Tag Archives: creativity

A sense of direction

When I dedicated to the bard path, I promised to use my creativity for the good of my tribe and the good of the land. The land part has always been easy to identify, if hard to protect in this exploitative, destructive age. ‘Tribe’ has always been trickier. Who are my tribe? Who should I be helping and supporting? Where can I do most good? I’ve put myself forward in Pagan groups, in politics, and I’ve stepped up to try and help fellow authors and creatives, all of this in paid and unpaid configurations. I’ve been looking for a tribe to serve.

It’s tricky. I need to work in ways that achieve something and that I feel good about. I’ve fallen out of a few spaces along the way simply because I didn’t have the resources or information to be able to do anything well, and the frustration of it ground me down.  Creativity depends on inspiration, and volunteering depends on energy, and I am more motivated by results than anything else. I’ve fallen out of some spaces because of internal politics, and I’m not good at dealing with people who are afraid I will become too prominent and important, and for whom keeping me under control is more important than getting good things done. I’ve fallen out of spaces through sheer boredom as well.

What I want is to build community, sustainability, and resilience. I want to help people flourish and do more good. I want more joy and better things for as many people as I can manage to bring that to.

I knew at the start of this year that I’d likely be picking a place to stand – or a few places. I’ve eyed up various groups and I’ve waited to see who made moves towards me. It’s been an interesting six months, and at this point, I feel I know where I’m going. I’m building a worker’s co-operative around the Hopeless Maine project. I’m putting more energy into Moon Books, and Sloth Comics. I shall carry on volunteering for The Pagan Federation and The Woodland Trust and writing for all the magazines I’ve been writing for. I shall be investing more energy in Transition Stroud as well – this is about transitioning to more sustainable ways of living.

I’ve learned not to work with people who are half hearted about me, or grudgingly make a place for me. I’ve also learned not to work with people who simply see me as a resource to exploit. You can’t build better things if what’s going around you is crap. You can’t bring good into the world if the project you’re in is inherently unethical in how it gets things done. None of us benefit from being treated like objects for use. Breaking people for causes isn’t good, and making personal influence more important than the cause isn’t good either. But all of that said, many good spaces exist full of people intent on doing the best they can with what they have, and those are the places that deserve energy invested in them and that reward you if you give what you can. In such a space, giving what you can becomes rewarding of itself.

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Contemplating failure

There’s a lot of positivity culture out there to tell us we can have anything and everything we want. We have to be positive enough, never give up, keep visualising the glorious outcome. It doesn’t take into account that failure is a very real part of human experience. We will all fail sometimes. Being realistic about how and why we’ve failed and what the implications are, is really important.

We can fail through lack of knowledge, experience and skill. It can mean that we just have to pick ourselves up and have another go. Many things require patience and perseverance, and will not come to us quickly just because we want them. Recognising the work involved, and recognising that we may fall short makes us better able to deal with reality than going forth with relentless positivity.

The timing may be bad. We may be unlucky. Things beyond our control may wreck our plans. We may not have the resources to achieve what we wanted. We may need to change tack and study, or practice, or rethink in some other way. These are all common events. They do not represent a failure to be positive enough, and simply being positive won’t deal with them.

How do you tell when you really should give up? How much time and money and energy – yours and other people’s – should you pour into something before you’ll admit it’s a bad loss? When is it time to accept that a dream isn’t viable? There are only personal answers here. A consciousness of failure can help us shift our goalposts to more appropriate positions. When I was a teen, I wanted to be a famous and important author. Experience has taught me to accept that if I can make ends meet and some people like my stuff, that’s probably as good as it can get.

I could dream about one day climbing Everest, but this body is never going to be equal to it. I doubt I could get up even the smallest mountain these days. No amount of positive thinking is going to enable me to run long distances, either. When do we decide what’s possible and what isn’t? When do we give up?

