Tag Archives: creativity

Celebrating childishness

“Supreme childishness in the name of “creativity”. The mind boggles.” I had this come in as a comment over on the Hopeless, Maine blog recently, and I’ve been reflecting both on the sorrowful nature of the remark, and what to do in face of it. Obviously I agreed, because silliness, playfulness and joy are very much what that site is for and I didn’t feel inclined to respond as though I was being criticised.

It grieves me that childishness is so often used as a criticism. To see the world through a child’s eyes is a wonderful thing. To want to play and explore, to feel curious and excited – these are qualities that enrich our lives. Often as adults, under pressure to be serious about everything all the time, we lose our sense of wonder. 

Then there’s the awful misunderstanding of what creativity means. What is creativity without play, without a spark of childish delight? Perhaps we should be thinking of the creativity of designing a more efficient production line or a better excuse to cover for political corruption? There are many ways of being creative, but where there is no childish innocence, no joy in the world, no desire to delight, what are we left with? Creative accounting, propaganda machines, marketing strategies… 

I’d like to be more childlike. Children can be incredibly trusting, and willing to think the best of others. Especially if they’re allowed to express themselves and feel secure and comfortable. Children are incredibly imaginative, and will be fearless about exploring ideas and expressing themselves right up until adults and older children start knocking that out of them. Childish creativity comes from places of joy and wonder, from heartfelt and unfiltered responses to the world. We can teach children and help them be wiser without having to turn them into joyless adults.

For those of us who have been pressured into sacrificing our silliness, joy and wonder… it’s not a one way ticket. Delight in the world is something we can create together, and we can support each other in doing that. Encourage people in their joy, even if what they do makes no sense to you – so long as it doesn’t harm anyone, why not? Don’t tear people down, don’t mock them for their delight – this stuff is all pretty obvious.

The more challenging question is what to do with people like the poor soul who left the comment. How do we give each other permission to put down the grim burden of having to act like a grown up all the time? How do we free each other from the idea that we have to give up on the things we used to love in order to be proper adults? One of the many good things about being silly, is that I can be silly enough to care about people who are intent on hurting themselves, rather than doing the sensible, self-protective thing of just shrugging and leaving them to it.

Nurturing Inspiration

Inspiration can seem like something that happens by magic. However, if you’re not acting because you don’t have that rush of inspiration, you may also find that it doesn’t show up. Inspiration often has to be courted and invited, and it helps a lot of you do that deliberately.

Find out what kinds of things inspire you, and then seek that out.  Live music does a lot for me, and so does reading. I read a lot of non-fiction so that I know things that can become the clay my inspiration turns into forms.

Decide what kinds of things you want to create, and learn about them. Learn the technical stuff, the skills, the forms. Again, this means that if inspiration strikes, you’re ready for it. Nothing is going to happen if I get a really good idea for an opera because I don’t really understand opera and don’t have the technical skills to write one.

Make time for doing the things, you have more chance of being inspired when you’ve got your guitar in your hands, or a notebook in front of you, or whatever it is you work with.

Also make time when you aren’t doing anything too deliberate with your brain. You can pair this with any gentle activity that doesn’t demand your concentration. Walking, gardening, domestic stuff, gazing at the sky, doing some unchallenging crafting… it all works for making the space where you can have those flashes of inspiration and develop ideas.

When you have a flash of inspiration, hang on to it and make time to develop it. It’s not enough to be inspired, you also have to act.

I think this is true, broadly speaking, for anything that looks like magic. There are elements of many things we do that can feel like a flash of lightning out of nowhere. However, in practice if you’re putting in the time – prayer, rituals, spells, conversations, research, etc then there’s nothing random or inexplicable about the inspiration that comes to you, because you have invited it into your life.

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.

AI and the making of art

There are lots of things that need saying about ‘ so called ‘Artificial Intelligence’ and art, and for this blog post I’m just focusing on one thing. I’m seeing a lot of people claim that AI levels the playing field and allows people who are normally excluded from doing art to be able to make art. I think this is total bollocks, so here we go.

