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!

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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.

You Can Go Home Again, Maybe

Standing on the windy, cold corner of H and 17th St. NW in Washington, D.C., it felt both familiar and strange. The buses had destinations I recognized and could find on a map: Ft. Totten, Laurel, Pentagon. But I wasn’t home; I was on a teaching assignment and on my way to Farragut West Metro stop.

Aerial view out of plane leaving Salt Lake City airport for Phoenix.

Aerial view out of plane leaving Salt Lake City airport for Phoenix.

I’ve been here, but not in a hotel. I’ve taught in the same building, but not the same audience. And while I felt homesick for D.C. I also wanted to go back to my mountains and landscape and vibrant colors. And most of all, I was freezing because my jacket wasn’t a coat. I don’t own a coat. I don’t need a coat.

It’s difficult to come back to a town you lived in for years. So much of the behavior I remembered–the first question you are asked is “What do you do?” and if the answer doesn’t match what the questioner is looking for to advance their career, you are left standing alone, holding up the empty end of a conversation, having been dismissed.

Rug in the hotel I stayed in. It looks a lot like a monoprint collage!

Rug in the hotel I stayed in. It looks a lot like a monoprint collage!

But I also miss the vibrancy, the relaxed atmosphere of a town that is incredibly diverse in color, ethnicity, size, beliefs and approach to life. There is a different ethnic restaurant on every corner, (and so many I can’t eat in), but the buildings rise up in gray and glass and cement against a gray sky.

After two days of teaching, I stood on the windy, freezing street outside the hotel at four in the morning, waiting for my airport shuttle. A little sad and a lot happy to be going back. Because Washington, D.C. is a great place to teach, but my home is in Phoenix, and I wanted to go back home.

I drove home from the airport, directly to Anthem, to teach at the library. It was

A section of the wallpaper in the hotel. All the wallpaper had some kind of writing on it.

A section of the wallpaper in the hotel. All the wallpaper had some kind of writing on it.

good to teach art journaling, because my trip had been so packed with work that I did not write one word in my own journal. I’m now trying to figure out if I should try to catch up, or just move forward. Always a challenge.

–Quinn McDonald is teaching in Tucson this weekend. Eventually she will catch up on her sleep.

Listen to Your Inner Wisdom

Listening to your journal is a skill  often neglected by the very people who would benefit from it. We write a lot in our journals, but then we close the covers, put them on the shelf and forget about the wisdom we just wrote. We are used to writing, asking to be heard–praying for answers. But we often miss the answer when it shows up. And it will show up. That’s one of the benefits of  journaling.

From the website, Business Trends.

From the website, Business Trends.

For a while, all the writing is pouring out of you in an endless flow. One day, you will find yourself thinking about what you are writing–the words aren’t pouring out on their own. You are paying attention. And all of a sudden, you write something interesting. Profound. An answer to a question you had. You are now in a deep connection to your own wisdom or a wisdom of your Inner Hero.  You have tunneled deep enough to be away from the distraction, and you just dug up an important truth, courtesy of channeling your Inner Hero. Your Inner Hero gives you permission to dream up solutions.

Truth is surprising. We recognize it and blink. Sometimes we wish it were something else. But the flash of recognition is the key. You will know. Maybe it’s not the answer you had hoped for, but maybe it’s exactly what you need.

journalYour pen may race on, while your mind chews on the answer. You may not want to listen, but you will. You will be drawn back to those words, that flash of recognition. It can be an answer, a key to an answer, or simply a truth you have not believed before. Because you could not.

And there it is, on the page in front of you. Underline it. Save it. You may have to finish your thought, your paragraph, your page, but the answer is right there.

You have created the start of a habit. A habit of writing and listening. And when you listen, you’ll find answers. You might have to write a long time to learn to trust yourself, but once you start to listen, you will hear your answers.

-Quinn McDonald is the author of the upcoming The Inner Hero Creative Art Journal, to be published by North Light this coming December.

Niji Design Team

It was a lot of fun to demonstrate Splash Inks in all five locations of Arizona Art Supply. Doing demos gives you direct exposure to the audience that wants to know about the product. And I was thrilled beyond belief when I was chosen to be on the first-ever design team for Niji–the company that makes Splash Inks.

The box with contents hidden. You can tell I live in the desert by the xeriscaping.

The box with contents hidden. You can tell I live in the desert by the xeriscaping.

And the box of goodies arrived this week! Inks, watercolor paints, papers. The paints are Asian formulations, so they are not the transparent watercolor, they are more opaque, like gouache. I can’t wait to start up and experiment. The Splash Inks are a lot of fun all on their own.

I rarely post my artwork here–as any more than side illustrations. But now, those ideas for Niji will appear on the Niji blog as well as here. Of course, the second I think that, the Inner Critic shows up with a truck full of relatives and unpacks the picnic lunch of worms and crow. Sigh.

But I’ll be sharing them here. It’s time to show that, as a creativity coach , I work on creative projects steadily: journals, art journals, collage, alternative journals. You’ll be seeing more tutorials, too.

Surface decorated papers that will be re-worked into the cover of this recycled book.

Surface decorated papers that will be re-worked into the cover of this recycled book.

I’ve developed some new in-person art classes and will be showing results and class photos. My proudest recent moment is that Madeline Island School of Arts has invited me back–for June, 2014. I hope to see some of you there this coming summer. We’re going to. . . well, that’s for another post. With photos of  art sample art work that each class participant will create their own version of. It’s starting to be an exciting New Year!

–Quinn McDonald loves surface design and is including letterforms and colors into art journal pages.

“What Should I Write In My Journal?”

It’s a good question. And there are lots of answers to the question, “What should I write in my journal?” To keep it easy, keep lists to get you started.

One of Arizona's many freeway decorations. This one is East of Tucson, on I-10.

One of Arizona’s many freeway decorations. This one is East of Tucson, on I-10.

 Sure, you can keep a list of books you’ve read or movies you’ve seen, but it might be far more interesting to keep a list of where your buttons are (the ones that people push, not the ones that hold your clothes shut), the most outrageous outfit you see each day,  (where is the fashion police when you need them?), types of people you would like to fill your life with,  things you stopped to look at and loved, people you’ve kissed or hugged.

Add a list of food you’d like to eat and one of food you actually eat. Compare the lists and see if you are experimenting or if you prefer what you already know.

Overhead dialog makes a great journal entry. And you can re-use it later. On my way to Las Cruces last week, I overheard a woman on a cell phone outside a Trader Joe’s. In the seconds it took me to walk past her, I heard:

“We don’t know what’s wrong with her. All we know is she’s sick. Yeah, I’m at the hospital now, at the emergency room.” That kept my imagination in four-wheel drive for a few minutes. Can’t you see it worked into a short story about a couple who lie to each other, then run into each other in the produce aisle?

What the trucker wants you to know about what's in the truck.

What the trucker wants you to know about what’s in the truck.

You can also keep photos of interesting sites you saw throughout your day. Your journal doesn’t have to be just writing. Adding visuals–photographs you took–help you remember what you did, where you were, and what you were paying attention to.

Don’t feel you have to write every day. Write when you have something to say–but don’t be shy about what you have to say.

What do you like to write about in your journal?

–Quinn McDonald is a journaler and an art journaler.

Tips, Quotes, Ideas

aleph1On this morning’s walk, I photographed some “alien alphabets” –marks on the street left by the utility company. The name needs to change. In Arizona, “alien” is not a little green humanoid from outer space, it’s a slur for people not born here. On the same walk, I added other alphabet figures  based on shapes–gates, grates, tree limbs. No new name yet, but a lot of exploration ahead.

You probably have a file of quotes someplace on your computer. Me, too. I got a aleph2gift of a bunch of quotes from Traci Paxton Johnson, and added to it. Today, I noticed I had 27 pages of quotes. Printing them out (back and front of the pag, of course) and storing them in the studio for future use (I have that alphabet to try out) made sense. So did sharing some of the quotes that slid by on the screen on the way to the printer:

“Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare.” –Japanese proverb

“Fear is the natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.” —Pema Chodron

“If you think you are too small to have an impact, try going to sleep with a mosquito in the room.” —14th Dalai Lama

aleph3“In the end, we remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” —Martin Luther King

“Patience is not about how long you can wait, but how well you behav while you’re waiting.” —Buddhist Bootcamp

Tip: If you live in a hot climate and have sliding doors, don’t grease them with oil. The heat degrades it and makes it stickier. And it collects cat hair.  Instead, rub the runners with plain candle wax. Works wonders.

Tip: Tired of drinking water all day long? Gather up some stray tea bags, brew them and make a blended ice tea. Choose a mix of fruit flavors and green tea–rose hips, hibiscus, mango, blackberry, and green tea. A great refreshing drink. No calories, lots of flavor, lots of antioxidants.

