Day 19: The Work of Writing

Day 19: What’s turned up for you as you write? (or, start with the first post in the series.)

Ink and watercolor pencil on paper.

Wisdom from the comments:
From Dawn Herring: “Yes, we need to pause and pay attention to the wisdom we hear as we write in our journals. It can be rather forthright, definitely intuitive, and sometimes obvious without our realizing it.”

From Marjorie: “. . .more often than not, I go back and read one or two (or more) of my prior posts before beginning to write. It helps me orient myelf, but I also notice things I’ve written that I hadn’t noticed while writing them. Or I’ll see what I’ve written in a different light than when I wrote it.”

From Daien: “After getting off to a great start, five days in I did what I usually do, which is to stop. What was different was that I continued to read your posts and everyone’s comments, as well as continued to count myself one of the sojourners. But I wasn’t writing, and I wasn’t walking.”

*     *     *     *

Like Daien, I haven’t been writing every day. I’m still trying to find the time to write without interruption. In the morning, which is really a preferred time, things need to get done. If I put it off, I lose East Coast time–the time when the East Coast is awake and starting the business day.

I’ve been walking later in the day–at lunch–because the weather is perfect, and this is the time of year I want to walk and know I’m in the desert. January is a time when Brittlebush and a few other trees bloom. I want to experience those subtle desert seasons, so I have to build in a time to walk in the dry riverbed of Skunk Creek.  I’m trading working early morning for a lunchtime walk. This won’t work if I’m teaching, but it works for when I’m not. So I’m writing when I get back from the walk. I have the most benefit of meditation then.

And I’ve made another switch. I’m writing on the computer. Shocking, I know. All that truth about having to hand write. And I still want to write in a journal. But I’m experimenting with writing on a computer. For several reasons: I type really fast, and can get more written down–process more. I’ve been touch-typing since I was 10, and I simply feel very comfortable typing. So comfortable, that I type my pages with my eyes shut. It keeps me from editing, and I can do what I was doing using a pen before–ripping through words down to meaning.

I separate journaling from this kind of writing. For me, journaling is a creative act that encompasses both visual expression and writing. And I do that in heavy-paper journals. I might do some collage, I might build a journal. But the pages I write after walking help me dig down into the creative well and make sure the stream that comes up from that is a fresh spring of ideas. That work is best done, at least for me, with a keyboard, an open heart and closed eyes.

What discoveries have you made? Have you quit, but still lurked with us? Let us know how this time is working for you.  It’s not about success and failure. You are exploring the wayward path of your wandering. Where have you walked and what have you seen?

-Quinn McDonald is a writer who is digging for her own creative source for 30 days in the company of some interesting people.

Day 10: Dream Time Writing

Sleeping Gypsy, Henri Rousseau, oil on canvas, 1897

Day 10: Writing at night isn’t working for me. I liked the idea of letting go of my worries, but I learned something interesting–I’m busier than I thought at night. There is always one more thing to do, one more question to ask, one more email to send. When I do go into the studio, it’s a precious time devoted to exploring the topic for the next book.

The worries, which always got written on index cards and left in the studio, really do fill up all the time I want to spend writing at night.

So it’s back to writing in the morning. I’m glad I discovered this. I can spend the time early in the morning when I am waiting for the cats to finish patrolling the yard. Since I’ve started writing, I’m having more colorful dreams. And I’m back to remembering them more. Writing down dreams helps me remember them, remember parts I’ve dreamed before, and helps me figure out what they mean.

Writing them down in the morning helps keep the details clear. A few days ago, I dreamed I walked across a winter landscape and into a wikiup. The walls and roof were being held up by the people in this group–tall and curved, like people trees. From my vantage point, you  all were holding up the world. I woke up then. I love the image, and as I wonder about the meaning, I’m fascinated at the idea.

The first peoples of Australia say that our dreams are our real lives and our waking time is not the experience of life. This should make morning journaling interesting.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer who is working on re-establishing the habit of morning walking meditation and regular journaling–using words as a spiritual practice.

Back to Morning Pages

In the days when I did art festivals, people would come up to me and say, “You must have a great life, you get to do what you want all day long. I wish I could have your life.” I knew they didn’t want my life, they wanted their version of my life. If they knew what my life was like–21 shows a year, making art to sell, tracking inventory, writing descriptions, keeping track of prices, making price and inventory tags, keeping tax forms, planning trips, paying bills, breaking down a show, loading a van, driving the first 300 miles after standing on cement floors for 10 hours a day for three days–well, I don’t think they thought that was really my life. And clients didn’t need to. I needed to.

Finding the path, again

My life is very different now, but I still have the same flaws–I want to experience a lot, so I take on a lot. I love working and working hard. But I have reached a point where I am not taking care of feeding the part of me that creates.

No, no, this is not some dire announcement of quitting or leaving. Not at all. What this is, is an acknowledgement that the things I talk about and advocate–deep writing journaling, walking meditation, getting enough sleep–somehow, they vanished from my schedule. I used the time to do more, and I’m still not doing enough. So I have to take a slice of my own advice and get back to deep writing and walking meditation. Because I believe in them. Because I know they work. And because if I don’t dedicate myself to a deep creative practice, I can’t expect my clients to.

It’s hard to get back to a pattern that you’ve had. It will take the same energy it took to put the habit into place to begin with. It will take me 30 days to get back into the habit. So I’m starting with deep writing and walking meditation tomorrow morning. Come with me. It’s a great stress-reliever at this time of year.

Quinn McDonald develops and runs training programs in writing for businesses. She also develops and runs workshops in raw art journaling. Her book, Raw Art Journaling, is available for free shipping from North Light Books.

