Tag Archives: inspiration

Fire in my head

The lack of fire in my head has been a problem for many years. I used to dream, plan and create from places of intense inspiration. I used to go there a lot. What happened to me is no great mystery – economic pressures, exhaustion, not being able to get anywhere much with my creative work, becoming demoralised and all that sort of thing. What I have kept going with to this point is largely discipline – that’s how I get this blog written. This is how I tackle Wherefore twice a week, how I’m writing Druidry and the Darkness.

I’ve spent most of my life writing. I have skills and experience and I know enough about putting words together that I can do a decent job without being on fire. A few weeks ago I was, for example, asked to write a poem about a gatehouse, for an event. It’s not a location I’ve ever visited, but, I know how to work, and it’s a decent piece.

I’ve missed the fire. I’ve missed writing from a state of passion and putting words down because I have to – for me, not for some economic goal or to do someone else a favour. I’ve missed being on fire. I’d got used to at best having the occasional tiny bursts that might make for a better than average poem. I’d got used to feeling like I am mostly ash and embers in the place where the energy of my inspiration used to burn brightly.

This year has been all about re-enchantment for me. I’ve been able to reclaim, and have been given back a great many lost parts of myself. It’s been intense and surprising, and there has been a single catalyst for all of this. None of it has taken the kind of shape I might have expected. It has been a strange, challenging time, and I’m certainly not through it yet. I’m in a process with massive implications for my sense of self, and that will, one way or another, very likely define much of my future.

This week, the overwhelming emotions of the last month or so coalesced into the need to write. It doesn’t matter if I write a whole book, or whether I fail. It doesn’t matter if anyone else much reads it (almost unheard of for me). It doesn’t matter if it’s any good (again, not a normal way to be feeling). It certainly doesn’t matter if it’s publishable (more usual). I have to write. I have to write this story. I have to sit down with it every day and put pen to paper. I haven’t written like this since I was a teenager.


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.

 


Love and inspiration

I’ve always been quietly out as a polyamorous person. What this has mostly meant in practice is that I occasionally become smitten with people. There’s often a creative aspect to it – love and inspiration are words I could use interchangeably. But, my best outcome around this is usually a slightly awkward conversation about inspiration and muses.  There have also been some deeply distressing  reactions from people who were horrified by me.  The exceptions are rare and are my most important relationships.

However, when it’s allowed to flow freely, when there is connection and love between people, things work very differently.  I know Tom’s story around this runs parallel to mine with similar issues of inspiration and transformation. I think Dr Abbey’s story has a different shape, but creative relationship, love and respect run through everything that’s been happening for the three of us.

 

Re-enchanted

 

I fell in love first

With your captivating use

Of language.

I do not start these things

In any kind of conventional way.

I fell in love with

Snow on your skin

And cherry blossom

Found you unexpectedly

In my dreams, kissed you

Confessed all on waking.

I fell in love with your willingness

To love me in return

Fell for your clowning playfulness

And only then did I

Become besotted with your face.

You showed me other faces

Other selves. Complicated

Hard to keep up with

But my heart found the way

At every turn.

Falling in love with your tears

Your courage, your fragility

Your wild imagination,

Your ability to show me things

About myself I had lost

Or not known

Or not dared.

Loving your enchanted knack

For opening hearts

Watching people I love

Learn to love you in turn.

Watching the impossible

Become possible

As your magic seeps gently

And washes dramatically

Through my life.

Until falling in love becomes

Who I am and what I do

A day by day process

Re-opening to the world

To hope and soulfulness

Learning to love

Who I might be

As I grow into this

Strange new charmed relationship

With life.

I fall in love with you.

 


Being a Muse

Much of my creative energy comes from interacting with other people. I do my best work collaboratively – at the moment that’s Hopeless Maine with Tom and the wider team, and Wherefore with Bob Fry and various others chipping in. My poetry, my blogging and other fiction work tends to happen because of specific people. I’m usually writing for someone or because of them and I like to flag that up to the people in question.

