On creativity and doing work you love | Debbie HodgeWhen I can’t sleep at night I set myself the task of thinking about my work. I roll on my side, hug my pillow close, and pose myself a problem: How can I evoke a sense of time passing visually on a layout?

I don’t do this to put myself to sleep–though sleep will come–but because I enjoy it.

I ask: What would be a good cover image for an article on juxtapositions? I work mentally to find and list possibilities. This mental listing is more difficult than work done with paper and pen. When I come upon an idea I especially like, I repeat it over and over and tell myself to remember it in the morning.


Ideas that are not written down are never recalled the same way again. The plot changes, the “ah-ha” disappears, the target moves.


I like to think with a piece of 17” x 11” white cardstock and a thick green Sharpie marker. I write scripts and make lists and draw schematics. I sketch out web pages and plan sales funnels, folding a quarter of the cardstock back onto the original notes, making more notes, folding back again and again to create a work plan.


The production of something tangible pleases me. I love knowing: I made that. 

Thirty years ago, I worked alongside my first husband’s father, a man in his 70s visiting from Iran and wanting to stay busy. He crocheted long cream bands, and I cross-stitched a pattern of roses on them. We made an afghan for each of his daughters and for me. 

Twenty years ago, I wrote short stories, printing them double-spaced and single-sided to be shipped off to literary journals. 

Ten years ago, I made elaborate parties for my children: tea for 100 on our lawn, Diagon Alley recreated from refrigerator boxes, winter in July evoked with white balloons suspended from a web of strings tied to trees.


Over the next four months I will make 14 new classes. Wednesday after Wednesday after Wednesday. Two Masterful Scrapbook Design e-books, 8 Story Coach writing guides, and 4 Scrapbook Coach video bundles. 

Ideas, procedures, and discipline make it happen. Helping hands and family forbearance make it happen. I make it happen not because anyone tells me I must but because this is what I like: projects, deadlines, creations.


A booklet of folded 17″ x 11″ cardstock sits on my nightstand. Many of the pages are covered front and back in green ink. Another folded bundle is in my bag. A third lies scattered next to my chair in the living room. 

I like the heft of the cardstock, the thick strokes made by the sharpie, and the record of my ideas.


I still have one of the cream afghans with the embroidered roses on a shelf in my bedroom closet. The bands are connected with crocheted chains. The roses are in three colors shading pink to red and the leaves are of two greens. 

A run of reference books–The Portable MBA, The New York Library Desk Reference, A Field Guide to American Houses–leans against a short stack of literary journals on a shelf in my office. In this stack are: the Beloit Fiction Journal with my story “Trusting the Hay,” West Branch holding “Trinkets,” and The Worcester Review with “If We Had Real Trouble.” 

One extra wand and spell book from a Harry Potter birthday party are in a box in my closet, tucked alongside other homemade party favors: stick puppets, pinwheels, and boomerang cans. 

The work travels forward.


In his essay “Creative People Say No,” Charles Ashton found that the common thread linking creators is how they spend their time. He wrote: “No matter what you read, no matter what they claim, nearly all creators spend nearly all their time on the work of creation. There are few overnight successes and many up-all-night successes.” 

Daily, I feel both optimistic about and overwhelmed by the work I’ve got planned. My business has traction. But not enough to allay regrets I feel about the time it takes from my family and friends. Year after year, I think this will be the one when I take it that step forward. Progress is slower than I would like. That my family continues to support—and even push me—is an amazing gift. 

“Please, don’t go work for a company until I go to college,” Josh said recently when I told him I was considering it. I can see him, drinking glass in hand, rolling the dishwasher closed. “I want my biggest problem to be that you’re taking a nap after an all-nighter when the school nurse calls.”


As much as I love the work of creation—of crocheting an afghan, producing a party or building a website–I also love sharing that finished project. 

I want the blanket passed into someone’s arms. 


Crocheting is usually done with one or just a few loops of yarn on the hook. The blankets with the roses were worked in the “afghan” stitch. This is done on a long hook. You pick up stitch after stitch, accumulating them on the hook as a knitter would on a needle. When the entire row has been cast on, you work them off two at a time and then turn and repeat the process. 

I recently taught Isaac the basics of crochet. He, too, likes keeping his hands busy and works projects when we travel, especially to my mom’s. He’s made a stuffed giraffe, a small caped Yoda, and is currently working on an owl tea cozy. He likes the cute and colorful, and he’s used YouTube videos to learn much of what he knows.


Twenty-four hours before a new class at Masterful Scrapbook Design posts always finds me farther from the end than it should. By noon the next day, I will upload a 250-page ebook and let 500 subscribers know it’s ready.

I wrote the assignments for the book four months ago, and the contributor work came in two months ago. Since then, Tami has organized and laid out the images and text in both InDesign and Scrivener.

I’ve edited and shaped, decided on specific lessons and their flow. Still, though, there are chunks that need writing, images and fonts to choose for article openings, the linking of images to the gallery needs to be done, and, of course, there is editing.

Even when the book is ready, the site needs tweaks, the membership access has to be rolled over and links and buttons put in place and tested so that everyone can actually get the book.

While I have had more than enough time to do this work in a reasonable manner, it will always come down to these last 24 hours. It will always take this one more day. It will always take whatever time I have.


Charles Dickens rejected a friend’s invitation because he preferred to spend that time writing. He wrote, “…the mere consciousness of an engagement will sometime worry a whole day…” 

For several years, during the same time that I was making elaborate parties, I belonged to a knitting group of moms from our preschooler group. At first we met once a month but we soon moved to twice-monthly gatherings, all of us welcoming the low-cost nights out when we could talk and create, eat and drink. 

We took turns hosting. My boys loved when I hosted, sneaking down to grab a chocolate for themselves and maybe even for Dad who’d been packed off to the bedroom early. 

I made scarves and bags and gloves and even a couple of sweaters.

When my boys both started school, I had time to start a business. And with them gone all day long I no longer wanted to leave at night. I wanted to read Artemis Fowl and yak and laugh and, yes, eventually yell at them that it was time to be quiet and go to sleep already! And once they went to bed I could do my own creating. I could work.

I see my old knitting friends in town, and they tell me they still meet. For a few years they suggested I come.


When I wrote fiction, the Canadian short story writer Alice Munro was my inspiration. I adore her work still.

In Miles City, Montana, Munro wrote, “In my own house, I seemed to be often looking for a place to hide – sometimes from the children but more often from the jobs to be done and the phone ringing and the sociability of the neighborhood. I wanted to hide so that I could get busy at my real work, which was a sort of wooing of distant parts of myself.”


You can make sure the work travels forward when modifying your website design.

Rather than editing the core code directly, use hooks and custom CSS files and child themes. That way you can apply updates without losing your changes.


It’s Saturday morning and I still have a mind-muddling, tired-making cold. 

“I can’t believe you’re sick,” my husband says. “You never get sick.” 

Someone who never gets sick doesn’t have a good backup plan for skin-of-the-teeth, all-nighter content production. I have missed a deadline which is rare. I’m working as steadily forward as possible, putting ten words down and then removing eight. That works. That is progress. 

This is the point at which I should say: That’s it! This is crazy! I’ve got a cold and I want to sleep, or if not sleep, I want to go off to the fair with my boys who just left. 

It’s ok, though. I don’t want to quit. I don’t want to throw a tantrum. I don’t want to change anything. 

I want to finish this work because I think I’m going to like it. And when it’s done I will hold it out to see how it looks. 

I will admire it, share it, and plan my next piece.



You can write a collaged piece like this with Story Coach class #5 “Braided.” Use the prompts to free-write and find your material. Use a 15-step guide (that presents your relevant free writes) to do the writing.

Save $10 on the Story Coach bundle with coupon codestoriesrock. Click here because writing your stories is easier than you think.