Relaxing and unwinding ready to create

relaxing and unwindingRecently I have been focused on developing concepts for some classes for my site RelaxandCreate.Today. I wanted to include a gentle relaxing and unwinding exercise at the beginning of each class to help people leave behind their busy days and focus on the activities we were about to do. While the goal is for the activities to be done individually, I felt it was important for everyone to share an initial few moments together and make the mental shift towards being relaxed and ready to create.

I found some resistance to this idea as some considered a relaxing and unwinding exercise to be an unfamiliar and somewhat scary activity. A few felt it might even be contrary to their beliefs. In an effort to help better explain the process, I came across this wonderful guided relaxation exercise to help loosen stress and calm down. It is from the Mayo Clinic website:

So as you contemplate the way you want to tell your story – share your valuable information – why don’t you take seven minutes to view this video. Does it help you with relaxing and unwinding – and clear your mind so you can think more clearly about your project?

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Sharing your knowledge

Sharing your knowledge can feel a bit like tearing tearing off your clothes in public – it is the stuff nightmares are made of! Many of us grew up at a time when we were encouraged to ‘keep ourselves to ourselves’ and not tell the world everything that was on our minds. Times have changed, and as you have probably noticed, people now are not in the least bit reluctant to share exceptionally personal information. I’m not certainly suggesting that sharing your knowledge also has to done in a brash and tasteless way, but times have changed, and now it is no longer considered to be rude to share your knowledge publicly – especially when it can help others. (Think of Martha Stewart and her empire that grew from sharing recipes and housekeeping tips!)

sharing your knowledgeSo what are some of the ways you can share your life story, share your poetry, or share your knowledge? It may surprise you to know that both blogs and websites can be password protected so that only those you want to see the information can do so. It is also possible to password protect single pages that may contain sensitive material. I have a client who has a huge family genealogical database site. He wants to share enough about his family, that distant relatives can see the family origins, but all contact details for family members in the current generations are securely hidden. We have taken the added precaution of telling google not to add the site to their list of sites found in searches. This doesn’t mean the site is unfindable, but it does mean it wont be very public.

This makes a safe way to begin to share life stories, share your story online, or share any stories you may write online. Down the road you may decide to publish any of this material for members of your family to keep, but I understand that it takes time – and courage – to start putting your deeper thoughts out online. You may also feel protective of your knowledge, especially if it concerns a sensitive matter or is about a family member who is still alive.

 

Sharing Your Knowledge

What I have found when it comes to sharing your knowledge is this; you tend to have to start sharing gently. Exposing too much makes us feel uncomfortable, and as humans we are disinclined to keep doing anything that makes us feel uncomfortable! I began by creating a family recipe book that included favourite recipes, and included family photos, but which didn’t share anything too revealing. I still keep the book ‘private’ on the site, and only buy copies to send to friends and family members. Even now, that book isn’t listed amongst the books I have created, in part because it is about my family, and in part because my book designing skills have (mercifully) advanced somewhat since then… (The book in the photo isn’t my recipe book!) Clients also generally start by sharing less personal information to get started. They will post about public events and their thoughts about them for quite some time before they are comfortable sharing their own thoughts.

So sharing your knowledge is likely to feel odd and a bit uncomfortable at first. Unfortunately you have to start somewhere, and by password protecting your content, you can start writing, and keep adding to your knowledge base for as long as you need before you feel confident about letting it go public!

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Things you need to write a story

When it is time to write a story it can feel very intimidating to sit down with a pen and paper or stare a blank screen. Suddenly you feel as though you have absolutely nothing to say – your mind goes completely blank, you can’t remember any thing you’d planned to say, and suddenly you have an overwhelming urge to get up and walk the dog/vacuum the living room/clean the bathroom!

write a story

Write a story – the easy way!

Here are some ways to help you gather ideas before you start to write a story, and so the blank screen or page no longer have any power over you!

  • First of all you need to know who you are writing the story about. How old are they, what do they look like, what is troubling them, or making them excited? Make a note of your answers, even just bullet points since the story is probably about you, so when you start to write you can set the scene.
  • Next you need to decide where you will set the scene as you write the story. Where is the character? What are the surroundings like? Are they safe or in danger? What should the reader know about this environment?
  • Lastly, think about the arc of the story. You know where the character is at the beginning, can bullet point the ‘crisis’ point in the middle of story that you character has to cope with, and then how they get to the end. These dots along the way will make it much easier to remind yourself of what you were doing than just launching in and trying to work out how to get to the main point of the story.

These ideas may sound very simple, but even a simple outline will help calm your fears and help you get writing. (Though your dog and home may not thank you!)

To help you get going in smaller chunks, you can also do as I did. start a blog. It is free, and you can choose whether to make your posts public or private as you write. Each day plan to sit down and write for a short time – aim for 15-20 minutes. Set a timer for this time, then sit down and write a story. Don’t read back over what you have written, or in any way edit it. Just write. When the timer goes off, you can decide whether to keep going a little longer, but when you’re done, just save your post and log out. The next day you can edit what you wrote, tidy up grammar and spelling, then save, and move on to the next blog post. When you get up you can go and fact check any details you couldn’t recall, and write them down in readiness for the next day.

In time you will have either a series of chapters for your story or a series of short stories written. You can copy and paste them into a Word or text file, then arrange them in whatever way you wish! By tricking yourself into only thinking about writing a tiny piece of your story, you are much more likely to show up and write each day. In time you will have a lengthy piece of text to use in whichever way you want.

And that is how to write a story of your life in easily managed chunks!

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Creative ways to tell your story

It can be hard to know how to start to tell your story. It used to be that authors wrote or typed their story onto paper, edited it, and kept doing so until the process was complete… or abandoned.

Nowadays we have so many more options with the rise of computer apps and sites to choose from. For the left-brained amongst us, a spreadsheet will quickly get the essential points outlined, and sub points inserted to create an outline. For those of us who are more right-brained, such a task can be difficult. While mind-mapping software makes it much easier for those of use who have a hard time thinking linearly, I have been looking into alternative, and more creative, ways that stories can be created that don’t make us weep.

Online ways to tell your story

For those of us who are more visual, an online site called Mapia is very appealing. It is a site designed for those with travel stories to tell. The site is free to join, and encourages you to upload photos and maps of your adventure. Your story can then be written using the photos and maps to help you organize your thoughts and plan out your story from what you have uploaded. The finished results are beautiful!

If you prefer not to write at all, then record yourself telling your story on video using your (or someone else’s!) smartphone. Use Facebook live to record your story live to Facebook. Once it is complete, you can download the file, upload to YouTube, and have it transcribe your speech. (Full instructions for how to do this are here: https://www.labnol.org/internet/transcribe-video-to-text/28914/) I’ve heard that the results can either be very accurate, or very bad, depending on how well it understands your speech. Either way you will end with a page of text that you can edit s much or as little as you wish, to get it the way you want it.

Apps are another way to tell your story, but in a more creative way. Everyday more apps appear, but here are a few iPhone apps to try. You can read about some innovative and creative ways to tell your story here.

Old school ways to tell your story

tell your story If these methods are too far beyond you comfort zone for ways to tell your story, perhaps you need another route into your story? This site offers some different ways to consider the story you want to tell. It suggests ideas from a micro story – 140 characters on Twitter and up – to telling the story in reverse. If dialogue is more your thing, tell the story only through the speech of those involved. Where the speakers are and what is around them may be unimportant, or can be brought in through the conversation. Often it only takes a little twist – and a perceived breaking of the old rules – to make the way you tell your story much more fun!

 

 

 

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Finding Support

I have been MIA for a while now – but am back because I want to talk about finding support. While I was gone I was primarily selling my wares at craft fairs. As a card-carrying introvert, I wasn’t sure I would enjoy this much social interaction, but in reality I found it was wonderful to talk to the people who bought my things, and to find out how I could make them better. For example, I created coloring books for an environmentally friendly fair. I knew that the people who lived in the immediate area were predominantly young, environmentally conscious, and into yoga and meditation. I created coloring books using recycled paper, designs to inspire mindfulness, so containing a lot of tiny spaces to color. Bizarrely, the people most interested in the books were older women who wanted interesting pictures to color, but with fewer tiny details. I went away and created a completely different coloring book of flower pictures, and it has sold very well! Without the support of my customers, I wouldn’t have learned how to change the coloring books into ones that people really wanted.

