monarch butterfly
Daily Life, Writing Tips & Thoughts

Catching the Butterfly

Writing is a lot like catching a butterfly. You can run around all day swinging at it, yet grasp nothing. But if you sit tight and stay calm, it might just land on your hand and stay a while.

Today I’m glad I caught my butterfly.

monarch butterfly

Share your Thoughts: What is writing like for you?

Photo credit: Arcana Dea of

Writing Tips & Thoughts

Calendar Cues: My Secret Weapon to Writing

It’s the deadline. That’s the answer.

I think about my articles while driving surface streets, standing in store aisles, lying in bed before I fall asleep, and in the morning as I brush my teeth. I create space in my schedule to consider my words. But for all that time spent thinking about an article, it’s the deadline that motivates me to sit at the keyboard and type.

I can do the research in advance and complete my interviews with sources. I can transcribe my notes and ponder the paragraphs I’ll pen. I am ready, prepared, poised on the precipice.

But to write, I need that sense of urgency, that impending doom which will befall me if I fail to produce a masterpiece in the next twelve hours.

When you’re on the wire like that, you only have two options: You can write or you can fail. I won’t let myself fail. So I write. I pour out my guts onto the page, powered by a mug of green tea and time’s ticking clock.

Then it’s on to the editing process. Change the lead.  Scrap that paragraph. Revise this section, move that quote here, and check for grammatical inaccuracies.

Now a title. Every piece needs a good title. This is not my strong suit. I usually try to grab a piece of a quote, emphasize a theme, and hope the editor likes it.

That’s the source of my writing power. If I didn’t have an editor to report to at the end of the month, I wouldn’t have any articles. I need her deadline.

I’d like to blame this tick on my time as a staff member at a Nevada newspaper, when we worked beyond midnight to blaring music to beat the clock. But I think it runs deeper than that. All those years in school left their mark. I need a due date for these homework assignments.

Without that calendar cue, I would rarely write.

Want to see my recent work for editors? Read these articles: “The Rumors are True: Perez Hilton presents TY KU Coconut Sake at Las Vegas Pool Party” (See page 88 of the magazine’s digital edition. Warning: celebrity in Speedo.) or “Label-Driven Tasting” (See page 42 to learn what one Olympian did after her sports career.) in The Tasting Panel.

What is your secret to writing? Share your ideas in the comments section below. 

Ally and sister with Flash and Robin
Connectivity, Writing Tips & Thoughts

I love “logging”: How to find time to write for your blog

“Man, I love blogs.” I sighed and smiled as I spoke to my sister over the phone.

Since we both just completed last week’s “One Day” Challenge for bloggers, it was only natural to enjoy one of those moments when you actually do love blogging. (As opposed to those times, of course, when you curse yourself for making a commitment and can’t find time or a thing to say. Anybody with me?)

“I wouldn’t know,” my sister replied. “It’s pretty warm here.”


“Well, you know, it’s still warm here in Texas and I don’t have a fireplace.”

“Wait, what? What does that have to do with blogs?”

“Oh, blogs!” She laughed. “I thought you said ‘logs.’”

Ally and sister with Flash and Robin

My sister (pink shirt) and I tackle plenty of miscommunications together, like this one time when we thought The Justice League has inducted us into their ranks as honorary superheroes.

Now the only way this situation could be any better is to write a blog about a log. But while I’d love to thrill you all with my oh-so-original “Ode to Firewood,” I’d rather take a moment to share about those times when you’re not feeling like writing. What do you do when you can’t find time or passion to love blogging?

Find your best time.

Most writers say they wake up an hour early to write every morning. If this works for you, go for it! But I cannot function properly before 7:00 a.m.  I always write late at night. It’s quiet. It’s warm. I’m awake, and Anthony is grateful for uninterrupted video game time. It’s a good gig for us all. Find what works for you.

Use your downtime to think.

Once you’ve discovered your best writing time, don’t neglect the lead-up steps. First you’ll want to brainstorm ideas. Use your brain’s downtime to do this: driving to work, standing in line at the grocery store, working out, or skipping out on excessive Facebook scans. Wire your brain to think about your writing. Then when it’s time to write, you’re ready to strike the keys and create.

Set a timer to write.


Here’s some of my favorite writing music!

I am most definitely a perfectionist. This is excellent for copy-editing, but it’s horrible for creative writing. Sometimes I just have to know when to call it quits and accept the blogging work I’ve done. To do this, I set a timer. You can use a traditional kitchen timer, but my “timer” is a playlist or a CD. I know the songs. I know when I’m close to my allotted time’s end. Plus I can enjoy music, dive into writing, and never feel pressured by a ticking clock.

