artist, beautiful things, creativity, research for new book

Facing the Fear of Creating

God is all over my next book. How could I write about creativity without talking about The Creator? But more than just writing about God, I’ve begun each and every writing and editing session with prayer, asking for discernment, inspiration, and the words He wants me to share. I’ve been in awe of the ways he has showed up. Recently, however, he asked me to do something I wasn’t sure I was capable of.

I interviewed a dozen “Creative Sparks” for this book; real people doing real things to incorporate creativity into their very real (and busy) lives. Among those creatives: a yoga instructor, two professors from my alma mater, a woman who’d waited nearly fifty years to submit her beautiful poetry, my brother who picked up woodworking tools he’d inherited from our mother to begin carving in midlife, and a nephew who always knew what he wanted to be and never gave up the pursuit of it, not even through grueling cancer treatment.

As I worked on final edits a month ago, it became clear to me that there was to be one more “creative spark,” an artist whose work I was personally drawn to. Not only that, I was to actually create the type of art this person practiced. My publisher didn’t tell me to do this, nor did the editor request it.  We were so close to completing the first edits, they wouldn’t have dared. We’d moved things around, deleted over-used words and phrases, and heavily edited entire sections of the manuscript.  No one insisted I face my own fear of failure by attempting an art form I’d never done before. In fact, the editor gave me an easy “out” when I mentioned my uneasiness about taking on an art project so close to deadline. She insisted it wasn’t necessary for me to create anything more than an additional creative spark profile.

But the prompting from the Holy Spirit was as real as the fear of the unknown and the possibility of failure. What if I messed up or destroyed precious pieces of memorabilia by undertaking an art form I knew nothing about?

It dawned on me then— that is exactly what I ask readers of my book to do—open up their minds to creative possibilities, try new things, and allow for the possibility of failure, all in the name of discovering their true nature, their God-given potential, the creative self within them. How dare I suggest something I was not willing to do myself? I knew that I must do it.  I needed to step outside of my comfort zone and create a mixed media piece.

Perhaps it’s the former dumpster-diving coupon queen in me that accounts for my attraction to mixed media art, with tiny bits and pieces of “trash” incorporated into a work of art. Maybe it is because I have lost so many pieces of my own life through the deaths of mother, husband and grandson in the space of three years. Whatever the reason, I considered the art form I’d seen displayed on the walls of Upcycle Dubuque, a unique and innovative creative reuse store that displays the work of local artisans.

It wasn’t the first time I’d seen Allison Poster’s art. I’d seen it displayed at Inspire Café two years before. Fitting, considering I was there to speak about the legacy of creativity, my mother’s art, and the creativity that resides within each one of us.  When I noticed the beautiful art on the walls, I moved closer to study the mixed media pieces, something deep within me resonating with the images of butterflies, angels, trees, and hummingbirds on old mirrors and windows, and a framed image of a hauntingly sad girl in a birdcage. I was fascinated by the artist’s use of broken and crushed glass, bits and pieces of old jewelry, and repurposed old frames. I snapped a photo, shared it with my daughter, picked up a business card, and messaged the artist to tell her how beautiful I found her art. We agreed to meet in person someday. That someday had come.

Not only did Allison agree to be my final “Creative Spark,” she offered to help me with the creation that was fast taking shape in my mind, a piece directly correlated with the theme of the book, in memory of my creative mother. I’d use small things of Mom’s that were hidden away in drawers, where I never saw them. I sorted through a box of her holy medals and discovered a broken rosary with a blue cross that represented her deep Catholic faith. I’d add newspaper clippings about Mom, pieces of a pillowcase she’d embroidered, and the last chalk pastel drawing that remained on her easel after her death. Then there was the yellow rose painting I’d done at age 16, the same age my youngest daughter is now. I’d sat next to Mom in her workroom as I’d painted it. What better way to immortalize the “magic pencil” I’d found in my mother’s empty house than to include it? I’d ordered hundreds of similar pencils on eBay to give away when I did presentations on creativity, but remained fearful of losing the original. Everything included in the final product had meaning for me, including the words I chose from a vintage poetry book about mothers, the small wooden oval with crosses created by my brother, and the tiny glass owl my son Michael created in the very workroom where Mom and I had sat working in companionable silence forty-five years prior.

mixed media

I smile every time I look at my mixed media memory canvas, which is often. It hangs on the wall near my writing chair. No longer fearful, I’m looking forward to creating a similar piece in honor of my husband.

Not long after I finished this piece, I met with a new friend who’d lost his wife the year before. I realized as he talked how often he used the word “can’t” or the phrase “never” in our conversation. I suddenly realized there was more to my creation than I’d imagined. I asked him if he’d seen the photo of the art piece I created to represent my book’s theme. What I said next was as much for myself as it was for him, and readers of my book who have lost someone important to them:

“That’s what our life is like; little bits and broken pieces. Everything we went through and experienced up until the moment our beloved took their last breath. There are ugly moments we’d rather not remember and beautiful ones. There are precious memories. There is a pattern to our life that has made us who we are. Your life is a mixed media collage. Whatever you add to the collage from this point forward is up to you. You can keep moving those broken parts around. You can add similar pieces. That is your comfort zone, and there is nothing wrong with that. But God might have something more for you. God’s plans for you are so much bigger than you can imagine. He can use you in so many ways if you let him. You can grow in him and share in the masterpiece he wants to make of your life’s collage.”

mixed media close-up




creativity, learning, life, research for new book, writer's conference, writing

~Creativity Calling~

“Each person has a unique creative sensibility, but that can so easily become buried beneath the stresses and responsibilities of adult life. Sometimes a re-awakening slowly occurs by one taking hold of a thread of something that’s linked to something that remains pure inside each of us, a longing for expression, safe from the judgments or order imposed by the external world.”- Eileen M. Clegg, in “Claiming Your Creative Self”

Some writers avoid reading anything related to their current project. I’m the opposite, immersing myself in the topic for weeks as I delve into what has already been written, taking copious notes, and printing out page after page of pertinent research. The reading and research not only helps me narrow down my broad outline, clarifying what I want to include as well as exclude from my own book, but also helps me write my book proposal. Perhaps some of these authors will be approached for a blurb endorsement, or the book’s forward.

I began research for Coupon Crazy in 2009, reading books about couponing, marketing, branding, and ethnographic research on related topics. I needed to unearth archived newspaper and journal articles to dig deep into the history of refunds and rebates. I interviewed 50 avid couponers from all over the United States. By the time the manuscript was complete, I had 20 file folders, as in actual paper file folders, packed with research.

creative books2.jpgA few of these creativity books were shelved on my desk for four years, waiting to be plucked from the “to-read” stack. Some I recently purchased might end up as keepers. Others will end up being turned in for credit at HalfPrice Books. An especially observant reader of my blog might realize a couple of books have already disappeared from my generous research stack, while new ones have magically appeared. One book that disappeared greatly disappointed me when the author’s real secret to creativity in women seemed to depend on three things: #1) a discretionary income of some means, #2) copious amounts of solitude, and #3) either have no children, or one child. My book’s intended audience is more the woman at home with young children, a woman wishing to hone the lost domestic arts, or the empty-nester who thinks it is too late for her to do anything creative.

Maybe a woman whose desk looks something like this:

mom writer deskI bravely shared this horrifying 1996 photo on my Facebook page a few days ago. I also plan to incorporate it into my power point on utilizing creativity in the everyday. While some might see a mess, I see an extremely creative period in my life. I’d had my first book, Homeschooling From Scratch, published a few months before, had recently been paid $200 for a Chicken Soup essay, and wrote regularly for several national magazines, such as “Backwoods Home” and “Home Education.” I was an avid couponer and refunder, sending for cash and gifts through the mail and saving hundreds of dollars at the grocery store. I ran a home business selling used books and helped my husband operate a bookstore. I was also into bartering, trading used books with women all over the country, in exchange for educational materials and high-end brand name clothing for my toddler.

What I didn’t have was money, solitude, or obviously, since toddler Emily was our sixth, a lack of children. Yet I managed to utilize my creativity, even if it wasn’t in the domestic arena.

An extraordinary thing can happen when you immerse yourself in an interest. The process can ignite your own passion for the topic. I was never so involved in couponing as I was during those years I worked on a book and developed a coupon workshop.

Being around other writers does the same thing for my writing. I know from experience that a writer’s conference or a room full of students eager to learn about getting published energizes my own writing. Members of a group can feed off each other’s creativity. For a long time, I’ve talked about either joining, or beginning, a lifelong learner’s group of some sort. While I am a member of the Iowa City branch of the National League of American Pen Women (NLAPW), an organization of professional women artists, musicians, and writers, I don’t make it to the meetings that are mostly held on Saturday mornings or a weekday in Iowa City.

As a reporter for 18 months, I had the incredible opportunity to interview a lot of creative people; writers, artists, quilters, a yoga instructor who also held journal-making classes, a fiber artist, and countless others who fascinated me in their endeavors. That I was paid to sit down and talk to them never ceases to amaze me. I’ll never forget the woman who came to our interview with sheets of notepaper in her hand. She’d prepared for our interview on lifelong learning by jotting down a long list of simple things that brought her joy.

In my new job as a Senior Services librarian I’m responsible for planning, and presenting, programs for a “certain age.” I’ve spent the better part of two weeks working on a power point to present at a local retirement center, on a topic I’m already well-versed in, the lost art of letter-writing.  In the process, I’ve done a lot of research on the history of the postal service, unearthing facts I was unaware of that I am sure will fascinate and entertain. The “lost art of letter writing” morphed into “Mailbox Memories,” a program I’d love to present elsewhere.

It occurred to me as I’ve been researching creativity that my new position also offers me the opportunity to begin the very group I’ve been yearning for at the library where I’m employed. This means the reading and research I’ve been doing now serves three purposes; #1) for my book project #2) for a power point that can be presented at libraries and women’s groups, and #3) as background and inspiration for the lifelong learners group I’ll soon be forming, a creativity co-op of sorts.

Now, back to the books~ I expect our first meeting might involve reading one of these books and discussing the concept of creativity.



research for new book

Knee-deep in research

When I was attending college in the 1980’s, research meant digging into those old green paperback Reader’s Guide to Periodicals. I loved doing research papers and hunting down pertinent articles.

Then in 1992 I took trips back to the University of Northern Iowa library researching chronic illness when I was suffering with one of my own. The doctors weren’t any help; one even asked me why I had to have a name for what I was suffering with, just to live with it and stop looking for an answer. My research netted me a huge file full of information I could give to a doctor who would listen to me; what I was not suffering from was the boredom of a housewife stuck in the house with small children. (which is what another doctor told me) The doctor who finally spent the time to listen to me looked at all my research and looked me in the eyes and told me I was not imagining my illness. That was all I needed to hear to begin my journey of living with a chronic illness. That, and a prescription for Bentyl, to treat the worst of my symptoms that made the bathroom my true home.

A pregnancy jumpstarted my body to heal itself somehow, and I haven’t had those CFS symptoms for 16 years now.  But it was through that rudimentary research in the University library that my interest in the effect of vaccinations on a child’s immune system peaked, and I did more research on that subject, making the unorthodox decision to delay and do without some of the reccomended vaccinations for my future children. 

My interest in research peaked once again during my husband David’s bout with oral cancer in 2006. Only this time the research was via the Internet. What a difference a decade makes. Type in “cancer” in the search engine and hundreds of thousands of results come up. And I do mean HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS. My oldest son Dan, my daughter Beth and I skimmed through tons of information and learned way more about cancer than we ever wanted to know.  For instance, did you know that one out of every two men and one out of every three women will get some form of cancer in their lifetime? 

Now I am working on my next book and looking into the history of couponing and refunding. No book about couponing can be complete without looking into coupon fraud. And when you write about coupon fraud you have to include the history of refund conventions and why they dissapeared. I’d never attended one but I used to read about them, and thought they sounded like a lot of fun; women bringing their extra coupons and refund forms and trading, along with fun drawings for refund premiums. However, whenever and wherever there is a good deal to be had, there is someone, somewhere taking advantage of that, and sure enough, there were those who were making their own reciepts and selling them. Back then, everyone who was using coupons and sending for refunds legitimately started getting nervous because of those few “bad eggs” who made us all look suspect. The same is true of counterfeit coupons that have made for nervous store managers and cashiers. Once again, those of us using our coupons in a legitimate manner felt defensive of our wonderful money-saving hobby.

Anyway, either my research skills are, indeed, rusty, or I am going to have to do some archival research, which I am definitely not up on. Ask me to search newspapers on microfilm and michrofiche (I am dating myself, I’m afraid) and I can do it, but I have no clue how to do archival research on the Internet.

So I am going to the source, those women who refunded and attended refund conventions in the 80’s.  I have been posting requests for information on, but have had at least one woman say we should “let sleeping dogs lie,” to the effect that I realize there are probably those women who are worried now that they could still get in trouble today from participating in those conventions in the 80’s. I’ll have to be sensitive to that. My interest in writing this book is that of delving into the psyche of those super couponers out there. Who are they? Why do they use coupons? I have interviewed women who make as much as $500,000 a year and still use coupons. What motivates them to use coupons? I am fascinated about this subject.