Skip to content

This is a newsletter I wrote a few years ago, with a couple of updates because technology changes all the time.  Some friends and I were talking about technology and how much we use it, and a couple of people I know are talking about taking time away from the internet or at least away from social media.  Now seemed like a good time to repost this.

Technically Speaking
by Kim Switzer

How do you feel about technology? Does it make your day? Drive you nuts? Is it a helper or a distraction or some of each? Do you run out to get the latest gadgets, or are you still using a cell phone from 2003?

Don't worry if you and technology aren't best buds. You don't have to ditch it and go live in a cave—you can make it work for you and maybe even learn to enjoy it!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A lot of people have something of a love/hate relationship with technology, especially the internet and social media. I see posts and notes from people fairly regularly saying they are taking a break from technology, going on a technology vacation, etc. The main culprits that seem to send them skittering away from the internet are Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, the things that can suck you in and hold you captive way longer than you intended to stay. So these people disconnect themselves for a while, then they show up again later seemingly rested, rejuvenated, and glad to be back.

I think time away from the internet, the computer, your cell phone, etc. is a great idea. I'm just not sure doing it in big, sometimes dramatic breaks from the internet is the most useful way to do it. I think incorporating times throughout the week where you aren't on the computer (or the iPhone or Android or tablet or any of that) is extremely important for creatives, and doing it regularly is better for your creative balance than doing technology binge-and-purge cycles.

Don't worry that taking regular time away from technology will put you behind or make you miss something. I do very little on the internet or even the computer in the evenings and on weekends. (Unless I'm sick, in which case I spend way too much time on Facebook reading and commenting on any random thing that comes by to distract myself, but that's a special case.) Most of the time on a work night I might check my e-mail and maybe Facebook once in the early evening. This usually takes about half an hour, and then I put down the computer and pick up some knitting or a journal or a book to read. And a kitty. I almost always pick up a kitty. On the weekends, I usually spend an hour or maybe a little more on Sunday evening doing a quick catch-up, but mostly I fill my weekends with AFK (away from keyboard) activities. I get plenty of non-technology time, and it feels really good to pop back in to my e-mail and Facebook and see what people have been up to. Lots more interesting things get a chance to pile up if I don't check
every 15 minutes.

Of course, when I first signed up for Facebook, I was on there all the time. And I still fall into that now and then—hours frittered away mindlessly scrolling and refreshing, looking for who-knows-what. And that's okay. Sometimes we need mindless distraction to let our brains rest. If you find yourself doing it a lot, it doesn't necessarily mean you have to ditch the technology, though. This sort of behavior is actually an excellent road sign. For me, this behavior lets me know that I'm avoiding something that is feeling too hard or overwhelming. And that lets me know I need to examine whatever it is I'm avoiding and find a way to break it down into smaller steps. Technology becomes a mini-coach, helping me realize that something isn't working and I need to give it some attention.

Quick Exercise: If you find yourself procrastinating or numbing your brain with the internet, social media, other technology, or anything else, try a little journaling. Grab your journal and write down this question: “What in my life needs some time and attention from me right now?” Write about it if you like—just let the words come, don't edit or censor yourself. But you don't need to push for an answer. You can just let this question simmer in the back of your mind and be open to what answers may come up later.

How else can you make technology work for you?

Timers: One of my favorite tools to use. I like to set a timer and write as fast as I can for 10 or 15 minutes. I also set a timer when I want to have a little break and poke around on Facebook or elsewhere on the internet but don't want to get sucked in for half a day. Some of my favorite timers:

  • My iPod Touch timer with its variety of cute sounds (currently, it's set to “trill”).
  • Countdown Timer, a free online timer with a variety of options.
  • Cool Timer, a nifty, free timer to download that lets you play MP3s and all sorts of sounds.
  • Insight Timer, a meditation time available for iPhone, iPad, and Android that uses Tibetan singing bowl sounds; I use it for writing and other things, though, rather than meditation.

