratulations to the winners! You’ll be hearing from me for details.

Quinn McDonald is a writer who teaches writing; she is a life- and creativity coach.

A Talisman of Fire

The Letter Shin, © photograph by Quinn McDonald. Sterling pendant by Su Keates.

The Letter Shin, © photograph by Quinn McDonald. Sterling pendant by Su Keates.

Another talisman has come into my life, this one through the skill and talent of Su Keates, a silversmith from New Zealand. Su listens and then brings her own vision to the creation of a piece.

This piece was going to be hard. I wanted to have an abstraction of the Hebrew letter shin, the 21st letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The letter has many meanings and associations. The word shin literally means teeth or bite, but that’s not the hidden meaning I am drawn to.

Shin has three points, often said to represent

A traditional rendering of the Hebrew letter shin.

A traditional rendering of the Hebrew letter shin.

kindness, justice and mercy. In one kabbalistic interpretation, the three stalks represent the flash of an idea, understanding, and application of knowledge. Now that is a meaning I can spend time with.

What I love is the number of words begin with the letter shin (in Hebrew). The word for peace, shalom. The word for hear, or listen, sh’ma. The word for the day ordained as a day of rest, Shabbat. Then there is sun (shemesh) and change, and year, and rest.

Shin is a mother letter, and it represents fire. So I wanted this talisman to look like fire. The letter is heard in the first phrase of the Bible, “In the beginning.” How could I not find this letter a talisman for my work as a coach, helping people change? Or my work as a writer, helping people heal and rest from the scars of their life?

It’s new and ancient and I can already tell it has power and life.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and a creativity coach who helps people reinvent themselves.


Parts of a Whole

No plan comes together all at once. Plans get put together piece by piece. Each piece gives you more information for the next step. It’s good to have a big picture to know where you are going, but over-planning can bring disappointment that you don’t need.

Some parts don't fit in a tidy box. Cactus grid © Quinn McDonald, 2015

Some parts don’t fit in a tidy box. Cactus grid © Quinn McDonald, 2015

If you love control, you think that planning every inch, every second will bring you what you want. Life doesn’t work that way. Life is messy, but messy is interesting if you let it be.

Keep the big plan in mind. Keep the goal in sight. But here’s the real secret. Stay flexible. Not every piece has to drop into the pre-determined box to make the final piece complete.

Leave yourself room to shift, change, and grow. Your problem-solving skills will not drop away. You always have the skills necessary to make the plan move forward. There will be many times the final plan didn’t come together the way you want, but if you keep problem-solving skills working, the final plan may be better then the first plan.

Control is not everything. Sometimes determination, patience, flexibility, creativity, and ingenuity trump control. Sometimes you have to dump the plan and start over. You can choose.

-Quinn McDonald knows the charm of asymmetry.

Chasing Clients

You own the business, you have to have clients. Find them, nurture them, and sometimes humor them. But there are also roads I won’t take for the sake of my coaching clients. This week, I’ve had some specific questions, some of them twice. So it’s time to review the underlying ideas to my coaching set up.


llustration from “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint Exupery

1. Coaching is done over the phone or Skype. I won’t go to your house, have you come to mine, or meet you half way. The reasoning behind this is simple: I was trained to coach over the phone. To listen. To not be distracted by facial expressions, which often are done to mask real emotions. I also take notes and people often get distracted by that. “What are you writing down?” “Can I see your notes?” And the conversation shifts from you to note-taking.

2. No in-person coaching means financial savings for you. If I have to drive to meet you, be there early, coach, then drive home, I’m going to have to charge you for that time. One of my goals for coaching has always been to keep the price of sessions reasonable. Once I start driving, that can’t happen anymore. And frankly, a lot of my coaching is international. And the commute’s really boring.

3. You will phone me for the appointment. When you phone me, I know you are ready, that you have put aside time to pay attention. That your heart is fully in it. If I phone you, you will still be eating, won’t have thought about the session, or ask me to phone back “in a few minutes.” I know, this used to happen.

