Inner Hero Blog Class Starts Sept. 13

We all need inner heroes. Not all of us know how to find them. We are far more familiar with our inner critics. I want to help people find their inner heroes, even though it is not always easy. The class is about Writing Yourself Whole, gathering up the parts that don’t fit, that may be broken and finding a way to get to your strength through your journal.

Starting on this coming Saturday, I’ll be teaching a week-long class on this blog. YehudaBergQuoteIt’s about finding yourself in your inner hero, claiming your strength, knowing when you run off the rails by listening to your inner critic and all the people who mimic him. Naming your inner heroes help make them real, usable.

Each day you will be introduced to an inner critic you are probably familiar with.  Some you may recognize, some are facing you daily at work or at home, in your family or friends. You’ll then be given several prompts to use in your journal. The prompts will help you explore different ways to climb over the obstructions that block happiness, satisfaction, and contentment.

This is not an art journaling class. It’s a bone-deep writing class. You can make it into an art journaling class if you want, but this time, it’s about the writing. The connection to yourself and your strength. Through your fears and doubts. Doing some hard writing, deep writing.

The class is free. Some people will want to pay anyway. Some will find value and want to account for that. I am leaving it up to you–if you want to pay, you can. If you want to take the class for free, you are welcome to it. Here is the link to my site that allows you to donate any amount or get a gift for donating certain amounts. Again, the class is free; you don’t have to pay unless you want to.

(If, for any reason the buttons don’t work, please contact me at QuinnCreative [at] Yahoo [dot] com. They have been cranky today.)

I’m hoping that you will want to take the class and that it will help you find out the wonderful parts of you that are your inner heroes.

-Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach and the author of The Inner Hero Creative Art Journal


Bullied into a Sense of Humor (Part II)

Note: Yesterday was the first part of this article.  And how I developed the sense of humor I have, or don’t have.

Scene: Trader Joe’s close to my house. I am in the checkout line with three items. Most of the lines are filled with people with full shopping carts. In front of me is a couple with their son, age 3 or 4, who is pushing a kid-size cart.

trader+joes+escondidoHe pushes up to the counter and starts to unload the tiny cart. He drops the bag of washed, organic spinach just short of the counter. He drops an avocado. He drops a box of FruitFloes. I glance at his parents, expecting them to help, but they are both holding up their cameras, chuckling, videoing this incident with two cameras.
Dad: “Good job, Noah!”
Mom: “You’re going to be a celebrity on Facebook!”
Noah hoists another bag of greens, this time making it onto the counter. He sees the end of the bell rope that checkers ring to call a supervisor. He grabs the rope. Both parents are still videotaping.

1qVK0D.AuSt.74Noah glances at Dad, who says, “Good job, Noah!” Noah glances at me, but I’m wearing sunglasses and not reacting, so he glances at the checker, who looks doubtful. Noah pulls the bell, ringing it loudly. He then laughs, points at me and says, “She did it.” Mom swings around to film me. I stand absolutely still, not wanting to be part of this early-stage drama. Not wanting to be on a Facebook video.

The checker chimes in. “Yes, that woman rang the bell! We’ll blame it on her!” Mom continues to video me. Dad laughs, points and says, “Her fault, her fault!” The checker looks serious and says, “Boy are YOU in trouble!” to me. She winks at Noah’s Dad.  Noah is completely into this now, clanging the bell and pointing at me. “You did it!”

I should be laughing, but I’m not. I am feeling. . . shamed. Blamed for something I did not do, no matter how trivial.

Noah rings the bell again, and a manager appears. A thousand unhappy thoughts cross my mind. Would they be blaming me if I were better dressed? A man? Younger, prettier, and not in the “grandma” age range?  Why is no one doing a “good job” of explaining to Noah that

  1.  He should not be ringing the bell
  2.  If he rings the bell, the consequences are his responsibility?

Turning to leave the aisle, I go to stand in another, longer line, not willing to explain anything to anyone. I’m humiliated. This should be rolling off my back, but it’s not. I feel angry, too. Tears are starting up in my eyes behind my sunglasses.  I hear echoes of “you don’t have a sense of humor.”

