Uncomfortable Creativity

Uncomfortable Creativity

Ruth E. Walker

Ever been to camp in late September? Weather notwithstanding, (cold and wet) it is a unique experience to be at with 400 student campers. But this is not a post about camp. It is about our comfort zones and what happens when we shift outside of them.

I’ve been coming to the Durham District School Board’s Integrated Arts Camp (DIAC) fairly steadily since 2008. I teach a creative writing elective and always love being there, immersed in the high energy of young creatives. But when both 2020 and 2021 were cancelled, I’d pretty much decided that it was time for a younger person to take over.

So when the camp director sent me an email to see if I would return for 2022, I was fully prepared to say “no” and suggest a couple of other writers to take my place. However, it was like being possessed. I didn’t say “no”; I said “maybe.”

“Maybe” leaves doors open

Long story short, here I am, ready willing and able to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner in a dining hall full of noise: laughter, shouts, wooden benches scraping wooden floors, Melmac dishware (look it up if you haven’t had the “pleasure”) clattering across long wooden tables, rain splattering against the wall of windows, dirt and bits of gravel gracing the floors…you get the picture.

So, this is something I’m used to, having been here many times before. And working with young students, I’m used to that though the new schedule means I had to alter my teaching plan (which I generally do, anyways.)

What I am NOT used to is teaching the Song Writing elective. When I saw that on my schedule, I panicked. I am a poet. I write short stories. Novels. I do not write songs because I do not sing and I do not play an instrument. Clarinet in Junior Band does not really count at this stage. And, sure, I loved choir because I could mouth the words. I do love to sing…in private. It’s a healthy practice for lungs and heart. And I love music – pretty much all kinds of music, from opera to blues.

But song writing? Nope.

Trouble is, kids were already signed up.

Commitment via contract

I spoke with my boss, the camp director. Explained the issue. Was prepared to step aside and call up a replacement who could handle both song writing and creative writing. Thanked him for having such faith in my ability but explained I’d fall pretty darn short.

He came up with a solution: a teacher who does know about song writing, who does play an instrument. I will tag team teach with him. And I’ll work with the students on creative writing, rhyme, rhythm, repetition, hooks, inspiration, using the five senses – all the things I share in my other class but with music as a full partner in the process.

Am I terrified, sitting in the camp lounge, writing this post for the coming Wednesday? Yes. Yes I am. But also energized, excited and curious. I’m ready to learn a lot – far more than my feeble research on the subject has taught me.

And our first day did not disappoint. Jeff is a terrific teacher – engaging and knowledgeable and, most importantly, knows how to make a safe and encouraging space for the mix of students (Grades 7 through to 12) and their range of abilities.

I’ll support his program with creative writing exercises. And, along the way, I’ll have a much better handle on the process of song writing. It’s a true gift and I’m delighted to receive it.

Saying yes

In my writing life, I’ve had lots of opportunities to say no. But every time I’ve taken the chance and said, “Yes!”, wonderful things happened. I learned. I stretched my skills. I failed (such a good thing to happen, truly) and I succeeded.

I am, at heart, an introvert who fakes extrovert pretty well. Stepping outside my comfort zone has generally meant overcoming fears and insecurities. Looking around at all these young campers, some picking up an instrument for the first time or stepping out alone onto a stage or sketching a portrait that others can see – these young people are my role models.

When my writing students put pen to paper, I tell them “Your words, your way.” And as we progress and they sometimes read their words aloud, I encourage them to “own your words.” It’s all a journey, I remind them, and we’re on it together.

That’s all I need to remind myself to stretch. Who knows, maybe this old writer will write a song or two. I’ll leave it to others to bring the music to my words, which I will only sing in private. Until, one day, I just might sing in public. One more comfort zone barrier pulled down? Maybe.

Amazing Moments Journal

Amazing Moments Journal

Replace fear of the unknown with curiosity.

Today’s guest blogger Cheryl Andrew‘s Amazing Moments Journal arose out of this maxim. The idea caught our attention on social media, and we asked her to tell us how it all started and how it’s progressed and developed.

Guest blogger: Cheryl Andrews

The emotional churn of daily living

I find it enormously difficult to identify and process my feelings. Journaling has been the creative go to for interpreting the emotional churn of daily living, so I can get on with it, this life. My life. It’s a writing form I’m righteously passionate about. But my pen faltered when I tried to write about what was happening in 2020 with the modern plague.

I was snowbirding in Florida when COVID-19 officially moved to pandemic status. Expert advice on avoiding the deadly disease was mixed and contrary, and those who tried were being ostracized in the American news, creating even more panic. The calamitous daily numbers of new cases and deaths soon turned our affable winter community into a ghost town. Locked in and isolated, I went into a tailspin overwhelmed with dread. I had to do something to make it stop, to help myself.

My positive retort to the doom and gloom

A new daily journal would become my positive retort to the doom and gloom of the pandemic. It would shift my focus away from the dark side and back to the magic and mystery that exists all around if I could just shed the emotional paralysis and look. The journal would be dedicated to tracking only Amazing Moments.

I was afraid to go out to shop for a journal, so I clawed through the art cupboard and found one that was pretty banged up. I re-glued the binding and collaged a new cover.

