Monthly Archives: May 2013

Writing Reviews


If you want a baby steps way into creative writing, try book reviews. They are a great way to practice organizing your thoughts with brevity and clarity.

Perhaps some of you remember writing “book reports” for school, and cringe at the thought of having to replicate that onerous task as adult. But there are several key differences.

  • You are choosing the material you read for your own pleasure or information.
  • You are entirely in charge of the length of your critique.
  • It’s OK to dislike a publication. You don’t have to finish it, and you are free to either write a review including the fact that it didn’t hold your attention, or not bother.
  • No one else has to read it, unless you choose – although I do challenge you to take that plunge.
  • If you do publish your review, the criteria that readers apply to judge it are usually “helpful” vs “not helpful”, not “good” vs “bad”. Even a single word can be found helpful.

Here’s a link to a review I wrote years ago on  At the time I was so inspired by this author that I couldn’t hold in my desire to tell the world about him.

Seven tips for creating helpful book reviews while enhancing your own creativity confidence:

  1. Jump start the process by jotting down single words that express your reactions. Add some descriptive words about the characters, or the information. Look for synonyms. It’s OK to use a thesaurus.

  1. Make some notes about genre – this is always a good lead in, especially for fiction..

  1. Use your adjectives to generate the first sentence summary with a strong verb (eg “This potboiler mystery thrilled me from first to last”). This may be all that a reader actually reads.

  1. No spoilers! Your middle school teacher was keen to know whether you had actually done the reading, so would encourage you to reveal your knowledge of the story. The readers of reviews generally only want a teaser of the plot, or subject matter. Keep the outline very brief – shorter than book jacket copy.

  1. Keep it personal. Explain your emotional reaction to the writing.

  1. Say why. If you have a conclusion about a book, explain why you believe this.

  1. Limit meta critique (or maybe don’t). If there are egregious factual errors in a supposedly informative book, you do a service when you show them. But if this is a novel, getting picky about facts might be inappropriate. No one really minds that Han Solo mixed his units of measure when he spoke of the Kessel run. No one likes a grammar snob, but no one likes being pulled out of the story by a succession of jarring typos and grammar flubs either. If a book contains errors to the point of absurdity, perhaps your review will get funny.


Goethe proposed that all art works be evaluated in the light of three questions.

  • What was the artist trying to do?

  • Has the artist succeeded?

  • Was it worth doing?

It is in the nature of art, including writing, that divining the artist’s intention – interpreting the meaning of any piece – can be challenging. Art enjoins the viewer to collude with the piece to create interpretations. One could argue that the best art inspires lively debate as to the “true” meaning, or artist’s intention.

As for whether it was worth doing, the answer might be political or personal. The worth of an undertaking might be greater for the artist in his or her journey, than for the viewer or audience. Perhaps the meaning even of the questions has changed with time. Goethe died a very old man in 1832. Ideals of beauty and worth have certainly changed. Everyone brings their own past, baggage, life state and personal beliefs to every situation. Your assessment of what you see will always be slightly different from mine.

If you write your review in such a way that where you stand is clear, you will help more readers by establishing commonality.

Simple questions – complex answers.

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My First and Favorite Creativity Tool

Handmade notebook page

Using a pretty notebook can make lists more fun – I use both paper and note apps

My first and favorite creativity technique – Making Lists.

“What, really?”


I don’t mean an ordinary To Do list which is an organizing strategy – except when I do mean a To Do list as an inspiration finding tool.

Making a list, by which I mean actually writing down a numbered or bulleted list, is a fantastic way to get organized and get the creative cogs and wheels moving.

While it’s true that sometimes the first idea or design plan is perfect, most of time, in my experience, the third, fourth or fifth idea is going to blow the off-the-top-of-my-head idea out of the water. I am willing to bet that your ideas for solving your problem or designing your solution will be more innovative, surprising, and creative by the end of your list than at the start.

The act of making a list warms up the mind too, and switches on your imagination.

And of course I strongly recommend actually writing the list down so that you have your indelible record of increasingly interesting ideas and plans.

The trick is to make your idea list longer than you think you need – challenge yourself to write down double your entries, or add another 5 items – more than you imagine are reasonably sufficient.

For example instead of jotting down 10 ideas for future Creativity Blast blog posts, I challenged myself to devise 20, and then at the end of 20, I found 5 more in mind waiting to go on to the list.

It doesn’t matter if some of the ideas seem silly. It’s only an idea list, not a legally binding contract.

