Writer (or Artist’s) Glut

Image from Scooter in the Sticks.

Image from Scooter in the Sticks.

Most creative people eventually hit that edge-of-the-horizon feeling that you’ve come to the crumbly brink of your creative world. The next idea doesn’t show up on time. Missed the train. The next train doesn’t show up at all. The track rolls itself up and over the edge of the horizon, leaving you standing alone, squinting as the hot sun burns out the edge of the sky and drops below your line of vision, sending your last hope of creativity into the twilight shadows. Night descends and leaves you standing without a shadow to rely on.

Big_waveIf you have never experienced this feeling, you probably aren’t trying hard enough to push your creativity. And before you crack your knuckles to leave me a blistering reply that you always have ideas, stop. This is about you. This post is about having too many ideas, too much of an idea, an idea that rolls in like a giant wave, flattening you against the floor of your studio, pressing you down until bubbles float from your nose and you can’t inhale. That kind of creative overflow.

It doesn’t happen to me often, but when it does, it is overwhelming. I’ve been creative long enough to know that when the dark side of the world appears, it signals the long roll into dawn. But crushed with too many ideas, I feel afraid–I’ll lose the most important one, I’ll develop the wrong one, I won’t be able to figure out the process of this brilliant idea over here. Now what?

The simplest idea I came up with is to save as many of those ideas as possible, get them into some form you can understand, and save them. You can figure out process later. You can figure out sequencing later. What you need to do now, before your short-term memory sneaks out the back door, is get some of the ideas caught.

My two favorite ideas for capturing represent the high tech and low tech spectrum. Index cards, my long-time companions and art supply, are the low tech side. I write down the bare bones idea. Just enough to balance the memory on the tee, so I can whack it across the sand trap and out of danger. No big discussion, no marketing, no audience. Just the rough idea is plenty. If you can’t reconstruct it later, it may not have been as wonderful as you first imagined.

The second idea is a voice-recording app on your smart phone. The one you want to install is the one you know how to work. My first one was incredibly easy to use, but I couldn’t figure out how to play it back. You can imagine how that little fault messed with my mind. Occasionally I still believe the best ideas of my life are wrapped around the gizzards of my iPhone. The new one works better.

Don’t edit. Don’t worry. In fact, I generally don’t read or sort the ideas for several days after a brainstorm. I’m too critical. Or too immediate. I toss the index cards into a box and let them dry out. I’ll take a nice patina’d idea over a damp one, any day.

What’s your storage/retrieval system when your ideas back up and pour over you?

—Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach who helps people put life to their creative ideas.

Another use for Index Cards

Sure you can use index cards for art, for journaling, and for to-do lists, but you can also use them for planning ahead.

I teach a number of business communication courses, and I always need good examples–or bad examples–of communication run off the rails. Sure, I can make up examples, but it’s better to use real-life examples, particularly if they glow, larger than life, from a Powerpoint.

My local newspaper is a good supplier, as are magazines and carelessly-edited books.

The trick is cutting out the paragraph with the error and taping it to an index card. Yes, I could scan it, but using the back of the index card as a list of possible examples (antecedent, syntax, style issues) gives me a faster way to choose examples for class.

(In the example above, part of the story reads, ” . . . a quail family in east Mesa that was shot and uniquely edited by her granddaughter. . .” On the front of the card, I put the source, date, page, and section of the paper so I know where it came from. When I need it, I scan the newspaper piece and can use it in class.

And easy way to get a collection of good, bad examples.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer who teaches what she knows.

Working the Corner, ICAD Style

Tammy Garcia, of Daisy Yellow, is an creativity instigator. I’ve read her blog for years, and we met for the first time when I was teaching at the GASC (Great American Scrapbook Convention) in Arlington Texas. Tammy and I shared lunch, and before the food arrived, she had involved me in ICAD–the Index Card a Day project. She handed me an index card and some super-cool very fine colored gel pens from JetPens and I was off–creating. Since I’m working on a series of loose-leaf journal pages, the project appealed to me. (Tammy is letting me give away two copies of her zine. Details below)

Tammy asked me to talk about decorating the corners of a card. It reminded me of a wonderful lesson my father taught me many years ago. He said, “take care of the edges and the middle will take care of itself.”

It’s as true of the peanut butter sandwich I was making all those years ago, as of the index card.  Some of these go out of the corner and along the edges, but all of them start in the corner.

Decorating any page doesn’t have to involve half your stash. Or even a lot of wet media. This one was done in Pitt Pen. I used black. I repeated the pattern in blue and purple gel pen on a larger card, then layered the cards together. It looks sewn; copying stitches from your sewing machine is both easy and deserving of a second look.

This one is made with hole punches. Stars in one corner, the sun in the other. You can repeat on the other side, or, if you have a lot to write, just do it on the top.

You can also punch stars out of one color and the sun out of another. In this case, I made the sun using Sharpie Glitter Pens, which doesn’t show up in full glitter mode on the scan. Those markers add a nice touch of glam without kitsch. In this one, I also used a corner trimmer to round all the corners. It gives a nice vintage look to the cards.

