Tools are important

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Having the right tools for writing, for art, for making in general, can make your creative endeavors more fun. I recently bought a Canon printer with the capability of printing 13 inch by 19 inch photos or art work. Amazon finally carries photo quality paper that fits the printer. The result is bliss. I see lots more of my work appearing in Koa frames on my walls.

Zentangling for Stress Relief

I like to Zentangle.

Sounds kind of like Asian kink, but that's not what it is.

Zentangling is an art form which uses the drawing of patterns to instantly shift mental focus from a scattered to a mindful state. It doesn't require any art skills, but rather a patient application of repetitive strokes. It's the repetition that induces the mindfulness.

Each piece takes a few minutes or hours depending on my mood. Some are purely abstract while some are semi-representational with tangling patterns utilized in producing them.

Most people use small artist tiles - 3 1/2 by 3 1/2 inches specialized art paper - to create their tangles. I prefer to do mine digitally, using the Procreate app on the iPad Pro using the Apple pencil.

There are no rules. The pictorial outcome is not important. It's the shift in focus to a mindful flow state that is the objective. It is calming and meditative and virtually eliminates rumination.

Few of my creations are strictly Zentangles - I digitally paint some fairly conventional fish for example (I'm currently part way through a personal challenge of painting 40 Hawaiian fish in 40 days) - but even many of the fish have some element of Zentangling.

I also paint fish that look like they've been printed from actual fish in the Japanese 'Gyotaku' style. It's particularly fun to try to take a fish reference and transform it into something that looks like a Japanese fish print.

Bottom line, when it comes to digital drawing and painting, the point isn't that I'm an ARTIST (all caps intended) - because I am not. I'm an artist (lower case intended). The difference is that there is no pretension - of skill, mastery of form or composition. My objective is to look at everything with 'beginners mind', as the Zen masters would describe it, and simply explore what I see through a media I enjoy. It's the seeing that counts.

Digital art - particularly Zentangling -shifts me into a flow state where I can remain for hours, and that's the wonderful thing. It never fails to make me feel better.

My Gallery page link (click the heading):

If you're interested in Zentangle, I recommend going to the original source:




Using iPad Pro For Mindmapping

I’m a huge proponent of mindmapping for brainstorming almost anything. I particularly like it for writing fiction.

I use the technique for:

  • ·Plot ideas
  • ·Character development
  • ·Setting
  • ·Structure
  • ·Scene Development

There isn’t a day when I don’t mindmap.

The problem: I end up with huge numbers of mind maps on printer paper. I have binders full of them, and it’s hard to keep up with and organize them meaningfully.

I tried scanning them to Evernote and they aren’t readable.

I tried online mindmapping software solutions (like Mindmeister), but they are too cumbersome to use for quick brainstorming. Mindmapping is best done on the fly. Creativity needs to have the fewest barriers possible. A commercial app like Mindmeister is best used when you need to have a clean and easy to read text product. Otherwise, mindmapping is meant to be messy.

The solution for me: the Procreate drawing and painting app on an iPad Pro that’s integrated with the Apple Pencil.

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I love to draw using Procreate as a break from writing. It immediately shifts my brain into another mode. One day it struck me that it would make a good mindmapping tool.

I simply open up a new canvas on Procreate. I like a black background with neon colors for the mindmap nodes. Then I pick a brush/pen/pencil I like. Set the brush size appropriate to how much info I need to get on the canvas and then mindmap like I would normally.

When I’m done, I simply save in Evernote.

No more wasted paper.

And it’s fun too!


"Genius is the capacity to see ten things where the ordinary man sees one." - Ezra Pound

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Creatively blocked? Stumped solving a problem? Caught in circular thinking? Need new ideas?

Making lists might be your answer.

The idea is simple. Write down the problem. List possible solutions and ideas. Come up with as many as possible to ensure you have mined the alternatives at a deep level. Do your list all in one sitting until your brain feels challenged.  Pretty soon you'll run out of the obvious solutions and then your brain will have to come up with novel ideas. Unexpected solutions will appear as patterns and new connections emerge. Sometimes it feels miraculous when a fresh idea pops out of the gloom.

I first read about the list concept in the "Fiction Writer's Brainstormer" by James V. Smith, Jr.

I picked up his book at a long ago Maui Writer's Conference and was immediately hooked on many of his brainstorming ideas.

His main point is "don't settle" for the first idea or ideas that comes into your mind.

Among many brainstorming gems in his book, Smith suggests that when you are faced with a writing dilemma you can use a bracketing tool which uses nineteen categories for pushing your mind to explore potential solutions. If you don't like his categories, make up your own.

In his process, you write out the plot problem and then you start filling in ideas in each of the categories below. Come up with as many ideas for each category as possible. Use your own definition of what the category means to you. You'll instinctively know whether an idea is commonplace or it's over the top. The more ideas you generate in each category, the higher likelihood of coming up with something innovative that will make the scene come alive.

1.  Commonplace:

2.  Automatic:

3.   Literal:

4.   Obvious:

5.   Interesting:

6.    Labored:

7.    Opposite:

8.    Inventive:

9.    Unusual:

10.  Creative:

11.  Magical:

12.  Obscure:

13.  Amusing:

14.  Odd:

15.  Outrageous:

16.  Over the top:

17.  Ridiculous:

18.  Obscene:

19.  Preposterous:

No matter how ridiculous the idea is, add it to the list. This method really works, but only if you are willing to push the process as far as you can. If you give up too early, you won't come up with enough alternatives to push beyond circular and commonplace thinking. If you're tempted to give up too early, remind yourself about Smith's mantra: "Don't settle". I have it on a digital post-it note on my second monitor to continually remind myself of this while I'm working on a novel.

Several years later, and still using Smith's bracketing method, I ran into James Altucher's suggestions about becoming an idea machine. It appears in many of his blog posts and books.

His method? Yep. You guessed it. Lists. His recommendation to exercise the idea muscle is to select a topic or problem and write a minimum of ten solutions/ideas. Every day. Eventually, your brain becomes primed to pump out ideas. Like weightlifting builds muscle, daily use of the list process develops mental capacity. Creativity can be improved.

(Google Altucher. His ideas can be controversial, but there are many useful techniques and strategies to be mined from his blog and books.)

If ten ideas are good, what about making a list of 100 ideas!

Micheal Gelb, author of "How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci", recommends a Da Vinci notebook exercise of making a list of 100 questions/ideas. As usual, the first twenty ideas will be off the top of your head. The next 30 or 40 will really make your brain work to find new connections. And the last 40 or so will be where the unexpected and profound ideas will be found.

Another example of this method is found in author Kathleen Adams' "Journal of the Self". It includes 100 topics to develop a list of 100 ideas about. I've been meaning to explore that.

A common key to optimizing each of these methods is to do the lists in one sitting. This forces your brain beyond the usual boundaries since you're not giving in to avoidance behavior by getting up and telling yourself you'll come back to it later. Painful? Yep. Productive? Yep. Rewarding? Oh yes!

I like to combine list making with mindmapping. For example, using Smith's categories, I'll choose a category and then rapidly mind map solutions. This seems to help me break out of the linear mode more readily than list making alone.

If you'd like to try the list method, here's a particularly good exercise to start with. Write down 100 things you are grateful for. Gratitude practice is particularly good for you emotionally, particularly if you do it first thing in the morning because the day flows mindfully and with greater ease and joy after you've done the exercise. It could be the most important and rewarding activity of your day. I start a new gratitude list every day so I don't just go through the motions. Most of the items are the same, but writing about them again fires off the gratitude synapses and it never fails to make me feel better.

Pick a number. Ten. Twenty. Fifty. One hundred. Make lists and push your imagination. Do it daily and become an idea machine.


Mind mapping is my absolute favorite mental facilitation tool. I use it to organize almost everything I'm working on where I need to capture ideas before they flit away. It is my most common planning tool.  And most importantly it is my primary writer's brainstorming method.

Mind mapping has been around for a long time. As far back as the third century. But it was popularized by Tony Buzan in the 1970's.

In my previous life, I've used it extensively for project planning, brainstorming, training and meeting facilitation. I haven't found a better method.

Here's a link on the basics:

Why do I find it so helpful for writing projects?

  1. It's not linear like traditional outlining. You can jump from topic to topic at will so your creativity is not constrained.
  2. Patterns emerge quickly as your mind enters right brain mode.
  3. You can use it for organizing anything. Plotting, planning, research, interviews, titles, characters, scenes, settings, queries, pitching, name it. If you're organizing, planning or brainstorming, this beats conventional list or outlining methods. Once you're done, you can then apply the information to normal lists or outlines.
  4. Associations come so rapidly that the inner critic is put on hold.
  5. The more you use it, the more fluid your mind becomes.

Paper or electronic? You can mind map either way, but paper is much faster. I use printer paper and a clipboard (I keep two on my desk at all times). Looking at my desk right now, I can see at least five maps ranging in topics from a wine group event that I'm organizing this weekend to five key questions I haven't yet answered about a key protagonist.

Once I've completed a mind map, then I'll usually use Dragon Dictate and create a conventional outline or list. It's much faster to dictate than type.

I can't imagine working without this wonderful tool.