Here are some more of the creative lists I have made recently:

  • List of ideas to bring in more money. That led immediately to this little design business making collage sheets. The first five people to comment here will receive a free download of a collage sheet by email.

  • List of figurative sculptures I want to make. This list in turn becomes a series of idea for sketches, and informs my purchasing or sourcing of supplies.

  • List of titles for Craft-it-Easy school projects. This has been an essential step in moving forward with my business. I have over 50.

  • List of different gifts for different family members. This could be a brainstorming type of list made in a concentrated session, or an “open” list that gets added to whenever something cool crops up.

  • List of books, articles, blogs and magazines I want to explore. This helps me with prioritizing. I only have the same 24 hours every day that you, Oprah, President Obama and Marie Forleo have, and I don’t have time to waste on duplicates.

  • List of short video topics I am planning, which include how-tos and power point type presentations.

  • List of project designs/article ideas for my Natural Life Magazine column.

  • Gratitude lists. Every now and then I feel a bit down. The best way to feel better is with positivity. I will write a list of 30 things, as if it were for a month, but all at once. By the time I am down to silly little things like “an abundance of squirrels” I feel great about my life. Click here for a recent list that insisted on growing to 34 items. I twit a new #gratitude #abundance tweet every day too. More on this soon.

What about those To Do lists?

To Do lists can become a terrific tool for creative problem solving, especially if they are long. If you are anything like me, you have a very long and ongoing list that might include all kinds of things from business tasks, household duties, and daily reminders.

Here are some strategies and tools that elevate my To Do list:

  • Categorize. I have a daily list as a Note on my iPhone. It includes things that are everyday household tasks, that essentially don’t change but that I like to include because when I add a “Done” check mark I feel good about life. Then I have a list at the bottom of intermittent tasks, from which I choose something. For me this list includes the major tasks in my big household declutter. It’s nice to see the finished ones (“clear bathroom counter”) checked off. However there are also a bunch of tasks that are more creative activities, such as my brainstormed lists of writing topics for different outlets including magazines, Making Mothering Musing blog posts, or for a screenplay. The To Do item simply reads “Write”.

  • Update Often. There are other tasks that come and go. My list at the moment includes “Make calls re estate sales” but that is only temporary.

  • Use your Calendar program. Many have a To Do list that will come up to one side. I like to put in reminders of deadline items, such as monthly payments, and publishing deadlines.

  • For projects WorkFlowy is my favorite organizing program. It allows you to stack and divide tasks, and is intuitive. Plus you can click into tasks and add notes and print.

  • Link and regroup. I said earlier that lists are great creativity tools “especially if they are long”. Here’s another reason why I believe that – the killing two birds with one stone aspect. I might write a lengthy list, and then I start seeing patterns and repetitions. I might notice that similar items come up in different places. Maybe I can adapt one piece of writing for two different media. Maybe something I thought would make a great article will translate beautifully into a short how-to video. Maybe the photos I need for a blog post will be great for a collage sheet or other design.

From another point of view, maybe you will start to see patterns in your To Do list – a chunk of one kind of task that is always left til last, or something that repeats regularly, or a repeating time scale. It was from noticing the repeats on my shopping list that I worked out a system for making sure I don’t run out of pantry items.*

My other productivity secret for my task based To Do lists is to add a time allotted (rather than a deadline, which I tend to ignore unless it has been externally imposed). This will allow several useful things:

  • Discovering whether I am spending too long on unimportant things. Remember the Time Management Matrix.

  • Discovering where I am super efficient. Yay.

  • Discovering where it might be worth getting help in some way – which might bring me back to my list of money making ideas.

  • Planning my day. If I already have a natural interruption or stopping point built into the day, like driving my daughter to dance class, it makes no sense to start on a project that will require 4 hours.

*It’s very simple. I just have one open in use and one in the pantry, which in my small apartment is just a cupboard – so no room for stockpiling. When I run out of the one in use, I add it to my shopping list on the side of the fridge, and pull the one in the pantry cupboard out to use. To start, you do have to buy two, but then it becomes self-sustaining. Never running out of mayonnaise gives me a remarkable feeling of abundance and serenity.

This was a long post, because I really believe that making lists of ideas has been one of the best things I do for the purpose of jump starting my ideas, and planning my time.

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Gratitude creates optimism

I’m not the only person who believes that Gratitude is absolutely the first key to the feeling of abundance, and a life state of general happiness. Gratitude is part of the foundation of many religions, and a fundamental tentpole in many recovery programs.

“I try hard to hold fast to the truth that a full and thankful heart cannot entertain great conceits. When brimming with gratitude, one’s heartbeat must surely result in outgoing love, the finest emotion we can ever know.” ~ Bill W.

Here are some more quotes about Gratitude:

“In the end, though, maybe we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives. In the end, maybe it’s wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices.” ~ Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love 

“Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.” ~ Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose

“When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.” ~ Maya Angelou

“When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive- to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love-then make that day count!” ~ Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth and Being Free

“The more grateful we are, the more we practice this in our everyday lives, the more connected we become to the universe around us.” ~ Stephen Richards

“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” ~ Epicurus

“A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life depend on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure what I have received.” ~ Albert Einstein

“Remember, whatever you focus upon, increases. . . . When you focus on the things you need, you’ll find those needs increasing. If you concentrate your thoughts on what you don’t have, you will soon be concentrating on other things that you had forgotten you don’t have–and feel worse! If you set your mind on loss, you are more likely to lose. But a grateful perspective brings happiness and abundance into a person’s life.” ~ Andy Andrews, The Noticer: Sometimes All a Person Needs is a Little Perspective

“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.”
 ~ Oprah Winfrey

How can Gratitude facilitate creativity?

  • Gratitude generates optimism, even in me who has always been a bit of a Black Hat Thinker – the person on the team adept at spotting incipient problems. The conscious and intentional pursuit of gratitude has made me into an optimist.

Fortunately, I have not had a serious struggle or tragedy in my life. Family members have passed away, but I have been so lucky as to have been at peace with them – I had the chance to say goodbye. We have brief periods of financial stress, but my gratitude for all I have, especially for the partnership I  share with my husband, has helped make even these times opportunities – the opportunity to practice mindful patience and trust – that all will be well so very soon. 

Optimism, for me “the belief that there is always another something wonderful to look forward to”, leads me to think creatively about solutions to my problems – such as what I can do to bring more prosperity into our household.

“Just an observation: it is impossible to be both grateful and depressed. Those with a grateful mindset tend to see the message in the mess. And even though life may knock them down, the grateful find reasons, if even small ones, to get up.” ~ Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth and Being Free.

  • Looking around with new eyes in search of gratitude, spills over into seeing other things with new eyes. Especially if you make a list, finding gratitude gets the brain working and primed.

When I enjoy the feeling of gratitude, when I express it to my loved ones and to the Universe, I get a sensation of abundance and safety. I can take risks of trying something new from this place of safety. My worries or concerns shrink through being crowded out by gratitude, so I have fewer distractions.

“To fight discouragement, remind yourself of the basics:
I can write.
I have the opportunity to do so.
I love what I write.
Now smile and be thankful.”
~ Richelle E. Goodrich

  • Gratitude opens the heart, so that the love there can be felt.

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them.” ~ John F. Kennedy

Click Here for a Practical Gratitude printable.

These three statements can help you turn the lovely internal feeling of gratitude into positive actions. 

 Our Family Gratitude Ritual

When we sit down to dinner at a table – which is not every meal, but certainly special meals – we each in turn express what we are grateful for in that moment.

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Serenity from Asia Beautiful Tag

From the Serenity From Asia collage sheet

We are less than two days away from the launch of my new Creativity Blast blog and twitter program where I hope you will be inspired to restore and reclaim your creative spirit and start living even more creative lives than you are. I’m pretty amazed that I managed to make my first You Tube video introducing the idea.

Just preparing for this has given me a boost to my spirit, life state and general contentment – and I was pretty darn happy before. I feel like I have found one excellent way to express my mission to help people live more creative, vibrant, happy lives.

One tier of the mission has been going along for a while, as I parent and unschool my wonderful daughter Jayn, and love life with my partner and soulmate, James, as part of an incredible community of home schooling folk.

Another is my own busy arts and writing business, selling my art on Etsy and other places.

The third is the soon to be fully launched Craft-It-Easy e-book business helping Middle School kids and their parents make their crafty school projects – dioramas, miniatures, reproductions and models – fast, fun and easy. Stand by on that one. I’m busy writing and designing projects.

And now finally this concept, which I suddenly find I want to slowly develop into a full scale creativity coaching and mentoring practice, that will one day become the artist’s retreat I dream of owning.

Wow! My life is organized and moving forward – and it all started with decluttering.

If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. 

~ Isaac Newton quoting Bernard of Chatres (1159)