Tag Archives: creativity

Inspiration and Performance

Often, we talk about inspiration as being the act of creating a piece of work. That’s not quite what happens around performance. It is possible to be a really good performer – of music, poetry, theatre, dance… without creating original pieces of work. There are a number of ways in which inspiration can manifest.

Firstly there’s the choice of material. An inspired choice will be a powerful thing. This is about finding the perfect piece for the setting, the time of year, the audience, the mood on the day. When this works it can be truly magical. As you’re preparing material and won’t necessarily be able to fettle those choices in situ, how inspired you are in your choices can make a lot of odds.

There’s a lot of work involved in learning and arranging a performance. A lot of your own creative energy will go into this. What you do with your voice or body to bring a piece to life is very much yours. The preparation work you do will also inform how you are able to interpret and perform the piece in the moment and what you can do to tailor it to the space, audience etc. Whether you prepare with the intention of doing it in a way you’ve settled on, or whether you prepare to try and have many options on the day is also a factor.

Then there’s what happens in the moment. When you step into a space and decide how to perform what you’ve brought with you. The more confident you are, the better. The more sure of your material you are, the better. But there’s also always that scope for something magical to enter in and influence what you do. Performance itself can be inspired, and when it is, there is a considerable difference.

Creativity is a way of being in the world, a way of being open and interacting with the material, the spaces, the audience. Inspiration is a strange, glorious process that can strike at any time. Anything we do can be lit up with inspiration and can be made more wonderful by having that extra spark in it.


Exciting times!

Excitement is one of my favourite emotions. It’s the difference between lying in bed feeling apathetic, and actually wanting to get up and greet the day with an open heart and a desire to get stuck in. As someone who suffers a lot from depression, having any capacity for excitement marks being in a better place.

Of course being excited is risky. It means moving towards new and unfamiliar things, taking chances, caring, investing, trying… and when everything is awful, there can be little scope for that. It’s also a feeling that runs very close to anxiety, and a body exhausted by anxiety can’t afford excitement. Chemically, they’re much the same, and while my brain knows the difference between excitement and anxiety, I don’t think my body does.

Excitement is a future-facing sort of emotion, so it’s something that depends on living in relationship with time rather than being mostly focused on the present. It’s a call to action along with the inspiration and energy to move. To be excited is to be able to trust that things will be good, that I can get things right, that there is hope.

If I step into the feeling of excitement, and what it calls for, then there might also be joy. Excitement promises the opportunity to make good things. If I can act on that, there may be delight, satisfaction, pleasure, or feelings of justice and appropriateness. In making something better, I will feel better. 

This is a key emotion for me around creativity. I particularly relish opportunities to be excited about ideas, and to share that excitement with other people. It’s life enriching. I also note that its not enough for me to just be excited about ideas without acting on that in some way. I get really frustrated dealing with people who talk a good fight but have no interest in putting any of it into action. I also struggle dealing with people who want to be excited by things and for whom the state of excitement is itself the goal. I’m interested in it as the beginning of a process, not as a state to achieve for its own sake.

If I’m excited enough about something, that will carry me through the times when there’s just a hard slog of work to do. I’ve recently finished all of the colouring for our next graphic novel. Sometimes colouring is exciting, but often it isn’t and is simply about getting a job done to as high a standard as I can manage. Excitement around future projects and prospects helped me get through that.

And right now, I’m excited about what comes next!


Further Adventures with Ominous Folk

At the weekend, we took The Ominous Folk of Hopeless Maine to Stroud Steampunk weekend, with a show called Wrecked on Hopeless. It’s a mix of storytelling, script and song and gives people an introduction to the fictional island of Hopeless, Maine.

It went so well that we’ve had several further bookings as a consequence, which is really exciting. This has led me to thinking about what we might do next year and what I might write for us. 

My creative life depends on having people to create for. It’s one of the reasons I love being in steampunk spaces because there’s always so much warmth and enthusiasm. Making things for steampunks is a deeply rewarding process. I invariably come out of steampunk events full of ideas and feelings about things I want to create. At the moment, I’m giving a lot of thought to what I will take to the Winter Convivial in Gloucester in November – more of that over here – https://www.facebook.com/SteamPunkFestGloucester

When I initiated as a bard, I pledged to use my creativity for the good of the land, and for the good of my tribe. At this point I recognise that ‘tribe’ isn’t a good word to use but it’s now part of the history I have. So, while I won’t claim that word moving forward, I need to acknowledge it in relation to that specific pledge. 

It remains vitally important to me to think about who my people are, and to think about what good I can do with my creative work.


