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Today, I have a guest post over at Zen Habits.

Ten Life Lessons from a Reluctant Runner

I’m doing my best to stay cool about it, but you know, Leo has hosted Seth Godin.

If you’re new to Unfettered Ink, welcome!

I met Leo at World Domination Summit, and we quickly discovered we have some things in common.


In addition to writing unconventional wisdom (aka hard-learned life lessons) for creative people on a mission, I put out PR Ideas for Busy People every other week for entrepreneurs with grand ideas but limited resources. You can see an example here and subscribe on this page.


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En Plein Air: Doing Creative Work & Travelling

Hey gang. Remember when I took a trip to Las Vegas and the Bahamas and still managed to find something to complain about? Namely, how I never seem to get my act together when I’m travelling. Well, today Alison is visiting with four ideas for doing creative work while travelling. Huzzah!

Writing by prayitno

Just before my first trip to Europe, I bought a small square notebook with creamy pages that fit perfectly into my ripstop-nylon travel purse. This was 1998: essentially no blogging, barely any Internet and I’d been schooled in travel writing by John Steinbeck (Travels with Charley) and William Least-Heat Moon (Blue Highways), so of course I was going to keep a journal describing every day of our three weeks in Great Britain and Holland.

I started off on a good foot — had the whole first paragraph composed in my head before I stepped on the plane. And then, well, jetlag, long days tramping around London, captivating views out the train window — my little journal wasn’t seeing the light of day very often.

Why is it so hard to work on the road?

The world is just too interesting.

In my hometown, I’ve seen these streets, shops and parks so many times that my gaze often passes over without registering. I know the culture intimately, and it’s uncommon for people to do or say something that surprises me. Language is transparent: I’m focused on the message and less attuned to the words and phrases that deliver it.

But the minute I leave Ottawa, my attitude shifts from a yawn to a nose-pressed-up-against-the-window. I’m all eyes and ears, noticing the pile of cast-off stone carvings behind a cathedral, the beautiful sound of the anti-smoking announcement in an Amsterdam movie theatre (Verboten te roken).

From this hyper-alert, super-stimulated place, it’s harder to make the transition into the calm, contemplative mood I usually access for writing. I’m in the collection phase of my creative process, not the synthesis or production phase.

Our usual schedule is out the window.

Even without the nauseating topsy-turvy of jetlag, travelling removes the familiar rhythms of regular life. You could be eating, sleeping and socializing at any odd hour of the day.

In the absence of routine and the built-in structure of working hours and other commitments, it’s natural to slide into an anything-goes attitude and just do what comes to hand. And unless you’re particularly determined or inspired, that may not include creative work.

Navigating a new place takes energy and attention.

Every little thing seems to take figuring out when away from home: what to order from a menu, how to make a telephone call, where to find contact lens solution to replace what you left at the last hotel. Brains and bodies get wiped out from all the problem-solving and physical activity. It’s no wonder we’d rather snooze at the end of the day than generate insightful prose.

And yet, as artists, we don’t want to give up completely on the possibility of creating while travelling. Such rich, rare material deserves to be caught and transformed.

What can we do to exercise our creative muscles while we’re on the move?

Decide on intentions ahead of time.

If you embark with a vague notion of, “It’d be great to do something while I’m away,” you’ll probably end the trip saying, “It would have been great if I’d done something!” But if you give thought to the specifics, you’ll be much more likely to produce something.

Don’t be afraid to widen your definition of creativity as you’re making plans for what to accomplish. Maybe it’s enough to write lists of unusual moments, try out some new vocabulary and daydream about what life would look like if you settled down in this new place.

You could change up the medium too. If you’re a writer, swap your pen for a camera. If you’re a visual artist, try collecting found poetry. Somehow there’s more permission for experimentation when you’re in a strange place.

Be in the middle of something.

Starting is so much harder: you’re finding your form and style, building confidence and momentum. When you’re already immersed in a project, moving forward becomes a lot easier, even with the change of venue.

A few years ago, our family spent three months in Beijing. My husband was on parental leave, looking after our two preschoolers, and I was doing contract work to pay the bills. I was also in the middle of writing a children’s novel, and I was determined to finish by the time we flew home.

Taking advantage of the reset button on my internal clock, I continued to get up early in the morning and write before the rest of the household woke up. My goal was just 333 words in an hour: fast enough to make progress and hold my interest, slow enough to avoid a lot of rewriting later. I get a little nostalgic now, thinking about the happy silent hours I spent moving that manuscript towards its ending in that city.

Produce during guaranteed downtimes.

Every day has its dead zones, even in a city that never sleeps. Early morning is the first time I seize on, but there are also lunch breaks, siestas, early evening waiting for the clubs to open, a few solitary minutes before bed. If you’re moving around a lot, set aside train/bus/airplane time for reflection and regrouping.

Notice what you want to do.

Maybe the onslaught of new sights and sounds has overwhelmed you, and you’re ready for a break. Don’t pass up the chance just because you feel pressured to See Everything! and squeeze as much experience as possible from a short vacation.

I once found myself in Costa Rica for a week-long reprieve from a crazy hectic life (working two jobs, publishing a book, volunteer work up the yin-yang). The hot breeze, fresh fruit and sunsets on the beach were like oxygen to a drowning person. Near the end of our vacation, my husband signed on for a day trip to a nature reserve, but I stayed back. I had a short story in the works, and I hadn’t written in ages.

Here’s how I  courted the little short story in my journal:

“I have given up a trip to Palo Verde and Santa Rosa — I will not see the birds and crocodiles and monkeys. Is that enough? At breakfast they asked, why didn’t you go? I wanted to stay, I replied, leaving them none the wiser. But we know, ? We know I stayed for you.”

I don’t remember much of that story; I don’t think I ever finished it. But I have never forgotten staying back at the hotel to work, saying to myself amid the beauties and attractions, “My Writing Is Important.”

That European travel journal? I gave up on staying current with my entries and started scribbling notes on loose pieces of paper. For weeks after we arrived home, I got up early in the morning to flesh out and transcribe the notes into my journal. Dark, quiet hours at my writing desk — a perfect complement to the colour and noise I was capturing on the page.


Alison Gresik is a life design agent for quietly rebellious writers and artists. Visit this week for the Hours For Art telethon and you too can give generously to your creative practice. Follow her on Twitter at @AlisonGresik.

Behind the Shutter with Hilljoy Photography


As part of my big blog roll-out, I have a second creative individual to introduce – Cara Spitzner of Hilljoy Photography.

If you’ve been reading awhile, you’ve seen Cara’s name on these pages. For, she is one of my closest friends. We met on the first day of college and bonded over a common love of pool and literature. And, you know how you have certain friends that are a bit competitive? Who take similar classes or share common interests, so you become friends – and rivals?

Cara is not that person.

Cara is the friend that always supports you. She’s the best person to have in your corner.

So, when I finally decided to have proper photos taken for the site, I asked her.  And proceeded to totally freak out the day of the shoot. I must have called her a dozen times with asinine questions.

We had

Rather than raving about Cara and her creative talents for another few hundred words, I thought I’d pose some questions, so you can get to know this amazing woman a bit better.


Your specialty is taking photos of kids. You’re a natural, because of your skill in provoking unguarded moments – and because you’re a teacher you’ve honed this ability to a science. What’s different between working with a 9 year old and…me?

In general, I think adults are more difficult… but that has more to do with me than it does with them. I have extreme empathy for adults who don’t like to have their photo taken – since I share that discomfort – and I feel like an enormous hypocrite for forcing my adult subjects out of their comfort zones.

Also, I tend to assume that kids will trust me more, so I’m not as hesitant to ask them to pose a certain way or be a little silly. And they bring out a more uninhibited side of me so I’m quick to get silly as well.

Regardless, humor is key. My favorite unguarded moments to capture are the ones in which my subjects are laughing.

Henneberry edited-5

But if I were to answer your question as specifically as you asked it, then the answer would be “not much.” It was easy to relax you, and – as you know – I had no problem asking you to pose or be silly!

{I think you guys should know that our photo shoot was outside the weekend after the snowpocalypse. And Cara asked me to take my coat off…a lot. Eeevil.}

A lot of people are eager to quit their “day jobs” to pursue a creative career, but you’re not in that camp. What do you get out of each profession, teaching and photography, and how do they reinforce each other?

You’re right; I’m definitely not in that camp. I think that’s because my “day job” is a creative career, too. And – maybe because of that – it’s easier for me to see the overlaps than the differences. Both allow me to work and interact with kids, both encourage some form of artistic expression (through teaching I get to draw, sing, and dance – though the last two I do reluctantly), and both encourage me to stay flexible.

That last point is the most important reinforcement. Teachers have no choice but to go with the flow, since in our line of work, schedules are just comedy. That helps me avoid stress when shooting at a location I’ve never seen or with someone I’ve never met. I’m used to staying on my toes.

And both involve making something of my own out of something that’s previously established – be it a lesson from a teacher’s manual or a photo from what’s happening in front of me. It’s empowering to claim what I’ve created in both of those scenarios.

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I’ve seen first-hand how you’ve stretched as your photography business gained momentum. How do you set aside that little voice that tells all of us, “you’re not ready,” and keep going?

The practical answer: I try to build stepping-stones for myself. I’ve used friends as guinea pigs, read a lot of photo-blogs for advice and ideas, done research on equipment, and benefited highly from the expertise of other photographers as I venture into new experiences.

The not-so-practical answer: I balance the voice with my gut.

The biggest hurdle I jumped was photographing weddings. You’ll remember that when I started my business, I vowed I’d never shoot a wedding. Ever. Now I’ve photographed three! I said yes to the first one because my heart leaped when the opportunity arose. Thankfully, I knew better than to stifle that kind of buzz.

Andy and Natalie-2

What’s been your best experience with a client? What made it?

My first bride and groom were pretty incredible. Photographing someone’s wedding is a huge responsibility, so for a couple to trust you – even knowing that you’ve never done it before – is somewhat unbelievable.

They were phenomenal communicators. I knew exactly what they wanted, but they were completely open to my ideas. Their confidence in me helped me be bold at their wedding, so I was able to capture what I wanted (and more importantly, what I knew they wanted).


The icing on the [wedding] cake: We became friends because of it. That’s what really made it.

You’re a writer, like me, but photography has definitely become your creative outlet of choice. Why?

I think photography fits my personality. I get to stay safe behind the camera, guarding my inner introvert, even as I indulge my social side with the people I photograph.

It’s also portable. And efficient! I lack follow-through in writing, so more often than not I end up frustrated by my inability to finish what I’ve started.


A welcomed side effect is that – through my blog – photography has me sharing my writing, too… and in smaller amounts, so I don’t lose the battle with my lack of follow-through. In fact, photography and writing have become completely intertwined. I think they make a nice pair. J

For the photographers in the group, what’s your equipment? What can’t you live without?

My equipment is pretty basic. I shoot with a Nikon D40, an SB600 speedlight (when needed) and diffuser, and my kit lens (18-55mm f/3/5). I have a 50mm f/2.8 that I love, but don’t often use it in sessions – especially with little kids – because I have to manually focus it.

When I shoot weddings, I rent a 17-55mm f/2.8 lens from Calumet Camera here in Chicago. They have multiple branches in multiple cities, and are a phenomenal resource (recommended to me by another photographer). The lens is heaven.

And truth be told, I love taking photos on my iPhone. I don’t think I’ll take it out during a session anytime soon, but the ease of it makes everyday photography so much fun!


Cara turned me on to iphotography. When I first downloaded the hipstamatic app, I so did not understand how to work it. Luckily, I had her on speed dial!

Cara’s a teacher and photographer who shares her work at Hilljoy Photography. Oh, and did I mention that she’s the best?

All images in today’s post belong to Cara.


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