But this time, I decide to do something. During the 20-minute wait in line, I think about what happened. I didn’t protect myself because the woman with the camera would have caught every reaction and I didn’t want to become a meme on Facebook.  Because I don’t know how to react in a situation in which I don’t know the rules of engagement. Because although I have lived in the U.S. my entire life, was born here, I still feel like an outsider. Someone who doesn’t belong. Who can’t blend.

After I buy my three items. I approach the woman checker who cheerfully let Noah blame me. I touched her shoulder gently and tell her I felt humiliated and shamed, and it would be lovely if she never blamed an innocent person for someone else’s behavior again. I say it softly and gently because I have had time to prepare.

She looks at me and says, “Everyone was joking. You had no business feeling bad. That’s on you.” I stopped. Breathed. “I am not going to rehearse the event again. All I want you to know is that your words hurt and embarrassed me.”

“That’s not my fault,” she said sharply, “if you don’t have a sense of humor.” Blaming the underdog for not having a sense of humor is the refuge of a bully, and now I understood my own emotions better. “All you need to know,” I said, still softly, “was that what you said hurt me. Whether or not I have a sense of humor, what you did was painful to me. I hurt enough to leave your line so you would not continue to humiliate me. Please don’t do that to someone else.”

And then I left. Shaking. Because I did what no one did when I was three or four years old. Stand up for me.

-Quinn McDonald is still processing this event. She is the author of The Inner Hero Creative Art Journal.






Traveling Shrine

Traveling is an adventure–you meet new people, eat interesting meals, and are awake to new experiences. Traveling is also exhausting and frustrating–airline delays, people acting out, and hotel rooms that make you feel like a stranger missing the comforts of home.

To lighten the discomfort of traveling, I’ve developed some self-care habits that make it possible to put up with frustrations, sleep better, and return home without needing a whole day to fit back into my body.  Some examples:

  • Buy a complete set of makeup for your travel kit–no more plundering your drawer before and after every trip.
  • Treat yourself to a pair of very comfy slip-on shoes to wear on the airplane so you can run through the airport if you have to, and take a walk when you get to our destination if you want to.
  • Switch to a Commonplace Journal. Packing a sketch journal and a notes journal and a travel journal means nothing will get journaled.
  • Bring non-work-related reading material and use flight time to read something fun or interesting. You really can’t work all the time.
  • Create a ritual for your hotel room. Make it something pleasant or soothing. Using a hotel room as an office then going to sleep with the TV on wrecks your sleep.

My ritual started with a tin of Trader Joe’s breath mints. They look like this:

Box_mintsA perfect little plastic window in a 2-inch square box. I wanted to make a small traveling Inner Hero shrine, filled with inner heroes that I can call on when I’m in a strange city. Something that calms me to a better self.

Box_openThe box is well-hinged and stocked with mild breath mints that are also low in sugar. Perfect all the way around. Note the label blocking the window in the lid. Remove it slowly, heating it with a hair dryer, to get it off. I had to use Goo-Gone to get off all traces of the label. I wiped the inside out with alcohol to get rid of the mint-dust.

Box_templateBecause the tin is already bright green, I don’t need to paint it. But I wanted to make a series of inserts for the tin, so I cut a template that would fit.

Box_insertsUsing pieces of Monsoon Paper, monoprint scraps, brayered-off pieces of paper, and other colorful scraps, I cut out colorful pieces of art. On the back, I scoured my journals for Inner Hero characteristics. I rounded the corners of each piece then wrote on the back.  My Inner Heroes have characteristics that I have or almost have and will get used to, with some practice. Here are a few:

  • She listens with curiosity, not to form an answer.
  • She hears fear in angry outbreaks. There is no need to reply in anger.
  • What is the speaker’s perspective? Can I stand in that space?
  • She notices when she judges, and considers.

Box_DoneSometimes I flip through the colored side, pick something that appeals to me, read the back, and that becomes something to pay attention to the next day. I put the card on the top, so the colored side shows through the window as a reminder.

Box_shrineOther times, I put my talisman necklace in the shrine with one of the cards to create a focal point of home and heart and use it as a meditation focal point at night or in the morning. It’s easier to meditate in a strange place with a well-loved and comfortable focal point.

Sometimes, I just shuffle through the colored sides, remembering the work they came from originally. It’s calming and grounding. And best of all, the box takes up a tiny bit of space that fits in the side pocket of my backpack, easily available.

—Quinn McDonald travels and teaches. She learns something about every city and she learns something about herself in every city.



Criticism and Creativity

You’ve started  your creative project. You are happy with it, for the most part. You decide to ask for a critque. Perhaps someone gets too enthusiastic. No one stops the critique which amps up into harsh criticism. You defend your project, then begin to believe  the crticism. Then there is no more project.

The next time you start a project, you create your own criticism and the project never gets started.

My Inner Critic. PittPen on watercolor paper. © Quinn McDonald, 2012

My Inner Critic. PittPen on watercolor paper. © Quinn McDonald, 2012

Criticism is hard to handle right, and harder to survive. Martha Beck wisely says, “Criticism is an alluring substitute for creation, because tearing things down, unlike building them up, really is as easy as falling off a stump. It’s blissfully simple to strike a savvy, sophisticated pose by attacking someone else’s creations, but the old  adage is right: Any fool can burn down a barn. Building one is something else again.” 

If you want opinions, don’t ask for “feedback,” or a “critique.” Don’t open your creative work for random, unfiltered opinions. Don’t ask “tell me what you think,” or “what’s missing?”  You really don’t want to know what  otheres think. Instead, be specific. Even if you are the only one critiquing, be specific with your thinking.

What do you want the outcome to be? A next step? Ask, “What’s my next step to complete this landscape?” Not sure of your color balance? Ask, “Do I need to lighten the shadows to make this less gloomy?” Once the conversation starts, you can switch from closed-ended questions (those answered with one or two words) to open-ended questions (those that require a thoughtful answer or open a conversation.)

If you are asked to lead a critique, ask the artist what specifically she would like to know about.  Color? Technique? Composition? Ask a few questions about what the artists was thinking and planning before you say anything. Listen to the intent, then work on content.

Building a barn is hard work. Contribute to the hard work, or step away.

—Quinn McDonald has a lot of torn down lumber for new creative  projects.

Let The Inner Hero Do the Talking

I was just so damn clever. Fitting in a coaching between a client meeting and a busy afternoon,  I researched and found a peaceful park where the conversation could be undisturbed– a perfect mix of privacy and outdoor beauty.

Park1My hand fished into my purse for the phone and headset and out came the headset. No phone. The hand went back in, a bit more frantically. Still no phone. The phone was charging peacefully on the desk in my office, 35 miles from the park, silent and hidden, filled with unusable power.

I went frantic. A beloved client would phone and not get a reply. How careless could I be? How stupid was I to forget the phone, when it was the most important thing? I shouldn’t be a coach. Maybe this is senility creeping in. Alzheimers!  I’m an idiot! An embarrassment to the entire coaching profession! Maybe I should stop coaching, if I can’t remember the phone.

Park2If you are smiling in recognition or shaking your head that I’m not seeing my own inner critic, you are smart. The inner critic uses the spiral of guilt and embarrassment to twist emotions to crisis level. The inner critic manipulates a useful emotion (slight anxiety, which makes me alert) into global statements and crises (which is non-productive). I even wrote about it two weeks ago–our best characteristics, turned up too loud, are our worst faults.  I had traded attention to detail  (timing the drive from client to park and choosing a non-bark part) for missing the big picture (taking the fully-charged phone).

There was nothing to do but drive home and phone the client and apologize, but the feeling of guilt and stupidity stayed. This is exactly why I wrote the Inner Hero Art Journal–it’s fine to feel every emotion from joy to anger to frustration and self-flagellation–but it is not useful to hang on to them past the productive portion, which was long over. I knew what I did wrong, and knew also I was likely to meet it again. We do repeat our mistakes. Often.

Here’s how I got in touch with the Inner Hero I needed: I went to the studio and using a small piece of monoprinted paper, I folded an accordion book.

Book1The whole point of working with inner heroes is not to create images of them, but rather call forth the healing spirit, the wisdom that’s needed at the moment. In this case, it was recognizing my care for the client in arranging a quiet place to do deep work as well as recognizing my attention to detail.

Also worth recognizing is the fragility of planning. And idea can be well-thought out, but without all the steps, it can fall apart.

