Tag Archives: writing

Punctuation and Assumptions

You’ve seen the meme on Facebook: “If you are over 50, you probably still use punctuation in texts.” There are various version of this poster, most of them showing women in hoop skirts.  The idea is right there: be an old geezer and stick to punctuation or a cool young thing and skip it.

From grammarly.com

From grammarly.com

I was amazed. Peer pressure to stop using punctuation. So you can be younger. Use fewer commas and your wrinkles will disappear.

As a life-experienced person (see how I did that? Avoided an ageist comment while sounding wise), I know that reasoning has a big fallacy. One assumption is not logically connected to another. You might as well say that young people only text when the moon is full. One part is not connected to another.

My classes are filled with people who know that punctuation isn’t about the writer, it’s about the reader.

Here’s an example:  “I enjoy cooking my family and pets.” Doesn’t sound like someone you want to know, does it? Add two commas and you get “I enjoy cooking, my family, and pets.” Different person? No, different punctuation.


Punctuation isn’t about the writer, punctuation is about helping the reader understand what you mean. If you don’t make it clear, if you leave doubt, people will not know what you really mean. They’ll guess. They’ll make it up. And it won’t always be pretty. Or accurate.

You don’t have to waste energy dancing around other people’s assumptions. If you use punctuation, your writing will be clear without excessive explanation.

There is a corollary to life here. We waste a lot of energy in life dancing around other people’s assumptions. When people talk to me on the phone, they often assume I’m a man, because I have a gender-neutral name and an alto voice. When they see me, there is an awkward moment, which I simply ignore and move into the business at hand. I do not have to dance around with their assumption.

Many people hear my name as “Gwen,” which makes sense, as it’s a more common name than Quinn. If I hear it, I politely correct the mistake, so the other person won’t feel awkward and I’ll get my name said right. I used to dance around the issue, trying to say my name several times, or apologizing for it. Not necessary. I don’t have to make their assumptions mine. I don’t have to apologize for something that is a hearing error.

I like to dance, but not around other people’s assumptions. And I’ll keep my wrinkles and punctuation, too. I earned them.


Good Writing Blogs

If you are a writer, or a writer-hopeful, you’ll need to look at some other writing blogs and posts.

Here’s a list that should get you started in the right direction.

1. Goins, Writer has a great post on the difference between good writers and bad writers. I so love the first paragraph because I personally know how true it is.

2. K.M. Weiland is Helping Writers Become Authors. Here is her post on fixing the most common writing mistakes authors make.

3. Jane Friedman will help you with a 7-Step Business Plan for becoming a writer. One that gets work.

4. Linda Formichelli is the Renegade Writer. She helps you deal with trolls who hate what you write. Also friends who rip you to shreds.

5. Joanna Pen from the Creative Pen shows you how to write, publish and sell your book.

6. The Artist’s Road is run by Patrick Ross. He talks about living an art committed life.

That should get you started finding your way as a writer, nodding your head and smiling. And that’s what writing is about.

Quinn McDonald is a non-fiction writer who teaches writing.

Looking Ahead

Thanks to all of you who emailed me about the new website. And for voicing an opinion on a tagline. You want me to stay here, not join the corporate world, and keep posting blogs. Breathe, breathe.  I’m not running off.

Pen Nib Sigil for Quinn McDonald 2I’ve been a corporate trainer for about 20 years, I just didn’t talk about it much. I teach business writing, grammar, emails, persuasive writing, writing for the web, and create custom courses for clients who have special requests. The most recent class is on writing answers for complaint letters, for a customer service department of a business I work with.

Why didn’t I tell you? Because the classes aren’t open enrollment–each class is for a specific company’s employees.

Yes, I will still be coaching, more than ever. I’m developing several three-session sets for people who want to be coached on a specific topic.

And the blog? Just like it is now. I write about living a creative life and making the most of yourself in this life. I share information that I believe to be useful to you. Including mistakes. Because I am the same person all the time, the blog posts are not suddenly going to morph into annual reports.  I may emphasize writing more because that’s who I am–a writer. I’m not giving up art, but I am doing some personal development work and don’t have much to show. Why? Talking about art ideas while I’m still working on them makes me see all the things I could be doing differently and that, for me, is the road to perdition. I prefer to share when I can talk about the good parts of the journey.

And now, I’m off to bed. A chest cold knocked me flat today, and I’m taking it easy. I am deeply grateful that I got to teach the two-day class in Dallas before this hit. Colds rarely get me, but this one did, and I’m letting it run its course.

—Quinn McDonald is grateful that the two-day class in Dallas was over before she got the cold.

Re-Invention and Updating

Re-inventing yourself is another way of saying you are deliberately making a decision to grow. It’s a sore point for some. “I like you the way you are,” is a powerful threat, particularly from those who love you. We all know people who still have the same hairstyle, clothes, and beliefs they did in Middle School.

