Peeping In On Washington, D.C.'s Creative Scene

How do you know when spring has finally come to Washington, D.C.? Some people say it's when the cherry blossoms peak, while others wait for the annual White House Easter Egg roll. For the creatives living in the nation's capital, spring is ushered in by an annual contest featuring our favorite marshmallow treats: peeps!

Peeping In On Washington, D.C.'s Creative Scene ||

As someone who loves both creativity and sugar in all its forms, I've looked forward to the Washington Post's Peeps Diorama Contest every spring for the last ten years. Not familiar? Take a peep at these sugary creations:

Source: The Washington Post
Classic Peeps: A Decade of Sugary Social Commentary by Elizabeth Chang

Aren't those great? My favorite is the diorama of the house from Up. So creative!

I was disappointed but not entirely surprised when the Post announced a few months ago that it would no longer hold the annual competition. The Peeps diorama contest was an awesome tradition, but if entries were already slowing down, it's best to end on a high note and discontinue it.

That said, I was thrilled to hear that Washington City Paper took up the baton and hosted a peeps diorama contest for 2017. The entries were just as rife with sugary social commentary as always, with The Peeple vs. O.J. Simpson taking first prize.

Source: Instagram feed for @washingtoncitypaper

You can check out all of the finalists here.

I love this fun local tradition and I hope Washington City Paper will host it again next year! Which Peep diorama was your favorite? Share it with us in the comments!


4 TED Talks That Will Spark Your Creativity

In my left-brained writing life as a freelance education writer, I spend a lot of time thinking about lifelong learning. That's a big buzzword for educators these days. We all want students to be critical thinkers, studious researchers, and innovative problem-solvers long after graduation.

But what does lifelong learning really look like? It's been almost nine years since I left graduate school, which means it's been a long time since I had a professor to give me assigned readings or challenge my thinking. I've been self-employed as a freelancer for four years, which means I've been responsible for my own market research and professional development for a while, too. On top of that, my right-brained fiction writing would be impossible if I didn't intentionally seek out creative inspiration and growth. Being a lifelong learner is synonymous with living a creative lifestyle.

One of my favorite resources for lifelong learning is TED. This non-profit has one simple goal: to spread great ideas. TED talks--in which thought leaders deliver short, powerful speeches--are available for free on their website. With over 2,000 talks on a range of topics, it's pretty much impossible to visit their website without learning something new.

Since I'm a writer, I spend a lot of time looking for the talks about imagination and creativity. I love hearing what artists of all kinds have to say: what drives them, what humbles them, what inspires them. Here are four of my favorite TED talks that will spark your creativity, every time.


4 TED Talks That Will Spark Your Creativity ||

1. Willard Wigan, Micro-Sculptor

Willard Wigan's sculptures are so small you can only see them under a microscope! In this talk, he shows slides of a house he built on the head of a pin, the Incredible Hulk bursting through the eye of a needle, and a microscopic Statue of Liberty (complete with a flame at the end of the torch). Listen to find out about the inspiration behind his work. I guarantee his speech will make you rethink what it means to pay attention to detail.

2. Isaac Mizrahi, Fashion Designer

One of my all-time favorite TV shows is Project Runway--I've watched all 15 seasons and I can't wait for the next! Since fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi is a judge on the show, I had to see his TED talk on fashion and creativity. Although I think of him as a designer, it surprised me to learn that Mizrahi has many, many interests and draws creative inspiration from just about everything. His speech is a great reminder to try new things in the quest to "not be bored."

3. Ji-Hae Park, Violinist

Ji-Hae Park is an incredible violinist, so listening to her TED talk is worthwhile just for the chance to hear her play. However, as Park says during the talk, music is about so much more than being successful or accomplished. Her speech and performance captures why it matters to be creative just for the sheer joy of it.

4. Elizabeth Gilbert, Author

This speech was recorded after the publication of Eat, Pray, Love, when Elizabeth Gilbert had achieved wild success as an author and was at work on her next book. I love her perspective on the social pressure to "be a genius," and her smart and funny discussion of what it means to "have a genius" instead.

There are thousands more TED talks on the website--don't be surprised if you want to spend all day listening to them! Do you have a favorite TED talk? Share it in the comments--lifelong learning is all about spreading great ideas!

5 Fun Visual Blogs for Creative Minds

I spend almost all of my downtime reading and writing. No complaints here--I could happily spend my entire life in the "word world!" However, since I'm trying to grow and change as a writer, stretching my creative side is a big part of my day. I almost always leave my alternate creative time with new inspiration.

I'd love to say that I make regular time to actually do extra creative projects but honestly--I have deadlines to meet. Thanks to the Internet, I can easily take a few minutes to enjoy other people's artistic forays. These are five visual blogs I especially love to visit. Some are collaborative, some are quirky, and some are thought-provoking. All of them are a great way to find inspiration and take a fun, creative break!

5 fun visual blogs for creative minds from the blog | Some are beautiful, some are quirky, some are thought-provoking. All of them are a great way to find some inspiration and take a fun, creative break!

1. Things Organized Neatly

Just like it says. Every photograph submitted to this blog is beautiful and (for you perfectionists out there) incredibly satisfying.

2. Design Cloud

This is a fun collective of designs from around the world. It's divided into plenty of subgroups, including typography, sculpture, graphic design, and illustrations. Lots of fun to peruse if you're feeling a little creative block!

3. Plenty of Colour

This design blog is a visual treat of gorgeous, colorful images. What I really enjoy about this blog is that you can filter the images according to a color range (I usually pick "blue, turquoise, cobalt...") and enjoy!

4. Creative Roots

This is a collection of visual art from around the world, from architecture to graphic design. At the top, you can filter the results by continent and country--such a cool way to get a glimpse of another culture!

5. Where They Create

I'm always incredibly curious about other people's home offices and studios. Most of us will say that we draw at the kitchen table or type on our laptops in the living room...and for most of us that might be true! I like to imagine otherwise, and for this, Where They Create is a great blog to peruse. Photographer Paul Barbera photographs artists and other creatives in their workspaces, and let me tell you, some of those spaces are pretty incredible!

5 Fun Visual Blogs for Creative Minds from the blog | Some are beautiful, some are quirky, some are thought-provoking. All of them are a great way to get inspired and take a fun, creative break!

What are some of your favorite creative blogs? Leave a comment and let me know!

Author Interview with Jeff Haws

If I had to choose a favorite genre, it would have to be “speculative fiction.” Spec fic is an umbrella term for science fiction, fantasy, and horror—essentially, any work that walks that thin line between “what is” and “what if.” Stephen King purportedly writes in this genre: his works include everything from horror to paranormal to time travel. Other spec fic authors include Margaret Atwood, Ray Bradbury, Neil Gaiman, Madeleine L’Engle…in short, many of my favorites.

So when a new spec fic writer arrived on the scene this year, I was thrilled to add another author to my list of favorites. Jeff Haws released his first novel, Killing the Immortals, in July of 2016. This story explores a world in which medicine is so advanced that dying is a rarity—that is, until a new church is founded to restore mortality.

Then, earlier this month, Jeff released a novella. Tomorrow’s News Today features a journalist who is suddenly able to write the future when he drafts his news articles. I love both books—I can’t recommend them enough!

I’m so excited that Jeff agreed to stop by the blog today for an interview! Thanks for joining us, Jeff!

Interview with Jeff Haws, author of Killing the Immortals and Tomorrow's News Today | Blog post on

Ellen Smith: I was so interested to learn that you were a reporter for over twenty years before you began fiction writing. One thing I loved about Killing the Immortals was your ability to show many different points of view on a complicated issue. Do you think that working in journalism had an influence on your fiction writing style?

Jeff Haws: No doubt, and in all sorts of ways. One of the differences I realized early was when it hit me that there were no excuses anymore. Sometimes, in journalism, you're just dealt a bad hand. Maybe there's not much to the topic. Maybe the subject doesn't do much other than bite his lip and say "Uh-huh" a lot. But you do what you can with what you have, take lemons and make lemonades, all that stuff. What you, of course, can't do is make up quotes, or facts.

In fiction, though, you have to do exactly that. It was pretty freeing. Character isn't interesting? "Well, that's your fault, dummy. Make him interesting." I wrote mostly sports journalism, and the big thing that makes sports writing hard is you have the factual and structural expectations of news writing alongside the reader-entertainment expectations of music or feature writing. The reader wants to be transported back to the game they watched. They want to identify with the athletes they root for. So my writing is very story- and people-focused, because that's what journalism taught me. And now with fiction, I can make those stories and people whatever I want. It's freeing, but there's also pressure. If it sucks, well, that's completely on me. If I'm dealt a bad hand, I'm, ya know, the dealer. Hell, I can put the cards in whatever order I want. So, the groundwork is very different from journalism, but the goal is largely the same: write something that doesn't suck.

ES: When did you first consider a career in writing? Did you always see yourself pursuing both fiction and journalism?

JH: In eighth grade, I had this crazy English teacher named Mrs. Jones. She had been teaching 12th-grade English for 20 years, and this was her first year coming back to 8th; she had no interest in teaching us 8th-grade English. So she basically brought her 12th-grade curriculum and test ran it on us unsuspecting 8th graders. The first day of class, she walked in and told us she was "a slave driver." We all started looking for an exit. Maybe jump out a window or something? People would understand. But, yeah, she lived up to that. Toughest class I ever had—high school and college included. She had ridiculously high standards. She'd have us write papers on the books we read, and they'd go through two rounds of peer review, then two rounds of her reviews before we'd have a final draft. We'd never seen anything like it.

But ya know what? I learned. A lot. By the end of eighth grade, I knew how to break down a sentence. I knew prepositions and gerunds and semicolons and participles, and it made me enjoy writing. I'd worked my ass off for 4 Cs and two Bs in that class (I also had her for Reading class, where I also got 4 Cs and 2 Bs—I wasn't used to getting Cs, but she had no qualms failing people, so I took that and ran with it), and I was gonna put all that work to use, damn it. By the time I walked into my 9th-grade English class and quickly realized I already knew everything they were teaching me, I needed a new writing challenge. The school newspaper was down the hall. So that's when I knew.

As far as fiction goes, I never really expected to do that. I did start to write a Stephen King-derivative story (To be honest, I probably wished it could be Stephen King-derivative) called "Phobia" in 12th grade, but that was honestly the only fiction I'd ever written until I did a short story for a writing challenge with the local alt weekly about a year ago. I had decided I wanted to pursue fiction writing because it had a permanence I liked—whereas my journalism writing gets tossed in the garbage the day after I write it, no one can ever take a novel away from me—and I needed to create a new creative outlet as it had become harder to drum up freelance work lately. I had no idea how long it would take me, but my first goal was to just read as much fiction as I could get my hands on. I thought I might do that for a year to prep. But when I saw that writing contest, I decided to try it. And I found that...hey, I enjoyed it. And the story wasn't terrible. It didn't win, but it didn't suck. So I accelerated my plan a bit, and here we are.

ES: From journalism to freelance writing to fiction writing, you definitely live a creative life! In addition to writing, what other creative pastimes do you enjoy?

JH: All my creativity comes out in words. I've never really thought visually, from a creative perspective. Everything comes out in words. I don't draw or paint. I'd be lucky to put together a suitable stick figure family. But words pour out of me. I get backed up when I don't write. I can feel creatively plugged, like pressure needs to be released. At my day job, I do content marketing and social media strategy, so I do enjoy the creative challenge of using words to build a brand, and putting together a creative strategy that will help you reach the audience you intend to find—and working with those people who know more about visuals than I do.

I'm also passionate about all sorts of aspects of life that aren't all that creative, from baseball (Cubs fan since 1988) to newspapers to travel to craft beer, great food, classic film, music, religious philosophy, public transit, and grimy dive bars with sneaky-good beer lists.

ES: Both Killing the Immortals and Tomorrow’s News Today have original speculative fiction concepts. I imagine writing speculative fiction was quite a departure from journalism! How did you come up with your ideas?

JH: Killing the Immortals came out of a few brainstorming sessions where I came up with a bunch of ideas I wanted to flesh out. The basic concept was, "It's a stated goal of society and medical science to save every single life possible. So, what if we actually achieved that goal? What would be the ramifications?" Because, while it seems like an obvious goal on the individual level, reaching that goal would be completely disastrous on a societal level. I enjoy "What if?" stories, and what appealed to me about this one was, it's not all that outlandish. We are actively trying to do this, to whatever extent we can. So, I wrote out a long list of problems I saw coming from reaching this goal. When I reached "A cult would form around this going against god's plan," I knew I'd hit on something that could be a novel, especially with my interest in religious philosophy. There are lots more, though, and I'm toying with the idea of writing a series of books within this world. Not sequels, necessarily, but potentially incorporating some of the characters, and with the same basic premise.

On Tomorrow's News Today, that was the same brainstorming session. I wanted to write something about a journalist since I know and love that world so much. So I just started jotting down a sort of stream-of-consciousness page of thoughts that could turn into a story. I know this was an unapologetic "Twilight Zone" influence. I love that show so much. It being on Netflix makes my life better. And this was very much in that vein. If someone read Tomorrow's News Today and thought, "That reminded me of The Twilight Zone," I'd be very happy. Those stories were so often about a person receiving an unexpected gift of some sort, and seeing how it would change them. This story definitely looked at that.

ES: I’d love to know more about your writing process. How long did it take you to write your books? What was the process like for you?

JH: It's kind of funny to me now that Killing the Immortals only took me 6 weeks to write the rough draft. Started it Dec. 19 of last year, and I wrote the last word of the first draft on Jan. 31. That's 85,000-ish words in about 43 days. I sort of feel like that was an out-of-body experience. Then, for good measure, I wrote Tomorrow's News Today over the following 2 weeks, then a short story called The Trolley Problem in about a week in March, and then another one called The Slingshot—I think this is the best story I've written so far—in about 10 days in April. Clearly, I let the cork out of the champagne bottle, and words sprayed everywhere.

I try to write every weekday evening after work, for an hour. Since I can't—and don't want to—abandon my wife downstairs all evening every night, I don't really want to do much more than that. I think it's also good to set a time limit on yourself so you don't get too wound up in your own words and thoughts. I can usually knock out 1,200-1,500 words in an hour. Then, on weekend mornings, I typically wake up at 6, while she sleeps until 9 or 10. I'll write for a couple of hours on weekends or holidays, then read whatever book I'm on until she wakes up. I write straight through and do zero editing until two weeks after the draft is done. You can't make a good story great until you have that story to work with. I'm a big believer in getting that canvas down as efficiently as you can so you can start ripping it apart.

ES: Now I’m curious to know what projects you’re working on! Can you tell us anything about your current work-in-progress?

JH: Besides the final edits on The Trolley Problem and The Slingshot—I'd guess The Slingshot will come out on Kindle in January, while The Trolley Problem is probably set for March or April—I'm working on a story that still doesn't have a title I've liked. It's actually a massive expansion upon the short story I wrote for the local alt weekly's writing competition, and I'm approaching the 25,000-word mark. My hope is to finish it by the end of February, and have it out in the summer.

I feel like the scope of it is bigger than Killing the Immortals. More characters. More challenging concept. And I think it'll be longer. So it's been more difficult to write so far. The basic premise is that a virus rapidly wiped out a huge percentage of the world's population. Alessandra, a small town in North Georgia, was isolated enough for its citizens to avoid transmitting the disease, and they walled themselves off from the rest of the world. Audrey, Alessandra's leader, tells the people that the virus spread through human contact, and she requires everyone to wear a steel ring around their midsection in order to keep people from touching—all cohabitation or even having visitors to your home is banned. What are the psychological ramifications of this sort of forced personal isolation within a community? What will the people do to regain control over their lives? And what will Audrey resort to in order to protect the people of Alessandra while keeping her power?

ES: It was great chatting with you and learning more about your work! How can readers stay in touch with you through social media?

JH: As luck would have it, I'm really easy to find. I'm pretty much everywhere, and I love interacting with readers!

Twitter/Instagram: @byjeffhaws


Website and blog:

Thanks so much for stopping by the blog, Jeff! It was great talking with you!

Thanks so much for stopping by the blog, Jeff! It was great talking with you!

A Blaze of Light In Every Word

There are some points in our lives where our usual language is lost to us. These times aren't necessarily sad--it's also possible to be so happy, so in love, or so grateful that we can't find the words to express ourselves. When words fail, I've always turned to music. Some songs capture a moment or a feeling better than a thousand novels ever could. One of these songs is Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah.

You've probably heard this song before, though it may not have been sung by Cohen. Hallelujah has been covered by many different artists. Probably most famously by Jeff Buckley, but also by Bon Jovi, Bob Dylan, and American Idol's Jason Castro--just to name a few. My favorite version will always be the one performed by Cohen himself. If you haven't heard it yet, take a minute to listen:

I love the way he delivers each line. Some of the lines are so haunting and some are so casual they feel like a little personal aside. ("You don't really care for music, do you?") This is my favorite verse:

"there's a blaze of light in every word/ it doesn't matter which you heard/ the holy, or the broken Hallelujah!" Leonard Cohen | tribute to Leonard Cohen on

For me, Hallelujah represents pure, raw humanity. It's about David and Samson and it's just as much about us--the "real" people who feel lost and divine and broken and holy all at once. It takes these heroes from the Bible off of their pedestals and puts them here with us in the everyday.

I've listened to this song many times since last Thursday, when I heard the news that Leonard Cohen had passed away at the age of 82. As a composer, musician, novelist, and poet, Cohen often explored themes that you hear in Hallelujah--spirituality, love, loss, brokenness, and healing. His music has offered me a place to reflect, rest, and rejoice, even at times when I wasn't able to put words to those feelings myself.

For all of us creatives, this is why we do what we do. This is why, when we finally finish writing or composing or painting, we're not going to keep our work to ourselves. We're going to share it. Maybe we'll get the big publishing contract or the record deal, maybe we'll go for the smaller label, maybe we'll go indie or even share it for free. But it's so important that we do share what we create, because someone, somewhere, needs to hear it. It might not be someone we know now, it might not be someone we ever meet, but there is someone out there who needs our work. 

When words fail, there is always music. I'm so grateful to Leonard Cohen for being the artist that he was, for sharing his gifts with us, and for giving a voice to all of us who are working to find ours. Thank you, Mr. Cohen. Rest in peace.

Interview with Angela J. Ford

Often people say that writing is a solitary business, but I really think it’s the opposite! I’m always meeting more authors, readers, and book lovers that are just as passionate about great stories as I am. It’s part of what makes the writing life so much fun!

If you love talking about books and meeting new authors, you definitely want to meet Angela J. Ford.

Angela is the author of the epic fantasy novel The Five Warriors and also works as a Digital Marketing Strategist. She recently created a course called How to Plan a Book Launch. I had the honor of previewing the course and I can’t emphasize enough how helpful and well put-together it is. This course has everything I wish I knew when I was launching my first book! Indie authors, take note—this course doesn’t just show you how to market your book, it makes you excited to market your book!

I’m so happy that Angela agreed to stop by the blog today for an interview! Thanks for joining us, Angela!

Ellen Smith: Angela, I love how much support you offer new and indie authors with your course, How to Plan a Book Launch. What inspired you to create this course?

Angela J. Ford: The course creation was a long journey. I started my business as a freelance marketer while I finished writing and published The Five Warriors. I'd been following the book launches of several authors including Jeff Goins, Todd Henry, and Michael Hyatt. Even though I don't have the kind of budget they do (one of them spent $100,000 on a book launch), I knew I could still make an impact, have an amazing book launch, and make money!

Once my book came out, authors started messaging me on Facebook, emailing me and having calls with me to discuss book launch strategies. I put together a free guide: "How to Plan an Epic Book Launch in 6 Steps" and authors started downloading it like crazy, which got me thinking: How can I monetize my expertise and help authors understand book marketing? I created the sales page and wrote up the course curriculum and I found it's actually a lot of fun, I may like talking more than I like writing!

ES: You have personal experience with launching a book from marketing your first novel, The Five Warriors. Can you tell us a little bit about how you planned for your book’s launch?

AJF: I was taking a coaching class about writing a book in 100 days, and it focused on the writing, but not so much on the marketing. However, the coach asked us to put our marketing plans together, which made me think through what I wanted to do. Here goes:
• An interactive quiz + giveaway where people could get to know The Five Warriors
• A ThunderClap campaign to spread the word on social media
• Pre-order bonuses to encourage readers to order the book before it came out
• A book launch party in Nashville, TN
• A virtual book launch party on Facebook for everyone who couldn't be at the party in Nashville, TN
• Giveaways to encourage readers to leave reviews
• Goodreads giveaways of the paperback novel to reach a new audience
• Ads on Facebook, Goodreads and Amazon to make more people aware of the book
• Daily posts on Instagram to connect with book bloggers
• Outreach to book bloggers for a review/promotion
• A blog tour to reach a new audience
• Free ebook promotion to increase awareness of the book and gain new reviews

It sounds like a lot but the key is, I didn't do it all at once! Each month had a focus and goal which helped make the process easier.

ES: I’d love to know more about your writing process. How long did it take you to write The Five Warriors? What was the process like for you?

AJF: Wow it took me two years, which was not what I was aiming for. I was hoping I could get it done in one. I wrote the original book when I was 12 years old, and I still have it just to look back and laugh at it. When I was 25 I took a week long vacation to Tucson, Arizona for a writing retreat. I stayed at an amazing resort and focused on writing, that was the beginning.

From there I wrote almost every day, sometimes it was 10 words, sometimes 100. Once I got into a rhythm I started averaging 5,000 words a week. I also did several re-writes based on feedback from my beta readers, especially since the first ending I wrote was disappointing and fell flat. Re-writing the ending was the best moment in writing The Five Warriors. I was at a coffee shop in Nashville one morning, with a white chocolate mocha (my favorite drink). I wrote for 3 hours in a fury, my fingers flying over the keyboard, never stopping until it was done. It was like I was there, watching what was happening and all I needed to do was write it down.

ES: You’re working on a sequel for The Five Warriors, too! Can you share a little bit about what your work-in-progress is about?

AJF: The Blended Ones is Book 2 of The Four Worlds Series. I've completed the 1st and 2nd drafts of the book and now I'm working on the final draft, but I had a crazy idea for a plot twist, so I’m working on that. With NaNoWriMo coming up, my focus will be completing it by the end of the month, then turning it over to beta readers and starting the editing process.

ES: Do you plan to use any new or different strategies when you launch your second book that weren’t available when you launched your first?

AJF: Yes, I didn't put together a book launch team, that's something I will focus on with the goal of ramping up reviews on launch day. I also plan on having a bigger book launch party in Nashville, TN and using candles as the pre-order bonus.

ES: One thing that shines through in your work as an author and as a digital marketing strategist is that you really love what you do! How did you decide to make the change from the 9-to-5 workweek to the entrepreneurial lifestyle?

AJF: You know, it was one of those moments when I looked at my future and I thought to myself: If I am doing exactly what I'm doing now next year or 5 years from now, will I be happy with the direction my life is taking? The answer was NO – and that's when I knew I had to make a change.

ES: One thing I love about the entrepreneurial life is that it allows us to have more time and flexibility to be creative! In addition to writing, what other creative pastimes do you enjoy?

AJF: Oh, I love traveling! Just like the characters in my books, I'm always off to my next adventure. One of my big passions is music, I used to be a musician when I was a teenager, now I love listening to soundtracks, eventually I want to film a movie. I'm not sure whether you would call this a creative pastime, but I love world building games and I'm still obsessed with Mario.

ES: It was fun talking with you and finding out more about your work! How can readers stay connected with you?

AJF: Join me on Twitter to chat about anything and everything:
Find me on Instagram and see lovely photos of The Five Warriors:

Thanks so much for stopping by the blog, Angela! If you’re interested in Angela’s course, How to Plan a Book Launch, click here to get started.* I highly recommend it!

*Note: link is an affiliate. I only link and blog about products that I sincerely love and think you will love, too. Affiliate links help me stay well-stocked in fine-point Sharpies, post-it notes, and other writing essentials.

Creative Inspiration: 10 Essential Quotes for Authors

Between freelancing and fiction writing, I write about 2,000 words a day on average. They aren't always the right words (don't even ask how many words I delete per day...) but in order to reach my goals, that's been my schedule for the last three years.

(If you want to make writing 2,000 words a day part of your schedule too, I highly recommend an ergonomic keyboard.)

In order to maintain that kind of schedule, I learned early on that writing can't be the only creative thing I do each day. Spending a little time on a different creative hobby helps me recharge and refocus. Sometimes it's playing piano, baking, sewing, or even just doodling for awhile. It's all part of being a left-brained writer and right-brained author. Doing creative work goes hand-in-hand with living a creative lifestyle.

With that in mind, this week I've rounded up some of my favorite quotes on imagination and creativity. If you're feeling stuck on a project or just need a reminder to go out and create, I hope this list will help you get started!

First up, the one and only Albert Einstein explains the importance of imagination. I love this quote. It reminds me that no matter how left-brained my current writing project is, it's still important to engage and value my right-brained approach.

Albert Einstein quote- "The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination." From the ellensmithwrites blog: Creative inspiration- 10 Essential Quotes for Authors

In fact, creativity is often the place where we're able to express our deepest thoughts and ponder the big questions.

Akira Kurosawa quote- "To be an artist means never to avert one's eyes." From the ellensmithwrites blog: Creative inspiration- 10 Essential Quotes for Authors

Maybe that's why everyone, from every walk of life, has the urge to create and express themselves through art.

Patti Digh quote- "If you're alive, you're creative." From the ellensmithwrites blog: Creative inspiration- 10 Essential Quotes for Authors

Not to mention that the creative life is not for the faint of heart. Just look at how River Fairchild describes creativity:

River Fairchild quote- "To be creative is to look madness in the eye and challenge it to a spitting contest." From the ellensmithwrites blog: Creative inspiration- 10 Essential Quotes for Authors

Letting go and really pouring ourselves into a project requires a lot of bravery. Some days it's harder than others to silence the inner critic.

From the ellensmithwrites blog: Creative inspiration- 10 Essential Quotes for Authors

Taking time to create also reminds us of why we do what we do. What are we truly passionate about? What are we trying to say, and why do we need to say it?

Yo-Yo Ma quote "Passion is one great force that unleashes creativity, because if you're passionate about something, then you're more willing to take risks." From the ellensmithwrites blog: Creative inspiration- 10 Essential Quotes for Authors

Some would even say that creativity is more than self-expression: it's a challenge.

Twyla Tharp quote- "Creativity is an act of defiance." From the ellensmithwrites blog: Creative inspiration- 10 Essential Quotes for Authors

Regardless, it seems everyone can agree that allowing yourself to be creative is a gutsy move.

Henri Matisse quote- "Creativity takes courage." From the ellensmithwrites blog: Creative inspiration- 10 Essential Quotes for Authors

And just in case it seems that goofing off with other creative pursuits takes away time and energy from your primary goals, remember this:

Maya Angelou quote- "You can't use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have." From the ellensmithwrites blog: Creative inspiration- 10 Essential Quotes for Authors

One might even say we have a responsibility to follow our dreams and create.

Michelle Dennis Evans quote- "What if the very reason you were created was to be creative?" From the ellensmithwrites blog: Creative inspiration- 10 Essential Quotes for Authors

Do you find that spending time on other creative hobbies helps you recharge? If you have a creative job, what creative hobbies do you do to recharge? Let me know in the comments!

Book Spine Poetry

Earlier this year I joined Instagram and discovered one of the biggest, most passionate groups of booklovers on the Internet. Bookstagrammers post pictures of their favorite books, books arranged as spirals or rainbows, and "shelfies" of their bookshelves. Best of all, Instagram is a great place to find out about new books to read. (As if I need any help adding to my to-read list...)

My photography skills are pretty much limited to "point and shoot," but I'm still having a lot of fun posting pictures on Instagram. I'm probably not going to attempt a book spiral any time soon, but I have been trying my hand at book spine poetry.

This was the first poem I tried to make using the titles on my book spines:

Book Spine Poetry from Follow Ellen on Instagram at @ellensmithwrites

My second attempt:

Book Spine Poetry from Follow Ellen on Instagram at @ellensmithwrites

I just tried this one, but I think I liked the first two better:

Book Spine Poetry from Follow Ellen on Instagram at @ellensmithwrites

What do you think of this challenge? Have you ever tried book spine poetry?


If you're on Instagram, come chat with me! My account is @ellensmithwrites.

Author Interview with Carole Brecht

Please welcome  Carole Brecht , author of The Artistry of Caregiving: Letters to Inspire Your Caregiver Journey

Please welcome Carole Brecht, author of The Artistry of Caregiving: Letters to Inspire Your Caregiver Journey

Carole Brecht recently published her first book: The Artistry of Caregiving: Letters to Inspire Your Caregiver Journey. I met Carole through social media just about a year ago. Prior to publishing the book, Carole created an active online Facebook community called SanGenWoman: The Heart of the Sandwich Generation (formerly known as The Sandwich Woman). The posts are always uplifting, encouraging, and inspirational, and it’s impossible not to feel drawn to such a positive place on the Internet.

She also has a presence on Instagram, Twitter, a blog and her Tangled Art Boutique online store that her sister, Jan Steinle, and her own together. There's a Caregiver gallery of 60+ designs and the store houses a total of 160+ designs with a variety of gift lines, including tote bags, cell phone cases and greeting cards. A fun place to shop with all the customization features.

When Carole’s book was published, I knew it was going to be a wonderful and engaging read. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it! One of the lovely things that Carole does in her online community is to encourage all of us to recognize ourselves as CaregiversWhether we are caring for an aging loved one, a young child, or simply being present for a friend or neighbor in need, we all have opportunities to care for others and we all need support and encouragement in that caregiving role.

Throughout the book, Carole seamlessly shares stories from her personal caregiving experience with letters of inspiration and her Caregiver Zentangle designs, an art form she has found to be relaxing and healing. These are a few of her favorites:

I’m thrilled that Carole agreed to be interviewed for my blog and I’m excited to introduce you to her!

Interview with Carole Brecht, author of The Artistry of Caregiving: Letters to Inspire Your Caregiver Journey

ES: Carole, congratulations on publishing your first book! What has the publishing experience been like for you?

CB: Thank you Ellen! As a new author, I found the process challenging, especially because my book is a book of pictures and text. I had a large learning curve, but it was a labor of love.

ES: What inspired you to write The Artistry of Caregiving? What did you hope readers would take away from your story?

CB: I was my mom's Caregiver for several years. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2010 and my dad was still working. (He didn't retire until he was 85 yrs old) I had just closed my art gallery in Pittsburgh, PA and intended to get another job. My parents needed me at the time so I put my job hunting on the back burner. During the time of caring for my mother, I experienced great sadness, isolation, the sense of being alone and I became withdrawn. These feelings are not uncommon for those that take on the Caregiver role. By the end of my mom's life I was compelled to write a book for those that were caring for a loved one. I thought - if I am going down this slippery slope of emotions, there must be millions around the world that are too. All I could think about was helping someone to not feel alone, but very much supported, affirmed and understood. I didn't write a tell all book. I didn't write a book about a particular disease. I wrote a book of inspiration with a unique format to support those navigating the emotional journey of Caregiving, for all ages. 

Zentangle of Carole's mother, featured on the back cover of her book.

Zentangle of Carole's mother, featured on the back cover of her book.

ES: I’d love to know more about your writing process. How long did it take you to write your book? What was the process like for you?

CB: I started in September 2014, two months before my mom died. She passed on November 23, 2014. She was my best friend and we were so close. The love I have for my parents runs deep. They have always been my best cheerleaders and have been so kind and generous over the years. I stepped up as the daughter to help them. I was out of work, I had the time and it seemed the right thing to do. I didn't know the word Caregiver until the end of my journey. Caregiving was not my career path. I completed my paperback edition in July of this year and the Kindle version launched in April. It was an intense process because I have 40 pictures in my book, 35 of them are Zentangles created by me. Most of them are affirmations for Caregivers, one of my favorite sources of inspiration. It was no small feat to get everything in place exactly the way I dreamed it would be. I wrote the book I would've liked to have had during those years caring for mom. To this day, I am now caring for my dad throughout the workweek. Looking back, it was quite a long journey, but well worth it. I had a calling to help others and there was no stopping me. It became all consuming the last year, trying to meet deadlines and understanding the process as I went along. I didn't have my ducks in a row. I just jumped in and learned as I went.

ES: Throughout the book, you encourage Caregivers to care for themselves as well. One way you recommend doing this is by taking time to be creative. How was making time for creativity helpful for you as a caregiver?

CB: I'm an artist by trade and hadn't created original art in many years. I was too busy raising my 4 children. I discovered Zentangle at the end of my mom's life, a few months before she died. I fell in love with it immediately! I am an abstract artist and it was a perfect fit for me. Anybody can draw a Zentangle. You don't have to have a formal background to draw lines and create patterns. Once I started making them, I was appreciating not only the beautiful creation, but also the Zen aspect to it. This form of art requires focus, patience and peace of mind to stay the course. All those benefits spilled over into other areas of my life, including Caregiving. After a long day, it was a great way for me to unwind. Being in a creative mode seems to bring joy to many, so I encourage you to find something you can do on your own, anytime of day or night, to work on when the mood hits. 

ES: I love that you included your Caregiver Zentangles in the book. For readers who might not be familiar, can you describe Zentangle Inspired Art?

CB: Zentangle® is an easy-to-learn, relaxing, and fun way to create beautiful images by drawing structured patterns. Everything you need to create beautiful Zentangle art can fit into your pocket. This easy-to-learn method of relaxed focus can be done almost anywhere, alone or in groups, without any special abilities or costly equipment. No previous artistic instruction required - if you think you have no artistic talent & can't even draw a stick figure, you can do Zentangle! To learn more, logon to:

ES: In addition to writing The Artistry of Caregiving, you created an Internet community for Caregivers called SanGenWoman: The Heart of the Sandwich Generation. What do you hope that visitors to SanGenWoman will gain from the community?

B: Like my book, I created a community that I would've liked to have been a part of during my years of caring for my mom. I'd like to think people will find peace, inspiration, affirmation, community and connection. My timelines are a mix of Zentangle Inspired Art that affirm and support Caregivers, created by my sister and myself. There are all different kinds of posts to engage, enlighten, educate and I hope bring calm to the reader's life. SanGenWoman on facebook is nearing 4,000 in number and is represented by 45 countries. The need for global support is great! My Instagram and Twitter feeds are topping 2,400 and my blog turned 10,000 page views a couple months ago. This all came from an idea to write a book in September 2014. I never gave social media a thought, but was advised it would be a good thing to do so when my book came out I'd have an audience in place. That was one of the best pieces of advice I was given at the beginning of my book writing journey. I was dealing with serious grief after mom died, but put aside my own heartache because my desire to help others was so much greater than my sorrow. You could say my grief inspired me to get the ball rolling. I had tunnel vision and all I could think about was helping another navigate the emotional journey of Caregiving. My social media is not just about Caregiving though. There are a plethora of topics I cover, including the art world. I want to reach a broad audience and there are many people that are not involved in Caregiving. I like to keep that in mind as I post. 

ES: Both in your writing and in your online community, you’ve created such an encouraging and uplifting space for Caregivers and San Gens. How can readers connect with you on social media and around the web?

CB: Thank you so much Ellen, that is my goal. Here is my contact information. Please come visit often and let me know if you have a topic you'd like me to post about.




Twitter: @SanGenWoman -

Instagram: @sangenwoman -



ES: Thank you so much for stopping by the blog today, Carole! It was a pleasure to read your book and to talk with you, too!

CB: Ellen, it's been great getting to know you. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to meet your audience! You are a source of inspiration to me and I'm so glad we've connected!

Creative Inspiration: Music

Even with the help of my outlines and plot boards, every so often I find myself staring down at a blank page:

If that sight isn't terrifying, I don't know what is.

The most intimidating thing about a blank page is that the longer I stare at it, the harder it is to start writing. It starts to feel like writing the wrong word is even worse than writing nothing at all.

If I'm just a little stuck, pushing through and freewriting can help get the words flowing again. If I'm really in a rut, though, I need to switch gears completely. My favorite way to recharge is to put down my pen and head for the piano.

What I love about music is that it's a zero-pressure creative escape for me. At this point in my life, there's no piece to learn for music class, no recital to prepare for, and (thankfully) no audience for the inevitable wrong notes. I'm playing just because it's fun.

The most freeing thing about playing piano is that there is no finished product. If I don't get a musical phrase exactly right, there's nothing to go back and edit later. I just play it again until I'm happy. That's especially satisfying since so much of my creative work is about results. Whether I'm working on a freelance project or a novel, my ultimate goal is to have a finished piece that's ready to send off into the world. With music, my only goal is to relax and enjoy the process, wrong notes and all.

After a little time on the piano, it's easier to go back to writing and stare down that blank page. I might start off with the wrong word. I might even write whole chapters that don't work or a story that goes nowhere. That's okay. If I just keep writing, I know I'll eventually get to a place where everything sounds exactly right. As Dilbert-creator Scott Adams said, "Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep."