Creative Inspirational Wisdom: The Call

In this week’s post, Mary Joan Meagher advises listening to your inner voice on your special day. 


What did you do on your last birthday? If you became 40 or 50 years old, you probably had a stressful day. A comedic cousin, friend, or even a spouse might have thought that it would be fun to tease you about your age.


Perhaps someone threw you a surprise party at work. Everyone showed up wearing black clothes. They gave you a cake with black and white frosting that featured a grave with your name printed on a headstone emblazoned with the initials “R.I.P.” Everybody laughed and thought it was hilariously funny… until it happened to them.


Birthdays are hard enough without someone else taking them over and telling you how to feel. We all mark the passage of time in different ways, but it is always a time of account-keeping. We think about our faces and bodies, and we measure them against what we remember we looked like at sixteen or twenty.


This exercise is usually detrimental. Your spirits sink as you consider wrinkles, gray hairs, and double chins, or notice the effect that too many fast food stops have had on your waistline.


One saving measure to take at zero birthdays (when you enter a new decade) is to do another kind of accounting. Take a measure of how far you have moved in getting closer to your goals.


Dean Koontz, a best-selling novelist, says he writes and edits ten pages each day. What are your goals? Have you kept your promise to yourself to write or create something new each day? Have you finished a chapter of your novel?


You need to get in touch with your inner self.  You need to listen to your inner voice. For this exercise, set up a quiet space of time on your birthday. Get up earlier than normal. Find a quiet peaceful place either inside or outside, in the house or in the park, in the library or in the woods. This is your day. Find your place and time.


When you learn how to listen to your inner voice, you will know what you are called to do at this time in your life. Each stage of your life has a different calling. If you are too tuned-in to the voices of others constantly deciding your fate each 24 hours, when can you ever know what is right for you? Go back to your youthful dreams. What were you called to do then? What were you looking for? What were you going to be?


Your birthday can be a wonderful experience if you use it to launch a new enterprise, to take the first step to improving your relationships with others, to listen to the voice within calling you to be all you can be. Cyril Connolly, critic and editor, said: “Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.”



Mary Joan Meagher, a member of Minnesota Branch NLAPW, taught English and Speech at Regina High School in Minneapolis for 24 years. She also taught journal writing at Bloomington Community Education and was script writer there for The Time of Our Lives Show for 20 years. She is a poet, a watercolorist, and an essayist.


Image above courtesy of mrsiraphol at

Creative Inspirational Wisdom: Swimming Upstream

This week’s guest blogger, Bonnie J. Smith, shares how a challenging life experience inspired her creativity.

In 1999, I suffered a work-related injury. Being told that I might never be active on my feet or work the job I so enjoyed again and that I would have to use a wheelchair was a shock I didn’t handle well.


Having to sit 100% of the time in 2001, I decided to take a quilting class. I thought creating a few heirlooms for my family would be a nice gesture. Well, quilt I did—and to the frustration of my teacher, I could not stay within the pattern. My thought was, why do I want to create something that looked like everyone else’s?


Having moved to a new home with a lot of empty walls, I informed my husband that we’d purchase no new art; I would create art for our walls. Create, I did. My work has now traveled the globe, been juried into the prestigious Quilt National, and is held in private collections—and I feel like I’m just warming up.


For many years, I wondered how to translate that unrelenting horrific situation of my work injury into my artwork, but always avoided the subject in my art.


After I sat and let my body heal, the doctors said, “You can start exercising.”


“How about swimming?” I asked.


Thereafter, I swam every day.


One day, my youngest daughter Shara purchased me a pair of swim fins. Well, I had my doubts. Within about eight months, however, I witnessed a remarkable change in my feet. I then realized that those fins were probably the best physical therapy I could have had. The fins forced my feet to rebuild the muscle. I knew I was on my way.


While enjoying my swims, I would imagine what an artwork of myself swimming would look like. Could I create it? Would viewers accept my minimalist creative style or reject my work?


I rarely shy away too long from taking on a task, so I created Swimming Upstream:


  Swimming Upstream by Bonnie J. Smith


I looked at the finished work for a long time. It came to me that the artwork was not just about myself; it’s about everyone trying to navigate through life. For some, it’s hard to pick up the pieces and keep swimming upstream. For others, it’s just about trying to survive life.


Ideas keep coming to me for new works. Some show how we have days when we feel strong, and then other days when we need to pull back, maybe feeling just a little too much hubris. This series has been fun to create and visualize how I feel about myself moving onward and upward. People have gravitated to this work, as swimming is an iconic image that most of us can do or try.


