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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Creative Year: 52 Workshops for Writers

Elisabeth Sharp McKetta grew up in Austin, Texas and now lives in Boise, Idaho. Her fiction, essays, and poetry have been published widely, and she has been a featured storyteller at many events. Her 2012 poetry collection, The Fairy Tales Mammals Tell, was described by Ben Fountain as "wise, unflinching poems."

Elisabeth has literature degrees from Harvard, Georgetown, and the University of Texas at Austin. She wrote a PhD dissertation on the intersections between memoir and myth, a concept that now informs her teaching. She teaches writing at Harvard Extension School. 

Elisabeth lives with her husband, two children, and the best behaved Labrador you've ever met. She enjoys hiking, reading, cooking, making new friends and drinking tea with old friends.

Today, she gives us the gift of six minutes in the following guest post. She also has some terrific writing prompts on her website. Thank you, Elisabeth. Here is her post.


As I stood at the sink in the 5’s this a.m. and pulled the lever for instant-hot water (we installed it after I burned the bottoms of three teapots because I got distracted while waiting the six minutes for the hot water to boil) I felt a lesson coming on.

Those missing six minutes glowed at me, a symbol for how in requiring things like hot water to be ready now, we lose small pockets of creative unmapped time.

Obviously I didn’t spend those six minutes well or particularly mindfully.

The reason for all the burnt teapots is that I usually spent them feeding the dog, opening some mail, trying to unload the dishwasher without waking the whole family, wandering off to clean some mess. Tasks, to-dos. The practicalities that spread a foundation for being able to indulge in my chosen luxury, the luxury of writing poems.

But those minutes were my minutes, minutes all to myself, minutes that hadn’t yet been spoken for. And as a new mother for the second time, I am aware of much life can fit into six minutes. Real life, good life, not just tasks. In six minutes I can write some compost into a journal. I can whisper “walk” to the dog and spend six minutes in the early morning moonlight. I can read, really read, an e.e. cummings poem.

I’ve spent years courting the opposite extreme, that for any creative thing to occur all of the practical tasks have to be finished first. I don’t believe this anymore. What I know now is that in the thick of a full life with all its major components – work, people, travel, habits, housework, spontaneity, eating, using the body – that the most reliable moments of recording beauty happen in tiny dashes, six minutes here or there. And a writer’s main job, in my book, is to force us to really look at all the beauty.

I don’t always accept this, but I try to remember it. I feel regret for the lost time I have spent disengaging with beauty and creativity because I was so intent on getting things done. I would like to tell my younger self, “You girl, you writer, you use those six minutes to be there for it all. Get distracted by the moonlight and by the words, by the poems you love. Be there and write about it and use a timer to go back to the tasks in time so another teapot won’t burn.” 

Here, this morning, I take my hot tea (made instantly) into my perpetually cold hands; I whisper, “walk” to the dog and go outside in the early morning moonlight.


Elisabeth Sharp McKetta’s new book The Creative Year: 52 Workshops for Writers was born out of her experience as a writing teacher and her desire to create a series of short, fun workshops that busy people can do in as few as six minutes.  

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Simplicity, you are an elusive beast.

This post existed as a draft called No-Pressure November for more weeks than I care to admit.Why? Because I'm too busy. If you read my blog, you've probably heard some version of this same tired old symphony more than once.

I do it to myself.

I impose expectations and goals upon myself and then I feel pressured, so I decided to try a little experiment and No-Pressure November was born. Duh. This morning I realized that this approach shouldn't be limited to just a month; my entire life will better if I can find some balance.

Annnnnd...already there is a problem.

Balance is really hard to find. It's a double whammy because once you find balance, it tiptoes away when you least expect and then you have to start all over again. It's not a one-time achievement, but a never-ending process.

Finding balance is really hard if you have by some sweet, sweet miracle managed to find yourself living a life rich in adventure and wonder. For the most part, I love my life and all of the people and activities in it. I wake up every single day thankful to find myself in a loving and supportive marriage (and as a really cool fringe benefit, it's exciting and fun). My children are healthy and living successful lives as adults now. I love all creative ventures and the people who pursue them. I wish I had more time and energy to invest in friendships. I want to read the stacks of books that litter our house. I want to travel the world. I failed to adequately learn geography in high school and I'd like to fix that. I want to be super healthy and strong. I want to host parties and attend parties. I want to conquer all the yoga poses and bake decadent desserts. I'd like to meditate and not have my mind springing off in a million directions. I'd like to hug all of my cyber friends in person just once.This list could go on but you get the idea.