One of the big questions here is around how chasing the dream impacts on others. Imagine the person who goes full time with their dream but earns very little, and whose family has to support them. Imagine that they put little time into their family or friendships, expecting emotional and practical support while they follow their dream. How long can that continue before the dream itself needs questioning. A year? A decade? It’s important to consider what we’re asking other people to sacrifice for the sake of our dreams. Are we making other people put their lives on hold for us? Are we killing their dreams for the sake of our own? Are we making them pay unfairly?

If your efforts and failures and aspirations only really impact on you, then how you live your life is really no one else’s business. Most of us don’t exist in that kind of isolation. Dreams need putting into context, and I think one of the most important measures for failure and for recognising the need to give up, is how much the unrealised dream is costing other people.


Creativity without gatekeepers

When I was young, I imagined that publishers and record labels and people picking content for TV, and taking on film scripts all had one basic agenda – that they wanted to put the best things out there. In reality, the bigger a company is, the less likely this is to be true. What creative industries want are sure fire hits that will sell a lot of copies. This means that they are all incredibly risk averse. Things that are easy to market because they look like things that were already successful always have a better shot.

It’s difficult to get anything radical into the mix on these terms. A groundbreaking, original piece of work, is by definition an unknown quantity and no large company will be easily persuaded to gamble vast sums getting it out there. This is part of why films with female leads, or multiple female characters are rarer – it’s not what happens so there’s been little belief it could work. That it does work and is then ignored is because of the sexism inherent in the system. There’s also an assumption that white western folk, for example, are the main audience for film and need to see other white western folk on the screen in order to engage. That this is not true and is ignored is because there’s inherent racism in the system.

For many of us, the over-arching company acts as quality control. We believe that the publishers, movie studio etc will weed out the rubbish and give us the best stuff. (like Twilight… umm… ) Many people still mistrust self-publishing because there are no gatekeepers keeping out the ‘rubbish’. As a habitual reader of self published work, I can honestly say that it is easy to find good, innovative stuff.

There have always been many ways of doing things. Self publishing isn’t new. Jane Austen self published. John Aubrey’s ground breaking work on Avebury was published by subscription. Getting a wealthy patron to fund your project was also an option.

I like subscription publishing as a model because it reduces the risk all round. If a small publisher takes on a wild book, and it doesn’t work out, it can finish them. That’s not good for the author, either. A subscription model allows you to raise the idea of a book and see if people like it enough to get in there and buy on in advance. If enough people do, you publish the book. A publishing company working this way has to ask ‘is this a good book, is it exciting in some way?’ and does not have to ask ‘how do we sell it?’.

Subscription publishing can make publishing poetry and short stories viable – these are generally considered the hardest sells and many houses won’t touch them unless you’re already Neil Gaiman.

 


Things I am up to

Thus far this year has not gone to plan. I’m increasingly fine with that. One of the things I didn’t get to do I’m glad I missed – the feeling of having dodged a bullet there. I’ve become involved unexpectedly in other projects as well.

I’ve just launched a new column on The Hopeless Vendetta – Mrs Beaten is judging you. Mrs Beaten is the sort of character who worries about whether the orphans are speaking proper English, and complains about their poor postures while ignoring the fact that half of them have rickets. She’s all about appearances. Writing satire always means the risk of people thinking I’m serious, and to make this even more exposed, I’m doing cartoons for it. Tom is now working on the next Hopeless Maine graphic novel and I really don’t want to take any of his time away from that. Mrs Beaten will be unleashed on Sundays, you can find her here –hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com/category/hopeless-tales/mrs-beaten/ 

I’m still blogging alternative wheel of the year stuff for Sage Woman every month. I blog intermittently at Moon Books. I’m writing a regular Quiet Revolution column for Pagan Dawn, and I’m writing about tree activism for the Pagan Federation International.

Over on Patreon, I’m putting up content every week, including new poetry, and fragments of fiction that may eventually turn into a thing.

Alongside this, I’m doing a bit of online campaign work for The Woodland Trust and helping out where I can with The Pagan Federation Disabilities Online Team. I am behind on learning sign language, but I do have a chant written for the next festival.