Creativity takes effort. It’s not about having a rush of inspiration and then being magically and swiftly able to make the thing you imagined. Every kind of creativity takes time. People who put genuine creativity into the world have spent years studying their forms, learning skills, developing ideas, practising, striving, messing up, starting over. Creativity is not held in some elitist way by a lucky few who are keeping everyone else out. Creativity is a lot of work, but being creative is available to anyone willing to put in the time.

Putting in the time is good. If you’re so excited about something that you want to be able to do it, then the process of learning is a wonderful thing. Investing years in something you are passionate about gives you joy in an ongoing way. Being able to pull something out of the ether, using a few words and someone else’s work won’t give you that. It might be briefly satisfying, but it’s not like having developed skills and understanding that allows you to really create.

Whatever kind of creativity you’re exploring, every time you make something yourself, you have an experience. You learn, grow, refine your ideas, find new things to reach towards. Yes, I could persuade a computer to make viola noises for me, but what would that give me compared to the day to day process of trying to manage the bow to get the best possible sound from the instrument I have? I’m not much of a visual artist, but there’s something exciting about being able to compare what I can draw now with what I was doing a few years ago and seeing how I’ve improved. 

Tools are good. I’m typing this, after all and I’m glad of the technology that allows me to share what I’ve typed. Nothing would induce me to use the AIs that claim they can write your blogs for you. I write because I want to develop my own thoughts, and I am at least as invested in the process as I am in having something to show at the end of it. Tools are good, but anything that offers you something for nothing is lying, simply. AIs do not enable creativity, they rob the people using them and teach little or nothing about what it takes to grow as a creator. It might be amusing to use in the short term, but there’s little satisfaction in that sort of process, as I suspect the people trying to use it will find.

If a short-cut takes out some awkwardness, that’s always worth considering. However, much of what’s good in life lives in the details, the experience and the process and the more we undertake to have done for us, the less room there is for our humanity and our souls.

Seeking feedback

If you have any desire to create for other people, then getting feedback is an important part of the process. Initially it may be the case that all you can do is bring your efforts to the people who you want as your audience, and see what happens. As you grow and learn, your feedback needs are likely to change.

No matter where it comes from, the single most important consideration with feedback is whether you can use it. There are plenty of people who hand out unusable criticism. It’s very easy to rubbish something. People who have anything of value to offer are able to give criticism in a way that makes it possible to do something productive with it. If there’s nothing you can usefully do with feedback you were given, you might as well ignore it.

While general audience feedback is good, there’s a lot to be said for getting more qualified and relevant insight. There’s not much point fretting over what someone who considers themselves ‘literary’ thinks of your genre novel. Paying attention to feedback from people who are working in the same areas as you, or actively choosing to be an audience for the kinds of things you do makes a lot of sense. There’s no hope of making something everyone will like, so it’s important to be deliberate about who you are making things for. At which point you might as well not worry about the people who are not your intended audience. 

As a case in point, I’ve had a few Christians turn up on the blog wanting to convert me. I am not for them, and they are not for me. Christians I can have conversations with about spirituality, morality and service – for example – are always entirely welcome. We don’t have to agree on everything to learn from each other.

One of the most problematic kinds of feedback comes from people who will try and make your work exactly like their work. This is especially a problem when you’re starting out and trying to figure out who you are as a creator. When it comes from people with actual or apparent authority, it can be persuasive. Anyone giving you feedback should be helping you be yourself, not trying to turn you into them. Trust your own feelings in this – if you don’t feel that someone understands what you were trying to achieve, you don’t have to take their feedback onboard.

Being able to offer good advice often depends on having a skills set. A person telling me whether or not they liked something is unlikely to result in my knowing how to do better. This is why a lot of authors will have other authors who read and feed back to them. I’ve had the pleasure of doing this for other people, and I have several author friends who read for me. I also have some wonderful test readers with wider experience, whose insight I greatly value. It’s good to have people I can take things to, especially when I’m struggling with a piece – which happens to us all.