Tip: Have blank pages at the end of your journal? Fill them with an index–using page numbers or dated pages, so you can flip to the back and know what’s in each journal. Or use the back pages to test colors of new inks, paints, or pencils.

–Quinn McDonald is switching to summer hours, not because she likes getting up at 4:30 a.m., but because the sun rises early and so do the cats.




Book Review: Kicking In the Wall

1608681564.01._PC_SCLZZZZZZZ_Time for another book review. No giveaway this time, while reading the book, I began writing in it, but more on that in a minute.

Title: Kicking In the Wall: A year of writing exercises, prompts, and quotes to help you break through your blocks and reach your writing goals.

Whew, that’s a super long sub-title (I can’t really complain, the one on my next book requires a gatefold, too.)

Details: Paperback, 233 pages. Published by New World Library. Price: $15.95

Author: Barbara Abercrombie.  Here’s an excerpt from her website:

Barbara Abercrombie has published novels, children’s picture books, including the award winning Charlie Anderson, and books of non-fiction. Her personal essays have appeared in national publications as well as in many anthologies. Her most recent books are Courage & Craft: Writing Your Life Into Story and Cherished: 21 Writers on Animals They’ve Loved & Lost. Her latest writing book, A Year of Writing Dangerously, was just published by New World Library, and chosen by Poets & Writers Magazine as one of the best books for writers.

Barbara Abercrombie

Barbara Abercrombie

What I like about the book: This is a book with 365 writing prompts in it. Each page starts with a quote in a gray-screen box, followed by one or several prompts that somehow relate to the quote. This idea appeals to me.

Even better, the prompts are strong and interesting. Examples:

23. Write about a time you worried about something, but then nothing happened. Did you feel foolish? Relieved? Disappointed?

102. Write about a time you couldn’t see. Literally or figuratively.

162. Write about someone carrying a purse. How they carry it, or where they put it when entering a room.

The idea behind each prompt is to spend five minutes writing about the prompt, whatever shows up in front of you. It’s a traditional free-writing method, and very effective.

My favorite chapter is at the end–a collection of five-minute writings by her pupils, using the prompts in the book. It was fascinating to read answers to the same prompt from different people to see how perspectives vary.

What I didn’t like: Not much. I’d like to be told a bit more about the quotes at the top of each page–perhaps I should know all these authors, but I don’t. In the back of a book is a bibliography followed by a list of all authors quoted. That should allow me to cross reference and find who wrote what. It doesn’t always work that way. For example, Clive Barker’s quote is on page 41, but his work is not listed in the Bibliography. Maybe the quote is from this Clive Baker. Or this Clive Barker. It’s a small gripe, but as someone who uses quotes books for reference, I like them easy to use.

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You could answer the questions in any order, checking them off as you go. The quotes sometimes support fiction writers, sometimes non-fiction, sometimes discovery questions for journalers.

Some pages have enough white space to write on. That’s how I accidentally started to write in the book. For a flash, I thought, “this would be a great commonplace book, writing in the book and commenting on the prompts, dating the pages I write on as I go along.” After a while, I thought, “this would work so well in my new collage piece, particularly if I tear up and use some of these prompts.” I abandoned both ideas, but maybe not forever. I just don’t know yet. And until I do, I’m not ripping up anything. But I may do more writing in the book.

—Quinn McDonald is a writer intrigued with quotes and resulting prompts, even if she’s not sure which Clive Barker said, “I think the fear of insanity touches everyboy who works in the imaginative arts, who is really plunging deeply into themselves.”

Journal Page: Inventing an Alphabet

OK, I’m a writer, so I like different alphabets and codes. They also make great additions to a journal page. A new alphabet, a code–it’s a clever journaling piece that adds an easy design element through writing.

Could be someone cheering.

This morning on my walk, I saw interesting writing on the street. My mind went to an interesting story line–what if visitors from another planet came down and took notes on the street on what they saw and learned? What I saw on the street would be a kind of alien journal, written in code. That idea appealed to me, and I took some photos of the “writing.”

Looks like it could be a back-to-back letter.

That idea led to another one: why just use the regular alphabet in your journal? Why not add some new ones? New letter shapes, new designs are all around you. You can use alchemy symbols,  the Greek alphabet, numerical symbols.

A really interesting one is the Mormon Deseret alphabet (below). When you use shapes from an alphabet, you can invent what they mean to you–what the letter shapes are going to mean in your world. You can translate interesting letters into whole words if you like.