This leads to occasional conversations about whether a person might be ok with being my muse. This is often an awkward conversation. Where I’m dealing with another creative person it tends to be fine – as with Lou Pulford, Merry Debonnaire and Robin Treefellow where inspiration is passed back and forth and reacting to each other’s ideas is an ongoing process. But with other people, it can be a bit weird and I tend to end up reassuring them that they don’t have to do anything specific, I just need them to be ok with it.

I’ve not previously dealt with anyone suggesting I might be their muse. It’s been surprising, and has brought up a number of things for me. My immediate reaction being not to want that as a passive role. The idea of the muse who stands round at a distance providing inspiration by just carrying on being themselves, is not one that appeals to me even though it’s often what I ask of other people. I want to be active about bringing inspiration, I want to engage with what’s happening. My guess is that what I’m moving towards here is a collaborative creative relationship, because this is someone who inspires me in turn.

I find it interesting that I don’t want the role I’ve offered other people. But then, given the choice, I don’t want other people in passive muse roles either. I ask for that because it’s low maintenance, easier to say yes to, and for a little while at least it will help sustain me creatively. The passive muses at a distance get me through creative slumps, sometimes. But the people who really nourish and inspire me as a creator are the ones who make the deeper connections with me, who share in the process, exchange ideas and are willing to get their hands dirty. So I don’t want to be the distant, unobtainable muse. I want to be a co-conspirator. I want to offer as much as I can.

Thinking about it has made me appreciate how much I need my co-conspirators. Distant muses tend to leave me feeling a bit sad.

So no, I don’t really want to be Beatrice to your Dante – I looked that one up and they only ever met twice! I want a different story. A happier story. A story about mutual inspiration and co-creativity. And the only story I can see of that shape is the one in which I play no role, am only myself but am entirely myself and present and involved.  That way I might also provide signposts for other people who do not want distant and unobtainable muses.

I would rather be Nimue to your being Dr Abbey.

 


Bardic Magic

In my current re-exploration of magic I’ve also been thinking about what the bard path means to me, and how I relate to it. Bardic work is a big part of what I do – more and less subtly. I use creativity to achieve transformation and I depend on the flow of inspiration, but I’ve not let myself think of this as a magical practice.

Sometimes I write in order to know. With a pen in my hand, I can open doors to insight, intuition and become aware of things that I didn’t previous see or understand. This is something to do quietly, curled up on the sofa. There’s no ritual, no drama, and so I tend to persuade myself there’s also no magic. Those insights come most readily when I’m writing silly things, and the mirth means I have been in the habit of not taking myself seriously. I have no intention of taking myself seriously, but I need to stop seeing mirth as at odds with reverence.

Sometimes I write in order to change things, for myself and other people. Most of my poems are arguably also spells. I write them to explore the changes I want to make, to re-imagine, to commit to things. I write this blog to help other people change as well. I’ve started doing this a bit more deliberately of late.

I also sing as a way of getting things done – to change the atmosphere in places, to comfort and to uplift.

I’m writing this blog post partly to figure out what I do.

One of the things I’m very good at doing is finding reasons why what I do isn’t as valid, shiny, important as what anyone else does. I don’t have visions, I have ideas while writing stuff. The Gods do not talk to me, unless I am making up a story that pertains to them, but that’s me making up a story. I don’t do magic, except with a pen, which I have decided doesn’t count. But if I don’t claim too much for what I do, there’s nothing to take from me.  There’s no inherent invitation to knock me down.

I can’t imagine claiming any great spiritual significance for my own creative work. I’ve seen other people do it and marvelled at their confidence, and at a relationship with the world that is so very different from my own. Obviously what I do isn’t sacredly inspired, isn’t held by a relationship with a divinity… and it comes down to a sense that what I do isn’t good enough. Of course this is just the story I choose to tell. People who choose to tell stories in which they are magical and doing important work get to put that into the world. But, I have no idea what it would take to feel entitled to tell a story in which my work has weight and significance.

