Creating images for blogs and other social media sites

033015_imageOver the weekend I learned a new skill: creating a header image for an organization’s website.

I was intimidated, nervous, and wondered if there was enough time left in that day to actually accomplish the task at hand. has been mentioned as a resource on this blog in the past few months. Deborah’s post lists several resources for culling free images, and Julie’s post mentions canva in passing as something she uses quite a bit.

As I was in need of the image for the mystery writer’s group I belong to with Julie, she’d mentioned to me a few times and said it was easy to use.

I couldn’t put the task off any longer, so I clicked on over to and found I could log in with a Google account. I liked not having to create an account. Ahh!

And then I was ready to go.

First up is to select the type of image to create – one for a Facebook post, Facebook cover, presentation, poster, and so on. I needed one to use as a website header, so chose Use custom dimensions, entered the dimensions and entered a new screen.

I was ready to create my header image. There is a keyword search box to get you started, and also a super short but informational tutorial to get the not-yet-designer up to speed.

I played around with layouts, different text, and backgrounds. It really was easy to move back and forth and play with colors, styles, and images.

I personally like playing with different text layouts and fonts – those are word-related. Visuals are challenging, but this site gives me hope that I can create images when I need them.

Once done creating an image there are options to download, share through social media, and save.

The image included above isn’t going to win any awards, but I created it in less than 3 minutes. It’s two images in one — and I needed some color today. Winter may be over, but spring colors have yet to start appearing outside my window yet! Browns and dirty white isn’t all that appealing.

This is the first image I created:

Heroes, Villians, and Sidekicks

*Not all images are free on the site, but if there’s a fee ($1), it’s noted on the image.

I’m not endorsing this site, simply sharing my experience. It was worthwhile to me to use, and I plan to continue using it (I bet I can create something without green in it, too!) — as it keeps the process of designing images simple and gives me what I need.

What do you use to create visuals for you social media accounts?

LisaJJackson_2014Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with Lisa on TwitterFacebookGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

Weekend Edition – Writing When You Don’t Feel Creative plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

Writing from the Gray Space

fog riverI had an entirely different post planned for today. I outlined it while watching my daughter ride, jotting notes during the down time between jumps and canters. I was happy with the way the ideas were coming together on the mind map and in my head. I was really looking forward to writing my first draft. That was Tuesday.

Today seems a world away from Tuesday.

It’s not that anything awful happened, but my energy has taken a bit of a nose dive, and I seem to have lost the wonderful groove that had me dancing almost effortlessly through the early part of the week. Now, my mood and outlook match the sluggish gray that hangs on the world outside my window. The crows that usually appear full of mischief and mirth now hunch along the telephone lines wearing a foreboding countenance. Their calls sound lonely.

It’s okay. I know it’s only temporary.

It may not always be convenient or enjoyable, but I have learned (oh, yes, the hard way) that it’s wiser to ride the ups and downs of my energy and creativity than to try to control them. Once upon a time, I would have ignored the signs of a descent into a fallow period. I would have pushed doggedly forward, forcing myself to produce even though my heart and head weren’t invested in the effort. I would have told myself that there was no time to rest and no time to lose. Write, girl, write. Get that job done. Make it happen.

But, while persistence and commitment are both generally admirable qualities, sometimes they aren’t the answer to your creative question. Take today. I could have sat myself down at the keyboard and done my best to write the post I outlined on Tuesday. I could have tried to recapture my sense of enthusiasm on the page, but I knew that in my present state of mind I wouldn’t do the topic justice.

If I’d had a client deadline to meet, I wouldn’t have had the option to delay writing the piece. I would have had to buckle down and make the best of an imperfect situation. (The writing gods know I’ve done this many a time.) But, happily, in this case, I could switch gears and write about something that was better suited to my emotional bent. Which is what I did.

My creative cycle feels like one of those hypnotic Mandelbrot fractal designs, made of the same pattern repeated over and over at different scales. My creativity (and energy to create) ebb and flow over the course of each day, each project, and over the course of weeks, months, seasons, and years. The trick is in learning to work in harmony with the endless undulations of those natural patterns instead of against them.

Of course, each of us must be careful not to mistake Resistance for a natural part of the creative cycle. We must not surrender to a state of total creative paralysis. That is not the same as switching gears or letting projects lie fallow for a time. That is the lizard brain’s default response to fear, and it’s never helpful. Even when I feel unable to work on a particular piece or a certain type of creative endeavor, I strive to always be moving forward in some way.