Morning Pages, Dark and Light

Morning pages are the first-thing-in-the-morning writing you do if you have ever read Julia Cameron’s The Artists Way. Cameron describes morning pages as “. . . three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages– they are not high art. They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only.”

For years, when I wrote morning pages, I sat, wrote, and shredded them. They were too dismal and painful for anything else. Then I began to keep them and read them every now and then. To my relief, I was getting less angry, bitter, disappointed. To my greater relief, my writing was improving.

Occasionally, I do morning pages in a journal. My goal is to keep my writing unedited, just as it comes out. After trying out some Sakura pens, I discovered the clear gel pen in the Gelly Roll Glaze series was perfect for writing morning pages with. You can’t see what you are writing. I began to play with words–after all, using the clear pen allowed me to be clear. I cleared my head. “Clearly” became the keyword for the result of morning pages. Not looking at my writing made me write more boldly, effortlessly, and soulfully.

Journal page, written on in clear Sakura gel pen, covered with watercolor wash. © Quinn McDonald 2011

Then I decided to cover the whole writing with a watercolor wash. Doing that, I discovered a new keyword–resist. The clear gel pen acted as a resist, drying up through the watercolor wash, allowing me to read what I had written. (The page is more clear than above, I deliberately made some of it unreadable–TMI.)

I resist what I need to know, resist claiming what I need to claim, even resist showing up in the world the way I want to. And the pen showed that. No matter what you wash over yourself, you always show up as yourself.

I love the contrast between “clear” and “resist.” You can have both on one page. It’s taught me to think of my day in terms of “clear” and “resist.”

Dive into your own morning pages–clear pen or not. What do you wish were clear to you? What do you resist, even though you need it? Let me know in the comments–or just in your morning pages.

Quinn McDonald is a raw-art journaler whose book, Raw Art Journaling: Making Meaning, Making Art will be available in July of 2011.

What do I do with my journal?

Are you afraid that someone will find out your journal secrets? That when you die your life will be there for all to see? If this is keeping you from writing in a journal, could you reconsider? There are steps you can take to protect your privacy, and some things to think about before you cut off your connection to the past.

If you feel strongly that your privacy not be invaded, you can rent a safe deposit box at a bank. Put your completed journals in this safe deposit box and give the key to a trusted friend.

open journalJulia Cameron, the author of “The Artist’s Way,” and the proponent of writing three pages of whatever you are thinking every single morning was asked at a book signing if she keeps her journals. She said she did, they fill a storage locker. She has an agreement with her daughter, her executor, that she be cremated. “But first, burn the books. Then burn me!” Cameron said.

Before you choose to keep your life such a secret, let me encourage you to let go. Once you are dead your past is not going to haunt you. And it might help others. My mother’s life was a mystery to me. I was born late in her life and only knew her as angry and manipulative. Sure, she had bright moments, but they were short and quickly dispensed with.

After her death, I found a packet of love letters she and my father had exchanged. So strong was her hold over me, even from the grave, that I seriously considered destroying the letters, unopened. When I read through them, another woman emerged. One I had never known. A young woman, the woman who was the mother to my brothers. She seemed eager to live her life. I never found out what had shut her down, although she had many reasons.

Without those letters, I would have never had a chance to see this other person. This person with hope and humor. This woman who suddenly had more in common with me than I ever believed. It was a generous gift to discover.  I’m sure she would have hated my prying into her past, but now that I know, it is also easier for me to be easier on her.

Before you lock up your past, think about the help you might be. That event you are ashamed of might help someone else, might change their mind, might leave a word of encouragement. Once you are gone, your life in this world is complete. Leave some clues for the next generation. You might create a picture of yourselves for people who are not even born. Give them a view into your life, and into the status of life in a time period they never knew.

–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach who teaches journal writing. See her work at You can also read about Raw Art Journaling for journal writers who can’t draw.

Walking Meditation (Variation)

My morning walks are a kind of walking meditation. I start early in the morning. No power walk, no running–my knees are shot. This is a 3-mile steady walk. I think of it as a walking meditation. A way of doing,  not “morning pages,” but morning thinking.

Knurdles, also called packing peanuts, crossing the street.

Knurdles, also called packing peanuts, crossing the street.

I get great ideas, I get mental rest, I get a quiet peaceful feeling that doesn’t exist anywhere else in my life.

The point of these walks is to just be. I concentrate on seeing things in detail, paying attention to sunlight, shadow, how the wind moves through the streets.

This is not the walking meditation of Buddhists. This is being aware of everything, not a shutting out of thoughts.

I listen for sound details. A hiss of car tires, the spitting of drip irrigation coming on, a dog barking in the distance, a sigh of wind down a straight stretch of street.

Smells, too, keep me grounded. The drip irrigation working in the park smells like a rain approaching–wet dust. When the water runs off hard-packed dirt, and onto the pavement, it smells like cement and oil.

So I walked down the street, aware that it was big-trash day. That happens once a month, with big rumbling trash trucks, followed by front loaders that pick up items too big for weekly trash pickup. I heard the two different engines, smelled diesel fuel, saw the shadows as the trucks moved out of sight. I then heard the crush of cardboard and a rattle I didn’t recognize. It was a light, hollow sound, like tiny hooves running on a hollow bridge deck.

Curious, I looked around and saw knurdles (you may call them packing peanuts) coming down the street. They were being blown by a gentle wind, and they were hopping in a line, like a small herd of kids running for the school bus. They swept down the street, turned the corner, and scattered. Then is was quiet again.

A tiny moment, early in the morning, that creates a new window into the day. A forgettable moment that gains importance through walking meditation.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. She runs workshops and seminars through her company, QuinnCreative.