Tag Archives: Power

Creativity Tips from Experts — and Me

Recently I wrote about creativity as a habit that requires time and effort to establish. It’s reasonable to wonder, is being creative innate — something a few lucky souls are born with — or is it learned, like a habit or skill that anyone might develop? Can you practice being creative, and get better at it? Are there ways to nurture your creative potential through practices or environment?

Even if some people are naturally more creative than others, I think creativity is something that can be learned, or at least improved. Maybe it’s like doing math: some people have always found math to be easy for them, while others haven’t. But even those who haven’t can get better at it if they make the effort with the right instruction. (No arguing allowed on this point!)

The Neuroscientist
As I looked into this more, I found an interview on Science Friday from 2006, with Dr. Nancy Andreason. She is a neuropsychologist and an expert on the neuroscience of creativity. In describing creative people, she said,

My own view is that creativity is an intellectual capacity that’s not directly related to intelligence. And it is capacity of seeing new things, new relationships, create novel things, and it spreads across the arts and sciences. … There are personality traits that characterize creative people, and one is just sheer persistence. I mean not everybody has a great – who is creative – has a great idea every minute of every day. But people who are creative also force themselves to work. … The other thing about people who are creative is that they push the limits. They get rejected. They have the, you know, the pain of rejection. They still keep going. They’re curious.

Creative people are persistent, determined, have good work habits, take risks, and are curious. Some of that might be a matter of temperament, but all of it is something that can be expanded with effort.

The Author and Artist
Austin Kleon describes himself as “a writer who draws.” As the best-selling author of Show Your Work! and Steal Like an Artist, he has written and drawn extensively about producing original work, including that inspired by others. He also blogs and posts regularly on Instagram.

In a recent blog post he shared a list of ten things that help him stay creative in “chaotic times,” when it is so easy to give in to discouragement.

Some of these tips aren’t very clear without context! Fortunately, he also includes a video from a recent talk in San Francisco, which I also include here.

Work every day, in a place dedicated to your work. Make for the pleasure of making. Pay attention to details. Be kind. Be comfortable with not knowing. Have faith in the future. 

The Quilter
My friend Audrey at Quilty Folk has some thoughts about creative habits, too. In fact, four years ago she enumerated and published them. I have to say, I love this list, partly because is about quilting. Also, it is LONG. 🙂 Also, it’s Audrey’s thoughts on what works for Audrey, but if you work through the list and think about the points, you might see that many of them could work for you, too.

My summary? Have a dedicated work space with your tools and materials at hand, and ready to work. Keep record of your ideas, inspirations, and questions, and learn your personal style. Be curious and make the effort to improve your skills. Take risks. Make routines so you have a habit of working, and remember the tedious stuff is part of the process, not a reason to quit. Consider working in a series. Pay attention to your intuition. Finish stuff. Give your work away. 

Tips From Me
Ask a lot of questions. Try stuff that scares you a little bit. Don’t give up too soon. Make space in your life for creative work. Share what you do, how you do it, and the actual stuff you do, too.

You don’t have to be curious to ask more questions. Try it sometime, about a subject you’re not really interested in. Sometimes those random things you learn become important in unexpected ways. Practice by making a list for yourself of questions to ask, starting with “what if?” The questions don’t have to have knowable answers. Kids are great at this game. Try it with someone about ten years old or younger and see what happens and how exhausted you are by the end. What if all the birds in South America suddenly migrated to Iowa? What if weeks only had four days instead of seven? What if I shrunk down to 10″ tall? What if I use purple fabric there instead of teal?

Try stuff that is scary. Ask yourself, what’s the worst that would happen? It doesn’t have to be terrifying, just a bit outside your comfort. Maybe you’ll be like Kerry, weaving beautiful practical items like scarves and dish towels, but now and then trying different colors or a slightly different pattern. Maybe you’ll be like Tierney and contact a famous quilter/author//teacher, and suddenly be debuting art quilts in national exhibits. Maybe you’ll be like me and decide to appliqué the center block of a quilt, rather than piece it. Oooooh scary!! Seriously, what’s the worst that would happen? You can live through it not working out, or someone telling you “no.”

Don’t give up too soon. So you tried the scary thing and it didn’t work out. Why not? (See that, asking questions again?) If you tried it again could you do a better job? If you contact someone else, might they have different information for you? Did it not work out because you didn’t persist long enough? If you need to take a break, that’s okay. But if it is still valuable to you, come back and finish it.

Have dedicated space and time for working. You don’t have to be “good” at it! You do need to find it important enough, and to find yourself important enough, to make room for it in your life.

Share. When you create, you express yourself. That expression is your power. When you share your process, you help other people become powerful, too. When you share your stuff, you spread good into the world. What could be better than that?

I’ll be offline visiting with family for the holiday. Thanks as always for reading and for any comments. I’ll respond soon.


Building Habits for Creativity Requires Time

On the wall of my gym is a painting that says, “Motivation gets you started. Habit keeps you going.” People often join gyms or start other health plans with good intentions and enthusiasm, but unless they persist in their efforts, they probably won’t create a habit and likely will abandon the plan.

It was easy for me to build a habit of going to the gym. I started after injuring a knee in 2016. Soon I injured the other, as well. Between working with a physical therapist and also with a personal trainer for several weeks, I used the gym four days a week. Once I was done with PT, I continued with the trainer for a few months. Since I paid for the privilege, I made sure I got there. I still go three times a week when I’m in town.

Most of our behavior is habitual, or part of a well-established routine. And if we want to change our behavior, we need to change the routine and persist in it long enough to create a new habit. I wonder if it’s like striving for the opposite of mindfulness, trying to do something often enough that we don’t need to think about it. hmm… 

When it comes to quilting and good habits, most of my habits of technical proficiency — seam allowance accuracy or pressing or how I prep my fabric — are pretty well ingrained. The bigger issue is the habits that lead to increased “production” and creativity. If you look for tips on improvements in these areas, you can find all kinds of things: focus more, focus less, spend more time working, spend more time having fun.

I would like to be both more productive and more creative. For me, those two concepts can be in conflict. To be more productive (have more quilts finished,) I could reduce the time I spend on planning and design, and choose options that are easy/quick to execute. Doing that I could finish multiple quilts a week. Some people get great joy from that, but I would not. Or, I could be more “creative,” chewing over lots of possibilities, brainstorming endlessly, drawing and redrawing designs, looking up strategies and techniques, taking classes, endlessly gazing at fabric choices online, searching for inspiration. That would take up a lot of head space and boy howdy, I’d have a lot of creative ideas going. But they wouldn’t get made. Well, that’s no good, either.

There is only a conflict or tradeoff because resources are finite. In particular, time is limited. Choosing to do anything necessarily means not doing something else. To spend more time in both creative thinking and execution, I need to do less of something else. Less computer time would help me. I spend a lot of time clicking from news site to news site. It doesn’t always make my life better. 

Once we’ve intellectually decided our priorities (found the motivation,) we need to establish a habit of behavior to keep going. I read an interesting article about habit formation at brainpickings.org. It suggests that to create a simple habit, like drinking a glass of water after breakfast, it takes about 21 days. More complex acts don’t become routine for many more days, and sometimes as much as a year.

Late last year I tried blogging every day for 30 days. I abandoned the effort after about 20 days. Apparently I didn’t stick with it long enough. Or it wasn’t very important to me in the first place. 

This is actually a different issue than how long it takes to create proficiency at a skill. However, persisting with a behavior long enough to improve would certainly help motivate continuing the effort. Four years ago I wrote a post called “(Don’t) Stop Acting Like a Two-Year-Old.” In it I cite sources that claim you can learn a new skill in anywhere between 20 hours (Josh Kaufman) and 10,000 hours (Malcolm Gladwell.) That’s a pretty wide range!

How long can you persevere? At least 20 hours? How many days are you willing to put in to create a new habit? An hour a day for 20 days? Is that enough to change your life?

You may have been in on the Instagram #IGquiltfest, a challenge of sorts to post particular kinds of quilting photos on Instagram every day for the month of March. That might create a habit of posting on Instagram. And certainly it’s fun to see what other people post. I haven’t figured out what else it does to spur creativity or production in quilting. (Not meaning to be snarky here. I just literally don’t know what it’s for. If you can explain, feel free to do so in comments.)

There are “challenges” galore, including various ones that show up on WordPress, the famous NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month,) and others. I love the idea of NaNoWriMo. It takes the intention to create and allows you to commit to that intention for a limited amount of time. You don’t have to finish a novel, you don’t have to show it to anyone. You do have to be motivated enough to commit the time every day to write 50,000 words in a month. That’s it! And for some people, that might be enough to create a habit of writing daily.

As discussed earlier, though, for complex behaviors, it usually takes longer to make a habit. Another project that could push through that barrier is #The100DayProject. Here again, the challenge leaders want you to post everyday on Instagram. That, I think, is both to market the program itself, as well as to continue to affirm your own commitment to the project you’ve chosen. You can choose anything. You could make a health commitment for 100 days, or decide to put a dollar aside every day for 100 days with the ending pot of money given to a charity, or create a 12″ x 12″ painting every day for 100 days. Obviously some things are more visual than others, in terms of recording your progress in photos, but the idea is flexible enough to be appealing.

If I want to make more, and make more interesting things, I need to spend more time on both of those intentions. I’m considering joining The100DayProject as a challenge to myself, to focus my attention and energy on my quilting, and less on doing something else. Because the start date is April 3, I still have a few days to define a project.

What tips do you have for developing a creative habit? Have you found something that works especially well, like paying for in-person classes or forcing deadlines or other motivators? Do you commit a minimum amount of time each day to your creative life? Do you have space devoted to your creative work? Tell us in comments about your creative habits. 



I Am The Mountain

I wrote this four years ago as a message to myself. When I stumble across it again, as I did today, I find it a good reminder to keep focus on what’s important. You’re welcome to take a look. 

Power bestowed on you by others can be taken away. Whether it is power by position or popularity, if the cool kids don’t like you anymore, that power is gone.

The real power, the kind no one can take from you, comes from within. It comes from understanding your priorities. It comes from balancing your time and energy on those priorities. It comes from calling on courage when confidence is weak. From trying new things, perhaps small things at first. When nothing bad happens, and when sometimes good results occur, confidence builds. With greater confidence comes greater courage. The two feed each other.

Power is in the present, always in the present. It comes from what you do, not what you did or what you might do. To be powerful, you must be in the present with it. That means not indulging in what-ifs. That’s just making up stories. If you want to make up stories about what should have happened or what might happen in the future, do it right. Write them down. Call them what they are, fiction.

Power can be used to create or destroy. (I choose to create.)

Some of the greatest power is in how you react. If someone pushes you down, stand up again. That is powerful.

I am powerful. I am the mountain.


The Mountain. 60″ square. November 2015. Made from stash. Photo by Jim Ruebush.


Still Climbing Mountains. 57″ x 64″. August 2016. Made from stash. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

The Curse of Echo

Long ago in the time of gods and goddesses, there was a mountain nymph named Echo. She lived on Mount Cithaeron with other nymphs. One of their frequent visitors was Zeus, who … ahem … enjoyed the company of the beautiful sprites.

Zeus’s wife, Hera, was a jealous type, and she followed Zeus to the mountain one day. Echo stopped her, talking so much and so fast that Zeus had time to get away. In her anger, Hera cursed Echo. The curse? From then on, Echo could never speak for herself, but could only repeat the last few words spoken to her by someone else.

How awful that curse would be, without ability to speak for herself! Yet many quilters choose just this way, only repeating designs made by others.

I see it in Instagram, under the #medallionquilt hashtag. While there are beautiful medallions of a wide variety shown there, Marcelle medallion, Aviatrix, and others show up time and time again. Some designers even specify every fabric and color, so you can duplicate their work!

And of course, it doesn’t only happen with medallion quilts. It happens with many successful quilt patterns and kits. The designer’s voice may be heard, but the maker is silent, except for an echo.

I struggle with my thoughts on this. On the one hand, it’s fantastic that people want to make. I think most are perfectly happy making something with a recipe or paint-by-number method. They really do want quilt patterns and knitting patterns and counted cross-stitch and woodworking patterns. They will follow those patterns exactly, often in the same colors or materials. They will enjoy the process as long as it works. If they love doing this, and they are putting beauty and good into the world, who am I to criticize?

On the other hand, I want other people to experience themselves more completely, and to feel comfortable sharing expressions from their soul. The quilts I see that are most powerful, that touch me most, are also designed by their maker. And honestly, it doesn’t matter much if they’re technically strong or not. The maker’s voice comes through.

Self-expression is powerful, but it’s also scary. It can leave us open to failure and criticism. It can make us feel like our efforts or resources are wasted if the end product isn’t as we imagined. Why open yourself up to problems like that? It’s safer to do something with a known result.

I know a little bit about risk and reward. My career was in investment management. If you stick with the safe option, you won’t lose much, but there is not much to gain, either. The farther out you go on the risk scale, the more potential there is for loss. But when things go right, the rewards are great.

