Keep Learning and Growing

“Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.”
― Abigail Adams
“The beautiful thing about learning is that nobody can take it away from you.”
― B.B. King
Would you like more learning inspiration? Check out the images, quotes, ideas and more on my developing Pinterest board.

Three Superpowers You Might Have Misplaced

It’s terrifying. You arrive at home after having commuted for a half hour (or more, ugh!) only to realize you don’t remember the drive. Auto-pilot happens to everyone sometimes. Too often, it settles in, a thick fog settling over our entire lives.

What’s going on here?

Our brains, in their complex way, are kicking in to save us calories and time. Why waste precious energy noticing something we saw yesterday and the day before? As far as survival goes, these instincts are absolutely helpful.

For living fully, not so much.

One of the reasons I love spending regular time with young writers is because kids are a constant reminder of what is possible. Kids have superpowers. Actually, we all have these superpowers, but as adults, we often misplace ours.

Have you misplaced any of these superpowers?


Recently, I’ve been watching Anne with an E on Netflix. Among other things, the show is reminding me about Anne’s singular perspective on the world. Time spent outside offers any number of “What if…?” possibilities. What if we coined names that fit the beauty of our local redwood grove or nearby flowering meadow? What if we looked for hints of magic in our everyday lives?

Imagination is a superpower because it turns the mundane into an adventure. All it takes to tap into the imagination is a choice. We choose to ask “What if…?” And while imagination can be silly and whimsical, its power reaches far beyond bringing happiness. Imagination is what allows us to see what’s possible, to imagine innovation and solutions to complex problems and opportunities beyond our current situation.


Imagination allows us to dream up possibilities. Belief invites us to roll up our sleeves and bring our vision to life. We’ve all seen a child tugging on an adult’s sleeve asking “Can I …?” (or if they are grammatically savvy, “May I …?”) Adults are so quick to say no, to give reasons why not. We’ve learned through experience that the world can be full of danger, and disappointment is always a possibility.

When kids ask, “Why not?” it can be difficult to hold back the list of reasons that spring to mind. Too often, those same reasons cause us to not try. Last weekend, I hopped on my bicycle for the first time in years. I hadn’t ridden for a litany of reasons: cars, the possibility of crashing, looking silly. We rode 22 miles, to a local town I’d never visited, and the whole trip was a grand adventure. Why not? Exactly.


There’s a widely quoted myth that children laugh 300-400 times a day, while adults only laugh 17.5 times per day on average. While research doesn’t back this wide discrepancy, in general, most of us know that we laugh less as adults than we did as children. Why? Like imagination and belief, laughter is also a choice. And it’s a third superpower that we all can access anytime we choose.

Laughter changes everything. Just try staying gloomy after a belly-laugh. It’s nearly impossible. Finding laughter when we feel gloomy can be a challenge, but once we start laughing, the impact is immediate and powerful. Hopefully you don’t need any more convincing that laughter is good for you, but if you’d like to study quotes from scientists on the topic, you can find eight here.

If you had a superpower, would you forget about it?

Would you forget to use your super-speed, for instance, or your invisibility? Why, then, do we forget to use our actual superpowers? Maybe all we need is a tiny reminder every once in a while. Hey, there, Naomi. Don’t forget … You have a superpower. You have at least three, in fact.

I’ll be using mine today. How about you? 

If you dust off those superpowers, I’d love to hear what adventures ensue. And I’d also love to hear: What other superpowers would you say that we all have, and often misplace? I’m sure these three aren’t the only ones.

Feel free to comment below, or, as always, connect with me on Facebook or Twitter. Your stories are an inspiration!

Choreograph a Happy Dance

Visit the Writerly Play Studio and play your way into creative discoveries. Never heard of the WP Studio? Learn how Writerly Play thinking strategies supercharge your creativity here.