My life is filled with a lot of really cool shit.

Combine this zest for life with a touch of crazy and you have a recipe for stress and pressure.

So. New plan.

With the exception of work (because - sad face - they don't pay me if I don't show up), I will work diligently to discover what things make me truly happy. I will shrug off guilt and obligation and see what that feels like. I will learn to prioritize and focus. I will figure out how to get my arms around this bitter pill:

I can't have it all.

I can have happiness and unbridled joy, but I can't have everything at the same time. There is just too much in the world. It's bursting with possibilities and opportunities. I'll still have goals & expectations; they play a really important role in my life. They help me to get things accomplished and I love that feeling. They prevent me from sitting around eating salted caramel ice cream while watching Gilmore Girls or Hoarders. (I would do this far too often and for too long if I allowed myself. I know this because I have spent some frightening hours in the abyss and I don't want to go back.) Goals push me into new and exciting places. They give me courage.

It's entirely possible that November will end and I will go running back into the arms of to-do lists and notes-to-self, my wallet and glovebox bulging with Post Its. But I want to try it anyway just to see what it feels like. I hope I can make some progress and learn new ways to make choices.

This is why I won't be doing NaNoWriMo this year. Or tango dancing, attending writing, crafting, or art groups. Not because these aren't fabulous activities with incredible people in attendance. They are! I adore my friends and partners in crime. I love, love, love being in a room full of creative energy.

There is just too much of it lately and because they're all so glittery and sparkly, I can't seem to whittle down the list. It's like handing someone ten diamonds, each more lovely than the last, and asking them to chose. Maybe this makes me selfish, but I just want to shove them all into my pockets at once.

Which is what I have been doing - snapping up every opportunity as if another will not come my way - and I'm tired.

Ah, simplicity! You are elusive and clever. But I'm stubborn and will keep trying until I get it right. Luckily, I have a road map of sorts. Months ago, I wrote a list of high level goals for myself, just to have a way of measuring success and progress in my life. It's a way to make sure that I haven't taken a wrong turn somewhere. These are the biggies for me:

·         Embrace positive change whenever possible
·         Exhibit open communication
·         Practice personal courage
·         Focus on experiences over material goods
·         Strive for excellence (Note to crazy-self: this does not mean perfection)

I'm also working on paring down some things with Ink & Alchemy. Don't worry - the artist features will stay. They are near and dear to my heart! But over the next months, I plan on culling through things and keeping only the truly useful, valuable, or beautiful. This means that I may end up removing selected artists from the list because I want to make sure that everyone who remains is active and that the links are all current. I don't mention it much, but quite a bit of work, research, and email activity is generated from I&A and if I narrow the list down, it will reduce some of that maintenance and work on the back end. It will also support that last bullet up there - excellence.

If you notice that an artist has been removed, please know that it's not a poor reflection on the quality of the work. I&A was founded with the idea of showcasing currently active artists and in some cases, I have trouble finding new work from artists, even though I check each one regularly. It's likely that they have been removed because I haven't seen new pieces from them lately. I also want to make sure that all of the work supports a certain aesthetic.

If by some chance you are removed during my little tidying up process but wish to reapply, please do so. Here's the submission form.

Wish me luck taming the beast. I hope you enjoy a week full of things that make you happy.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

How to art journal

I know I've been on a rampage lately about art journals.

Thank you for your patience while I get it out of my system. For those who want to journal, but are intimidated by it or don't know where to start, below is my get-started checklist.


Supplies needed:
  • Journal, notebook, or paper (obviously).
  • Bricks or heavy object to flatten pages or entire books (only when they’re definitely dry). Sometimes I use a blow dryer on pages to make them dry faster.
  • Waxed paper. Keep a stack cut to your page size and layer them between. Even if the pages feel dry to the touch, they may stick when pressed together. Better safe than sorry, although this sticking and ripping process can also add interesting layers.
  • Art supplies, glue, papers, other collected junk.
  • Cheap paintbrushes and sponges. I use the least expensive ones I can find because I mistreat them, leave them soaking in water for days, and I use them in glue as well as paint.

I keep a very small notebook in my purse or pocket and write down phrases or a few words to remind me of things later. Use this when you journal to spark ideas or memories.