4. Ask and sign up on your own. I won’t coach your friend, your spouse, or your child because you want me to. Unless the client talks to me directly, coaching is not a good idea. Coaching isn’t a spa day. It’s a soul-deep, life-changing experience. And you can’t make someone else have that.

Having these rules in place creates an amazing combination of heart-and-soul concentration and results. I don’t want to coach people who are lukewarm, vague or not really interested. I want to dig in with people who are aware, alive, and stuck. Who have hit a wall, can’t find their way around an obstacle, or can’t find what they know is there. People who want to work hard to build what they have always wanted. For those people, I will pay full attention, give you all my power and charge up your life. I think it’s smart to have the rules; you will, too.

Read more about coaching with Quinn.

-Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach.


Choices, Choices

Three-day weekends are always a treat. Even if I have to catch up on some work, there is a day of no phone calls and no appointments. This three-day weekend turned out a little differently.

Heart in the desert.

Heart in the desert.

When you own the business, you don’t want to give up too many opportunities. You don’t know when the next one will be along. As all of you promised, when I fired the client last week, something else would fill the space.

It was wrapped in bad news, too. I almost missed it. But I am the eternal optimist. Standing in a stable full of horse poop, I am always happy to start shoveling because I believe there is a unicorn in there someplace.

There may well be. But I had to write a 50-page workbook for a class. In a hurry. It’s due today. So, no weekend. I made the decision, I stuck with it, but now I want my weekend, too. Sorry, no whining.

The hard part in this, as it always is when it’s your choice, is that it is your choice.65542 No one else to blame. No one else to grumble at.  I chose to spend the weekend on my butt in front of a keyboard with no guarantees.

Still, I want to believe all of you were right. This will work, and the universe will tilt toward moral justice. (There’s a lot of the story untold, and it will stay that way.)

Another of my inner heroes is the Little Red Hen. She did the work. No one helped. And then, when it came time, she reaped the benefits. Too early to tell yet, but for all that I missed this weekend, I’d take the gamble again.

So, Little Red Hen or unicorn in the horse poop, we’ll see how it plays out. Now if only I can remember that it’s Tuesday and not Monday.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer who teaches writing. A lot more of it, and soon, she hopes.


Living a Portfolio Life

Writing a blog is fun, inventive, a chore, impossible, and, well, just like real life–a mixed bag.

Lots of ideas can fit together like a mosaic.

Lots of ideas can fit together like a mosaic.

Smart people, who care about Search Engine Optimization and marketing businesses like mine, keep telling me to pick ONE audience–art journalers, writers, life coaches, training developers, instructors, workshop leaders–and write only to them. “It will focus your energy and give you a better audience,” they explain.

Perhaps. But I don’t DO one thing–I live a portfolio life. I do several things, all of which I love, and all of which connect through my heart and soul. They don’t need separate websites any more than I need separate desks.

Seven years ago, I vowed not to make my art pay the mortgage so I could do the

Creating your own reality happens only when you take the time to do it.

Creating your own reality happens only when you take the time to do it.

art I wanted, not just what sold well. That gave me huge creative freedom,  less creative discipline that I needed (another whole blog post), and a lot of work in different areas.

Corporate clients who were bothered that I was also an artist expressed concern. I told them that if I was not meeting their expectations as a corporate trainer, we should speak to that point so I could create better results. No one spoke up. But I know that in the corporate culture, creativity is called “disruption” and that the name itself doesn’t sound great, even if the effect often is.

So the blog continues to jump from topic to topic–training, art journaling, workshops, demos, ideas, life problems, coaching issues–just like real life.

But I’m open to different ideas, and if you have one, let’s hear it in the comments section. Or tell me how you decided to limit your blog (or not). To check out different ideas:

  • Julie Fei-Fan Balzer posts photos of her creative adventures every day on her blog.
  • iHanna takes us on visual journeys through her daily life on her blog.
  • Seth Apter often talks about other people’s art on his blog, The Altered Page.
  • Tammy Garcia is a peripatetic artist whose website (Daisy Yellow) covers a vast variety of art topics

Meanwhile, I’m getting comfy with the different kinds of work. I’m re-doing my website (every website needs an update every 18 months or so) and am open to new ideas.

