Tag Archives: creativity

Six Degrees: From Phosphorescence to The Nature Fix

It’s time once again for one of my favourite challenges! You can read the rules here for the Six Degrees Challenge as hosted by Kate from Books are my favourite and best.

This month we start with a book that I have not yet read, but I’ve had my eye on for a while: “Phosphorescence: On Awe, Wonder and Things That Sustain You When the World Goes Dark” by Julia Baird. Alas, it won’t be released until July, but it’s another thing to look forward to this summer.

From Goodreads:

“…when our world goes dark, when we’re overwhelmed by illness or heartbreak, loss or pain, how do we survive, stay alive or even bloom? In the muck and grit of a daily existence full of disappointments and a disturbing lack of control over many of the things that matter most – finite relationships, fragile health, fraying economies, a planet in peril – how do we find, nurture and carry our own inner, living light – a light to ward off the darkness?”

It seems a particularly appropriate book to read during these pandemic times.

“Book of Delights” by Ross Gay

From awe and wonder to delight.

I love this book! And even though not everything Gay writes about is delightful, it is still a delight to read the entries. Gay set out to write about a delight every day for a year, and although he didn’t manage to do it every day, he discovered a lot, including that the practice of doing so gave him “a kind of delight radar”. So the more he studied delight, the more delight there was to study. He also discovered that his delight grew the more he shared it.

“Light the Dark: Writers on Creativity, Inspiration, and the Artistic Process” edited by Joe Fassler

From delight to life changing.

Do you remember a passage of literature that changed your life? The book is based on Fassler’s series “By Heart”, in which he asked artists to choose a favourite passage from literature and explain its personal impact and why it matters. As Fassler writes in the preface, “…each contributor tells some version of the same story: I read something, and I wasn’t the same afterward.”

“Vesper Flights” by Helen Macdonald

From life changing to wonder of nature.

Macdonald hopes that this book of essays will work “a little like a Wunderkammer. It is full of strange things and it is concerned with the quality of wonder.” She already had me in the first essay when she writes about her experience of clucking to a falcon chick still in its egg and the chick calling back.

“Two Trees Make a Forest” by Jessica J. Lee

From the wonder of nature to a journey to the forest and flatlands of Taiwan.

Having lived in China for a few years, I know a little bit about Taiwanese history as it relates to China, but this book introduced me to so much more. Written by an environmental historian, the memoir shows how “geographical forces are interlaced with our family stories.” Winner of the 2020 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction and a current contender in Canada Reads.

“The Well-Gardened Mind: The Restorative Power of Nature” by Sue Stuart-Smith

From a journey to the forest and flatlands of Taiwan to a journey to gardening and its benefits.

I’ve not read this one, but I am hoping that my book club picks it to read one month, as it would be fascinating to discuss this with like minded people. 

From Goodreads:

“A distinguished psychiatrist and avid gardener offers an inspiring and consoling work about the healing effects of gardening and its ability to decrease stress and foster mental well-being in our everyday lives.”

“The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative” by Florence Williams

From gardening and its benefits to connection to nature and its benefits.

I’ve started reading this, but again I am really hoping that the book will be one of my book club’s picks. The introduction already presents many startling facts. For example, “Mappiness” in a study discovered that it isn’t who you are with or what you are doing that is one of the biggest variables that makes you happy, but instead where you are. Being outdoors in all green or natural environments made study participants happier than being in urban environments.

So what’s the connection between the first and last books? Both deal with ways to weather the storms of life. In fact most of these books deal with that same subject.

I hope that you have enjoyed my journey this month. Next month we will start with 2020 Booker Prize Winner “Shuggie Bain” by Douglas Stuart.

I wish you many happy reading days.

Shoe’s Seeds & Stories

@Copyright 2021 Linda Schueler

Six Degrees of Separation: From “How to do Nothing” to “In the Palm of Your Hand”

I first heard of the Six Degrees of Separation challenge last month from my critique and book club partner Bev. Thanks Bev! It sounded like so much fun, especially because there are so many possible connections to make, that I decided to participate this month.

The challenge is hosted monthly by Kate at booksaremyfavouriteandbest.

The rules summarized from the website:

“On the first Saturday of every month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. Readers and bloggers are invited to join in by creating their own ‘chain’ leading from the selected book.”

“Join in by posting your own six degrees chain on your blog and adding the link in the Linky section (or comments) of each month’s post. If you don’t have a blog, you can share your chain in the comments section. You can also check out links to posts on Twitter using the hashtag #6Degrees.”

