One of the biggest “aha!” moments I had about running a business happened years before I opened QuinnCreative. As creative director of an ad agency my job was to manage the creative output of writers and designers. The job included interviewing potential clients, to make sure the agency talent was a good fit with the client’s needs.
One day a client called, asking for a process we did not do. At all. I was pretty sure that if I asked one of the designers, she could have created her best work. Trouble was, the potential client was used to excellent work, and our work was not going to be excellent. It might have been passable, but not up the the client’s expectations.
Having worked in the advertising community for a while, I suggested another company that did the requested process very well. Yes, they were a competitor. The potential client was grateful.
At the next staff meeting, I reported what I had done. The company president was livid. I was sending business to our competitors, he yelled. I was costing us business we could have used. We could have done something, he screamed, banging his fist on the table. And then he fired me. In front of my colleagues.
What hurt the worst was that the CEO completely missed the point of developing a relationship with a client. The glue holding a good client relationship together is honest conversations. Even if it means sending them somewhere else. It builds trust and credibility and that beats any marketing plan or mission statement.
How do I know this is true? Because, those many years ago, the client heard about my being fired. They moved the business to a company that became my new work home. They did it because I had helped them honestly when they needed it, focusing not on my own company, but on the client’s needs.
I still follow that rule today: offer the best help you can. W
hen someone else does it better, tell your client the truth. Make the introduction. If the client leaves your company entirely, the relationship was not as strong as you thought.
Almost all the time, the relationship will grow stronger, and you will become trusted and a credible resource. And when you own your own business, that is a crown you can wear with pride.
Giveaway: Sam Hobbs wins the book, Set the Page on Fire: Secrets of Successful Writers, which is reviewed here. Thanks for reading my blog, Sam!
–Quinn McDonald is a writer who teaches writing. She is also a creativity coach.
Set the Page on Fire: Secrets of Successful Writers is a slim book with a big message. ( I could never not look at a book with a title like Set the Page on Fire.) Steve O’Keefe, the author, knows how to put together a readable book. The first chapter is filled with the top 10 secrets of successful writers. Using clever metaphors, O’Keefe makes you want to get back to writing, even if you’ve been away for a while.
“Writing is a discovery, not capture.”
“It’s something you kindle, not something you freeze.”
He starts with the list of 10 secrets, then gives each one a longer look. But impatient writers get a summary, if that’s all they want. Other readers can read the whole discussion.
And that’s just Chapter One.
He’s the first author I’ve read in a long time that helps you get a decent pitch letter together. He doesn’t do it for you, but there are four clear steps he mentions in Chapter One. He then comes back with more detailed advice and information in Chapter Seven.
He also advises to write fast and clean it up later. Yes! We really can’t write and edit at the same time. The work is done in different parts of the brain and creative work doesn’t really mesh well with the tedious work of editing.
For a short book (about 150 pages), O’Keefe packs a lot into a small space. There are fast writing exercises, quick tips, and lots of suggestions. And he did his research–he spent four years videotaping hundreds of authors to get their tips and include them in the book.
Don’t skip his section on fake books (ideas from others) and making time to write (turn off the internet; it’s deadly). The book is also a great help with those who have writer’s block, but there is so much more here–you’ll want to dig into his ideas and try them out.
Top 10 Secrets of Successful Writers
You Can Do This
Listening for Good Writing
Making Time to Write
East Outlets for Your Writing
The Four-Part Pitch
Seeing Commercial Publications
Followed by several impressive pages of acknowledgments, notes and a bio
Giveaway: Even accomplished writers would enjoy the book. Leave a comment and you will be in the drawing for the book. The lead time for this is going to be a bit longer because we have a holiday coming up here. (International readers are invited to apply.) The winner will be announced on this blog on July 12.
Disclaimer: New World Library sent me the book to review, without compensation or indication of what to write.
–-Quinn McDonald is a writer who teaches writing. She is also a creativity coach.
Shadows are wonderful for shifting your perspective. You see the object and the shadow and can tell the time of day, and which direction the light source comes from. Shadows are both the object and a color. They have more possibility than the object itself, because you get to fill in your own idea of color and size of both the shadow and the object that stood between it and the light. Shadows are completely dependent on the angle and the amount of light source.
A shadow is not the object, but it identifies the object. The shadow is never far from the object, and can be more beautiful and meaningful than the object, because it translated the third dimension into two, creating an illustration.
Sometimes shadows bring understanding. What we cannot grasp in three dimensions and color becomes clear in black and gray, stretched out before us.
Reading Wallace Stevens’s poem, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, I noticed that his idea of the silence after the song mimics the work of a shadow, too:
I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendos,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.
—Wallace Stevens, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird
—Quinn McDonald is working on The Invisible, Visible World, about the hidden world outside our doors.
Yes, I still read a newspaper in the morning. Turning the pages while holding a bowl may be bad manners, but there are just adults in the house now, and no bad example to give.
I also hold the bowl while reading the news on my phone. This morning, I found this headline:
Even with the slowest of reading, we can’t be sure of what happened. Did the woman lose her temper, an action we label “spinning out of control”? Did she physically spin, somehow? The headline isn’t clear.
Headlines are meant to be summaries. A reader is supposed to understand what happened without reading the entire article. Headlines are hard to write. The should be about eight to 10 words long. They should contain a verb. But most of all, they should summarize the event.
In this case, the woman rescued (from a steep hiking path) by a helicopter. They lowered a basket-like stretcher. Once the stretcher was lifted off the ground, it began to spin, with the woman in it. It was windy and the combined wind of the helicopter rotors and the gusts of wind, the woman had to endure a scary ride.
Update from June 1 article: Melissa is the winner of “The Art of Is” book. Thanks for reading, Melissa!
The Art of Is: Improvising as a Way of Life by Stephen Nachmanovitch is not the book I thought it was going to be. (OK, I’m relieved.) Here’s what it’s not: It’s not a philosophy tome rehashing treasured theories and encouraging new ways of focusing.
Here’s a brief description of what this book is about: improvisation. How to manage when your plan doesn’t work. How to create a plan that could work, but loading the “possible” side by paying attention and interacting with others.
Think about the times you improvise: at dinner with a friend, when a conversation takes an unpleasant turn. When you are working with a client and an unusual, but interesting idea comes up. It may affect the scope, but the idea may bring a better result.
Nachmanovitch is a musician, and improvisation has traveled through him and with him, teaching him how to entertain and teach while still discovering. He shows us how we can improvise, too. Story-telling is an important part of this book, and much of what Nachmanovitch tell us comes in the shape of stories that contain analogies of life and metaphors for living.
The book is divided into three sections: “Interplay” (the bedtime story section will be familiar to any parent who has made up stories combining three pigs, James Bond and Odysseus–or any random characters called from memory to mesmerize children to sleep), “Thinking as Nature Thinks” and “Art and Power.”
You’ll learn improvisation through a story about Shotaku, a 14th century widow who entered a monastery. One night, walking back from a retreat, she was attacked. What saved her was remaining entirely in the present. She used a rolled piece of paper to convince her attacker she would stab his eyes out, and her conviction convinced him.
Image and quote from “AZ Quotes.”
You’ll learn about Herbert Zipper, a privileged musician and intellectual, who was shipped off to Dachau because he was Jewish. There he first recited poetry, helping others remember the poems they knew, because poems connect people and offer refuge. Zipper then created an “orchestra” from pieces of junk and wire, and composed songs for the prisoners to play and sing. “To say that music or poetry kept them alive is an exaggeration,” Nachmanovitch writes. “Survival was to a great extent random. But those who survived in this context did so without the mind-eating bitterness that might so easily have dominated the rest of their lives. With the help of their art, they remained sane.”
I loved the natural history section, but anyone who has read my blog know that would be a favorite. The stories are fascinating and make sense out to today’s world. This book can be summarized by the John Muir quote on page 105. “When you try to pick out anything by itself, you find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”
The book is profound. It’s not a zip-through-it read, it is a whole meal for your mind and heart.
Details: The Art of Is: Improvising A a Way of Life. Pages: 274, including a useful index of names and references. Three sections, divided into 23 chapters, including clever names such as “Stuck or Sticky,” “Mushrooms and Tide Pools,” “All About Frogs,” and of course, an old favorite of mine, “Wabi-Sabi.”
Give-Away: The book was sent to me by the publisher, New World Library. As always, I am going to give it away. Leave a comment (no requirement other than you want the book).
I will choose (at random) a winner and announce it on June 5. The winner will need to share their physical address with me (after the announcement) so I can ship the book.
—Quinn McDonald is a writer and writing trainer. She is getting closer to finishing her class workbook on critical thinking.
A new day. A new month. A new car. Something new seems more interesting, more exciting, more modern than what is in front of us. We yearn for new in our lives, too. We make mistakes and ask for a fresh start. We ask for a do-over. Can we really start over?
Sure, we can slap a new coat of paint over a tired life. We can claim the messy slate of the past has been wiped clean,
This phone poll has held a lot of notices, ideas, pleas, and hopes. Some of them, no matter how creative, will wind up (see the yellow sign?) in a dead end. Keep trying.
and ahead is a shiny new start. And it’s a lot of work.
Soon enough, though, that new effort is overwhelmed by old ideas, old habits, old behavior–the old us. Alcoholics Anonymous figured this out years ago when they said, “If you are a drunk in Cleveland, moving to Peoria for a fresh start isn’t the answer. You’ll be a drunk in Peoria, too.” It’s a wise saying, although a tough one. (AA never pretended to have easy answers.)
And that’s the danger of new projects. They seem free of the past baggage, but they are not free of us. We show up with our past, and relive it because it’s familiar. In a few days that new project takes on the fingerprints of the old us. If we don’t like the old us, we’ll hate the new project, too.
Any beginning feels like the creative part. And it is. Idea generation for that new project is creative work. The real road-test of creativity is showing up every day to do the hard work.
Problem solving is hard work, but it is deeply creative. Choosing what you will not include in that book, class, play, or sculpture is painfully hard, but it may be the most creative work you do today. Setting your boundaries around your creative work is also hard. But worthwhile. It involves saying “I can’t go to the movies with you, I’m writing,” or thinking, “I need to re-write this chapter, it’s not working, even if it is the fourth re-write.” Your creative product is already breathing easier. The more work you put into your creative project, the more likely you will learn from it. But creativity, even brilliant creative work, does not guarantee a positive outcome. (Goethe, the 18th-century German writer, statesman and poet, wrote, “Hard work is not always crowned with success.”)
Creative work is not all riding rainbow unicorns through an applauding crowd. Creative work is hard. We want to give up, we get bored, we want to do something fun and new. Yet what gets the work done is moving steadily ahead, when it’s not fun and not new. Learning from your mistakes and getting up every time you fall is what the real work of creativity. And it pays off.
—Quinn McDonald launched this new website designed by Mike Carson. Much of his creative work is not immediately visible, but makes the site run smoothly. Creative work is also not always clearly visible, but it always shines.
Sooner or later, I was going to have to offer online training. Sensibly, I signed up for an online class in creating online courses that are interesting and engaging. The right class included the technology needed to do videos, downloads and still have an real-learning course. So I signed up.
Why online? Because I wanted to experience online training in a topic that was important to me. It was learning while experiencing. Learning what to do and what not to do.
By week four, I was struggling. The course was excellent. But there were downloads and videos that mentioned different downloads and then there were charts and tables, suggestions and examples (thank goodness!) and links and videos. Long videos.
I quickly discovered learning by watching videos is not ideal for me. Trained as a writer, editor, and researcher, I get impatient with videos. Unlike a book, there is no good way to mark important passages, find what was said a minute ago. Yes, you can time-stamp the passages, but it’s not easy.
Overwhelm starts when too much information meets doubt at my ability to learn this week’s lesson in time for next week’s lesson. Add to that a large dose of the ever-present inner critic, who is happy to tell me that I will never complete this, understand it or launch a class. What to do?
Here are some ways I worked through the overwhelming emotions, successfully. If they helped me, they might help you.
I went through the first three lessons quickly, creating a “what comes next” hierarchy, so I would always know where in the lesson I was and if there was a download or exercise to go with it.
During the videos, I took notes, just like in college. If there was an important diagram, pause the video and quickly sketch it, adding the time, module, and length of video. (The length of video appears on the screen center and can be used to find the right video.)