This all raises more questions than it answers. I suspect I’m waiting for permission, but I have no idea whose. I guess whatever the answers are, I will discover them by writing about them.


Magic in the creative process

As a Druid, I hold inspiration sacred and I see creativity as an inherently magical process. However, there’s one aspect of this that is stand-out magical for me, and it has to do with how I work with other people.

Without a doubt, I do my best work either when I’m collaborating with others, or writing for someone very specifically. It gives me focus. Ideas are easy to find, for me the key moment of inspiration is when I see how to pull a selection of ideas together to make it into something for someone.

What I write depends a lot on who I’m writing for. When I’m writing for someone specific, my relationship with them colours what I create. There will be a moment, or moments when I’m thinking about them and drawing on all the emotions that go with that. What happens next is like opening a door. Until I open that door, I don’t know where it goes. I don’t know what will happen to me or what I’ll be able to do.

I feel this in a tangible way. I feel it in my body, in my thoughts. The door has a reality. Opening it changes things. Stepping through is a shift. I have no idea what I’m stepping into, what this space is or how it works, but it changes things for me. It lifts my creativity out of the stuff I can do from practice and experience, and elevates it into something with more inherent enchantment in it.

The door opens, and I pass through it. I write whatever it is that I could only have written by taking that step. Some people I will only ever write one or two things for because there turns out not to be much magic on the other side of the door. Some people I will keep coming back to because writing for them brings out the best in me. I’ve been writing for Tom for more than a decade now, and that door always leads me to good places.

Inevitably, this process impacts on my relationships with people. I’m drawn to the people I can create for in this way. I’m even more excited about people who are prepared to be a bit more active, engaging with me around whatever I’ve written for them, and deliberately opening doors for me by asking me to write specific things.

It’s a giddy feeling, when it works. Wild and wonderful, unpredictable. When I open those doors to write for someone else, I go places I would never have gone on my own. I’m able to think differently. Possibilities open up before me. I am at my happiest and my best when I can do that.


Remedies for Creative Block

You’re most likely to hear of writer’s block, but in practice, any creative person can get stuck and experience frustrating, arid patches. This isn’t just about high art, either. Creative block can strike around cooking, in your love life, in your Druidry and all kinds of other places as well. The loss of energy and inspiration can itself be distressing. So, what to do?

Make some time to look at your life as a whole and make sure all the basic things are in place. If you aren’t getting good rest and sleep, if your diet is poor, if you aren’t physically active enough or getting outside enough, start by fixing these things. If you have to do your creative stuff at the expense of your health, eventually what you do to your health will undermine your creativity. At the very least you have to stop and re-balance sometimes.

Where is your magic coming from? What inspires you? What feeds your mind? Because if all you do is create, without nourishing that creativity you might find you run out of inspiration. Early on we may have a lot of energy to bring to our creative stuff but find we can’t sustain it for the long haul. You might draw on years of life experience for one piece of work. But then what? Learning to be more interested in what’s outside of you gives you far greater resources to draw on for creating. It would seem daft to take up cooking in earnest and never open a recipe book! Experiencing the form you’re working in will teach you a lot and give you ideas. Anything else in any aspect of your life that you find interesting will help feed your inspiration.

Look hard at the economic aspect of your work. This can be uncomfortable. If you are selling your creativity to pay the bills, this added pressure can undermine you. If you have to work a full time job and do the creativity in your spare time, this will exhaust you. If you don’t have the financial security to give you relaxed working space, there aren’t any easy answers. It does help though to be honest about it, and to treat yourself kindly. Most of us can’t make the creativity pay enough to live on – that’s the state of the world, not a personal failing.