Don’t forget what really matters.           

In your quest to blog, write, and create, don’t forget what really matters. At the end of the day, it’s not the blog. Take care of yourself. Take care of your family. Go to work, do your job well, and celebrate life’s little victories. If you can successfully tackle these worthwhile commitments first, then you know what life is all about.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends! I’m grateful for each of you who stop by to read Pans and Pickpockets in your free time. 😀

Photographs and words: Ally Siwajian © 2012

my organized desk area
Daily Life, Writing Tips & Thoughts

Creative Chaos is not okay: How to de-clutter and maintain your writer’s work space

My college dorm room sustained a perpetual state of Beware: Disaster Zone. Printed papers were strewn across the desk. Red-marked manuscripts littered the floor. Textbooks overflowed from bookshelves to the bedside, and borrowed CDs formed a new tower of Babel on my nightstand. My friend Karen kindly dubbed my mess “creative chaos.”

Creativity, I thought, requires this degree of disarray to make room for genius. Look at Einstein’s hair, after all.

But after graduation, I started work as a freelance writer and realized the need to change to my messy corner. I could no longer flee to the clutter-free student union. Plus, south-side Washoe County libraries are dismal, dank, and frankly, just creepy. To be creative, productive, and organized, I needed to revamp my entire approach to a home office.

super cluttered desk

BEFORE: Since I live in a one-bedroom apartment, my “home office” is in the living room. With this cluttered mess, I wasn’t able to work well and I had to face this embarrassing disaster every moment of every day. Yikes!

organized desk area

AFTER: Ah, much better! This desk features three wide drawers (not seen here) and plenty of shelving space. This way, everything has its place. In addition to a clean space and my work tools, this work space actually displays a little bit of my personality!

Here’s what I did to transform my writer’s work space. Try these home office tips for improved writing, and create your own ideas as you design your own place to write well.

1. Combat the Clutter.

Toss every paper you don’t need into a recycling bin. If you haven’t looked at a paper/magazine/napkin shred in the past three months and it’s not labeled “Tax Season Stuff,” you don’t need it. Be brutal because clutter kills creativity.

2. Provide a Place for Papers.

Find a way to contain the papers you need to keep. I selected three methods: color-coded binders, plenty of drawer space, and labeled hanging file folders. To help this transition, I even added a file folder called “File Me” where I shove papers for immediate relief. But at the end of each week, I must (yes, it’s mandatory) review and file those papers.

my bookshelf

I like to trade out the books I display at my desk, depending on what I’m reading each season.

3. Display your Writing Tools.

Everyone has essential tools they need to write well. For example, I must have a paper calendar (sorry, smartphones) where I can scribble deadlines and scheduled interviews. Also, I like my computer, pens and a pad of paper, and an AP Stylebook from my newspaper years. When these tools are available and accessible, I often experience my best writing sessions.

4. Find a Theme and Color Scheme.

You don’t have to replace all your existing décor. However, you can find small, decorative ways to tie your work space together. For me, this intentionality proves my work space is a place I can be creative. I did buy a new desk at a great sale, but I decorated with what I already owned–hot pink and damask patten accents from my bridal shower, a canvas painting from third grade (see, the clutter monster took a while to kill), and black frames for every photo.

coolest Darth card ever

Isn’t this the best Darth Vader card you’ve ever seen? Happy early Thanksgiving!

5. Add the Personal Touch.

If your work space doesn’t reflect you, then you won’t want to spend time there. So add a few subtle touches to show your personality and deliver inspiration. For my desk, I added framed photographs, pottery by my brother-in-law, a few inspiring books, and a hilarious Darth Vader card from my sister.

The Pans and Pickpockets Challenge: Create your own Writer’s Work Space.

I love seeing people’s work spaces. My favorite online inspirations for home office décor are Hollywood Housewife, Le Zoe Musings, and Llamas and Lace.

I’d love to see your work spaces too. Write a blog post about the ways you’ve created the perfect writer’s workspace for you! Then post its link here in the comments.

Photograph credit: Ally Siwajian © 2012

Journal pages wirth writing
Connectivity, Stunted World Changers, Writing Tips & Thoughts

How Do I Start Writing? Blogging tips to avoid sounding like a high school girl keeping an “I Love Orlando Bloom” diary

I’ve been writing in journals since 2003 when a high school English teacher encouraged me to write every day during summer vacation. Maybe he saw within me a great future writer. Or maybe he knew I just asked too many questions, and this journal idea was a fantastic way for me to write them all down and ask him the following year. (He did dodge that responsibility rather aptly by switching to another school before the new semester’s start. Smart move, Mr. Lamb.)