I look out the window now and the heavy gray has undergone a subtle transformation. No longer heavy and colorless, the sky now appears gently lit from within, the edges deepening to a chalky blue-gray that liquifies in the still surface of the river. Gray can be beautiful – even inspiring – if we can accept it for what it is and learn to create in accord with its rhythms.


What I’m {Learning About} Writing: A Story Framework Can Help Jumpstart Your Writing

The more you learn about the writing craft, the more valuable reading will be to your education. Here’s why.

You’ve heard, of course, that there are two things every writer must do: write and read. It makes a lot of sense. If you are attempting to create a thing, you will benefit from studying that thing in its finished form, getting to know it inside and out, understanding how all the pieces fit together.

Even if you haven’t yet sunk your teeth fully into your study of the writing craft, reading provides much value simply by giving you the experience of being inside a story. Though it may not be immediately obvious, each story you read is teaching you something about the craft. Through broad experience, comparing, and contrasting, you are developing a more critical eye and a sense of what makes a story work for you.

Then, when you’re more invested in your exploration of the craft, you will feel as though your eyes have suddenly been given superpowers. You will read and, instead of just experiencing the surface of a story, you will see all the story’s insides – the clockwork and “magic” that make it come alive and give it the power to pull you into a different dimension. You will notice the key milestones in the story’s structure, the way the author has used direct and indirect characterization to bring life to her players, instances of foreshadowing, and all kinds of other details.

I have been noticing the power of a structural framework in a story. I don’t mean story structure in the archetypal sense, but in a more concrete sense – the way the writer organizes the pieces of the story. I’ve recently read a series of novels that each use a unique pattern to tell the story. For instance:

  • In The Moon Sisters, Therese Walsh tells her story from the points of view of two sisters, Jazz and Olivia. The narration alternates between the two women, switching with each chapter. In addition each chapter begins with a flashback that fills in some of the back story. There are also a series of letters that are revealed throughout the story, adding another layer of context. Finally, the entire book is organized into sections that mirror the five stages of grief.
  • In The Little Country, Charles deLint tells a story within a story, deftly weaving the two together to create a unique reading experience in which we get to experience the two adventures simultaneously.
  • In The Bookman’s Tale, Charlie Lovett shifts point of view and time periods ((Shakespeare’s day, the late 1800s, the mid-80s, and the mid-90s) with each chapter, carefully crafting the story across these characters and eras so that by the end, everything comes together.

While these may seem like complex approaches to storytelling, in my experience having any kind of framework can be immensely helpful to the writing process. Whether I am writing a blog post, an essay, or a marketing ebook, knowing how I’m going to break the piece down into parts gives me a “skeleton” on which I can begin hanging my story. It’s similar to having an outline, except that it doesn’t have anything to do with the actual content of what I’m writing. It just gives me some parameters and constraints about how to organize my content.

If you’re stuck on a piece of writing, you might want to try coming up with a structure and playing with “filling in the blanks,” so to speak. Looking at your story from a different perspective might help you break loose from what you thought was writer’s block.


What I’m Reading: Timeskip by Charles deLint

book timeskipI recently shared my delightful discovery of Charles deLint’s Facebook group, The Mystic Cafe.  This community of more than 3,500 fans of myth and fantasy posts a steady stream of links to interesting articles, artworks, and – of course – books. Because of a recent post in that group, I downloaded a copy of Charles deLint’s novella, Timeskip.

Timeskip is one in a series of stories and novellas set in deLint’s fictitious city of Newford. I have loved several of his Newford novels, including Widdershins and Onion Girl, enough to be happily anticipating rereads.

But, Timeskip didn’t thrill me the way that I had hoped. I feel guilty even writing that, like the way I felt as a kid the first time my mom made a dinner that I didn’t like. I wept quietly over my plate, sure I had somehow betrayed my mother.

But, even those we love and admire the most cannot be expected to hit a home run every time. And a single disappointment does not ruin a reader/author relationship. I am already eyeing up my next deLint read. I’m intrigued by another in his Newford Stories series, Crow Girls. I’ll let you know how it is.