My go-to stencil is the old piece of popping paper on the left.
I am always on the look-out for paper objects or other flattish things throughout the day – plants & leaves, fortune cookie strips, found notes or lists. My pockets and purse are always littered with this junk.

My box of waxed paper pieces. After I've used them for a while, they are painted and can be incorporated into the pages.
Start following other journalers on Pinterest, Tumblr, Flickr and Instagram. I mentioned a few in this blog post and if you have trouble finding them, look at who I'm following on my social media pages. They're full of this kind of stuff.  Don’t be intimidated by them, but try to emulate their style to see what comes of it.

Don’t concern yourself with pretty, precious, or what others think. Journals are not created with the purpose of pleasing others or required to be beautiful. They are a means to tap into your creativity and authentic self.

Page in progress.
Work in 2 (or more) books at a time so that one can dry while you're working on the other one. Dedicate an area, no matter how small, to your journaling so that you can easily add something when the mood strikes. If you have to put everything away and get it back out again to work, you won't do it very often.

This is my drawer full of junk with odd shapes.
LAYER. This is the key for me. Sometimes I start a page and it’s so ugly that I want to rip it out, but by the time it’s been layered with paint, tape, words, and magazine pictures, it’s one of my favorites. I can’t tell you how many times this has happened.

Page in progress.
Recycle. I don't throw away yogurt cups, styrofoam, odd plastic containers and lids, etc. Use them to hold paint or supplies, or to mark and stencil on journal pages.

Page in progress.
I have quite a few stencils that I've collected over the past few years, but if you don't want to invest in these, be creative and find other ways to stencil. Cut your own designs into styrofoam, or use something with holes in it. Popping paper is my favorite way to add patterned paint to a background.

Whenever these organizational boxes are on sale for $.99, I buy a few.
Never waste paint or glue. If you have extra on your brush, wipe it on another page which is waiting off to the side for just this purpose. Keep adding to it in this way until you're ready to bring it to center stage.
Page in progress.
You don’t need to go in order. Flip through the pages until you find something you want to work on that day. Continue flipping back and forth and layering each day.

Page in progress.

Add words:
  • Words from a song
  • Inspiring quote or Pinterest meme
  • Stream of consciousness
  •  It doesn't need to be profound or important
  • Use alphabet stamps. I like the acrylic or clear ones you can get at Michael’s.
  • Use markers, crayons, gel pens, or sharpies.
  • Cut words or phrases from magazines, sale ads, etc.
  • Use a white pen or paint to place words on top of dark sections or colors.
  • When you’re stuck, write anything. Just get something on paper. You don’t even need to make it legible. Scribble or write nonsense.
  • You can write one way and then turn the page around in a different direction; this way you get to say what you want but no one can actually read it. Maybe write really big in one direction, then super small in the other.

Add shapes:
  • Close your eyes and paint or write with markers.
  • Paint abstract shapes.
  • Carve your own stamps and use them.
  • Glue images (like a face) and then use it as a template to paint over parts.
  • Use household objects as stamps:
  • Lids to a hairspray can, netting that fruit came in, paper doilies, etc. I have a whole drawer of weird things with different shapes.
  • Make your paint watery and let it drip.
  • This is my favorite right now (Thank you, Flora Bowley). Dip vegetables in paint and use to make shapes. Cut potatoes or parsnips into shapes and use to stamp. You can carve these with a knife or something sharp and make lines and interesting shapes.
  • Something that took me a while to learn: When wet, don’t mix warm colors (red, orange, yellow) with cool colors (blue, green) and don’t mix either of these things with the ugly colors like brown, gray, or black. You can use them all in the same page, but let them dry first, otherwise you will get really ugly mud. White goes with anything and the warms and cools can be used together and mixed when wet.

 Add paper:
  • Scraps of paper
  • Lists
  • Pictures or words from magazines
  • Torn book pages
  • Fortune cookie strips
  • Old tickets or programs from events

Don’t feel like the stuff already in the journal has to stay. If you're no longer happy with a page, layer over it completely or partially until it feels right again.

Save old credit cards or hotel room keys to use as scrapers or to apply and thin paint.

Decorative tape (sometimes called Washi tape) doesn’t have a very strong adhesive on it so you probably want to apply a coat of glue over it when the page is done.

Anything goes. Today I added stitching to this page.

When you’re finally done with a page or a whole book, you might want to go back and coat  a final time to keep everything intact. I have used Mod-Podge, or various coating sprays available in art supply stores. 

