Tag Archives: Creative

Creative collaboration

I love working with people in creative ways. I’m happier creating music with other people than performing alone. I love having writing collaborations on the go and being in spaces where people interact creatively and support each other. The Hopeless, Maine project has been brilliant for me in this regard because there are some awesome people inclined to be involved with it.

I’ve spent plenty of time as a solitary musician – I used to busk a lot when I was younger and had more stamina. I’ve written a fair few books on my own (more than a dozen novels, eight non-fic titles). I can create on my own, but I don’t get excited about it in the same way.

There’s an energy to co-creation that I get really excited about. When people really gel as co-creators, there’s this wonderful scope to be inspired by each other in a way that keeps the inspiration flowing. There are usually challenges, negotiations, compromises and a lot more figuring out to do when whatever you’re doing has to meet the needs of more than one person.

I think some of this is because I’m excited about relationships. This has always been a significant aspect of my Druidry, that it’s a consciously relationship-orientated path for me. I exist in relationship with the land, and in relationship with my ancestors of blood, land and tradition. As a creator I have all kinds of relationships with people who engage with what I make. I find the kinds of relationships I can have with people around shared creativity really appealing. I have no doubt this is one of the reasons I have a strong relationship with my son – we’ve sung together since he was small, and we still do.

When there are more people involved in a project, it’s likely to be more than the sum of its parts. Even if there are only two people, some third thing reliably emerges that is not simply the sum of the two people involved. There’s a magic in the sharing of inspiration and ideas, and what grows in that soil can be marvellous indeed.

I’m increasingly drawn to thinking about what we can do collectively, as communities, and as small groups or even in pairs. I’m questioning the individualism I encounter, and finding that the more time I spend doing stuff with people, the happier I am.


My somewhat preposterous life

I thought I’d do a quick run-through of what I have going on at the moment, and what I’m plotting. It is fairly preposterous, but I hate being bored. At the moment I have enough creative energy for this to feel plausible, which has a lot to do with how excited I feel about the people I get to work with.

Having written a novel with David Bridger this year, we’re starting on the second book in the series now. It’s a mixture of different kinds of mysteries – murders, and the more magical sort. I’m really enjoying it.

I’m writing a Hopeless, Maine novel for my Patreon readers, and I’m in a conversation about how to get that out once it’s finished. There’s also a Hopeless, Maine Book of Beaten, co-written with Keith Errington and hopefully emerging into the world next year. 

Also for Patreon I am writing a chapter a month of a book on Pagan Pilgrimage.

I’m chipping away at a new poetry collection for next year. This is the most deliberate approach I’ve ever taken to writing a collection and I’m being startlingly productive at the moment. Its central themes are nature and sexuality and also deity, so a lot of overtly Pagan content there.

I’ve just committed to an Arthurian project – I have a collaborator for this one, but I’m not going to out them just yet. It’s not the sort of thing they are usually known for and I’m going to enjoy startling people with this.

I’m pouring a lot of energy into my band – The Ominous Folk. We’ve had a lot of very successful gigs this year. At the moment we’re putting together a set of more wintery songs, and we’re looking at recording an album. We also have an ambitious project for next year which I’m already working on. We’re going to be using instruments for that. James is learning the bouzouki – he’s very clever so I have no doubt he can do this. Tom and I are dusting off tin whistle and viola, respectively. Susie is going to be wielding percussion. I think there’s a very real chance we’re going up to being five people, because we really do need a guitar for this project, and I think we have an extra person getting involved.

I urgently need to be fitter and stronger to support the performance work. I’ve been ill a lot this year and it has set me back, but I’m doing my best to rebuild. Being on stage is quite physically demanding, and I need to improve my energy levels as well. It all feels possible. I’m doing better with both mental and physical health, and I can see ways forward. So long as the inspiration keeps flowing, I should be motivated enough to keep all of this moving. My creative collaborators give me that, and I want to bring them the best of myself that I possibly can. 


A survivor – fiction in progress

“She is a slave of victims.
Who knows how she forget all.”

We’ve talked of victims before – this is a story set in the aftermath of war. Everyone is damaged. To some degree, everyone is a victim, or sees themselves as such. When Abbey shared this image and the text above, it was the first time he’d suggested slavery as part of the mix. But, slavery so often goes with war, and the use and abuse of power is very much what war is about.

How does she forget? By looking for seeds amongst the ruins, and planting whatever she can. Nurturing new life with water and patience. Small acts of rebellion, to make something that is hers and hers alone. At least for now. Little patches of dirt opened to the sun, and gifted with any seed that might survive. There are no weeds in her mind, no distinctions between cultivated plants and wild ones. She grows whatever she can.

When you do not know how to heal yourself, healing something else can be the best way forward.

I see her as a figure alone. The people who enslaved her for a while have moved on, and had no further use for her. She has no idea if it would be safe to leave now, and nowhere to go if she did. But there are seeds to find, and plant and nurture. They give shape and purpose to her life.

If you’ve not seen anything of this before, I’m sharing bits and pieces from the world building I’m doing on a project with Dr Abbey. It doesn’t have a proper working title yet – early days – but I thought it would be interesting to share ideas as they come up. This is not at all how I normally work, which is also fun. We’ve been quiet with this for a few weeks, due mostly to how much other stuff is going on, but you can find more of it in the ‘creative’ category.


All my relationships are queer

One of the biggest problems I have with hetronormative approaches, is what the assumption of ‘normal’ does to relationships. If you think relationships have a ‘normal’ shape there’s an awful lot you’re never going to talk about. However, if you are queer, polyamorous, kinky or otherwise complicated, you know you can’t afford to assume anything. You have to talk, and figure things out and negotiate. This makes for better relationships with fewer assumptions.

By ‘relationships’ I’m not just talking about sex, or romance. Part of what hetronormative thinking does is makes people focus too much on that in the first place.  It applies just the same to friendships and working relationships. I note that my queer friends are often the ones most willing to talk about how the friendship works, what we might expect from each other and where the edges need to be. By contrast, I’ve had far too many rounds of straight men who want to flirt but are totally resistant to talking about where the edges are. That never goes well.

For the person who thinks that relationships happen along a narrow selection of default lines, there are going to be issues. I’ve dealt with men who were sure that they could not be friends with women – and I’ve seen how badly that impacted on their romantic connections because they had no idea how to be friends with their lovers.

There’s a lot of diversity out there in terms of how people think, what they feel, and what they want. Most of us do not fit neatly into pre-designed relationship shapes. I suspect a lot of the chafing I’ve experienced trying to deal with heterosexual folk has had everything to do with them not fitting into their boxes either, but not being able to talk about it. If you think there’s a normal way of doing things, your own not fitting in that must be highly uncomfortable.

It starts so often when we are children. Who is allowed to be friends with whom? What games are you allowed to play? What sports are you taught? Schools can be a hotbed of reinforcing gender difference and encouraging people to divide up along gender lines. Many people will also grow up with clear messages at home about what their gender means for their interactions with other people. The rules about gender, normality and relationships tend to be absorbed unconsciously. Those of us who really don’t fit are more likely to notice that we don’t fit, and that’s greatly to our advantage.

Those of you who know me well may be wondering what happened and why this is on my mind. The way in which we negotiate relationships is on my mind because I recently had an involved conversation about a creative relationship. How committed is it? How faithful are we going to be to each other?  We’re both people who thrive on certain kinds of interaction so being too focused on each other would be stifling, but we do also both need the commitment, and that shape is going to require care and attention.

There are relationships you can’t have and can’t develop if it isn’t possible to talk about who you are, who they are, and how that might work out.


Living Creatively

Creativity shouldn’t be just for the professional few or for whatever time we can invest in creative hobbies. Creativity should be part of normal life.

I’ve been glad to see memes doing the rounds pointing out that singing, dancing, making art and so forth used to just be things people did. In having turned that into professions, and in having industrialised our lives, we’ve lost a lot of that. Obviously I’m in favour of there being space for creative professionals, but I feel very strongly that creativity should be for everyone, all the time.

We’ve traded our freedom to create for convenience.

Well, that’s almost true. Our ancestors were sold the idea of convenience, and forced off the land and into factories as a consequence of industrialisation.  Creativity isn’t something you can have when a large percentage of your working time is about making money for other people. Creativity takes time – both thinking time and the time to act.  You need the space to wonder and imagine.

A life built out of wondering and imagining is a lot richer. Whether we’re thinking about homes, gardens, meals, clothes, our neighbourhoods, our extended family our social lives… everything is richer if we have time to think about it and invest creatively in how we live.

There’s a unique pleasure in having something that is perfect for you – the perfect fit, the perfect flavour, the exact right combination of colours or scents… and you can’t buy that from a one-size-fits-all retailer. You can’t buy the pleasure of creating, or the delight of manifesting your inspiration in your life.

We should all have the time to enrich our lives in any way we like. What we have are lives dominated by work and responsibilities in which we buy the insipid things that are mass produced with an eye to not being entirely hateful to the highest possible number of people. Life should not be this narrow.

A creative life can be a relatively cheap and affordable life. However, what it definitely requires is time. If you’re constantly run off your feet here’s no opportunity to daydream, to imagine things that would be fun or pleasurable or health promoting. Delight takes time. Instant gratification often turns out to be not that gratifying – especially not compared to the joy available from something you have made yourself, in your own way and for your own reasons.


Taking a leap of faith

I was really ill over the winter – lots of pain, and stiffness, no energy, regular run ins with anxiety and deep depression. It was a hard time, and it made me take a serious look at my life. For some years now, the majority of my work hasn’t been creative. I’m not making most of my living as a professional Druid, either – these are not things that tend to pay anyone enough to live on. I’ve done all kinds of jobs – usually many small jobs all at the same time. In recent years I’ve been doing a lot of social media work.

I’m good at social media work and I genuinely like helping people. But, it is one of the most tedious things imaginable, and you can’t afford to be careless or complacent about it. Each twitter post is an exercise in tone, brand identity, PR… and when you’ve got multiple accounts, identities brands to keep track of, that takes a lot of thinking. And by December, I was very, very tired because of that.

I put down the work that required most effort for least personal gain. Those were hard choices. For self employed people, putting down a paying gig is always going to be uneasy at best. But, I was getting too ill to work, and that’s a bigger risk. I took time off, I rested a lot, and I thought about things.

Creative work is almost always uncertain. You mostly don’t know where the next gigs are coming from. Pay is erratic. Big projects that might pay better take time, energy and attention. So there’s a gamble in investing the time in doing a more substantial body of work that you think you can sell, because you might have to turn down other paying work to do it. Also, creative people are not machines. Ideas don’t flow without time to think, without space for inspiration. Creating and doing a day job and doing the things that support and sustain your creativity and dealing with household stuff and trying to be healthy and and and… The juggling is hard.

There may be some large, interesting and well paid creative jobs out there with my name on. I may be able to make the leap from exhausted and ill part time creative to being a person with decent creative jobs and a decent quality of life. So I took the leap of faith and I made the life changes that would give me a shot at those bigger and more exciting things. I started making the moves to get into the right position so that if any or all of this starts to move, I can go for it.

We’ve landed an American publisher for the Hopeless Maine graphic novels. That alone won’t change everything, but it certainly helps. There’s a kickstarter on the go at the moment, which may be of interest if you’re in America… https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/hopelessmaine/hopeless-maine-the-graphic-novel-by-tom-and-nimue-brown

It could be a very interesting year.


Collaboration and adventure

There probably are ways of collaborating that aren’t inherently vulnerable, but I’ve never looked for them. Working with someone else creatively always calls for a certain amount of letting go. It means accepting that you aren’t in control of the whole vision. It is of course possible to have people working together and one of them be in charge and control the overall shape, but that’s more like getting other people to help you realise a vision. It’s not the same as true collaboration, where everyone’s vision is equally important.

Collaboration requires compromise. It means accepting that your ideas are going to change and evolve. People who want to control the whole thing, and people who want to stay in control of their own bit, seldom make good collaborators. This works best when there’s a fearless leap into the dark and a willingness to embrace the unexpected.

It’s an interesting counterpoint to business-as-usual. Our culture encourages us to stick to our guns and hold our positions, as though life and creativity are military operations we can win or lose. So often, changing is framed as weakness and lack of commitment, but for creative collaboration, it is the magical essence at the heart of the process.

Letting go is liberating. Not having to dominate, or win, or direct is a really freeing experience. Being allowed to change, is wonderful. Being able to give up on things because you’ve seen something better, is glorious. And yet, in normal life we are not often encouraged to do these things.

Don’t fight your corner. Don’t hold your position. It’s much more fun to surrender to the process, get swept away by other people’s ideas sometimes, and be open to the unknown. Life is so much more of an adventure when you do not have to be right, or in charge or in any kind of control of what’s happening.


Everything changes

If you watch my youtube videos, you’ve already seen a fair amount of my flat – it’s a small space and I either film in a bedroom or the living room. I am however a rubbish photographer and I don’t have the kind of phone a person can take pictures with, so I don’t tend to post images that much. This, evidently, is going to change thanks to the skills of Dr Abbey, who does excellent things with cameras.

We have recently expanded as a household and as a creative team. It’s been fairly easy on both fronts – which when living in a small space is remarkable. Projects that Tom and I have worked on intensely together are now opening up to be three person projects and I’m excited about how all of this will play out. And here we are on the blog, which is usually my little corner of reality, with odd guest posts in it, and today I am sharing photos that Dr Abbey took of Tom while he was working.

I’m excited to see what happens for me creatively as we saunter on. It seems likely there will be more images on the blog as well. I have no idea what will happen. Adventure calls!


Putting the heart back into my creative process

One of the things that trying to work as a creative professional can do to you, is knock the joy out of the creating. When being taken seriously as a creator depends on earning enough, there’s a lot of pressure. How people see you – friends, family, people your life brings you into contact with – often depends on your earning power. The underpaid creative is often taken to be a hobbiest, lazy, incompetent, selfish… it can be a very unhappy experience. So you try to make it pay, to prove that what you do is worth doing.

When did I stop creating for the joy of it? Hard to say as it was a process, not an event. I used to be someone who wrote a lot, but that’s not been true in a while. I’ve struggled to be creative. Starting a patreon account a few years ago helped a lot, in no small part because of that economic component – if I was writing for people who were willing to pay me to write, that made it ok. Not irresponsible self indulgence. Not a failure to take care of my family and household.

As lockdown started, I realised I needed something to work on that would help me stay functional. There’s little point trying to be seriously economically active at the moment and that’s been liberating. So I’m writing a series called Wherefore – it’s a bit like a soap opera in that there’s no grand plan or over-arching structure. It’s on my youtube channel – https://www.youtube.com/nimuebrown I’m just doing it because I want to. It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything on those terms.

I have a collaborator in this – Bob Fry, who is also in my mumming side, and has a truly unusual mind. He’s been giving me prompts and ideas, and I started writing primarily for him. As it has gone along and other people have responded, I’ve started writing with them in mind as well, and so it is made out of love and the desire to entertain people who like what I do – and this is going well. For the first time in many years, I want to write for the pleasure of creating and sharing. Working with other people and having other people to create for is key for me. I don’t do this well as a solitary process.

Much of my difficulty stems from wider issues in the creative industries as a whole. Most creative people cannot make a living from their work. The question has always been about how to respond to that. Should I dig in and try harder to be ‘professional’ and economically viable? Or should I try and muddle along economically and create what I feel moved to create? I’m moving towards the second position. As a household, we are viable financially, and that will do. I need to put the heart back into my work. I need to create for the love of it, and for the love of the people out there who enjoy what I make. The worth of creating is something I need to measure in the joy it brings, not what I’m paid for it.

If lockdown has taught us anything, it should be that the value of the work people do, and what they get paid for it, are wholly unrelated issues. It’s true of the frontline essential workers, and it’s just as true of the creative folk who are keeping everyone amused and comforted – often just by giving work away. What we pay for, and what we need are two separate issues in our strangely structured society. I don’t have to keep on measuring my worth as a creator in terms of what anyone is willing to pay me. I can measure it in terms of what it does, and if I can delight a few people, that’s time well spent.


Remedies for Creative Block

You’re most likely to hear of writer’s block, but in practice, any creative person can get stuck and experience frustrating, arid patches. This isn’t just about high art, either. Creative block can strike around cooking, in your love life, in your Druidry and all kinds of other places as well. The loss of energy and inspiration can itself be distressing. So, what to do?

Make some time to look at your life as a whole and make sure all the basic things are in place. If you aren’t getting good rest and sleep, if your diet is poor, if you aren’t physically active enough or getting outside enough, start by fixing these things. If you have to do your creative stuff at the expense of your health, eventually what you do to your health will undermine your creativity. At the very least you have to stop and re-balance sometimes.

Where is your magic coming from? What inspires you? What feeds your mind? Because if all you do is create, without nourishing that creativity you might find you run out of inspiration. Early on we may have a lot of energy to bring to our creative stuff but find we can’t sustain it for the long haul. You might draw on years of life experience for one piece of work. But then what? Learning to be more interested in what’s outside of you gives you far greater resources to draw on for creating. It would seem daft to take up cooking in earnest and never open a recipe book! Experiencing the form you’re working in will teach you a lot and give you ideas. Anything else in any aspect of your life that you find interesting will help feed your inspiration.

Look hard at the economic aspect of your work. This can be uncomfortable. If you are selling your creativity to pay the bills, this added pressure can undermine you. If you have to work a full time job and do the creativity in your spare time, this will exhaust you. If you don’t have the financial security to give you relaxed working space, there aren’t any easy answers. It does help though to be honest about it, and to treat yourself kindly. Most of us can’t make the creativity pay enough to live on – that’s the state of the world, not a personal failing.

So long as you aren’t dependent on making things to pay the bills, fallow periods are ok. They are often necessary to allow growth and development. Being flat out all the time is not a good thing. If you have to work like a machine, it will compromise you. Again, that having to work flat out is a thing has a lot to do with the wider political and economic climate. If you need some down time, no amount of pushing is going to keep you churning out content forever. You will burn out if you do this, and burning out is not efficient. If you find any way of taking the pressure off, do it.

You are not a machine. While inspiration can be constant, it’s better if you don’t need it to be. You’re less likely to get seriously blocked if you can afford to have off days, and days off.