Believe it or not, I’m pretty risk averse. While I don’t use patterns, I have trouble pushing myself to do brand-new things. Instead, I keep pushing at the edges, so I’m learning new skills and not making the same thing time after time. (That would be an echo, too!) I’ve had to convince myself that any efforts can’t end in complete failure. If nothing else, I’ll have learned an important lesson. That helps me take on “risk” in quilting with a more open attitude. Trying something, not knowing if it will work out, and learning from the experience is exciting, like an adventure!

Don’t be like Echo. Use your own voice to tell your own story. What’s the worst that could happen?





Engagement is on my mind. My son recently announced his engagement to his sweetheart. Jim and I are thrilled for them, and excited for their future. (Thank you, thank you. I will pass on your congratulations.)

But engagement is not only the formal agreement to marry. It can refer to any emotional involvement or commitment. It can be a commitment to employment, or to defense, or even to meet someone for dinner.

Emotional involvement can vary over time, whether to our romantic partner or our career or a hobby. When you feel a lull in your quilting, for example, you may not feel very engaged in it. Other things might capture your interest, or you might feel distracted or simply bored. In hobbies that may be okay. In your marriage or career, it may be wise to find ways to re-engage.

For myself, I’ve found that if I want to feel more engaged, I need to be more engaged, make more effort. Maybe it’s a “fake it ’til you make it” strategy.

This is my eleventh year as a member of my guild. In seven of the eleven years, I’ve held one position or another, with varying requirements on my time. Recently I took a couple of years off. It was GREAT. Honestly. I didn’t have to get to meetings early, nor stay late, nor work on committee efforts at home. I didn’t even need to go to meetings if I didn’t want to. And a lot of the time, I didn’t. Did I mention, it was GREAT not being involved?

The problem is, some things are worth doing and having even when we don’t want to do them all the time. For example, there is a small-town festival near here that Jim and I go to occasionally. It’s fun and interesting, but honestly, it’s not a big deal. And there’s an entrance fee. But when we go, we agree it’s good to go even when we’re not excited about it, because it is a thing that should continue to exist. And it will only continue if people go, and if they pay their entrance fee.

Someone has to do it, or it will cease to exist.

Well, guild can sometimes feel like that. (Okay you local guild members, don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about. And if you really don’t, I’ll look for you on the volunteer list next spring!) I think it is valuable, even when I don’t want to participate in it.

So after the couple of years I realized that there was only one way I could fix my lack of engagement, of personal commitment. And that was to recommit. I volunteered for a committee, one of the most active ones, at that, and held that position for more than a year. And then we had “elections” for officers and no one was running for president. A friend asked me to run as co-president with her. So I did. This year I’m co-president AND on that committee, and pretty soon I’ll run an ad hoc committee to review and revise our bylaws.

Now I am fully engaged, both nominally and emotionally. Guild is important to me. It is a thing that should continue to exist, even when I don’t feel particularly like being the one to participate. Someone has to, and sometimes that has to be me.

Another area for disengagement for me is blogging. Blogging has slipped in importance in my life, partly because I’m busy elsewhere. And partly because I feel like I’ve already told you most of what I know about medallion quilts, one of my main goals when I started this site.

I’m not engaged in writing, and I don’t even read a lot anymore. (Yes, my blog friends. If you’ve sensed my absence, it’s been real.)

But I think my blog has value, at least to me, if not to you. And I want it to continue. As I shared with a friend recently

what I REALLY REALLY want, in my heart of hearts, is for other quilters to feel powerful in how they work. And whether they make medallion quilts or art quilts or old fashioned block quilts or modern quilts or whatever they make, I want them to make them from their souls. I want them to express their real selves in their making, to exercise the little power any of us really have, and make what they WANT to make, not what someone else tells them to make. I want them to make what they WANT to make, without fear or concern about what someone else thinks. And they can do it best when they fill their tool box with useful stuff, like how to think. Technique is hugely important, the HOW to do stuff, but if you don’t know how, it is great to have some mental skills to figure stuff out. Right now Austin Kleon has been doing some art with tape and magazines, and he says NO, I’m not going to demonstrate how to do this. I already told you it’s tape and magazines. Now go play!! He is asking people to grab their OWN power to create art, not make his art. That’s what I want. I want to help people make their own quilts, not my quilt.

I can’t help you do that if I’m not here. And the only way I can feel more engaged is to be more engaged. I need to write more. Or at least more often.

Thus begins my journey back, hopefully back to excitement about sharing new ideas, funny thoughts, successes and failures. Hopefully back to helping you make your own quilt, your expression of self from your soul, with power, not fear.