There are two new ways you can participate at Ink & Alchemy - one on FB and the other on G+. I love curating the daily features, but I have been looking for a way to allow more interaction between everyone and let people post images and bits of writing that are in process. Please join us and share your latest creative masterpiece!

Page in progress.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Some links to inspire your art journaling

As promised, here are some links to inspire you to journaling greatness. I hope they make you want to turn up the music, get out the paints or pencils, and put something lovely on paper!

Library of Lost Books

Roben-Marie Smith

Traci Bautista

If you are inspired to put something on paper, I would love to see it! Please feel free to post at More Ink. This is a standing invitation, by the way. There is no time limit on creativity!

As always, you are invited to join me at Ink & Alchemy, a daily celebration of visual art.

Muah. xoxo

Sunday, September 21, 2014


I recently made someone I love a journal; I want to inspire her to journaling because it's been so powerful in my life. I want to give her a book that isn't full of pristine white pages (so intimidating and laden with high expectations), but something that feels warm and inviting. If the journal were a person it would be wearing a favorite pair of faded jeans and offering a cup of hot tea in a farmhouse kitchen. I want her to feel immediately at ease but challenged to something transformative and exciting. I want her to know that we're all struggling to figure it out  and that she's not alone.

Punchkiss - the period before a miracle, a lesson almost learned, the interface at the edge of an explosion.

That is what I want for all of us - her, you, me. I wish to be poised on the cusp of the next step in my growth. To exist in that sweet spot which acknowledges that I'm good enough, fabulous even, but that I could be better, kinder, more self-aware.

This is the journal.

It ain't pretty, but that's okay. It's the kind of book that says...

I like myself just the way I am.
I'm working on growing and transforming.
I'm finding out who I am day by day.
Old keys can unlock things more important than doors.
I will weather challenge and change.
I will take good care of myself.
My thoughts are important.
It's okay to change my mind.
Being creative is healing.
I am more than what you see on the outside.

That's a lot to expect of a book made from old sketches and bad abstract paintings, housed by a battered & beaten book cover, I know that. But the secret is this - it's not about the book at all. It's the person who must catalyze the transformation, who must dig deep for courage and clarity to find out what's really going on inside. Then comes the scary part because once you have access to this important information, you have to decide what to do with it, a freaking terrifying situation which deserves its very own blog post.

But let's back up and take it one step at a time. 

I began by using purchased notebooks and journals and have recently been smitten with making journals from old books, found materials, and artwork that didn't quite cut it. 

The idea behind these is that for those who don't have experience being creative or putting themselves out there on a page for all to see, working in journals can be almost impossible.  I've had several people tell me this in just the past week. The pages of this journal are already a hot mess, so it can't get any worse. :) Also, it shows that one needn't labor over the images or words. I find that layering until it feels right is the best way. Write something and then paint over it. Anything goes.

There is nothing precious in this kind of journal except honesty and self-awareness. In fact, I hope that if I ever see this journal filled up and complete, it's not even recognizable because it's been written, stamped, painted, and penned over into a beautiful collection of hopes and dreams. 

I have been using a coptic binding for my books and this is the most useful video (from Sea Lemon) that I found to learn that stitch. It's simple, clear, and easy to follow.

In a separate post, I'll talk more about my process for layering and filling up my journals, but for now, I would encourage you to just start. Start somewhere, anywhere, and see where it takes you. 

There are people out there doing scrapbooking and journaling with perfectly coordinated papers and expensive tools or organizers. There's nothing wrong with that, but that is definitely NOT what I'm aiming for. The messier the better. I would rather use an old list found abandoned in my grocery cart than any purchased paper, no matter how harmonious the colors. Why? Because those found papers have an energy and life of their own. They represent someone's foray out into the world and I love to bring that into my work. 

I look for papers, tags, and stickers everywhere I go. Anything sort of flat, really. My husband is used to it and sometimes comes to me with odd bits of string or paper to see if I'm interested. I always am.

I'm also on the lookout for interestingly shaped objects and containers to use in my journals. I dip them in paint and use them as stamps or to apply paint. 

If you start doing this, every day will feel a  little like a treasure hunt, but I guarantee that the real treasure will come later - when you find yourself discovering new things about yourself. Trust me on this.

For next time, I'll put together some sites to inspire you on your journey. Have a great week and creative wonderful things!