Tag Archives: creativity

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.


Negativity and inspiration

Inspiration isn’t always a lovely, fluffy thing. Sometimes inspiration is born of rage, frustration, annoyance and other ostensibly ‘negative’ emotions. I’ve written some really good blog posts off the back of being bloody annoyed with people. It’s important to acknowledge how these emotions can drive creativity and that they are just as important as feeling all magical and wanting to do something beautiful as a consequence.

When it comes to social justice, rage can be a really important source of inspiration. The trick is not to let the rage run unchallenged. Being cross doesn’t of itself get much done. Getting cross and thrashing about in an unconsidered rage somewhere on the internet can do far more harm than good. It’s important to take the time for the rage. Sit with it. Hold it close. Work out what needs changing. Take the energy of the rage and turn it into a push for change. Fighting against things is seldom that effective. Fighting for things is much more productive. Let your rage show you what it is that you need to fight for.

Boredom, frustration and apathy tend to get a bad press. If all you do is wallow about in those feelings, they can trap you in inaction and a sense of powerlessness. However, you can also use them as a spur. Breaking out of limitations is often difficult, but the need to escape from those stuck feelings can be a superb motivator for taking the plunge and doing something new.

If you’ve written poetry, you’ve probably at some point done the kind of agonised bleeding on the page that comes from depression and heartbreak. Misery and setbacks are awful to go through, but working out how to meaningfully share your pain can be a good and restorative process. You may be able to comfort others by showing them they are not alone in their struggles. You will undoubtedly become more able to feel compassion and empathy, which in turn points the way towards the kinds of actions you might take.

Oysters make pearls as a way of protecting themselves from the discomfort of grit that gets in their shells. Some people, and experiences can impact in much the same way. Creating can be a way of coping. It can be a way of processing shit into gold. It can also make it possible to deal more gently and kindly with people who were annoying you.

Suffering is not essential for creativity. But at the same time, our creations are richer, more thoughtful and better informed when we’re able to draw more widely on experience and aren’t focused exclusively on nice things and whatever makes us comfortable. 


Working Collaboratively

The one thing I never much liked about the book writing process is how solitary it can be. Going away for months, maybe years to make something before anyone else gets involved doesn’t work for me. I prefer to be more interactive. It’s a big part of why I love performance- that immediacy of engagement with an audience.

Currently I’m very collaborative on the performance front – as part of a team of four who go out as The Ominous Folk of Hopeless, Maine. Hopeless, Maine is itself a really collaborative project – I primarily work with Tom Brown on this, but there’s a much bigger family of writers, artists, performers, and makers who sometimes also get involved with things.

I’ve got one co-writing project on the go at the moment. I’m working with David Bridger, which is a lovely process and taking me to some decidedly interesting places. 

Recently I’ve been exploring other ways of taking a more collaborative approach to books. Back in the winter I was working on my Earth Spirit book, and I had a test reader who took content one chapter at a time and gave me really valuable feedback. Said test reader is also going to be involved with the new Pagan Pilgrimage project, and we’re figuring out how exactly that might work, which is exciting. I’ve also been talking to a lot of people about their pilgrimage experiences, and intend to do a lot more of that, because I want this project to be about more than my own limited experiences.

Every now and then I see something online where people in the writing business make unhappy noises about anything they see as limiting imagination. Issues of accuracy and sensitivity readers come up a lot. As though an uninformed imagination is something to be proud of. The whole notion of the lonely author in the high tower making things out of their own ideas has always seemed suspect to me. What use is an author without insight and understanding? What good are we if all we can put into the world is versions of ourselves? 

Creativity is a human activity, made by humans, about humans and for humans. It seems very odd to me to try and do that without really involving other people. I doubt I’d have very much to say at all if I sat in the metaphorical high tower trying to squeeze stories out of myself. It’s the interactions with other people that inspire me. It’s the opportunities to connect with other people that I get excited about. I’m always looking for new ways to connect because I know I’m a better writer when I do that.