I thought of all the feathers I see when I walk. They help a bird soar, escape from danger, keep warm, keep cool, keep dry. But they are fragile and easily torn apart. I called on the Protector of Flight Feathers, an inner hero made up on the spot.

Book8Inner Heroes don’t have to be grand, or easily understood by the world. Compassion, Generosity, Kindness, Happiness are all great, but what was needed at that moment was the Protector of Flight Feathers. So I would not be stuck on the ground, easy prey for spiritual raptors.

-Quinn McDonald knows her Inner Critics, but she depends on her Inner Heroes.

The Pull of Inner Critic and Inner Hero

It’s hard to admit that after writing the Inner Hero book, I’m still bedeviled by my Inner Critic. People expect me to be over it by now. Sadly, not. I’ll have to face down my Inner Critic many times in the coming years. If I’m lucky, I’ll get good at facing him down. Why won’t he go away? Because I’ve got faults, and he’s an expert at noticing them, showing them to me, and then helping me believe I am that fault, and am helpless in the face of it. Oh, and while I’m worthless, I might as well destroy all my art, too. And toss in the writing for good measure.

Which brings me to something I said in the comments yesterday, and which keeps coming up with my creativity coaching clients: Your faults are your strengths turned up too loud.

Image from The Music Ninja.

Image from The Music Ninja.

Turn up your favorite music too loud and your sternum shakes and all you can hear is a base beat and distorted sound. You can’t make sense of it. You just want to get away from it. It’s not music, it’s ear-splitting noise.

Your strengths and faults work in much the same way. Let’s say a strength is a good sense of humor. Great. Helps you get through the tough patches in life, helps you not take yourself so seriously, helps you be easy on yourself as you make learning mistakes.

Turn up that sense of humor too loud and it is easy to be insensitive, even obnoxious. Your friends can’t hear you making life easier, all they can hear is the jarring noise of not-caring.

Image from

Image from

Maybe your strength is teaching others life skills. Wonderful. Your guidance helps people find what skill they need to work on, focus on it, practice it while you help them see and avoid the pitfalls until they get good at the skill.

Turn that up too loud and you are micro-managing, pointing to all they do wrong, insisting on your way as the only way to to be “right,” suffocating any ability to learn by making mistakes. Too much advice, and they lose the freedom of making their own choices and learning from the results.

I often ask my creativity coaching clients to make two lists: three characteristics you are really proud of, that you are good at. The second list is three characteristics of faults you have. Failings you feel bad about. (Just three, not 10). Now compare them. Almost always,  the client sees how the fine characteristic can get too big, too loud, too jarring, and turn into a fault.

Still, faults need to be worked on. We can’t just say, “well, that’s my authentic self, it’s the me you get, like it or not,” and continue on our way, pleased that we are being”real.” Our authentic self is our self-realized self. Flawed, but aware and working on it.

When we pull our out faults by the roots, we also pull out the very ability that is a strength. Best not to try too hard to discard those faults, they contain the possibility of change.  Instead, try dialing them back until they talk to you, sound resonant and useful. That’s your Inner Hero, holding the space where you do good work.

HeroBook* * *   This week is the local launch of The Inner Hero Creative Art Journal. (If you are in the Phoenix area, it’s at Changing Hands independent book store on Thursday, Feb. 20 at 7 p.m. Bring a pen, we’re going on an Inner Hero hunt!)

Note: Congratulations to Jeff (@fernseeds), winner of Get It Done by Sam Bennett. Congratulations, Jeff! Send me a note at QuinnCreative [at] Yahoo [dot] com with your mailing address and the book will be on the way!

–Quinn McDonald is busy turning down the volume so she can hear the Inner Hero better.

How To Journal Even When You Resist

Note: Janine Rudnick is the winner of Fast Fiction by Denise Jaden. Send me your mailing address and the book will be on the way! (My email is under “contact” on this blog) Congratulations, Janine!

*    *    *    *    *
When you sit down to write in your journal,  after morning pages, what happens? Does peace flood into your mind, stillness settle in, and the sun rises just over the horizon of your deep inner peace? Liar. It does not.