I’m supporting a number of authors who are at various stages of trying to get their work into the world. I feel strongly that getting your work out there should not depend on being able to pay. I don’t want to live in a world where arts careers are only for those who have a lot of privilege to begin with. So, where people need help and can’t afford to pay for it, I do what I can. Which is, I fear, a very small drop in the ocean of what’s needed. One of the reasons I’m reviewing every week is that it’s an easy way of helping people make their books more visible. I only review books I feel largely positive about.

Quite a lot of my time goes into unpaid work. Donating via the ko-fi link, (thank you those of you who have already done this) and supporting me on Patreon (thank you!) helps me stay viable while giving my time and skills to other people. It helps me afford to continue with Tom not taking as many illustration commissions so as to focus on getting Hopeless Maine out there. It gives me time for my own speculative work rather than having to focus on the things that are definitely going to pay. It makes losing money on events less scary, too. Train fares cost a lot, and we need to get out there to meet people and promote our work, but in the short term it is all too easy to lose money on this.

Of course much of this is true for many creative people. Having resources to invest in developing your work can be really difficult if you’re barely scraping a living. Creating part time isn’t a good answer for many people and it brings us back again to only getting creators who are in good health and well resourced. If you support the creators you love – in any small way you can – you help keep them going. Review them, re-tweet them, tell a friend. And if you can throw money at them, know that it makes an enormous difference. A hundred dollars a month on Patreon can easily be the different between keeping going and not keeping going.

If you want to wave money at me, you can do so here.
Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com


Taking the politics out of art

It happens a lot on twitter; that fans will tell creators to shut up about the politics and get back to the art. From what I see, the politics are usually left wing. It seems a very odd idea to me, for all kinds of reasons.

Firstly, any creativity happens in a context. Artists and writers and musicians aren’t kept in little boxes where the rest of the world can’t affect us. We may be talking about politics because they impact on us – changes to working tax credits, national insurance the VAT put on electronic content in the EU – these things all affect creators directly, to give some recent examples. In America, lack of money for healthcare is a very big problem and one that kills creative people. We don’t have the luxury of ignoring the politics that affect our everyday lives any more than anyone else does.

Most of us do not sit in high towers imagining how the world is. We have friends and families, neighbours, communities. Things that may not impact on us directly may well be impacting on them and we may need to speak up for them – and when you’ve got a following, of course you want to use it for good, and sometimes that means saying something about foodbanks, child homelessness, or environmental destruction.

To be a good creator, you have to care about your creative form. To make up stories, or to reflect the world through song, or visual art, you need to be interested in the world and to care about it. Good art is rooted in the world. Yes, there’s a lot of imagination involved, but imagination that isn’t informed by experience doesn’t tend to work. It is a creator’s empathy and insight, their ability to speak meaningfully to people that makes the work good and gives it substance. You can’t ask people to care about the world as part of what makes their profession function, but never say anything about it to avoid causing discomfort to people who just wanted escapism. You can’t ask people not to put politics in their work – to only have irrelevance and silliness that has no relation to the rest of culture or human experience is preposterous.

Last but by no means least, silence is also a political choice with political consequences. To say nothing, is to support whatever’s going on. It is to enable, and allow. Silence leaves the voiceless unheard. It leaves questions unasked, and mistakes, and abuses unchallenged. Silence is often taken as tacit consent. And it allows people who can’t be bothered to engage with real issues, people who are comfortable and privileged, able to carry on in their untroubled bubbles. Which is what is being asked for when creators are told to shut up and stick to the art. Do we exist to supply amusement to people who only wish to be amused? No we don’t.

This post was inspired by something Professor Elemental wrote this week about politics and steampunk – you can read that here – https://www.patreon.com/posts/18350074


Welcome to Night Vale – a review

I started listening to the Welcome to Night Vale podcast about three months ago, and am about 90 episodes in at time of writing. Night Vale is an imaginary small town somewhere in a desert that exists in some kind of vague relationship with America. The podcast brings us Night Vale’s community radio station, and through that we become complicit in the life of the town.

