Tag Archives: creativity

Notes on creativity

Those of you who have followed this blog for a while will know I’ve had ongoing struggles with creative work. The creative industries are a mess, austerity means many people can’t afford books, art or music. It’s really hard making a living at the moment. There’s only so much time and energy available to me. However, over the last six months or so I’ve learned a lot of useful things about staying creative, so, here’s what’s been helping me get moving again.

  1. Not using writing to pay the bills. It’s incredibly stressful and requires a rapid output, which I have found depressing and exhausting every time I’ve tried it. I am more likely to make money from writing if I write the things I want to write and then try to find a home for it, and not have making it pay be my primary concern. If I’ve got my responsibilities to my family covered, I feel freer in my writing, and other forms of creativity too.
  2. Peer support. Knowing it’s not just me, it’s not my failing but an industry-wide issue. Feeling recognised and respected by creative people I admire and respect helps maintain morale.
  3. People to create for. For me an art is only complete when it encounters someone else. A book no one reads is unfinished. People to write for give me a sense of hope and purpose. This blog helps me keep going, I’ve also felt really inspired as a consequence of support for my Patreon. It’s more about people wanting my work than the money, but the money helps.
  4. Making headspace. I can do the disciplined churning out of words, but to really create I need time to daydream, wonder, question and whatnot. I need time when I’m not directly using my brain for other things. I need to be ok with apparently doing nothing in order to make a space for inspiration to come in.
  5. Time to study. I need raw material to use creatively. This means reading, experiencing, learning. I need time to take workshops or lessons, time to pick up courses – not all of it directly about writing, either!
  6. Opportunities to be inspired. Other people’s books, live music, theatre, film, walks, good food, nights spent dancing, conversations with friends, beautiful landscapes… If I don’t feed my soul, all the time, then I can’t create. Get this right and I’m much more likely to be inspired.

Put that together and what you get are creative friends I can spend time with, whose creativity I can be inspired by and who are up for reading my stuff as well. People to walk with, cook with, hang out with, go to gigs with… and as there’s been a lot of that in my life in recent months, it turned out all I had to do was start making better spaces for myself, and putting down things that don’t serve me, and creativity becomes a good deal more feasible.


The value of being bored

Now that we have screens, we can take amusement with us into any and every situation. Headphones, and perhaps a battery of some sort, and you will never be bored again. Children will never be bored again. What progress!

Except that boredom has a value for adults and children alike.

I grew up in a rather boring place, and at the risk of sounding old and clichéd, we had to make our own fun. I am no doubt richer for that. As I see it, the entire folk music tradition comes from bored people with limited resources obliged to make their own fun. Pubs exist for people to gather and amuse themselves. Or you’d have to go out and kick a football around rather than watch someone doing it for a lot of money.

Boredom is the parent of creativity and innovation. Being bored now and then is good for us because it spurs us to come up with solutions, or get off our bottoms and go somewhere more interesting. If the little screen of endless distraction is always there, you never get chance to do that. Big dreams come out of idle wondering. Big visions come out of empty days, if we use that space. The urge to make and do, to meet and encounter comes from a feeling of lack. What we get when we fill some of our time from our own resources does more to nourish us than staring blankly at little time killers.

Last night on my way home I saw a group of kids heading towards the park to do poi and such like, so it’s evident that the little screens aren’t stopping everyone from having a good night out. That cheers me greatly.

Many of us live in an overstimulating reality, plying our brains with more information than they can take in. It’s good to stop, do nothing, be bored and let your mind catch up once in a while.


Tips for Collaborating

I’ve done a lot of working with other people – I’ve co-written, been illustrated, written for comics and done a lot of music with people. Collaborations have the potential to result in something that is more than the sum of its parts, if you can get them to work. Here’s what I’ve learned…

Are you thinking about a single project, or a working relationship? Either is fine, but it helps to be clear about your intentions at the beginning. Your intentions may of course change as things develop. Stay clear about them.

Pick people whose work you love, and who love your work. Collaborating is about letting something new emerge. If you don’t love each other’s stuff and don’t respect each other as creators, it won’t work.