–Quinn McDonald has opened the window of her mind. She’s got a head cold and is hoping for a drying breeze up there.

Standing in Your Own Light

First: Thanks to all of you who have said kind, supportive, wonderful things about my 1,500 blog posts. It feels big and I’m proud. There would be no blog without readers and those who leave comments.

For about 12 hours yesterday, WordPress was not accessible to me–I couldn’t get to the blog or read the comments. So I’m a bit behind. Yes, there will still be a drawing, it will still be tonight (if I can get to the blog) but it will take a few days to answer all the comments.

*   *   *
Many of the people who leave comments are artists. All of them are creative, even if they don’t believe it. My first reaction, when I finally could read the comments, was to explain to everyone who said something nice that they were wrong, that I don’t have a lot of energy, and I’m just a creative stumbler with a sense of humor.

And that would be a mistake. The same mistake many artists make. It’s hard to admit to your creativity. Hard to live up to big ideas. Strenuous to live up to your own expectations. But it’s important that you stand up and represent your own creativity. That you stand in your own light.

Never say “just” when you explain how you do your work. If you are a photographer you don’t “just” use a digital camera. If you are a book binder, you don’t “just” stitch folios together. Those are skills you learned and got good at over time. Don’t diminish your skills. You worked hard for them. Explain them with dignity. Your soul deserves that.

When someone offers a compliment, don’t talk about your mistakes. So many artists I praise, immediately show me the mistake in the piece, the error in their plan, the flaw in their thinking. Those mistakes, flaws and error made that piece the thing of beauty (is a joy forever, thank you John Keats). You did all the work–from concept to final polish. The mistakes you made are your private learning tool, and don’t need to be shown to everyone who likes the final product. Knowing your mistakes doesn’t enhance their experience.

Work deeply, learn about yourself, and be proud of what you’ve learned. That’s the difference between an artist who keeps going and one who quits, disappointed in life.

Quinn McDonald is a writer who is working on her second book, The Inner Hero Art Journal: Mixed Media Messages to Your Inner Critic.

Ups, Downs, but Never Still

One of my clients was sad. “Something has gone wrong every day this week,” she said. “It’s not supposed to be this way. Life is not supposed to be this hard.”

I asked what she thought life was supposed to be like.

“Smoother.  More effortless. It shouldn’t be so hard. I should be happy.”

Some boats come in faster than others. Photo from Kifu.blogspot

Interesting to think about. My thoughts always go back to immigrants–people who left everything that was familiar to them and traveled (not without danger) to a country that was new and different and probably frightening. Because they wanted something better and were willing to risk. They hoped for a better life, but never expected happiness as a requisite life in their new home.

When my parents were young, they worked hard, studied hard, and created a life that created respect and work they loved. But a few years after they were married, their world fell apart. A war wiped out their house, took their possessions, took the lives of relatives and friends. They arrived in America with a few wooden crates with what was left of their lives and started over.

In my entire childhood, I cannot remember hearing my parents complain about having to work hard or wishing they were back in Europe. My father believed that you built your own happiness, that the effort you put into being happy determined how happy you were.

Martha Beck, the life coach and author, has a wonderful quote about how we view life:

As long as we are breathing, the conditions of our lives will always be in flux, our ships still sailing in, the things we already own potentially dissolving (or disappearing). To accept that fact without anxiety is
to enjoy the process of living. Anything less, and we are simply suffering until we die.
–from  Enjoyment in the waiting

I’m not much for suffering. I think we are here to enjoy life. How much we enjoy it, and how we feel about our life, depends largely on how we look at ourselves and our experiences.

Bad things will happen. We will lose those we love when we are not ready. We will make choices we regret. But for all that, we can still enjoy our lives, balancing the joy with sorrow, for neither one can exist without the other.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach. Not every day is a bowl of cherries and ice cream, but very few days are cactus spines, either.

Stencil Altering

Stencils make great backgrounds on journal pages, collage, or fabric. Stencils can be used with spray ink or paint, pan pastels, or chalk. I have a bit of trouble using them with paint (the color slips under the stencil and smears), so I use spray inks.

