Sep 032016

This morning as I browsed through unfinished blog posts—yes, I sometimes write multiple posts at one time—I discovered a post I had begun a year ago. Wow, that’s taking procrastination to new limits, I thought to myself. But a year ago at this time, I began juggling a full-time job with writing, crafting, selling handmade goods, and of course leading some semblance of a personal life. Five months later, I was diagnosed with endometrial cancer, underwent surgery, progressed through eight weeks of external and internal radiation treatments, and presently still find myself playing catch-up. Today, I guess, is as good a day as any to return to my half-finished blog post about a new design for an envelope book.


A year ago a grandmother contacted me to design a custom envelope book for a couple having their first child. She selected soft yellow, gray and ivory papers to cover the envelope pages of the book. I recommended she use dark gray envelopes to contrast with the soft colors, as well as a flexible accordion spine made of kraft-tex™, a durable fabric paper that can be painted, dyed, stamped, stitched, sanded, distressed, washed, ironed, embossed, tumbled in the dryer, and who-knows-what-else. In other words, it’s durable and will hold up well over time. It will also easily support the weight of envelopes filled with photos and other items.


This isn’t the best photo of the printed papers, as the actual colors are a little deeper than what is shown here. They give you, however, a general impression of softness.

Before I started the project, I mocked up a skeleton of the inside of the book. A prototype like this helps me to anticipate not only what the final project will look like, but also any potential difficulties that might arise. After I made the prototype, for example, I realized that I would prefer a landscape orientation over a portrait one. Having a prototype is also a good way to minimize material waste. I substituted plain white card stock for the spine, as well as for the envelopes. Each page has a half-inch of space between itself and the cover, or between itself and another page. This provides space for embellishments added to the envelopes. Because the spine is flexible, the pages of the book lie flat when you turn them, and the book is not as thick as it would be if you used a hinge-binding system or a hard-cover spine.

Prototype CollageI began the envelope book project with the accordion spine. I cut a rectangle measuring 7-1/4 inches by 10 inches. I saved the leftover kraft-tex™ because scraps are good for many projects, including bookmarks, buttons, die cutting, and many other things. Then I pulled out my score board, and scored the kraft-tex™ at 2 inches, 2-1/2 inches, 3 inches, and every half-inch until I got to the 8-inch mark. Next, I folded the kraft-tex™ like an accordion. You can see the finished piece below, attached to the covers of covers of the book.

It was extremely useful to use Clover Wonder Clips to hold the kraft-tex in place while the glue dried.

It is helpful to use Clover Wonder Clips to hold the kraft-tex™ in place while the glue dries.

Ahead of time, I had sealed white 5-inch x 7-inch envelopes, and cut off one end to form a pocket. I attached a flap to that end, and decorated both pockets and flaps with pre-selected papers.

Pocket and Flap Assembly

When all of the pockets and flaps had been assembled and decorated, I could see the book beginning to take shape.

Pocket Pages

The grandmother had asked me to personalize the pages so they would tell a story, so I attached sentence strips with brads to each page.

Sentence Strips

I also created some journaling cards to which the parents could adhere photos or on which they could write a note.


The pages had to be prepared for insertion in the book. I attached Scor-tape to each page and inserted the pages, one by one, into the folds of the accordion spine. I also added Scor-tape to the ends of the accordion spine. Finally, I adhered the spine-and-pages unit to the covers. Ahead of time, I covered the outside of the chipboard covers with printed and solid gray papers. I also adhered a ribbon tie to the cover.

Book Assembly

The last step was finishing off the inside of the book (not shown), and decorating the cover.


The result was a book whose pages accommodate both photos and embellishments without forcing the covers to splay open because of over-filling. The spine is sturdy and will not tear.

Finished Book

One of the fun aspects about this type of book is that you can turn the pages one by one as you would expect them to turn, or you can splay the pages flat (as shown in the bottom photo) like a deck of cards, making all of them visible at once.

This past spring I received a request for a different design: two 19-page envelope albums that would enable parents to celebrate the first 18 years of their children’s lives. The first page represented the child’s time of birth, with the subsequent 18 pages dedicated to the next 18 years, one envelope for each page and year of life. I realized that these albums, like the book shown in the above photos, would need to incorporate a kraft-tex™ accordion spine. No other spine would stand up to the weight of so many decorated pages, envelopes, photos and embellishments. Both albums are shown below.