So long as you aren’t dependent on making things to pay the bills, fallow periods are ok. They are often necessary to allow growth and development. Being flat out all the time is not a good thing. If you have to work like a machine, it will compromise you. Again, that having to work flat out is a thing has a lot to do with the wider political and economic climate. If you need some down time, no amount of pushing is going to keep you churning out content forever. You will burn out if you do this, and burning out is not efficient. If you find any way of taking the pressure off, do it.

You are not a machine. While inspiration can be constant, it’s better if you don’t need it to be. You’re less likely to get seriously blocked if you can afford to have off days, and days off.


What makes some art sacred?

Fellow Moon Books author Imelda Almqvist has suggested using #SacredArt over on Twitter to talk about just that thing. So, what makes art sacred? In the bard tradition, it’s not just visual art that has spiritual significance. For bards the word, spoken or sung is primarily where its at. Modern bards tend to embrace all forms of creativity as potential bardic expressions, but that doesn’t mean all creativity is necessarily bardic.

Here are some thoughts about what separates sacred bardic creativity from regular creativity.

  • Where you get your inspiration from. If the work is inspired by spiritual experience then it’s fair to think of it as a spiritual activity.
  • If you are doing the work as an invitation for something to work through you, to receive messages and insights or otherwise open yourself to magic and inspiration, then there is a sacredness to it.
  • Who you create for – now, there may have to be a commercial aspect to this because everyone has to eat, but if your primary concern is with offering your creativity back to whatever you hold sacred, then there’s clearly a sacred art aspect to your work too. On the bard path, we also identify a spiritual aspect in using your creativity for the good of your land and tribe, so art for activism, inclusion and culture shift can also be seen as having a spiritual dimension.
  • If you create to bring spiritual ideas and feelings to people regardless of how spiritually inclined they are – there’s a sacred art aspect to your work.

Any piece of work could be driven by one of these factors, or combinations of factors. It may be the essence of the whole piece or project, or just a part of it.

In terms of that fourth point, it’s often work that isn’t overtly spiritual that has the most chance of connecting with people who are not currently feeling inspired or magical. Work that gets in under the radar can have powerful, transformative effects. It can impact on people who would actively turn away if they thought you were going to offer them something with a religious aspect. Sometimes, it’s by having that sacred aspect be one thread amongst many that you have the best chance of engaging people whose hearts might otherwise be closed to you.

To be recognised as a bard means persuading other humans that what you do is bardic. However, when it comes to the question of whether your art is sacred or not, no one else has any right to try and define that for you. If it feels sacred to you, then it is sacred.


Seeking the handcrafted life

Creativity should be an option for everyone. Making and re-making, repurposing, and upcycing are skills we all need to reduce what we throw away. The pleasure of creating from scratch should be everyone’s right, not seen as the domain of the talented few. Whether that’s cooking or gardening, rag rugging, painting, dancing or singing or anything else you can think of, we should all have the time and resources to follow our creative interest. Not as a way of making a living, necessarily, but for the sheer joy of it.

As an aside, I think there would be much greater appreciation of professional creativity if everyone was engaged with it for fun as well. A culture of creativity would increase the value of original work.

Creativity is not just about obvious arts and crafts activities. It’s also about how much innovation we have in our lives. Do we just run through the same routines day to day? Do we do what we’ve always done, powered largely by habit and clinging to what’s familiar? Does life have scope for adventure in it? Is there room for surprise, for joy, excitement, novelty and pleasure? Can we make these things for ourselves or are we only looking to buy answers to those human needs for interest?

One of the things I’ve learned working creatively, is that inspiration requires space. You can’t be busy all the time and expect to keep coming up with great ideas as well. It’s the quite down time that hatches plots and plans. It’s the unstructured spaces where I can daydream, chew over things I’ve learned and wool gather that makes room for a lightning strike of inspiration. If I’m nothing but busy, I don’t have anything like as many good ideas – about anything.

The busyness of conventional western life doesn’t leave us much room to think. Most of us are sleep deprived as well. We rush from one thing to another, time pressured, money pressured, constantly getting messages about why we aren’t good enough. These forces can leave you living a life that is not of your designing. You can so easily end up running after money and then needing that money to console yourself for everything that’s missing. A slower, less economically active life can be both less expensive and more rewarding. Without the space to think creatively about how you live, this is hard to achieve.