I tell those who want to swim but say they can’t to just float or hold onto the side of the pool. One day, you will get the courage to let go and feel your body enjoy the stability that the water—or the world—can offer, depending on how you see it. Even if you never try swimming, you can always imagine yourself swimming upstream through life. Just imagine!



Bonnie Jo Smith, textile artist, is a member of Santa Clara Branch NLAPW. She attended IUPUI, Indianapolis Campus; Indiana Central College; and has taken Master Dyeing Classes under the direction of Prof. Joan Morris of Dartmouth College. Her most recent installation, “Swimming Upstream,” provided the inspiration for her book Swimming Upstream: A Memoir. The “Swimming Upstream” installation will be exhibited at The Festival of Quilts in Birmingham, UK, during the summer of 2017. Her web site is


Creative Inspirational Wisdom: A Creative Journey

In this week’s guest blogger post, Carol Mann shares the joy of her creative collaboration with former fellow Pen Woman Lynn Centeno.


I recently made a creative journey culminating with the publication of the book All Ways a Woman, a collection of art and poetry celebrating women, done in collaboration with artist Lynn Centeno. As Lynn and I worked on the project, we recognized the uniqueness of every woman’s life. However, we also realized a universality of experience. Women inspire and encourage each other with their strength, their resolve, and grit; with their vulnerability and ability to give; with their talents. We wanted to capture this story, these feelings.


The book, published by AquaZebra Press in hardcover, became available on Amazon in January 2017. Within its pages, we walked a woman’s path, gave voice to her life song, and honored her journey. We celebrated being in all ways a woman, always.


The collaboration began in 2011, but we didn’t know it. Lynn and I participated in an Ekphrasis (EHK-fra-sis) program for writers and artists, sponsored by the Palm Springs Branch NLAPW.


Branch artists submitted their art online, and branch writers selected a work of art about which to write. I chose Lynn’s watercolor “I Care Not.” For the final program, each artist’s work was displayed and the writer read her accompanying piece. By the end of the event, a calm could be felt in the room. The women in attendance, whether they knew each other or not, seemed to feel what can only be described as a palpable closeness, a bonding of spirit, and a sense of well-being. The Palm Springs Branch repeated the event in 2013, and I again chose one of Lynn’s watercolors to write about: “Girls’ Night Out.”


Girls’ Night Out by Lynn Centeno

Both watercolors and poems are in the book.


Three years passed. In the summer of 2016, Lynn casually suggested we do more. We each went through our body of work, searching for everything “woman.” Themes came to life about thoughts, loves, and lives. Some poems had been previously published in literary journals; some watercolors had been in juried shows. We also created new work. We had a story—a woman’s story.


As with any endeavor, we discovered a few tricks along the way that apply when involved in a collaborative effort:


  1. Come prepared.
  2. Meet commitments.
  3. Respect each others’ work and ideas.
  4. Don’t compete with each other.
  5. Respect each others’ process. People have different ways of arriving at a mutually desired result.
  6. Negotiate when visions differ.
  7. Compliment.
  8. Listen.
  9. Be flexible and stay focused. Discoveries may be made. Plans can change.
  10. Recognize that during the creative process, stress and tensions may develop. Remember numbers three and five.


Our creative journey taught us about collaborating and creating an enduring work of art. It inspired us. We hope women will become inspired by their own journey.



Come …

walk with us



For together …

we grow

we discover

we become

– from All Ways a Woman,

by Lynn Centeno and Carol Mann



Carol Mann is a Letters member with the Palm Springs Branch of NLAPW and co-author of All Ways a Woman. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Education from Buffalo State College (SUNY) and a Master of Arts in Theatre from California State University Fullerton (CSUF). Her short stories, personal essays, and poetry have appeared in literary journals and magazines such as Six Hens, Bloodroot, RiverSedge, Phantom Seed, Dual Coast Magazine, Coachella Calling, and The Sun Runner Magazine. Her blog can be found at


Creative Inspirational Wisdom: The Wings of Creativity

In this week’s post, Sara Etgen-Baker discusses how stepping out of one’s comfort zone–and writing routine–helps to inspire creativity.



In 2010 my mother-in-law gave me her rather simple but graceful antique secretarial desk. I was delighted to have it and cherished this nostalgic piece, for it both served and inspired me as I began my writing journey.


The antique desk easily fit into the tiny loft at the top of the stairs. The desk was comfortable; I felt so cozy, secure, and confident when I began each writing session. Although I quickly outgrew the desk, I was unwilling to give it up and acquire a larger one.


Despite the desk’s comfort and coziness, its limited storage capacity meant that I often scattered file folders and books on the small floor space around me. I also crave organization and closure, however, so after each writing session, I painstakingly gathered up the scattered tools of the trade and either placed them on a nearby shelf or in one of the desk’s three drawers until the next writing session. Because I’m also a creature of habit and routine, I repeated this process hundreds of times—much like a batter who comes to home plate and repeats a similar process each time he prepares to swing at the first pitch.


I accepted this process as the way that I entered into and exited my writing mode. Subconsciously, I convinced myself that the desk and the rhythm of my routine were my lucky charms, and I needed them to be successful.


A few years into my writing journey, we moved into a bigger home. Subsequently, I acquired my own office. My husband Bill offered on more than one occasion to buy me a new desk for my office, but I ignored his offers—like the day we stopped at the local office supply store.


Bill escorted me to the back of the showroom where he’d found what he thought was THE perfect desk for me. “I want to buy this for you, Sweetie. My writer needs a bigger desk.” He hugged me. “You know you deserve it.  Besides, a bigger desk means bigger possibilities.”


“But I don’t want a bigger desk!” I turned and marched away. “I like my little desk.”


“I don’t understand. Why don’t you want a bigger desk?” He scurried to my side. “You must be afraid of something? What is it? You can tell me.”


“Whatever do you mean? I’m not afraid of anything. What makes you say that?” I folded my arms across my chest and looked him straight in the eyes. “Like I said, I really like my little desk. I’m satisfied with it. It inspires me. Besides, we just moved; I’ve experienced enough change. Changing to a bigger desk will just mess with my writing mojo. So don’t ask me again!”


He didn’t ask me again.


Then a few days later, while working in my new office, I looked around at the folders, books, and papers strewn all over my office floor. I riffled through several stacks and couldn’t find what I needed to meet a contest deadline. My heart raced, and beads of sweat appeared on my forehead—the telltale signs that I’ve allowed panic and fear to take hold. I leaned back in my chair, took a deep breath, and looked around my office. The room literally swallowed the tiny desk, making it look a wee bit insignificant and slightly out of place. Hmmm. Maybe I do need a bigger desk. But the idea of graduating to a bigger desk sent tiny shock waves through my brain.


Perhaps Bill was right. Was I afraid of something? If so, what was it?


Unable to continue writing, I closed my laptop, stood up, and paced around the room, focusing my attention on the certificates, awards, and checks that I’d framed and hung on the wall. When I began writing, I never imagined the success that now stared back at me. Each represented either an exciting moment or a significant step forward in my writing career. I was both thrilled and content with the level of success I’d achieved.


I closed my eyes and relived the vulnerability and fear I sometimes felt as a new writer. Often when I sat down to write, I didn’t know exactly what I was going to write or where I was going on my writing journey. But during the past few years, I trained myself to love both the ambiguity and the not knowing.


I smiled, returned to my chair, and retrieved C. Joy Bell C’s book of poetry, All Things Dance Like Dragonflies, from the bookshelf. I flipped through its pages, and her words about faith jumped off the page into my heart:


I have come to accept the feeling of not knowing where I am going. And I have trained myself to love it. Because it is only when we are suspended in mid-air with no landing in sight, that we force our wings to unravel and alas begin our flight. And as we fly, we still may not know where we are going to. But the miracle is in the unfolding of the wings. You may not know where you’re going, but you know that so long as you spread your wings, the winds will carry you.


At that moment, I recognized that a bigger desk symbolized bigger projects, bigger possibilities, more challenging contests, and being once again suspended in mid-air with no landing in sight.


Bill was right, of course. I was afraid—afraid to force my complacent writing wings to once more unravel and begin a new flight. C. Joy Bell C’s words helped me grasp, at a deeper level, that once I spread my wings anew, I could trust that the winds of creativity would carry me further, where I needed to go.


So when my bigger desk arrived a few days later, I sat down at it, opened my laptop, and once again felt the miracle in the not knowing and the strength in the unfolding of my wings, confident in their ability to begin anew.



Sara Etgen-Baker has been a member of the Dallas Branch of NLAPW since 2014.  She enjoys the support and fellowship her affiliation with NLAPW brings to her writing life. Her manuscripts have been published in various anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Wisdom Has A Voice, My Heroic Journey, Times They Were A Changing: Women Remember the 60s and 70s, and The Santa Claus Project. When not writing, Sara spends time with her husband, Bill, to whom she’s been married for 34 years. She may be contacted via email at


WANTED: Your Creative Submissions!

Calling all Pen Women! We cordially invite our members to submit artwork for consideration as Art of the Week and guest blog posts for our NLAPW blog. Please read on for more details.




You may have noticed we’ve shared some excellent member poetry via Poem of the Week, but we haven’t shared any outstanding member art in a while. We’d love to see your best work for possible publication as Art of the Week. Please review the general submission guidelines on our web site and then submit your artwork to our Art Editor, Jamie Tate, at We hope to feature some new works very soon!




We continue looking for member guest posts for two new series: Creative Inspirational Wisdom and A Creative Business. Accepted pieces will first appear on our NLAPW blog and later in upcoming anthologies from Pen Woman Press.


Creative Inspirational Wisdom posts will focus on all aspects of the creative process: brainstorming, drafting, revising and “publishing.” From where do you draw inspiration? What is your creative work space like? How do you tackle writer’s block or revise your work to make it even better? What are your “best practices” for creating? What helpful tips could you share with fellow creatives? Tell us what you’ve learned on your creative journey!


A Creative Business will share observations and advice about making your passion your livelihood. What do you wish someone had told you before you started out as a creative professional? Where did you learn how to run your business? How do you make the perfect pitch to magazines, galleries, etc.? What business practices lead to success? How do you market yourself and your work? What practical advice can you offer about taxes, licensing, insurance, and so forth? Share your expertise with us!


Posts should be 150 – 500 words on average, although longer pieces will be considered. You must be a current Pen Woman and the original author of your submission. Original posts are preferred, but reposts from your creative blog are also welcome (with the original link and permission to reprint clearly stated in your submission email).


Please send guest blogger post submissions to We look forward to reading you!


Creative Inspirational Wisdom: Arranging a Personal Work Zone

This week, guest blogger Tricia Pimental explores the merits of a creative garret.


First, I’m glad others will be contributing about the business side of writing (thank you, Kathleen Vermaelen). That’s definitely not my strength, so I look forward to learning from those posts.


As far as creative inspirational wisdom goes, what follows are a few thoughts on arranging a personal work zone. Writer’s Digest editor and author Elizabeth Sims gives plenty of useful tips in her book, You’ve Got a Book in You. They’ve helped me, and perhaps they will do the same for you.


Sims refers to the place where we hopefully will get our brains into gear as our “garret.” Two factors to consider when creating a garret are: 1. it’s a frame of mind, as in “Nothing and no one can distract me from writing,” and 2. it must have usable work space.


A room in your house is nice, but family members will still sense your presence. They’ll feel free to knock on the door, or worse, barge in while you are in the middle of constructing a clever metaphor or the most brilliant plot line ever conceived.


If you’re lucky enough to have access to a real garret—a cozy attic space—try that out. You’ll probably have a window and literally feel “above it all.” Barring that, a corner in your local library or favorite coffee shop might do nicely. Even part of your garage, provided it’s heated and well-lit, could work. Avoid basements if possible, as they can be dark, musty, or chilly.


Next time, the elements in your garret: Music? Snacks? TV or no TV?


Tricia Pimental is the author of three award-winning books. Articles, short stories, and poetry have appeared in The Florida Writer, A Janela (the quarterly magazine of International Women in Portugal), International Living, and anthologies compiled by The Florida Writers Association, NLAPW, and others.  A member of FWA, NLAPW, and SAG-AFTRA, Ms. Pimental is also a former Toastmaster. Follow her on Twitter: @Tricialafille. She blogs on her website:

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WANTED: GUEST BLOGGERS! Pen Women are invited to submit guest posts for two new series: Creative Inspirational Wisdom and It’s A Creative Business. Please visit this link for more details. We look forward to reading your material!

Creative Inspirational Wisdom: Shine Your Light

This week, guest blogger Mary Joan Meagher shares “enlightening” advice for creatives.


From time to time, writers are caught in darkness. Shadows obscure choices and chase one down hallways of doubt. A writer sits at her computer and feels blocked, lacking in vision, miserable. How best to find the light and how best to flee the darkness becomes her quest.


Those of us who live in Minnesota and other northern states are very familiar with the experience of living in darkness. During the winter months, our days are shortened day by day, and sunlight retreats to the South, angling itself lower and lower on the horizon. Clouds cover the sky in November, hiding the rim of the sun in gray tatters, bringing cold rain, damp wind, and then the snows of winter.


But look at the artists in our midst who paint with light for films and television. They bring us laughter and joy. Look at the rainbow itself, the spectrum of light arched across the sky, shattering the darkness of the storm that has preceded it by crystallizing the raindrops into prisms. We see light refracted into all its colors, promising hope and happiness to all.


Writing our truths is one way to bring this light to others. Perhaps at one time or another one may be in the pits or lost in the blues. We need someone or something to lead us out.


Writing in a personal journal is always therapeutic. Write your truth freely, sorting out your feelings, examining your perceptions of time, place, and life events. Getting your thoughts and feelings on paper is the best way to unblock your creativity. Reaching out to others, asking for help, and finding a listening ear brings us grace and light to share with others. Once we have been gifted with this light or these insights into life, we too can spread it to those in need.


The psychologist Carl Gustav Jung says, “As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.” It is up to each individual to kindle this light for all those who are part of our daily lives.


Life is light, and warmth, and love. We all have plentiful supply of those qualities. Make each twenty-four hours a gift to your associates by living each day with truth, sympathy, and unconditional love, by unblocking your creativity, and by writing the truths you have discovered, passing them on to your readers. Just as you turn your face to the sun to soak up its rays, so turn your face to others to give them the gift of your light. In the dark days of winter, you can bring the light of spring to those who surround you.


As an old African-American spiritual says, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine/This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine/Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!”


Mary Joan Meagher worked as an English and speech teacher at Regina High School in Minneapolis, MN, for 24 years. She has taught journal writing at Bloomington Community Education and wrote scripts for The Time of Our Lives Show there for 20 years. She is a poet, a water-colorist, an essayist, and a member of Minnesota Branch NLAPW.



Creative Inspirational Wisdom: A Journey into the Heart of Creativity

For our first guest blogger post in our Creative Inspirational Wisdom series, Dr. Patricia Daly-Lipe reflects on her creative journey.


Maybe I am a late bloomer but, finally, I have arrived at an important juncture in my life. What I used to consider a pastime, I now consider a passion. Two creative arts, painting and writing, have become the focus of my life.


I crept slowly into taking my art seriously. As a child, I watched my father paint. I learned to use watercolors when a woman down the street from my home in California opened her house to the neighborhood children and taught painting. Often we would take our tablets down to the rocks and attempt to paint images of the incoming surf.


Later I attended the local Art Center’s painting classes for children in a little white wooden building with trellises laced with flowering Wisteria vines in front. My work won at some shows, but for me, art was just a pleasant thing to do.


I took art classes in school and later in college, but still it was not enough of a passion to warrant full-time study. As a young adult, I studied figure drawing. My likenesses were quite good, but the paintings lacked depth. They were more like caricatures or illustrations. I came to find between years of learning to draw figures with proper proportions and dimensions, tones and contrasts, and learning to paint with style, my own style, there exists a leap of faith. It takes knowing how to draw things and people as they really are to be able to draw or paint them as they appear to you the artist—and knowing who you are is the center piece of creativity.


Vincent Van Gogh said it best. In 1879, he wrote: “I know of no better definition of the word ‘art’ than this: ‘Art is man added to nature,’ nature, reality, truth, but with a significance, a conception, with a character which the artist makes evolve, and to which he expresses, that he frees up, illuminates.” I believe deep down within our very being lives the creative muse, and she is yearning to find expression. It is she who connects to the primal rhythms of the universe. Watching a sunset, looking at the snow-covered bare limbs of a tree, peering into the opened petals of a rose, all these scenes are captured by our creative muse, who stores them in our memory. Someday, she will find release. That is, if we allow it.


But creativity is not confined to art. The writer, be he or she a novelist or historian, a biographer or a reporter, also allows creativity to find expression. For the writer the words paint the picture. Consider poetry. Poetry celebrates feelings. “No tears in the writer; no tears in the reader,” Robert Frost said. This is true of the poem and equally true of literature. Just as “a poem begins with a lump in the throat,” so too a good book should entice the soul, draw upon the emotions and require reflection.


The artist considers the media to use; the writer chooses the words. There is an affinity between musical rhythm and literary rhythm: repetition/meter/movement/harmony. One of the most powerful mimes defining life is sound. Take the ‘motion’ out of ‘emotion.’ Music is motion. Life is motion. For some, the creative muse finds her expression in music. Words are not necessary. The visual is not necessary. Music takes us beyond the external world and draws upon our inner selves, our emotions.


So be it writing, art or music. “Within each of us is a creative core that actively creates the universe,” Robert Hand said.


Man is both creature and creator. Creative energy creates. The journey never ends, and it is the journey, not its destination, and the creating, not the created, that opens our minds and hearts to more than logic, science, or technology can ever know.


Dr. Lipe is a past president of La Jolla Branch NLAPW and DC Branch NLAPW. She is the author of eight books with the ninth—Historic Tales of La Jolla, published by The History Press—due to come out in January. Patricia is the recipient of numerous awards. An artist as well as a rescuer of thoroughbred horses, Patricia shares her love of nature and animals with her husband, Dr. Steele Lipe, at their farm in Virginia. Please visit