Tag Archives: creativity

Making time for inspiration

I’m good at requests. I’m good at pulling a thousand words out of the air at no notice for people who need a thing. There’s nothing like someone else requiring something specific from me to get my brain moving. But, the rest of the time, the question of where and how to find inspiration can be a serious one.

Currently I’m trying to put blogs here every day, and other places a few times a week. I’ve got 5 Twitter feeds I look after that need content, several Facebook pages. I’m poised to get series 2 of Wherefore going. I’ve got other things I’m working on that require me to feel inspired in specific ways. At some point I need to write the next Quiet Revolution column for Pagan Dawn… some of these things are paying gigs, and some are not.

Sometimes when I sit down of a morning, I know what to write about. Sometimes I have to just hope it turns up, today I am cheating by writing about writing. Most days I start by asking what do I know that I did not know before? What have I learned that someone else might find useful?

Inspiration isn’t finite, it’s not something I am sure to run out of. But at the same time, it isn’t infinite either. It’s affected by my mental health, and my ability to concentrate. Whether I’ve had enough sleep and how much pain I am in impact on both of these things. There is only so long I can go without feeding my brain before that starts to take a toll. I need good food, exercise and fresh air, rest time and time to daydream. If I don’t nourish my creativity in these ways, there are days when I don’t come up with much. Today feels like one of those, but I am going to take some time off and try to re-boot.

I am not a machine. But, like many self employed and creative people, I have to crank the work out at a certain pace to have any hope of making things work. Most creative folk don’t earn a great deal, and the less you earn per hour of working the harder it gets to justify the time to feed the brain, chew over ideas and seek inspiration – yet these are essential to remaining creative and not just churning out pretty much the same thing over and over again. If you are working other jobs and being creative in your spare time, it can be really hard to find the energy.

If you like what I do, and would like to help me keep doing it, I have a patreon account. https://www.patreon.com/NimueB It’s rather wonderful in that the more people sign up to any given level, the better paid I am for putting content there. When you only earn a few pounds an hour, time off is difficult to manage. A well paid few hours in a month helps make room for all those other things that are essential to the process but do not lead directly to getting paid.

 


Love and inspiration

I’ve always been quietly out as a polyamorous person. What this has mostly meant in practice is that I occasionally become smitten with people. There’s often a creative aspect to it – love and inspiration are words I could use interchangeably. But, my best outcome around this is usually a slightly awkward conversation about inspiration and muses.  There have also been some deeply distressing  reactions from people who were horrified by me.  The exceptions are rare and are my most important relationships.

However, when it’s allowed to flow freely, when there is connection and love between people, things work very differently.  I know Tom’s story around this runs parallel to mine with similar issues of inspiration and transformation. I think Dr Abbey’s story has a different shape, but creative relationship, love and respect run through everything that’s been happening for the three of us.

 

Re-enchanted

 

I fell in love first

With your captivating use

Of language.

I do not start these things

In any kind of conventional way.

I fell in love with

Snow on your skin

And cherry blossom

Found you unexpectedly

In my dreams, kissed you

Confessed all on waking.

I fell in love with your willingness

To love me in return

Fell for your clowning playfulness

And only then did I

Become besotted with your face.

You showed me other faces

Other selves. Complicated

Hard to keep up with

But my heart found the way

At every turn.

Falling in love with your tears

Your courage, your fragility

Your wild imagination,

Your ability to show me things

About myself I had lost

Or not known

Or not dared.

Loving your enchanted knack

For opening hearts

Watching people I love

Learn to love you in turn.

Watching the impossible

Become possible

As your magic seeps gently

And washes dramatically

Through my life.

Until falling in love becomes

Who I am and what I do

A day by day process

Re-opening to the world

To hope and soulfulness

Learning to love

Who I might be

As I grow into this

Strange new charmed relationship

With life.

I fall in love with you.

 


Being a Muse

Much of my creative energy comes from interacting with other people. I do my best work collaboratively – at the moment that’s Hopeless Maine with Tom and the wider team, and Wherefore with Bob Fry and various others chipping in. My poetry, my blogging and other fiction work tends to happen because of specific people. I’m usually writing for someone or because of them and I like to flag that up to the people in question.