My favorite of the street was the one below–this is definitely the answer to the meaning of life, the universe, and everything:

I made a journal page with a new alphabet. First I collaged various shades of white and cream on the page, then I used a brush and wrote quickly, without hesitation, inventing as I went along. And here is what the journal page looks like with a new alphabet:


And if you want to check out a few more different alphabets, this page should get you started.

Quinn McDonald is a writer, and artist who makes things up as she goes along.

Book Review: Alternative Art Journals (And a Giveaway)

Winner:  The winner of the copy of Margaret Peot’s Alternative Art Journals is Lisa Brown–Congratulations, Lisa!

Title : Alternative At Journals: Explore Innovative Approaches to Collecting Your Creativity.
Author: Margaret Peot

Details: Published by North Light Books. Soft cover, 128 pages in eight chapters, plus a Gallery of Work, and further reading.

Contents: Traditional Sketchbooks, Collections Art Journals, Card Set Art Journals, Landscape Art Journals, Correspondence Art Journals, Box Art Journals, Faux Family Album Art Journals, Tag and Charm Art Journals.

What I Like: Right up front, I have to say I am a sucker for books that encourage people to bring out their inner artist, give ’em a handful of art supplies and then let them feel successful with simple instructions that work well. And this is a book that does that. I love the breath of “simple” here.

Several times in the book, you get a bonus step-by-step demo on the website. Coptic book binding, bonus demonstrations, and if you sign up for the newsletter, there are additional downloads available.

The step-by-step photographs are large and clear and numbered with big, bold numbers.

The variety is big and interesting. The suggestions for alternatives are challenging so the book is suitable for beginners and advanced artists as well as those who like to flip through a book for ideas and head off on their own.

The book has a lot of tips, ideas, explanations. I am a huge fan of marginalia, and this book does a good job of it.

On technique uses white gouache as both a resist and as paint, and the instructions include washing ink off the page and allowing the sheets to dry by lining them around the walls of the bathtub. That photo alone made me want to plaster the walls of my tub with wet art. I tried the technique and found it worked well and gave great results.

What I Don’t Like: I had to think a long time to find something I didn’t like. Then I didn’t find one. The typeface is big enough and dark enough to read when you are in process of working. I’m guessing that not everyone will like the big variety of non-traditional projects–boxes and faux photo albums, round cards, charm journals and illustrated stones. I might not make all of them, but I’ll use ideas and adapt them. I’m also guessing that some people would want a more colorful book–I am a big fan of sepia, brown and cream tones, but some people will want brighter colors.

Disclosures: I received the book from a publicist for free. North Light Books is also my publisher.

GIVEAWAY: I’m giving away the book. Once more, I’m willing to spring for international postage. All you have to do is leave a comment that you want the book. I’ll draw the winner Friday night and put the announcement at the top of this post as well as on Saturday’s post.

-Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach who is writing a book on the inner critic.

Scraps on Your Journey

The Pawnee (a tribe of Native Americans living in Kansas and Oklahoma) have a legend about the meaning of life that I find both interesting and startling.

For years, I’ve studied origination myths–stories of how the world was formed, according to many religions, nations, and legends. I’m amazed at how many different stories there are, and how the stories have so many things in common.

Here is my recollection of the Pawnee legend:

The Journey. © Quinn McDonald, inks on paper. 2012 All rights reserved.

We must all walk our path. Each person’s path is different, but we must all walk on our own. We will cross other paths, and they may seem similar, but there is just one path for each person. We walk on it in the day, and we sleep on it at night. If we live to see the morning, we get up and continue walking. We cannot go backwards, we must always move ahead.

On the path, there are scraps of notes. These are experiences. Sometimes, we do not know what the experience means, but we must still live it, take that scrap and put it in our pocket. No scrap is too small. Even if the scrap has only a part of a letter on it, we must take it along.

There are times in our life, when we put all the notes together and look at the whole it makes. Maybe we understand what we read, maybe we have part of a map, maybe we suddenly see where we are going. That is the wisdom of experience.

There can be many understandings along the way, but there will always be more scraps, more notes, more experiences. We live life, and life also lives us.

When we understand what the Great Creator wants of us, when we do what we are born to do, we stop longing to be on another path and walk our own in peace.

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I love this story, because it tells the story of keeping a journal, of making meaning through writing and art–the way we take notes about our life.

–Quinn McDonald is a note taker. She crosses paths with other meaning-makers, and spends time asking questions about their journey. In this way, she is a creativity coach.