Weekend Edition – The Season of the Writer

Winter is coming. Let’s write.

Winter Magic - Writer-Style

Winter Magic – Writer-Style

Sometimes, I miss being a mouse.  I miss it most around this time of year, as autumn begins to wane and small, furry animals scurry about, expending a final burst of energy before their long, winter’s sleep. Watching them stash their acorns and other treasures reminds me of winter afternoons holed up in the makeshift burrow at the foot of my childhood bed.

There was a narrow space between my bed and the floor-to-ceiling bookcase that housed not only my books, but also my large (and meticulously organized) collection of Breyer and other horse figurines. It was just wide enough to accommodate me, and I would often transform it into my own, little hideaway. With a pile of blankets and pillows beneath me as a nest, and the large cutting board my mom used for her sewing above me as a roof, I would retreat into my hibernation den with a Ziploc bag full of cheerios, my sketch book, journal, and pencils. Since my mouse house was built alongside the bookcase, I already had a built-in library, and – since the heating grate was conveniently situated at the foot of my bed – I also had a source of toasty warmth. It was the perfect retreat from the world.

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Living in New England, winter has always been to me a time to hunker down in the cozy warmth of home. I am happiest when curled up on the couch under blankets with a steaming mug of tea and a good book. Even the chores of winter – hauling and stacking firewood (a chore I sadly no longer have since our new abode does not have a fireplace … yet), making soup, baking bread, even shoveling snow – make me feel all warm and fuzzy.

Winter is the time to gather around the hearth and tell tales. It is the season of the storyteller, the keeper of myths and histories. It has also always been, for me, the season of the writer. It’s as if we must keep the balance – spinning new tales as the old ones are spent around the flickering light of the fire.

Winter’s descent into darkness is like journeying into the underworld – a place of foreboding and yet also a place of rest, rejuvenation, and – ultimately – creation and rebirth. Though today’s technology and modern lifestyle try to drown out the rhythms of the seasons, if you listen closely you can still hear winter’s invitation to slow down and nestle into the comforts and creativity of your own, small world.

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Despite the howling of its storms, winter is a time of deep quiet. Even before the snow flies, the stillness begins to creep in as many of the region’s birds take to the skies in search of warmer climes, and the crickets and cicadas turn in for the year. Even the trees cease their endless whispering as their leaves fall to the ground to rustle quietly like the fading echoes of long ago conversations. And with the remnants of their foliage raiments scattered at their feet, the trees stand tall and naked, silently revealed truths silhouetted against the sky.

And then the snowflakes blanket the world in a white hush that  glitters like fallen stars, bringing not only quiet, but also the possibility of magic. I remember walking through snowy woods as a child, feeling like a character in one of my beloved fairytales. Transformed by winter’s artistry, the forest seemed a foreign place full of mystery. Stories called to me from the shadowy spaces under snow-laden fir trees and from around the corners in once familiar paths. My heart ran wild with the silver deer of my imagination, their jeweled antlers shining darkly against the newly white world.

··• )o( •··

More than any other season, winter still holds this sense of magic and “otherness” for me. Despite the whirlwind of the holidays and the ceaselessly churning world of business, winter manages to provide a much-needed respite from the usual grind. And it is in these spaces between storms that I find I am most inspired to write. The transformation of the world under its layer of icy frosting invites me to step outside my usual routines and thoughts into a many-storied world of endless possibilities. The quiet clears my head, replacing the din of distractions with a contemplative space that invites introspection. The cold and snow make it easy to hide away from the rest of the world, snuggled into a pocket of personal creativity where I am warmed as much by my imagination as I am by my hot tea.

Winter strikes a sharp contrast between comfort and survival. It strips the world bare, leaving us exposed to our own frailties, but it also heightens our appreciation of  the simple pleasures of hearth and home. Let the storm rage, I say. We have stories to tell.

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Shareworthy:

book brene vulnerabilityI have been listening to Brene Brown’s book, The Power of Vulnerability on Audible. It’s the first of her books that I’ve read, despite the fact that friends have been raving about her for years. Now I know why.

Brown calls herself a “researcher/storyteller.” She began her work studying shame, a topic that didn’t earn her any popularity points on the speaking circuit, but eventually realized that what she was really studying was vulnerability. Though her work does not deal comprehensively or exclusively with creativity, it includes some important revelations about the importance of play, rest, and creative endeavors, and it also dives fearlessly into a deep exploration of the feelings, beliefs, and behaviors that keep us from living “whole heartedly.”

The audio, featuring Brown, was recorded at a live workshop. Though the topic is heavy and complex, Browns’s down-to-earth delivery is as entertaining and humorous as it is enlightening. For a taste of her work (and her style), you might take twenty minutes to watch her 2010 TEDTalk:

I have a feeling I will eventually share more thoughts about how Brown’s work intersects with our creative urges and courage, but – for now – I’ll just leave you with a heartfelt recommendation for this book. I’m already trying to decide which of her other books to read next!

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:

In the wake of the nightmarish news coming in from Paris and other places around the world, the pursuit of art can feel small and unimportant; but art is necessary. It is an outlet for our pain and fears. It helps us connect with others and with our own feelings. It reminds us that there is good and hope and beauty in the world, even when life seem full of cruelty and darkness. My heart goes out to the people of Paris, and to everyone around the world who suffers. None of us can single-handedly save the world, but each of us can engage in small acts of kindness, and – just as importantly – continue to create the art that only we can create. The world needs it.

pin art consoles

Close … 
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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.
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Writing Fears

This fall I’ve started work on a fiction project I haven’t worked on since the spring. This past summer I focused my writing time on nonfiction, especially in July when I did CampNaNo. My nonfiction writing feels like it’s getting stronger and I’m enjoying it more and more as time goes by.

That hasn’t been my experience of writing fiction, at least not lately. Recently I wrote an outline to a short story I’ve been working on and I sent it to my critique group for their feedback. Because it was between meetings, one of the members of our group offered to meet with me to discuss the outline. She thought there were some issues with it that needed to be addressed in person because they were difficult to articulate in an email.

I replied to her email saying:

“Honestly, I’m not sure if I want to keep working on this story. I think I need to start doing something completely different. The last short story I wrote had a similar setting and characters and I want to try something different. Or I guess I could just be sick of it. I don’t think we need to meet just to go over my outline.”

Since then I’ve felt like giving up on fiction: Maybe I’ve lost my fiction writing skills. Maybe I never had any to begin with. Maybe I should go back to writing prompts and free writing and stop trying to write something as ambitious as a short story. 

At this point in my thinking process, I realized I was in the grip of fear. I then asked myself if I wanted to allow my fear to lead me. I don’t.

I now see that the only way I’m going to get better at writing short stories is to keep writing—and rewriting–short stories.

I’ve been fearful of showing my fiction to my critique group—not because they are harsh critics, but because I am, at least with my own work.

I now choose to think differently about my critique group: I have the luxury of being part of a group of people who are willing to critique my work and to allow me to critique their work. I’m going to take advantage of this luxury by writing another draft of my short story and showing it to my critique group—as imperfect as it is.

I’ll become a better writer if I do. And that is my goal.

I know the fear I’ve been feeling is partly because I stepped away from fiction for too long, and partly because my fellow critique group members have been accomplishing so much while I’ve been doing other things.

I can manage my fear (not banish it, I don’t think that’s possible) by writing fiction more often and choosing to think how lucky I am to have an accomplished group of writers reviewing my work.

I feel much better now. Time to get back to my short story.

What are your fears about your writing life and how do you manage them?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, life coach, and family physician. I’m dividing my writing time between a coaching book for physicians and a short story these days, and it’s only two days before NaNo starts and I haven’t made the commitment–there’s still time to decide!

 

Cognitive Dissonance and Writing II

I recently wrote about Cognitive Dissonance and Writing. One of the ways I’ve dealt with my own cognitive dissonance (in many areas of my life) is to find small ways to “prove” both of my conflicting beliefs true. One way I do this is to use a concrete exercise I learned from Martha Beck[i]. I call this exercise the And/Or Exercise, but Martha calls it by its more correct psychological name:

Unifying False Dichotomies

To shake yourself free of falsely dichotomous thinking, try making a list of either/ors in your life. These could be any pairs of opposites, contradictory things that you could be, have, or do.

My Dichotomous Life

I can either be __________________________ or ______________________________.

I can either have ________________________ or ______________________________.

I can either do __________________________ or ______________________________.

Now, rewrite those very same things in the spaces below.

My Creative Life

I intend to be both __________________________ and __________________________.

I intend to have both ________________________ and __________________________.

I intend to do both __________________________ and __________________________.

The more resistance you feel to rewriting these either/or statements into “and” statements, the more likely you are holding onto false beliefs.

Here are some statements I’ve worked with over the years:

  • I can either be a doctor or a mother.
  • I can either have a family or a career.
  • I can either write novels or practice medicine.

Rewritten, these statements become:

  • I intend to be both a doctor and a mother.
  • I intend to have both a family and a career.
  • I intend to write novels and practice medicine.

These days, I can rewrite all those statements with an “of course I can!” feeling, but back in the day, I had a hard time believing them. Seeing the statements written out made them easier to believe.

I continue to do this exercise every once in a while, as a way to see what I’m thinking and to discover where I might be experiencing cognitive dissonance in my own life.

At one point I came across this dichotomous belief: I can be either an artist or a productive member of society.

How’s that for a creativity blocker? Pretty good, it turns out.

I intend to be both an artist and a productive member of society is a statement that works much better for me, and allows me to see the creativity I bring to every part of my life, from my writing to my parenting to my cooking. It’s a shift in perspective that allows me to see myself as the creative being I am.

Do you think you can either be a writer or something else? How about both?

[i] Adapted from The Joy Diet: 10 Daily Practices for a Happier Life, by Martha Beck. Used with her permission.

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, master life coach, and family physician. You can find her at http://www.dianemackinnon.com.

Weekend Edition – Idea Math for Writers Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

Writer = Idea Machine

From "a little market" via Pinterest

From “a little market” via Pinterest

If someone asked you to name your stock in trade as a writer, what would you say?

Your knee-jerk response might be “words.” Words are the building blocks of our stories. They are like the painter’s pigments or the sculptor’s clay.

But, are they really your stock in trade? No.

As a writer, your stock in trade is your ideas.

Without ideas, there are no words. Ideas are where the process starts. They are the seeds that blossom into word-laden forests. My dad has always told me that the ideas -not perfect execution – are the thing. Anyone can learn to do a thing well, whether that thing is painting a picture, taking a photograph, or writing a story. These are technical skills you can practice and hone until you achieve a high level of mastery. But, without a good idea to drive your technical excellence, all you have is an empty exercise in rote execution. What you create will have no purpose, no meaning, no soul.

And, that’s no good.

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So, ideas. Where do they come from?

The Muse, you say? Really? I like to think the Muses are kind of like Sharon Stone’s character in Albert Brooks’ film, The Muse. (If you haven’t seen this, please watch it. It is fabulous from any angle, but from the writer’s perspective it’s especially funny.) Stone plays Sarah Little, a modern day Muse whose tactics are more than a tad unconventional. She is petulant, feisty, demanding, and – more to the point – she never actually gives anyone ideas. She doesn’t consider that to be part of her job.

So, if not the Muses, where do ideas come from?

They come from you, silly.

And, like any other skill, idea generation is something you can practice. It’s not magic or a creative gift or the whispers of those pesky Muses. Idea generation is about treating your brain like the muscle it is and working it out to improve flexibility, stamina, and strength.

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Though he is sometimes a little over the top for some people, I kind of adore James Altucher. He’s more of a business/finance/entrepreneurship blogger, but many of his ideas apply beautifully to writing. One of my favorite posts of his is The Magic of Idea Math, in which he outlines seven different ways to generate ideas:

  • IDEA ADDITION: Take a big, popular idea and add something to it.
  • IDEA SUBTRACTION: Think you’re stuck in a situation with no options? Consider your situation without the roadblocks. Just take all the “can’ts” out of the equation, and see where you go.
  • IDEA EXPONENTIALS & SUBSETS: Start with ten ideas and then add ten ideas for each of your original ten, and so on. (This, as Altucher points out, is a good recipe for writing a book.)
  • NEGATIVE IDEAS: Look at opposites and opposing forces to get a completely different perspective that opens your mind to new possibilities.
  • IDEA MULTIPLICATION: Take a good idea and figure out how to scale it through replication.
  • IDEA DIVISION: Take a good idea and divide it again and again in order to break it down into its component, “niche” parts. I picture cell division that breaks one big cell down into dozens of smaller, more specialized cells.
  • IDEA SEX: This is similar to idea addition, but more integrated. Altucher uses the example of “sampling” in the music industry. The popular term “mash-up” also applies here.

Go ahead and play around with these ideas in the context of your writing or your writing career. This is all about “thinking outside the box,” as the tired cliché says.  It’s about training your brain to think about problems (and possibilities!) in different ways.

··• )o( •··

I use the word “training” intentionally. As I mentioned earlier, you need to treat your brain like a muscle. You need to exercise and stretch it constantly. It’s the old “use it, or lose it” idea.

My daughter and I recently discovered, courtesy of another mom, a great show from the National Geographic channel called Brain Games. The series is a fascinating exploration of how our brains work. Much of what we’ve learned by watching so far has surprised the hell out of me.

One thing that didn’t surprise me, however, is the fact that our brains are amazingly adaptive machines that learn at an incredibly fast rate, but will atrophy if not properly exercised. I’m no expert, but it seems to me that brain training falls into two categories: strength and flexibility.

Strength exercises help you hone your memory, analysis, observation, and problem solving skills. I subscribe to a great brain-training tool called Lumosity to help me with these kinds of exercises. Using my desktop computer or their handy mobile app, I play fun games that are scientifically designed by neuroscientists to help me improve these basic mental skills. It’s easy, fun, and kind of addictive.

Flexibility exercises are the ones that help you improve how creatively you think. This is where the “outside the box” stuff comes in. One of the best ways to increase your thinking agility is to “think like a kid” by removing any assumptions you have about how a certain problem “should” or can be solved. A Brain Games episode we watched recently demonstrates the power of thinking like a kid by asking adults and kids to describe what they see in an abstract drawing. Adults can usually only come up with one or maybe two ideas, while kids can go on and on (and on!) as their imaginations rev up.

··• )o( •··

That’s kind of what ideas are all about, right? Imagination. And isn’t imagination the domain of a writer?

We writers ply our story trade by repeatedly asking the all-important question, “What if?” This deceivingly simple question is the key to opening a world of possibilities. Though the process may start slowly with a grinding of the wheels in your brain, once you get going all kinds of ideas jump out at you.

“Possibilities” – you may notice I’ve used that word a number of times in this post. That’s because ideas are about possibilities. Ideas aren’t intrinsically right or wrong, they are just potentialities to be explored and tested.

And they aren’t just for stories, either. There are countless possibilities to explore in your real life, too. We often get stuck thinking about our world and our lives from only one perspective and based on one set of assumptions. But, what if we looked at our situation with the eyes of a child?  What if we used Altucher’s negative ideas mind math to remove the obstacles that we assume are keeping us from achieving our goals? What if we let our imaginations uncover new solutions to our problems?

··• )o( •··

Your stock in trade as a writer is your ideas. They are what set you apart from everyone else. They are what capture a reader’s attention, whether you are writing fiction, nonfiction, or marketing copy. As much as you practice the craft of writing – style, voice, syntax, and all that good stuff – you must also practice the craft of idea generation. Give your brain the opportunity to stretch and play. Make coming up with new ideas part of your daily writing routine. Drop your assumptions and inhibitions and see how bizarre and silly you can get. You never know what bit of brilliance will emerge from the chaos.

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What I’m {Thinking About} Writing:

Wall art by spellandtell via Etsy

Wall art by spellandtell via Etsy

As I mentioned above, considering “what if?” possibilities isn’t an exercise that’s only good for writing stories. It can be a powerful and transformative tool for shaping your life and your writing career.

I have been working as a freelance marketing writer for almost the last decade because I asked myself, “What if I gave the copywriting thing a whirl?” I’m so grateful that the answer to that question turned out to be the successful business I’ve got now. But, even while I deeply appreciate each and every client and project that enables me to keep a roof over our heads and Boboli pizzas on the table, I can’t quite seem to stop asking, “What if?”

  • What if I tried my hand at nonfiction … maybe writing a book about writing?
  • What if I did a self-publishing experiment around a serialized story?
  • What if I offered custom stories about people’s pets?
  • What if I …

You get the idea. Sometimes we get too tied up in thinking about “writing” in only one way. We think that being a writer means being a novelist or a journalist or a screenwriter. We stop seeing other opportunities, we forget that there are all kinds of species of writers and all kinds of different ways that stories and information permeate our world and our lives. If we stop assuming that, as a “writer,” we can only exist within the confines of a very specific identity, all kinds of new possibilities open up to us.

It’s something worth thinking about.

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What I’m {Remembering About} Reading:

Jessie Willcox Smith - Mother and Children Reading

Jessie Willcox Smith – Mother and Children Reading

Last week’s Friday Fun was all about early influences on our writing. My response took me on a walk down memory lane where I recalled the books I’d read as a child. It was interesting to look back on my long list of favorite children’s and young adult reads and see some patterns in the kinds of stories, characters, and themes that I’d been drawn to. It’s also interesting to see how my preferences have evolved over the years.

But, one influence I thought of after the Friday post was published was how my mom read aloud to my sister and I right through our teen years. Though the specific stories she shared with us did influence me, what was more important was simply being exposed to and enveloped in my mother’s love of books and reading. Experiencing that passion first hand made a lasting impression that has sustained my own reading and writing ever since.

Now that I’m someone’s mom, I have spent countless treasured hours reading aloud to her, starting with picture books and graduating over the years to easy readers and novels. Now that she’s almost too old for bedtime stories (at least, she thinks so), I’ve introduced her to the wonderful world of audio books. She has spent dozens of hours this summer, listening to fantasy novels while coloring or doing some other creative activity. I just love knowing that her head is filling up with stories and adventure.

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A Personal Announcement:

By SusanBlackArt on Etsy

By SusanBlackArt on Etsy

So, in case you missed my post about the influence of “place” on writing, my daughter and I have been dealing with some upheaval in our housing situation.  I am excited to share with you today that as of this past Monday I am, once again, a homeowner. After nearly three years of house hunting, the demolition-driven crisis we were in turned out to be  just the thing to push me out of the nest, or … er … into the nest?

Either way, we found a charming cottage-style cape that is in the same neighborhood we’ve come to love over this past eighteen months. My daughter is over-the-moon thrilled, and – even though there’s some work to be done and money to be spent – I’m pretty much right there with her.

So, if my posts over the next month or so start to wander off into home-related tangents, you’ll know why. I promise to stay as focused as possible on writing-related topics, but I’m sure that some domestic themes might sneak in there. At the very least, I’m sure our mini renovation adventures will yield some worthwhile anecdotes.

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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:

Image from Pinterest

Image from Pinterest

Here’s to lots and lots of new ideas, having fun playing with possibilities, and finding (and making) your own, sweet home. 
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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.
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Friday Fun – Where do you get your story ideas?