While stencils work well and provide a lot of versatility, some of them create a problem. They are set in frames that shouldn’t be part of the stencil, but always wind up on the page.

This 6 x 6 TCW  (The Crafter’s Workshop) Stencil of a spirograph shows the edge on a 5 x 7 page. No matter how I turn it the frame is still on the page. The edge is useful, though. I use it to pick up the ink-sprayed stencil and make a positive print on another piece of watercolor paper.

While I love the incomplete, dots-and-dash look of the piece, the frame came out here, too, and the heaviness really takes away from the piece. (Yes, I should have purchased the larger version and there would have been no problem, but I did and there is.)

To alter the stencil, I took a pair of scissors and trimmed almost all of the edging off.

The upper left-hand corner still has the frame. Not only does it help stabilize this stencil, it also give me a handle to place the stencil steadily and evenly.

Now, the stencil is far more attractive on a page. I can adjust the corner frame to place it so it doesn’t show up on the page at all.

I’m careful when I choose stencils, looking to find those that don’t need or have a frame. (I just purchased two stencils with numbers–a positive and a negative, but that will be another post.) Sometimes the one I want has a frame, but it’s good to know it can be altered and put to good use.

Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach and an art journaler. She’s also the author of Raw Art Journaling, Making Meaning, Making Art.

Trading Cynicism for Positive Self-Talk

“Cynic” –that’s what my keychain used to say. And I was proud of it. People were motivated by self-interest, I was sure. And day after day, my life proved it.  Honestly, while I thought it prepared me for the tough and gritty life I was living at the time, it was debilitating and exhausting.

Moon over trees.© Quinn McDonald. All rights reserved.

Part of the problem was that my group of friends were cynical, too, and what we look at and live with, we become. It was almost by accident that I met someone who was deeply happy. My reaction? Suspicion. But that moment was the starting point of a better life. It was a hard climb on a dusty road. And one that I am grateful for every day.

Research shows that we need about a five-to-one ratio of positive to negative feedback to be productive. Here are some other statistics:

  • 65 percent of American workers say they received no recognition for their work in the last year.
  • 22 million workers are not interested in their work or actively dislike it.
  • Bad bosses increase the risk of stroke by 33 percent.
  • When you tell yourself something is “too hard” your stress levels increase, and you are more likely to fail, even if you have done the same thing before.
  • Increasing your positive attitude even a little starts to add years to your life–as much as 10 years.

Dusty road. © Quinn McDonald All rights reserved

So what does this mean? It means that you have to start with yourself, deliberately turning away from negative thoughts and critical self-talk and choosing positive self-talk. Then pass it on. How?

  • Stop the automatic snarky, mean thoughts when you see someone poorly dressed, fat, or with weird hair.
  • Hang around positive people. Negative people’s snark might be more fun, but when you aren’t with them, it’s aimed at you, just as you talk about the people who aren’t there. Break the cycle.
  • Talk about ideas, not other people. Try it for a day. You may be stunned to silence if you don’t allow yourself to talk about someone else’s clothing, actions, or choices. Talking about your ideas or creative projects allows them to grow.
  • Tell people what they are doing right. They are likely to do more of what they are appreciated for.
  • If people need a five-to-one ratio of positive to negative, do your share to keep your own positive comments five times higher than your negative ones.

Think this is all new-age, woo-woo stuff? Nope.

  • Seth Godin, the entrepreneur who writes about change (and has written 10 bestsellers) writes about the damage lizard brain causes.
  • Steven Pressfield (the author of The Legend of Bagger Vance) encourages people to cover the canvas, fix the details later. But start, and do as much as you can in one positive swoop.
  • Pressfield’s advice: “My writing philosophy is a kind of warrior code—internal rather than external—in which the enemy is identified as those forms of self-sabotage that I call “Resistance” with a capital R (in The War of Art). The technique for combating these foes can be described as ‘turning pro.'”

So put down the negative anchor and pick up the positive wings and try them on. They’ll fit just fine.

Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach. She believes in positive self-talk. It inspired her book, Raw Art Journaling.