Writing in an Itsy Bitsy Notebook

When I was a teenager, I carried around a tiny notebook to write down my thoughts, ideas, poems, and stories. I bought a bunch of these notebooks at Woolworth’s. They were only about 3” x 3”in size and were spiral bound with a picture of a wild animal like a fox or deer on the cover. They were perfect because I could write really really small and take it everywhere I went. I could capture everything that happened in my teenage day.

I also felt these tiny notebooks were very inconspicuous. I could write without drawing
attention to myself or like in the case of my nephew David, my tiny notebook was not as easy to steal. I also didn’t want others to know that I liked to write.


I was embarrassed. I felt it was a nerdy thing to do as a teenager like listening to Wayne Newton albums (although I did that too). Real writers, I told myself were supposed to have this successful quality about them. You just couldn’t pick up the pen and put down words unless you were already a successful novelist.

Then if people saw you writing, they might ask if you had been published or if you were writing that “Great American Novel”  because isn’t that the goal of all writers? I often felt on the defensive and a little embarrassed to be impersonating a writer. Who was I but a 17-year old kid? I wasn’t allowed to be a writer, yet. So I hid my little notebook.

But that changed.

I’ve graduated into writing in journals of all shapes and sizes and I write everywhere and I don’t care. My nephew also does not care about reading my journal. In fact I believe 99.9 % of the world could care less about what I am writing unless I was writing about them and then maybe they might care a little. And just try reading my handwriting now!

I no longer care if people know I write. And sometimes I still get the the silly questions about where I have published and if I was working on that Great American Novel.

Writing is a practice. Writing helps me make sense of my life. Writing is so much more than just trying to get published. It goes deeper than that.

It’s a part of who I am. It’s what I do.

And it’s what more and more people should do too.


It’s worth every itsy bitsy notebook I’ve bought.



A Space of One’s Own


I am fortunate. I have my own room on the second floor of my house where I write. It is small but with built in bookcases and full of light. Two windows face east and three more face south. From this room, I can watch everything from the neighborhood to the wildlife around me. If feels like I am in my own treehouse.

Last year I was not happy with the way my room looked. It was messy and I was tired of the furnishings.

It has to be creative. After all I will be writing there, I told myself as if the room itself gave me my inspiration.

So I redecorated. I painted, bought a desk, hung new art on the wall. It looks nice. I like it but…

It came to me that no matter what I did to my room, it would still be messy if I was truly working. Paper drafts thrown in one corner. Art projects in other piles. It is really part of the creative process.

Which brings me back to the purpose of the room. Whether the room is messy or that “perfect studio” in my mind, it is the place where I write. And that is what I must do.

And really, I don’t need a special place to write in. At times, I write in coffeeshops, libraries, on buses, and in parks. Often the creative muse shows up when I least expect it and not always in my spiffy new writing room. I am reminded of Stephen King writing Carrie on his kitchen table.

What I need to remember is not that I have a room of my own.  All I really need is a pen and a piece of paper and the space to write wherever and whenever I can.

Let the words fall as they may.

And to listen to that small but persistent voice that keeps whispering in my ear, “ Write, Robin. Just write.”



More or Less




On this last weekend of 2017, the Minnesota meteorologists on the news are telling me to look forward to 90 continuous hours of subzero weather. Too cold to go out, I have this glorious weekend of “unplanned time” ahead of me.

I plan on using this indoor time for creativity.

Writer, Brenda Ueland,  in her classic book,  If You Want to Write, said, “…So you see, imagination needs moodling —long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling, and puttering.”

The words moodling, dawdling, puttering  all make me happy.  They are fun words. Words that we are not encouraged to really think about doing today.

“Idling! How dare you be idle!  There are groceries to buy, floors to mop, clothes to wash!”

For imagination to strike or allow to surface, puttering is a necessary technique.

I know time is not wasted when I dawdle.  When I start going through my piles, drawers, boxes. I know I will find things I had forgotten about. And I know I will strike gold.  Ideas, stories, and words will start appearing.  New connections will be made.

And I will wonder, “Why haven’t I done this more?”

But that answer is way too easy.  Busyness is a product of our culture.

Perhaps in 2018, I will declare more days to puttering without having an excuse like the weather.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words





This time of year is a frenzy. And this year, in particular, I feel I have way more to do then I will ever be able to manage.

Slowly, I am learning to simplify and to rethink things and to remember that I am in charge of my own time.

This picture reminds me of taking time. I took this photo many years ago of my husband and son on the shores of Lake Superior one crisp January day. I captured that moment of peace and solitude which today seems so distant in my unending tasks of things I think I “should” do.

I can feel the intensity all around me these days right before Christmas. I yearn to be on the shore of Lake Superior and find that slowness that isn’t always present in my daily life.

I know it is in my power to change that. Although I can’t be at the North Shore right now, I can slow my pace. I can take a long walk with my dog, catch a glimpse of the silvery moon and watch the birds hover above the river. Everything I need to slow down is right in front of me.

