Tag Archives: creativity

Living Creatively

Creativity shouldn’t be just for the professional few or for whatever time we can invest in creative hobbies. Creativity should be part of normal life.

I’ve been glad to see memes doing the rounds pointing out that singing, dancing, making art and so forth used to just be things people did. In having turned that into professions, and in having industrialised our lives, we’ve lost a lot of that. Obviously I’m in favour of there being space for creative professionals, but I feel very strongly that creativity should be for everyone, all the time.

We’ve traded our freedom to create for convenience.

Well, that’s almost true. Our ancestors were sold the idea of convenience, and forced off the land and into factories as a consequence of industrialisation.  Creativity isn’t something you can have when a large percentage of your working time is about making money for other people. Creativity takes time – both thinking time and the time to act.  You need the space to wonder and imagine.

A life built out of wondering and imagining is a lot richer. Whether we’re thinking about homes, gardens, meals, clothes, our neighbourhoods, our extended family our social lives… everything is richer if we have time to think about it and invest creatively in how we live.

There’s a unique pleasure in having something that is perfect for you – the perfect fit, the perfect flavour, the exact right combination of colours or scents… and you can’t buy that from a one-size-fits-all retailer. You can’t buy the pleasure of creating, or the delight of manifesting your inspiration in your life.

We should all have the time to enrich our lives in any way we like. What we have are lives dominated by work and responsibilities in which we buy the insipid things that are mass produced with an eye to not being entirely hateful to the highest possible number of people. Life should not be this narrow.

A creative life can be a relatively cheap and affordable life. However, what it definitely requires is time. If you’re constantly run off your feet here’s no opportunity to daydream, to imagine things that would be fun or pleasurable or health promoting. Delight takes time. Instant gratification often turns out to be not that gratifying – especially not compared to the joy available from something you have made yourself, in your own way and for your own reasons.


Taking a leap of faith

I was really ill over the winter – lots of pain, and stiffness, no energy, regular run ins with anxiety and deep depression. It was a hard time, and it made me take a serious look at my life. For some years now, the majority of my work hasn’t been creative. I’m not making most of my living as a professional Druid, either – these are not things that tend to pay anyone enough to live on. I’ve done all kinds of jobs – usually many small jobs all at the same time. In recent years I’ve been doing a lot of social media work.

I’m good at social media work and I genuinely like helping people. But, it is one of the most tedious things imaginable, and you can’t afford to be careless or complacent about it. Each twitter post is an exercise in tone, brand identity, PR… and when you’ve got multiple accounts, identities brands to keep track of, that takes a lot of thinking. And by December, I was very, very tired because of that.

I put down the work that required most effort for least personal gain. Those were hard choices. For self employed people, putting down a paying gig is always going to be uneasy at best. But, I was getting too ill to work, and that’s a bigger risk. I took time off, I rested a lot, and I thought about things.

Creative work is almost always uncertain. You mostly don’t know where the next gigs are coming from. Pay is erratic. Big projects that might pay better take time, energy and attention. So there’s a gamble in investing the time in doing a more substantial body of work that you think you can sell, because you might have to turn down other paying work to do it. Also, creative people are not machines. Ideas don’t flow without time to think, without space for inspiration. Creating and doing a day job and doing the things that support and sustain your creativity and dealing with household stuff and trying to be healthy and and and… The juggling is hard.

There may be some large, interesting and well paid creative jobs out there with my name on. I may be able to make the leap from exhausted and ill part time creative to being a person with decent creative jobs and a decent quality of life. So I took the leap of faith and I made the life changes that would give me a shot at those bigger and more exciting things. I started making the moves to get into the right position so that if any or all of this starts to move, I can go for it.

We’ve landed an American publisher for the Hopeless Maine graphic novels. That alone won’t change everything, but it certainly helps. There’s a kickstarter on the go at the moment, which may be of interest if you’re in America… https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/hopelessmaine/hopeless-maine-the-graphic-novel-by-tom-and-nimue-brown

It could be a very interesting year.


Flows of inspiration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Beginning a creative process

There are some things I create in the heat of inspiration and purely because I want to. This is a perfectly reasonable way of working, especially for small pieces like poems and short stories. It’s not such a good idea for a longer project. It’s not realistic to expect to be able to write an entire book while in a state of creative fever. Granted, Jack Kerouac managed it with On The Road, but it isn’t how larger bodies of work normally happen.