Tough seedpods protect small seeds.

Tough seedpods protect small seeds.

Nothing against loyalty, but often we outgrow that look, those ideas, and even the dreams we had. In fact, we should. We should allow dreams to grow up, too.

Growth includes overcoming resistance, from the seed breaking out of the shell to the flower breaking out of a bud. Friends and family can be despicably  mean in the face of your growth, but it is your growth. If they don’t want to come along, they will make that decision for themselves.

In about six weeks, I will have a new website, and after seven years of having a website and a separate blog, the blog will move over to the website. When that day comes, I’ll lose all my readers who don’t come over and sign up again. I will have to ask people to change with me.

It was never my idea to track my readers, except if they choose to comment. You can sign up or delete the RSS feed to my blog and I’ll never know. Readers have always had the freedom to come and go.

The good news is, it is still in your control to read my blog (or not).

Fencepost cactus flower photographed with iPhone, no flash. Illumination with flashlight. © Quinn McDonald 2014

Fencepost cactus flower © Quinn McDonald 2014

The bad news is, you will have to re-sign up on the new website. It’s not ready yet, and I’ll give you plenty of warning when it is. This blog will stay up for a while after the switch, but no new posts will be added. Some of the old posts will be moved and all new posts will be on the new website.

Another change is the tagline. For years, it has been “tips, slips, stumbles and leaps on the creative journey.”  While creativity is a huge part of my life, my website will concentrate on writing, teaching and coaching.

The writing focus comes in two parts: corporate training and online training. I’ve been a corporate trainer for 20 years, but never talked about it much–some of my clients have non-disclosure clauses, and it was easier to be quiet about all of them. I’d like to welcome more corporate writing-training clients. I have a killer one- and two-day course on business writing. In person. Grammar, punctuation and syntax with lots of exercises and lots of personal attention. I don’t know how to teach without customizing my class to the specific participants.

I will also welcome invitations to teach writing to retreats and small groups. For retreats, I will be concentrating on the healing, growth-inspiring aspects of writing. Most of it will come from the exercises I’m developing for the new book. [Working title: Write Yourself Whole.]

I have two suggestions for a new tagline:

1. QuinnCreative: Be understood.  Everyone, especially writers, wants to be understood. Having the audience understand your writing and message is just as important as the deep personal need to have your values understood. Corporate clients need their teams, departments, sales reps and speeches to be understood. That tagline has both an emotional and a benefit appeal.

2. QuinnCreative: Clarity starts here. Most corporate writers think that jargon makes them powerful, when it weakens the message. Crisp, short, focused writing delivers a message that everyone can grasp and use. I teach a kind of writing that sucks out the bloated, vague words and concentrates on speedy verbs and muscular nouns to get the job done. That tagline fills a tool-using benefit.

Opinions, please: which would offer you more–the real you, not second-guessing what a corporation would prefer.

QuinnMcDonald hopes she never gets tired of change.


To Have and To Be

I teach writing and grammar, so I spend a lot of time wondering about the language and how we use it. As I writer, I spend a lot of time looking and listening at how we use the language.

From Grammarly.com

From Grammarly.com

And while the irregular verbs “to be” and “to have” have been around a long time, we use them differently, and that makes a big difference in how we think.

Consider these sentences:

“I have a cold.”

“I have had cancer.”

“She has the makings of a great writer.”

Then consider these sentences:

“She is stupid.”

“He is weak.”

“You are a bad writer.”

It’s so interesting that we shift from owning or having something to being something–but when we are something, it is a part of our very makeup. We don’t have to think of ourselves as being cancer, but weaknesses? We own ’em.

Something to think about.

Note: Congratulations to Marge Pelligrino who wins the copy of Handcrafted Jounrals, Albums, Scrapbooks and More–Congratulations, Marge! And thanks for reading my blog. Send me your mailing address [QuinnCreative [at] Yahoo [dot] com] and the book will be on the way.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer in love with the language.

Before You Commit

Some wisdom I’ve known for a long time: Pay very close attention to the way people treat you before they hire you, marry you, work with you, or take a class from you. Everyone’s behavior changes with familiarity, but if your future mate, work partner, client, or boss doesn’t treat you well before you agree to the commitment, it is going to go downhill after you commit.

The door closes from both sides--you can close it as well at the person on the other side.

The door closes from both sides–you can close it as well at the person on the other side.

Often, when we want the job, the guy (or girl), the friend, we deny our own wants and goals and give them up in order to get that short-term goal. “So what if this deal has some thorns?” we think. “Even roses have thorns,” we reason. “And I sure want that armload of roses to carry down the runway.” And then comes the job offer or the class or the friendship, and we are so blinded with the short-term victory, we miss the opportunity to ask ourselves if this behavior is really OK with us. Most often, it isn’t OK. And it’s not a runway, it’s a long hard road and the petals fall off the roses and we are carrying an armful of thorns.