No one can stay in a funk when they turn on a happy song and dance. When you need a creative kick-start or have a happiness SOS moment, you don’t want to have to come up with a solution on the spot. Preparation is key! That’s why taking some time to choreograph your own happy dance is such an excellent creativity-boosting strategy.

When you’re designing your dance, you’ll have a blast of fresh energy that comes from thinking with a different part of your mind. Chances are, choreography isn’t one of your daily tasks, so the process will feel novel and will likely remind you of being a kid. After you’ve designed your dance, you will have a solution in your back pocket anytime you feel your energy lagging.

Try This:

  1. Choose a favorite song.
  2. Clear some space to move.
  3. Turn on your song. Experiment with different steps as you listen.
  4. Go through the song piece by piece, adding movement. Simple movement is perfectly fine. Remember, this is a happy dance! You’re supposed to have fun with it.


  • Big movement tends to be more fun than small movement.
  • Repeat patterns to keep things simple.
  • Listen to the words for inspiration. Many words or phrases provide excellent ideas for simple gestures.
  • If you have kids, make your dance together! Your happy dance can be a gloom-buster for the whole family.


Cultivate a Sense of Wonder

Creativity often shows up at the intersection of various thoughts. Here are three on a sense of wonder … what do they spark for you?

“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it.”
Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie

“Believing takes practice.”
A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle

“The ability to retain a child’s view of the world with at the same time a mature understanding of what it means to retain it, is extremely rare – and a person who has these qualities is likely to be able to contribute something really important to our thinking.”
― How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading, Mortimer J. Adler


I’m collecting other quotes and images as I continue to spot wonder in our world. Check out my collection on Pinterest.

Change Up Your Route

Visit the Writerly Play Attic to collect experiences and sensory detail to bring your creative work to life. Never heard of the WP Attic? Learn how Writerly Play thinking strategies supercharge your creativity here.


As many as 45% of our daily choices are driven by habit. What does this mean when it comes to developing characters?
  1. We need to know what they do every day.
  2. We need to know what circumstances might alter their routine.
  3. We need to know what impact “waking up” might have on their personality.

It’s easy to assign habits to characters unthinkingly.

Without intending to, we give our characters actions, thoughts or habits that actually are our own. What do you pay attention to when you go for a walk? Do you notice every leaf blower, and find detours to avoid them because the dust makes you sneeze?  Do you cross the street to say hello to every dog you see because you simply can’t resist?
You might find that these same habits show up in your characters. That’s okay, of course. Every character a writer creates is somehow woven out of his or her experience. However, sometimes we let these assumptions slip through unchecked. Or worse, we might create characters who walk in their neighborhoods without noticing anything at all. We’re so busy driving toward our next plot point that we allow our characters to be bland. They don’t have little quirks or pet peeves. They’re too busy saving the world to have a favorite snack or secret obsession, such as perfecting their cartwheel.
The best way to shake up our thinking is to start paying attention to our own habits. When we see the many small choices we make every day without even noticing, we can start to think about how our characters might choose differently.

Try This: Change up your Route

Is there somewhere you go weekly, or even daily? What if you took a different route? The fresh scenery might help you to notice what captures your attention. What do you see, smell, and hear? Take the time to notice, and as you do, also consider your character. Would he or she notice the same things? Something different? Would his or her reaction resemble yours, or would he or she feel differently than you feel about leaf blowers or dogs?
Try it out and then come on back and share what you notice. I’d love to hear how this strategy works for you. You can also connect with me on Facebook or Twitter.

Your Character’s Birthday Wish

Visit the Writerly Play Studio and play around the edges of your work to get to know your character. Never heard of the WP Studio? Learn how Writerly Play thinking strategies supercharge your creativity here.

Whether you love your birthday or hate your birthday, it’s a day that celebrates you! That’s why it’s such an excellent opportunity to get to know a character. 

This month, I posted over at Smack Dab in the Middle on using birthdays as a character development tool. Check out the post here.