To quote a poem by Robert Frost:

Dust of Snow

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.


And I can take it all in with a deep breath.

A photo is worth a thousand words but so is a feeling.


We have only this moment, sparkling
like a star in our hand
—and melting like a
—Francis Bacon

Inspiration is a gemstone It’s dynamite. It is power and possibility.
And it is there for all of us.

Where to find it? It can be sneaky.

The good news is that inspiration abounds! I am always on the lookout.

One way I become inspired is by others. I appreciate the people sharing both their advice and encouragement. They have helped me along my own creative path. People who know that generating the positive and to promote the possible is what it’s all about. Inspiring others has a domino effect. It’s all about positive energy. And I am all for that.
Attention goes where energy flows.

Inspiration given by others may be just what you need to get that poem started or that book finally finished.

So here are a few people worth checking out:

Pam Grout is author of several books including Esquared and the newly released Art & Soul Reloaded. Her blog is all about possibilities and accentuating the positive. Read it when you are and are NOT down in the dumps.
Bane of Your Resistance Rosanne’s blog covers topics like writers resistance and brain science. Her book, Around the Writer’s Block is worth a read.
Hope C. Clark’s Funds for Writers newsletter is another positive resource for advice and lists markets looking for your writing. The newsletter has been on Writer’s Digest list of 101 Best Websites for Writers since 2000.
Author, Kate DiCamillo is one of my favorite children’s authors. She can tell a good story to an adult as well as a child. Follow her warm and fresh posts on facebook.
There are many others I haven’t mentioned and my list will continue to grow. But for now I hope you will check them out when you need some inspiration or a new perspective.




Robin Dyson is a Minnesota published writer. She teaches writing in her community and enjoys flash fiction, memoir and poetry. Currently she is working on a memoir about her sisters. She enjoys everything quirky. Her new book, Mrs. Claus, came out just in time for the holidays on Amazon.

Appreciation for Inspiration and Good Old Words of Advice

Words Matter



It’s the holidays and I look forward to giving and receiving cards from family and friends.

Cards can be expensive too so I appreciate each one. Some are so beautiful and I know I will keep them.  Others are very simple but it is still special to me because I was on someone’s card list.

Some people think that writing out cards is just an added job they have to do during the holidays. A requirement of the season to make SANTA happy or your mother. But writing out a card to someone can be so much more.

I have a writing friend who has a ritual of writing cards to family and friends and those who have touched her life no matter how briefly. She takes time during the whole year not just during the holidays, to put down her thoughts and sends them off in the mail regularly. It makes her feel good and it always makes the recipient happy.

On his 30th birthday I gave my son a card with a copy of a birthday letter I wrote to him when he was 12.  He was surprised and touched by this.  It mattered.

After the holidays many cards will be thrown away. The real purpose is that connection you make with another person.  That brief, quiet moment in time.

So send that simple Hallmark card to someone you love.  Put just one thought in it about how much he/she means to you. They will appreciate it.

It’s the thought that counts.

But so do the words.


Creative Time



Today I drove myself crazy thinking about all the writing and creative projects I wanted to do. When will there be time? How much time do I really have? I know some projects can go on and on and take a lot of time.

When great ideas come I am so excited. Then that wonderful other half of my mind will tear into me. “There’s not enough time in your life to do it so why bother?” It pulls me out of the clouds and tells me to just forget it. That can send me into a tail spin because then I start to think about the limits of time, energy, and age. I believe it all. And what about my other interests like hiking in the woods, spending time with grandkids, going out to dinner. It makes me frantic. It makes me want to hurry through everything.

Yes, I am doomed to failure. THERE WILL NEVER BE ENOUGH TIME!


Then I remind myself that as long as I choose to spend my time in creative activities and activities I enjoy, I will be fine. There will be time. I have always been creative and I always will. Not one day goes by without writing or creating something.

If a project takes longer or I do not get it done when I think it will get done, I need to remember that it is the actual writing/ creating in the moment that brings me pleasure. The final product is a bonus. Because I will then move on to the next great thing. As long as I am spending those moments doing what I love, I am fine.

I look back and see that I have been living a creative life all along. It’s not what doesn’t get done that matters. It’s about enjoying myself in the moment, creating and discovering my life moment by moment.

As I started to feel better, I serendipitously stumbled across these words of wisdom by the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu:

Nature does not hurry
Everything is accomplished


Writing is Always Worth It


When leading a class on Creating a Writing Habit recently, I was once again reminded about how when you are writing, the creative imagination may not always be there when you want it, but that in the end, by keeping at it (writing), it will always be worth it,

Even during our driest days, writing is always worth it. Because if you stick to it, if you are persistent, inspiration peeks its shy face out and gives you the best beaming smile you could ever imagine.

It reminds me of Brenda Ueland’s classic book, If You Want to Write. In it she writes, “Everybody is talented, original and has something important to say.” Her words are just as encouraging to any writer today as they were when she wrote them in 1938.

Those words are what I try to tell writers in my class.

So in that same writing class, a woman shared her own words about our class. — the atmosphere, the people and the community that formed in just a brief six weeks.

She graciously agreed to let me share her words here.

Thanks Mellany for capturing the mood of what a writers workshop does for all of us as we strive to continue to write and to develop a writer’s habit.

And thank you class for a wonderful experience!

What really made that night special was that they understood.

Writing is worth it.


My Writing Class

by Mellany Zepelak

It could almost begin like a joke: a Rabbi, a Kenyan, and a Christian walked into a writing class… Yet it’s not a joke. It’s fact. Add to that a lady from Argentina, a lady who is a professional class taker, a pilot, an artist, a lady who’s taken this class before, and an open, encouraging instructor; and that sums up the remnant of class since the first day.
This has been a blessed experience. I’ve found extensive creativity – What is ever going to happen to that guy at the bar? Discovery – knowing where we’re from and reflecting on those we won’t see in this life again. Raw honesty – how hurtful people can be. There has been mystery – Who took the candy bars? And fear – X marks the spot. There’s also been humor along the way.

All the while each for their own vision and purpose seeking to create and sustain a habit of writing. Where will these writings go? What will become of their practiced habits? Who will the writers themselves become as a result of their writing? Future time and the consistency (or lack thereof) of the habit will answer these questions.
In the midst of it all I’ve learned the beauty of listening to and encouraging others in what is important to them.

I’ve learned about the Shivah and the beauty of grief and reflection. I’ve learned about Kenya and how it can still be home to an American. I’ve learned about bravery from a lady writing in her second language. I’ve learned about word play, repetition, and fun. I’ve learned the great gift of doing something for myself in a season when most of my day consists of doing something for others. I’ve learned writing is an adventure, a gift, an opportunity, and a responsibility.
I’ve learned that gathering in a room with many different than me in age, talent, preferences and more, can teach me, humble me, and bring forth growth within me. I’ve learned that God has a time for everything and the time to grow in writing is now. And I’ve learned that He’ll use many around me to hone the craft. Like perhaps a Rabbi, an American Kenyan, a lady from Argentina, a professional class taker, a pilot, an artist, a lady with an established habit who has taken the class before, and an encouraging instructor.


The Creative Process


I have been a big fan of children’s literature ever since I worked for a Children’s Book Order Company in Bath, Maine in the late 1980’s.

I fell in love with well told stories and beautiful art work by writers and illustrators like Barbara Cooney and Maurice Sendak.

Moving back to Minnesota, I was surprised to come across the Kerlan Collection at the Elmer L. Anderson Library on the University of Minnesota campus.

The Kerlan Collection is one of the world’s great children’s literature archives. It contains more than 100,000 children’s books as well as original manuscripts, artwork, galleys,  color proofs, and other production materials for 1,700 authors and illustrators.

The collection is open to everyone.  It becomes a valuable teaching tool for anyone – teachers and students, to authors and illustrators from around the world.

And it’s all secured 83 feet underground (the size of two football fields) to preserve the books and paper.

Manuscripts by some of my favorite children’s books like Where the Wild Things Are and Frog & Toad are Friends can be found there.

The collection was started by Irwin Kerlan, a doctor and graduate of the University of Minnesota, who had a passion for children’s books. He became friends with authors and illustrators asking them to save their manuscript drafts and original art.  A collection of 12,000 early drafts by authors is stored at the Kerlan.

The rough drafts show the creative process in action so it’s a good place for a writer or artist to see the process of revision.

Few writers or artists get it right the first time.  It’s inspiring to see these drafts first hand of those who eventually got it right.

This is something I need to keep in mind when I write: persistence.

Curiosity Never Killed a Writer (or at least Anyone I Knew)

One day I happened to come across a small listing advertising a Sherlock Holmes exhibit at the University of Minnesota where I work. Being a fan of the detective stories, I decided I would go to the exhibit at lunch. It was just a short walk over the bridge to the Elmer L Anderson Library– a place I had never ventured into before.
And why would I? There was nothing interesting on the outside. It was just an ordinary brown brick building.
But I soon learned that the library is home to the world’s largest collection of Sherlock Holmes related material. The exhibit was only a tiny selection of 60,000 collected items that included books, journals, and letters; scrapbooks, audio and visual recordings, and pop culture artifacts like his deer stalker hat, curved pipe and magnifying glass.
How many years have I been at the University of Minnesota and I did not know this?  I left feeling inspired and excited.
It was a happy reminder to keep exploring those unknown corners of my world and that magical places are closer than I think and behind ordinary doors. New adventures like these will certainly open up new writing ideas for me. But I’ll never find them if I don’t keep looking.
Think about the unknown places right in your own neighborhood. Walk a different path, explore a new building, restaurant or park.  Go on your own adventure.

To quote Holmes, “Come Watson, come. The game is afoot.”