As a creator, you don’t owe time and attention to everyone. It’s not actually feasible, and the higher a profile you have the more time you’ll spend hearing from people with nothing useful to say. I follow a number of high profile authors on Twitter, and some of them get a startling amount of abuse. I’m very glad not to have to deal with that kind of attention and I respect the kind of courage it takes to keep showing up in face of that. No matter what you’re doing, believing in your own vision is vital. Find the people who share that vision, the people who are fellow travellers and who understand what you’re about. The world is a big place and social media makes it much easier than it used to be for those of us who are more niche.

Bard life

This viola came to me maybe fifteen years ago, and previously belonged to another Druid. In its previous life, this viola went to The Albert Hall as part of Portsmouth Sinfonia, so it has quite a history of its own.

I started learning the violin when I was about ten – the two are similar in that the interval between the strings is the same, although the viola is lower. They have different clefs for musical notation so while I can in theory read for viola, I’m not very good at it! My brain was, for many years, entirely wired to the violin. However, for some years now the state of my shoulders has meant there’s been no way of playing a violin.

Being bigger, the viola requires a different hand and shoulder position, which is more viable for me. After some months of work, I’ve built up so that I can play for half an hour without too much pain. Relearning tunes on a bigger instrument with all the wrong muscle memory has been a bit of a fight, but I’ve got some of them back under my fingers and they don’t sound too shabby.

In the photo, is the viola in its new hard case. Getting the case is is act of faith and hope on my part. I should be gigging a bit this winter with a local folk outfit called The Jovial Crew – hopefully I’m ready and equal to that. Beyond that lies a project I want to use the viola for, but it’s early days and there’s a lot to figure out. Somewhere on the distant horizon is the vague shape of a third musical possibility for which being able to be out and about with a viola would be a great help.

Part of the bard path is about putting creativity into the world. Part of it is about the quest for inspiration so that you have something to share. The third key strand is about doing the work so that you have the skills set you need. All three are vital. I find it difficult to keep any of that moving without also having somewhere to take my creative output. An audience of one is enough to make it worth striving. What works best for me is having people to interact with, who can be motivation, inspiration and reward all at the same time. I’m really blessed with regards to my current creative collaborators – around music and writing alike. I get to do things with some tremendously cool and interesting people.

Working with anger

(With thanks to Dolly, who has given me some excellent blog prompts lately, do keep them coming!)

Anger is not an emotion that women, and female presenting people such as myself are often allowed to express without censure. Men are allowed to be angry, and tragically it’s often the only emotion men are allowed to show. It is however part of who we all are, and something we need to make space for.

All too often, anger is used as a justification for physical violence and verbal attacks. Where this comes up in a domestic abuse or workplace bullying context, what evidence we have suggests that the angry aggressors know what they’re doing. They aren’t out of control. Many aggressors will deliberately work themselves into a state of rage that they think justifies what follows. I can’t recall details of the study but I remember more than a decade ago reading work about male prisoners, who admitted that they often fabricated the appearance of rage to justify and get away with attacking their partners. Clearly this is inexcusable.

Rage does have good uses, though. The feeling of rage shows us when our boundaries have been violated, and can help us hold those boundaries firmly in face of threats. Anger is a good and natural response to cruelty and injustice. The trick is channelling those feelings into something productive. That might mean protest and campaigning, and using rage to fuel other kinds of practical actions that push for change.

I used to channel anger into cutting wood, many years ago. As a teen it used to mostly go into drumming, and into thrashing out Beethoven’s angry chords on the piano. Rage can translate into art in all sorts of ways, and that in turn can both help re-assert violated boundaries, and to protect them. Rage transformed into creativity can bring solutions to injustice. Too much fighting against something is exhausting and demoralising, but well handled rage can turn into the emotional strength not merely to react, but to fight for something. When we’re focusing on what we value, it is easier to sustain the work we need to do, be that around protest, resisting oppression or making radical change.

I do write in anger, sometimes. I’ve written a fair few blog posts because there were things that filled me with a fury I had no other way of processing. Most of the time I try to turn that anger into something that can help make change, rather than just flailing about impotently. But, I’m human, I don’t always manage things as well as I’d like to. So be it. 

