Advice From the Sidewalk

We’d had a nice dinner, my friend and I. She had offered to help me with videos for a class I’m developing for the Invisible, Visible World book. She is a generous soul— something we all need more of in our life—generosity. Giving and getting.

I’m combining my creative site with my professional site for a new look and new ideas. (This site will remain right here.) But I want people who hire me to train their employees in writing or critical thinking or problem solving to know that I’m not the “read the PowerPoint” kind of instructor, that in my class, everyone speaks, everyone questions, everyone is invited to engage and participate.

It’s a risky step–there are a lot of companies that don’t want to hear a class laughing. I do. When adults laugh, they are ready to learn. They are eager to try out something new. And that’s the place I want to stand when I teach.

Possible @Quinn McDonald, 2019

I was leaving the restaurant when I noticed writing on another restaurant across the street. It was a great idea, almost glowing in the evening light. It made me smile. And ready to learn.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer who teaches writing, thinking, and creative expression.

Creativty, Originality, and Good Manners

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.


Parallel Universe from May 8, 2012 edition of the NY Times eXaminer. No photo credit is given.

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. This is the same reason that gratitude journals work, but that’s another blog post.

2. Mysterious parallel universes. OK, I made that up. 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.



3. 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 just had to go through it. One of my favorite techniques (and the basis for the upcoming book) turned up on another site. 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:

  • 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. 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.

Saying thank you on your blog, in your classes, in your articles, even giving up some of those precious 140 characters in a Tweet to thank someone, is a gift to yourself.

Thanking and crediting others relieves you of guilt, makes you feel generous, expands your creativity. And I’d like to thank my editor, Tonia Jenny, for helping me come to that conclusion.

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

The Fourth of July

There will be no fireworks where I live this year. It is too dry. As I write this, rain is predicted–the first time in four months, but then again, I live in the desert. But even if it rains, no fireworks. Too many wildfires already. Palm trees burn explosively, sending sparks onto dry brush and roofs. I understand, but it will feel different.

Every July, I wonder what it would be like if my parents hadn’t emigrated, hadn’t made a life in America. If I hadn’t been born here, mis-identified by my parents as “our little Native American.” I didn’t understand their mistake till my fifth grade teacher called me Little Raining Cloud. The smallest and youngest in my class, and, unfortunately in a rural school, bad at sports and good at math, I cried a lot. Kids made fun of the way I dressed (hand-me-downs), my European pronunciation of English, and my braids. I could not decipher why they all wanted to sit around me when it came time for tests, when they despised me the rest of the day.

What makes me still and silent on this day of bright celebration, is what has happened to our culture since 9/11. I remember before that day, our country was brash, and open and daring. After that day, fear dominated. We fear immigrants. We fear dark-skinned people. We fear non-Christians. We give up privacy and freedom in exchange for a false sense of protection. We separate the world into “them” and “us.” And “them” are wrong. News, which once was the inviolable ground of neutrality, is now a snipe fest of blame and blood. Common sense is hanging on by its thin fingernails, as we beg the question, believe in correlation instead of cause, and pay no attention to critical thinking because rage and hurled invective is so much more demonstrative of patriotism than calm and rational thinking.

So today, I am carefully sweeping up the shards of my hope, digging in my backpack for leftovers of compassion, and digging out the last few grains of kindness. It may not be much, but I won’t trade them for the more colorful and dramatic fear. I won’t let fear stay in my house or in my heart. I want to be determined in good will, in optimism, in  helping those who need help. Eventually, if you live by the sword, you die by the sword, and I want to live by kindness instead.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach. She is a creativity coach who believes that kindness can transform, one person at a time.