Night Vale is a strange and troubled place, full of weird magic, inexplicable science, sinister rituals, and a vague yet menacing government agency. Learn about the faceless old woman who secretly lives in your home, learn to fear wheat, and wheat by-products, learn where the badly hidden microphone in your house is in case you ever need to contact the secret police. If you can appreciate the humour of this sort of thing, Night Vale is a good place to conceptually take up residence.

The book of Welcome to Night Vale – written by Joseph Fink and Jeffry Cranor, who also write the podcast –  is just as prone to twisted whimsy as the podcast. It is odd, endearing, largely absurd and I very much enjoyed it. I was very aware, reading it, that this is a book which got into print because the podcast was already successful. It is hard to imagine an unknown writing team pitching a project like this and getting it picked up. Night Vale in book form breaks pretty much every writing rule I’ve ever seen written down, and probably a great many more that I haven’t. But, because it shares tone and style with the internationally popular podcast, it hasn’t been edited into conformity. It hasn’t been rejected as too weird, too difficult to market. Bean counters have not tutted over how hard it is to pitch something like this where there’s really no obvious audience…

Welcome to Night Vale is a triumph of creativity over the banality haunting ‘creative’ industries. It demonstrates that people with real ideas and imagination can find listeners and readers, and that the buying public does not simply want things that look pretty much like the things it already has. They’ve built something amazing here, and they’ve built it with love, and grass roots support, and it cheers me greatly to find that this is possible.

Night Vale makes me think a bit of strange, medieval tarot cards. (Bear with me). You look at the cards, and the things people are doing on said cards, and it all seems preposterous. This may in itself entertain you. However, pause for a moment, and think a little bit, and all kinds of relevance starts to appear. Because there’s something in the nature of it that allows you to project onto it, and see aspects of yourself, your life, your town, your country reflected there. What you make of that is very much up to you.

More about Night Vale here – http://www.welcometonightvale.com/

 


Learning to be selfish

Nearly 18 months ago it became apparent that if my mental and physical health didn’t make it to the priority list, I was, sooner or later, going to break irretrievably. About a year ago, I started looking at what was going on with my creative work and identified a similar problem – if I was going to not give up, my work was going to have to be on the list of things that mattered.

It is in part about asking other people to give me time, space and other resources. It is about asking other people to take my needs seriously. But, I won’t do that if I’m not taking my needs seriously. I’ve spent a lot of my adult life feeling like stuff for me was never the most important thing. It so easily becomes a self-fulfilling thing as well. I don’t make much money from my creativity, so in terms of looking after my household, my creativity cannot be a priority and so I don’t invest in it and it doesn’t bring much in and round we go again.

In the last year or so, I’ve started asking what’s in it for me? I’ve stopped making what other people want the most important consideration. I’ve not really had a lot of choice – for the last five months or so, I’ve moved from one disease to another. Time, energy and personal resources are at a serious low. I cannot run round after many people. I truly don’t have much I can afford to give. Prioritising has become a matter of survival. It’s led me to saying no to people, to not showing up, not offering, not responding to stuff on social media. I allow myself to scroll on past if I don’t feel like I have the resources to spare to help.

Sometimes, that makes me feel like a cold and heartless sort of person.

However, I’ve managed to keep working all the time I’ve been ill. I’ve managed to honour my most important commitments. I’ve managed to be helpful sometimes, because I’ve focused on what I can most effectively do. I’ve mostly hung on, just on the right side of things. Bouts of crumbling into despair, into weeping that I cannot keep going, cannot do the things, have been few in what has been a very tough five months. Probably better to say no early on rather than try and fail and take things down with me, I feel.

I’ve decided I can choose who and what I am going to responsible for, rather than having it chosen for me. I’ve not put much energy into explain things to people where I’ve had to pull back – they don’t have to keep holding any space for me, they can write me off as a bad loss, that’s fine. But, I’m not doing drama, and I’m not investing energy in justifying myself and that has really helped. I keep reminding myself that I am not obliged to meet other people’s needs for my time, attention and energy – no matter how entitled they think they are, I am not obligated. To be honest, this still feels really weird, but I can see it working, and life has been easier as a consequence.

