Dixie Darr

Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

One Thing Leads to Another

In Books, creativity, Learning, Learning Tools, writing on May 18, 2017 at 11:59 am








I’ve taken a circuitous route through life, with eccentric interests, oddball jobs, and curious relationships. The organizing principle is lifelong learning, so I suppose it wasn’t surprising that I chose to earn a master’s degree in Adult Education.

Two books by Ron Gross, The Lifelong Learner and The Independent Scholar’s Handbook, had captivated my imagination because I wanted to learn everything, and I preferred to do it on my own. While working on my thesis, I found another book that encapsulated everything I wanted in life. The Adult’s Learning Projects by Allen Tough describes the deliberate efforts to learn undertaken by adults of all ages.

He found that an astounding 98% of adults participate in an average of eight learning projects per year. Those he called High Learners spent 2,000 hours per year in 15-20 learning projects.

I have found that one interest inevitably leads me to a number of related mini projects. In fact, the independent scholars’ motto is “One thing leads to another.”

Here’s a personal example.

A couple of years ago, I decided to write a cozy mystery. Although I had never before been interested in writing fiction, I certainly read enough of it.

I started making notes and decided I needed to learn about writing fiction, which led to reading dozens of books (my preferred learning method) on the topic.

I learned to use Scrivener software for writers.

My story was set in the imaginary town of Mayhem Gulch, located in Clear Creek County, near Empire and Idaho Springs. Yes, I know Mayhem Gulch is a trail head in Jefferson County. Work with me, people; this is fiction. Anyway, that meant I had to learn about that part of the world. More books and a few trips to the mountains. Now I have a Facebook friend who lives there and has agreed to answer some of my questions.

My plan is for a series of Tiny House Mysteries leading to an online study of tiny houses and the people who live in them.

Since I want to draw the book cover, I need to learn how to draw and how to design book covers. I also want to draw a map of my fictional town.

Finally, I will have to acquire knowledge of indie publishing.

Unfortunately, all these side paths have distracted me from the original goal of writing the book. And I haven’t even mentioned the things I want to learn that don’t have anything to do with the book. You probably won’t be surprised that I’m now reading about how to juggle many projects.

It’s always something.

Wash, Rinse, Repeat

In creativity, Lent - Season of Change, writing on March 20, 2017 at 10:04 am

Lent – Season of Change, Day 17

Doing the same thing over and over again every day may not seem like a recipe to change your life, but Srinivas Rao says it is. The host of a popular podcast on creative entrepreneurship, The Unmistakable Creative, and author of several books on similar topics, he believes the regular focus on developing his craft yielded some incredible outcomes. He began receiving speaking requests, produced a conference, published his first book and kept writing, much of it admittedly garbage.

It started, however, with his commitment to reaching his daily goal. He wrote when it wasn’t convenient and when he really didn’t want to. He wrote when he didn’t have anything to say.

This is, of course, how to get good at anything. Practice. The well-known if highly misunderstood 10,000 hour rule requires deliberate practice to progress in any skill, even for those with exceptional talent. The nice thing is, it works for everybody, talented or not.

Call me Garbo

In Books, Lent - Season of Change, work, writing on March 16, 2017 at 1:31 pm

Lent – Season of Change, Day 14

I am not a people person. That doesn’t mean I don’t like anybody or that I never want to spend time with other people. Most of the time, however, I crave solitude. I want to be alone.

I was a latchkey kid before we were known as latchkey kids. My mom always said I raised myself, which actually might explain a lot. Looking back on my life from my advanced years, I can see solitude as the organizing principle of my life. My favorite activities all my life have been reading and writing, both of which require enormous lengths of time spent alone.

Debbie Millman calls this your “non-negotiable.” One of the most influential designers working today, Debbie is also a writer, educator, artist, brand consultant and host of the popular podcast, Design Matters.

Her own non-negotiable was living in Manhattan. “I was very clear and very sure that I wanted to live in Manhattan. I wanted that more than anything. And I did whatever it took and made whatever sacrifices I had to.” When she teaches students how to create an artistic life, she asks them to identify what is the one thing they want more than anything? What is the first thing they need to do to make that happen? What are they willing to sacrifice?

I’m not sure I could have named my non-negotiable early in my life, but I can certainly see the value of knowing that – and accepting it — as soon as possible. It could have made some things so much easier.

Pride and Prejudice

In Books, Learning, writing on March 6, 2011 at 7:27 pm

It was the Academy Awards that got me started thinking about Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Colin Firth won (as expected) for best actor in The King’s Speech, but I kept thinking about him as the definitive Mr. Darcy in the 5-hour BBC television mini-series of the book.

The newer, shorter Keira Knightley version is frequently on television, and I’ve seen it several times. I think Keira Knightley made a sparkling Elizabeth and I loved Donald Sutherland as her father and Dame Judi Desch as the imperious Lady Catherine de Bourg. But Matthew Macfadyen just didn’t cut it as Darcy. No smolder, no inner turmoil. And the movie moved too fast. The viewer doesn’t get the same feeling of suppressed desire and frustration, wondering when Lizzie and Darcy will finally get together.

In short, it doesn’t have Colin Firth.

I ordered the BBC series from the library and spent most of Saturday watching it. It didn’t disappoint. I fell in love with CF all over again. When the series was over, I wanted to watch it again. Instead, on Sunday, I watched Becoming Jane starring Anne Hathaway as the wildly popular author.

Soon, I will want to reread the original book, but until then, I’m filling in with Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife, an audio download from my library. This “sequel” to P&P tells of life at Pemberly after the wedding.

Next, I’m planning to dive into one of the Austen biographies. Obsessed? Not me. I could probably spend the rest of my life studying Austen, but there are too many other books I want to read, too. So many books, so little time.

Can You Say Thank You?

In Learning, writing on January 26, 2011 at 8:34 am

The assignment for my business communications students was to write a thank you note. One man turned in a standard rejection letter sent by his Human Resources department to unsuccessful job applicants. I gave it back to him with the explanation that it wasn’t a thank you note. He looked at me as if I were incredibly stupid and smugly pointed to the first line: “Thank you for applying . . . “

Lesson number one. Using the words, thank you, doesn’t make it a thank you note. The purpose of a thank you note is to show gratitude. The purpose of his letter was to tell people they didn’t get a job. See the difference?

Penmanship is no longer taught in school and according to a CBS Sunday Morning story, some people think schools should stop teaching students how to write by hand at all because the prevalence and ease of using keyboards render handwriting unnecessary. I hope they’re wrong. Even as I struggle sometimes to decipher the gorgeous but sometimes illegible writing of my one friend who still prefers letters to email, it means something that she made the effort to handwrite a letter. Finding one of her missives in my mailbox makes my day.

Make somebody else’s day today. Write a thank you note and add some positive energy in the universe. Whom would you like to thank? It could be:

Authors of books you enjoyed

Doctors or other medical personnel who treat you like a human being

Anyone who makes your day more pleasant

Gardener whose yard pleases you on your daily walk

Call center technician who actually helped you.

Anyone who gives you a gift

Write it by hand on a pretty card, handmade paper, or a picture postcard (remember those?) and send it through the mail! A thank you by email is better than no thank you at all, but part of the fun is imagining the nice surprise when your benefactor finds your note among the usual bills, catalogs, and credit card solicitations in the mail.

Computer + Wild West + library = a very good day

In Denver, work, writing on January 11, 2011 at 8:45 pm

I didn’t have much time to spare today. Thirty papers came through for me to review. This is my “day” job, although I can do the work day or night, whenever I feel like it. Anyway, it was a full load and I knew I didn’t have all day to do it.

That’s because today was the day for my birthday lunch with my brother and sister-in-law. We went to the Buckhorn Exchange, Denver’s oldest restaurant and bar featuring over 500 mounted animal heads plus historic artifacts of the wild west. It isn’t exactly politically correct. This time of year, when the National Western Stock Show is in town, the animals sport Santa hats, which strikes me as wildly funny. It’s the kind of place to take out of town visitors. My brother, who’s lived in Denver all his life, had never been there, so I thought it was time for him to go. I think he was pleasantly surprised because the food is quite good (you don’t have to eat Rocky Mountain oysters) and the ambience can’t be beat.

My old writing group met there every other Tuesday for a couple of years and I miss that–the people, the writing, the place. Since I learned that I have diabetes, there are many restaurants that just don’t serve food I can eat any more. Luckily, I can eat the food at the Buckhorn Exchange. I may have to become a regular there again.

After lunch, I had to get to the library to return some books that were due today. Amazingly, I still managed to get all my papers reviewed. It was a good day–the kind that makes me look forward to whatever tomorrow brings.

In creativity, Learning, writing on July 14, 2009 at 8:48 pm

Be a Cartoonist Even if You Can’t Draw

Now you can create your own comic strip even if you can’t draw. At Make Beliefs Comix, you can select a character, determine his or her emotion and fill in the talk or thought balloon. And you can do it in seven languages—English, Spanish, French, Italian, German Portuguese and Latin. Latin? Yup, Latin.

Used as a teaching aid with autistic children or just to make reading and writing fun, the site was named one of the most innovative sites by Google’s Literacy Project, UNESCO, and the International Reading Association. Started by Bill Zimmerman after his retirement in 2006 at age 65, the site allows students a way to “tap into their creativity and tell their own graphic stories.” It is supported by contributions.

In creativity, Learning, spirituality, work, writing on June 12, 2007 at 6:47 am

Step Lively

“Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their shoes. That way you’re a mile away, and you have their shoes too.” Anonymous

I started walking for exercise, but quickly learned that the benefits went far beyond the physical.
Walkers have less incidence of cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other killer diseases. As a result, they live longer. Because walking increases the blood flow to the brain, it also alleviates depression and hones thinking skills. Walking, of course, is one of Julia Cameron’s basic tools for improving creativity in her classic book, The Artist’s Way. The others are morning pages and artist’s dates.

When I get stuck in a writing project or wrestling with some other problem, walking helps. Some speculate that the rhythmic and repetitive movement of walking balances the brain. I’ll buy that, and I will also argue for walking outside. Walking in nature activates the senses as I feel the wind and sun on my face, smell the roses or the river, see the changing seasons and listen to the birds. You don’t get that from using a treadmill and listening to your iPod.

It’s raining this morning, so I have to delay my walk until later. I will go out, however. Last winter, when a huge early snowstorm clogged our streets and sidewalks for weeks and made walking treacherous, I went more than a little stir crazy. No less a scholar than Soren Kierkegaard advised, “I have walked myself into my best thoughts.” Maybe your best thoughts are just a few steps away.

© Copyright 2007 Dixie Darr. All rights reserved

In creativity, Learning, writing on May 3, 2007 at 9:51 am

New Media

“Most good (neat, innovative, wild, woolly) ‘stuff,’ large and small, happens in the boondocks, far, far from corporate headquarters, corporate politics, and corporate toadying.” Tom Peters

Last week I went to the monthly luncheon of the Colorado Authors’ League to hear local author, Justin Matott speak about how he took his first book from self-published to a major publisher. I’ve heard so many stories about big publishers picking up self-published books that I believe that this is the new process for getting published. Not everyone agrees.

At the same luncheon, I sat next to an older woman who has published several books the traditional way and clearly turns her nose up at the very idea of self-publishing. She writes a local column reviewing fiction and, I learned later, had refused to review my friend Irv’s wonderful mystery novel, No Laughing Matter, when she learned he had self-published it. She had been very interested in the same book when she thought it was published the traditional way.

Some people just can’t seem to accept that change happens, even in the stodgiest of industries. While it’s true that many self-published books are iffy or downright BAD in both content and presentation, it is also true that some really wonderful books have been published by the author first, including the original writings of William Blake, Virginia Woolf, Walt Whitman, William Morris, and James Joyce. Here’s a short list of other books you may be familiar with that started as self-published books:

The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield

The Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer

What Color is Your Parachute by Richard Nelson Bolles

In Search of Excellence by Tom Peters

Eragon by Christopher Paolini

The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans

If you only do things the way they’ve always been done, you’ll never get a new result.

©2007 Dixie Darr. All rights reserved

In presentations, writing on January 3, 2007 at 8:54 am

Tell Me a Story

Tell me a fact and I’ll learn. Tell me a truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever. Italian Proverb

The way we communicate with and learn from one another is by telling stories. When we get together with friends, we swap stories. Daniel H. Pink points out in A Whole New Mind that the way we get trained on the job is through stories. The veteran will tell the newbie, “Once I did that and got in a lot of trouble. Mr. Hanks had to call the fire department…” and so on.

One way to improve your communications skills is to learn how to tell stories better. Lucky for you, there are tons of information available to help you do just that. Here are a few of my favorites:

Maybe the best book ever written on crafting stories is Story by Robert McKee, which is actually about screenwriting. His analysis of the minute details that go into putting together a good solid story will also work for writers, speakers, and teachers.

WikiHow, a website filled with free short tutorials on a mind numbing number of topics, offers How to Write a Short Story. Its sister site, eHow, offers advice on How to Generate Short Story Ideas.

Professional storyteller Chris King publishes a free enewsletter and articles about storytelling. If you get interested enough to immerse yourself, check out the Society of the Muse of the Southwest, which offers a storytelling festival in Taos, New Mexico, every fall.

Spend one day writing down all the stories you hear throughout the day and you agree with poet Muriel Rukeyser, who said, “The universe is made up of stories, not atoms.”

©2006 Dixie Darr. All rights reserved