Creative Communities

creativity_incI am reading Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull with Amy Wallace. Ed Catmull is one of the co-founders of Pixar. Though his name is probably the least known of the Pixar co-founders—Steve Jobs and John Lasseter being the other two—Ed is the true pioneer in the landscape of computer animation. And he owes much of his success to the collaborative, creative approach of his computer science professors at the University of Utah.

One of my classmates, Jim Clark, would go on to found Silicon Graphics and Netscape. Another, John Warnock, would co-found Adobe, known for Photoshop and the PDF file format, among other things. Still another, Alan Kay, would lead on a number of fronts, from object-oriented programming to “windowing” graphical user interfaces. In many respects, my fellow students were the most inspirational part of my university experience; this collegial, collaborative atmosphere was vital not just to my enjoyment of the program but also to the quality of the work that I did.
—Ed Catmull, Creativity, Inc.

I know of another such creative community who saw success: the Inklings. The most famous members of the Inklings were C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, but there were a number of successful writers in the group, each creating things in their chosen genre that are known and loved to this day.

Click here for information on a few of the lesser known Inklings

And I am proud to say that I am in such a group as well. My writers group, the Weaklings, may not be as well-known or well-published as the Inklings, or as financially or industriously successful as Ed Catmull’s group from the U of U, but we’re growing more by our combined efforts than we could if we were struggling alone.

Together, we have launched blogs, participated in writing contests, been published in various magazines and books, and founded a writers conference that is free and welcome to everyone.

Creative communities work because they work together. Are you part of a community?

Bob Evenhouse is right.

I recently attended the Jot Writers Conference, and even though I was required to because I was one of the evening’s speakers, I would have wanted to go anyway. After people were finished suffering through my presentation, they were able to enjoy a whole evening of great thoughts on blogging, self-editing, poetry, and rejections from the editors.

bob_evenhouseThere was a lot of great content, but there was one particular part that made me think more than the rest. It happened during Bob Evenhouse‘s presentation on blogging and it had to do with the content of the blog.

As a blogger, I am keen to learn how to improve my craft. Bob’s blog is older than mine, but for a long time, I don’t know how much effort he wanted to devote to it. You see, when he started his blog back in the day, he was more passionate about writing high fantasy than he was about blogging, so his novels received the lion’s share of his time and attention. The blog existed to be part of his platform so that when he submitted one of his aforementioned novels for publication, he would have something of an online presence for a publisher to see.

After limping along from post to post, Bob knew that something needed to change. So he took a month-long break from blogging in order to ask himself some tough questions. What was his blog accomplishing? What did he want it to be? How could he use it to further his other writing endeavors? And how did his blog differ from the ones that he followed on a regular basis?

Those are all good questions, and I’ve found myself asking them about my own blog recently. But the one thing that stuck out to me in his whole presentation was this: Bloggers should have a consistent theme within their blog and avoid posting on a hodgepodge of topics.


Bob nailed my blog. If I have a theme to my posts, it is only that I wrote them. I realized on the way home that I could easily segment my blog into seven different topical blogs where I would post once a week on each, and possibly have more successful followings. I write autobiographical content, word and phrase origins, book reviews, recipes, writing and publishing tidbits, Lego prompts, and random other things.

I was convicted by Bob’s presentation because he’s right. If a publisher were to look at my blog to see my platform, I don’t know if that publisher would be able to tell how my blog writing relates to my book proposal. And that’s a problem.

I’ll be reevaluating things. I still plan on writing, even if it is a hodgepodge of posts, but I’d like to reign things in a bit. Bear with me as I do.

I am enamored with disorderly used book stores.

The first impression that my wife and I had of Lowry’s Books in Three Rivers, Michigan was made when we parked outside the front entrance, or what we thought was the front entrance, anyway. The door that we parked near had a sign on it that said, “Lowry’s Books–The main entrance is five doors down.” We hadn’t even made it inside the bookstore and we were impressed by the expansiveness of the place.

The inside of Lowry’s Books is everything that a book lover would love in a used book store. There were books everywhere, floor to ceiling. There were huge stacks of books sitting on the ground. Bookshelves were arranged in a maze-like pattern, drawing the shopper deeper and deeper into used book heaven. And every time you thought you had come to the last room of books, you’d discover a doorway into another whole room of books.

The reason that my wife and I went to Lowry’s Books was because I was speaking at the Jot Writers Conference being held there. Had I known the used book glory that awaited us there, we probably would have made it there earlier in the day to accommodate the time needed to shop. As it was, I probably spent too much time buried in the stacks after the conference when I should have been hobnobbing with fellow writers. But if there is a community of people who would forgive me for ignoring them in favor of books, it is a fellowship of writers who attended Jot.

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Thanks again, to Tom from Lowry’s Books who allowed us to host our event there, but thank you also for having such a delightful bookstore in the first place. If you are ever within driving distance of Three Rivers, Michigan, Lowry’s is worth the trip. Just leave yourself a few hours to shop in order to make the trip worthwhile.

Friday 5 | Click-worthy Links

Wireless Computer Mouse with Wheel

Here are 5 more places online worth checking out:

  1. In preparation for my talk at Jot tomorrow, you may want to brush up on your Norse gods.
  2. How does an investigative journalist find a person on the Most Wanted list when the FBI can’t even find them? They call every bar in the state and ask to talk to them.
  3. As we head into fall, you may be looking for some yummy apple-related dishes. Personally, I think this Bloomin’ Baked Apple thing looks pretty amazing.
  4. What is the best way to welcome airplanes to an airport in Milwaukee, Wisconsin? With a sign that says “Welcome to Cleveland” of course!
  5. One of my favorite and most useless interests as a kid was origami. I’d fold all kinds of things that would then need to be thrown away. And now, you can too!


Jot is this Saturday!

2015_jot_6_poster (1)The Jot Conference is this Saturday, September 12th from 6-10pm at Lowry’s Books in Three Rivers, Michigan.

You should come. We still have a few open seats. The best way to make sure that you have one of those seat is to sign up here.

If you don’t know what Jot is, it is the writers conference started by my writers group, The Weaklings. Other writers conferences have fancy, well-published speakers and last for days at a time. Those conferences also cost a bucket of money and require more time than most of us have available. Jot is free, only one night, and it is a great place to connect with other writers. Plus, we build a bit of time into the conference so you can get some writing done too.

This is the sixth Jot conference that we’ve held, but it is the first that we’ve held outside of Grand Rapids, Michigan. And like the first Jot ever, the speakers for this Saturday are made up of the writers in The Weaklings. We’re basically hitting the reset button on the whole thing to start it in another city.

For our Grand Rapids writing pals who are worried that we won’t be coming back to Beer City, USA, don’t worry, we’ll be back in the spring. But if you can make it to Three Rivers this Saturday, you should come. Even if you don’t like any of the presentations (which are free so you shouldn’t complain), the bookstore that is hosting Jot is worth the trip. Picture in your head the perfect used bookstore. You just pictured Lowry’s.

I hope to see you there!

On the Origin of Spitting Image

It was my wife’s turn to read a chapter of Andrew Peterson‘s On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness to our kids when she was stopped by a comment from our eldest daughter.

“Not nice!” said our eldest.

“What?” asked my wife.

“It isn’t nice to spit,” said our eldest.

“That’s true,” supported my wife, “but the thing I just read means something different from that. The phrase ‘spitting image’ means that someone looks just like someone else.”

“Oh,” said our eldest. “Okay.”

spitting-water-1550479The exchange got me curious about that phrase. Where did “spitting image” come from? How did it come to mean what it does?

Here’s what I found.

While some people think that “spitting image” is a deviation from “split image” or “spirit and image” or something like that, all evidence points to a salivary origin. In fact, the older mentions of the phrase use “spit and image” instead of “spitting.”

The idea behind the phrase is that a person is so like another that the original “spit” the copy out of their mouth. According to, examples of likeness and being spit out of someone’s mouth date back to at least the 17th century. To back up the fact that the “spit” in question is definitely of the salivary type, the same phrase with the same meaning is attested in both French and Norwegian (though the Norwegians suggest that a person is not spit out of the mouth, but blown out of the nose).

I still can’t say that I completely understand the phrase, since I’ve never looked at something I’ve spit out and thought that it bore a striking resemblance to myself. Other people may think that I look like a bit of phlegm, but I’ve never thought it personally. Oh well, I guess I’d rather have a truth that I don’t fully understand than a lie (like “split image” or “spirit and image”) that makes complete sense.

So next time someone asks you where we got “spitting image” from, you can spit some truth at them.

I am like Tolkien… and Prince | EXPLAINED

josh_symbolYesterday, I revealed that I once used a symbol to represent my name. Here’s how.

Also, I tell you what my middle name is.

Tune in tomorrow when I’ll tell you my social security number, my mother’s maiden name, and the names of my childhood pets. Just kidding. No one else should steal my identity. It is too big a responsibility for anyone other than me to handle.

But onto the hidden letters!







The “u” is upside down, in case you couldn’t tell that it wasn’t an “n”.






It’s David, though I like to tell people that it actually Danger.






Admittedly, the “m” is a bit on the wonky side. Use your imagination.

Now, honestly, did anyone who read this experiment with doing the same thing with their own name? Come on, you can share it here. This is a safe place.