You have to make room for the other person’s creativity and accept that they will do things you never imagined. I find this really exciting, but it is also a loss of control. If you want to be in control you’ll end up with people who work for you and that’s not the same as collaborating.

Pay attention to how risk is shared out between collaborators. Does more of the cost (of money or time) fall on one person more than another? How can you balance that out to keep things equitable?

Know your own boundaries and respect other people’s. Especially with reference to the time and money you are able to invest in a project.

Be ready to really listen to your collaborators. Be open to negotiation. Don’t expect it to work by magic.

It may not work perfectly straight off. That’s not necessarily a problem. You may need to invest more time in figuring out how to work together to best effect.

If working with someone inspires and encourages you, that’s excellent. It could turn out to be tiring, demoralising and a grind. Some of this depends on finding the right people, but it also depends on being the sort of person who thrives on working with others. You may not be who you think you are, and some things you only find out by doing them. Mistakes are essential, room for mistakes even more so. Never get so attached to the idea of collaborating, or a specific collaboration that you can’t consider it properly.


How to and why not

Get perfect results every time! Fix your life in these ten easy steps! There’s nothing like a How To book for telling you stuff, but is it doing us any good? To poke this notion around I’m going to focus on the topic of cooking, but I think the implications are much wider.

I do a lot of cooking and baking from scratch, seldom following recipes. I often look at recipes for ideas and inspiration, and I might follow one closely the first time I do it if there are delicate bits, but mostly that’s not how I work. I like to learn theories and apply them as they suit me.

I have noticed that it is normal for books on cooking and baking to contain lots of obscure ingredients. Things I don’t keep on hand, can’t easily find. Their presence can persuade a person that cooking is not for them. Most instructional books are really dogmatic also. They often have introductions that say if you don’t follow this exactly, all bets are off. Having spent years swapping round ingredients, using more and less of almost anything if I haven’t got enough, or like it a lot… the results tend to be wholly edible.

What cookery books teach us is that food should come out the same every time. Like pre-packaged food. It’s not about personal creativity, innovation or using up what was left in the fridge, it’s about following instructions. It’s about imposing the dubious standards of industrialisation on our home life. Most of us will not create exactly the same results each time even when we’re trying, and may be persuaded that we’re better buying more mass produced stuff rather than enjoying our own cooking.

If you follow recipes, you can’t grab what’s on offer or in season, you have to buy ingredients for the recipe. That’s a lot of extra faff, and requires forward planning. If you can pick up what looks good and improvise with it, cooking is more fun, more efficient, and requires less thinking. Weary people are not easily persuaded to take long ingredients lists to supermarkets and so proper cooking becomes something you do on special occasions, and the rest of the time, it’s easier to buy sauces in jars, pre-prepared things and stick to what you know. This costs more, and results in a bland, impersonal diet.

Mass produced food is always the same. Our cookery books can encourage us to accept that this is the standard to aspire to. Not that mass produced food is a bit bland and obvious, but that our own cooking should emulate it. Never mind what’s in season, or out of season. No room is left for imagination, innovation or play. Just follow the instructions to get perfect results every time.

 


Putting out the hat

There’s a moment when you start a busking set, when the empty hat goes out, and you have not yet begun to sing or play, and you don’t know how people are going to react. For me, that pause before beginning has always felt the most exposed.

Yesterday, I put out a hat, and waited nervously to see if anyone would find what I’m doing worth responding to. The first coins in the hat are always a massive morale boost. They affirm that it was worth the exposure. Thus far, Patreon is turning out to feel exactly like busking.

Those of you who have followed my blog for a while will know that I have a lot of issues with how the creative industries work. I struggle personally because it’s hard to make a living as a writer, and doing other things to pay the bills doesn’t leave me with much brain or energy for doing the creative stuff. I also need people to create for – I write this blog every day because there are people who want to read it, and that keeps me going. So long as someone wants to read it, I’ll keep writing.

