Tag Archives: inspiration

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.


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.


Naming the creative challenges

It’s not easy to be creative at the moment. I thought it was just me, but having put a hand up to admit this, I’ve found a lot of other creative people are struggling to be creative. Why is it hard now? Well, there are reasons that impact on many of us, and I think we need to talk about what’s going on because much of this has implications outside of the creative industries, too.

  • It’s harder to create if not creating feels like personal failure. If a sense of guilt, inadequacy, loss of inspiration is haunting you, and that feels like it is your fault, that can just add to the blockage.
  • The world is terrifying right now. There are so many big issues, so much that needs changing, that any small creative act seems too little in the face of it all. We may feel guilty about not undertaking other forms of activism, we may feel our art *should* be able to do more and be frustrated that it can’t. The climate is not a good one in which to be a sensitive and creative person.
  • Following on from that, 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. Many of us are not imagining too much, as a protective measure. You can’t spend most of your time not imagining and then expect the imagining to turn up for specific jobs.
  • Angry, hate-laden, nihilistic attitudes are everywhere. Put something good out there and the risk of being torn to shreds is higher than ever. Especially for those of us who aren’t creating material with that tone, graphically violent and violently sexualised material. It can feel there’s no point making anything kind, tender, beautiful, when the world seems to be craving the exact opposite of these things. Of course not everyone wants the ick, but the icky demographic shouts loudly and a lot and drowns out quieter voices sometimes.
  • 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.
  • The creative industries are a mess, and it is ever harder to make a decent living doing it. This is a real barrier for many. Some of us do okay being creative part time. The industry causes despair, disillusionment, financial misery, stress and challenge. Creative people have to be able to afford to eat, the majority of us are finding it hard to do what we love and pay bills.
  • Wider society offers massive instability – housing costs, health care, the price of food – it’s not like throwing it all in to get a ‘sensible’ job until things settle down is even an option. Are there any sensible jobs left that can genuinely be relied on? There are people who find instability and uncertainty are fuel for their fire, but you may not be one of those people and the massive scale of insecurity may be impacting on your concentration.

 

That’s probably not an exhaustive list, but it is a place to start. I’ll be following on from here in the coming days by talking about what we can do to change things – not as individuals but in small groups. Because if you’re feeling beaten, trying to pull yourself up is bloody difficult, and there are other ways.


Where is my inspiration?

To be creative, to be innovative, a person needs inspiration. We call it the fire in the head, with reference to Yeats. For much of my adult life, it’s been a given – a head full of ideas and a heart full of a passion for creating. What happens if it isn’t there, or if it goes away?

When finding the words for a blog post, or a simple email takes considerable effort.

Last summer, I decided to change tack and try to sort out more of my general body and mental health issues rather than worrying about where my inspiration had gone. My theory was that fixing those things might well solve the awen issue anyway. I can’t say it has. I take more time off, rest more, I’ve tried to increase the amount of stuff I’m exposed to that could inspire me, but the fire in my head is just old, cold ashes.

A few observations on life for this blog is the best, and often the only writing I do in a day. I’m not often motivated to get out an instrument, or to learn new music. I’ve written a couple of poems in the last six months. Nothing comes. Nothing sparks. Nothing flows.

I know if I was talking to anyone else about this, I would tell them that inspiration is something we’re all entitled to, and so is creativity. I’d tell them that their creativity mattered, and was wanted and needed.

Part of the trouble is that I know that fiction and poetry are the least helpful things I can do with my time. There are so many creative people struggling right now, because the creative industries are an exploitative mess. The world has more writers than it needs, by factors of a lot. It needs more reviewers and book bloggers and readers and people who support the idea of creative culture. Doing that has become my day job, and I do it well.

Being a creative person can make you the centre of attention, make you feel important, and valued. That’s attractive, and it’s part of why so many people want to write books and so forth. Giving up on the idea that my vision (now absent) my creativity (now lacking) is important is part of the process I’m in. I think what I can make as a creative person is less useful, less needed than what I can do by spending my time and energy on blogs and social media supporting other writers and creative people.