To create something more than a heat of the moment outpouring, takes planning. There’s a process in moving from the initial rush of inspiration, towards a larger and finished piece.

One of the first questions I ask when considering a project is, who am I making this for? There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, it’s a helpful focus. Secondly, if you mean to put a piece out into the world, knowing who it is for is really important. You can’t pitch to a publisher without knowing that. You’ll have a hard time finding readers if you don’t know who your readers might be. It may be tempting to imagine you are making something for ‘everyone’ but that’s not focused enough so either it will be bland, or it will be self indulgent. Maybe both.

Being self indulgent is fine. It is important to know whether you are primarily creating for yourself or for other people because it has implications. I think it’s usually a mistake to imagine you can create something purely for your own pleasure and that this will automatically translate into something lots of other people will want.

I usually identify some larger, broader groups of people – I write non-fiction books for Pagans and Druids, for example. I write fiction for Goths and steampunks, and also for Pagans and animists. I usually also have some specific people in mind. I find that really helps. If I’m writing for just one person, the odds are it will appeal to more people than just that one person. It helps me avoid being too self involved and it helps me focus on what kinds of things those other people might enjoy.

This is also where my bar is set in terms of success. If I write a poem for someone and they like it, I have succeeded. The same is true of a blog post, or even a book. If one person finds it helpful, it’s done its job. This protects me from the inevitable bruises of an industry where the average book sells a few hundred copies, and all the focus is on the people who can sell hundreds of thousands of copies.


Druidry and Inspiration

I remember back in my twenties having a conversation with a Very Important Druid about how inspiration works for me. I had come to recognise that it depends a lot on relationship, but I was finding it hard to hold the kinds of relationships with people that enabled the flow of inspiration for me. The Very Important Druid told me that I should be seeking those relationships not with humans, but in the natural world and with the elements.

Twenty years later, I can say with total confidence that the key to creativity for me lies in my relationships with people. It’s when inspiration flows from one person to another that I do my best work. I make things for people. I make things in response to people. Without people to engage with, I do not create.

The hills are indifferent to me. The rain is disinterested. The ground barely notices my passing. The sky does not see me. I find solace in this, there is something oddly comforting about being irrelevant. I go out and I spend time with the land and the sky, but I don’t make anything out of that unless someone else needs me to. I can see how a person dealing with more personified aspects of nature, or working with deity might find it meaningful to create for them and offer that creativity only to them. But honestly, I’ve never found a pond that cared whether or not I wrote a sonnet about it.

I can do the most good with my creativity if I can take it to people and change something for them. If I can help someone else experience the land as alive and precious, then that might do some small thing to help the land. The water does not need me to throw words at it, but it might benefit from me persuading people to treat it with more care and respect.

Other people may of course have totally different experiences. What I’m for, is talking to people about stuff. If your bard path means that you sing to foxes, or dance for the moon, or make art with the falling rain and that works for you – excellent. But it’s not me, and it isn’t what I do.

Of course it was tricky being young, and new to all this and being told by a Very Important Druid that everything I thought about how my inspiration worked was pretty much wrong. But here I am. I make Hopeless Maine stuff with and for Tom Brown. I write Wherefore with and for Bob Fry, and Robin Treefellow. There are a number of people I write poetry for and because of. I’m exploring collaborations with Dr Abbey again. I write for steampunks. I write for people who give me feedback to say that what I do is helpful. I write for Patreon supporters. I write this blog for you, dear readers. All of you. For you and because of you. Because enough of you are subscribed, and leave comments, and like and share what I put up that I know it has value.

And I do not write anything at all any more for the Very Important Druid.


Scarcity and problematic creators

I think there’s a scarcity narrative around creativity. The idea that genius is rare, and that as a consequence we must put up with the brilliant people who are also terrible people. We must separate the art from the artist’s shortcomings as a person.

Over the last twenty years or so I’ve spent a lot of time as a reader, reviewer, and editor of indie creations and have spent a lot of time working for small publishing houses. The scarcity story is a lie. We are not short of brilliance and originality. I feel confident in saying that for every problematic high profile creator, there are dozens, if not hundreds of equally or more talented people who haven’t done terrible things.

What would happen if we didn’t keep high profile, disreputable people in their jobs? Would creative industries suffer? Or would we open up space for nicer people? Might we even get an increase in talent and delight as a consequence? I think we would. I would like to see more people given a chance to break through, and I feel really comfortable about doing that at the expense of people who don’t play nicely.