We feed upon each other

May be art

“The forest eats itself and lives forever”

Baraba Kingsoliver

Creativity can beget its own ecosystems. I’ve never really believed in the idea of the lone genius, making their art in isolation from the rest of the world. It’s a myth that denies creative influences and disappears the practical work that goes into making art possible. The wives, mothers, sisters, girlfriends and servants whose more mundane efforts have been key to the success of apparently great men. The female co-creators who disappear from the stories of how the men did the work. Meanwhile for female creators, there’s often a struggle around finding time for the work alongside other duties and obligations.

It’s important to ask what the art is eating.

In a healthy creative ecosystem, collaborations are acknowledged. The person who makes the meals is collaborating with the person who makes the art. At the same time, where inspiration flows between people, it needs to be owned and acknowledged. No one creates in isolation, and I think most of us are better when we are open to being influenced and inspired by other creators. 

The myth of the lone genius can turn out a bit self involved and mastabatory – and not in a fun way.

Honour the people who make your creativity possible!

(Art by Dr Abbey, inspired by Tom Brown. Text – me)


Finding my joy

If there was a time when I didn’t want to write, I don’t remember it. As soon as I knew books were a thing, as soon as I had a pencil in my hand, I wanted to put things onto paper. I knew from very early on that I wanted to write with purpose, to have ideas that might change things for people. It frustrated me not knowing enough to yet have those ideas, but the impulse was good.

I experimented. The things I wanted to write were unsellable. I tried writing what I thought people wanted, but I wasn’t very good at it… girl meets boy… girl has a severed head in a bag. Romance was never going to work for me. I got some terrible reviews early on when I was writing erotica, because my stuff was dark and weird. Slowly, I found my people, the ones who wanted dark and weird. I found Tom and his Hopeless Maine project, which wasn’t sexy, but certainly had room for any amount of dark I might want to bring.

I tried writing for money, and I failed. Somewhere in that process, I lost a lot of my passion. I stopped believing in much of what I was doing. I didn’t write much for me. For years I have quietly written for other people – here on the blog, and around other projects. If it helps someone, or amuses someone, that’s enough.

Then, unexpectedly in the last week, my joy flared back into existence. I was working on a project and suddenly realised that I really wanted to be working on it, that my heart was truly in it and I felt excited about what I was doing. That was a startling experience. 

I already knew that this summer I would have to give some serious thought to how I work and what I’m doing. I had no idea it even could be framed by this sort of feeling. I might be going to focus on passion projects, because I might have enough passion for that to be a thing again. I do have things I want to say, and I think fiction is going to be the best way to say them. 

At the moment I’m mostly stretching, testing ideas and wondering about how I want to work and what I want to do. I’m hoping to switch over to four day weeks, at least for a little while. I’m waiting to see how the economic side of my situation pans out, and there are reasons to be hopeful. And I’m writing, because I want to write, and need to find out what happens, because there are people I want to impress, and people I want to share with.

My creative identity was, once upon a time, a really big part of my identity as a whole. I’ve had some strange, barren-feeling years where although I’ve been writing, I’ve not felt like I was inhabiting that space. I’ve not felt like myself. I think all of that is changing now.


Creativity and discomfort

Teenage me was fairly sure that people who were comfortable did not make great art. Partly this came from some self awareness regarding my own urges to create, and some of it from reading biographies. There are reasons the tortured-artist cliche exists.

For a long time, the drive to create was very much rooted in my own distress. I needed to put something into the world that paid for my existing. That wasn’t a good way to be, and my fundamental discomfort meant that I never could produce anything good enough to feel like it entitled me to exist. 

Creativity comes from the need to make, the need to change things, to add something to the world, to fix or improve something in some way. There is no making without the urge to change something, and the person who feels uncomfortable or insufficient may be more motivated to seek change by whatever means they can.

Over the years, I’ve become more comfortable. My basic physical needs are fairly well met. I’ve dealt with a lot of my issues. I don’t feel I have much to prove, and most days I don’t feel like I have to justify taking up space. On the bad days these things can all show up, but I don’t live there. I note that the relationship between discomfort and creativity has changed for me.

There’s so much to be uncomfortable about that isn’t personal. The state of the world, the amount of suffering out there, the politics, the systemic oppression and cruelty, the exploitation and abuse… Making has become a way to push back. Sometimes that’s about keeping usable stuff out of landfill, or cobbling things together for us so we don’t need to buy them. Small acts of eco-resistance. Often what motivates me is the urge to comfort or inspire someone else.

At this point, my own circumstances could not become so comfortable that I would have no motivation to create. These are the tools I have that I can use to help. That might mean creating as a way to raise funds to get things done (I have plans). It may mean offering what comfort and cheer I can (that’s a lot of the motivation for this blog and my whole approach to social media). While others suffer, I cannot be wholly comfortable.

