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How to Use Structure to Inspire Creativity



Hello, my loves.

I've been reading up on a lot of theories and opinions and suggestions about blogging. Many successful bloggers use an editorial calendar (a planned schedule of posts to publish), ensuring that they have on-topic posts prepared and ready to publish long before they need them. This creates consistency in voice and the blog feed, increases readership, and (they say, or at least suggest) keeps a wave of inspiration flowing.

After reading these articles, I was overwhelmed with inspiration. I decided in the midst of all this to reevaluate the blog, rediscover myself, and make sure that my interests are aligned with my posts. So I delved into Evernote for the first time, came up with more than seventy post ideas, and even planned out an editorial calendar all the way through the next three months. I wrote up and published the first post on that list right on schedule – and haven't followed through with anything I came up with in that frenzy of creativity since. Even though I had the next post planned out and half written. (Instead, I jumped ahead two weeks and posted an art journal spread that required little writing.)

Inspiration strikes me in bizarre ways. I can be overrun with ideas and motivation – usually at about eleven at night when I have to be up early the next day – and can ride that wave for hours and hours, so long as I stay with it. If I go to sleep, I often wake in the morning with little inspiration left to pursue the big ideas I'd had the night before. If something like work or running an errand interrupts my wild-donkey-riding, I become distracted and that momentum is halted.

As I went through this whole process, and as I attempt to try again, I wonder about the relationship between structure and creativity, right-brain and left-brain thinking, and the spontaneity of creation and the reliability of planning.

I feel like artists are often thought of as impulsive: so much of creation is about the flow of creativity. We talk about writer's block as an impediment to that flow. Yet when I took a course in oil painting in college, much of the process of creating a painting was spent planning out the composition, doing preliminary sketching, and deciding just the right angle and colors and methods to use.

Steve Denning wrote the following in "Creativity Must Have Structure", published on Forbes:
"Structure and creativity have the same parentage. It is structure that enables creativity. [...] In the twelve notes of the musical scale, in the twenty six letters of the alphabet, these fantastic structural inventions have unlocked the enormous creativity of literature and music. Without structure, there is nothing for creativity to get leverage upon." 
When put that way, the correlation between structure and creativity is obvious. In fact, I am reminded of an article I actually wrote several years ago discussing whether or not originality exists. (I unfortunately no longer have the piece. But my conclusion was that, since every individual is influenced by art, tools, behavior, or ideas others have created, there is no originality – only original thought of how to re-assemble pre-existing pieces.)

Below are five tips on how to use your left hemisphere to jump-start creativity:
  1. Research: Read books or articles that address the creative blocks you are currently facing.
  2. Delegate: Find resources that help you prepare and plan ahead for future creative droughts. (Blogging-wise, use the schedule post tool on your blog to automatically publish to your blog, and check out BufferApp as a useful Twitter/Facebook-publishing tool.)
  3. Create a routine: Take out your journal, paintbrushes, or sketchbook even when you aren't inspired. The act of beginning, of pushing yourself into creation, often inspires inspiration.
  4. Prepare: Get ahead of yourself. Having a list of possible posts, ideas, or ideas to explore will give you a place to jump from, and you will avoid having to start from scratch.
  5. Make notes: In a moment of inspiration, get as much done as you possibly can. If you have to step away from your project, leave a note outlining where your project is headed to help yourself find your way back into it.
I am determined to balance my creative impulsiveness and elusive bouts of inspiration with the structure and self-discipline that are foreign to my creative process and nature. Balance is key, and I think that however frustrating in the meantime will prove valuable in the long run.

This subject something I'm going to keep thinking about, mulling over, and addressing. I'd love to hear your thoughts and opinions on this, and I'd especially love to know about your own habits and ebbs and flows of creativity! Please share in the comments below.

Hey Gals! Art Journal Spread




This art journal spread is from a few weeks ago. I used several vintage pieces that I got from my grandmother when I visited her in July; the photos and newspaper clippings are things that were my grandfather's in his high school and college days!

I used these, acrylics, water-soluble crayons, chalk pastel, and ballpoint and Sharpie pens. Just a handful of materials can create such a wide variety of outcomes; it so much fun to see how different each page I create is.