This leads to occasional conversations about whether a person might be ok with being my muse. This is often an awkward conversation. Where I’m dealing with another creative person it tends to be fine – as with Lou Pulford, Merry Debonnaire and Robin Treefellow where inspiration is passed back and forth and reacting to each other’s ideas is an ongoing process. But with other people, it can be a bit weird and I tend to end up reassuring them that they don’t have to do anything specific, I just need them to be ok with it.

I’ve not previously dealt with anyone suggesting I might be their muse. It’s been surprising, and has brought up a number of things for me. My immediate reaction being not to want that as a passive role. The idea of the muse who stands round at a distance providing inspiration by just carrying on being themselves, is not one that appeals to me even though it’s often what I ask of other people. I want to be active about bringing inspiration, I want to engage with what’s happening. My guess is that what I’m moving towards here is a collaborative creative relationship, because this is someone who inspires me in turn.

I find it interesting that I don’t want the role I’ve offered other people. But then, given the choice, I don’t want other people in passive muse roles either. I ask for that because it’s low maintenance, easier to say yes to, and for a little while at least it will help sustain me creatively. The passive muses at a distance get me through creative slumps, sometimes. But the people who really nourish and inspire me as a creator are the ones who make the deeper connections with me, who share in the process, exchange ideas and are willing to get their hands dirty. So I don’t want to be the distant, unobtainable muse. I want to be a co-conspirator. I want to offer as much as I can.

Thinking about it has made me appreciate how much I need my co-conspirators. Distant muses tend to leave me feeling a bit sad.

So no, I don’t really want to be Beatrice to your Dante – I looked that one up and they only ever met twice! I want a different story. A happier story. A story about mutual inspiration and co-creativity. And the only story I can see of that shape is the one in which I play no role, am only myself but am entirely myself and present and involved.  That way I might also provide signposts for other people who do not want distant and unobtainable muses.

I would rather be Nimue to your being Dr Abbey.

 


All art is political

All art is political. If you can’t see the political dimension of a piece of art this is because it aligns neatly with your own world view and requires no effort on your part. If you are cis, white and male and you’re used to it being normal for the main character to be cis, white and male, then you won’t see anything remotely political about this representation. This happens at the unpleasant end of comics reading rather a lot. To introduce diversity is political, to carry on with this – from the perspective of those who support it – isn’t.

Anything that upholds the current system and gives us what we expect can be misread in this way. However, given the many problems and failings of western colonial culture, to present it unchallenged is to be political. We are killing our planet, ourselves and each other with pollution, climate change, loss of resources and over-consumption. To ignore that is political. Art that doesn’t mention these issues is political.

Equally, art that has no room for vast swathes of diversity and experience, is political. If there is no room in your story for queers, if disabled people don’t exist, and poor people are just cannon fodder and BAME people don’t get speaking parts, or are just there to be exotic eye candy… then the art is political.

All creators exist in a political context. All creators are impacted by the laws and financial realities of the time and place in which they create. Some creators have massive privilege – family wealth, education, support, nepotism, opportunities… some creators do not. Publishing is not good at diversity. Getting an arts education is a lot easier if you can afford one, and doors open for people who know people who work in the right places. It is impossible to make art that is not political. If you find it easy to make and sell your work and give no thought to the context that makes it easy for you, your art still has a political dimension.

If you can ignore the political context in which you create or consume art, that’s political. It means you are safe, and have privilege and can choose whether to engage or not. Marginalised people don’t have the luxury of that choice. If politics are done to you, then you don’t get to choose whether you engage or not, and the political dimension in which your art occurs is there whether you wanted it in the mix or not.

Then there’s the politics of how we think about it. Whether we see an art item or a craft item is a political issue. The way in which beautifully made and decorated items with utility are hived off as craft is a political decision that impacts on how the arts of working people are understood.