I set myself a writing challenge: paint pictures of amazing moments using only words. A tough contest for an avid artist and photographer. Spring was in full bloom when I finally made it home, the scenery so extraordinary I realized imagery had to be part of this daily writing practice. I loved going back through the journals and hinging in some favourite photos, artwork, doodles, mini collages, slogans, etc. Even my very first attempt at an erasure poem got tucked away in there. As I flipped back through the pages, I was amazed how re-reading the entries continued to bring on the joy.

Healing the troubled mind

Initially I wrote for my own sake, multiple daily entries to sooth my troubled mind, aching heart, and grieving spirit. But others I cared about were hurting too, so I shared a smattering of the journal entries on social media hoping to alleviate some of their pandemic trauma. Feedback said those amazing moments succeeded!

It didn’t take long to fill that first journal. I built and filled Volume Two, then Three and a Fourth.  I continued to use ‘orphan’ journals, the damaged ones nobody else would want because I discovered that making repairs and collaging new covers was almost as healing as the writing.

Bonus discovery

Another amazing discovery, some of the entries had a poetic ring to them. Here’s an example, the only edits being enjambments and a jazzy title:

Bad Ass Beauties

A rare sunlit walk  
at October’s end. 
New blooms discovered 
on the roadside. 
Fall Asters – bad ass beauties. 
Harbingers of autumn’s close 
that keep blooming 
on brittle, dry stems  
alongside their dead kin  
into the first days of frost. 

Currently I’m writing in Volume 5. The cover is a tribute to southwest Florida where I’m snowbirding once again and where Amazing Moments got its roots. God, I hope this is the last volume. The project ends when the pandemic is official over.

This healing, daily writing habit is well engrained. I can’t begin my day without setting up a new page. Over coffee this morning, I started page 720.

Enjoy a few random entries:

Watering the flowers early morning while still in shade, set to ‘rain shower’. A hummingbird joined me. Had a drink ,then flew through the ‘rainfall’ and landed on a tree to finish its bath and preening.

Shockingly soulful wail from the loon – one long, heart wrenching note echoes off the rocks. Strange.

Incredible sky, each of the four directions display a unique horizon, all the while thunder rumbles and confused crickets sing though sunrise was 1.5 hours ago. South: grey wash; East: white clouds against pale blue sky; North: darkness – trouble comes; West: yellow cream

A black cat sits, alert, focussed on something in the scattered rocks of the ditch beside highway 400. How did this solitary creature manage to be hunting on the wrong side of the doubled layered animal fencing?

In the midst of a steaming hot shower, my cell rang. Sopping wet, I get the news. Staggered by the implications: positive for CoVID (Delta strain). Quarantined with Cid and Bruce. After the emotional ‘dust’ settles Cid & I do what we always do … make art. Bruce digs through his old DVD’s and finds the entire collection of “Third Rock from the Sun”. Add laughter to the CoVID mix. Adult beverages and Third Rock.

Meet Cheryl Andrews

I live in Rainbow Country in near-northern Ontario on the shores of a spring-fed lake surrounded by woodlands. My fascination with the magic and mystery of this stunning, natural world invigorates and influences my creative pursuits.

A lifelong passion for artistic expression naturally evolved from the visual arts to include the literary. When writing I slip into a brightly lit and infinite orientation where time doesn’t exist.

I am most fortunate in my development to be surrounded by a tight-knit group of women writers, the “Lifers” (Life Writers Ink), peer mentors. All are on a similar path and a strong bond exists in the mutual desire to move ourselves forward as writers.

The desire to be the best writer I can be means ongoing development will never have an ending.

Why do you write?

Why do you write?

Why do you write? It seems like a simple question, but it’s not. Why we write (or create in any medium) can be as visceral as an urge you can’t deny, a simple desire to channel creativity, a deep-rooted emotional need to achieve or be accepted, a way to earn a living, or bits and pieces of all those things and more. Over our writing lives we often have different reasons at different times. All are valid.

Today’s guest blog comes from Aprille Janes, who I met over twenty years ago when we attended writing retreats together. These days, Aprille chooses to create through visual and fibre art, at her Stoney Bay Studio in Nova Scotia, but her message is relevant for any creative.

Aprille tells us why her answer to “Why do you create?” may have been wrong all along.

Guest post: Aprille Janes

Finding the Joy Again

I baked a cake from scratch this week and in the process, I learned something important about why I love making art. One thing that changes everything for me.

I used to love baking but haven’t done much of it in a long time. However, over the holidays I really got into the Great Canadian Baking Show on the CBC. The fact that bragging rights is the only prize seems to make the relationships more sincere and honest. They weren’t competitors as such but simply people with a common love for baking. Even the judges and show hosts exhibit a warmth and kindness that is an antidote to all the negativity and anger out there these days.

Getting Prepared for Something New

Inspired by the show, I looked for something to bake myself. I browsed cookbooks, Pinterest and recipe sites. I savoured the time searching for something special. It’s hard to make plans these days when Covid keeps blowing them up but this was one thing I could plan with confidence, one thing in my control. The process gave my outlook a real lift. (BTW – Click on link below the image if you want the recipe, too. )

Lemon Blueberry Ricotta Tea Cake

After choosing the recipe, I went shopping. I invested in a springform pan and a couple of other tools I was missing and the freshest ingredients. Not rushing the process is a gift whether I’m working in flour, fabric or paint. Taking time to anticipate and choose added to the enjoyment.