The notes help locate important new ideas, repetitions of facts, and specifics. In the left margin, I put keywords to make finding specifics easy.
Mind-mapping is a useful technique. After each lesson, a mind-map helps you make sense of connections from other lessons. The mind map and the “you are here” diagram kept me sane by letting me know where I was in the class and how the ideas in the class connect.
Homework can be confusing. I overthink things a lot. To keep myself from thinking the homework assignment was too complex or difficult, I wrote a purpose statement, just like I do when I create a workbook. In one sentence, what will this homework help me learn? Concentrate on working on that one purpose.
Frustrated? Sure. So I wrote a list of what I hated about the class. Most of it was my lack of knowing, understanding, putting into practice. But wait—I’m in class to learn this. I am not supposed to know everything already. Stay with beginniner’s mind. Throw out the list.
Still frustrated? I wrote a list of what I had learned already. Oh, not as dumb as I thought. Keep that list. Add items I need to ask at the next Q and A. Cross off items if I learn them before the call.
This list might look worse than just doing the course. But for me, it was a way to clarity. From overwhelm and pieces of paper drifting across my desk to a study guide that I can understand.
I take information slowly. It’s not a race. It’s not a competition (although the Facebook page feels like it–a combination of selfies, photographs of completed work, and humble-brags).
Whichever of the above steps seems useful, I’ll continue. The “you are here” hierarchy no longer seems important, because the instructor’s style makes more sense to me. I expect the overwhelmed feeling to return. And that’s fine.
Quinn McDonald owns QuinnCreative. She is a corporate trainer, teaching business writing, critical thinking, and creative problem solving.
Scene in an office supply store: I’m ordering a new desk chair. They don’t have any armless desk chairs in the store, so I’m ordering online in the store. Free shipping. Hard to hate.
Checking to make sure I can return it to the store if my butt doesn’t like it. The duct tape on the old chair should last till the new one gets here.
Man [interrupting employee helping me]: Sir, I need a mailbox. Where is the one in this store?
Employee: We don’t accept letters, we do UPS.
Man: That is not the same?Employee: ? ? ?
Me: This store does UPS. The post office is USPS. It’s different.
Man: Oh! So, no post box here?
Employee: Nope. [Goes back to helping me with order.]
Man: [Looks at letter, not having an answer . . .]
Me: There is a post office at 7th Ave., just south of Indian School. If you aren’t going that way, I am. I can take it for you.
Man: [Looking confused.] Why would you do that?
Me: I’m going to the grocery store. I’ll drive right past the post office. I’ll be happy to take it.
Man: But why? What do you expect from me?
Me: Nothing. But I realize that handing over a letter to a stranger can feel odd. So I won’t be upset if you decide not to.
Man: You would take this to the post office just because I need it done?
Me: Yes. It is on my way to the grocery store. I would be happy to do it, it is easy to help.
Employee: I’d trust her. She’s funny and lives close and is here a lot.
Man: I will do it! [He then hands me the letter, which I take with both hands for cultural reasons he will understand. It shows respect.]He then takes both of my hands and kisses the backs of them. I smile. He smiles. The employee smiles. And the letter got mailed.
Pens. Ballpoints, gel pens, fountain pens, technical drawing pens. And while I’m at it, mechanical pencils, wood pencils, colored pencils. I love them all. Well, OK, not all. I favor extra-fine points, clear blue ink, (and burgundy, purple, or dark green ink) and pens that are comfortable to hold. From time to time, I review them. If you never use a pen or pencil to write, you can skip this article. But you’ll miss out on the marvelous disappearing ink.
The Pilot Frixion pen has the secret in the name. The newness is friction. In the photo on the left, you can see the capped pen. On the back end, there is a nub of plastic. It is not a regular “eraser” because it is not rubber and doesn’t wear down when you use it. It erases because the friction of rubbing the writing heats up the paper and the ink disappears. No wearing out the paper, no tearing.
The writing end of the pen is a size o4, so very fine. The point is tough, and lasts a long time. The ink didn’t skip on me, not on regular paper, not on hyper smooth paper or rougher paper, either. You can use the pen for drawing, too, as it dries quickly. Cross-hatching works really well with this pen. For left-handers: the ink dries quickly enough so you won’t smear it.
No, I don’t have wonderful handwriting. In the sample on the left, you can see that I started to erase a few words. It works. I didn’t erase the whole thing, but you can see that it works.
So, if heat is the eraser, would heating the whole paper erase all the writing? I could have used a hair dryer to find this out, but instead, I did something you should not do. It’s dangerous. I took the paper and put it on my electric stove burner, and turned on the burner. To heat the paper. I should have used an iron. That works, too, I found out later. After I found the iron.
(The faint stripes you see aren’t in the paper. I took the photos under an LED light, which throws a faint shadow on the card.
You can see the burner at the top of the image. You can also see the ink disappearing. I pulled the card before it got too hot. The heat idea was right–but it’s much safer to create the heat with the plastic eraser at the other end.
Once the heat did the erasing, I began to fret. After all, Phoenix gets hot in the summer, and my car gets hotter in a parking lot, waiting for me to finish teaching for the day. What would happen if all my notes vanished in the hot car?
The only way to make the paper colder, fast, was to place the piece of paper in the freezer. In less than a minute, the writing appears again. The “erased” writing came back to the same readability as it was when I used the plastic nub eraser.
What if you don’t want all this disappearing and re-appearing? Well, there is a notebook, the Rocketbook, that allows you to write, put your work on Google docs, put the notebook in the microwave to clean it, and keep using it. I have not tested the book or the app or the notebook yet.
Why didn’t I do this all on video? Because I’m still learning Gutenberg, WordPress’s new posting method, and wanted to practice using photos first. New things are fun, but Gutenberg needs a bit of getting used to.
The pen is lightweight and the cap pulls off (it doesn’t screw) and posts on the back of the pen, if you need a longer pen to feel comfortable.
I’ve just ordered a number of different pens from JetPens, and once they arrive and are given a test drive, I’ll be doing a review and give-away.
Edit: I got the pens, but none were ones I loved so much that a give-away was in order. I’ll do a give-away of a book instead. Watch the blog. The Pilot Frixion pen is my own purchase. The opinions in this review are mine and not influenced by anyone else.
–Quinn McDonald is a writer who teaches business writing, grammar, getting along with difficult people, creative problem solving, critical thinking, and other useful classes to businesses.
The plane landed, each row of passengers stood, grabbed their roll-aboards, and headed onto the next segment of their life. Lucky for me, there was a ladies room right at the gate. Not a fan of airplane lavatories, I’m happy to find one close to the gate. I zipped in, sent the 16 ounces of water I’d had back into the world, zipped up, washed my hands, and headed for the exit. Not so fast.
There was a tablet embedded in the wall, flashing. It was impossible not to look. There were five emojis, from frowney to smiley, asking me to “rate my bathroom experience.”
I did not write the list above, but I agree with it.
I ignored it, and a few minutes later, I received a text, asking me to rate the bathroom experience because I “forgot” to do so when I left the bathroom. No, I didn’t forget—I’m not touching some public screen in a bathroom. As my mom used to say, “You don’t know where it’s been.”
I do not see myself as the dispenser of emoticons, from bathrooms to restaurants to valet parking. Not every action and experience needs a grade. Clicking on stars to evaluate is not really anything more than saying “I noticed.” Supposing I give the bathroom a 1 (low). What does that mean? Was the space dirty? Was I irritated I had to wait? Was there toilet paper? There is no improvement possible if all you see is a scowling emoji.
I understand the need for opinions, and I understand the need to ignore them. Not every suggestion is important or valuable–many of them encourage people pleasing rather than real improvement.
When I was writing my course on getting along with difficult people, I spoke with many class participants, instructors, developers of workbooks. Many helpful suggestions came my way, some of which are saved for other books. But there were also suggestions that don’t work (“Some people just need to be throat-punched”) and can be ignored.
Social media has made us eager for approval, “likes,” and clappy-hand emojis. Anything less than best and we feel disappointed. Or worse, misunderstood and isolated.
Critical thinking is still important. And so is judgement. It’s hard not to yearn for approval, but if that is all we care about, we won’t go far.
—Quinn McDonald is a training developer and trainer who teaches writing, creative problem solving and getting along with difficult people.