 Calendars and To-do Lists: Don't just use these for the normal stuff—deadlines and appointments and anniversaries and such. Get creative! Do you practice The Artist's Way? Put your artist dates on your calendar (one of my friends puts the question “what are you going to do this week?” on her calendar to remind herself to plan an artist date—such a great idea!). Put little questions (like the one from the exercise above) on there so they pop up occasionally and remind you that you want to think about them. Mark off time for working on creative projects, use calendars and lists to remind you that you want to spend time researching a new skill. Put some fun, exciting, creative stuff on there and let your calendars and lists help keep creativity at the forefront of your mind. My faves in this category:

  • Google Calendar--it integrates really well across multiple devices, it's really easy to update, and you can get pop-up or e-mail reminders or both.
  • Remember the Milk--a great to-do list with options; it integrates with Google Calendar, lets you make lists for multiple categories in your life (I have categories for MuseCraft, writing, household stuff, body and exercise stuff, and a few others), and lots of other good stuff.
  • Awesome Note--I love this calendar/to-do list combo! My only complaint about it is that there isn't an Android version.

Various and Sundry Other Bits of Goodness:  you can use technology to inspire you.  Sign up for newsletters, poem-a-day e-mails, quote-a-day e-mails, travel photos, cute animal photos--whatever makes you feel happier and more ready to get back to your creativity.  Use your tech to capture things you want to read later, recipes or tutorials you want to try, classes you want to take, things you want to remember.  Use music playlists (on your MP3 player or on a service like Pandora) to set your mood, podcasts to keep up with topics you like, funny websites to cheer you out of a slump.  Use your technology, then set it aside and go outside and play!  Some of my favorite technology bits:

  • Evernote--a great place to capture notes, pictures, whole websites, whatever you want; you can make notebooks, notebook stacks, use tags to make it easy to find your stuff, web clippers that load right in your browser.  And it integrates across all the devices.
  • Pocket--you can put all sorts of things in your pocket to read later, and most of the stuff is available offline!  And you can set it up on multiple devices and browsers, plus it's really easy to use.
  • Bloglovin--If you aren't already using a blog reader, try this one (it's my favorite since the old Google Reader went away).  Or try one in general.  You can filter the blogs you follow into categories, so if you feel like reading things about embroidery right now you can open up your reader, click your "embroidery" category, and not have to sift through things you don't want to look at right now.  I strongly suggest that you make yourself a "daily" category (or weekly if that's better for you) for the blogs you especially want to keep up with.
  • Diigo--An excellent bookmare device, complete with a "diigolet" you can load in your browser to make bookmarking sites ultra-easy.  And, as with many of my favorite things, it lets you use tags, and it integrates across multiple devices, plus it has room for notes on each bookmark you create.

I could go on, but I won't.  My point is that technology doesn't need to be a burden or some form of enslavement that we need to get away from.  Experiment.  Don't be afraid to ditch things someone said you "need" (three Facebook accounts, one for personal, one for your business, one for your creative stuff?  No way!  Not for me.)  Don't follow any rules about using technology or social media that don't feel good for you or don't leave you time and space to just be you.  Do the techy thing your way, have fun with it, and don't forget to go outside and play in the sun sometimes.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Listen

Do you love writing? Do you love stories and storytelling and find pleasure in doing the work, writing your stories, creating your characters?  Sometimes I let it become nothing but work, just another thing on my to-do list. I forget sometimes to reconnect with the pure pleasure and fun of making things up.

This fabulous episode of the even more wonderful Magic Lessons podcast from Elizabeth Gilbert is about the fun of making things just to be doing it.  It's a great reminder and listening to these wonderful women talking about creating for no one but yourself is a beautiful thing.

Listen, then go make something. And have fun!

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

8

Filled
Midori-style Notebook

I love that word, "traveler."  It's right up there with "adventure" and "wild" for me, favorite exciting words that make me want to jump up and do something.  And of course I love notebooks.  I'm pretty sure that's come up before.  So last week when I got a glimpse into the world of the Midori Traveler Notebook, I was hooked.  Sort of.  I didn't like the sizes.  I don't want to have to send away for inserts all the time, and I don't want to have to make my own all the time.