The Big Ah-ha!

When I got home, I made my cake, delighting in the scent of the lemon zest and the colour of blueberries. The warmth of baking filled my kitchen.

Finally, when the cake was done, I shared it with family and friends. I even posted the photo on social media along with the recipe. Because, in the end, seeing someone else enjoy something I make is why I do it. THAT was my big Ah-ha.

Why I Create

I finally get why I love making things. It’s not just painting for me. It’s about making art quilts and needle felting, baking and knitting and just working with my own two hands. I’d been making it hard when really, it’s so easy.

It’s the pleasure of making and the joy others take in what I’ve made that motivates me. Looking back, I can track the journey to this point but it felt like a bolt out of the blue. The business lens that I’d been looking through isn’t right for me.

I’d been struggling with a decision about Instagram. Marketing wisdom said I needed multiple accounts to share these other facets but removing the business mindset provided the answer. Sharing who I am is the common thread.

Processed with VSCO with au1 preset

So I’ll be shifting focus. I will share my art on social media but I will also share other things that bring me joy and satisfaction. I won’t be doing a newsletter any longer because I’m ‘retiring’ the business side to follow my heart.

My wish for you is that you too find something that warms your heart and gives you deep satisfaction.

Meet Aprille

Aprille has fond childhood memories of outdoor adventures and time spent near the water. Today, she lives by the Bay of Fundy and her art reflects this love of the outdoors. She divides her time between painting, fibre art, writing and teaching watercolour workshops.

Find her at:

How to Pack for a Writers’ Retreat

How to Pack for a Writers’ Retreat

Ruth E. Walker

Every time we organize a Writescape retreat, we email participants a “Useful Information & What to Pack” list. It’s full of practical advice. We remind them to bring comfortable clothes and outdoor wear for spring or fall. After all, Ontario weather can be as unpredictable as a newly discovered character for your novel. We suggest that they can bring munchies and comfort foods but our all-inclusive retreats have breakfast, lunch and dinner

compass & mapWe provide maps and directions to the resort. And we remind writers to pack anything they need for writing. Most importantly, we suggest they remember to bring their work in progress or ideas they want to develop. But if they forget those, Writescape retreats offer creativity sessions and other inspiration opportunities. We even have a companion workbook and an on-site inspiration station for those 3:00 a.m. inspiration needs.

Gwynn, and I sometimes joke that anyone coming on a Writescape retreat just needs a change of underwear, their toothbrush and jammies.

But there are some other, more subtle things that don’t fit into a suitcase but that a writer should remember to bring on retreat. And these important items are needed no matter where you are heading:

An Open Mind

I’m not talking about how you see the world, your politics or your ethics. I’m talking about some internal housekeeping — owoman-readingpening your mind to possibilities. It’s a form of mindfulness. It’s you, paying attention to what your muse is suggesting. You, being open to the five senses — taste, touch, sight, smell, sound. You, bringing those senses into your writing. When your writing includes a range of sensory elements, your readers’ memories are tickled. And that results in writing with physical and emotional resonance.

A Plan

man writingHaving a plan may sound contradictory to what I just said about mindfulness but the two are companions on any successful retreat. Gwynn reminds us in every opening session to be S.M.A.R.T. in our retreat objectives: set plans for the weekend that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and that can be Timed. In short, if you don’t have a plan, how will you know what you have managed to accomplish?

Coming on retreat to “write something beautiful” is not as powerful as coming on retreat to “finish three vital scenes for the climax.” By the same token, planning to “write a complete novel” is not realistic unless you are on a 30-day NaNoWriMo retreat. Be reasonable. There’s nothing unrealistic about a plan that includes “relaxing with a daily lakeside walk and writing in my pajamas for two hours every day.”


Giving yourself permission — permission to experiment and explore, even permission to fail — offers you a delicious freedom from your inner critic. Most of us struggle with that quiet voice whispering in the background, telling us we’re not real writers. At one of our retreats, a participant told me she didn’t think she really was a writer, that her work “wasn’t good enough.”

We talked about what makes “a writer” and how we all are on a continuous journey with the writing process. When she finally was able to read her work in one of the sharing opportunities, she was thrilled by the response. She got past her inner critic, gave herself permission to risk sharing her words and discovered validation when other writers responded to her work. And she’s grown so much since as a writer, seeing her work published in anthologies, winning writing contests and submitting her novel manuscript to agents and publishers. And all that happened because she gave herself “permission” at her first writing retreat.

This Friday, a group of writers will be heading to Elmhirst’s Resort on Rice Lake. They will bring casual clothes, walking shoes, bathing suits for the indoor pool, and rain gear, just in case. They will also bring their works in progress or ideas folder, laptops or notebooks, and their pens or pencils. They will have packed a writer’s suitcase full of optimism, plans, outlines, rough drafts, objectives, hopes and dreams for their retreat.