So, next time you see someone complaining about an artist bringing politics to their work, bear this in mind. Some creators don’t get a choice, because who they are means that their work will always be viewed in political terms even if they don’t really want it to be. Art only seems not to be political if it expresses and reinforces your world view, and that’s a very politically loaded thing to have happening unquestioned.


How to create well

One of the unexpected blessings of lockdown has been an opportunity to rethink how I live and work. Not having the lad in school has changed the shape of the day because I don’t have to get up early. I’ve also changed how and when I sleep – something I’ll blog about another day. The result is much greater flexibility, which I’m enjoying.

It’s clear there’s all kinds of upheaval coming for me – which I’m looking forward to. With much of the future uncertain it struck me as a good idea to look at my priorities and preferences. I can’t plan much, but I can be ready to make the best of what comes along.

One of the things that has become obvious is that if I want to work creatively, I have to rethink how I deploy my time. If all of my available energy and concentration in a day goes on paying work, it’s not sustainable. There comes a point where I can’t do any creative work because I’ve run out of resources. This should be blindingly obvious, but the pressure to be productive and economically effective is high, and the things I really need to be doing don’t look productive.

I need time to read for pleasure and also to study. I need time to experiment, mess about, practice and explore without having to worry about creating a viable finished product. I need to spend time doing things that cheer and uplift me and engaging with the people who delight and inspire me. I also need time when I’m not doing anything much with my brain – to daydream and wool gather, to ask what if and why, and wherefore?

I don’t have my best ideas by pushing for them. I have my best ideas by making space for them.

I can be structured and professional about the writing, but it only works for the long haul if I also get enough playtime.

I don’t think this is just a writing issue. I don’t think it’s just a creative industries issue. I think it’s going to be about the same for everyone. No matter what you do, too much focus on productivity will be unproductive in many ways. The space to live and grow is essential. I think it’s ironic that if you want to be the most effective working human being, the odds are that slowing down and not trying to work so much are the keys to success. It takes time to live a life that is inspired. Not having the pressure to succeed and produce is actually really helpful when it comes to success and output.  And even if that wasn’t the case, this is still the better way to live.

I’m now aiming for four or five hours of productive work every day and four or five hours or investment time, plus time spent living.


Lessons from the crisis

Extreme circumstances always have the capacity to teach us. For the person who has never had their life upheaved in this way before and has never felt so powerless, those will be serious lessons. To be frozen and overwhelmed, unable to act or think when you have always assumed you would stay in control of yourself, is a hard lesson to learn. I hope as we move forward, more people will understand how it is that so many people freeze in response to domestic abuse and sexual violence. Freezing is a very human response to having no power.

We will all learn things about ourselves. What we do under pressure. What we miss and long for. How we handle fear, and what we fear. Most of us won’t be able to use this time to do the great project we always dreamed of – most of us will be hanging on by our fingernails at best. But we may find out what role other people’s creativity plays in our lives. If you are turning to Netflix, to books, films, games or music then you are using creativity to get you through. I hope people learn to value their creators, and the way the vast majority of creators are seriously underpaid becomes visible.

We’ve learned about who really matters in our societies, and that wage doesn’t come into it. We’ve learned that low paid folk in retail and in care homes are all that stands between us all and certain doom.

There may be lessons to come about the way busyness has filled our time and what the quiet of its absence looks like. The role of work in terms of our social interactions. How we really do with the people we live with. The terms that make our lives and relationships possible. For many of us, these weeks will bring into focus who it is that really matters. Who we need. Who we can’t bear to be parted from. No one knows who is going to survive this crisis, which for many of us means there is an urgency to dropping guard and telling people we love them. There may be no second chances.

We’re learning what it’s like to have quiet roads and clean air. We’re learning that a great many things we were told had to be done a certain way… don’t. There’s a lot more room for innovation than anyone was previously willing to admit. You don’t have to be in the building to be in the meeting. There’s a lot we can get done without consuming anything like as much energy or putting out anything like as much carbon.

None of us really know who we are until circumstances test us. We might not like what we see in ourselves as these challenges unfold. We might not be as good, or heroic, or worthy as we thought we were. But, if you don’t know where you are, it’s difficult to make good choices around where you need to go. Discomfort is also a powerful teacher.


Magic in the creative process

As a Druid, I hold inspiration sacred and I see creativity as an inherently magical process. However, there’s one aspect of this that is stand-out magical for me, and it has to do with how I work with other people.

Without a doubt, I do my best work either when I’m collaborating with others, or writing for someone very specifically. It gives me focus. Ideas are easy to find, for me the key moment of inspiration is when I see how to pull a selection of ideas together to make it into something for someone.

What I write depends a lot on who I’m writing for. When I’m writing for someone specific, my relationship with them colours what I create. There will be a moment, or moments when I’m thinking about them and drawing on all the emotions that go with that. What happens next is like opening a door. Until I open that door, I don’t know where it goes. I don’t know what will happen to me or what I’ll be able to do.

I feel this in a tangible way. I feel it in my body, in my thoughts. The door has a reality. Opening it changes things. Stepping through is a shift. I have no idea what I’m stepping into, what this space is or how it works, but it changes things for me. It lifts my creativity out of the stuff I can do from practice and experience, and elevates it into something with more inherent enchantment in it.

The door opens, and I pass through it. I write whatever it is that I could only have written by taking that step. Some people I will only ever write one or two things for because there turns out not to be much magic on the other side of the door. Some people I will keep coming back to because writing for them brings out the best in me. I’ve been writing for Tom for more than a decade now, and that door always leads me to good places.

Inevitably, this process impacts on my relationships with people. I’m drawn to the people I can create for in this way. I’m even more excited about people who are prepared to be a bit more active, engaging with me around whatever I’ve written for them, and deliberately opening doors for me by asking me to write specific things.

It’s a giddy feeling, when it works. Wild and wonderful, unpredictable. When I open those doors to write for someone else, I go places I would never have gone on my own. I’m able to think differently. Possibilities open up before me. I am at my happiest and my best when I can do that.


Community creativity

My local theatre festival happened over the weekend. I was, at various times, a paid worker in a venue, a performer, a volunteer and an audience member. I went to three of the ten venues and saw six of the forty shows. It was an intensive sort of weekend.

It struck me how innately good it is though, to be moving between those different roles. To be a performer, and also an audience member. To be someone who moves the chairs around, and someone working the door, and to experience an event from most of the available perspectives. These are wonderful opportunities to have. Over the weekend, it was very normal to see performers going to other people’s shows, and volunteers who had been on stage in other years.

We’re so used to being entertained by people who aren’t even in the room. Television and film give us distance between performer and audience, and no sense of moving about. If you watch alone at home there is, for most of us, no sense that other roles might be available. However, go to a community event like this and getting involved in some capacity is easy. There’s no barrier between performer and audience. No one is so grand that they can’t do a shift on a door, or help set a room up.

There’s also something very powerful about sharing this kind of experience with other people. Over the weekend I talked to other people about shows I had seen, shows they had seen, shows we had both seen – and that added depth to the whole experience. Performers talked to me about how their shows had gone. The feeling of involvement was delightful and made me realise how little most of us get of that in the normal scheme of things.

If you can only ever be an audience member, only a consumer of other people’s creativity, you miss out on a lot. I feel strongly that everyone who wants to should have the opportunity to be creative and expressive. The way in which we hive off creative roles for the few – especially at the level where you might earn enough to live on – frustrates me. It’s not how I want to do things.


Things I’ve learned about the working week

In the last year I have established that I can work a 40-50 hour week. I’ve also established what happens if I do that. I get to the end of my day, and fall into a weary heap on the sofa. I will likely be too tired, too short of concentration to read, or craft, or listen to music or watch a film. Socialising is right out and I’ll have no energy to go out anywhere, walk, or otherwise exercise. I got away with this during the 50 hour weeks only because I had to walk to get to a number of the jobs. All I could do was recover and get up the next day and do it all again.

Weekends taken off at the end of a 50 hour week (not always an option, I worked a fair few weekends during that time frame) were not great either. My scope to do anything fun or enriching was totally undermined by my exhaustion.

If I work a 30-40 hour week, I still need a fair amount of recovery time. I can manage to be sociable a bit, and I might manage to do something for me at the weekend. It is more viable. If I work more like 30 hours a week I am fine, I can have a life and do other things.

If you’re on minimum wage, (which for young people is very little money) the hours you have to work are considerable, just to get by.

One of the things I notice when I’m in the long hours and exhaustion mode, is that I come to feel defined by it. I’m just a person who works. I’m not someone who is supposed to have fun things, or who deserves anything emotionally sustaining, or enriching. In my time off I am so useless that there’s no reason for good things to move towards me.

It doesn’t help that the work I do requires a lot of concentration and thinking. To get it done in a reasonable time frame – and thus, as a freelancer, for a decent pay rate – I really have to focus. The more tired I am, the harder it is to keep focusing so in the 40-50 hour weeks I am less efficient.  If I’m working in a way that leaves me exhausted and I’m not getting enough time to recover, my efficiency levels fall, so I have to work longer for less per hour.

There’s a lot of pressure on self employed people to work all the hours we can, for fear that if we don’t, the work will dry up. Creative jobs are woefully underpaid, it’s an industry-wide issue impacting on everyone who isn’t a household name. This too creates a pressure to work more in the hopes of making some progress. Grinding poverty will make you feel like a failure, and feeling like a failure will undermine any scope you had for creativity.

There’s a further complication in that creative work requires time to study, practice, explore, experiment, imagine and gather inspiration. This is not time anyone pays you for, and if you’re already worn from the day job, that investment time can push you over the edge – wherever your edge turns out to be. This is a thing to bear in mind if you’re considering supporting someone on ko-fi or patreaon – you’re buying them the space and time to start the process, and that makes worlds of difference.

My patreon is over here – https://www.patreon.com/NimueB . It helps me take some time each week for learning, thinking and imagining. I know that to really invest in the creative side of my life I need a lot of things I can’t currently afford – more time off to make some headspace, a dedicated space to work in, and to have the energy and concentration to invest in developing projects. I’m aware that I might never be able to afford the time to really dig in. Most creative people are not doing their best work because we simply can’t afford to.


Sharing a world

I like collaborating with people. Making stuff up is fun, but making stuff up when that process is shared, is a greater joy. I think this is a big part of what motivates people to engage with both fan fiction and folklore – that it puts you in a community with people who love what you love and who want to play with it. With folklore of course there’s no sense that any one person can own the material. With fan fiction, the tension between original creator and people who want to play can be a thing. Where does celebration end and exploitation begin?

Hopeless Maine has always been a kind of ‘open source’ project with room for people to get involved. How the money works is an interesting question, but there’s not so much money floating about around the project to make is worth ripping off, and the people who want to play with us tend to be inclined to play nicely. Which technically makes it some sort of unofficial anarchic co-operative.

Thus far, co-operation has included people making creatures and objects for the island, writing for the island’s newspaper, performing with us at events, composing music inspired by the island, creating a role play game, and now, prose books. I enjoy this process immensely. The island is a big enough place to really benefit from having more people exploring it. Hopeless Maine feels more like a world in its own right because it has so many real people involved with it.

I do my best work when I’m writing for someone, or because of someone. Left to my own devices I’m not reliably creative. Give me a co-creator who is expecting content, and content turns up in my head. Give me people asking questions and wanting to read stuff, and my output improves. I’ve never been the lone creator in the high tower, my work has always had everything to do with the people in my life. And I like it when some of those people are involved in making things with me.

At the moment, I’m doing a kickstarter to launch one illustrated prose book of mine, and a second by Keith Errington. Both are set on Hopeless, both are illustrated by Tom Brown. Keith’s story also owes something to fellow Hopeless Maine collaborator Meredith Debonnaire. We’re simply raising enough money to print books (in case anyone wonders about the financial implications of this sort of thing.) Get in for both books by the end of the week and you might get an obituary – at time of writing there are 38 slots left for obituaries. You can read the first obituary here – https://hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com/2019/08/26/bertram-fiddles-death-mystery/

And here’s the kickstarter link – https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/countrostov/tales-of-hopeless-maine