Most of us have more time available than we think we do. The trick is to turn off the screens for a bit. Screens are addictive, and feed the fear of not keeping up, the pressure to be available, the sense of panic if we don’t know what’s going on and aren’t busy all the time. Turn the screens off. Remove small screens from about your person. Turn them off and leave them behind and go to a quiet place, and just breathe for a while. Look at the sky, or a tree, or the life in the grass. Sometimes it takes a while for all the chaotic, stampeding things in your head to calm down, but eventually they will, and once there is calm, there is space to ask questions about what you want, and what you need, and what just has you chasing your tail to no real purpose.

When you have time to think, you have the scope to think creatively. When you can think creatively, you can take much more control of your life and live on your own terms. A handmade life, imagined and crafted by you and for you. It’s well worth making the effort for.


Daily Creativity

This blog was prompted by reading a recent post from Cat Treadwell about daily creativity, and how that might work. What roles does creativity play in our lives? What happens if we are creative every day, or more days than not?

Writers are often encouraged to write every day – and there are reasons for considering this, and also reasons for rejecting it. Writing every day will help you build a skills set if you are fairly new to the craft and need to develop. There are things you can only learn by doing them. You won’t know how to write a book length piece until you’ve done it a few times, for example. Most writers learn so much writing the first few books that they don’t want to share them with anyone else. Later in the process, turning up every day can be about refining and revising your work towards a suitable standard as well as putting down words in the first place.

As an occasional musician, someone who dances for fun, colours professionally, writes books, crafts and has even acted on occasion, I’m pretty alert to the mechanics of creativity. You have to practice to develop skills, and regular or at least reasonably frequent practice is best. Even if you’re looking at being creative just for personal pleasure and relaxation, it works better if you have skills to deploy and can feel rewarded by what you achieve. Invest ten thousand hours in anything and you’ll be something of an expert at it. All of this makes clear why daily creative work is a good idea.

However, practicing skills isn’t necessarily a creative-feeling process. Scales on a musical instrument, repetition of dance moves to get them right. Learning a craft technique, or a poetic form, or committing something to memory. These are not things where the fire of inspiration will burn brightly in your head. These are workish things that take you forward.

Often what’s attractive about creativity (especially to would-be bards) is that fire in the head experience. The rush of inspiration, the energy and drive of it, is exciting and powerful. Unhelpfully, when we’re shown creative people in films and media, we’re usually shown them working from that state, going from blank canvas to finished work of genius in the heat of creative passion. No study drawings, no sketching, no planning. This is not how real creativity normally happens. In a real process, there are moves back and forward between flashes of inspiration and working out how to deliver it.

Whether you need to show up every day and do something creative depends a lot on your inspiration rhythms and where you are in your process. If you are learning or refining, then turning up as often as you can is the best idea. If you are waiting for inspiration to strike, turning up can be counter-productive. Some people find it works to make the space for inspiration by sitting down to write something. I don’t find that works for me, and the work I force out when I don’t feel ready is never work I like. It is better for me to ferment ideas, and run with them when I feel ready. I also find it helps to take time off and give my brain space to come up with ideas.

Much of what I do isn’t heat-of-inspiration work. I don’t need to feel inspired to do comics colouring, it’s a process of applying what skills I have. Ideas may occur to me as I colour, but they aren’t big or dramatic ideas, just ways of delivering on the work I am doing. Crafting is similar – I need inspiration to start a project, but once I have that, the rest is just mostly about getting it done.

There’s no one right answer here that guarantees success and good quality creative output. You have to know where you are with your skills set – if you are learning and if practice is the most important thing. You need to know what the form you’re working in really requires. You have to know where inspiration fits in your process, and you need to know what you need to do to find the inspiration you need.