Druids do it in threes

It’s hardly a new joke, but you can usually raise a snicker – even in ritual – by mentioning how Druids like to do things three times. It comes up a lot around ritual repetition. Three is enough times that by the third time, enough people will say the thing confidently. It’s not so many repetitions that it starts to feel silly or meaningless.

On the history side we have the Welsh triads – clever groupings of things into threes in ways that are easy to remember. Which is about as much detail as I feel moved to go into on that aspect! There is also the lure of the three drops of inspiration from the cauldron of Cerridwen.

Threes, and multiples of threes create rather satisfying shapes and forms. Triskels, the awen symbol itself, three is enough of something to make clear that you really meant it, without it getting tedious.

I’m interested in the way that stories can be told in three beats. It’s something I’ve poked about in with little cartoon strips. You have to strip an idea to its essentials to convey it in three beats, and that can be revealing and interesting as a process. Three beats to tell a joke also works well. 

Over on instagram, walls display images three at a time. I like to put my pictures up so that they group in threes – there’s something decidedly satisfying about it. I like the process of working out how to tell a small, visual story in three beats. When I’m working on a craft project, I have to think along the way about which stages of development I want to share. For bigger projects, there are often revisits, sometimes with weeks in between them. For craft, I want to show the story of developing a piece, three beats at a time. Sometimes I share the development of art in the same way. Three images from a walk, or from an event to try and capture something.

Frames can be really helpful for shaping work. Often, the challenge created by the frame itself contributes to the richness. Creativity without boundaries can be messy and ineffective. I like the structure of sonnets, the restrictions of short stories and flash fiction, the limitations inherent in comics pages. I like the necessity of keeping blog posts short and focused. I like the way posting trios to Instagram requires me to structure my ideas.

Me on Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/nimuebrown/ 


On the Bard path

As River pointed out in a recent comment, the idea of the Bard path can be really intimidating. The quest for sacred inspiration and the pressure of putting that out into the world in a meaningful way can make it hard to get started. Where are you even going to find sacred inspiration? How can you possibly make anything good enough?

As far as I’m concerned, all inspiration is sacred. It’s the flow that is vital and magical, and the form it takes is irrelevant. If your inspiration takes the form of a fart joke that briefly lifts the spirits of someone who is in pain, then you’re doing all the things.

The urge to be Serious, to create things that are weighty, significant, important, worthy and so forth, isn’t reliably a good urge. It can result in work that is totally inaccessible. If all you want to do is create poetry in an ancient language to honour your Gods – go for it. But it’s not the only option. Trickster Gods are likely to be up for the fart jokes anyway. Not all Pagan Gods are literary heavyweights. Some are very much about the drink, the partying, the sex and frivolity. 

Mirth is as important as reverence and the two are not at odds with each other. Apparently trivial things can be healing and comforting. Laughter can break down barriers. Foolishness can enable others. A small, lightweight thing can transform your perspective of an issue, in a way that some massive, indigestible tome never could. 

There’s real magic in finding the enchantment inside ordinary, everyday things. Simple expressions can be far more beautiful than overworked ones. Trying too hard doesn’t always get results. Grace and flow, delight and enthusiasm all get a lot done, and these can all be part of your inspiration and part of your work. 

I know that my best animist writing to date happened when I was trying to amuse people. Some of my kindest writing has come out of my angriest feelings. Sometimes I turn out to be at my best when I feel I have least to offer. Sometimes it’s the work done with little thought and intention that turns out to be most powerful and meaningful for other people. In matters creative, what you intend and how it works out don’t always match up. The trick is to trust the flow and see where it takes you.

Real inspiration can be mucky and chaotic, unpredictable, earthy, silly and apparently trivial. Taking yourself too seriously can be a barrier to real magic. It is better to be a holy fool, and not worry about your literary legacy, or being taken seriously by anyone, and just let go and have fun with it all. When the creativity comes from your heart and soul, magic enters the world. 


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.