Without the annoyance of grit, oysters do not make pearls. It’s something they do in self defence. There can be a lot of self-help in turning life’s grit into personal arty pearls. As I saunter about my middle years, I realise that teenage me was wide of the mark. Comfort is something that the privileged are able to choose. It depends on ignoring the suffering and the needs of others. Discomfort definitely does fuel creativity, but that can be entirely about a reaction to what’s out there. A person does not have to be suffering directly in order to empathise and try to make something that will help. A person who chooses their own comfort and isn’t open to the world isn’t going to make good art.


Collaboration and creativity

I’ve always liked to collaborate. I’d much rather sing with other people than sing alone. I’ve been working creatively with my husband Tom for well over a decade now. I’ve co-written with various people along the way.  My blogging is held in part by my being part of a wider blogging community, where ideas flow between people. I think the idea of the lone creative isn’t true, it’s just that not everyone acknowledges their creative family, or the people enabling them to do the work.  Humans don’t exist in isolation and therefore cannot actually create in isolation either. We’re all held by our societies, and family histories and we all depend on people who make our food, clothes, electricity and so forth.

I’ve been collaborating intensively with one person for a couple of months now. I’m committed to two ambitious projects, and smaller side projects keep opening up. What’s particularly interesting about this collaboration is that it’s changing all of my work, not just the bits I’m co-writing.

I note that my ideas flow more easily, and I have a lot more of them. My imagination feels like a trim, lively sort of creature as it bounces about inside my head. I’m more relaxed about what I do, and more confident and that’s showing up in all sorts of ways.  I’m getting feedback from people who are involved with my work and can see the difference in other projects, too. I’m faster. Things that would have taken a couple of hours now fall into place in one, or less.

I like myself more as an author right now than I have done in the last twenty years. Oddly, I feel like I’m finding my voice – something I thought I’d done a long time ago. I’m also finding out, week by week, what a Nimue/Abbey voice sounds like, and what kind of stories that might lead to. It’s like nothing I’ve ever done before, and at the same time, it feels like coming home.

I’ve been sharing posts here that are me responding to Abbey’s ideas. Over on the Hopeless Maine blog, I’ve got pieces where his words and mine are much more interwoven, and the stories come from both of us.


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.


Flows of inspiration

Creativity is often represented as a sudden flash of inspiration, followed by a rush of activity, leading to a finished product. It’s misleading to say the least – it might make for good drama, but it won’t help you on your own creative path.

Even for a short poem, one idea won’t be enough. One flash of inspiration may give you the shape of a thing or get you started. Creating isn’t one action – when you’re writing, every word is a moment in the process. When you’re drawing or painting, everything you put down on the paper, one move at a time, is a process. It’s the same in all creative endeavours and applies as much to how you cook a meal or design a garden as it does to writing a symphony or building a house.

Inspiration isn’t just the starting idea, it needs to be present for much of the time. Not all inspiration is dramatic and self announcing. The eureka moment, the fire in the head experience will really get your attention. However, the inspiration to decide how to deploy details from your research may be more understated. Feeling moved to practice that piece of music one more time, or to dig in to studying the history of your chosen form, is also inspiration. It needs to be there in those small editing decisions, if the editing and revision process is going to make the original work stronger.

It can be easy to get distracted by the power of big inspiration moments, and to prioritise the rush of creativity that comes from those. It’s a great feeling, making something when there is a fire burning inside you and you feel compelled. But, it’s not the only way. The slow, gentle flow of inspiration is just as valuable – maybe more so. Big rushes may leave you exhausted, and if you depend on them you may get really stuck if they don’t show up. It’s hard to court that kind of big inspiration and it may only turn up infrequently.

Courting the small flow of inspiration is much easier. You can invite it simply by trying. If you’re having a go at your chosen form of creativity, you are making room for some inspiration to happen. Seeking your inspiration by engaging in this way opens the possibility of stepping into a flow. Any kind of engagement will do this – study, learn, practice. Look at work other people have done, listen to music, read a book, watch a video… make room for something to inspire you and those small pings of idea can find their way in. By this means it is possible to spend much of your time feeling a little bit inspired.

The things to avoid are the things that make you feel numb. Boredom is ok, because that can push you towards action. It’s only a problem in an environment where you aren’t allowed to be anything other than bored – this can certainly be a workplace issue. Escapism is fine, and you may bring back riches from those adventures. Killing time is going to rob you of inspiration.

The other trap to watch out for around inspiration, is daydreaming about the outcome rather than investing that energy in your work. If all of your creative energy goes into imagining what happens after you write the book, or the song, or do the painting you can end up emotionally rewarding yourself for things you haven’t even done. The fantasy of creative success can mean you never get round to making anything. Inspiration that might have created something can easily be lost to indulgent fantasy. While daydreaming is generally a good thing, daydreaming about success can become a substitute for action, and takes you further from your creative potential.