I love that symbols, thoughts, and impressions pop into my head as I create, even as I clear my mind and fall into instinctive movement and creation. The bear cub, "que sera, sera", cactus-like plant, and star themes were not planned, but made their way into the pages nonetheless!




What do you think of this spread? Do surprising things show up in your art, too?

Blog Renovation: What Now?



Woohoo! You've decided to rework your blog!
So... what now?

I've been going back to basics and reading up successful bloggers' advice for new bloggers. The things I'm most interested in are maintaining consistency in voice, subject, and schedule; targeting your audience while staying true to yourself; establishing trust and community; and figuring out your blog's focus. One of the most helpful articles I've found thus far is called "How to Decide What to Blog About". I've found its content a very useful way to measure My Peacetree's current focus, purpose, and pull. The author of the article, Amy Lynn Andrews, proposes that there are five general reasons readers will return to a blog or website:
  1. It helps solve a problem.
  2. It assuages the reader's fear(s).
  3. It teaches or introduces something new.
  4. It pushes the reader reach a goal.
  5. It is entertaining.
Think about the most popular blog genres; from fashion to food to DIY, you can likely put them in at least one of these categories. This made a lot of sense to me, and reminded me of something I learned about when taking a playwriting class in college: without some sort of conflict to be resolved, there is no interesting story to tell (or to hear). If you need an example, check out this simple playwriting exercise and accompanying article.

But back to the list. Where does your blog or website fall? My Peacetree started out in the solve-a-problem/learn-something-new fields, perhaps with assuage-your-fears thrown in (reminding readers that they are, indeed, loveable and valued). This weekend, I went through every single post I have published here, saving and categorizing my favorites. As early as December 2009 – only seven months after founding My Peacetree – I wrote,
When I began blogging, I intended to write about creativity and philosophy and inspiration, and how all three are woven together in a beautiful, complex, astounding way. Instead, somehow these things have morphed into hastily written snippets about what I am doing or what will be happening soon.
Dissatisfaction with my posts is not a new thing. But I also surprised myself with how many, of the hundreds I have written, I like and am proud of.

I also noticed that every post that represents my best self, art, and writing falls into one of the categories above. Additionally, other than end-of-year reflections, every single post I put onto these lists is "big picture". In other words, its content has little-to-nothing to do with my day-to-day life, but with overarching themes of life, beauty, art, and creativity. Each of these subjects can be applied to the five categories above; my day-to-day life can't.

Right now, my goal is to make sure my interests and blog posts align. The very first step I am going to take in making that happen is to ask, each time I publish, "Does this post solve a problem or attempt to soothe a fear? Or does it teach, set a goal, or entertain?" For now, anyway, this will be my guideline for content creation – making sure my posts stay on task and are relevant, useful, and interesting.

Many more posts on blogging to come! I'll be looking at how getting re-introduced to yourself; planning blog posts; defining your reader; using helpful apps and marketing; and interpreting your stats can all help to inspire you and create a blog that both you and your readers love to visit.

(And don't panic, darlings.. I have other non-blogging posts in the works, too.)
Whew! What did you think of this post? Have any suggestions, questions, or requests? Drop me a line here!

A New Leaf



I have been blogging for over five years now. I was first inspired to develop my online presence after reading about altered-book art in high school and stumbling into the world of art journaling and mixed media artists' blogs. My Peacetree also began as a way for me to escape from my own insecurities and depression.

For the first year or so I wrote exclusively about the joy and beauty of life, particularly of nature. I bought a fancy shmancy Nikon camera and began taking photos of my art. I gained a following of gentle, loving dreamers who felt safe in this somewhat magical, ethereal place, where everyone arrived in their spirit or essence and not in their tangible body. I resisted, for a very long time, sharing my photo or details about myself or my own life in detail, afraid of those I knew stumbling upon my inner life and afraid to be defined by what the mirror held. I desperately needed a place of secrecy and safety where I could explore my own vulnerabilities and fragile dreams and reach out to those kindred spirits I couldn't find in my waking life. I created and tended a secret garden, if you will.

The summer of 2010 was the most successful period for My Peacetree: I was insanely inspired, I painted daily, I wrote often, and I participated in art swaps and engaged in others' blogs and online conversations and on social media. In the first two years in this garden, my following grew hugely.

And then I went back to school, and things changed.
I changed.

And I realized tonight, as I browsed Pinterest for articles on blogging, that I just don't enjoy posting about what I once did. I have felt obligated to stay true to an art/tender-soul approach, to that old version of myself that defined this blog for so long, and that the only reason I have been compelled to open my art journal has been so that I can photograph it, write about it, and share it here, because I feel like that's what's expected. I struggle to post, and when I do, I make a half-hearted attempt that ends up being a short, boring update on my life. I take little pride in what I write anymore. It was a bittersweet realization: my passions have shifted – and that's okay.

Guilt and obligation are no motivation. Pretending to be engaged is unfair to my readers and to myself, and to be truthful, I think it shows up in the quality of my writing here.

So I had an awakening: I will search for my new purpose, a passion that drives me to return with full joy and spirit, inspired to write endless material that is true to this new changed me. As this year is all about charging ahead, trying new things, practicing bravery and exercising perseverance, I think this is an excellent challenge.

My Peacetree. A tree grows. It branches. It stretches and reaches for the sky, and in autumn its leaves die and fall to make room for new growth. Perhaps My Peacetree has been dormant for a while, hidden under snowdrifts. And perhaps it is time for the spring to come.

I am excited to have you with me on this new adventure.
Stay tuned!

The Wanderer at Home


Oh, my loves. What a summer it has been.

For the past ten weeks I have been moving between various friends' and family's spare rooms in cities and suburbs, depending on their kindness and love and generosity and support (for which I am deeply indebted and endlessly grateful). I've applied to scores of jobs, reached the final round of interviews for a dream job, and been ignored by many other organizations. I have given it my all – I have charged and cried and fallen and stood up and persevered. I've made some difficult decisions, and I have also felt like I had no choices to make.

And finally – finally! – an opportunity arose, and I whole-heartedly made a leap.

Just a week ago, I accepted a position as a live-in nanny with a wonderful, gracious family in Maryland. This position gives me the freedom to pursue other dreams of all sorts, to have a place of my own, and to work with two (soon-to-be-three) amazing kiddos.

I am so very, very lucky.
And while circumstances lead me away from Philadelphia, I am very, very happy.

And, my darlings, this welcome stability allows me to return to regular blogging, painting, creating, sewing, writing, and to fully enjoying life. I'm so glad to be back.

All my love,

Le Chat



These are photos of my friend's cat. Because of her markings, she looks angry – but she is in reality a super sweet, playful kitty. I very much enjoy her company as I job hunt from my temporary home.

My week has been a whirlwind. There was a long day driving back to my storage unit to grab important papers. There was errand-running. There was a job interview on Thursday (which turned out to be an information session for nearly ten people, including myself). And last weekend, of course, was a very old friend's wedding.

How is life treating you, sweetest?

"Peek"-ing into My Peacetree



I stumbled across an incredible tool that I can't help but pass on. Let me say up front that I am not getting paid for this and that everything here is my own opinion; I was so amazed with the service – and such a useful one at that – that I want to share it!

Peek from UserTesting is a service that gives you insight into how a new visitor, completely unfamiliar with your website or blog, reacts to your site. What's amazing is that it's in realtime, meaning you get instant feedback and can see their process as they interact with your site. What are they most interested in? What works? What doesn't? The answers may really surprise you.

It's free and is super crazy fast; they emailed me with my three-minute video in less than two hours after I submitted my request. It's fun, too, to watch a stranger visit your page; you're seeing your own site, however familiar, through a stranger's eyes.

Here's what I learned about My Peacetree.
The positives:
  • Interesting
  • Purpose is fairly clear
  • User would return
The negatives:
  • Empty Etsy shop seems pointless
  • Header is lacking; needs color
I've been itching to create a header that pops, so the feedback on it is something I already suspected. But the Etsy thing surprised me: if it were me, I'd head straight to "About", not "Shop". But I am glad, regardless, that readers are still interested in what I might sell. I'll either need to add a message on Etsy or change the nav bar, I think, to make things clearer.

And once I make these changes? I'll submit another request. Peek allows up to three tests per month.

I'm grateful to this anonymous reviewer, too. He was kind, professional, and provided constructive feedback – and I can't help but like anyone who is a fellow dreamer! A shout out to you, Mr. Reviewer. Thank you for your insight!

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