Here is my “six degrees of connection”.

The book that starts it this month: “How to do Nothing” by Jenny Odell

I’ve not yet read this book, but I’ve wanted to for a long time. I’ve currently placed it on hold at my local library.

From my library’s website: “A galvanizing critique of the forces vying for our attention–and our personal information–that redefines what we think of as productivity, reconnects us with the environment, and reveals all that we’ve been too distracted to see about ourselves and our world. Nothing is harder to do these days than nothing. But in a world where our value is determined by our 24/7 data productivity. doing nothing may be our most important form of resistance. So argues artist and critic Jenny Odell in this field guide to doing nothing (at least as capitalism defines it).”

When I was a child, I had the ability to do nothing—and it was one of my favourite things to do—but I have found that it has waned over time. I am currently rediscovering this skill. And yes, it’s become a skill, the ability to resist all the calls of you to be doing “something”, especially something productive.

I’ve been doing a lot of reconnecting to the environment lately. Bee balm, from one of my nature walks

“The Art of Noticing” by Rob Walker

This is one of my favourite books, and I’ve done several of the exercises from it.

This book “will help you to rediscover your sense of joy and to notice what really matters”. For me that is sometimes doing nothing, which is where I made this first connection.

“The Art of Bev Doolittle” by Bev Doolittle

I focussed on the word art, and I thought of another of my favourite books. I love Doolittle’s pictures, as they are all puzzles. Trying to figure out what is camouflaged in each picture is pure joy.

“Sneaky Art: Crafty Surprises to Hide in Plain Sight” by Marthe Jocelyn

Continuing to focus on the word “art”, I chose this next book. I won this book, and I have actually done several of the activities in it. The art installations are meant to be displayed publicly.

I know that one of the art installations my daughter and I did brought great joy to a neighbour in a much needed time. 

“Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature” by Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson, and Peter D. Sieruta

Here I connected “wild” to “sneaky”. It’s a book that is on my TBR list, and hopefully I can read it as part of the Mount TBR challenge.

From the book jacket: “…this book chronicles some of the feuds and fights of the children’s book world, reveals some of the errors and secret messages found in children’s books, and brings contemporary illumination to the fuzzy-bunny world we think we know.”

“Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life with Words” by Susan G. Wooldridge

“Crazy” connected to “wild”. This is also one of my favourite books, and I have done several exercises from it. 

From the get go, the book is magical. Consider the opening paragraph: “Poems arrive. They hide in feelings and images, in weeds and delivery vans, daring us to notice and give them form with our words. They take us to an invisible world where light and dark, inside and outside meet.”

“In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet’s Portable Workshop” by Steve Kowit

Which takes me to the last book, related by the theme of poetry.

I forget who recommended this textbook to me as one of the best guides about creating poetry.

From the back cover: “If you long to create poetry…that is magical and moving, this is the book you’ve been looking for. In the Palm of Your Hand offers inspiring guidance for poets at every stage of the creative journey. It is a book about shaping your memories and passions, your pleasures, obsessions, dreams, secrets, and sorrows into the poems you always wanted to write.”

Another magical book.

Well, there you have it, my journey from “How to do Nothing” to “In the Palm of Your Hand”. Thanks for joining me. Hope you are able to go to the original blog post and check out some of the other entries, which are sure to be just as compelling.

Like this challenge? Maybe you’ll join in next month.

Shoe’s Sunday Stories

@Copyright 2020 Linda Schueler

Word Jar

Do you keep a list of your favourite words? I first heard of this idea from Karen Benke in her book “Rip the Page”.

In the book “Journal Sparks” by Emily K. Neuburger, I decided to try the “Tiny Poems” exercise. In one variation Neuberger suggests that you use a word jar filled with your favourite words. Perfect. I printed out and cut up a list of some of my favourite words and then made a word jar.

Then Neuberger recommends you draw 1-3 words and write a poem between 2-30 words using those randomly drawn words.

Here is one I came up with using the words “sparrow” and “rasp” in a 16 word poem:

Sore throated sparrow

Rasped through the notes in his repertoire

Attracting the “wrong sort” of bird.

I choose most of my favourite words based on their sounds, not their meaning. For example, I love to say the word “broth”, and the word “tumble” almost always finds its way into any story I write.

What about you? What are some of your favourite words?

Bonus: If you want to get your kids thinking about their favourite words early, I recommend the book “The Word Collector”. To learn more about this book, watch this video of author Peter H Reynolds talking about his book. The book is also a great read for the young at heart.