How do I justify giving time over to writing, when I could be helping other people? And that’s without opening the can of worms that is activism and the need to change and fix so many things in the world. Fiction is the least useful thing I can do right now. I think it’s this awareness, beyond all else, that has cost me my creative inspiration. Nothing has come into my head that seemed big enough, powerful enough, intense enough, passionate enough to be more important than any of the other things I could do with my time.

Maybe, if I push the other way, I can make it more feasible for other creative people to create. I do believe that has worth, and the more I can do there, the more worth it will have.

Last autumn I thought long and hard about rededicating to the bard path, but am increasingly thinking that what I need to do is dedicate myself to other people’s bardistry instead.


Bardic: Performance and the Awen

The awen (a Welsh word) is invoked by Druids in ritual, usually by chanting it. This is one of the traditions we owe to revivalists, not to ancient history. However, the experience of flowing inspiration is something that can and does happen – during periods of creativity, but also sometimes when performing.

For me, it’s a sensation of being completely taken over by what I’m doing and being able to do it in a totally different way – with more drama, intensity and depth than usual. On rare occasions, it’s had some very odd effects indeed. I recall a ritual when three of us spontaneously improvised music together, and another ritual where I re-wrote one of my own songs as I went to better fit the situation. I had no real memory afterwards of what I’d sung.

Awen is something that turns up when it does – it cannot be summoned by force or will. You have to be open to it, welcoming of it, ready for it, and also perfectly able to keep going if that other level of magic doesn’t happen. Sometimes it comes as a trickle, adding a sparkle to what you were doing. Sometimes it’s a tidal wave that will wash you away.

When it comes, it is best to let that flow direct things rather than trying to control it. If you want the kind of magic controlled by will and personal intent, this is not something to try and court. If you are willing to be a flute the awen can play its own tunes through, it may do just that.


The unconscious plotter

I’ve had a bit of a revelation this autumn in terms of how my creativity works. For the majority of my creative life, I’ve resisted doing much planning of stories, and avoided too much time pressure. I did once write a novel in 6 weeks (for money) but it took so long to recover afterwards, it wasn’t worth it. The whole ‘write a book in a month’ thing that is NaNoWriMo leaves me cold. This, I have realised, is because plotting is better for me when I do it less consciously.

If I sit down and lay out a plot, the odds are it will take a fairly obvious shape. I’ll think about beginning, middle, end, action, tension and resolution. I’ve tried doing it this way and there’s a very high risk I’ll get bored and never finish the first draft.

If I go the other way, the slow way, something else happens. I usually spend a lot of time before I start writing just thinking about the setting and the main characters. I get to know them. I explore their first person voices in my head until I know how those voices work and what sort of people I’m crafting/summoning/channelling. Then I let it go from there. It’s not a smooth process, it takes as long as it takes, and sometimes there are gaps. I don’t always know why I’ve written things. However, if I let go and trust the process, what invariably happens is that apparently random things will slowly weave into a coherent-ish sort of story, where the narrative emerges and has an odd shape of its own.

I wouldn’t get to that kind of story if I tried to plan it.

The human mind is a complicated thing, and much of our thinking isn’t done at a level where we can see it. Our ability to calculate, to find patterns, and to experience inspiration, all happens beneath our own radar. To do something in a fully conscious way is to only use a part of what we’ve got at our disposal.

I use the second draft as the time for conscious, deliberate crafting and the application of skills and knowledge. I find it works better that way, shaping the raw clay my unconscious mind generates. There’s no point, I have finally realised, trying to make my creativity flow at a predictable rate in tidy ways. If I want to be inspired, I have to go with what works, and my inspiration goes at its own pace, or not at all.


Flows of inspiration

That which flows can also ebb, and probably will. There’s a natural cycle in all things that means patterns of scarcity and abundance are to be expected. I think one of the problems with people is that we’re obsessed with avoiding the scarcity, and this causes us to put vast pressure on natural systems. We should not expect to have abundance of all things at all times. At the same time we have a cultural scarcity narrative, that resources generally are in short supply and we have to compete and acquire or we’ll really suffer the scarcity. If scarcity isn’t a disaster, or seen as one, life is gentler. So long as we don’t have scarcity around truly essential things for long stretches, all is well.

In June, you can have an abundance of strawberries, and in November you can have an abundance of sloes. It’s trying to have everything all the time that causes the trouble.

So, after that long pre-amble, how does this relate to inspiration? Why should inspiration be finite like a natural strawberry season? Why can’t I expect to be full on creative all day every day? There have been times in my life when I could turn out a vast amount of book in an ongoing way, but the days of writing a novel in 6 weeks are long gone, and I don’t really want them back.

Nature has cycles. Ebbs and flows. Times of flourishing and times of decay. Times of incubating and waiting, and sleeping. Times of doing. Push for nothing but growth all the time, and there will be a rebalancing backlash.

I think I hit one of those this summer, when my personal creativity hit an all time low and stayed at rock bottom for several months. It takes time to gestate ideas and to find things that inspire. Without the time to daydream and imagine, there is no soil for a story to take root in. I’m not a machine, it does not work for me to try and pop out a story at regular intervals. I need the room for a more organic process.

I have also identified the need to look at the wider cycles and tides in my creativity. There’s no point expecting to eat strawberries if you haven’t planted a strawberry bed. There is no blackberry jam without foraging. If the gestation time, the seed in the soil isn’t looked after, what can possibly grow? So I’m making more time for doing nothing, and for doing the things that inspire me. If you don’t tend to the whole cycle, it’s not realistic to expect one bit of it to work well. I am not a cog, the world is not a machine. And even if it was, it would need oiling.

 


Three Drops of Inspiration

This piece is somewhere between a chant, and a shanty. I wrote it with the intention of finding something it would be easy for people to pick up and join in with, and having tested it – this is so! It also tolerates harmonies, which is good for group singing.

My son James is singing the melody line, I’m singing harmony, as is my husband Tom. I don’t always look quite this tired!

Although there aren’t many words, those words are loaded with implications, so here’s a quick breakdown.

The drops of inspiration come from the cauldron of Cerridwen in Taliesin’s myth. The three drops confer knowledge, insight and magical gifts. In the Taliesin story, the young boy Gwion is set on a transformative journey to become a great poet, by the three drops, imbibing a magic that was not intended for him.

Into the forest… because Druidry is so much about trees, so you can think about ogham, Druid groves, and the such. Druidry is sometimes described as being like a vast forest through which we make our own journeys.

Fire in my head – a reference to Yeats going into the hazel wood with a fire in his head. This image has been absorbed into modern Druidry as a symbol of being inspired, having the poetical fire burning in your head (Taliesin has a shining brow). This is the Awen at work.

Drink from the cauldron – we’re back to Cerridwen again, brewing inspiration in a cauldron, although magical and transformative cauldrons and cups crop up in lots of stories.

Salmon in the well – another inspiration story in which nine hazels grow around a sacred well, dropping nuts which the salmon eat, and the salmon become super-wise, so eating a salmon from there will bring you great gifts. There’s a parallel story to Taliesin of a young man cooking a salmon for someone else and getting the hot fat on his hand, and all the wisdom of the salmon goes to him. I suspect this is why Yeats was going to the hazel wood.


Books for opening unexpected doors

Whispers from the Earth – Taz Thornton. It’s a small book, with a collection of really lovely teaching tales. The tales are warm, affirming, helpful. Like many good stories, the surface of the story is invariably simple and easy to get to grips with, but there’s a lot to think about if you choose to fully engage with it. What interested me most is what Taz has to say about channelled stories, and the way stories can teach and inspire. She’s offering this as a subset of writing, but I feel this is what we should be doing with all stories all the time – looking for the richness, the soulfulness, the scope for layers and depths. I enjoyed the book, I read it in a single evening. I particularly recommend it for people who have recently stepped onto the bardic path.

More about the book here –www.moon-books.net/books/whispers-from-earth

 

Places of Truth – Jay Ramsay. This is a really interesting collection of poetry. 7 different locations, each explored in a short time frame. There’s an intensity of presence and connection as the poet is affected by the landscape in each chapter. There are also photographs to help the reader connect with each place, which I found enriched the experience. Each chapter has its own tones and moods, different sections will no doubt resonate more than others. For anyone interested in land and poetry (so, Druids, definitely!) it’s a fascinating read. It opens doorways to making personal poetic journeys in the same way. Jay shows how, through close attention and contemplation anything might become meaningful to us. Any scene might take us into a mystery, any exchange might lead to something transcendent. It’s a very lovely collection to read and I certainly recommend it.

More about the book here – www.awenpublications.co.uk/places_of_truth.html

 

Dancing with Dark Goddesses – Irina Kuzminsky. Poetry, with very arty photographs – the juxtaposition of the two creates some interesting and engaging effects. There’s some incredible wordcraft in this volume. There’s a great deal of saying things that are generally considered unsayable, things about female experience that just don’t get aired much, if at all. Inevitably, some of this is angry, dark and challenging, some of it is painful and tough to read. It’s not, however, some kind of emotional pornography. The invitation is to look and learn, not to look and be titillated. I see increasingly this willingness to deliberately take dark journeys, to face the things we do not speak of and start naming them, and Irina is certainly part of this wider movement. If you are already dancing with dark goddesses on your own terms, you may be glad of her as a fellow traveller. If you’ve not considered such a journey, this isn’t an easy place to start – but then, there are no easy places to start.

More about the book here – www.awenpublications.co.uk/dancing_with_dark_goddesses.html


Mystic or Magician?

“The Mystic wants to be with God. The Magician wants to do with God.” This quote leapt out at me yesterday when I was listening to Penny Billington on The Druid Podcast.

Even though prayer, meditation, and contemplation are important to me and regular features of my life, I’ve never been attracted to the idea of mysticism. Until yesterday I could not have put the reason into words, but it has everything to do with doing.

I reflect and ponder, retreat and wonder with the intention of coming back, at some point, and doing something with that. I pause to make periods of action more feasible. I’ve never done the contemplative things purely for their own sake.

My life revolves around doing – plenty of people have suggested to me along the way that I probably need to spend more time being.  I like doing, and the more I explore this, the more I find for me, it’s about how I’m doing, and any pressures I’m under. I write and practice various handicrafts, I make music, and food, I walk, and work and colour for Camelot… but I don’t really do spells, and this has generally inclined me to feel that I’m not a magician either.

What is magic? Change. Transformation. Making something where before there was nothing. Changing hearts and minds. Healing. In Druidry, inspiration is called Awen, and understood to be a sacred force, so it would seem reasonable to think that the Druid Magician who wants to Do with God is working with divine inspiration to get stuff done. I found myself wondering, if the inspiration is divine, does the action have to be esoteric for the person to be a magician?

I’m not sure about God – there might well be gods, but I have never had any sense of them speaking to me. I have however often experienced the power of inspiration as a blessing, a lightning bolt of magic hitting the brain at just the right moment. I feel inspiration as a magical process, and I am certainly interested in aligning what I do with what is spiritual, soulful, in tune with the flows of the universe.

I also know what it feels like to ride, for a while, on one of the universe’s waves. To be so in tune with what else is moving that everything comes easily. Everything that’s needed falls into my path, as though other forces were cheerfully helping me on my way. It doesn’t happen all the time, but I’ve experienced it too often to doubt it. When you’re in tune with other things, magic happens.

How we frame our thoughts affects what we do and the outcomes we get. That’s an established tenet of magical thinking. What happens if I re-frame myself as a Druid Magician seeking to Do with God? (Whatever we suppose god to mean). I’ll wrap that unexpected gift of a conceptual cloak around my shoulders, and see what happens.