This shows a paper mosaic. I cut up other cards that I had previously painted, and used these on opposite corners to create a tension that makes the writing look more important. You could do it on all four corners, too, I like a bit of asymmetry.

Stencils don’t have to be applied over the whole card. Place a piece of the stencil over the corner of the card, and use a stamp pad to rub over the stencil. The partial stencil applied unevenly gives a rustic look to the card. Again, you can do this on all four corners, but I like the idea of just one corner.

Index cards don’t hold up to a lot of wet media, but I wanted to have at least one with lots of color. To make this happen, I used fusible webbing to cover two cards with batiked fabric. Then I stitched them together using a ribbon-type knitting yarn. You can write on this with gel pen if you want. OK, so this one was the whole card, I couldn’t resist. The pattern is reminiscent of the first one.

Because I’m a writer, I’d fill all the cards with journaling or quotes, date them and create loose leaf journal pages. You can also create cards in series of colors. Date your cards so you can watch your progress as your skills grow with practice.

Giveaway: Tammy from Daisy Yellow creates a wonderful zine. You can preview it here. Ready for giveaway are two zines, emailed to you in a pdf format. All you have to do is leave a comment that you want to be in the drawing and an email address so you can receive the zine. Location unimportant, it’s a pdf. Winner will be drawn at random on June 13, 5 p.m. Phoenix time (8 p.m. EDT)

WINNERS: Traci Johnson and Stargardener, also known as Teresa.  Three other people who came up first gave me addresses that bounced out of my email.

Join me at the Chantilly, VA location for GASC July 22 and 23. I’ll be teaching One-Sentence Journaling with tips for non-journalers and, of course Raw Art!

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

Pimp my Moleskine

Note: Quinn McDonald is teaching at the GASC Convention in Arlington, TX. This is a blog post from 2010. A new blog post will appear on Saturday.

Moleskine makes a variety of journals and notebooks: different sizes, uses, colors, and page designs–lined, plain, grid. They have a soft notebook sold in a double pack–two coordinated colors–that I use as a to-do list and to take notes

To-do list Moleskine in acid green and melon orange.

on when I’m on the phone or online. The 5″ x 8″cover is coated cardboard in a variety of bright colors, the inside paper is cream-colored and there is no ribbon marker or inside back pocket.

I use them because they are clever and useful for remembering what you did when. Sure, I could check my electronic calendar, but my notebook had additional information—as a to-do list with a date on each page it shows activities, phone numbers, shortcuts or alternative routes. There are interesting quotes from blogs and books and floor plans of grocery stores so I know where favorite products are. You get the idea.

In four to five months, I fill up the 60-page notebook and store it. Great for tax-time and memory jogs. If I’m ever asked “Where were you on the night of October 19, 2007?” I can pull out the to-do list notebook and  give the correct answer.

But the problem with the soft cover Moleskine is it doesn’t have a back pocket.

Index card, taped into place, on inside back cover of the Moleskine.

Where to put the receipts, business cards and gift cards?

The pimp is incredibly easy. Take a 4 x 6-inch index cards (I’ve loved index cards since the second grade and keep finding more uses for them), turn it the long way and and cut it diagonally. (See the image).

Tape it to the inside back cover, so the shorter side of the cut faces toward the inside of the book. If anything should slip out, it will be held in place by the rest of the pages.

Tape is more useful than glue because you get the full use of the index card size and the tape allows the card to bend slightly, giving you more flexibility.

That’s all there is to it. You now have a pocket in the back of your moleskine. Total time: under three minutes. That includes finding the 4 x 6 inch index cards.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and ultimate practical person who helps other people adjust to change through creativity coaching.

To-Do Lists: Use Index Cards

To-do lists can work for you or make you crazy. There are many ways to create them, and the only one that works is the one that works for you. I love index cards. I always have. So yes, this is another post about index cards. I can’t help it. If I had to belong to a 12-step program to break the habit, I’d write the steps on index cards.

I use a paper to-do list. Even with all the electronics, the fastest, most efficient list-making for me is done with a pencil and index. card.  I don’t have to boot it up, recharge it, or open it. It’s available to me at all times, and a pencil doesn’t need to be connected, opened, or tested. It’s always ready to go. I’ll admit I have a pencil thing.

Here are two ways to use a to-do list. Both involve 3 x 5 index cards, or 4 x 6 cards if you write big.  (I turn the cards and work on them portrait-orientation.) I work on several projects at a time, so I use one card per project. Each project’s name is written on the top of the card, and the to-do list underneath. That way, I can put all the project to-do lists next to each other and see how much work I have and which project needs to take priority. When I have a lot of projects going at the same time, it’s wonderful.

Bright colored index cards available from monstermarketplace.com or other locations.

When I get really into projects, I assign one color to each project, and color code the cards to match the project. (You can also use different color cards.) Color coding gives me overviews and helps me draw conclusions faster. (“A lot of blue cards, do I need to farm some of this out?” “The yellow project is due in a week. Why so few yellow cards? Am I done early, or is there something missing?”)