One of the curious lessons in all of this, is that it was never the people most in need who were sapping me the most. People with small problems and a big sense of entitlement are a lot more exhausting to deal with. People who wanted results from me but also wanted to control how I was going to deliver that have, with hindsight, been a massive problem. I’ve put a hand up for some larger projects recently and noticed how much easier it is when people just let me do what I do. When I’m trusted to know what I’m doing. When the people who want my help don’t then require me to fight them so that I can help in a way that actually works.

If I can work on my own terms, then I can work happily, and when it comes to ‘what’s in it for me?’ that’s a really important factor.


Keeping creative

Over the years, I’ve tried all kinds of approaches to creativity, and the only thing I am sure of is that different people, at different times in their lives will find they have different needs. How best to serve those needs will be individual. There’s a big aspect of self knowledge in finding ways to be creatively effective.

Some people respond well to deadlines and are suddenly able to work like demons as the deadline looms. I am not one of those people. I meet deadlines, but I dislike them and they don’t really motivate me.

I benefit from feeling at least a bit accountable to someone else. Rather a lot of you show up to read this blog day after day, which gives me a reason to make sure that there’s a blog here for you to read, or in your inbox as you prefer. I’m finding the Patreon stuff works the same way – I put up a small piece of new writing (usually a poem), a longer piece of fiction (usually Hopeless Maine related), an excerpt or a video, and a newsletter week by week, cycling round that each month. This has proved sustainable and feasible and I deliver. I’m hoping that sending physical stuff to people is going to open up some new ways of working, too. (Patreon stuff is here – https://www.patreon.com/NimueB )

Other accountable things have worked less well – I once wrote a novel in about eight weeks, and when offered the chance to keep doing that for about a thousand pounds a go, I declined, because the first one left me so burned out, sleep deprived and jittery that there was clearly no way I could keep working at that pace. I know other people who can, and for whom it works – all power to them, but it’s not for me.

During the period when I went to a folk club every week, I learned new songs regularly and I practiced music more often. I’m not as motivated to do that if I don’t have somewhere to go. At the moment, I have access to a regular poetry gathering, which means I’m writing more poetry than I used to, because I have somewhere to share it. Yes, I’m a sucker for the applause. It gets me moving. I don’t create well in isolation.

Much of my best work happens when I have someone to create for. Often if I’m working on a wordy project, I’ll have specific readers in mind. People I want to impress, or amuse, or delight.

For me, creativity works best when it feels like part of a dialogue with others. When I’m responding, sharing, participating in something that is more than me and not just about me. This is no doubt part of why I love working collaboratively – when you work with someone, they are there to be created for, I can try to impress them, I get feedback from them and the inspiration that comes from seeing what they do.

I know for a lot of creators, the process is far more private, and exists between them and their muse. There are of course no right answers here, no correct ways of working, but it helps a lot to figure out what sort of person you are and what enables you.


Life with a donate button

There are a number of ways of putting a donate button onto a blog. I’ve looked at two – if you upgrade your paypal account to a business account, you can have a paypal donate button. There’s also this – ko-fi.com which is free, and I’ve chosen to go with it. I can recommend it as an easy thing to set up, although it does require you to have paypal.

So, what happens when you donate to me, or to any other creative person, be it via this platform, paypal, patreon etc?

First up, donations are a huge validation. We live in a culture where money has a massive role, and is linked, whether we like it or not, to sense of worth. Most creators don’t earn much for their creativity, and small donations can be very powerful as a consequence.

Secondly, that thing about creators often being relatively poor. You may be helping buy a person time when they don’t have to work on other jobs. You may help them pay their bills or buy food for that week. If enough people donate, you may be moving them from their former employment towards doing the thing you love them doing, full time – Patreon is an especially good platform for this. If you want more of what a person does, this can be a way of helping make that possible.

