Asking Better Questions – A Book Flight

Asking Better Questions – A Book Flight

In my creative development, I’ve circled back to the practice of asking questions a number of times: as an actor, a director, a writer, a teacher. No matter the hat I’m wearing, the quality of my questions fundamentally improves the quality of my work.

I’ve chosen four titles for this flight: a nonfiction guide for teachers, an illustrated work of nonfiction, a young adult novel, and a picture book. As ever, you’ll likely find that the titles listed here spark reading ideas of your own. Feel free to mix and match, swapping titles in and out. Above all, I wish you inspiration and joy as you savor the exploration.

How To Ask Better Questions: A Book Flight

Asking Better Questions by Norah Morgan and Juliana Saxton

I couldn’t put a book flight together on the topic of questions without including this title. Beyond being completely on the nose, it’s one of my favorite books. I had the privilege of hearing Juliana Saxton speak about this book at a theatre conference. What struck me immediately was the complexity of questions. Many of us go through life tossing questions around without giving them a second thought, but it turns out that questions significantly impact the quality of our thinking, our experiences, and our creative work. If taking care with the questions I ask myself and others can change the quality of my life, I, for one, don’t want to be cavalier about them.

This slim volume packs a punch on each page, inviting us to consider the power of our words, and how those words guide us toward outcomes. Whether you use this book to boost your skills as a discussion facilitator for others, or to improve the quality of discussion inside your own mind, it is sure to be a transformative read. Learn more here.

Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder

Where Asking Better Questions asks us to think in concrete ways about our questions, Sophie’s World provides an abstract lens. While reading this novel, my questions bubble up unbidden. Rather than thinking about them, I simmer in them. When I take my morning run, they perch on my shoulders and invite me to pay closer attention.

I love the juxtaposition of Sophie’s World and Asking Better Questions, because together, they provide me with a mixture of practical tools and creative ones, providing me with structure alongside the freedom to play. Learn more here.

The Three Questions by Jon J. Muth

I don’t always include a picture book in my book flights. However, after the two dense books above, I wanted to offer a book with breathing room, too. While the art of questions is, of course, about thinking deeply, it doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, often simple questions can be the most transformative of all. Learn more here.

The Illustrated Guide to Bad Arguments by Ali Almossawi

Illustrated by Alexandro Giraldo

One hasn’t fully considered the art of asking questions without also considering logic. This fun-to-read, illustrated guide is one of my favorite thinking tools. I find myself laughing at my fuzzy thinking, probing for true logic, and uncovering fresh clarity. I love how the playful visual style invites my less critical self out to play. That’s important when diving into logic. Approached with too much gravity, I think I’d beat myself up rather than play my way to new insights. This book is a gem.  Learn more here.

If you pick up the books in this flight, I’d love to hear what you think. Let me know what questions they bring to mind for you. And please share your ideas for other titles that ought to be part of this flight. I’m always on the hunt for an excellent read. Tag me on Twitter or Instagram, and let’s chat. Happy reading!

How to Develop as an Artist: A Book Flight

Whether you’re a writer, visual artist, actor, director, or artist in any other creative medium, how might you build a mindset that helps you develop as an artist?
Like any question worthy of a book flight, this line of inquiry has layers and complexity. What can we learn about an artist’s mindset from history, kidlit, and memoir?
 
I’ve chosen three titles for this flight. You’ll likely find that the titles listed here spark reading ideas of your own. Feel free to mix and match, swapping titles in and out. Above all, I wish you inspiration and joy as you savor the exploration.
 

How to Develop as an Artist-A Book Flight

How To Develop as an Artist: A Book Flight

 
“Success is sometimes the outcome of a whole string of failures,” Vincent tells his brother Theo, as he fills canvas after canvas, pursuing his dream. Or possibly it would be more accurate to say that he is pursuing his identity. He also says, “I keep making what I can’t do yet in order to learn to be able to do it.”
 
In this deeply researched and beautifully crafted work of YA narrative nonfiction, Deborah Heiligman draws us into the world of Vincent Van Gogh and his brother, Theo. Throughout the book, I was reminded that artists are people, flawed, passionate, driven people. I was reminded that becoming an artist isn’t (as we so often try to convince ourselves in our competitive world) a win-or-lose game, but rather a choice we make on a daily basis. Despite how we feel, our circumstances, our successes or our failures, we can always make the choice to create.
 
Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge
 
The imagery in this graphic novel takes my breath away. The spreads are varied, full of tone and contrast, and they flow seamlessly between emotional metaphor and real-world scenes. Our heroine, Paige, is in the process of meeting herself on the pages of her sketchbook. As she learns to see the world with artist’s eyes, she also helps me see my own world with a little more depth.
 
She and Vincent are artists of vastly different scope and background. Yet in their points of connection, I see interesting patterns. What can their determination, their disappointments, and their growing awareness teach me about my own process of becoming an artist?
 
 
I would never have picked up this memoir if my best friend, Emily, hadn’t placed it in my hands. We were on a trip to that most beloved of bookstores, Powells. As it was, I flipped through, wondering what a book about woodcarving might have in it for me. However, from the first line, I was mesmerized. For one thing, Esterly is an incredible writer. For another, he is the kind of passionate artist that I long to be.
 
Within this book’s pages, you’ll learn about history, about the art of woodcarving, and about a certain kind of mindful attention that makes creative work meaningful. A quote from the book, to give you an idea of the treat you’re in for: “It struck me that this {woodcarving] was like being a writer, staring down at a blank piece of paper, pen in hand. In front of you the same smooth vacant surface waits, and within you the same nervous mustering of resolve, the same sense that the first stroke is important and a bad start might be ruinous.”
 
 
If you pick up the books in this flight, I’d love to hear what you think. Let me know what questions they bring to mind for you. And please share your ideas for other titles that ought to be part of this flight. I’m always on the hunt for an excellent read.
 
Comment below, or tag me on Facebook or Instagram. Happy reading!

Book Review: Deep Work by Cal Newport

As I’ve been thinking about heart, and how my heart shows up in my work, I picked up Cal Newport’s book: Deep Work.

What I love about this book is that Cal doesn’t simply tell us that we need to focus on the things that matter (a truth that is clear to most of us), but he also discusses what focus looks like, and practical ways to build our mental capacity for focus.

Cal defines deep work as “the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task.” Deep Work leads to a sense of joy and meaning in our lives because we learn to focus on what matters and let go of the more shallow concerns that otherwise might consume us.

Deep Work lives to an improved life. Cal says: “Like fingers pointing to the moon, other diverse disciplines from anthropology to education, behavioral economics to family counseling, similarly suggest that the skillful management of attention is the sine qua non of the good life and the key to improving virtually every aspect of your experience.” 

He also points out that when we spend our time in our inboxes, we tend to focus on the irritating small issues of life. It isn’t that we shouldn’t pay attention to our community and the things they may need from us, more that we should make sure our best attention goes to those few projects that really tap into the most meaningful use of our unique capabilities.

Cal says, “Who you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love—is the sum of what you focus on.” When we focus on work that challenges us to work at our highest intellectual capacity, we gain a sense of significance. He points out that most knowledge workers are engaged in vague tasks that yield vague and hard to measure results. No wonder we have a hard time knowing whether what we do matters. By determining what deep work is for us, and by building the mental discipline needed to engage in deep work, we not only are able to give more to the world around us, but are more satisfied, settled and joyful in our lives.

Results well worth working hard for, no?

If you’re exploring how to bring your heart into your work and looking for practical strategies, Deep Work will be a compelling read for you.

An Interview with Holly Schindler: Junction of Sunshine and Lucky

I’m thrilled to feature Holly Schindler, author of The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky, as part of her book launch tour!

Holly_Schindler_SML Junction1.1

Drumroll, please… and now from Holly:

Nothing is more satisfying, as an author, than sending your finished book out into the world.  I’m especially excited to send my girl Auggie (the main character of my debut MG, THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY) out for readers to meet.  She may very well be my favorite of all my main characters.  I could go on for hours describing who she is, or I could just let you meet her yourself, through a couple of vlogs that contain passages from the book!

First, a few excerpts:

Second, a video on Auggie’s voice and the use of simile / metaphor in the book.

Additional Info / Links (Includes a Giveaway!):

About The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky:

“Beasts of the Southern Wild” meets Because of Winn Dixie in this inspiring story of hope.

 Auggie Jones lives with her grandpa Gus, a trash hauler, in a poor part of town. So when her wealthy classmate’s father starts the House Beautification Committee, it’s homes like Auggie’s that are deemed “in violation.” But Auggie is determined to prove that there’s more to her—and to her house—than meets the eye.

What starts out as a home renovation project quickly becomes much more as Auggie and her grandpa discover a talent they never knew they had—and redefine a whole town’s perception of beauty, one recycled sculpture at a time.

Holly Schindler’s feel-good story about the power one voice can have will inspire readers to speak from their hearts.

Reviews:

“…a heartwarming and uplifting story…[that] shines…with vibrant themes of community, self-empowerment and artistic vision delivered with a satisfying verve.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Axioms like ‘One man’s trash is another man’s treasure’ and ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ come gracefully to life in Schindler’s tale about the value of hard work and the power of community…Auggie’s enthusiasm and unbridled creativity are infectious, and likeminded readers will envy her creative partnership with [her grandfather] Gus.” – Publishers Weekly

“Determined to save her home, Auggie [uses] pottery shards, vivid glass, and metal sculptures [to] transform the house’s exterior into a vibrant expression of the love within its walls. In Auggie, Schindler creates a spunky, sympathetic character young readers will engage with and enjoy.” – The Bulletin for the Center of Children’s Book Studies

Links:

Twitter: @holly_schindler
Facebook: facebook.com/HollySchindlerAuthor
Author site: hollyschindler.com

Site for young readers:

Holly Schindler’s Middles – hollyschindlermiddles.weebly.com. I’m especially excited about this site. I adored getting to interact with the YA readership online—usually through Twitter or FB. But I had to create a site where I could interact with the MG readership. I’m devoting a page on the site to reviews from young readers themselves! Be sure to send your young reader’s review through the Contact Me page.

Group Author Blogs:

YA Outside the Lines (yaoutsidethelines.blogspot.com) for YA authors and Smack Dab in the Middle (smack-dab-in-the-middle.blogspot.com) for MG authors.
THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY Trailer:

Don’t miss the Giveaway, running Feb. 13-20:
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Buy The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky on Amazon

The next stop on the tour is: The Hiding Spot  Visit on Feb. 19, 2014!

Fascinating…

Artists often struggle with marketing. There are many reasons (and excuses) that we all give, but the fact of the matter is that if we don’t get better at marketing, no one will know we’re creating anything. Artists need audiences for many reasons. The deepest, most important one, I think, is that art is made for an audience. Books and paintings and songs and culinary creations, at best, are conversations. Artists start to feel isolated and lose perspective on what they create if they don’t have anyone with whom to share.

Of course, the other issue is that there are only twenty-four hours in a day. If we need to eat and sleep and make a living, making art ends up in the nooks and crannies of our lives. If we can earn at least part of our living from our creative efforts, then we have more time and energy to give to those efforts. Thus, learning to market is a key part of the life on an artist, be it painful for us or no.

There’s a lot of noise out there in the world about getting online, about shouting your message to the world, over and over, anywhere people are listening. I’d rather approach marketing as a way to share my passion with the world, in my own unique way. I’m an artist, after all.

One tool I’ve found very helpful in gaining perspective on how to think about my marketing is the intriguing research Sally Hogshead has done on Fascination. On her site, one can take a test to learn about what unique triggers we unconsciously use to influence and lead others. Understanding those strengths can make creating a marketing plan a comprehensible task. You’re not doing what everyone else would do. You’re doing what YOU do. Also, Sally’s test will help you see what you may be unconsciously doing that is undermining your message.

Once you know your strengths, the next step is figuring out what the core message you have to share is. Not the product you’re trying to sell today, but the underlying contagious idea that you’re passionate about sharing. You have one, you must, if you’re an artist. Another post on that topic soon.

For now, though, I recommend checking out Sally’s site and taking the test. There’s a small fee involved, but it’s worth the cost in self-revelation.