Then there is the worry list to-do list. When I wake up at night, unable to sleep and busy worrying, I make a list of things I’m worrying about. Having written down the worries, I go back to sleep. The next morning, I tackle the things that need to be done.

The last to-do list is called the tag-cloud to-do list. Because I use the same method as tag clouds–the more important a task, the bigger I write it. Because I have small handwriting, I draw a box around each item on the list. The bigger the box, the more important (or worrisome, or pressing) the item. That gives me two facts at once: the item and the importance, all in one glance.

You can use a mix of these methods. Color-coding works with tag-clouding very well.  Tag-clouding works with worry-list well, too. And no matter what method I choose, writing down all the things that need to get done helps me free up more memory cells.

–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach and a trainer  who found out long ago that the shortest pencil beats the longest memory. And she is unabashedly in love with index cards.

Practice, Not Perfect

Practice designs on an index card. Random now, but they'll show up again later.

Practice is not writ large in our world today. Practice takes time. Practice does not give immediate perfect results or personal satisfaction. Our journal pages can’t be practice, they have to be complete. No wonder some of them are half an inch thick with painted-over gesso to cover mistakes. We hate mistakes. We want that first-time perfect.

I am older than you. I have made more mistakes than you. I have discovered the secret to beautiful journal pages and it is called “practice.” OK, painting over with gesso works, too. But there is an easier way. And that is to draw something a few times before you put it in your journal. Even designs, even abstract ideas benefit from practice. You can dedicate a few journal pages to practice, too. It will help remind you that it wasn’t great the first time, although by time three it was improving.

Practice isn’t hard and it isn’t punitive. Practice is writing or drawing (or building or stitching) on a piece of paper until your hand understands what its doing. The proportions come together and your fingers get a chance to think. Grabbing a journal and expecting a perfect page without practice is asking for disappointment.

Still doubting the value of practice? Move the idea you have about yourself to someone else. Want a dentist who has never done a root canal to start with you because he’s passionate about root canals? How about your surgeon? Moving away from medicine, how about your pilot? Want the first-timer in your plane. Suddenly practice makes a lot more sense.

I grab my ever-present index cards and fountain pen I use for taking notes and do my practice. I jot down ideas and patterns, try to work them out, and make an effort to figure out what I’m doing, all before I get close to the journal. Using a fountain pen doesn’t allow me to erase, but it allows me to start over again several times with no penalty.

Practice is an old trick. Try it. It will help you work on your perfectionism. Promise.

-Quinn McDonald is a writer and artist. Her book, “Raw Art Journaling: Making Meaning, Making Art” will be published in June of 2011 by North Light Books.

Tutorial: Index Cards Do it All

Index cards are inexpensive and come in several sizes. I’ve written about using index card as a to-do list before. Now I’ve found an organizational system that combines index cards and rollabind disks and makes sense for organizational problems.

I carry a paper calendar because I need to know what isn’t happening as well as what is, and only paper calendars do that. In other words, If I’m meeting with a difficult client, I’m not booking another stressful event right next to it. My desktop calendar doesn’t show things that way, it simply shows dots, and sure, I could polka-dot up a few days, but without context I could run into trouble. Someone will certainly invent calendar software that shows holidays and works easily with my existing computer calendar, because I haven’t seen one yet.

My calendar goes with me, and so does a thin notebook and here is where the index cards come in. The thin notebook covers meeting notes, phone numbers, to-do lists and deadlines. Because I have a visual memory, I’ll know what side of the page that name and phone number was on, so using index cards wasn’t helping me. I couldn’t find my non-project notes fast enough.

Here’s the solution: I used some of the divider index cards and created a cover and separator pages, creating a book of its own. The book works on rollabind rings, giving it a spatial relationship. I can shift project cards and to do lists, but the notecards from phone calls and information (urls, ideas, people’s names) stay in the same order. When I get too many, I transfer them, in the same order, onto a storage “book.” Because I date each card, I keep them in date order and can find that great dim-sum restaurant in Chandler again, because I know it was on the left side of the page, right after the directions to the paper store in Tempe, which I looked for in March. My memory works that way.

The great thing about this system is that you can also file in alpha order, project order, geographical order–whatever makes sense to you. It’s not limited. Rollabind rings let you take out pages and reposition them without damage, and with complete ease, so the system becomes versatile. Remember the calendar? It’s also on rollabind disks, so I can pull out to-do lists and put them in the calendar as a reminder until the job is done. Or put notes about a client in the appointment day, so I’ll remember the personal and business details that work for a good relationship.

The combination of index cards, rollabind disks, calendars and imagination are limitless. You don’t have to purchase a lot of equipment to personalize your organizational system, and it doesn’t take up a lot of space. I like 4 x 6 cards for project notes, but nothing beats a 3 x 5 card for idea generation. And in this system, you can use both.

It’s a system that works and is ideal is you travel or have limited space to keep your work.

–Quinn McDonald is a trainer in business communications. She runs workshops in writing, speaking and giving presentations. She uses index cards to organize ideas for presentations and articles. (c) 2008 All rights reserved.