I said recently that I wouldn’t ask for donations to keep doing this. I have put out a hat, but it’s not exactly for this blog. There’s a link at the top of this site now that says ‘support this blog’ because that’s short, but it’s not accurate! Much of the point of doing the Patreon page is to create a space where I can do other things.

So, for $1 a month you get a monthly newsletter with stuff about whatever I’m doing, and you also get one small original creative piece. For $5 a month you get that plus another modestly sized bit of creativity. My aim is to be putting out content there every week, eventually, if enough people sign up to make that viable. A lot of Patreon pages offer multiple levels for support, but, I would rather give things to more people. I’m only going to create extra levels if there’s tangible stuff to send out into the world.

I’m already feeling cheered by the few dollars that are in the hat for each month. I am imagining what could come next in terms of pushing out creatively. I’m hoping it will work and that there will turn out to be enough people who like what I do and want me to do more of it. I think it’s possible. It would only take a small percentage of blog followers to throw a dollar in the hat for my life to change radically.

I like the idea also of having scope to keep giving stuff away – here, and on youtube, and wherever else makes sense – and have support come back to me for doing that. It’s a key part of how Patreon works. It’s the other side of gift economy, the side that allows people to gift back to creators if they want to, on whatever terms they like. And nobody has to. So long as someone throws the odd coin in the hat, the busking continues…

For the first time in years, I feel hopeful about creating. It doesn’t feel entirely pointless and futile because a couple of people have already responded. So, if you want to come with me on this adventure, I would be delighted, and if that wouldn’t work for you – I’ll still be here, making my work freely available, and with a bit of luck and a fair wind, I’ll be better resourced to keep doing that.

https://www.patreon.com/NimueB


Community and Creativity

Every now and then I get to write the acknowledgement section for a book, and I usually start it by saying that no book is written in isolation. You’ll find a number of books that specifically mention how important this blog is in my writing process. These are workouts, tests, development sessions, they help me build towards those bigger projects. The feedback I get here enlarges my knowledge, broadens my perspective.

Of course it’s not just books. We are all doing whatever we do in a wider context. Most of us are supported or encouraged, or inspired by some else. Most of us are interacting with others, in whatever way makes sense. We’re engaging with other people who do the things we do so that our work is rooted, and relevant. We don’t have to slavishly copy what everyone else is doing but at the same time… books by authors who have read nothing in their field are easy to spot, and seldom good to read.

In any project, we stand, if not on the shoulders of giants, then on the shoulders of our many ancestors of tradition. It’s interesting to think about who they are and what they have given us.

I’m very, very lucky in that I belong to a number of creative communities that support me and give me places to put down roots. Moon Books, my Pagan publisher, is very much a community of writers and fellow travellers. I feel connected to the wider Pagan community, too. I feel a strong sense of connection with the Steampunk community, it inspires me, and means there’s a group of people I feel I’m creating things for. There’s comics community, and folk community and local community and these are all part of my mix as well.

What’s proved even more powerful for me is to be a part of a creative community that shares – be that in gathering together to air poems, stories and music, or co-creating art, or passing written texts back and forth. People who are willing to make larger and deeper connections around creative process. You can read Kevan Manwaring’s It Takes a Village to Raise a Story – about a project I’ve been involved in recently.  It’s an excellent reflection on collective creativity.

I’m also in the process of building a collective creative space, as hopelessmaine.com slowly draws people in to its dark and crazy world. People are coming to it from all the places I call home, and that’s heart warming. It’s important that there be safe spaces for people to stretch and develop, and this is one such.

The image of the lone genius, set apart from the world, making their thing in isolation, is not a healthy image. It’s not a sane image, or an image that offers the creator much joy or comfort. Some of us do need to retreat to the high tower now and then, but if there’s no one waiting for you to come out bearing the fruits of your labours, it is a sad and lonely sort of business. It’s a lot easier to keep creating when someone else believes in what you’re doing, and when what you are doing is part of some greater whole.