And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:


Finally, a quote for the week:

pin deLint seeing

Here’s to creating something – anything – even when your heart and head are a bit foggy. Happy writing. Happy reading. Happy learning. 
Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

FRIDAY FUN: Writer Tools We Love

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION: Do you use a software program, a specific type of notebook, a pen, a chair, some sort of tool that you feel is essential for your writing life? 

headshot_jw_thumbnailJamie Wallace: This question is a perennial favorite, and looking back through the archives, I saw that my most recent answer (way back in 2010) was a thesaurus. While that handy tome is still always close to hand, and I have a particular affection for my growing collection of uni-ball rollerball pens (they now come in an array of sophisticated, “infused” ink colors!), I’m going to pick a more conceptual kind of tool for this go-round: mind mapping.

A couple of years ago, I had the pleasure of being the guest on a mind mapping podcast, The Mind Mapping Show. In the episode, I talked about how I use mind mapping in my business and personal life, my penchant for mixing it up  (pen and paper vs. software), and how mind mapping helps simplify almost any process (including writing). The interview is a bit dated (I definitely need to do a new post about mind maps), but I hope you might enjoy it anyway.

I have also written about mind mapping – what it is and how to do it - here on Live to Write – Write to Live, so you can check that out as well, if you like. :)

LisaJJackson_2014Lisa J. Jackson: I collect rollerball pens and love the feel of them in my hand. With these pens, I prefer them to be heavy. But my go-to item on a consistent basis is a purple pen. Nothing fancy, just cheapy pens I’ve purchased from Staples or gotten from Planet Fitness. I used to favor blue ink, but now I can’t imagine writing in anything other than purple. Sometimes it’s amusing to think about things like this. And now I’m remembering those pens with multiple colors – blue always ran out, and red was quick to follow. Now I either use disposable pens (purple) or monogrammed pens (the rollerballs). I realize I don’t have much of a middle ground at the moment!

wendy-shotWendy Thomas: I was supposed to go to that Scrivener workshop this weekend and I was all prepared to learn about it and start using it in my writing. Can’t go, instead I’m buying the Dummy book and will be reading that and watching tutorials. You can bet I’m going to be having a lunch with Julie (who is attending) to pick her brain about the software sometime after this weekend.

Other than that, as far as software goes, I’m a Microsoft Word kind-of-girl, nothing fancy, just a place where I can type and format. Oh and I have to have a keyboard, none of this tablet typing for me.

As far as supporting tools, I *live* for very nice gel pens, they can be black or blue (red when I’m correcting papers) but they have to be gel. I’ve found that ball point pens create too much drag and if I write too long with them, my hand and wrist get tired (I know, weird – I blame carpal tunnel and Lyme Disease.)

I also love my notebooks, wouldn’t go anywhere without them – favorite include Moleskin and Clairefontaine  (I was even able to pick one of those up when I was in Paris, le sigh.)

Julie Hennrikus: This week I wrote about Scrivener, which in one of my favorite tools. But some of my favorites are old school. Notebooks. A nice pen. But the tool I can’t live without? Notecards. Plain old notecards. That’s where I start the plotting magic. Once I’m done with that part of my writing process (which takes a long time), I move the cards into Scrivener.

Focus! Focus! Focus! SQUIRREL!

Do you know what my dream day would be like? My dream day would be spending a day, an ENTIRE day, writing or working on fiction writing related activities. Alas, I’m working mom with a crazy schedule, so the chances of that happening anytime soon are slim to infinitely impossible.

That means that I have to make the most of the time I have available to write. I’ve started devoting the first hour of my day to writing. Whenever I get to my desk (usually no later than 9:30am), I tell Siri to set a timer for an hour and I get to work. When the timer goes off, I stop and move on to whatever is first on my task list.

I don’t know about you, but my mind NEVER stops and it doesn’t take much to distract me. Are you familiar with Doug the dog from the movie Up?  SQUIRREL! Yeah, that’s me. I have to work hard to create an environment where I really can just focus on my fiction writing. Here are some the practices I’ve adapted to keep myself on task.

Limit access to social media

When I created my standing desk, I created a separate workstation for writing. This machine does have an Internet connection because sometimes I research during my writing time, but I’m not logged in to any of my social media accounts. That extra step of having to log in is usually enough to get me back on track. I know most people don’t have a separate workstation, but there are programs and browser plug-ins that will limit your access to the Internet such as Freedom.

Turn off the phone

If I’m feeling particularly scattered, I set my iPhone to Do Not Disturb when I write. Now, again, working mom with two kids in school. I have to be reachable, so I make sure the house phone is available, but In the other room. I can finish my thought and then go check the caller ID or answering machine.

 Background noise

Some people need silence to write, I need a little bit of background noise. Lately, I’ve been using Songza to find suitable music. It’s a music concierge service (and it’s free!). You tell Songza what you are doing and it will find music to fit that activity. It even offers ambient noise like a coffee shop. I prefer music and there is almost always a guitar or piano instrumental category that fits the bill for me.

Capturing the Squirrels

In yoga, and meditation, they say that when trying to quiet your mind, cultivating the ability to let thoughts drift through your mind is key. David Allen author of Getting Things Done talks about capturing information for later processing and organization. To keep thoughts not relevant to what I’m doing drifting through I combine both of these ideas when I’m writing.

While writing, if I have a thought that’s relevant to my story but not necessarily the part I’m focused on currently, I type it into the document and then change the color of the text for easy location in the future. If a thought wanders through my mind about non-writing tasks, I just jot it down on a notepad I keep by the computer. The thoughts are captured, so I can let them drift out of my mind with confidence that they will be dealt with later. When my timer goes off, I usually take a few minutes to scan through the notes I’ve added to the text and move them to appropriate scenes or add them to the outline. Once I’m out of writing mode, I grab the note pad and process the information captured there, adding tasks or calendar items as necessary.

It’s not a foolproof system and I’m not 100% focused 100% of the time, but I am making better use of the writing time I do have, so I’m happy.

What do you do to maintain focus during your writing time?

Lee Laughlin is a writer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once. She blogs at She has been a member of the Concord Monitor Board of Contributors. Her words have also appeared in a broad range of publications from community newspapers to the Boston Globe. She is currently working on her first novel, a work of contemporary, romantic fiction.


Start your obituary now

Let’s talk about a very important piece of writing – your obituary. My father recently died and I, with a few others, was asked to help write his obituary. We all did what we could with the information we had and then it was sent to my mother who added additional information.

My mother sees an obituary as an announcement of death – very formal, very structured.

I saw it differently. I am a storyteller, I saw it as a chance to tell stories of my father’s life.

There is no right, there is no wrong it’s what feel right for the principal players.

This experience has made me think about what I would like my obituary to look like. Forget the colleges I went to or the jobs I’ve had – I want examples of experiences that define who I am, a mother, a mama hen, someone who had a way with words. I want stories. I want people to be able to read my obituary and be left with a smile. I wouldn’t even mind a joke or two.

Because of this experience, I’ve started to take notes on what I want in my obituary. It’s something that everyone should do. Think about it, your obituary is your last published piece, why wouldn’t you want a hand in writing it?

Everyone (I don’t care how many times you go to the gym and how healthy you are) should have a file where you keep a list of important information that *you* want mentioned about yourself. Examples include:

  • Where you live, grew up
  • Schools
  • Professional organizations
  • Volunteer work
  • Names of relatives and their relationships – we actually had to check on a few of these for my Dad
  • Favorite memories or attributes that define you – You can bet my obituary will mention that I was a mama hen to a flock of 6 children.
  • Your final bit of advice to the world

Thinking about your death is not a pleasant thing to do, but if you see your obituary as your final published piece to the world – your last chance to advise others, you just might have the incentive to start organizing and working on it now.


Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). ( She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.


I am so excited.

scrivener-512On Saturday, I am going to a full day Scrivener workshop taught by Gwen Hernandez. Gwen wrote “Scrivener for Dummies”, and teaches online classes. I’ve availed myself of both, but now am thrilled that I will be able to take a workshop with her. (There’s still some room, the class is in Burlington, MA, sign up info here.) I’m a fan girl.

What, I hear a few of you ask, is Scrivener? I’m glad you asked.

Scrivener is a great writing tool, developed by Literature and Latte. You can use it many different ways. For a plotter like me, I can create scene cards that are just like the index cards I create during my plotting process. I recreated them in Scrivener, and then lay them out. I can set up targets and goals for the entire manuscript, or for each day. I can use both to track my progress.

If I need to move a scene, I literally do just that, I move the card and everything associated with it goes with it. It is also really helpful that each scene card has the goals that stay in the upper right corner. Again, I am a plotter, so this really works for me. But even for a pantser, you can use the scene cards as reminders as you move forward.

I can also add research, character notes, place names, and other details I need in order to keep moving forward. All of that information is readily at hand, on the left hand side of the screen. Let me tell you, when you are on a roll, and you don’t remember Aunt Flo’s last name, this is worth the cost of the software. (Which is $40.)

I realize this makes the whole program sound complicated. There is a learning curve. BUT, it is worth it. And Gwen’s book and classes are really helpful.

I can’t wait to learn more tips and tricks on Saturday. I’ll report back. In the meantime, who uses Scrivener? Any great tips to pass on? Any questions you want me to ask?

Weekend Edition – Spring Cleaning Makes Writing Easier Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

How Spring Cleaning Helps You Write

She just wants a place for everything and everything in its place.

She just wants a place for everything and everything in its place.

So, yesterday was the first, official day of spring.

It didn’t much feel like it around here, with temps hovering around freezing and gray skies hiding the solar eclipse from view. Still, according to the calendar and the wheel of the year, the Spring Equinox had finally arrived. Hooray!

I unintentionally spent a good part of this week doing what I guess might pass as a sort of spring cleaning. I didn’t dust any drapes (I don’t have any drapes), defrost the freezer (I’m not even sure how to do that), or air out the linens, but I did make a dent in wrangling the frightening amount of administrative loose ends that had accumulated in my life.

You know the kinds of things I mean – returning calls, following-up on project statuses, figuring out your new insurance premiums, paying your excise tax, finding a new CPA, getting to inbox zero … stuff like that.

As a freelance writer, I am often swept up by the crush and hustle of needing to get the job done. Though I work for myself, in truth I have many bosses (even if I don’t include my cats, which I do). Sometimes, keeping everyone happy means that these small, household-type responsibilities fall to the bottom of the To Do list. Eventually, they pile up and pile up until what used to be a single, simple, five-minute task has mutated into a growing horde of could-become-catastrophic-at-any-moment chores clinging to my back like so many manic monkeys.

Perhaps I exaggerate, but not by much.

At any rate, this week, I shifted some deadlines so that I could focus on clearing out some of the physical and karmic debris caused by my long-term neglect of these clerical obligations. The work was tedious and without acclaim or monetary reward, but I have to tell you that I came away from the effort feeling refreshed and fulfilled and even empowered. There was suddenly more breathing room in my day. I felt lighter, and more optimistic than before.

I have long held that there is an important, if somewhat ineffable, relationship between The Maid and The Muse. My muse is fairly tolerant of disarray, but at a certain point, she takes in the scene, crosses her arms, and looks at me as if to say, “Seriously?” And, I have to admit, she has a point.

On the other hand, my internal maid can’t stand any amount of clutter, and the weight of things left undone is a heavy burden to her, indeed. Because of her slightly OCD nature, she tends to just vacate the premises when things start to spin out of control. It’s a matter of self preservation, kind of like how I’ve learned that if I’m going to make my deadlines, I have to compartmentalize my life a little.

But, eventually, The Maid and The Muse get together and stage an intervention.

I think that The Maid just reaches her breaking point. There is just too much clutter and too many things that should have been done weeks ago still hanging over our heads. She just can’t stand it anymore. The Muse becomes an accomplice out of necessity when the hand-wringing and griping of The Maid make it impossible for anyone to concentrate on creative endeavors.

So, I get to organizing, clearing out, and checking things off lists. Like I did this week.

Whether you realize it or not, having all those little tasks biting at your ankles takes a toll on your creativity. Even if you’re not actively thinking about them, all those worries linger somewhere in your consciousness and distract you from your work. They are like a shadow that you can only see out of the corner of your eye. You’re not exactly sure what it is, but it makes you uneasy.

When you finally confront that shadow, it’s not nearly as scary as you’d imagined. A few hours of focused effort, and – voila! – your head is clear and you’re ready to get down to your real work. I also believe (warning: woo-woo alert) that clearing your plate of physical and virtual clutter opens the way for new opportunities and possibilities. By creating more space, literally and metaphorically, you are free to invite more of what you want into your day and your life.

Ok, I’m stepping off my soapbox, but I do wish you a happy spring and (if the spirit grabs you) happy spring cleaning!


What I’m Writing:

nuthatchIt’s been a while since I’ve linked to a piece of my own writing, but in honor of the Spring Equinox, I’d like to share a recent column I wrote in admiration of our feathered friends and the way they help usher in the warmer weather and the new season.

I wrote Spring on the Wing after the phrase “held aloft on hollow bones filled with promises and sky” popped into my head just before I fell asleep. I’d been wanting to write a little something that expressed my love for and enjoyment of the many birds that frequent the feeder just outside my office window; and when I had that little piece of the puzzle, I knew it was time.

I hope you enjoy the piece and would love to hear from anyone who’d like to share his or her own piece on the arrival of spring.


What I’m Reading:

book bookmans taleJust  yesterday afternoon I finished Charlie Lovett’s novel, The Bookman’s Tale. I had three girlfriends coming over later and probably should have been running the vacuum or making some other domestic preparations; but I only had a few pages left to read, and I just couldn’t put the book down.

The Bookman’s Tale felt to me like a delightful mash-up of ages and genres. The story weaves in and out of four different time periods (Shakespeare’s day, the late 1800s, the mid-80s, and the mid-90s), and tells the tale of a recently widowed antiquarian bookseller who is drawn into a literary adventure when he discovers a mysterious portrait hidden in a book. There’s a love story, a mystery, and quite a bit of history. There’s a bit of the DaVinci Code’s intrigue and a bit of the gothic flavor of books like The Thirteenth Tale.

And, of course, as a lover of literature and books as works of art, this story held a particular allure. Lovett, a former antiquarian bookseller himself, clearly has a reverence for all aspects of the bookmaking art. Certain passages made me long to hold one of the literary treasures he describes in my own hands – a bit of paper and ink, but also a piece of history.


And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:

Marketing & Other Business-y Topics:


Craft, Process, and Productivity:

Just for Fun:



Finally, a quote for the week:

A twofer this week – to cover both sides of the clean desk debate.

pin tidy deskpin cluttered desk











Happy spring. Happy writing. Happy reading. :)  

Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
Housemaid Sketch Photo Credit: april-mo via Compfight cc

FRIDAY FUN: Favorite Sign of Spring

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION: We have had a long, long winter here in New England. It isn’t over yet, but the season officially changes today! What is your favorite sign of spring? Or, put another way, when do you really know it’s safe to put your long johns away?

Lee Laughlin CU 7-13Lee Laughlin – I know spring is vewy vewy close when the “Road Posted” signs start going up. I live in a rural area and while the ground thaws no vehicles over 6 tons can travel on the dirt roads. There is too great of a chance the vehicle will get stuck in the mud and there is a risk the heavy load will damage the road itself. This concept of limiting access to roads amuses me. I guess it’s because I grew up in the suburbs and then lived in the city for 20 years before moving to the middle of nowhere. This is New England, I don’t put the long johns away until June 1!

headshot_jw_thumbnailJamie Wallace – Funny you should ask. I recently wrote a column about one of my favorite signs of spring – the return of our feathered friends. The view from my deck includes a bird feeder that attracts a fair number of winged neighbors. In recent weeks the frequency and variety of visitors has increased noticeably. This makes me very happy.

From the column:

Have you noticed the rising din of the morning chorus? Not long ago, the dawn hours were mute. But as we creep cautiously towards the elusive dream of winter’s end, we are cheered and encouraged by the unleashed trills, chirps, and whistles of our avian allies against the dark.

Whether returning from afar or revealing themselves after a season in hiding, these guardians of vernal transitions come winging to our aid, held aloft on hollow bones filled with promises and sky.

You can read the whole piece here if you like.  :)

hennrikus-web2Julie Hennrikus: I think it is going to snow on Friday and Saturday, so we’re not safe yet. And I am still wearing the long coat, hat, gloves, scarf. I know it’s safe to call it spring when I can wear the short coat and not regret it. I don’t wear my hat. The buds on the trees aren’t covered with ice. You know, the little things. Happy spring. Or, as we call it in New England, late winter.

Improvisational Writing

I took an improv class in Cambridge this winter. It’s something I’ve wanted to do since 2008, when I did improv during a Master Coach training. Since taking the class, I’ve been using some of the techniques I learned to get more words on the page. Here are two of the ways I’ve incorporated improv into my writing life.

Warm-Ups: Every week, at the beginning of class, we would do a series of game designed to warm us up; to get us out of our heads and into our bodies. I’ve started doing warm-ups at the beginning of my writing sessions. One (silly) warm-up I do is write a word that begins with each letter of the alphabet, relating each word somehow (even tangentially) to the previous word (not all the previous words, just the word before that word).

An example: Apples Bruise Colors Design Elements Forever Granite Houses Invite Jollies Kites Lift Metal Nails Overbite Perpetual Queen Red Shoe Trees Undulate Visually Wonderful X-Ray You Zephyr.

One of the first things you learn in improv is the idea of “Yes, and…” No matter what your partner in the scene says, you don’t disagree with them. You accept the reality of the world they have created (that’s the “Yes,”) and you expand upon it (that’s the “and.”)

If your partner says, “Oh my God, your head is on fire!” and you say, “No, it’s not,” you have completely negated the premise they gave you and now there is no movement, no energy. The scene is completely dead.

But if your partner says, “Oh my God, your head is on fire!” and you say, “Oh my God, it’s on fire and we’re standing in the middle of a match factory!” now you’ve got something. There’s energy and movement to the scene and the audience gets to see what these two characters are going to do next.

In my writing, I’ve started taking my characters and letting them do some unexpected things. Whatever they do or say, I respond, “Yes, and…” then I see where it takes me. Not every part of this exploration will make it into my finished piece, but I find it’s making my characters more interesting and giving me a lot more flexibility as to what happens next.

Once I expand my character this way, he doesn’t go back to the narrow person I first imagined. He doesn’t necessarily remain totally outrageous, but he definitely becomes more three-dimensional.

What happens to your characters when you say, “Yes, and…?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, mom, life coach, and family physician. I’ve also found the stories I tell my son are getting more fun and I find it much easier to find new ideas since I took that improv class.







First Quarter Review

A photo from Living in Place

A photo from Living in Place

As the first quarter of the year comes to a close, it’s time to review where I am with the three goals I set at the start of the year while I’m between books: launching my blog, increasing my work-for-pay, and completing some necessary administrative tasks.

I’ve been very successful meeting the first two goals, posting to Living In Place every Wednesday, placing my column about The Middle Ages in The Rutland Herald, and generally writing, publishing and expanding my state-wide and on-line audience with essays.

Then, while I was still thinking about contacting my former editors for

Traditional Ax Skills Class at Doe Camp. [photo by Deborah Lee Luskin for]

Traditional Ax Skills Class at Doe Camp. [photo by Deborah Lee Luskin for]

paying work, they contacted me. I just returned from one of my most fun assignments ever, attending Doe Camp for an online magazine I haven’t written for in three years. I’ve also completed other pen-for-hire work, which is satisfying both for telling other people’s stories and for boosting my bank account.

It’s the third goal, completing the administrative tasks, where I’m stuck. With the first quarter of the year nearly ended, I need to examine what’s made me stall and what I need to do to shift back into first gear.

I set three significant administrative goals. Of these, I’ve completed one: creating a better system for paying bills and tracking both my business and household accounts. The job of reorganization didn’t take nearly as long as I expected, and it has streamlined the bi-weekly tasks of accounting, bill-paying and staying on budget. Just acknowledging this outcome helps motivate me to advance the other two tasks: create a current curriculum vitae (CV) and bring my clip files up-to-date.

A CV is an expanded resume used in academic circles. It lists all professional positions held, all publications, professional associations, and public service. When complete, a CV can run up to twenty-five pages, though it’s not always submitted in its entirety.

The beauty of a CV, especially for someone like me who is not on a traditional academic career path, is that it can be easily edited to emphasize one’s strengths for a specific job.

I started gathering the information for my CV back in January, and listed all my publications through 2010, so I’m now only five years out of date.

I have to organize my papers, which I don’t seem to have filed for the last five years.

I have to organize my papers, which I don’t seem to have filed for the last five years.

I have stalled on listing all the different courses I’ve taught, and all the public speaking I’ve done. In part, because I’m stuck in one of those chicken-versus-egg conundrums: In order to update my publications and teaching credits, I have to organize my papers, which I don’t seem to have filed for the last five years.

When I think about these projects in their totality, I’m paralyzed with fear. Where do I start? How do I proceed?

It’s the same place I am with two book projects starting to percolate in my head.

But I know how to write a book: one word at a time. Words become sentences, sentences paragraphs, sections, and chapters until I’ve created an entire imaginary world.

And there’s my answer: chip away a little at a time, whether it be filing and documenting my professional life or writing character sketches for a new novel.

Just as I allow myself to write freely to start and revise as the arc of a story becomes clear, so I can allow myself to simply list my achievements and revise them as the logical order of presentation becomes clear.

As I know from experience, big goals are achieved with small steps. It’s consistency that serves inspiration and achievement, both in creativity and in ordinary tasks.

As the first quarter of the year draws to an end, which of your goals are you successfully working towards? If you have stalled, what do you need to do to restart?