My Inner Critic. PittPen on watercolor paper. © Quinn McDonald, 2012

My Inner Critic. PittPen on watercolor paper. © Quinn McDonald, 2012

Your head fills with yakking.  Monkey mind starts right up with the to-do list, “Right after this I need to go shopping, but before that I need to stop at the ATM and get some money, I don’t write checks anymore. Where is that checkbook? I haven’t written a check in months. You don’t need to do that anymore. I must have put the checkbook in my desk drawer, and I’ll bet it slipped back, so the desk drawer jams. Or maybe I need to wax the runners. . .” On and on goes monkey mind, hopping from topic to topic while you are seeking quiet.

More likely, your talk is not neutral, but damaging. Journaling helps the negative self talk crank up. The critic or the judge, one in a red velvet jacket and one in a powdered wig show up and start in on what isn’t right, what hasn’t been right, and why you don’t have talent, dedication or time. If they are really active, they will ask how you will ever make enough money to support yourself as an artist if you spend time writing by hand.

So now you are poised over your journal page, frozen. You try to push monkey mind and negative self-talk from your mind, but they persist. Of course they do. Instead of pushing them from your mind, sit down and listen to them. What, exactly do they have to say after the first sentence? Repetition. Endless repetition until you cave in and believe them. You will probably find that there isn’t an original though there. You’ve heard what they have to say from your parents, a mean teacher, a thoughtless sibling. Monkey mind and negative self-talk aren’t original, they are simply persistent. The more you push the thoughts away, the more they persist. Sit down and examine them, and they are not only not original, they are often spoken in voices from the past. And you are animating them. The voices in your head are yours. Your fear. Your insecurity. You make them up. And as evil parents in all the TV after-school movies say, “I brought you into the world and I can take you out.”

HeroBookThat scenario is exactly why I wrote The Inner Hero Creative Art Journal. To help you create inner heroes to take on your inner critic. But for now, here’s a quick fix: On your journal page, draw the slide bar you use to turn the sound up and down on your computer. Take your pencil, drag it down to where it’s silent and draw the bar right there. It’s a lot quieter in your head now, isn’t it?

Start writing.  .  . what is it that you don’t remember but wish you could?

Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach. She writes what she knows.

Perfectionist and Procrastinator, Part 2

Yesterday, in Part I of Perfectionists and Procrastination, you heard about Anne, who missed opportunities because her perfectionism never let her finish a project.

The Root of Perfection.
What causes perfectionism? Research shows that around the age of four, children begin to socialize with the culture they live in. In American culture that means playing in groups, not being too different, not showing above-average intelligence, and following rules. (Later this changes to not getting caught when breaking the rules.)

ColoringInsideTheLinesAround age four, children start spending most of their day in a school-like group environment where behaving according to the teacher’s norms is important—it yields approval.  Children learn to color in the “right” colors, stay inside the lines, sing in groups, write the “truth,” and memorize facts that will appear on standardized text.

Critical thinking is not encouraged. Creativity isn’t either. Both take time, and most schools spend a lot of time preparing the class to get better grades on standardized tests.

Graduation-CeremonyA Little is Good, a Lot is Worse.
Socialization isn’t bad, it’s just overdone. Our parents and teachers tell us to compete, win, get that good job, make lots of money, be “successful.” We compete, and our inner critic  steps up to tell us that we are not good enough, not applying ourselves or lazy. By the time we are in college our goals are to hurry up, win, compete, and stay in the top percentile of school and achievement. And we are almost completely unequipped to do it.

Perfectionism is not all bad. In tiny doses, self-discipline is great, and even the desire to be perfect can be useful–doing careful research, doing original work instead of plagiarizing, being diligent–all are good. When being “perfect” gets out of hand it leads to serious life problems.

The key is separating discipline from  fear of failure. Over-discipline stops us from producing anything finished.

New Idea of Discipline.
There is a new discipline–and it is exactly the right word for what we need to nourish.

The idea stage of a creative project is the fun part,  the part where anything is Lowering-the-bar-300x193possible.  But when we start the process portion of the project, we need to call on a new discipline rather than the critic of negative self-talk.

What we need is discipline enough to push through to the finish and get that wonderful feeling of completion, satisfaction and accomplishment. Even if the project is not perfect.