The latest Hopeless adventures

There have been some developments this week that I am excited about and want to share…

Anyone who has been with the blog for a while will have likely picked up that one of the things I do is a graphic novel series called Hopeless Maine. It is a setting my other half came up with many years ago, and the essence of the main characters comes from him. He asked me to take on writing the stories and script, long before we got ourselves organised romantically!

Back when we ran Hopeless Maine as a webcomic, and with a weekly blog/newspaper for the island, we had a lot of interaction from people. This year we decided to open Hopeless up to collaboration and play, and the results have far surpassed anything I could have dared to hope for.

For a while now we’ve had pieces every Friday for www.hopelessmaine.com expanding on island life in all manner of glorious ways. This week saw the arrival of a new column that will go out each Tuesday – Tales from the Squid and Teapot – the first of which can be found here https://hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com/2017/04/25/%E2%80%8Bobit-sir-fromebridge-whitminster/

The columnist for Tales from The Squid and Teapot is Martin Pearson AKA my Dad. He’s a natural when it comes to describing the life of Hopeless, and this isn’t really a coincidence at all. The books I encountered as a child, the things I find funny,  the way I think and the kind of phrasing I use has all, to some degree, been influenced by him. He’s always written, but not tended to publish, so it’s a delight to be able to lure him out in this manner.

Our other exciting development is a plan for Hopeless Maine the roleplay game. A new blog has been set up for this by Keith Healing, and discussions are under way about how to turn Hopeless into a set of playable mechanics, that allow creativity and improvising. I feel the need to mention at this point that I played a lot of role play in my teens – mostly D&D (Dragonlance), AD&D a bit of 3rd edition D&D, Some White Wolf (Changeling, Mage and Vampire) some Warhammer, a bit of Star Wars, a few rounds of Shadow Run, and others. I’ve also run games. I was never much attracted to playing magic users because the magic seemed dull, prescriptive, too combat orientated and frankly not that magical. This, will be different, and I’m excited about that. There will also, (take note, steampunks) be something enabling invention. It won’t assume combat is how things get done, but will allow for hitting things with a frying pan in an emergency. Early days, but much potential. You can find more about that here –https://hopelesstraveller.wordpress.com/


Finding a direction

It’s been clear to me over the last few weeks that one of the underlying problems for me with my creativity, has been a lack of direction. I needed a sense of what the work would be *for*. I’ve long since established that money does not motivate me to write, and most of us in this industry will never make much money anyway. I came to writing as a child, wanting to say something that would make a difference, but that’s far too vague.

It’s been like finding the pieces of a puzzle, and those of you who read posts every day may have noticed the trajectory that’s been developing. I didn’t know there was a trajectory even until a couple of days ago, but sometimes you have to keep doing a thing before it becomes properly conscious and visible.

I’ve made several bardic dedications in the past, and they’ve tended to be about using my skills for the good of the tribe, and the good of the land. I’m returning to this concept with some very specific ideas about what it means in the current climate.

Many of us are alienated from our own bodies. Most of us live in ways that are deeply at odds with what our animal bodies need. We don’t experience those alienated bodies as being in the land, in the seasons, in the soil as a culture. Certainly there are individuals who do, but most people are alienated from their natural mammal selves. Provoked into thinking about this by Becoming Animal by David Abram, I think he’s right and that our treatment of the Earth is only possible because of our deep alienation.

I’ve experienced that alienation – trauma caused a retreat into my head, a dislocation from my feeling self. Stress and anxiety kept me there. I’ve spent years finding my way back towards my own body, and finding my body in the physical realm it inhabits. I can speak to the being lost, and to the process of returning. Dedicating to reconnecting person and planet serves my own journey and healing, but it also means I should have enough insight to be helpful to others.

Having just read a book that has greatly impacted on my life, I am reminded that writing is powerful, and can change things for people. I can’t fix everything, but I can work in a way that supports the idea of all the changes I want to see being possible. It’s a place to stand, and as I’ve managed to write a poem and a song in the last week, I think it’s a place I can work from.