I decided I would just make my own Midori Traveler (also called "fauxdori" which is so cute!) in a size that works for me.  I spent hours on Pinterest, Etsy, and YouTube (favorite links below) looking at examples and watching how other people made theirs.  I came up with a plan, picking my favorite parts from everything I looked at, and I got started.

Raw Materials
Raw Materials

I decided on red vinyl for the cover because I didn't feel like waiting until I could get to the leather store.  I was going to line the vinyl with fabric, but I found this fabulous stuff called Kraft-tex Kraft Paper Fabric.  It acts like fabric and paper--its wonderful.  I picked some up to paint and collage for my liner.  I got turquoise embroidery floss to finish the edges to make sure there's no peeling of the layers, and I got rainbow elastic because I needed elastic, so why not rainbow?

I painted and collaged the liner then glued it to the vinyl.  Then I used a five-pronged leather punch to make holes for the embroidery floss all around the edges of the notebook.

Ready to Stitch
Stitching Tools
Inside and Out
Inside and Out. Covers glued and stitched.

I added the rainbow elastic, mostly the magenta and flame orange section (because it's one five-yard piece of elastic, so I picked a section).  I decided to put the holes side-by-side rather than one above the other (which is how it's set up in the real Midoris) to give me two same-sized bands on the inside.

Rainbow Elastic
Rainbow Elastic

Then I added the elastic "belt".  In the real Midoris the hole for this is in the middle of the back cover.  I saw a few people putting theirs on the spine, so I did that with mine, too.  So far so good, although I just finished the notebook about an hour ago so it may be too soon to tell.

 

Elastic Belt
Elastic Belt
Closed 2
Closed

I gathered or created my filler books.  The first one is a Moleskine Cahier that I worked a few pages in several years ago then let languish.  I decided I should go ahead and use it, so I changed the title on the cover and put it into my fauxdori.  It's going to be for project plans and notes.  The next one is a greeting card that I added some decorations to and then filled with scrapbook paper to make a sort of Smash Book for visual journaling and glue-booking. The third is dot-grid printed paper bound into pretty scrapbook paper.  This one will be for writing practice, notes, etc.  And the last one is a blank book that came inside an art journaling book I got several years ago (and can't find in my house to tell you the name of).  I cut it down a bit so it will fit into my notebook.  The journals that I bound are half-sheet size (US 8.5 x 11 inches) while the Moleskine is slightly smaller, but I don't mind the disparity in size.  They are all close enough that they work fine together, and I like the idea of making my book a size that lets me pick up refills when I want instead of always having to make them.

Fillers
Fillers

Here's the filled book:

Top Edge
Top Edge

 

Bottom Edge
Bottom Edge

I used the elastic to insert the middle books and then large rubber bands to attach each of the outside books.

 

Rubber Bands
7" Rubber Bands

Last but not least, I added Post-it pockets inside the front and back covers to hold all the little notes and scraps of paper that accumulate.

Envelopes
Post-it Pockets

And now it's ready to use for creative planning, note taking, writing practice, vision collages, and whatever else I think up, all in one place!

Do you have a Midori Notebook story?  I'd love to hear how you use yours.  And if you have pictures, please link in the comments so we can all enjoy them.  Thanks!

Links:

There's a ton of stuff out there.  I still have loads of videos saved to watch later, and every time I open Pinterest there are new posts.  So go browse around, see all the cool stuff, and maybe make a Traveler of your own.  Have fun!

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

6

Curious Zoe
What should I do?!

Overwhelm is one of the biggest, most pervasive stumbling blocks we run into in our creative lives.  We all suffer from it at least now and then, and if you have multiple creative passions (like me!), you can get hit with it just about every day.

It's especially easy to fall into overwhelm when we're trying to figure out what to do next, either on a current project or in starting a new one, but it can hit at any stage of the process.

The good news is, you don't have to stay in overwhelm when it comes.  In Kaizen-Muse™ Creativity Coaching, we often call ourselves overwhelm busters because this is one of the issues we work on the most with clients.  We know you don't have to live with it, and now you know, too.