Shoe’s Sunday Stories

@Copyright 2020 Linda Schueler

What to do when you are stuck in writing…or just plain bored

Our trip to Germany has been cancelled. My daughter’s camps have been cancelled. And it’s hot—oh so very hot. It figures that the summer that has been postponed by Covid-19 would also be oppressively hot.

Nothing to do but to regroup and find other things to do besides sitting around all day on our devices. 

Here are some of the things my teen daughter and I have been up to:

  • Writing Games

There are a wide variety we like to use including “The Storymatic” and “The Writer’s Toolbox”.

Susanna Leonard Hill also has some great “What’s the Story?” cards. Click here for more information.

The possibilities are endless. Last time we did a writing exercise, my daughter even decided to combine some of “The Writer’s Toolbox” prompts with some of the “What’s the Story?” cards.

  • “How to Have Creative Ideas: 62 exercises to develop the mind” by Edward de Bono

This book encourages creativity and lateral thinking through exercises built around picking random words.

The latest exercise we did was to find out connections between random pairs of words. For example, I paired bee and publicity. The connection? Both create a buzz.

  • “The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy in the Everyday” by Rob Walker

These exercises are designed to help you see the world anew and find out what matters to you.

One exercise that my daughter and I did recently had us walking around the block and periodically looking up to see the world from a different point of view. It’s amazing how I rediscovered things that were there all along, but that I had stopped noticing a long time ago. 

  • “Journal Sparks: Fire Up Your Creativity With Spontaneous Art, Wild Writing, and Inventive Thinking” by Emily K. Neuberger

This book has been a recent favourite. Yesterday I drew with a non dominant hand, and this morning I illustrated a map of yesterday’s activities.

  • Magnetic Poetry

Here’s one my daughter did.

All of these exercises are appropriate to break out of a creativity rut or to entertain your teen (and older children).

Do you have any suggestions? Feel free to leave me a comment.

Shoe’s Sunday Stories

@Copyright 2020 Linda Schueler

5 Things to Try if You are Stuck in a Creativity Rut

This past week I read this great article about writing in difficult times. This is my favourite part: “So resist the urge to judge yourself harshly for however you’re handling these days. Give yourself credit for any small, positive steps. And give yourself permission to try something new, even if it seems silly and pointless.”

People are reacting very differently to this pandemic. Some writers are saying they’ve never been writing more while others are saying they cannot write a word. Personally, I am writing a lot. However, what I am struggling with is reading as many books as I used to. Perhaps I’ve exchanged my reading time for my writing time?

Whatever boat you are in, these are some of the things I am doing to motivate myself creatively.

I am writing a story with someone else.

This was not my idea. It was suggested by another student in my creative writing class, but I jumped at the idea. One of us starts a story, writes for 15-20 minutes, and then the other continues the story. We work on the story until we decide that it has run its course.

It’s challenging to continue to write a story someone else has written, and I have learned so much. Also, I am writing stories in genres I would not normally do, which is a lot of fun. I highly recommend this activity.

I am watching baking shows.

I don’t do a lot of baking anymore, but I have started to watch baking shows with my daughter. Right now we are on season 2 of “The Great Canadian Baking Show”, but we have also watched a couple of seasons of “The Great British Baking Show”. I am amazed at the creativity of the bakers! If you get 10 writers in a room with one prompt, you’ll get 10 different stories, and it’s the same with bakers: if you get 10 bakers in the room with the same instructions, they will come up with 10 different baked goods. 

Watch this great interview of the hosts and judges of season 2 to give you a taste of the series.

I have joined a book club.

OK, it’s only a book club of two, but it’s with one of my writing partners who also happens to be a prolific book reader. We are meeting online once a week after we read a couple of chapters to discuss the book. Our first book is “Open Heart, Open Mind” by Clara Hughes.

I make sure I move my body.

Whether it’s taking a walk everyday or getting out in the garden, this is very important. Plus I get some of my best ideas at these times. I am also trying new forms of exercise like qoya. Give it a try! You never know what you like.

I am trying new recipes.

This week was the first time we ate garlic mustard. Garlic mustard is an invasive weed, but it’s also edible, and so since I was already pulling the plants out of my garden, I decided to see how they tasted. Yes, they are bitter, but you can boil it for about 7-10 minutes if you want to cut down the bitterness. We don’t though. So far I have found the tastiest way is to put the greens in an omelette. We have tried many different (non garlic mustard) recipes recently—I am trying to get my daughter involved as much as possible—including oat bread, sloppy joes, and this yummy and healthy version of date squares.

Garlic mustard and dandelion omelette with back bacon and garlic

Tip: The Brian Henry course I am currently taking is the most fun course I have had in a long time. I’ve made some connections while also learning a lot.

Shoe’s Sunday Stories

@Copyright 2020 Linda Schueler

January 2020 Wrapup

So how are you doing with your resolutions? I am proud that I have been able to keep up with mine.

Click here to read the results of my January 2020 Mount TBR Challenge.

Memoirs

Hey, hey, I read three memoirs this month, so I am already 1/4 of the way to the total number I wanted to read this year. I recommend all three, which are:

“The Long Hello: Memory, My Mother, and Me” by Cathie Borrie

Borrie intersperses stories of her growing up with her (then) current day of taking care of her mother with Alzheimer’s.

“Life Undercover: Coming of Age in the CIA” by Amaryllis Fox

Fox writes about her life from her childhood through her life in the CIA through her resignation and her life after. I wouldn’t normally read a memoir like this, but I am glad that I did. It gave me a peek into a life that I could never imagine living.

“The Unwinding of the Miracle: a Memoir of Life, Death, and Everything that Comes After” by Julie Yip-Williams

Yip-Williams had stage 4 colon cancer when she started writing this book. She writes about living and dying with cancer, as well as her childhood in Vietnam where she was born blind. Especially touching is her letter to her children in chapter 2.

Writing 250 words five days a week

I far surpassed my word count, even on the week that I had tendonitis in my left arm, although that meant that I had to type one handed on some days. I got one story idea out of my writing, which I need to flesh out.

Five days a week I will limit my social media: 15 minutes maximum for Facebook and 15 minutes maximum for Twitter.

I achieved this goal, and I found it to be very beneficial, although at times hard, because on the days that I was really tired, I found myself at first wanting to distract myself with social media. I have managed to break the habit, and now instead I look for something that really needs to be done, such as organizing my photo albums.

According to this article, you need down time to be creative anyway.

Read 5 creative nonfiction essays per week.

I found this to be particularly eye opening. You really need to think about the creative part of your nonfiction essay, as magazines and editors are always looking for new ways a subject is tackled. 

I particularly enjoyed the first three winning pieces in WOW’s 2020 Q1 Contest. Click here to access the following essays:

“Bugs: When I knew it was time to leave him” by Meghan Beaudry 

Beaudry describes her marriage before and after her illness, and how being able to get rid of a bug meant independence.

“The Hole” by Kelley Allen 

The twist at the end shocked me.

“Zucchini Bread Keeps Away the Dead” by Julide J Kroeker

Kroeker describes various ways she could kill herself and then ultimately why she would not.

Read 2 picture books per week.

I read more than 2 picture books per week. These are my favourites:

“Ping” by Ani Castillo

This is a very philosophical book in which a ping represents you and a pong the other.

“Nine Months Before a Baby is Born” by Miranda Paul and Jason Chin

I especially recommend this to parents who are expecting a second child.

“It Began With a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way” by Kyo Maclear

How a Japanese girl who felt invisible in America introduced diversity in children’s books. “Babies”, published in 1963, became one of the first children’s books to introduce multiracial characters.

Attend 12 writer’s events, whether these are workshops or writing circles or talks.

WriteOnCon currently has free Showcase webinars, and I watched the one on critiques, which was presented by Olivia Hinebaugh.

Spend one hour a week working on one of my many guided journals.

This was one of the most difficult goals to achieve, and I usually left it until the end of the week, but I did do it. My favourite journal was:

Blog one time a week except if I am on holidays.

Feel free to read my previous entries to confirm this.

Write about 10 objects for my “Cabinet of Curiosities” object diary per month.

This also was a challenge, and I left it until later in the month.

One fascinating thing I learned about while doing my research was the former East German company Expertic, which I have some pieces from.

How did you do? If you are having troubles meeting your goals, it may be because you are having difficulty changing your habits, and this article explains why.

Shoe’s Sunday Stories

@Copyright 2020 Linda Schueler 

Three Books to Get your Creative Juices Flowing

  1. “How to Have Creative Ideas” by Edward de Bono

This has been a recent favourite. During these lazy summer days, my daughter and I have been working through at least one exercise per day. 

The results are often hilarious, but they also make you think. For example, one exercise we did had us try to come up with a new idea to make a bank more attractive to its customers. We chose a random word from one of the charts at the back of the book, and we had to come up with ideas based on that word. The word we chose just happened to be “crab”. Ideas ranged from serving crab to customers to painting the walls a crab colour to dressing up the tellers in crab costumes. What do you think? What idea would you suggest?

Another day we decided to write a short story. The word we chose as our setting was “croissant”. I actually thought that the story I ended up writing, with a bit of tweaking, would make a good picture book.

2. “Show Your Work” by Austin Kleon

This book turns self promotion into a fun and doable activity. Ten principles include “share something small every day” and “teach what you know”.

I had several takeaways from this book. For example, Kleon dispels the “lone genius” myth, and instead talks about “scenius”, a term borrowed from Brian Eno, where great ideas are birthed from a group of people. Kleon notes: “Being a valuable part of a scenius is not necessarily how smart or talented you are, but about what you have to contribute—the ideas you share, the quality of connections you make, and the conversations you start.” Furthermore, “The Internet is basically a bunch of sceniuses connected together…” So, go ahead, find your scenius today.

3. “The Art of Noticing” by Rob Walker

I have recently become interested in looking at the world from different points of view. This all started with the book “On Looking” by Alexandra Horowitz in which the author takes a walk with 10 different experts to see how they observe the world. Horowitz touches on the phenomenon of how once you become attuned to something you suddenly start seeing it everywhere. I can attest to this personally. I recently took a “wild edibles” course, and now I see them everywhere: in my own backyard (who knew?), on the side of the road…

There are several fantastic exercises in Walker’s book, and many are easy to do, such as “Change your route”. This means simply to change your route to a common destination. My husband is good at this. He loves to drive different ways, not like me who prefers to get to the destination via the same route, not being the fondest of long car rides. However, I appreciate when my husband does this. I actually get more excited about driving when he changes the route, as I discover new things around every corner.

Another exercise we did as a family was “Take a long walk through an unfamiliar part of town”. During our walk, we explored some new to us neighbourhoods, and then checked out a couple of schools. Behind one of the schools was a path we had never been on. Suddenly we discovered a bird viewing platform with some hawks nesting on it! How could I not know that there was a platform so close?

What creativity books have you discovered that you recommend?

Shoe’s Sunday Stories

@Copyright 2019 Linda Schueler

Do You Set Goals?

I grew up never setting goals for myself. Is this common? Did you set goals for yourself when you were a child?

Even when I reached adulthood though, I still didn’t set goals. A former boss was shocked when I told him that I never set goals. He compared me to a ship that was adrift, never having a course to follow. I didn’t understand what he meant, really. Why did I need to set goals?

As a creative person, I like following my latest creative impulse. However, in recent years, I have discovered that I become easily distracted, jumping from one thing to another. It’s like I am out catching fireflies, but as soon as I see one I want to catch, I see another one that looks even better, and I chase after that one instead.

So I decided to start setting goals last year. I even joined a group to do so, but my goals were still very vague. Sure, I was getting a lot of writing done, but I felt I was not making any real progress, or at least any progress that I could measure. 

On Thursday night I attended a free creativity workshop at our local library. During the workshop, the facilitator mentioned the concept of SMART goals. Have you heard of them? I have, over the years, but I never tried this method. The facilitator mentioned that creative people are not very good goal setters (so it’s not just me!), thinking it’s more a business thing, but she said that it’s a thing we creatives should consider doing, especially since we often work for ourselves. She made us do an exercise that required us to set some SMART goals.

In brief, SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based.

I went through several goals I wanted to achieve using the SMART goals technique, and when I reflected upon the results, I felt great. I had something that I could really follow, a schedule of sorts.

Here are a couple of goals I wrote down for myself:

  1. Children’s magazine writing

I listened to a webinar a couple of weeks ago during which the facilitator shared several new to me overseas markets. There were four markets he mentioned. So starting this Monday I am going to research one a week, and at the end of the week, if I find one of my stories is a fit, then I will send it out. If I find a story that I think I could write to fit their needs, then I will set myself a new SMART goal. My target date for completion is August 28.

  1. The object journal (that I blogged about last week)

I love the idea, but if I don’t set a goal for myself, then I will find something else to do (yes, I am sure that I will find something else shiny to chase after), and it will never get done, and I will lament it. So every week I am going to write about 10 objects. This is an ongoing project with no target completion date.

I can reevaluate these goals too, so in the next few weeks, if I find out that one is not working for me, then I can tinker with it until it works better for me.

What about you? Do you set goals for yourself?

Shoe’s Sunday Stories

@Copyright 2019 Linda Schueler