Or, if you want the cliff-notes edition, here’s a list of birthday-related questions to help you explore unexpected corners of your character’s personality.

On your character’s birthday:

1. What does she love to do?
2. Who does he spend time with? Does he prefer large groups or small ones?
3. Do her friends make her gifts, or are the gifts store-bought?
4. What do the gifts given reveal about him?
5. What does the reaction to the gifts reveal about her?
6. How does he change from birthday to birthday? What remains the same?
7. Does she plan her own birthday? If not, who plans the day? Is this what she would choose, were it up to her?
8. How does he feel about people singing happy birthday, or not?
9. What surprises come up on her birthday?
10. Which birthdays are most meaningful to him?

How do you use birthdays in your writing? Do you have favorite literary birthdays? Feel free to share your thoughts and ideas below, or connect with me on Facebook or Twitter

Play to Your Strengths

Play to your Strengths
One of the first questions I ask writers as they develop a story character is “What are your character’s strengths?” After identifying strengths, we also think about weaknesses. However, we start by looking for those places where a character shines.
If a character has only weaknesses or is overwhelmed by life’s challenges, she doesn’t have the confidence to begin taking action. Characters who can’t take action quickly lose a reader’s interest. We want to shake them by the shoulders and say, “DO something!” 

But in our own lives, we tend to focus on the problems.

What isn’t working? What do we need to fix? Maybe this approach is due to the overwhelming amount of marketing messages we encounter. These messages are craftily designed to remind us of who we are not and what we do not yet have. Savvy marketers know that when they sell a transformation, buyers buy. And yet, when we spend most of our time identifying how we ought to be transforming: personally, professionally, creatively, socially, and so on, we lose our footing. Or to be more specific, we lose our confidence.

Starting with a win is a sure way to keep winning.

I’m not talking about fooling ourselves with overly sunny self-talk. We know when we’re telling ourselves a lie. The trick is to start with a win we’ve already achieved, or one that isn’t a long shot from where we currently stand. 
Research shows that a key factor to achieving a goal is belief. We must believe we are capable of success. Until we have actually conquered a challenge, we might hope we can overcome the odds, but we don’t know for sure. On the other hand, each real success adds to a track record that builds our confidence. Sounds obvious, right? Yet, we still struggle. 

Why? We don’t play to our strengths.

Think about the last time you did something new. Did you first review any current skills or successes on which you might build? Or did you focus on the gap between your skills and your goals? Chances are high you focused on the gap. You’re definitely not alone!
When we consider a child who doesn’t know how to play guitar or draw or speak Spanish, we give the child the benefit of the doubt. They need time to learn this new skill set. As adults, we don’t give ourselves that grace. We look around at peers and we see their expertise. Without questioning our assumptions, we berate ourselves for what we have yet to learn. Rather than playing to our strengths, we start from our weaknesses. In most cases, this negative beginning leads to false starts, slow learning curves, and more often than not, we give up.
What if, instead, you played to your strengths?

What if your approach to learning something new went like this?

  1. Find a point of connection between what you currently do well and what you want to learn. 
  2. Start with that connection point, and give yourself a small challenge. Choose a challenge you are sure you can tackle.
  3. When you achieve your goal, celebrate! Tiny mid-journey celebrations help us enjoy the learning process.
  4. Next, choose a new challenge that stretches you one step further.
  5. Move forward in this way, small challenge to small challenge.
  6. If you fail to reach a challenge, don’t fret! Return to your most recent success and analyze what you can learn from the failure. What adjustments will give you a better chance of success the next time around?
  7. After a few weeks or a month, look back over your progress and note how far you’ve come. Chances are high that you’ll be amazed!
Try it out, and then come on back and share the story of how it went. I’d love to hear about your journey. You can comment below, or connect with me on Facebook or Twitter.
Here’s to you and your creative growth!