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 recently invited you to submit your questions about writing, and Bethie asked about where we get ideas for our writing. 

headshot_jw_thumbnailJamie Wallace: Everywhere. That’s probably not very helpful. But, it’s true. I love asking “Why?” and “What if?” I like to daydream. I guess you could say that I’m incurably curious, and my curiosity creates an endless stream of ideas for essays and stories. I mean, from where I’m sitting at my desk, I quickly looked up and the first thing I saw was a Hawaiian scarf with a batik-style fish print on it. Looking at that, the following thoughts ran through my head:

  • I wonder what goes into making one of those. Is it even made in Hawaii, or just labeled there? What are the industrial and financial stories behind that simple scarf?
  • I wonder who sold it – maybe the owner of a family-run shop struggling to survive against the competition of the big-label stores in the newer, fancier malls. What kind of conflict is there between the different store owners or family members?
  • Is that a traditional Hawaiian motif? What kinds of Hawaiian myths might have inspired that design? What if Hawaiian gods met the old Greek or Norse gods? How would they get along?
  • The fish are grouped in schools of five. Why would there be only five fish per school?
    • What if that was an actual natural phenomenon – how would the fish determine which of them went into which school, and what would happen to the odd fish out? Would there be in-fighting, manipulation, or even fish murder for spots in a school?
    • How might this thing play out with humans – like cliques in school? What if in the future people were only allowed to interact in groups of five – how would that affect relationships, privacy, emotions?

You get the idea. Be curious. Ask questions. Let your mind free associate. Don’t judge your ideas. (The above list proves I’m clearly following an “anything goes” approach.) Just have fun.

And, here are a couple other posts that you might find helpful:

Your Writer's Mind

Your Writer’s Mind

or maybe …

4 Steps to Capture the Muse

4 Steps to Capture the Muse

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Deborah Lee LuskinDeborah Lee Luskin: While I was waiting my turn to drive through a construction site where the state was rerouting a highway, I wondered what Vermont was like before the Interstate, how it was built, and how the state changed as a result. And so began the research that turned into Elegy for a Girl, Into the Wilderness, and the untitled novel I’m working on now. Ideas for my VPR commentaries, editorials, and blog posts arise in similarly mundane and mysterious ways: I see something, I hear something, I read something – often something quirky or ordinary – and it sparks thoughts that make their way onto the page. It’s a good job.

wendy-shotWendy Thomas: Some of my story ideas seem to come out of the blue. I’ll be driving and a thought will become a sentence which then becomes the idea for a story. Because I write a lot of non-fiction, many of my ideas also come from asking questions. If I want to know an answer, chances are someone else will want to know it as well. The toddler’s “what if” and “why” questions that are constantly asked (to the point of exhaustion) never seemed to have left me. Lastly, my ideas can come from a quiet place of observation. I’ll sit and look at what is around me. I’ve seen this with my blog, where I’ve been writing about my flock of children and chickens for the last 6 years. You’d think I’d have run out of things to say at this point – nope, there are days when I feel like I’m just getting started.

Susan Nye: I bump into ideas everywhere. In the news. In random conversations with friends, family and strangers. In the supermarket and farmers’ market. (I do a lot of food writing so ingredients inspire me.) In books, magazines and in the nooks and crannies of my wandering mind. I walk almost every day and find it really helps. No music, no phone and no distractions, I let my mind ramble and amble in search of inspiration.

Coming up with something new week after week for my newspaper column/blog is probably the biggest challenge. Next week makes 448 stories and recipes plus another couple hundred menus and party ideas. When in doubt I check the calendar. Holidays are always good for a post. Who doesn’t have something to say about Mom on Mother’s Day, family cookouts on the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving dinners? That said, after nine years it can be tough to find a new approach to Memorial Day.

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.

Canva.com 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 canva.com 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 canva.com 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.

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.