It’s become popular to criticise ‘cancel culture’ on grounds of free speech. But, bear in mind, every time you ‘cancel’ some high profile individual who maybe doesn’t deserve the attention, you open up space for someone else.  It’s not cancelling culture, it’s changing culture. It’s also worth noting that industries are driven by the desire for profit and if they drop an individual it is primarily because they do not think this person is going to make them enough money. If we aren’t so interested in the art of bigots and abusers, there’s less market for it, so companies interested in profits won’t try to sell that to us.  Controversy can sell, but if it doesn’t sell as well as other things, it won’t be a driving force.

For every high profile creator whose attitude stinks, there are many less famous creators with wonderful work whose outlook might also suit you better. It only makes sense to have to forgive creators for crapiness if you think creativity is in short supply. It isn’t. Wealth and fame are in short supply, opportunities and privilege are in short supply, but step outside of the narrow mainstream and there is so much good stuff to be found.


Emotional processing in challenging times

I’ve spent chunks of this last year numb, and unable to engage. I’ve had weeks where crying has dominated everything. Alongside this, I’ve had more trouble sleeping than usual – and usually I have trouble sleeping. My suspicion at this point is that there’s more going on than I am able to process. It probably isn’t just me.

My personal life over the last year has been like some kind of fairground ride with the infrastructure falling apart. Emotional highs and lows that have been unusual even by my standards. That, on its own, would have taken a lot of getting to grips with. But there was also the politics, the pandemic, the isolation, the loss of key things that support my mental health, and more body pain than I am used to. Again, much of this will be true for many other people as well.

It has impacted on my concentration – everything takes longer. Ideas are harder to find, decisions are harder to make. Not being able to process what’s going on makes everything new that happens that bit harder to deal with. It is difficult to find respite through distractions because often I can’t concentrate, and I’ve spent a lot of time stuck in my own head, with my overwhelmed feelings, largely unable to do much with them.

Sleep can be a good way of processing difficult things. Insomnia doesn’t help with that. Physical movement can be a good processing tool, but pain, weariness and lack of suitable space have been issues there.  We’ve been encouraged to stay indoors, sports facilities are closed, dancing is something you can now only do privately if you have the space.

Without any tools to use, the processing takes time. Some days, all I can do is sit there, with my mind scattered and let the distress roll through me. Where I can, I try and turn it into energy for creativity, but that’s actually hard, and often beyond me, and not required. It’s ok to use art for processing if that helps. It can be good to turn distress into action – but it isn’t a requirement, and there’s no failure in being unable to do that.

The thing that has served me most in this last year, is doing nothing. Allowing myself the time to sit, to curl up with my eyes shut, to be under a kitten, under a blanket, unproductive and present. Sometimes all I can do is sit with what’s happening and acknowledge my complete inability to get to grips with it. I have no idea how long this will take, but I am determined not to rack up extra difficulties by being too stoical, pushing too hard or expecting too much.


Druidry and Crafting

I know many Druids are crafters, working with all kinds of materials. For me it’s mostly needles of one sort or another. I thought it might be helpful to write about why crafting can be a good way to manifest your Druidry as part of your regular life.

The most obvious aspect is creativity – crafting puts your inspiration to work, so brings you into contact with the awen. Crafting is as much a home for inspiration as any other creative activity you might undertake. It is a way of making beauty. You can of course add explicitly Pagan or Druidic aspects to a craft project, but even if you don’t, it still works.

Crafting puts your body in communion with raw materials and tools. It can be an animist conversation as you work collaboratively with other beings. It can be a way of being present in your body and present in the world.

Many crafting techniques are repetitive, and once you get the hang of them can have a meditative quality. If you struggle with conventional meditation approaches, you may find that repetitive creative action will open some of that headspace for you. Crafting creates really good thinking space, and can be an excellent way of also making time for reflection, contemplation, wool gathering, day dreaming and the like. This kind of brain time is great for letting inspiration in, for relaxation and being open to possibility.

When you work with materials and invest time, you have a different sort of relationship with the finished item to something you bought. Crafting is a good way to counter the way throwaway capitalism impacts on us. I only make for people I love, and it’s part of how I do gift economy. I also upcycle and re-use a lot, so crafting can be a way to keep serviceable things out of landfill.