And Gwynn and I will do everything we can to help them achieve their plans and their dreams. Because, after all, that is exactly what they will expect of us.

Let’s Get Practical:  

Packing your suitcase can be a real challenge, especially when you want to lug along your laptop and flash drives and chargers cords. Rolling clothes suitcase overflowinstead of folding can get you more space. But what about keeping it all organized and quick to pack and unpack?

Here are “13 packing hacks” from MarieClaire. You’ll gain some space for those extras and keep your clothes neat and tidy.

Do you have any packing tips?

10 Writerly Dips into Food

10 Writerly Dips into Food

Food is one of elements in writing that offers readers all five senses and it’s been featured in text for thousands and thousands of years. From the prehistoric cave paintings to early runes and hieroglyphics, we’ve recorded our key relationship with what sustains our physical bodies.

Food is a significant power tool in your writer’s kit and here are 10 ways you can use that tool in your work:

1 Establish place: You’re not going to find citrus fruit growing on a northern tundra; conversely, apple trees will wilt under a tropical sun. Geography governs what natural foods will be at the table. But, if you bring in an non-native food, it can serve to underscore the local geography:

She placed a bright yellow fruit in front of the hearth. “He says it’s a lemon,” she whispered. “The stranger had it in his pack. Said we should squeeze out the juice for Papa. Help his fever.”

2 Establish time: That microwavable dish is going to burn to a crisp when it’s stuck on a spit and roasted over a fire. Conversely, a woolly mammoth carcass is not going to fit into a standard oven.

Like fashion, there is an element of practicality in the kinds of foods consumed in eras past. They should match the time in terms of access and ability to devour.

3. Establish elements of character: Consider Dickens’ miserly Scrooge and his thin, watery gruel versus the loving and optimistic Cratchit family and their small goose for Christmas dinner.

A fussy eater can be a difficult guest, leaving room for rising tension. “Oh, I’ll eat anything” that becomes, “Well, I don’t like cucumbers. Or peppers. And no spice. It’s hard on my stomach.” A sure sign that this houseguest could prove trouble in other areas too.

4. Engage the senses: In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, readers are treated to the delights of a cavalcade of candy, albeit with strings attached. Chocolat by Joanne Harris explores the sensory freedom that a chocolate confectioner delivers to the residents of a small French town in the 1950s. Oooh-la-la.

5. Surprise readers: Of course, we all have to eat. But what about a character who opts to eat, well, strange things? Dirt, for example. Or deep fried crickets. Or guinea pigs — a delicacy in Peru and adored family pets in North America.

6. Include a recipe or two: A nod to epistolary narrative, a recipe can be a delightful diversion to a story– a memoir could be enhanced with a recipe that relates to a scene in the book. Or a thriller novel could feature the family secret that betrays the real reason Grandpa passed on so abruptly. A pinch of salt and two tablespoons of cyanide…

7. From farm to table: Consider the satisfaction of the harvest. Tilling the soil in the first part of the story; caring for the tender shoots and vines and blossoms; finally, gathering in the bounty to preserve or devour. The backdrop this offers a story helps to ground the reader and weave a metaphor for the full circle of life.

8. Compare and contrast status: Imagine a table laden with all sorts of foods. Mountains of fancy breads, stacks of carvery choices with slabs of juicy meats, bowls of glistening fruits, platters of cheeses, pitchers of rich creams, decanters of wine — all placed on fine linen with crystal and silver and delicate china.

The domestics serve it. They tidy up afterwards. And the scullery maid sneaks a bit of leavings from the plates and slips it into her mouth. A small simple act after such excess underscores a harsh reality.

9. Deliver the fatal blow: In crime fiction and murder mysteries, food is often the method by which death is delivered. When arsenic-infused omelets are on Madame’s menu, we know it’s just a matter of “thyme.”

Seriously, food is essential to our well-being and relates directly to nurture, so to use it a vessel for murder, is to cross a sacred line. In the case of Hannibal Lecter, food becomes a motivation for murder: liver and fava beans, yum!

10. Food as an escape…or vocation: A tub of ice cream or a big bag of potato chips can be a comfort for some people in distress. Many of us have cravings that increase in intensity when we’re stressed. Food is a sanctuary for some and a curse for others, but can be a treasure trove for writers seeking interesting characters or plots.

What must it be like for a chef who is surrounded by food day in and day out: menu planning, preparation and presentation?

What if that chef develops food allergies and has to give up their life’s dream? Conversely, what if someone with no sense of smell or taste has to work in a kitchen? A chef in training who can’t read or write?

No matter the scenario, types of food, or kinds of characters, when you are working with such an essential element of life, you have the power to take your writing from lukewarm to searing hot. Bon appetit!

Is One Journal Enough?

Is One Journal Enough?

Gwynn Scheltema

Like a lot of teenage girls, I kept a diary for several years. Entries are a hodgepodge of the trivial: (we didn’t have the geography test today), funny: (my blue dress seems to have shrunk and Daddy is not amused!), and, on occasion, surprising: (I found myself sleepwalking last night).sad-woman-1055092_640

I wrote strictly about my life, what happened and how I felt about it. The diaries were hard-cover, date-at-the-top-of-the-page books, and fifty years later, I still have them. I’m glad I have them. But I know I likely wouldn’t if they had been soft-cover spiral-bound notebooks.

