Be Boring

steal artistBe Boring.

Not in your writing, but in your life.

Be Boring.

Be Boring is Rule Number 9 out of 10 in Steal Like An Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You about Being Creative by Austin Kleon. And when I read this rule, I sighed with relief, because my day-to-day life is a snore – to everybody but me.

I’ve been writing a novel for going on three years, and the end is in sight. But the way I’ve arrived at this juncture is by living a very quiet, ordinary, life. . As Kleon explains, “It’s the only way to get the work done.”

He quotes Gustave Flaubert, author of Madame Bovary:

Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.

This is not, of course, how Hemingway and Fitzgerald worked, but their biographies compete with their work, and they burned out early from alcoholism (Fitzgerald) and suicide (Hemingway). Not the way I want to go.

Kleon makes a few, simple, recommendations on how to be boring – and be vibrantly creative:

  • Take care of yourself: eat right, get sleep, brush your teeth.
  • Keep your day job, because it gives you “money, a connection to the world, and a routine.”
  • Keep a calendar: plan when you’re going to write and what – and stick to it.
  • Keep a logbook: this is a way to hold yourself accountable and also keep track of your work. (See Accounting for Your Time)
  • Marry well: Kleon says this may be the most important decision you ever make, which is very old school. There’s a lot to be said for marriage, and I’ve been lucky in mine, but marriage is hard, and not for everyone. That said, the partners, lovers, friends, and/or relatives who see you through thick and thin all deserve books dedicated to them.

Those of you who are regular readers of this blog, know that I rarely contribute to the Saturday Edition, where contributors recap what they’ve written during the past week and what they’ve read. I don’t contribute because I’d write the same thing week after week: Worked on my novel this week.

It’s what I’ve been doing, week after week for going on 130 weeks – and counting. And you know what? It pays off. I have a good book that’s getting better every day I sit down to work on it, which is at least five days a week.

In the end, my biography will not be a compelling one – and that’s okay with me. It’s my stories that count.

dll2013Deborah Lee Luskin lives a boring life in southern Vermont, where she writes fiction, radio commentaries, and editorial columns. Between paragraphs, she walks, gardens, cooks, plays the piano badly, worries, and stares out the window – among other activities. Find her on the web at

This is why I teach

Yesterday was the second to the last session for my Technical Writing class.

A-Plus-StudentBack on the first day of class, I asked the students if any of them thought they would be learning something useful out of this class.

No one, not a single student raised their hand. Technical Writing was a required course. They were in the class because they had to be not because they wanted to be.

The first day of class, I asked them to write a short paper. No one wrote more than 2 paragraphs and there was no rhyme or reason to what they wrote. It was nearly impossible for them.

This is good, I thought, I can work with this.

I’ve spent the semester teaching them how to organize their writing, how to identify the audience, tone, topic and purpose (ATTP.)

We’ve talked about brainstorming ideas on a topic and then grouping those ideas under appropriate headers.

We’ve talked about starting with an introduction and ending with a conclusion.

Week by week, through the use of examples and stories, I tried to get my students to understand how important organization of information was when writing. How easy it made writing.

Yesterday in class, I passed out a handout with instructions on “How to phone an elected official.” Outline a paper for me on this topic, I told them.

Initially I heard groans, but then I saw them get to work. They underlined and made notations on the handout.

On the white board, I took them through the steps listed below. They first identified the ATTP.

Then using the handout they brainstormed topics. Once they did that, they grouped the topics and realizing that some information was missing in the “order of events” (they added a section on how to find a representative’s phone number) they added additional topics.

Finally they put the topics into an order that made sense (they decided that chronological sequence was most effective) and surrounded that list with an introduction and conclusion.

Within an hour, I had these students, who had thought they wouldn’t learn anything devise a solid outline for a short paper. All they needed to do was to write 2-3 paragraphs under each identified topic and they would have a first draft.

If they then added quotes and stories, they would have written a “how-to article.”

I told them that there was not one student in the class who couldn’t take this outline and give me a draft the next day. Through organization of information, we had turned what early in the semester has seemed like an impossible task into one that was bite-sized and very doable.

It was the look on their faces when I pointed this out, that has made all of my work this past semester worth the time and effort it has taken.

My class of students, none of whom had wanted to be there, have learned.


This is an organizational handout I gave my students.