Donations can help a person save up to cover costs – that might be studio time for recording, new equipment, courses, research materials, print runs and so forth. It might mean under-writing the cost of going to events – its hard to get seen and build an audience if you don’t do events but transport and accommodation aren’t provided for free if you aren’t already a big name.

Donations help a creator take risks. If you have to make every creative venture pay for itself quickly, and for your time on it, and cover your rent, then its hard to take risks. Getting a big, original project moving takes time, and involves risk. You can help make magic things happen.

The idea that creativity should happen for love has serious implications. It means creativity is for the independently wealthy, those who are financially supported by a partner, the already successful, and those well enough and with the energy to work a job and work on their thing in their spare time. The idea of creativity just for the love of it is an idea that excludes a lot of people from creative options and keeps creativity for the rich and privileged and I am not cool with that. It might be different if supermarkets gave away food for the love of feeding people and landlords made homes available for the love of sheltering people, but that doesn’t happen.

Donating to me, specifically will help me with study and research. It means I can keep Tom from having to take on paying gigs for illustration so that he can put his time into our projects instead. It helps me afford the time for unpaid work – which most often means supporting the creativity of people who can’t afford to hire a publicist.

You can support me on Patreon if you’re inclined to make a regular donation – https://www.patreon.com/NimueB

Or I now have this for one-off donations (there’s a permanent button on the right hand side of the blog)

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

 

If you’re wondering whether to donate or not, let me add that I’m debt free, and can afford a social life. I don’t have to choose between heating and eating. But train fares for events terrify me. If that suggests you are more marginal than me, please don’t donate, look after yourself and enjoy what I’m giving away.


How to be a poet

Creativity starts long before you sit down with the tools to make a piece. For the sake of coherence, I’m going to focus in this post specifically on what needs to happen before a poem is written.

A poet needs a love for and skill with language – I would say more so than any other kind of writer. A poet needs to be alert to the sounds, shapes, and rhymes of words. They also need to be conscious of the implications and possibilities each word they use may hold. Sensitivity to language and to the way it can be used is something to be involved with every day.

Poems tend to be smaller than other forms of writing. They call for precision. To be precise, you have to know what you want to get across. To do that well, you need to understand what the most important features are, or what will most readily evoke it. That in turn requires paying attention.

I think I can tell the difference between a poet who had an idea and sat down to flesh it out, and a poet who starts from keen observation and then whittles it down into a piece. The second instance produces poems that are richer and more surprising, because there’s an alertness to detail that you can’t have unless you’ve been working on it all along.

Any experience has the potential for poetry in it. The person who lives in a state of awareness, noticing the details, the nuances, the processes, is well placed to draw on that wealth of experience.

The person who only looks at their own experience, and does so in a fairly superficial way, tends to write poetry charged only by the feeling of the moment. What they won’t necessarily know how to do is make that accessible to other people. If you work only at the surface, you get the hot anger and the cold resentment, soft feelings of love and hollow feelings of loss… but there are many, many poems out there that talk in superficial metaphors about common human experiences. To have something new to say, you need to know more than this.

Poets also need to be people who read poetry. Other reading certainly helps, but encountering – as text or performance – really good poetry makes a lot of difference. Poetry can take many forms, and exists in many cultures. The shape of the piece is often part of where it comes from and what it needs to say. What you’d try to express in a Japanese haiku is not what you’d be trying to express in Icelandic rap, which is not what you’d find in the rap styles of urban America. Slam poetry has its own rhythms and purposes, but has a different flavour to poetry inspired directly by beat poets. And so on, and so forth. Know the form you mean to write in, and get to know as many other forms as you can, because it all helps.

You should be able to read back your finished and edited poem and justify every word and comma in it. You should know why each is there and why it couldn’t possibly be replaced by some other word, or a colon. You should be confident that no word could be taken away without harming the whole and that equally, no word could be added, without it causing more harm than help. You should reach this point confident that your poem does what you intended it to do, and that a reader or listener will be affected in the right way by it.