There is power in anger. Used well, it can get a lot done. I’m not ashamed of my anger, and a lot of the time I’m actively proud of where it takes me and what I’ve done with it. Anger turned inwards is always a messy, problematic thing, but when I’ve taken my rage and worked it into something productive, I’ve managed to do some powerful things. What starts as fury doesn’t always show up that way, so it may not always be obvious to people watching, whether I or anyone else has started out doing something because they were cross. Joining OBOD all those years ago was driven in part by anger, in part by distress. Rage led me to something really good there – as it often will when given the space.

No emotion is ever wrong. It’s what we choose to do with it that matters most.

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. 

Art and emotion

I’m writing this post on a bad day. I’m listening to the music that mattered to me in my teens, partly as a way of holding myself together, partly for comfort. This is hardly an unusual thing to do. Music has a huge power to connect us to different times and places in our own history. A song can bring back a whole summer, or a friendship circle. A song can represent a relationship, and all too often when relationships go wrong, it’s music we turn to for comfort.

There’s something uniquely powerful about being held for a few minutes by a stranger’s musical exploration of heartbreak. It eases the feelings of being alone in that, recognising our shared humanity as we suffer. 

People tend not to reflect much on happiness. When we’re happy, we just get on with it, usually. There isn’t the same urge to reflect and to try and understand why we are happy, or what happened to put us in this state. Grief and pain tend to invite introspection and because of that, we can end up seeing them as more intellectually meaningful states while our less considered happiness can seem trivial. This in turn informs how we value certain kinds of art – things that challenge us and reflect distress are often seen as more valuable than art forms that are designed to cheer and comfort.

We need all of the things. We need comfort, and reflection. We need things that lift our spirits and help us process our grief. None of these things is intrinsically more arty or important than any other. Good art is about being human, being real, and making sense of whatever comes our way. Of all the feelings we might have, happiness can be the most ephemeral and hardest to reach for. We live in a state of grief and loss, killing our own home and with most of us suffering immensely from the horrors of late stage capitalism. Right now it’s easy to create and share expressions of distress. Perhaps what we most need are truly heroic acts of creativity that show us how to feel something other than despair.

Inspiration for revolution

I’m always much more motivated to create when I can see what purpose that may serve. This is as true of my writing as it is of any action that depends on manifesting inspiration into the world. I won’t cook an elaborate meal for myself, but I will certainly do that for other people.

Like everyone else, I need to be able to afford to eat, so ‘will this sell?’ is a question I have to ask. However, along the way I’ve found that things written in the hopes that they will sell don’t do any better than things I wrote because I thought they were needed. If I’m passionate about something, the odds are at least some other people will be too, and that tends to work out ok.

I’ve run into the idea around ‘fine’ and ‘high’ arts that if something is Serious Art then it is art for art’s sake. I’m the sort of person who wants to make essential and useful things that are also cheering in some way. That’s why I craft. We ran into this last year when Tom and I put on a Hopeless, Maine show in the local gallery. A fair few people who came to look at the work commented that they don’t usually go into that space because they don’t feel that what’s in there is for them.

Things that are supposedly made for everyone tend to be box tickers designed by a committee, often targeting what they imagine to be the lowest common denominator. Creativity doesn’t have to be deliberately exclusive in order to oppose this and be clever and good. The sweet spot – to my thinking – is making things for people. 

One of the key stages when I’m creating is to establish who I am creating for. With a craft piece I usually have a specific person in mind. When I’m setting out to write something, I may have one or more people in mind – usually the longer the piece, the larger the imagined audience, but there’s always someone specific in there. I write for Pagans and Druids, for steampunks and for people who like speculative stuff. I write for my friends. I find it really helps to think about what would entertain, engage and delight a few specific people I know well and I know like the kinds of things I tend to do.

I also find there’s nothing like encountering need to focus my inspiration. If something needs doing, or fixing, or figuring out, my brain gets right in there.

Humans are intrinsically creative people. We’re problem solvers and innovators – not just a special few of us, but all of us. Being able to make answers to our problems isn’t just a useful skill, it’s empowering and uplifting. Having the inspiration to make change is one of the most powerful forms inspiration can take in our lives.

It’s good to delight in arty inspiration, but it’s important to remember that inspiration is not just here for making pretty things of no great consequence. Inspiration is how we get things done and fix what’s wrong, and that inspiration has never been more needed than it is now.