Sharing your fire

  • In the current environment, being passionate feels risky. Many of us are keeping our heads down. It’s harder to be a passionate creative if you feel you’re surrounded by wary and measured people, or worse yet, cynical cold people.

When someone else shares their fire, the cold in my heart eases a bit. It doesn’t seem to matter what form it takes – overt creativity, the passion of activism, reading poetry, laughter that comes from the belly, affection that comes from the heart. I’ve never been the sort of person who could get by without other people. If I’m not in contact with other people’s inspiration, I wither away.

I can tackle this by picking good books to read, listening to great music, seeking out inspired films. I can book tickets for gigs and other live shows. I can actively seek other inspired people to help me keep my own small flame going. When I’m depressed, it’s harder to make the effort to do that, simply. I’m guessing it’s not just me, and that when we dare to share our passion, intensity and inspiration, we may all be able to lift each other a bit.

During the dark depths of last week, I had a flash of insight about how important it is to me to be in contact with other people’s inspiration, and the first small, creative piece of writing I’ve done in ages came into being as a consequence…

Show me your fire.

Show me the starstruck, moon crazed

Heart surging tsunami rush,

Deranged, intoxicated, transfixed.

Show me the wild honey

On your lips.

Show me the swan flight

In your dance, show me

Enchantments, woven with fingertips

And more than this,

Show me the consuming blaze of it

In your eyes, as though

A spark could leap the gap,

One igniting the other.

And awen bolt striking as lightning,

None to say which the source

And which the destination.


News, trolls, tolerance and headspace

This is not a climate in which you can afford to spend too much time imagining things. It is harder than it has ever been to image anything good, and if you accidentally start imagining how any of the not-good stuff is going to play out, you’ll hurt.

If we are to be responsible citizens, we have to know what’s going on. Given that neither our politicians nor our media seem wholly trustworthy right now, getting real insight that can lead to a truly informed opinion is hard work, and there are so many issues, and all of them have so many implications. Overload beckons. The more sensitive, empathic and caring you are, the more scope there is to tear yourself to shreds over the world’s many problems.

Shutting down and shutting it out can feel like not caring. It can feel like a cold, hard choice, a betrayal of causes that needed our help. We don’t want to join the apathetic many, or the uninformed many, but knowing comes at too high a price.

There’s no tidy answer here, not least because we’re all different. As creatives many of us need to feel in touch – but we have some scope for deciding what we’re in touch with. We are not all obliged to know everything.

Picking things to be informed about and letting go of other issues is a reasonable choice. Cutting down on exposure to media to avoid being overwhelmed is also an option. Taking holidays from the woes of the world in order to clear the mind and claim back some space for creative thinking. Focusing on news outlets that offer good news stories, solutions and so forth can also be a great help. One of the reasons I like being involved with campaigning groups is that they all, reliably, feed good news stories back to participants, when there are any.

My creativity depends on the interactions between my imagination and the world as I encounter it. I can’t run far on pure imagination, that’s a dragon eating its own tale/tail. I want my work to be grounded and informed, not pure escapism. I cannot insulate myself too much. But, if I don’t insulate myself to some degree, all I think about is what’s going on out there and the implications of it, or I end up having to not think, to avoid spiralling into anxiety and dysfunction. I think part of the point of what we’re being exposed to is to shut us down, shut us up, overwhelm us into doing nothing. I want to resist that. There are groups and individuals out there whose intention it is to trash anyone who wants to do anything good.

There are stories about troll factories and people paid to get on social media and spread lies. Groups driven by the desire to tear down. They aren’t a majority, they are people who for various reasons have the time to be online a lot, making noise. They give the impression of being a huge and popular movement, but I think there are more of us who want to improve things than there are people who just want to destroy. There’s a case for the balance between digging around and staying away right there… Because however you go about it, not hearing those voices will help you stay sane, and maybe we don’t need to know what the trolls amongst us think, feel and want. Maybe we aren’t responsible for them – although they will tell us we are, and that we aren’t really tolerant if we can’t tolerate their hate… Maybe the answer is to selectively close our ears and not have compassion stretched to breaking point by people who set out to break us.