So how do you get out of overwhelm?

My favorite technique for getting through overwhelm and back into creative fun is taking small steps. I mean tiny!  The littlest ever, and if you think it's small try to make it smaller. It sounds kind of silly.  It can be, and that's good because having fun helps subdue the overwhelm beast.  You can make a game out of finding the littlest step ever.  Just break your tasks down, and you'll start moving forward again.

What does it look like to break something down into the smallest steps?  It looks like deciding to do a project and making grand plans that are so big they leave you frozen.  So you make the steps smaller but still feel overwhelmed.  So you make the steps smaller, and so on until you find a step you can actually take without the overwhelm.

Here's an example.  Let's say this is you: "I want to write a novel!  I need to write 1,000 words a day!"  (Cue overwhelm.) You realize you need to break things down.  That could look like this:

  • I'm going to write one scene (that still feels like a lot--stirrings of overwhelm)
  • I'm going to write one page (still some overwhelm)
  • I'm going to write one paragraph (feeling better but still not sure about everything to put in there so you still find yourself avoiding it)
  • I'm going to write one sentence.  (Great!  Most days this step might be small enough, but some days you might still feel some overwhelm)
  • I'm going to take out my notebook and pen/open the story document/create a story document (this one is doable)

Do the smallest thing you can find to do for your project.  You can do an entire project this way, one teensy, tinsy small step at a time, honest (and you can do one step more than once a day, too, if you feel like it). Often you'll find yourself doing more once you get your toe in the door.  But if you don't, if you do just the smallest step, that's progress.  Pat yourself on the back and keep doing it!

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

2

Red Doors 01
An easy entrance

Life is busy.  Sometimes, it feels really hard because there's always so much to do. And then we want to write books or paint pictures or create things on top of everything else! We have to figure out a way to fit it in, and when we do that, then comes the really hard part. We have to get started!

Is getting started really the hardest thing, though? A lot of us have it in our heads that starting is hard (I know I do). I've heard the phrase "getting started is the hardest part" so many times, about so many things--diet, exercise, writing, pretty much everything I might actually want to do--that it's kind of ingrained as truth now.

We've been brainwashed into thinking starting is hard, but it might not actually be so hard after all.  Especially if we go out of our way to make it a little bit easier.

If you have a tough time getting started on projects, make a decision that you're going to do everything you can to make this project easy.  Deciding up front that it's going to be an easy project, and reminding yourself as you go that this is going to be a smooth-sailing, easy thing, can change how you perceive your project.  Deciding that it's going to be easy can make it feel easier.

But back to getting started.  A lot of projects seem to have a natural starting place--chapter one, the first quilting stitches, the first strokes of paint on canvas.  These are where we begin, right? But do we have to?

Instead of beginning in what seems like the one-and-only starting place, look for easy entries into what you want to do:

  • Want to write an article?  Make a quick list of things you want to put in.
  • Want to create an outline for your novel?  Set up the document first before deciding anything else.
  • Want to paint a picture?  Set out your canvas and brushes and paints (or, if that's a lot right now, just set out your canvas and save the brushes and paints for later).

Then walk away.  Save the list or the outline document.  Tighten the paint caps.  Leave.  You have started.  And it was easy, right?

Now, keep doing things this way.  Every time you're going to work on your project, look for what feels easiest to do.  Every time you sit down to work, ask yourself "what can I do to make this easy?"  The easy thing might be the next part in the work, or it might be something that you would normally think of doing later in the process.  Go by what feels easy and doable, not what "should" come next.

Creativity doesn't have to be hard work.  It's okay for things to be easy whenever you can make them that way.  Your work won't suffer from making it easier, and you'll enjoy it more if it's not a struggle.  Give yourself a break.  Take the easy way.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

6

Fireworks Behind Tree
Happy New Year!  Yes, I know we're almost two weeks into it.  That's okay--it's still pretty new.  And I've been getting things in order in my house (seriously, where's that robot maid?) and in my planning.  And now I'm finally feeling together enough to write something up and really get this year rolling.

What do you do for the new year? Do you make resolutions?  Pick a word for the year?  Skip all of that?

I skip over the resolutions for the most part.  For one thing, I'm always making plans, tweaking them, setting new goals.  Resolutions just feel redundant.  The past couple of years, though, I have been setting experience goals.  In 2013 it was to try a new restaurant every month.  That one was great fun, and we found a couple of favorite spots that way.  Last year the goal was to try at least one new recipe a month, and that was a pretty big success, too, even though I wasn't as on top of keeping a list of what I tried so some of the recipes are off in the ether somewhere.  This year, I'm going to go on a photo walk every month. I love doing them, yet I hardly ever make the time.  I'm going to go someplace new each month and take photos (I may allow myself to include a couple of favorite spots I haven't been to in years because it's been so long that they're practically new).

Now about that word.  I tried it out several years ago when doing it became really popular.  I loved the idea of it!  I picked a word, wrote it in my journal, forgot about it by January 3.  A couple of years later I decided that the problem was that I didn't have any reminders of my word, so I decided to create these fun prayer flags.  I picked three words for that year and made flags for each one.  I hung them in my study, and occasionally I remembered to pay attention to them, but the exercise still seemed pretty pointless to me.  I quit doing the word-of-the-year for a couple of years.  But so many people I really like and respect were doing this word-of-the-year thing that I wanted to give it another go.  I knew, though,  that I needed to do something to keep my word fresh in my mind so it could actually be a guiding light, so I held off until I could figure out something that felt like it would work.

This was four (I think?) years ago.  At the same time as deciding to give the yearly word another go, I got an UnCalendar.  And a great idea was born.  Every week before I fill out plans and dates for the week, I write my word at the top of the left-hand page.  It makes me focus on my word each week if even for a moment, plus it keeps the word right there in front of me every time I open my calendar.  I won't say that I live by my words constantly, but writing it and seeing it every week does help me keep it in mind and make some decisions with that feeling in mind.

This year my word is "expansive."  I have "devotion" and "bigness" alongside it to keep it company, just to see if having multiple words changes anything for me.  This word, this idea of expansiveness, feels huge to me.  It feels like a stretch.  It feels a little scary and like living an expansive life might be something I don't know how to do.  It's a good word.

Mostly the things I do to set up the new year are designed to give me a feeling of possibilities, fun, and a clean slate.  I think those are great things to start a year with and much lighter than resolutions and plans to give things up and all that.

And you? What are you doing? How are you starting this new year?  I'd love to hear all about it.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

2

Things have been kind of busy around here what with the holidays coming up (Thanksgiving is already over!), the end of the year racing toward us, and lots of planning going on for noveling and coaching and classes.  I haven't had nearly as much time as I'd like for creative projects outside of novel outlining, but I know keeping my hand in the creative ring is really important for my general outlook on life.  So while I'm busy with a lot of in-my-head stuff right now, I've been making a point to do some photography.  Lucky for me, Mother Nature has really been helping out with this fantastic, constantly changing fairy ring right next to where I park my car at work.

Mushrooms 1

Mushrooms 2

Mushrooms 4

Mushrooms 5

Mushrooms 6

What about you?  What do you do when you are busy but want to keep your hand in the creative game?  Leave a note and let us know--we all like to add ideas to our stash.

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

10

August Challenges

I love August!  I have loved August since the first year I went to school (in the Chicago suburbs where I grew up, school starts in August rather than September).  There's always been so much promise in the start of a new year for me, kind of like in January, but for me I feel that new year vibe even stronger in the Fall.  I love new classes and subjects and schedules, all bursting with good new things to learn and try and practice.

I think my love of that back-to-school wave must have been seeping in even though I didn't realize it, because this week I signed up for three creative challenges for August--one for writing, one for journaling, one for photography.  I should find plenty of new things to try with these!