Harrison's Book

Graeme's Book

In Naked envelope spine, spiral binding or hinge binding system? I asked readers to identify which method of binding they liked best for a thick envelope book. Many folks do prefer a hinge-bound book, which utilizes a hard-cover spine. However, the more pages, photos, journaling cards and embellishments you add to a book of memories, the less flat the cover lies, and the more stress is placed on the spine. Of all the methods with which I have experimented, the kraft-tex™ accordion spine is probably the sturdiest and accommodates best the weight of many pages without falling apart. I, too, like the appearance of a hard-cover spine, but for thick books it is in some ways like an oak tree that doesn’t survive the onslaught of a heavy storm. A book with a kraft-tex™ accordion spine is flexible and strong, and is presently my first choice for books with many pages, photos and embellishments.

You can purchase kraft-tex™, by the way, from C&T Publishing. It sells for $12.95, comes in white, black, natural, chocolate and stone—and I promise you’ll use every inch of the 19-inch by 1-1/2 yard roll. It is also available in 10-yard bolts at $69.95, and you can pre-order the newest product, a 10-sheet, five-color sampler for $16.95. The sheets are 8-1/2 x 11 inches, so you can run them through your inkjet printer.


If you bind books, what’s your favorite method of binding thick books with lots of pages, photos, journaling cards, and embellishments?

© 2016 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

Aug 282016

It wouldn’t surprise me to hear that your grade school, middle school or high school teacher wrote a sentence or phrase on the classroom blackboard or whiteboard, asking you to finish the story. You may have done so individually or as a group, but you developed a story with a beginning, middle and ending. Although I can’t recall the starter phrase or sentence that inspired such a story during fifth grade, I do remember writing a story about pulling weeds whose roots dug so deeply into the earth that they yanked me down into a different time and place. Likewise, during a college semester final exam following a short story writing class, each of us pulled starter sentences from a bag, and were charged with writing stories.

Photo by Jesse Wagstaff: ( via:

Photo by Jesse Wagstaff: ( via:

What are writing prompts?

Story starters such as opening sentences or phrases are just one type of writing prompt. Obviously, they unlock your creative gears, helping you to fill a blank page. They can be used to help you continue the story, might represent the middle of the story, or can be where your story ends up. In essence, the purpose of story starters is to help get your writing started. From that point forward, it’s all your own effort to flesh out the rest of the story.

Writing prompts can, of course, appear in other forms besides starter sentences. Photos or illustrations can work exactly the same way. Other times, you may be presented with a what-if scenario, but then have to develop the characters, plot, setting and motivations. When I wrote Destination Imagination Instant Challenges for cre8iowa’s Instant Challenge Library, or on-the-spot creative problem-solving exercises, I sometimes used a matrix approach as a jumping-off point. The basic idea behind this prompt method is to combine one or more elements from charted rows and columns.


You can also use a flip book divided into categories in much the same way.


Teachers often use a flip book method, as evidenced by such titles as Silly Starters Write-Abouts or Creative Thinking Write-Abouts.

Silly Starters

Creative Thinking

10 reasons writing prompts work

Writing prompts are helpful for the following reasons, whether you blog or write poetry, plays, fiction, non-fiction or something else. Not convinced? Writing prompts can do the following:

  1. They provide inspiration.
  1. They challenge you to examine an unfamiliar point of view, experience, or feeling.
  1. They help you to practice writing basics, focusing on one or more storytelling aspects such as point of view, setting, plot, characterization, dialog, or description.
  1. They make the process of writing more fun.
  1. They help you to discover new approaches to your writing by allowing you to experiment with words in a playful environment.
  1. They help you to build and maintain a regular habit of writing, making it easier for you to tackle larger writing projects.
  1. They can help you to discover your writing voice.
  1. They can provide the content for a writing forum, a place where writers can meet in person or online to share and discuss each other’s writing.
  1. They can provide the platform for a published piece of writing.
  1. They can help you rediscover your passion for writing, or get past writer’s block.

Where to find writing prompts

Writing prompts can be found everywhere, both for free or for a fee. Newspaper headlines and photos are great story starters, for example. Books such as Jack Heffron’s The Writer’s Idea Workshop and The Writer’s Idea Book provide hundreds of writing prompts. There is, in fact, an entire market devoted to books with writing prompts.


You can also find writing prompts in kit form, which use the principle of games to make writing fun. Jamie Cat Callan’s The Writer’s Toolbox inspires poetry, prose, screenplays, and novels—but can also be helpful to anyone who wants to think outside the proverbial box. The toolbox includes a guidebook; First Sentence Sticks, Non Sequitur Sticks, and Last Straw Sticks; Sixth-Sense Cards, and the Protagonist Game.

Writer's Toolbox

Another writing kit that features writing prompts is Judy Reeves’ The Writer’s Retreat Kit. The kit includes a guidebook telling you how to set up a retreat—with just yourself, or with others—as well as 20 different retreat cards to prompt you to write mindfully about such themes as Writing with the Moon, Maps to Anywhere, Hot Summer Nights, and 17 other enticing themes—each card with 20 different writing prompts, or a total of 400 writing ideas.

Writer's Retreat Kit

Another place to find writing prompts is the Web. Many of these writing prompts invite you to participate in a community, although that certainly is not a requirement. Four magazines with an online presence provide writing prompts on a regular basis.

  • At The Writer, you’ll find an entire section devoted to Writing Prompts. Some recent topics include “Mannequins,” “Elementary,” “Nuggets,” and “Fly on the wall.”
  • Poets & Writers offers a poetry prompt on Tuesdays, a fiction prompt on Wednesdays, and a creative nonfiction prompt on Thursdays. Visit The Time is Now for more information.
  • The Sun devotes a column to each issue called Readers Write. Readers are asked to address subjects on which they are the authority. Even if you don’t subscribe or submit your writing piece to this literary magazine, you can use the list of topics as writing prompts. Visit Readers Write for the complete list of topics.

As many of you know, I craft books, journals and notebooks by hand and sell them at Mister PenQuin on Etsy. Sometimes people are not sure what they should do with the journals in particular. Writing prompts are the perfect way to fill those blank journal pages, with lots of side benefits. As Emily Wenstrom in How to Use Writing Prompts to Become a Better Writer says, “It turns out, the prompt itself doesn’t matter nearly as much as what you do with it.”

Do you use writing prompts? If so, what’s your favorite source?

© 2016 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved

Aug 132016

Whether you’ve been blogging for years or are a relative newcomer to the blogging scene, the challenge is the same: coming up with a foolproof way to begin writing a post. I took a few months off from blogging earlier this year, while I was undergoing cancer treatments, but when I returned to blogging, that white desktop screen was a bit daunting. Here are three ways I jump start my own posts that you may find helpful.

 Photo by Dinalya Dawes ( via:

Photo by Dinalya Dawes ( via:

Respond to what you read

Writers generally have more to say when they do something outside of writing, whether that’s visiting the state fair, learning how to surf, attending a play, reading a book, or doing anything else. Lori Lake, in Quick Ways to Jump-Start Your Writing, says you can find topics anywhere—the newspaper, television, overheard conversations, the radio, and so on. “Start making a quick list throughout the day,” she says, “about anything that strikes you . . .”

One of the best ways I come up with a blog post idea is by responding to a book, magazine article or blog post I have read, or to a comment on one of my own posts. This post, in fact, is a response to a recent comment from a reader who said she simply needs to “. . . begin something—anything at all to get the ball rolling.”

Are there certain types of articles or posts to which you’re drawn? Likely these are the same topics that will inspire you to write. Cover a different angle about the same topic, or expand on one of the points you’ve read. Argue a different point of view, or cite reasons why you agree, and provide evidence. Invite others’ opinions, cite others’ opinions, and respond to one or more of these points of view. For myself, I’m drawn to such topics as writing, creativity, crafts and mindfulness. What reading topics draw your attention? That’s your starting point.

Photo by Lori Greig ( via:

Photo by Lori Greig ( via:

Begin with the title

When I used to write Instant Challenges (on-the-spot creative problem-solving exercises) for Iowa’s Destination Imagination program, my writing team identified a theme, and then brainstormed titles to correspond with it. One year we had an abundance of toilet paper rolls to use as working materials, so “roll” became our theme, and the Instant Challenges were generated from roll-themed titles.

A Roll-of-Plenty

Blog posts can begin exactly the same way. Identify a theme you want to address, and then begin brainstorming titles. If you’re stumped, use a list of title starters, such as April Bowles-Olin’s 75 Done-For-You Blog Post Title Templates, posted on her blog, Blacksburg Belle. Here’s an example of how this might work for a fellow Blogging Business Artisans teammate, Sharla, whose Beaded Tail blog posts are written in the person of her cats, Angel and Isabella. The cats refer to Sharla as “Mommy.” Some of Sharla’s beaded jewelry designs feature an animal theme, and one of the causes she supports is animal awareness, especially for animals with special needs. Using April Bowles-Olin’s templates, here are some potential titles Sharla might use to begin several posts:

  • Template: Why You Should __________ Today; Blog Post Title: Why You Should Support Your Local Animal Shelter Today
  • Template: Behind the Scenes of __________; Blog Post Title: Behind the Scenes of Mommy’s Bead Studio
  • Template: The Right Way to __________; Blog Post Title: The Right Way to Feed Your Cat’s Curiosity
  • Template: The ABCs of __________; Blog Post Title: The ABCs to Building a Purr-fect Playground
  • Template: __________ Tricks to __________; Blog Post Title: Clever Tricks to Wrap Mommy Around Our Tails

Beginning a post with a title not only helps you to write the content of the post, but is also an attention-getter. “Titles matter more than most people realize,” writes April. “It’s really the ONLY thing that matters when you’re trying to get people to click to read the blog post.”

Draw a mind map

When you aren’t getting anywhere with topic and title lists, you may discover that a visual approach to brainstorming is helpful. Vicki Meade, in How to Use Clustering to Jump Start Your Writing, points out that one of the best ways to come up with ideas and find a direction for a writing piece is clustering, also referred to as mind mapping. “Clustering is a powerful tool,” Vicki writes, “because it taps into the right brain, which drives creativity. Our right brain is where fresh ideas and original insights are generated. The left brain, in contrast, is more logical and orderly.” Being left-brained or right-brained, of course, has no basis in scientific fact, as both sides of our cerebral cortex are involved in creativity, but left and right brain terminology does describe people’s inclinations and resulting behaviors. Sometimes we get caught up in criticizing our initial ideas so much that we stem the flow of our own creativity. This results in what is commonly referred to as writer’s block.

The way that clustering, or mind mapping, works is through the process of free association, using word-and-image connections. You begin by identifying a word, phrase or image that represents a central idea. You circle that word or phrase, and then add any words, phrases or images that come to mind after that, circling and connecting them with lines to the original circle. These words or phrases may also suggest other ideas to you, so you continue the process of jotting them down or drawing them, circling them, and attaching lines between circles to suggest connected ideas. There is really no right or wrong way to do this. If you wish, use colored pencils or markers, and use squares, triangles and other shapes, in addition to circles. Stop when you’ve either filled the working space, or when you can no longer think of connections. Keep in mind that your working space could also be a dry erase board or even a wall on which you adhere sticky notes. When you’re finished, look at related ideas and group them together to establish the focus of your post. Finally, begin writing. Make sure you don’t stop along the way to edit your post. When the post is finished, return to your post to correct grammar, punctuation and syntax, and to add images and needed links.

Photo by Jessica Mullent ( via:

This mind map is centered around the concept of information, with related ideas radiating around it. It is important, when you free associate, that you don’t edit out your ideas, as that limits your final outcome.  Photo by Jessica Mullen ( via:

A great resource for discovering how to use mind mapping is Tony Busan’s book, The Ultimate Book of Mind Maps, which focuses on paper-and-pen methods. Truthfully, I prefer to use paper-and-pen, but if you’d like to preview an electronic method of mind mapping, the six-and-a-half minute video below of iMindMap, admittedly an older video, provides a great sneak peek into electronic mind mapping principles in general.

Some of the advantages to using mind mapping software are that you can save, print, edit and share your mind map. There are many applications that you can use on the Web or on your mobile devices. Ideally, mind mapping software should sync between Web and mobile devices. You can refer to the list below to compare apps. Consider that a free app will have fewer features than a purchased one, but that there may be an option to upgrade to a full-featured version for a reasonable fee.

Obviously, there are more than three ways to jump start your blogging than the ones I’ve outlined in this post, but I have found these methods to be personally useful. What are your favorite methods of kickstarting a blog post?

© 2016 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.