My Start in Writing: Journey of the Journal

LOTR comic strip

Okay, I may have also been this kid in high school. Ha ha! (Comic credit: Bill Amend)

I tell you this tale to let you know where I began. I started my writing journey with Pentel pens and decorated spiral notebooks.

Sure, blogs existed. That whole Xanga thing was a big deal.

But if I had published publically when I first started, it would have flopped. I didn’t have the guts to be myself in a written public setting. Also, I didn’t have much to say that would allow me to connect with others. (I mean, who wants to hear how much I liked Legolas from The Lord of the Rings movies again? … On second thought!)

I Don’t Know What to Write: How do you start?

This week, a reader from Reno, Nevada, contacted me. After reading my post “The Resurgence of Passion,” he wanted to take that Pans and Pickpockets challenge and make a difference by using his voice in the blogosphere.

“I want to join,” he said, “but I don’t know how.”

Today I want to start the exploration of that question. For this inaugural Writer Wednesday, let’s take a look at ways you can begin to write.

(1) Discover your passion.

First, know why you want to write. You each have something to say. Now find out what it is and why you care. This motivation will empower your words. If it’s too difficult to pull this passion from the nebulous unknown, ask yourself this question: What do I love?

Still too much? Try this bit of wisdom from author Jon Acuff: “Instead of asking, ‘What do I want to do with my life?’ you ask, ‘What have I done that I loved?’ … Then you can start to really dream.” To really grasp the concept, simply replace “life” with “blog.” (Just this one time, of course).


Blogs require focus. (Note to self: So do close-up photographs.)

 (2) Find your outlet.

Once you know what you care about and what you want to say, find a place to say it. I started with journals. Today I have a blog. Both work. To this day, I still keep a journal because blogs require focus. I realize not everyone wants to read about my amazing attempt #462 to make scrambled eggs. (Besides, that’s what Facebook is for.)


(3) Focus your message.

It’s easy to make your blog an online journal. But I want to challenge you to go beyond that. Rather that stating what you did today, tell us a story. Use narrative power as an ally. Let us connect with you by showing what we have in common. Tell us a story, and show us why it matters.

(4) Pick a lens.

Journal pages wirth writing

Speak. Write. Share.

Writing must exemplify your voice. “Your voice” is essentially your personal writing style, your sense of self, and your perspective demonstrated on paper. The more you write, the more your voice develops.

As you start, select a lens through which to view the world. This should match your current outlook, whether you’re known as an encouraging counselor, sarcastic storyteller, slapjack comedian, or even a thought-provoking poet. Use your lens when you write, and you’ll find your voice.

The Pans and Pickpockets Challenge: How will you start?

Let me know how you’re going to start.

Tell me your favorite tip in the comments below, and be sure to link to your blog too. Then you can share with all of us in the Pans and Pickpockets community how you’re choosing to use your voice and speak the words that can come only from you.


* Special thanks to Tim M. for asking the question that inspired today’s post! You can find and follow his blog at TimmyMac.

Photo credit: Foxtrot comic by Bill Amend, photographs by Ally Siwajian of Pans and Pickpockets and by Lauren Patton of NerdieBlonde Art

smiling little boy
Advocacy Tips, Connectivity, Stunted World Changers, Writing Tips & Thoughts

The Resurgence of Passion: An Introduction to my upcoming Experiment

Passionate people tend to do one of two things. One: They inspire and mobilize those around them. Two: They scare people away.

I don’t want to scare people.

But this week I realized sometimes it takes passion to achieve peace, personal betterment, and an improved world in which to live. It takes perseverance. It takes humility. It takes the courage.

We all have something to say.

I think it’s about time we remember that. I think it’s time to set aside apathy. It’s time to deny fear of failure. It’s time to take a stand.

small girl in India looks up from her drawing

Discover what makes you come alive. Fight for that.

What do you believe in? What makes your mind tick? What makes your heart sick?

Speak. Speak. Speak.           

I want to tell you about how I believe God is good.

I want to share with you about my adventures as I interview TV celebrities and chefs and charity leaders.

I want to explain why I still believe we must end the abduction of child soldiers for Joseph Kony’s rebel militia, stop the sex-trade and abuse of minors, and destroy the firm grip of the inviting idea of suicide that has seized so many American lives.


I want to tell you this: You have a story. You should share it.


Because I want to learn from you. We all want to learn from you. You have something to offer the world no one else on this planet possesses. You are unique. You do have a story, and you can discover your voice.

smiling little boy

Smile. Share. Speak.

Let’s learn to use our voices. Come all who may, whether your voice is rough from lack of use or fine-tuned from the freedom you have discovered in words!

The Pans and Pickpockets Challenge: We will speak together.

I do not expect you to speak if I am not willing to do so as well. We have to stand together.

To remind myself of this challenge, I have decided to try an experiment. For the month of November, I will post twice a week. The topics: Writer Wednesdays and Missions-Minded Mondays. It’s the Pans and Pickpockets.

On Mondays, come to find information about social injustice and solutions. These posts will be targeted to (whom I’ve decided to call) stunted world changers. It’s for people, like me, who feel their hearts drawn to do more but haven’t discovered how they can help. My plans include stories, interviews, and information dissemination—all about what’s happening worldwide and how to effect positive, long-lasting change.

On Wednesdays, come to learn about the craft of writing. If you have a voice, you need to learn how to use it. That is what Wednesday topics will target. I am still learning about writing and I believe I always will, so why don’t we learn together?

Ally in the snow

Are you with me?

Now I invite you to join me.

How will you use your voice to benefit others? What will you do to reclaim your passion amid a society that tries to normalize? Who will you stand beside to encourage, and in what ways will you be the one to bring hope?

Share your thoughts, stories, or responses in the comment section below. I’d love to hear from you!

Photo credits: Lauren Patton of Sin City Saint, Justus Ochuro of Bungoma Bible School, Jamison Frady of Quiet Art Photography  © 2012  (Photographs used by permission.)

Like this post? You might like these:

Ally and Anthony artsy
Scripture Study, Stunted World Changers, Writing Tips & Thoughts

Paper Money is for Paper Kingdoms

I am an artist.

Claim the title. Start the swill, never knowing money can kill

that burning flame within which wants to make the world right

with written words on papers. Papers that become clouded

with another agenda, another purpose, another need.

Greed: the desire for paper money.


Because they tell me and I believe them that “I

am an artist.”


Now I work as a professional wordsmith, mixing words like he mixes tapes and

she blends insurance rates and they schedule dates

for meetings where we’ll discuss the politics of whether my skill is really worth their cash.

Ally and Anthony artsy


Now “I am an artist” fades. The money is the haze

I fight through, work for, and beat my blood within my veins

to strain and stain that blank document with ink

of written words I hope they’ll pay me for.


Now I am an entertainer. I am a show.


I am the one who exchanged beauty for dough

to make the bread I need to eat, to gather all their sheep,

and herd them in the direction I’ve been told to lead.


But I just wanted to be an Artist.

First A, then B. After Business, comes C.

And that stands for Crash, the course paved with concrete

to make sure I awake from my sleep

and remember the real reason I’m here.


Death to the artist.

It echoes in my ears, feeds on my fears, and

generates a gateway to either Heaven or Hell

and I have to decide:

What is the real reason I possess these artistic gifts?


Yes, we all have to eat. We all need sleep. We need

shelter, clothes, and shoes for our feet.

But at what cost? Who will pay

if I exchange the reason I was made, to create amidst pain,

for the pleasures of this world?


But I can’t ignore those numbered bills on the floor

from thieves who wrenched open the garish door

that guards my inner pride, my secret wish, and now they’ve tipped my money dish

to the point that’s all I can think about.


With my face pressed to the pavement, I need to be free if

only from their demands and debasement.

Scribbling to be known, to not be alone, then

curled in the corner, I hear a whisper.

A voice with a choice:

“What were you Created for?”


Like lightning piercing the ebony skies,

I arise to the words warming my soul,

breaking the lies and shrouded alibis

that identify me as one who has chosen to build paper kingdoms for myself

from paper money.


“I AM The Artist.” The voice rises and weeps. I sense tears filter down

upon blood-stained cheeks.

“Reduce the refuse, rebuild the misused, and choose

this day whom you will serve. It cannot be both God and Mammon.”


I am an artist and the I AM’s daughter.

I was not designed to bring lambs to the slaughter.

That includes me, who longs to be free from the sickness

and wretchedness of this putrid disease:

to be known, to be liked,

to drive the spike into the scarred hands

of The Artist whose last breath signified a rebirth of my spirit.


I am not of this world. I have made my decision, and

I’m finished with the constant derision that I’ve dealt myself with a side dish

of lies, withered and writhed, beside my plate of pretty pastries

that told me, “There is nothing more than this.”


Today is only an illusion. I’ve come to this

conclusion: The only art that matters in this life

seeks to serve others’ restitution. Not as a people-pleaser,

but as a real releaser of the colors and patterns

that lead people to The Artist.



(Inspired by Exodus 3:14 and Matthew 6:24)


~Ally Siwajian © 2012

Photograph credit: Lorenz Crespo of LorenzFoto © 2011  (Photo of Allyson and Anthony Siwajian used by photographer’s permission.)