Writing: I'm signed up for DIY MFA's Conquer the Craft challenge, which is actually a 29-day challenge.  I'm going to use it in conjunction with a group I signed up for called My 500 Words that focuses on--I bet you know this one--writing 500 words a day.  After August I plan to do it only one weekdays/work days, but for August I'll use if for the 29 days of Conquer the Craft.  This might even fit in with my #Just10Minutes practice, at least on some days.  If I'm on a roll, I can write 500 words in 10 minutes, so I might try to push for it a few times just as an extra challenge.

Journaling: I'm also jumping back in on Lisa Sonora Beam's ROOT 30 Day Journal Project.  I sort of participated in January, but I was still heavily in a Lull phase and didn't get all the way through.

Photography: And finally I'm doing the Life in Black and White challenge. Thirty-one days of black-and-white photography.  Since getting a digital camera, and then an iPod Touch, I never shoot b & w anymore, and I used to love doing that with a film camera.  I'm looking forward to focusing on some photography plus getting back to black-and-white.  I even got two new apps for my Pod (Noir Pro and Hueless) to try out for the challenge.

So what about you?   Do you get the same kind of vibe I do when it's back-to-school time?  Any plans to start something new this August? Tell me all about your plans--I'd love to hear them!

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

10

This is a reprint, with slight alterations, of a newsletter article I did a few years ago.  I'm reposting it after several recent conversations with people telling me that they don't like to-do lists and schedules and things because they feel restricted, boxed in, constrained.  But there's also a lot of talk about not getting much of anything done, and I really think the two things--resistance to structure and lack of progress--are connected.

I've noticed something about we creative types. We like to feel free and wild, flying around the
aether with our creativity spreading behind us like wings. Structure? Bah! We don't want structure!
We're free. You can't put us in a box!Jellyfish

The thing is, without structure we often lack focus and direction. We float along, shapeless, like
jellyfish pushed and pulled by the tides. I don't know about you, but I don't want to be a jellyfish.

Here's an important secret—structure is not our enemy. It's more like the skeleton we hang our
creativity on, the underlying form that helps us determine what direction our work will go in. At an
immediate, project by project level, structure is deciding that you'll work on a painting today instead of
a novel or work on photo editing instead of an art quilt. It helps us get things done by keeping us from
trying to do everything all at once.

There are also greater structures in our lives that help us feed and nurture our creativity, things that
make it easier to create when we want to. Some of these are the same things that help us get to work on
time, get ready for bed, buy groceries for the week. Our daily, weekly, monthly routines can become a
structure to help us shape our creative time and space.

Structure adds form and substance and beauty to our creativity.
Structure adds form and substance and beauty to our creativity.

I know the word “routine” sometimes has a bad reputation. We frequently use it as a synonym for
“dull” or “boring.” But having routines keeps us from having to reinvent the wheel over and over to do
the things we need to do. If you create and choose your routines with intention and thoughtfulness,
with an eye to making time and space for your creativity, your routines can become the structure that
lets your creativity thrive.

So how do you build a structure for your creativity? The same way construction workers build a house
—one beam at a time. This is especially important if you are a multi-creative. Don't try to force long
stretches of time to work on all of your creative pursuits every week. Start out either by choosing a
favorite creative pastime and working that into your life regularly or by finding a particular time each
week (for me, it's Thursday evenings) and dedicate that time to doing whatever creative thing pulls you
when the time comes.

Work this new piece into your existing structure—you're building an addition, not creating an entirely
new dwelling. Look at your routines and your schedule, decide what is and isn't working and tweak
things to make them work better, then find the places where adding in creative time will work best. I'll
go back to the Thursday evenings I mentioned as an example. For me, my regular schedule leaves me
with the whole house to myself on Thursdays after work, so this is a natural time to work on creative
projects.

Once your new addition has become a comfortable, regular part of your life, look around for the next
place you can add on to your routine. Eventually, as with building anything, if you work steadily and
thoughtfully, you will have a life structure that will leave you the time and space you need for your
creativity. You'll be able to do the things you want, and your Muse will thank you for it every day.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
There's still time to join in on the adventure in the
MuseCraft™ Explorers' Club!  Sign up today
and start down the path to your creative dreams.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail