The life and words of Ashley, Erin, and Michelle

Balancing Accountability and Creativity July 15, 2010

Filed under: Life in General,Writing — michellehuegel @ 7:59 pm
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In my mind, the words “accountability” and “creativity” fall at opposite ends of the scale. Creativity is supposed to be spontaneous, carefree, spur-of-the-moment. Accountability evokes structure, to-do lists, calendars, and rigidity. So what’s the problem with being a “creative” person? Too often, nothing actually gets created. Maybe I don’t “feel” like it, or there’s no “mojo,” or time just slips away. Sometimes I wonder how I made it through college with a near-4.0 GPA, or succeeded at my various office jobs – and then I remember. College and work had deadlines, expectations, daily structure, and accountability.

I think my creativity often “falls down on the job” because there’s no one expecting me to turn in a new scrapbook layout or article. No consequences if I put off yet another blog post. No deadline to complete that album, finish some research, or organize those photos. I only have myself to disappoint, which is a vicious downward spiral of disappointment, guilt, and resultant total lack of motivation. I’ve written about this before, and tried a variety of tactics to motivate myself. Rewards (think Starbucks, a new book, watching a TV show, etc) sometimes work. For a little while. But with no accountability other than myself, every system eventually fails. I’ve come to the conclusion that some people simply require outside motivation, either all the time as part of their personality or maybe only during certain times of their lives. I’m under a lot of stress right now with a young toddler, new baby on the way soon, moving across country, and struggling financially to make it all work. I know theoretically that creative pursuits like writing and scrapbooking are crucial to my emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being, but “in the moment” I’d often rather take a nap or just zone out. So I’ve finally decided (yes, I’m a little slow sometimes) to create accountability in my life – or more specifically, in my creative pursuits.

Getting down to business – I’m going to begin balancing creativity with accountability in my digital scrapbooking. I can’t focus on every area at once, and I’m still pondering ways to create accountability in my writing. But for now I’m going to focus on my scrapbooking. I’m going to stop making excuses like “I’m not good enough” or “I don’t have time” or “I can’t create on command” and actually, FINALLY, apply for some creative team positions. Because really, those are pretty pathetic excuses. I’ve learned a lot over the last two years, I do have time, and I need that pressure right now to create.

By the way, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, a “creative team” works for a designer or scrapbook store to create layouts with new products. They help showcase a designer/store’s products and provide inspiration for projects created with those new products. That’s my definition in a nutshell, anyway! I’m being a little choosy about which designers/stores I apply at as they open up “CT calls,” because I want to make sure I’m a good fit for each one. And I’m extremely nervous about the whole process. I don’t have a gallery full of brilliant layouts (mostly because I’m terrible about remembering to post them!) or experience on other creative teams. I’m struggling with feeling “good enough.” But I’m doing it anyway, letting my “accountability” side triumph over my “creative” touchy-feely side because I know I need this, and I know I have something unique to offer these designers. I’m in the process now of applying to a couple, so hopefully soon I’ll have some good news to share!

Have I inspired you to balance your creativity with a little accountability? Or do you have a tried-and-true technique already for attaining this balance? Please share! I’d love to hear your ideas, and what you think of mine!


Go-To Gifts for Bridal Showers March 16, 2010

It seems like everyone dreads a bridal shower. Whether it’s the games or the socialite interaction between people who have only the bride in common, it’s an accepted obligation that people do not seem to look forward to when they are preparing for a friend’s wedding.

And then there’s the gift. What do you get for a wedding shower gift? According to most bridal shower etiquette web sites, I have found that the gift should cost anywhere between $25 and $75, depending on the type of shower, and it should be something useful for the house. That makes sense to me.

But it also says that the bride’s registry should not be advertised in the invitations and should be spread via “word of mouth” or on a wedding web site. This is  something I think a lot of couples are starting to ignore, as most of the invitations to wedding showers I’ve received (or sent) in the past couple years have included registry tags.

If you haven’t noticed already, I am “going through that phase in life” where all my friends are marrying and being merry. After not knowing what to get after the first one or two, I decided I needed to find a unique go-to gift that I can give so that I don’t have to end up buying a bunch of dish towels every time someone got married. (It’s just not fun enough to give just that in my opinion.)

It didn’t take me long to find something fun that people will remember and that people will find practical: Plungers!

How often does a person get a gift of a plunger? And women who are getting married usually don’t think of the fact that guys tend to need a plunger a little more often than girls do.

From that decision came the question, “How do I wrap this?” That’s when I was able to get a little bit creative.

The first time, I found a bucket to put it in and wrapped it using some black towels rather than some paper. (Make it as useful as possible, right?) That worked for a couple of times, but it’s difficult trying to wrap a bucket in a towel. Normally, it’s a towel in a bucket, so I decided to decorate the plunger like a flower.

I used the bucket as a pot and bought two brown towels for the dirt. I wrapped the base of the plunger in the towels and taped on construction paper petals and leaves. It was cute, I’ll admit. The bride even gave me the “award” for the most creatively wrapped gift. But I kept thinking back to my logic before, “Why not make all of it useful?” That’s why I’d wrapped it in towels instead.

So, last time I had a bridal shower to attend, I scoured the shelves for something that would look like flower petals and for something I could use as the leaves. I found a green dish cloth for the leaves and some sponges for the petals. I ended up tying both of them on with ribbon. It turned out cute, and the bride loved it. Of course.

Each plunger is specially chosen for the couple’s situation and personalities. Not everyone can use a full-size plunger, so I even bought a sink plunger for my friends who would be travelling by airplane back and forth between London and the States.

If you’re attending a shower sometime soon, you’re welcome to use my idea, just make sure I’m not already going to the shower, too. Otherwise, neither of us will get the award for most creative gift.

And one last thing: when I get married, I just ask that everyone else does not get me a plunger. Trust me, I own too many already.

So, what’s your go-to gifts for a bridal shower? Or even for a wedding?


The Most Important Writer’s Resource February 22, 2010

Filed under: Writing — ashleybarrett @ 1:05 pm
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In a recent blog post, Chip MacGregor discusses the purpose and value of critique groups. As usual, he makes some excellent points.

  • The purpose of a critique group is to improve the writing of it’s members. Think of the proverb, “iron sharpens iron.”
  • Critique groups require vulnerability. It’s scary to send someone work that you know is “unfinished.” But it’s important to get feedback in the early stages when you can’t decide which direction to take a piece of writing.
  • Along with vulnerability, critique groups require a good dose of humility. I can’t tell you how many times I bristled at something an edit but most of the time, the remarks that hit the hardest had the most truth. You can’t take everything, everyone says to heart. But you can and should ask yourself, “Are they right?”
  • Make sure your critique group members are people you trust trust to be honest with you and have your writing’s best interest at heart.

I can’t imagine where my writing would be without my critique group. They are by far my greatest writing resource, they are knowledgeable and patient enough to tell me the same things over and over (like the correct usage of sense vs. since).

But even if no other writers live near you (which I’m sure isn’t true if you look hard enough). You can still be part of a thriving critique group. The group that I’m part of runs under a different model than Chip described in his post. Instead of meeting once a week, we communicate via e-mail (although I have met most of them after writing together for six years). Although humans definitely need face-to-face connection, there are some advantages to having a critique group that meets online.

  • You’re not restricted by location. We have group members in different states.
  • You can give and receive edits with short deadlines.
  • Meeting online makes it easier for some people (like me) to be honest.
  • With no meeting time, you don’t have to coordinate schedules.
  • You can encourage each other throughout the week, even on a daily basis.

If you’re a Christian, I would definitely recommend including believers in your critique group. I know the prayers of my critique group partners have carried me through many rough patches times and they have often given the encouragement that I needed to keep going.

If you’re a writer and haven’t yet joined or started a critique group, what’s holding you back?


My current writing playlist February 16, 2010

Filed under: Writing — ashleybarrett @ 7:47 am
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Every time I hear or see people doing the Macarena, I’m transported back to a campground dance in the summer of 1996 and to my sixth grade classroom (where I lost a class-wide Macarena contest).

Why? Because music has a powerful effect on our subconscious mind and songs are linked to memories.

You can use the power of music to enhance your writing. For me, listening to the right music makes writing a first draft much more fun. If I take the time to select a few songs that capture the feel of what I’m shooting for with my writing, the words flow a lot easier.

Although I have been doing this on and off since college, I read an article in Writer’s Digest that makes it an official technique. The article included some useful tips for me to engage my subconscious mind even more, like only listening to that music when I’m writing.

I have to make sure selecting a playlist doesn’t become a mode of procrastination. I don’t need two-hundred songs that feel like a windy day. In fact, the fewer the better so my mind beings to recognize those songs and kicks into writing mode.

Earlier this week, I wanted to write something that felt like summer, since we had a huge snowstorm on Tuesday, my imagination needed all the help it could get. So I created my “Summer” playlist. Feel free to listen to it if you’re writing any summer scenes yourself, or if you need a mental escape from winter.

1. Kodachrome by Simon and Garfunkel

2. Good Vibrations by The Beachboys

3. Green Eyes by Coldplay

4. In My Life as performed by Johnny Cash

5. I’m a Believer as performed by Smash Mouth

6. Honey by Moby

Another good option would be to pick an artist, that has a similar feel to what you’re writing and only listen to that artist when you’re writing.

What songs transport you to different times and places?


Overextended Prompt February 8, 2010

Filed under: Writing — ashleybarrett @ 9:03 am
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Here’s a prompt that most of the USA can identify with. I gleaned it from the current issue of Writer’s Digest.

Write an overextended poem. That is, write a poem about someone or something being stretched too thin. For instance a co-worker with too much work to do or a balloon being filled with air to the point that it is about to pop.

Being in the kitchen most of the day definitely influenced my attempt!

Like salad with too little dressing,

we make our lives unpalatable.

Like Saran wrap stretched too tightly

Ready to split at the next gentle tug.

Please let me know what you come up with!


Writing Prompt January 25, 2010

Filed under: Writing — ashleybarrett @ 10:35 am
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Hi everyone!

I found a writing prompt that was so fun, I had to share!

This one is in The Pocket Muse published by Writer’s Digest Books.

Finish the following sentence in the voice of someone ten years older or ten years younger than you: The only thing I ever wanted was …

Here’s what I came up with:

The only thing I ever wanted was for someone to pay attention to me, to give me more than a passing glance. You know what I mean, the way people look at the ring pops and roses preserved in glass tubes displayed by a gas station checkout. No one ever takes me seriously because of my blonde curly hair and pink cheeks. How seriously would people take you if you looked like an overgrown four-year-old?

Looking back, setting Carol’s bug experiment on fire was probably a little much.

Happy Writing!


December Drama Days 6 and 7 December 7, 2009

Regurgitated directly from my brain for your reading … uh … pleasure. I hope.

Dec. 6th

After church and an amazing lunch at my mom’s (we’re all enjoying the fruits of her being home instead of working all day!), we spent the day with Josh’s family. I always enjoy that time, because they take over Cai and let me chill out with my computer or TV or whatever! “Nana” insists on feeding, changing, playing with, and cuddling him—which gives me a much-needed break! I wish they could see him more often, but once a week or every other week is the most we can afford to get down to Mishawaka. Gas is expensive. L

I spent most the afternoon shopping for and poring over Christmas calendar gift ideas. Everyone seemed to like them last year, but I don’t want to do the same exact thing (digital-scrap 4×6 size pages, insert into photo flip books, paper-scrap-decorate front cover). So I FINALLY settled on some cute CD and mini (smaller than 4×6) calendar templates. I had no clue how many options were out there! Wish I had time to design my own from scrap, but unfortunately using templates and choosing my own paper/embellies is as good as it’s gonna get this year. I mean, with a new baby, something’s gotta go, right? I still haven’t decided on a Christmas card. Too many options. I really don’t do well with an overabundance of choices. Entrepreneurs have oversaturated the market (any market) with waaaay too many options. Hazardous for decision-challenged shoppers like me!

Dec. 7th

Can it possibly be one whole week into December?! Where did the days go?? Oh yeah, I have a documented record of where they went, so no funny business possible. Today I furthered my Christmas spirit by playing Cat Country 99.9 (all-Christmas music all the time in December!) while madly cleaning. Finally eked out a place for stockings on the wall behind our midget tree. My immediate family never did the stocking thing, but my Lewis grandparents always hung a stocking for each grandchild, and it’s a family tradition to get a picture of all the kids in front of the “stocking wall” every Christmas. Over the years, there has been some discussion of changing walls, since we really don’t fit anymore. One line of grandkids has become about three rows! There’s now 12 “full-blooded” grandkids, but usually there’s extra every year—foreign exchange students, foster kids of my aunt’s, step-grandkids, boyfriends, etc. All that to say, I’ve always loved opening my stocking, stuffed full of fun and useful little goodies, candy, gum, and so on. So the Huegel household is going to open stockings this year :). A new tradition we’re going to start is writing letters to each other to stick in the stockings, which will hopefully become a sweet keepsake. Or that’s the plan. Maybe it’ll be really lame. But every great tradition must start sometime, right?

On a more depressing note, Cai fussed through most the day. I’m fairly impressed with how much I got done despite his rough day. Spent two hours trying to get him down for a nap, and still ended up letting him cry himself to sleep. Same story for bedtime. As I write this, it’s 10:27, and he just finally quit crying in his crib within the last few minutes. I put him to bed for the first time before 8pm.  We had been doing much better, so I suspect he’s not feeling well. At least that’s what I’ve been telling myself. It’s easier to feel sorry and “motherly” for him instead of irritated that way. Any mothers out there who’ve done the same thing? Maybe I’m just weird or something. Wait, I already knew that…

So anyone else out there making Christmas gifts? What are you making? Cookies, handmade cards, photo books, calendars, scarves, potholders? I need more ideas! 🙂