But that short-term victory is huge and ego-inflating.  And right after that, when we want respect, it’s not there. We’ve signed the contract, accepted the lower pay, given up what we really wanted and it’s not going to come your way now. Negotiations are over. Work has started. You have settled for less than you wanted, and you will not get that upgrade. Why should they? You voluntarily gave up your values to get the short-term rush of pleasure. When it fades, the rest of the duration will look bleak.

You may have to open your own window to let a fresh breeze blow in.

You may have to open your own window to let a fresh breeze blow in.

Know your values and stick to them. Your values make up your character, your spine, your self-worth. Give it up to someone and they won’t give it back anytime soon.

Jim Rohn got it just right when he said: “If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.”

If you read the blog regularly, a few weeks ago I had a post that asked “Is it a book?” the answer is it will be a book, but it will be someone else’s book. Not mine. And now that I’ve looked over the values I cherish, I’m just fine with it. No hard feelings on my part, wishing the author much success. My inner critic is screaming at me, “You lost the opportunity to go with a huge publishing company! Are you nuts?” But away from the closing door, the Holder of Deep Values (one of my inner heroes) is opening the window and saying, “Be glad. You did not give up what is important to you, and that is always up to you to choose, decide and protect.”

–Quinn McDonald is seeing a door close and is waiting for the window to open. She trusts the wisdom of the Holder of Deep Values.



Saturday Prompts

It’s time for a switch. After years of posting links to art and artists, this Saturday I’m posting journal prompts. A lot of art journals are being painted and a lot of journals being bound, but not a lot are being written in. No surprise. Writer’s block strikes a lot of people. Stare at a blank page (no matter how many colors or layers it has) and your mind goes smooth and blank.

PromptsHere are some prompts to get you started filling your journals. Set a timer for three minutes and choose one of the prompts below. Write without editing your own thoughts or censoring yourself. Write down what shows up.

1. Lots of schools require some sort of uniform. Would you like it if your workplace made you wear uniforms? Supposing you got to design the uniform. What would it look like?

2.You’ve been mugged. You aren’t hurt, but you are shaken up. There is a cell phone on the ground, but it’s not yours. What would you do with it?

3. Is intelligence inherited? Which of your parents (or siblings) was the smartest? What criteria did you use to get to your answer?

If you use any of the prompts and come up with an interesting train of thought, leave it in the comments.

Happy exploring!

—Quinn McDonald is a writer who is exploring the interior.

Writing Wild (Book Review and Giveaway)

Tina Welling is a fiction writer, known for Cowboys Never Cry, Fairytale Blues and Crybaby Ranch. This book, Writing Wild, is non-fiction; in fact, it is a book about writing.  Here’s how Welling describes the book:

Everything we know about creating, we know intuitively from the natural world. Over and over, nature shows us the rules of creativity. . . Writing Wild offers writers, journal keepers, and those others of us who wish to live more fully a direct pathway into a stronger relationship with wildness, both inner and outer. The result is writing that inspires, heal, enlivens, and deeply engages both writer and reader.

writingwildAs a model, she takes Joseph Campbell, who wrote, “The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.”

Welling lives in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, a place where (I imagine) you love the natural world, or you move away.

She believes in using all five senses in writing, and has several exercises to show you how to do that, too. She uses a method called “Naming, Detailing, Interacting,” which she describes in detail, so you can learn how to get the most out of a nature walk, and bring it into your writing.

She also shows us how to truly inhabit our body. For many of my coaching clients, the body ends right at the neck, there is a vague connection to fingers (for writing or typing) and then. . .nothing. I’m always surprised at how many writers live their entire lives in their head. Welling pries you out of it with gentle, easy exercises that make you realize how much of your truth lives in your body.

Once you have learned to connect your body to your head, she guides you to understand that intuition is a knowledge we all have, but often don’t trust. And that writing is the healing action that combines body and soul.

One of my favorite parts of the book is the idea that we do not, after all, write what we know. Instead, Welling says, we write to know something, and that something is ourselves. (I found a hint of Inner Hero here.)

Chapter titles include:

  • Nature as a Writing Partner
  • The Body Never Lies
  • Creativity and the Four Elements
  • Lessons from the Natural World
  • The Energy of Writing
  • Follow Your Longing
  • Wild Spirit

This book is certainly not for everyone. But for hikers, naturalists or writers curious about the world around them, you will find help, validation, and some interesting exercises to help you become the writer you already know you are.

Giveaway: Leave a comment that you want a free copy of the book. On Saturday, I will announce the winner. Make sure you stop by on Saturday, May 10 to see if you won and send me your mailing address. Good luck!

Note: Congratulations to Kaisa Mäki-Petäjä, who won Writing Wild. I love her blog, here’s the link to the boulders she draws in her journal. Send me your mailing address to QuinnCreative AT yahoo DOT com. The publisher sent me two books, and I’m giving away the second one as well. Congratulations to Diane Becka, new owner of the second book!

Thanks to everyone who left a comment!

Disclosure: New World Library kindly sent me two copies of the book because I wanted to keep one and give one away.

—Quinn McDonald is a writer who loves to read books about writing.


Peaceful Warrior Author’s New Book

Dan Millman is the author of Way of the Peaceful Warrior and several other books on the theme of spiritual awareness. His latest book, The Creative Compass: Writing Your Way from Inspiration to Publication, is different. First of all, he wrote the book with Sierra Prasada, his daughter.

BookThe book is for anyone who is creative and wants to take their work from the imagination out to the world. Because I’m a writer, I saw it more clearly as a book for writers, but it works in a broader sense as well.

The five stages of creative work, according to Millman and his daughter are Dream, Draft, Develop, Refine and Share.

Dream includes getting to know yourself and then developing your “stickiest” idea–the idea that gathers attention and interest and asking (my favorite question) “What if. . .?” The chapter ends with the interesting Dreaming on Deadline.

Draft tackles some hard topics–how to listen, how to read writing books, writing as a solitary act. The chapter is compelling and the father-daughter take on the topics are really useful.

Develop has some good, strong practical advice: sweat trumps talent, never surrender, allegiance to your story and the layers of learning.

Refine covers the ancient skill of trusting your gut, word choice and word order, working with an editor and knowing when that draft is final.

Share helps you understand how to move your readers, summarize your plot, handle rejection  and marketing your book. It also covers self-publishing pros and cons.

Normally, I give away books, but I am not finished taking notes on this one yet. It’s a good book, and if you are going to participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), this book is worth paying for.

Millman takes a sacred approach to creativity. It’s an appealing way to think of the hard work of book writing and meaning-making. Prasada doesn’t always agree, but they work together to bring a book better than either one of them could have written alone.

Quinn McDonald has an irrational love of books that make the task of writing seem sacred and worldly. Because it is. She just found out that her book will be available in mid-December–two full months ahead of schedule!

The Objective Correlative

That headline alone will cause me to lose half my readers. Still, I press on.

Wheat Field taken by Angel Villalba

Wheat Field taken by Angel Villalba

Every artist and writer has been asked, “What does this [poem, story, artwork] mean? What were you thinking when you created it?” Often, the artist struggles through an awkward self-revelatory answer that disappoints the listener, who had a private idea that wasn’t honored.

It is the moment for the Objective Correlative. It’s a term that serves as a measure of success of a creative work. A work that has an objective correlative allows each viewer (or reader) to become a participant in the art. Each person brings a private vision of understanding to artwork.  The viewer applies the metaphors to his or her own life, and it makes sense. Each person brings a personal vision, and although there are many personal visions, each one works with the meaning of the art.

Hmm, not clear enough. Let’s use an example. Laura Crozier is a Canadian poet. In her book, Inventing the Hawk, she has a series of poems on angels. One of them, “The Motionless Angel” (on p.54) is about a horse standing  motionless in a snowstorm. He becomes white on the side facing the snow and remains black on the other; the dark is so intense that

” . . .anything could walk
right through it
and disappear. “

One person reading those lines will remember the skin-searing winters of their childhood. Another person will remember a relationship with a person who owned a horse and who loved the horse more than the person. A third person will remember a relationship which ended after a midnight walk during which her companion said something that made her feel invisible. Each one of those people is experiencing the objective correlative. And if the poem is well written, it will support all of the different ideas all the way through.

What the writer meant is not nearly as important as what the reader can understand. That’s the great gift of the Objective Correlative. The term was invented by T. S. Eliot, who wrote The Wasteland.  I simplified Eliot’s explanation, and I hope he forgives me.

If you share your art, and someone asks “what did you meant by that line?” or “Why did you take this photo this way?” you can smile and ask what it means to the viewer. It’s the opening to a far more interesting conversation than trying to explain yourself.

Here’s a wonderful poem from Laura Crozier:

The Dead Angels

The angels lie down
in he field. That delicate
rustling is not the wind
playing the thin pipes of wheat,
but the angels’ feathers,
their dead wings.

You can’t see them, but listen
when you check your crops,
the wheat so golden
it seems to float above the ground.

What a beautiful
sad sound they make,
all those feathers
remembering the wind.

–Quinn McDonald is discovering the love of poetry all over again.