It was also a great time for talking to other vendors and crafters. So many of us work from home or online, and seldom meet anyone else from our tribe, so the quieter moments of any craft fair provide plenty of time to talk to others doing the same thing as us. My daughter in particular was eager to start a group who meets monthly to chat, share experiences, and swap stories. That group is still being formulated – should it be anyone who crafts? only Etsy shop owners? only those actively earning money, as opposed to those who make things and sell them solely as a way to buy more supplies? While we wait for the snow to melt, that support group is still pending.

On the other hand, a friend who has been going through a particularly trying time in her life asked me where to find other women who wanted support while they were restarting their lives. Having been to many MeetUp groups, that seemed to be a great place to look for women who might be interested in joining such a group. To my amazement 50 women quickly signed up for the group, and the 12 spaces for the first meeting taken, plus 3 people were left on the waiting list. The first meeting fell during a torrential storm, so was smaller than anticipated, but everyone who made it agreed that finding others to support and encourage them was crucial to their wellbeing. If you live in the Swarthmore, PA area, please come and join us, or join us online on the Facebook group.

Although finding a passion and turning it into a purpose – be it more income, social connections, or a completely new path – is an exciting process, it can also be one filled with self-doubt and worry. In out over-connected online, but under-connected offline world it is reassuring to learn (again) that it doesn’t take a lot to feel support. It does however take the effort to step outside your comfort zone and go and meet new people in a similar situation. Who knows who else is on a similar path to you and could benefit from your support? Or you from theirs?

Super powers

Women have super powers they use everyday – and they are so much better than the powers mere cartoon superheroes can display!

When trouble calles, at some time we’ve all kind of wished a superhero or superheroine would swoop in and save the day. Sadly this scenario seldom happens, so for the last fifty or so years of our lives we have had to step up to be our own superheroes and save the day. If you’ve stayed alive this far, then you have several well-used super powers under your belt!

So why haven’t you heard about them before, and what on earth are they, you are asking yourself.(You are, aren’t you?!)

Let’s start with all the times someone has asked you, “How do I…?”. or “Where is the…?”. or Mum, why is the….?” – and without missing a beat you have given them the answer they needed! By living this long, you have amassed an incredible amount of knowledge and wisdom, some intentionally, some by osmosis, and some because you just had to figure things out. Over the course of the last half century, you have learned so much, you are now a bona fide wise woman because your first super power in knowledge.

You will also have at some time become so completely absorbed by a task, a book, a view, or when driving that a long period of time will have passed before you “return” to the present. It is when you are in this state of oblivion, when you feel free and peaceful, that you are closest to your passion. So your next superpower is your ability to be passionate about something, and it rewards you with absorption and peace.

You will also have stepped up and done things that felt awkward, uncomfortable – and downright terrifying – through your years. Bravery is often seen as a masculine trait, but while going into battle requires bravery, constantly stretching yourself requires multiple bursts of bravery – and usually without your buddies along side. No matter how few or how many times you have been brave, it probably still takes effort to go outside your comfort zone, but you do it, so bravery is also one of your much-used super powers.

If you are this site, you are about to have to use these same super powers to help yourself. To come up with a project that is interesting and consuming enough to turn into the seeds of a something new, maybe even a new business – requires delving deep into your memories to recall all you know on the subject – or who you lent your books to so you can get them back! You already know that your topic can bring you peace and make you feel whole, so that is a good place to be as you set out on this road. The biggest superpower you are going to have to draw on is your bravery.

Most woman can be really brave when defending members of their family, but become oddly diffident when it comes to defending themselves. Starting a new project is not a simple task, or everyone would do it. It is like building an iceberg in some ways – the 10% of the idea that becomes visible to the public takes 90% of the worry, decision-making, overcoming fears of inadequacy, becoming assertive about your passion, and committing time and money on a venture others might not see the value in doing.

I know you have the necessary super powers to succeed. I’ve seen you on the street, in the playground, and out and about. I know that you can protect and assert yourself for others, and now I want to see you using your super powers to help yourself.

Coloring Books for Adults

This is a cautionary tale about print on demand services and deadlines! Last weekend my daughter and I were at Green Fest Philly, having been approached to attend as Etsy store owners with eco-friendly products. As we planned for the event, we brainstormed ideas for new products that we thought might appeal. As the dust settled, I found myself designing some coloring books for adults…

As the concept has been around for several months, I wondered if the books would be greeted warmly or not. Too my surprise, even before the fair had opened a woman from a local arboretum stopped by and asked to buy any copies we hadn’t sold to sell in their gift shop! It was great to find that my coloring books for adults were so well received.

Before that small triumph, I had to get the designs created and the books made, so began by deciding how best to have the designs printed. I first went to CreateSpace to see what their time line looked like. I learned that if I uploaded my designs within the next 3 days I could have printed copies delivered in time for the fair, so with great excitement – and a firm deadline in place – I set to work. I had toyed with the idea a while back so had some designs that were ready to go, but needed to work on enough to create a book. After I had completed one book with flower images, my daughter suggested that she would like one with mandalas and allover designs in it, so I set to work and managed to create another set of new designs.

Having uploaded the designs, I created covers for both books and sat back to await the approval phase. Within seconds of setting the books into approval mode, I inevitably noticed there was a typo on the back cover. When the books got initial approval I quickly made that small change and sent them back, explaining I had changed nothing but one word on the back cover of each book, hoping for a faster review the second time. 24 hours passed, and then it got into the next day. I finally got the approval and ordered copies for the fair. It was only when the invoices popped through that I saw that the delivery date was no longer September 12th, but had leaped to September 19th. I replied to the email to see if I could expedite the process. Another 24 hours and I was told I could pay a lot extra – only then to be told they still couldn’t be delivered until September 14th or 15th – still too late for the fair on September 13th, so told them to forget the expedited mailing and just let them arrive when they did.

Having put in so much design energy to create these coloring books for adults for this fair, I quickly I sent a copy order to Staples and an Amazon Prime order for covers. Staples also had a print delay, but finally got all the copies and the covers, and spent an afternoon making up the new books so we’d be ready for the fair. You can imagine my frustration when 2 days later, the printed copies arrived by mail…

This chaos did mean we now had two full sets of coloring books – one that had pages that could be easily be removed so finished pictures could be framed, and the other easily transported – but had been a much more complicated task than it should have been!

So if you would like to see my handiwork, click here! If on the other hand you want to use print on demand services… plan well ahead!

Too many pieces of the puzzle?

Often when I’m talking to prospective clients, they are apologetic. “There are too many pieces to this puzzle!” they will say, “I don’t know what to tell you that I want!”

I feel bad that too often we are made to feel that unless we have all the answers, we aren’t worthy of asking for help. I want to say right now, that I don’t expect you to have all the pieces of the puzzle neatly put together before we meet! My role in this collaboration is take your ideas, make suggestions, and come up with a plan for you. You have the business idea, knowledge or passion, and I bring the technical and design skills. Together we come up with a plan for your new business site!

Coming up with an idea for a business is labor intensive – and I use the analogy of giving birth a lot! It can be an elusive idea that takes months to corral into a concept you can verbalize. Once you have that concept, you start to think of how you can turn it into a business. Maybe you ask friends or relatives, some of whom will be supportive, and some who will try to stop you from getting started. It can be a mixed bag as you announce your “pregnancy” and suddenly everyone is an expert on what you should do – except you, who are still feeling very protective of your new project.

If you learn to listen to your inner voice and believe you are on the right path, you can continue to move forwards even if others around you are dismissive. Slowly the pieces of the puzzle will start to appear and things will fall into place. It is easy at this point to try to work out everything for yourself, but from experience can tell you that that often creates more anxiety than it eases! There are always more alternatives than you need, and it is easy to get bogged down trying to weight the benefits of two options until you lose sight of your real project.

Write down the concerns you have – or ideas that you have come across but are unsure if they fit in. A web designer who has already built many sites will be able to take your ideas and form them into a whole – or if any elements don’t belong at the initial phase, they are still safe on your list! I have a client who had a whole marketing scheme developed before we met, but had to rein in some of the merchandising ideas until there was a site with a product to sell. Now the site and product are developed, we are circling back around to the products, but with a much clearer idea of who they should appeal to and what the brand of the site really looks like.

So whatever stage your idea is at, you are still deciding which puzzle box to select, you a have a box of puzzle pieces but are scared to open it, or you have already opened the box and have puzzle pieces all over the floor, I can help you. It is time to sort out the pieces of the puzzle for your idea!

 

Another start over

There is something about September that offers us the chance to start over again. Even though many of us are beyond school age we get another chance to review our goals and hopes for the year, safe and warm in the “back to school” glow of new things to learn.

As adults our lives seldom proceed as smoothly as the school year! Our great promises to ourselves on January 1 have receded in the busy-ness of everyday life. The projects we promised ourselves we would start got side tracked by doctor’s appointments, taxes, friends and family – not to mention the strong pull of continuing to do what feels safe and familiar. To start over on a project sometimes makes us feel as though we have failed, but in reality, the timing just wasn’t right the first time around.

Maybe one of your goals for this year was to start your own business, based on a passion you have, or knowledge you have gained, or information you have accumulated over the years. Friends have told you many times that you should write a book or somehow package your knowledge to help others, but you have hesitated. Here we are again at the cusp of another school year, and it is a great time to get started on your business! The days are getting longer, so you aren’t going to be outside so much, and the fall TV schedule is a little underwhelming, so the time is ripe for your start over!

If you are not sure how to put your ideas together into a business, that isn’t a problem! We can talk or Skype and I will help you uncover the ways you could create a product from what you know, and suggest ways to promote it. I would almost certainly suggest a website, and can certainly help you with that, both in creating it, and also helping you learn how to use it – or do the updating for you if it is all just too baffling. The good news is that no one knows quite what their business will look like when they start. One of the few certainties is that it will change several times before you sit back and say, “Yes, that is how it should look!” Very few people are born with the skill to “just know” how to create a successful business, so plan to enjoy the ride – and the currently unknown destination you will reach. I promise that you will find you know so much more that you currently think you do by the end of this process. Wouldn’t that make a great story to tell over the holidays?!

So, if last January – or any January before this past one – you started to think you might want to build a small business for yourself, the time is here to renew that resolution! Just remember that you don’t have to have everything mapped out before you start, all you have to do is click here and let me know you are ready to start over.

 

 

Web Design Trends

If you spend much time online then I’m sure you are aware of the ever-changing trends in web design. I’m sure you have noticed that from time to time you see a site that really catches your eye – and your attention – and find yourself looking to see whether the whole site is equally amazing! Often the layout looks dramatically different from that of other sites, so you stop browsing and look around – and notice much more than simply what is being promoted or sold on the site – and start to notice features that are novel and appealing. Here are some trends I have noticed this year – and one that seems to be struggling to get traction.

Not only do many people choose to view the web on dual screens, but now sites are taking up this effect. Here is an example from DeskTime where the two sectors of client are addressed on the home page:

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Sometimes two blocks aren’t enough, and sites reveal even more blocks on first viewing, such as SilkTricky. In this example, each of the blocks flies in to form the full page:

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Then there are sites that eliminate all frame work, so the navigation and content all appear on the page without visible boundaries or divisions, such as the Braun site. Here the images and content flow together effortlessly:Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 3.00.45 PM

The next trend is for single screen sites, where the home page is one huge image. Small symbols indicate the availability of more information, but are is subtle and easily missed. In this scenario the most important element of the site receives the one clear place to click, such as this Hatch Collective, where their main goal is to send you to their portfolio:

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The final trend that has now been around for nearly two years is the parallax site, where the page continues to unfold to reveal all the site content, often with elements moving and remaining in place as you navigate down the page. A great example is this site about the Dangers of Fracking:

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All in all sites with larger, compelling central images, or which offer equal weight to each part of a business seem to be becoming very popular. The boxed and framed sites of a few minutes ago are now looking dated…

The only trend that I have seen little about, but which seems to have considerable traction on many of the female entrepreneur Facebook groups I follow is sites that are “girlier” or more feminine. While a number of designers claim to design for this sector of the market, most of the sites I have seen are surprisingly simple, and add only a lace layer to the header, or a floral background. It would be nice to see the design trends listed above created with a more feminine (rather than gender neutral) detail, so there are more options for businesses run by women, and for women, than the current selection.

So, which of these trends appeals to you? What will your next site look like?