And now?

Yet these days, I do journal in spiral-bound notebooks—and tiny pocket notepads, on the computer and in large books with unlined paper. So why the difference?

What prompted me to think about my different journals, was a comment on my post To Edit or Not to Edit, where she mentioned the Steinbeck style of journaling (a guest post by by Kendra Levin on Brian Kelms blog) where Steinbeck had a “companion journal” chronicling his progress on his novel. I don’t have a Steinbeck companion journal (yet), but I do have a variety of journals that serve different purposes and their physical form does seem to influence their use.

female-865110_640Sadly, I have several beautiful journals—handmade paper, illustrated, filled with wise sayings, beautifully bound—and I will likely never write in them. I’m afraid I’ll “spoil” them, like everything I write in them needs to be perfect. Silly, maybe, but that’s me. Many writers are inspired by beautiful paper or pens, or illustrations and bindings. Just not me.

So here’s what I use and why:

Journal for Morning Pages

After the teenage years, I didn’t journal for decades. What got me back into it was Julia Cameron’s creative self-discovery book The Artists Way, where I discovered morning pages—three pages of uncensored writing done first thing in the morning. No rules, don’t overthink, just write three pages of something. When I first started, a lot of it was ranting or wishing and even to-do lists. But now, it’s a mix of personal and creative. Most of my poetry starts in mornings pages, and I use it to “talk out” fiction problems too, and start fiction scenes.

leather-refillable-journalI tried various sizes, lined and unlined, and finally settled on a 6 x 9 lined. It fits easily on my bedside table and filling 3 pages doesn’t intimidate me. The reality is, I often fill far more. They fill up quickly, so I invested in a leather refillable version that closes with a tab and has a pen holder. Refill notebooks are cheap and easily found at the dollar store, because it is a standard size. I’m not forced to buy refills from the original manufacturer.  As I finish each one, I label it with the dates it covers and store them on a shelf in my writing room.

B.I.C. File

Morning pages are done by hand on paper before I get out of bed. If I wrote everything by hand, however, I would waste a lot of time typing it up. So I have a computer journal too.notebook-405755_640

I house it in Scrivener, and the project name is BIC (bum in chair). I write here with the same uncensored writing attitude as morning pages: sometimes timed freefall sessions, sometimes writing prompts, all in an attempt to stay ahead of the internal critic. It works. Many blogs and fiction scenes have been birthed here. When I create something I think is useful, it’s easy to copy and paste it to the relevant writing file and keep going.

Journal for Anytime – Anywhere

This notebook has to fit in my purse, so it’s much smaller, about 3 x4, dollar store quality. In it, I record odd thoughts or observations that come to me when I’m out and about. It has no organizing method, and I make sure it doesn’t have too many pages, because if it stays rattling around too long in my purse, it tends to fall apart. This forces me to take the contents and do something with them: type them up in appropriate computer files (blog ideas; scenes for the novel; poetry ideas etc.), add them to projects, or discard them.

Visual Journal

maple-leaf-638022_640A good friend of mine keeps her journal in a large blank-paged artist’s sketch book. She writes in it, draws in it, sticks photos and leaves and feathers in it too. It’s like a giant scrapbook, and she says she likes the freedom of not having lines. I’m not so good with things that don’t have boundaries—safety edges—but I do keep a version of this. I have one for my novel, with newspaper clippings, photos, magazine cut-outs, maps of towns or plans of houses. Visual stuff. Electronically, I use Pinterest (a board for each novel) and Scrivener has great research capabilities for keeping visuals and web links.

Teeny-tiny sentence-a-day journal

flowerets-577081_640Quite by chance, I was given a pocket journal, about the size of a credit card. I wondered what on earth I could possible use it for. I decided I would force myself to observe through all the senses and each day write just a single line to describe something in a different way. The sentence-a-day part didn’t work out, but those single lines have inspired poetry and been a great exercise for my creative mind.

Whether you want to keep the personal separate from your fiction, or hate margins, or need space to draw, it’s all your choice. Ultimately, there is no right or wrong form for a journal. What’s important is that it suits your way of creating.

What journals do you keep and why?

Take yourself on a date

Take yourself on a date

Gwynn Scheltema

When I read Julia Cameron’s seminal book The Artists’s Way, she introduced me to the concept of an Artist’s Date: a block of time set aside to nurture your creative inner artist.

This is how Julia Cameron describes it:

The Artist Date is a once-weekly, festive, solo expedition to explore something that interests you. The Artist Date need not be overtly “artistic” — think mischief more than mastery. Artist Dates fire up the imagination. They spark whimsy. They encourage play. Since art is about the play of ideas, they feed our creative work by replenishing our inner well of images and inspiration. When choosing an Artist Date, it is good to ask yourself, “what sounds fun?” — and then allow yourself to try it.

Different times

In normal times, Artist Dates were small adventures pursued by yourself outside your normal environment: poking around in a thrift shop, visiting a museum or art gallery, or trying a new restaurant. COVID has changed our choices, but definitely not eliminated them. You just have to be imaginative and remember what is at the core: fun; new to you; sensory and solo.