The 6 Steps for Reader Centered Writing

Step 1: Analyze your readers. Determine ATTP
Step 2: Outline your information. Brainstorm your ideas. Write them down, use post-its, or draw them out in a web outline.
Step 3: Group like information under headlines.
Step 4: Sequence your ideas. Figure out the order in which you present information based on your ATTP. Include abstract, introduction, and conclusion.
Step 5: Write the first draft. Write at least 2-3 paragraphs under each header
Step 6: Edit for clarity, conciseness, and accuracy. Check facts, spelling, definitions, and if you have missed information that you assumed your reader knew. Make sure the document matches your ATTP (if the purpose is to convince have you done that? If it’s to ask for action is that clear?)


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.

When Was the Last Time You Told Your Story?

There are three questions that healers of a Central Oregon Native American tribe ask their patients before beginning medicine work:

  • When was the last time you sang?
  • When was the last time you danced?
  • When was the last time you told your story?

The healers believe the answers a person gives tell them how deep the illness, injury, or damage lies.

I thought of this as I was singing and dancing alone in my kitchen the other day. I thought about the times I didn’t sing or dance—or tell my story.

Whole years have gone by when I didn’t sing or dance—not even when I was alone in my house or car.

And whole years have gone by when I didn’t journal. Those times, when I stopped telling my story to myself, those were the worst times in my life. I can see it so clearly now but of course, when you’re in the middle of the bad time, you can’t see much of anything.

I started keeping a journal when I was eleven years old. Since then, there have been many times I felt I couldn’t share my thoughts or feelings with anyone else, but I wrote them in my journal as a way of working through those thoughts and feelings. A journal entry, to me, is always a dialogue with myself. Like most conversations, it usually ends with a shift or change in perspective: Some kind of resolution.

And it was a way of saying, if only to myself, “I matter. My story and my life count.”

I almost never look back at my journal entries, with the exception of my Five Year Journal. (I love seeing what I (or my son) was doing a year ago today or two years ago today.) My regular journal entries are “of the moment,” and they help me process whatever I’m going through at that particular time and place. They are only for myself and they are not interesting to me once the moment has passed.

I told my story, now I’m moving on. When I stop being able to tell my story, even to myself, I know I need to make some changes.

  • When was the last time you sang?
  • When was the last time you danced?
  • When was the last time you told your story?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, life coach, physician, mother, and stepmother. I can’t sing but I enjoy singing. I think I can dance, a little, and I enjoy that, too. I enjoy telling my story (and almost any story) best of all!

Be Your Own Cheerleader to Push to the Next Level

Do you find yourself unmotivated or drained when you look around and no one is cheering you on to achieve your goals? Does lack of support make you question your dream?

If you find yourself here, stop, take a breath, and perform a reality check.

Here’s a secret: You and only you have the power to meet and exceed your goals and turn your dreams into everyday life.

Yes, I know sometimes it’s difficult to get on the rah-rah-let’s-go train, but, honestly, does it really matter what Friend A, B, or C thinks about your dreams?

We’re each unique and need to share ourselves with the world in a manner that is true to us, individually.

The only person we need to impress is ourself. If we end up surprising family or friends, it’s a bonus. But when we can prove to ourselves our dreams and goals are achievable, well, it’s euphoric.

In my working life, I seek out writing opportunities that push me to learn more — it’s the only way I can grow. And when I nail a project, well, I do a happy dance to celebrate.

Similarly, in my personal life, I’m focused on being a better runner. Running is still new to me, but I enter races, I show up, and I cross the finish lines. I’m not first, I’m not last, but I do my best in that moment. Kudos and cheers at the end are fabulous, but what puts the biggest smile on my face is knowing what it took me to get there — and actually getting there.

Lisa 2014 Millenium Mile

You, like me, may always work (or run) with other people, but it’s our own thoughts that keep the forward momentum going — that get us to the end of the project (or finish line).

If you keep moving toward your goals, step by step, little by little, day by day — no matter what others think or say — you will achieve what it is that you want to achieve.

Believe in yourself.

Repeat after me: “I’ve got this. I’ve got this. I’ve got this. Oh, yeah, I totally have this. YEAH!”

Now, go on and get this week started!

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She just crossed her 4th runner’s finish line in 2014 and danced on her way back to her car to celebrate the victory. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

Get Focused on What You (Truly) Want

Have you seen the movie Field of Dreams? There’s a voice whispering to the main character (who has a dream) throughout the movie: “If you build it, they will come.”