Three Thoughts on Character

Creativity often shows up at the intersection of various thoughts. Here are three on character … what do they spark for you?


“A diamond gemstone is made up of facets—defined surfaces, sides which each face a particular direction and yet are all connected to one another: distinct aspects of the whole.”

― Marianne Roccaforte, Ph.D., Bridges in the Mind: An Artist’s Handbook for Everyday Living 

“Meg, when people don’t know who they are, they are open either to being Xed, or Named.”

― Madeleine L’Engle, A Wind in the Door

“We’re afraid of writing characters different from ourselves because we’re afraid of getting it wrong. We’re afraid of what the Internet might say.”

― Gene Luen Yang


Inspired and want more? Check out my growing collection of pins on the many facets of character.

The Shape of Words on a Page

Visit the Writerly Play Workshop and build your revision skill set. Never heard of the WP Workshop? Learn how Writerly Play thinking strategies supercharge your creativity here.

the shape of words on a page

Word after word on a page can easily lull our minds into numbness.

But when we see


after word

on a page

suddenly we see


A few summers ago, I took a revision workshop with Linda Sue Park. What an incredible experience! One of Linda’s strategies has become a standard part of my writing practice. She asked us to take a manuscript page and break it into lines. No line could be more than five or six words. With breathing room, it became immediately clear where prose could be tightened, where words were repetitive, or where weak verbs or nouns could be strengthened.

Somehow, when the shape of the words on the page changed, I could see my writing with new eyes.

It’s a simple but powerful tool. Many, many thanks to Linda Sue Park for adding such a transformative strategy to my bag of tricks!

Try This:

  1. Copy a page of your manuscript into a new document.
  2. Break the paragraphs into short lines of no more than six words each.
  3. Read through and finesse the sound, rhythm and tone of your words.
  4. Once you’ve revised the prose in this format, put the writing back into paragraph form.
  5. Do a before/after comparison. What do you notice?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and insights! Share below or connect with me on Facebook or Twitter.

The Feel of a Shape

Visit the Writerly Play Studio and play your way into creative discoveries. Never heard of the WP Studio? Learn how Writerly Play thinking strategies supercharge your creativity here.
One of my first jobs was at Shanti Foundation for Peace in Evanston, IL. Indira Johnson, the artist-founder of the nonprofit, created many different kinds of community art, but my favorite was her work based on Rangoli drawing, in which women traditionally painted a pattern on the ground outside their homes. Family members would walk across this drawing each day, scattering the image, and in doing so, the blessing was spread across the community.
I had the honor of helping Indira with some of her community art sessions. We’d explore the meanings of a variety of shapes and then as a community draw a pattern that had meaning to our group. Then, the drawing would be transferred to the ground and filled in with bright spices and other materials. You can see some examples of final results here: Community Blessings.
I came to understand that each shape has a different feel, and a different historic significance. Molly Bang explores the feeling of various shapes in her book, Picture This: How Pictures Work. It’s a book I return to again and again because it takes this concept of shape down to the basic, underlying concepts. Molly’s images and clear explanations help me understand how shapes work in visual art, but also sparks thoughts about how shape shows up in my writing. What might the shape of a line, the shape of a poem, or the shape of a story add to (or take away from) my work?
Try This:
  1. Take out a few pieces of differently colored paper and cut out shapes. Cut some circles, squares, rectangles and triangles.
  2. Arrange your shapes into groupings. See if you can make groupings that have different tones. Can you make a calm grouping? A fierce grouping? A lazy grouping? A creative grouping?
  3. Choose one of your groups of images, and write a poem that captures that same tone.
  4. Arrange your shapes and words on a page, and then share your work with someone. Celebrate this small, creative act.
If this idea of shapes has caught your fancy, you might enjoy this collection of images.
As always, I’d love to hear from you! Are there shapes that have particular meaning for you? How does shape show up in your work? Feel free to comment below, or connect with me on Facebook or Twitter.
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