The Trap of High Standards.
Perfectionists say they have “high standards.” It serves as the excuse to miss deadlines and to berate less than perfect results. The perfectionist is a bully. Of self, of others. Because that was the power example they learned early by coloring in the lines.

Blaming the deadline is a lack of discipline. The truth is more likely to be, “If I never finish it, others will never find the flaw, and I will never have to admit that my work (and I) are not perfect.”

The Reward of Completion.
Here is the big reward: when you get things done, even if they are not perfect,  you will first be overwhelmed with shame at how poor the work is. You will invent hundreds of excuses not to turn it in.

Do some deep breathing, put it away for an hour. Then, look at it right before you send it in. You will feel relieved. You will feel the rush of the imperfect. It is the acceptance that you worked hard and as well as you could with the talents you have today.  It will be the first step into being a recovering perfectionist.

–Quinn McDonald is a recovering perfectionist who helps other people open the door to a new future without the burden. She has just completed a book on developing inner heroes that take on our inner critics.

Shame, Anger, and Getting Over It

My current “listen while I walk” book is Brené Brown’s book on shame, I Thought it Was Just Me (But it Isn’t). I’m nodding my head so much in agreement I look like a bobblehead walking down the street.

Doesn’t this look exactly like the naive rural girl right from the Main Street of Shame?

What had me nodding like a drummer in an 80s hair band is the way Brown links shame to excuses, blame to anger—and then breaks the links so you can breathe again and feel whole.

When I started to write my new book, The Inner Hero’s Art Journal: Conversations with Your Inner Critic, I thought it would be a big, inventive idea to ask some well-known people to contribute to it. Wouldn’t it be great, I thought, if art people could be introduced to some well-known people who have big inner critics and hear their

story? Wouldn’t it be even cooler if those well-known people tried some art projects in dealing with their inner critics? And then shared those stories? I was so excited. I did not for one nano-second think that maybe those well-known people would shrug it off.

In fact, when a friend said, “Sure, what’s the worst that could happen?” I said, “They’ll say ‘no’ and I’ll survive.” But that was not the worst that could happen. The worst that could happen is that not a single one of the four well-known people responded to my several emails, Twitter and Facebook contact, and a written-on-paper letter.

My first reaction was, “Well, Well-Known Person (WKP) #1 just had a serious health scare in her family; WKP #2 just bought a new house in California to create an environmental safe haven. WKP #3 is writing a book, and WKP #4 is on a book tour for her new book.”

My next reaction was, “Well, c’mon, most of these people have staff or at least an

The big, negative mind of the Inner Critic. (Pitt Pen on paper, © Quinn McDonald)

assistant, they can’t even take time to say ‘no’ or ‘thanks’?”

And my next reaction, was, yes, shame. Who was I to think that those people would think my idea was cool? My ideas wasn’t cool, it was dumb. And who am I to think that any WKP would care about appearing in a book that won’t sell as well as theirs, and give up their time when they won’t get paid.

There I saw it—just like Brené Brown said:  excuses, anger, blame and shame. Just like in the book. If I hadn’t been so involved with my shame, I would have laughed. But I was consumed by the pain of shame.

And then–and I’m telling you this because it’s so vividly real—one of my ceative ideas from the book came to mind.  I grabbed a Pitt Pen and a piece of watercolor paper and did the exercise. (No, you won’t find it here, it’s still in development for the book).

This whole shame thing is part of a conversation I’m having with the Inner Critic. The one that goes, “I’m not good enough for WKP to care about me, who am I to write a book?” I did the exercise, and I realized that while I would love to have those four WKP in the book, the books worth, ideas, and usefulness don’t depend on it. That’s my job. I was worrying about someone else’s job. Someone I couldn’t control. My job was to create exercises that worked. That resonated with readers. And I smiled, because I have a group of people whose Inner Critics I know because they’ve told me about them. They are also contributors.

And just like that, the shame steamed off. Of course I would have liked the four people I asked to respond. But they didn’t. And I don’t know why, and can’t guess. And I’m actually OK with that. I don’t have to approve their reasons, I have to move on. I have a really good book to write.

—Quinn McDonald is writing a book on he Inner Critic. She writes what she knows.