It’s a step above “fake it until you make it.”

And a couple of steps above visualization.

Journaling at the edge of the water

Capturing my thoughts while sitting at the water’s edge

A great starting point for getting what you want  is to write it down.

You can do this in a journal, or on a computer, or on a chalkboard or whiteboard, or simply on a single piece of paper.

Writing is powerful. Seeing your dream or goal in print in your own words helps you clarify what you are asking for — from yourself and from the universe.

When is the last time you wrote out a detailed description of your dream writing life? If it’s been a while, or never, why not take some time today (Mondays are great days for starting fresh, after all!) to think about what a day is going to be like once you are living your dream.

Some questions to help you get started detailing your ideal writing life include:

  • What kind of project are you working on?
  • Where are you writing? (cafe, room with a view, home, vacation spot, on the beach…)
  • Where do you live?
  • Are you traveling? (perhaps touring your book, or writing abroad)
  • What time of year is it?
  • Are you near/with other writers?
  • How does your day begin?
  • How do you wrap up your day?

Be as detailed as possible. Picture yourself in the moment in time and capture sights, sounds, tastes, feelings, and sensations. Whatever makes the moment real to you.

I bet that as you write about what you want, you’ll discover at least one way to start on the path to getting it.

Nothing to lose, but your dream life to gain! If you imagine your dream life, you’re taking a big step toward realizing that life.

My dream writing life includes a water view, walks in the sand, and kayaking at dawn.

Will you give it a shot?

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves writing about NH people, places, and activities. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

Journaling: A Method for Creative Discoveries

I’ve been a journaler since my first diary as a young girl.

Journaling is a way to get thoughts out of my head and neatly tucked away; a way of removing words/thoughts that distract me. Once I have something written down, I can stop thinking about it and move on.

I have this visual of raising my hand next to my ear, reaching just inside the ear, and pinching the end of a string. When I pull the string, I discover it’s a string made of words. Pulling some words out of my head makes room for others.

Of course, there are some days where that string seems never ending, like those colorful handkerchiefs magicians pull out of a sleeve or a pocket — color after color after color with no apparent end. But there is always an end to the words that need to be cleared away so that new discoveries can be made.

As I browsed through a book store’s magazine section yesterday, I discovered Art Journaling Magazine. It’s a magazine full of examples from visual artists’ journals.

Sketches, multiple colors, ideas, thoughts… Some journals had a bit of a scrapbooking feel, others were done in black and white, most had numerous colors on a page. It inspired my inner muse who loves to find new ways to express myself.

LeatheretteJournalMy mother gave me a beautiful turquoise journal for Christmas. The edge is embossed with a design and each interior page has a light imprint of the design. The color is attractive, the design adds personality, the soft leather-like texture is welcoming, and the pages are spectacular to write on (some paper accepts ink better than others). What looks like a snap cover is a magnetized button closure, and it’s depressed into the cover a bit, so that the journal plays nice if in a stack. There is also a ribbon to use as a placeholder between pages. Everything about the journal is welcoming and comforting and begging to capture words.

ArtistWayMorningPageJournalAnother favorite journal of mine is the actual workbook used for Artist Way Morning Pages. This is a large 8.5 x 11 book, so has heft to it, but it allows for more expansion on creativity with pages. The paper is thick and reminds me, for some reason, of paper I used in first grade when learning to form the letters of the alphabet.

As I flipped through the journaling magazine in the store, a lot of ideas popped into my head about how to add a bit of pizzazz to my journals as I make entries.

I’ve heard a lot about the online LiveJournal tool, too. I’ve never tried it, but I know it allows for more than straight typing of thoughts into the cosmos. And since it’s an online tool, there’s the option to share some of your writing with others. This intrigues me since I could attach photographs to the entries. It’s something I’ll look into. Here’s a listing of those tagging themselves for the writing community.

I believe that any way to clear clutter from the mind to make room for new thoughts is a great exercise.

What is your favorite way to journal?

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. Journaling keeps everything in perspective. She loves writing about NH people, places, and activities. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

Does Anyone Else Look Forward to Mondays?

What makes Monday so difficult for so many?

MinionMondayAll around Facebook are images with text lamenting about how Monday has come around again. It appears to be painful for people to get out of bed, get motivated, and get the week started. Why is that?

I’m curious. I’ve never dreaded Mondays out of hand. The first day of the week is like a fresh start – a reboot of the To Do List – a time for the cheerleader to get out the pom-poms and encourage a successful week.

It’s the day the gyms have the most attendance, so I know I’m not alone in being motivated on a Monday.

Personally, my favorite day has always been Tuesday. It’s generally my most productive day. I’m back in the groove of running my business, and it’s the least busy day for phone calls, meetings, or other things that mysteriously suck time away from getting work done. When in school, it was the day of the week with the most assigned homework and I had to get the most done. That might have been when I got in the habit of being productive on Tuesday.

But it’s the only day that doesn’t seem to have any special meaning. Wednesday is hump day; Thursday is pay day; Friday is the most respected day; Saturday is the weekend and freedom; Sunday is quiet, spiritual, religious, and for family time (and the day when poor Monday starts getting trash talked).

Tuesday is just there.

Friday gets cheers and whistles and party hats and noisemakers. Bars offer specials and happy hours, banks cash a lot of checks, and restaurants and movie theaters fill right up. Fridays have all the fun.

I hope this isn’t how you look at the week:

Dreaded Monday

Would Mondays would get more respect if they started a 4-day workweek instead of 5?

Do you dread or look forward to Mondays?

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. Mondays inspire her. She loves writing about NH people, places, and activities. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

I Went on a Writing Retreat!

I’m back, energized and inspired, from my writing retreat last week. It was a wonderful four days—shorter than I had planned, but it was still a great experience!

I did morning pages for the first time in years (and I’ve kept doing them—some days—since I came home.)

I wrote blog posts—for the first time in the history of my life coaching blog, I have blog posts ready to post weeks in advance of when they will be published.  I have always wanted to be that organized person who posts way in advance and, at least for a little while, I am!

I wrote about my main character in my novel. I’m not sure how much of what I’ve written will be part of the novel itself, but it’s all back-story that I needed to explore. It was really fun to dive into this work and to get to know my protagonist.

I wrote a couple of drafts of a new short story that I hope to eventually submit for publication and sent that off to my critique group for their input.

I created coaching worksheets and planned and outlined my next few life coaching talks. Thinking about my presentations so far in advance allowed me to do see where I need to do more research and how I can incorporate more interactive tools into the presentation (always more fun!)

I relaxed—a lot. I went swimming in the lap pool and I snow-shoed in the frigid mountain air. I sat around the dinner table with my companions and had conversations that felt honest, true, and important.

I was surprised by how many ideas I got for my writing while I was swimming and snow-shoeing. Away from the to-do lists of my daily life, story ideas and blog post ideas kept popping into my head. I plan to try to recreate that opportunity for creativity by consciously clearing my mind before I head out for a run, a walk, or a swim.

By the end of my time away, I realized that the writing retreat was a wonderful gift and I saw that I could still get my writing done once I was home. Most of the writing I did while I was away happened in short bursts. There was only one afternoon where I wrote for 4 hours straight—the rest of the time, I wrote for an hour or two, went and did something else, came back to that piece or moved on to another piece. While I’m not going to have a lot of four-hour blocks of time to write in my near future, I will definitely have 1-2 hours a couple times a week!

Spending this time away concentrating on my writing gives me a feeling that I have a jump on my writing goals for 2014. I’m excited for what the rest of the year will bring.

How can you create a writing retreat for yourself—even if it’s just for a few hours?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, mother, life coach, and family physician. I can no longer believe the myth “I need more time to write” because I just had four full days and I still jumped from one thing to another, something I do all the time in my normal, daily life. That’s good news!

Build a writing career while staying unique

Writer's Digest cover, October 2013

Writer’s Digest cover, October 2013

In a recent (Oct 2013) Writer’s Digest Magazine interview with writer David Sedaris, WD editor Jessica Strawser advises that “You can build a career as an author by playing to your strengths, following your true passion, going at your own pace and never shying away from your unique voice.”

I believe it’s true for any writing career and it’s what I strive for each day. It also ties back to my recent post on how your writer’s platform should be unique, like you. Here’s how I relate to the quote.

Playing to strengths:

  • New Hampshire — I have  strong family history in this state, and enjoy learning more about NH every day. This strength is great for my travel and history essays.
  • Varied background — My early working years were spent as a contractor for numerous NH companies ranging in size from small (under 20 employees) to large (multiple thousands of employees) in several industries such as manufacturing, beauty, engineering, retail, legal, e-learning, publishing, and more. I’ve worked as a customer service rep, administrative assistant, technical manual writer, financial analyst, learning designer, coordinator (of many different groups, people, and activities), and more. I loved the variety of moving from company to company and position to position. Always learning something new!
  • High tech experience — I spent a few years with Digital Equipment Corporation and learned a lot about computer hardware functionality and how all the parts work together — which constantly comes in handy as technology grows and changes into even smaller pieces and parts. I also worked with many engineers and know how to translate ‘geek’ to ‘English.’
  • Writing — I’ve been getting feedback on my writing since fifth grade, through college, graduate school, corporate jobs, critique groups, publishers, and more.

Following a true passion:

  • Writing — I didn’t start my writing career as early as I wanted, but it was always in my soul and my path brought me to where I am today. I believe it started in 1st grade when I learned how to write my name, then with a diary where I could capture my thoughts.
  • Sharing my experience and knowledge with others — through writing.

Going at my own pace:

  • My first handful of years as a freelancer/independent writer were lean years, but I had saved for that so I didn’t want to worry about paying the mortgage or rent, or eating.
  • Low stress and free time are important; as is making my own schedule.
  • The freedom to pursue what interests me instead of what pays the most is always important.
  • After 6 years, I’m earning more than any corporate job.

Staying with my unique voice:

  • I’m more black and white than shades of grey; I’m literal. And I like that.
  • I enjoy writing from a newbie point of view; I feel I offer the most when experiencing something and then sharing that experience — whether it’s learning a particular topic, way of doing things, or some functionality — I want to come at it with unbiased eyes and write what I’ve learned and now know, in a straightforward manner (which is probably why I enjoy tech and process guide writing so much!)
  • In travel or destination writing, my uniqueness is shared from my perspective of a solo traveler, female traveler, and as someone who finds ways to enjoy adventures while dealing with motion sickness issues. I also prefer off-the-beaten-path details more than what-everyone-else-is-doing details.

How do you relate to the quote?

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves writing about NH people, places, and activities. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

I’m Going on a Writing Retreat!

For the first time in many years, I’m going on a writing retreat that is more than a day and a half—I’ll be gone for 5 days! I’m very excited and really nervous.

  • What if I don’t get anything done?
  • What if nothing I write is good enough?
  • What if I waste this time when I could be home with my family?

I could go on and on but I won’t. Because…

  • What if I get a ton of writing done?
  • What if all of my writing is good enough?
  • What if I use this time wisely and deliberately while I’m away from my family?

I think those are better questions. I think I’ll answer those questions.

If I get a ton of writing done, it will set me up for a productive writing year. If all of my writing is good enough, then I know I will be practicing my craft and improving my writing skills. If I use this time wisely and deliberately, I will go home feeling that I’ve accomplished something and knowing that I can find other times during the year to write.

Okay, now I’m really getting excited.

This writing retreat is designed by me; And I’m going to design a writing retreat that totally works for me.

I’m lucky enough to have a place to go for almost a week with a good friend (who is also a writer) and I will write until my behind gets numb, then I will either go swimming (in the lap pool!!) or go running until I’m exhausted and sweaty. Then I’ll shower and repeat. At this point in my life, that is my idea of a great writing retreat.

Other than my journal and my computer with my novel drafts on it, I will also bring a few books—of course!

I also have the latest copy of Writer’s Digest to read.

Morning pages are on the agenda, as well as taking a good look at my current work-in-progress before I dive in and just start writing.

Whatever comes of this week, I know I am making a big commitment to myself as a writer by taking this week away from my daily life and devoting it to that thing I keep saying is very important to me.

Wish me happy writing!

How can you commit to your writing this year? Is there half an hour or half a day that you can dedicate to writing this week or next?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: is a writer, blogger, mother, stepmother, family physician, and life coach. I wanted to start this blog post like a game of “Going on a Picnic.” Remember that one? “I’m going on a writing retreat and I’m bringing an apple, a bunch of books, a candle, a doodle pad, an e-book, a fountain pen, a gum eraser, a hoodie, an iPad, a journal, a kettle for tea, a love of learning, a mountain of M&M’s, a notebook, an open mind, a planner, a quagmire for my protagonist to get out of, a realistic sense of what I can accomplish in 5 days, a sense of humor, a talent for playing with words, unlimited time, variables to play with, wit, x-ray vision to see into my draft, yogurt, and zeal for my writing!”