Making things is a joyful process. Ending up with something unique is self expressive and again a good antidote to one-size-fits-no-one throwaway culture. It’s a great way to walk your talk, to put your philosophy where other people can see it.

Here’s a recent example from me – fabric salvaged mostly from shirts that were too tatty in places to continue as shirts. Resulting in a bonkers item of clothing that cheers me greatly.


Not doing Inktober

October is the month when Inktober happens, with prompts to do an ink drawing every day. I’ve tried it twice and never quite managed. There are of course many of these out there, for art, writing and probably other things too. The idea is to build skills. I find them to be a bit of a mixed bag.

There are obvious advantages to doing something every day – you build skills and discipline and you improve at doing the thing, whatever it is. Much of what we do is habit, and getting into the habit of doing something creative every day can be really helpful. Making time every day for creativity is a good thing, too. Sharing creativity with friends who are doing the same month long whatever it is can be fun and community building and mutually supportive.

But…

It can also be a distorting experience. I’ve seen how some people react to NaNoWriMo around expectations of published success, and I worry for them. I see what not completing the month can do in terms of feelings of failure and inadequacy. It can turn something that might have been a pleasure into a chore. For people working in creative industries, it can be one more burden, one more stress, feeling the pressure to get involved but not really getting much benefit from it.

I’m not doing Inktober this year. I don’t have the time or the energy and I don’t want to make my life any more challenging right now. However, I am trying to make time to draw more often as something I do for me. This has definitely improved my drawing skills, and I enjoy it more when I’m not trying to keep up with some arbitrary program.

The key thing, clearly, is to do what works for you. This means paying attention to whether something really works for you or not. If it makes you happy, do it! If devoting a month to something is useful, or productive for you, then go for it. If the tools, community and sharing aspect helps you get motivated, excellent! Do it your way. Do it on your terms. Ignore any aspect that doesn’t suit you. If it’s not giving you something, you don’t owe it your time and energy.

I firmly believe that everyone should have the time, energy and resources to be creative on a regular basis. I also know that many people do not have that. I would like it to be much more normal for people to do creative things for the sheer joy of it, without having to make it pay, but in reality many people cannot afford that time. We need better distributions of work, money and play, and then any month could be a month you devote to doing something special.

Here’s a recent ink piece of mine – Salamandra from Hopeless, Maine.


Making time for inspiration

I’m good at requests. I’m good at pulling a thousand words out of the air at no notice for people who need a thing. There’s nothing like someone else requiring something specific from me to get my brain moving. But, the rest of the time, the question of where and how to find inspiration can be a serious one.

Currently I’m trying to put blogs here every day, and other places a few times a week. I’ve got 5 Twitter feeds I look after that need content, several Facebook pages. I’m poised to get series 2 of Wherefore going. I’ve got other things I’m working on that require me to feel inspired in specific ways. At some point I need to write the next Quiet Revolution column for Pagan Dawn… some of these things are paying gigs, and some are not.

Sometimes when I sit down of a morning, I know what to write about. Sometimes I have to just hope it turns up, today I am cheating by writing about writing. Most days I start by asking what do I know that I did not know before? What have I learned that someone else might find useful?

Inspiration isn’t finite, it’s not something I am sure to run out of. But at the same time, it isn’t infinite either. It’s affected by my mental health, and my ability to concentrate. Whether I’ve had enough sleep and how much pain I am in impact on both of these things. There is only so long I can go without feeding my brain before that starts to take a toll. I need good food, exercise and fresh air, rest time and time to daydream. If I don’t nourish my creativity in these ways, there are days when I don’t come up with much. Today feels like one of those, but I am going to take some time off and try to re-boot.

I am not a machine. But, like many self employed and creative people, I have to crank the work out at a certain pace to have any hope of making things work. Most creative folk don’t earn a great deal, and the less you earn per hour of working the harder it gets to justify the time to feed the brain, chew over ideas and seek inspiration – yet these are essential to remaining creative and not just churning out pretty much the same thing over and over again. If you are working other jobs and being creative in your spare time, it can be really hard to find the energy.

If you like what I do, and would like to help me keep doing it, I have a patreon account. https://www.patreon.com/NimueB It’s rather wonderful in that the more people sign up to any given level, the better paid I am for putting content there. When you only earn a few pounds an hour, time off is difficult to manage. A well paid few hours in a month helps make room for all those other things that are essential to the process but do not lead directly to getting paid.