Because our creative brain is a sensory brain, anything that stimulates the senses or fires up the imagination will work.  Have an adventure; push yourself out of your comfort zone. We all accept play is crucial for a child’s development, it is also beneficial for adults. Play can add joy to life, relieve stress, supercharge learning, and connect you to others and the world around you. Play can also make work more productive and pleasurable.

As a writer, be mindful and consider how you might describe what you experience in words. Notice physical details and the emotions that stir within you. Make notes of your discoveries to use later.

Listen and move

Try listening to music you don’t usually listen to or you’ve never listened to before. A new instrument, a new singer, a new cultural sound. a podcast that seems “too frivolous”. Spotify is your friend.

Or go down memory lane. Dig out old CDs that haven’t seen the light of day since your youth. Go online and find songs of a particular decade. Create a playlist of old favourites. Listen to your parents’ era music, or your children’s or your character’s.

Dance like no one’s watching. Sing like no one’s listening. Whistle.

Take a walk or a hike in a new place and listen for as many sounds as you can: birds, falling water, rustling leaves, chattering squirrels—or clang of garbage cans being collected, sirens, traffic, people, dogs…

Do something that involves physical movement that you’ve never tried or haven’t done in years: jump rope, whirl like a dervish, dig out the old hula hoop, do a new yoga sequence, balance-walk along a raised structure, make snow angels, go tobogganing, hug a tree.

Make something

Try a new dinner recipe, make a favourite soup from scratch, or bake bread. Get really adventurous and make yogurt or sauerkraut or preserves.

Attempt a simple carpentry project, try beading or macramé. Join an online paint night.

Play with LEGO or play dough or wax crayons. Make a blanket fort and read a book in it. How does that feel? Silly? Good!

Colour some pictures. What memories does that bring up?

Make a vision board, or an inspiration board, or a collage of the way you feel today. Try a craft, not because it has purpose, but because it’s fun.

Treat yourself

Do something, anything, that is usually considered a waste of time or an indulgence: lie on your back and watch clouds; take a bath with scented candles or scented soaps or exploding bath bombs or bubbles; re-read a favourite children’s book.

Pop open your favourite beverage or drink that third coffee without guilt. Mindfully cream your hands and feet or experiment with new hairstyles. Dress up in your favourite colour—all over, all in—just for a day. Dress down in your most favourite rattiest outfit with no judgement. Purge your closet. Guys, don’t bother shaving for the day.

Binge watch a new TV series or a movie you’ve been meaning to watch. Watch a movie you want to watch that you wouldn’t admit to anyone you wanted to watch it.

Have a tech-free afternoon. Sleep in a hammock. Snoop on virtual house tours on the real estate sites. Eat a whole bar of chocolate.

Expand your mind

Sign up for a course in a new genre or poetry or stamp collecting or genealogy. Randomly follow a writer in another genre on Twitter and engage to learn new perspectives, or join a group on Facebook that is totally new to you, like astronomy.

Make a list of 100 things that make you happy. Start a journal of the 50 things you want your grandchildren to know about you. Write a bucket list and illustrate it or scrapbook it.

Take virtual museum tours, watch virtual opera or ballet. Use apps to walk the Camino or Cabot’s trail.

Last words

Artist’s dates break the routine and unlock creativity and optimism. In these times they can give us a sense of fun to help fight the confinement many of us may be feeling. I did a quick count, and I’ve listed over 50 things you could try. You could no doubt come up with 50 more.

Artist Dates are not high art. They are meant to be fun. Ask yourself, “What sounds playful? What does my inner child want to do? What am I drawn to that others might label a waste of time, too silly, too frivolous?” Try doing that.

These three greats say it best:

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” Albert Einstein

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” George Bernard Shaw

“The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct.” Carl Jung

Handwriting vs. Keyboarding

Handwriting vs. Keyboarding

Gwynn Scheltema

Often among writers, the recurrent discussion over plotting versus pantsing ends with us acknowledging that there is no definitive “winner.” The creative mind, after all, is an elusive, complicated, temperamental entity.

So what about the question: Write by hand or keyboard?

 I’m sure you’ve heard these common arguments for or against:

  • I can’t write as fast as I think!
  • I love the tactile feel of a pen and paper.
  • It’s much easier to carry a notebook with me.
  • I can’t read my own handwriting.
  • I have to waste time typing up what I’ve written afterwards.          

It is already a proven fact that taking notes by hand improves learning, understanding and processing information, and remembering it afterwards. It’s also obvious that our writing needs to be typed up at some point and many of us are faster on the keyboard. We can also edit typed text more readily and send it out.

But, I know for myself, I feel differently when I’m holding a pen. I believe I’m more connected to the work and I feel like I write more authentically. So is there evidence that this could be true? Can our choice of writing implement affect how we create?

My Experience

I’ve been a creative writer for almost thirty years and I write both ways— but I always create in the same patterns:

I always compose poetry longhand,  I do free writing by hand, and I begin fiction pieces longhand.

I prefer to type when I’m working from an outline or extending something that’s well underway. I also find it easier to write genre fiction on the computer than memoir or literary fiction. I always type business writing directly into the computer.

So pulling back and analyzing this, it seems that I choose longhand for projects where I must delve deeply into my creative well and find ideas and get the juices flowing.  I also use it to access memory and emotion. Once I have the ideas in my head, I revert to the keyboard to get the work done. And as business writing for me is largely formulaic, it’s always a case of “getting the work done”.

Could my choices be based in science?


We’ve all heard about writing being cathartic, relieving stress and helping diminish trauma. This is one of the great benefits of journalling. And there’s evidence that handwriting may be better for this form of therapy than typing:

Virginia Berninger at the University of Washington concluded from her studies: “When we write a letter of the alphabet, we form it component-stroke by component-stroke, and that process of production involves pathways in the brain that go near or through parts that manage emotion.”

Another 2005 study by Chris R Brewin and Hayley Lennard in the Journal of Traumatic Stress found that writing about a stressful life experience by hand, instead of typing it, led to higher levels of self-disclosure and a greater variety of words used to describe the experience.

Perhaps the emotional component in my poetry. freefall writing and non-genre writing is the reason I prefer to write them longhand?

Motor activity and focus

When we write, we are finding, formulating and externally processing our thoughts, all at the same time.

In the words of neuroscientists, writing is a complicated combination of perception, motor commands and kinesthetic feedback. Writing by hand is a two-way street, an inter-dependency, with the visual focus at the point of the pen.

Typing, by contrast, is a physically disembodied action, we’re focussing only on the screen. There’s no physical two-way communication.

“The primary advantage of longhand is that it slows people down,” says Daniel Oppenheimer, a professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University.

That makes sense for my process: The beginning stages of telling my story need to be handwritten. Slowing down gives me more opportunity to access thought and formulate it before communicating it. The kinesthetic process lets me feel more connected. I’m also free to scribble notes, make diagrams, shove in arrows or circle important matter. I’m dealing with an unformed creation and have the freedom to let it speak through me, before it is locked into formal text.

Once the ideas are formed, then typing can take over: faster, more convenient and easily manipulated.

So, handwriting or typing?

As I said at the start, there is no one answer. It’s all up to you. But perhaps knowing a smidgen of the science behind it, you can tailor your own choices.

Or perhaps technology will solve the problem for us with the new wave of e-writers: write by hand and convert to text.

Last word (or video?)

Jake Weidmann is one of only 12 people in the world who holds the title of Master Penman. He sees handwriting as a creative art form in itself and a direct link to his creative mind.

The Poetry of Garbage

The Poetry of Garbage

Ruth E. Walker

I love old sayings. They’re like echoes of little stories, scenes that happened long ago and stuck around like a cautionary whisper through the ages. 

A stitch in time saves nine. Somebody procrastinated into a real mess and the deadline for that edited version is at midnight..

A change is as good as a rest. When you can’t take a vacation, move your computer desk to the opposite wall.

There’s an old chestnut I really like: One person’s trash is another person’s treasure. And it has never been more true when it is trash that finds its way into poetry and visual art.

I recently attended a poetry reading and artist talk at the Haliburton Highlands Museum. A poet and an artist were coming to Halls Island Artist Residency and the program was part of their community engagement for the residency.

April White
Anna Swanson

The poet was Anna Swanson, an award-winning Newfoundland poet and the visual artist was April White, also an award-winner from Newfoundland whose watercolours have been shown nationally and internationally. Both Anna and April live in St. John’s, and in 2016 joined forces for a collaborative work about garbage.

Anna Swanson wrote The Garbage Poems, inspired by a swimming hole in Flatrock, Newfoundland. She loves being in the water — as someone with a chronic illness, she said moving in water gives her physical and emotional freedom. Anna also cares about nature, so she started picking up garbage left behind by other visitors to that swimming hole.  Sorting the garbage at home gave her a chance to look more closely at the trash. Beer cans. Fast food wrappers. Chip bags.

Lo and behold, that garbage was covered in words. Expected words like drink vitamin  antioxidant  burgers soda fresh and so on. But the unexpected words were intriguing to Anna: festival, dream, promise, stormbrewing…she even found the word trigonometry.

Well, that did it. She realized she just might have the making of some found poetry, using only the words on the trash. Anna ended up with a poem series titled The Garbage Poems. But she knew there could be more to this series than words on the page.

In 2016, she teamed up with artist April White after seeing her stunning exhibition “A Day in the Life.”  Watercolours, drawings and texts chronicled one full day in April’s life.

Their collaboration became the perfect match of poet and visual artist. April created watercolour images for the poem-inspiring trash (and subsequent bags of trash as Anna continued to visit various swimming spots.)

Finally, Matthew Howlett, writer, artist and web designer, created an interactive website that invites visitors to create their own poems using the words found on Anna’s trash. April’s renditions of each piece of garbage can be viewed individually. Click on the image and all of the words on that piece of trash appear below for you to take them to create poetry of your own. You can even choose the entire set of all the garbage words, in both official languages, and see where that takes you.

If Anna’s trashy treasures don’t inspire you, the website has a copy and paste option, where you can take a piece of random text and then by deleting, rearranging or repeating, you can create your own found poetry. Here’s the first two lines of a poem I’m working on from the words of an 1860s book on etiquette:

            The true language of a heart

            may not enter a crowd gracefully…

Okay. Not yet genius. But it was fun and perhaps the start of an idea for me to work on.

So now it’s your turn. Visit The Garbage Poems website and read Anna’s poetry, view April’s images and see if you can turn trash into treasure.

Take time to enjoy the gift

Take time to enjoy the gift

In January, we traditionally take stock of our lives. For writers, that involves our creative lives, our writing lives. So far, we have already looked at Getting into Writing Balance. Our guest blogger (and long-time writing friend), Aprille Janes offers an uplifting take on examining our creative lives from the perspective of “taking time to enjoy your creative gifts”. Currently, Aprille focuses on visual art at her Stone Bay Studio in Nova Scotia, but her message is relevant for any creative.

Guest post: Aprille Janes

Take time to enjoy the gift


The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work. – Emile Zola

Time away is a gift

This year, being away for a whole month was a first for both of us.

A month changes things, providing distance and perspective. It made me see I was in danger of filling my schedule with things that took me away from what I really wanted. Putting together a program to help artists find time was keeping me too busy to paint.

How’s that for irony?

So I took a deep breath, slowed down and asked,

2019 Planner“What do I really want in 2019?”

Easy. I want to prioritize my painting.

That means committing to a daily practice of drawing and painting, taking time to be a student and making my art a priority rather than an afterthought. Like practicing daily scales, I need to put in the work.


We all have our own ways of bringing our dreams to life, but what we do each day, at a ‘right here, right now’ level, will determine whether we get there.  — Tara Leaver, Artist

And, as we all know, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. When I say “Yes” to something then I must say “No” to something else.

“What is necessary and what is distraction?”

When I arrived back home I began making time for my dreams by looking at the “mental clutter” I had allowed into my life. Like physical clutter, it took up space, made it hard to navigate and gathered dust.

I don’t know about you, but I tend to subscribe to things as I’m browsing because they catch my eye or I want their ‘freebie’ or there’s a program I’m interested in. That means I end up on a lot of lists if I’m not careful.

Now I looked at each and every promotion and update that came through my inbox and held it up for scrutiny.

  1. Did I even sign up for this? Even with all the anti-spam laws, I still get added to lists without my permission. Those are an easy decision. Unsubscribe.
  2. Is this information pertinent to me anymore? More often than not the answer was No because my life has changed so much. Unsubscribe.
  3. When was the last time I read the information this sender provides? If I can’t even remember – unsubscribe.

Now I’ll admit that unsubscribing sometimes felt a little like breaking up. Often they ask “Why” and it’s tempting to write “It’s not you, it’s me”. Mostly though, I skip giving a reason unless the sender is a friend in the real world.

This is an ongoing process but the difference in less than a week was phenomenal. My inbox holds only those things I deem important to me personally or to my renewed focus on the painting.

the gift of mental decluttering
And speaking of distractions…

Where do I want to invest time on social platforms? Do I have a reason for being there?

For me, it boils down to InstagramFacebook and Pinterest, which make sense to me as a visual artist. I deleted my profile on LinkedIn because I’m not in the corporate/business world any longer. The jury is still out about Twitter.

I left a number of Facebook groups because I wasn’t interacting or they belonged to a different phase of my life. My Creative Fire Café , of course, stays put. I love the community we created and what we learn from each other. The social aspect of Facebook is also a gift because it keeps me in touch with family and friends.

Gift of Changing “The way it’s always been”the gift of studio time

The “Yes” part means daily time in my studio, painting and learning. In the past, I held a belief that my creative time “had” to be in the morning. And yet, I easily slipped into an afternoon routine which feels natural.

By taking care of a few things each morning such as social media, my coaching practice and biz admin (and yes, household chores) I relax and totally focus on my art in the afternoons. Up to now, I hadn’t even recognized that feeling of “something’s not done” and the pressure it created to hurry through my painting time.

Now the parent part of my brain says “Right. Chores are done. Go play.”

Gift of Self-Care

At The gift of self care via a dogthe end of my studio time, right on the dot of 4:00, Joey the Dog comes in, sits down and stares hard at me. He’s letting me know in no uncertain terms, it’s time for his walk. It’s like having my own personal trainer.

These days I find myself taking longer walks which means more fresh air and exercise. Because my other priorities now have their place, I am free to enjoy the moment plus the exercise loosens me up after sitting for so long. When I get back to the house, my husband and I have a cup of tea and spend some quiet time together.

Without even trying, I’m practicing better self-care and enjoying quality time with the spouse, a precious gift.

The Sum of the Equation

All of these small changes add up. Fast. I see positive growth in my art which translates into feeling relaxed and happy, knowing my dreams are getting daily attention. I even sleep better. My time is being spent on priorities, not busy work.

What strategies have worked for you when it comes to finding more time to focus on your priorities?

More about April Janes

Aprille has fond childhood memories of outdoor adventures and time spent near the water. Today, she lives by the Bay of Fundy and her art reflects this love of the outdoors. She divides her time between painting, writing and teaching watercolour workshops.

Find her at: