Tag Archives: inspiration

Inspiration for revolution

I’m always much more motivated to create when I can see what purpose that may serve. This is as true of my writing as it is of any action that depends on manifesting inspiration into the world. I won’t cook an elaborate meal for myself, but I will certainly do that for other people.

Like everyone else, I need to be able to afford to eat, so ‘will this sell?’ is a question I have to ask. However, along the way I’ve found that things written in the hopes that they will sell don’t do any better than things I wrote because I thought they were needed. If I’m passionate about something, the odds are at least some other people will be too, and that tends to work out ok.

I’ve run into the idea around ‘fine’ and ‘high’ arts that if something is Serious Art then it is art for art’s sake. I’m the sort of person who wants to make essential and useful things that are also cheering in some way. That’s why I craft. We ran into this last year when Tom and I put on a Hopeless, Maine show in the local gallery. A fair few people who came to look at the work commented that they don’t usually go into that space because they don’t feel that what’s in there is for them.

Things that are supposedly made for everyone tend to be box tickers designed by a committee, often targeting what they imagine to be the lowest common denominator. Creativity doesn’t have to be deliberately exclusive in order to oppose this and be clever and good. The sweet spot – to my thinking – is making things for people. 

One of the key stages when I’m creating is to establish who I am creating for. With a craft piece I usually have a specific person in mind. When I’m setting out to write something, I may have one or more people in mind – usually the longer the piece, the larger the imagined audience, but there’s always someone specific in there. I write for Pagans and Druids, for steampunks and for people who like speculative stuff. I write for my friends. I find it really helps to think about what would entertain, engage and delight a few specific people I know well and I know like the kinds of things I tend to do.

I also find there’s nothing like encountering need to focus my inspiration. If something needs doing, or fixing, or figuring out, my brain gets right in there.

Humans are intrinsically creative people. We’re problem solvers and innovators – not just a special few of us, but all of us. Being able to make answers to our problems isn’t just a useful skill, it’s empowering and uplifting. Having the inspiration to make change is one of the most powerful forms inspiration can take in our lives.

It’s good to delight in arty inspiration, but it’s important to remember that inspiration is not just here for making pretty things of no great consequence. Inspiration is how we get things done and fix what’s wrong, and that inspiration has never been more needed than it is now.


Making things for people

My inspiration has always been really people centred. I do my best work when I’m writing for specific people and when I’m interacting. I had a team for the Wherefore project who made suggestions and who were a keen audience and that me going through lockdown when isolation and anxiety might otherwise have made it hard for me to create. Usually when I’m working on a large project, I have some people in mind who I hope will like it.

Acknowledgements in books I’ve written tend to be all about the people I was writing for. There are some regulars. Some, like Lou and Merry are very visible in my online community. Some of them are secretive and like to stay in the background. I name no names. My immediate household are very supportive. It helps to have more input from more people – I can get through a lot of input, and I don’t want to burn anyone out. 

I’ve had a few more involved creative partners along the way. Varying degrees of intensity and commitment on that score. I had a fabulous time writing a novel with Professor Elemental. I have a longstanding creative relationship with Tom, and we’re looking at how that will change after the graphic novels. Keith Errington has become a serious Hopeless Maine collaborator, and we’re exploring more territory there. I’m really enjoying writing for The Ominous Folk, and seeing how the performance and scratch theatre side evolves and who I can include in that.

I’m high maintenance around inspiration and needing people to interact with. I need a lot of engagement – it’s why I do things like writing blog posts and putting out the Wherefore series. Going away for months to write a book and coming back with a finished thing no one will see for ages isn’t really sustainable for me. I need the feedback, but more importantly I need to maintain a strong sense of who I’m doing this for. Thank you for reading and being part of that process!

There’s nothing like someone wanting something from me to get my brain working. It takes me places I can’t go on my own. If you’re ever reading this blog and wish I’d dig in more with a subject, or there’s something you haven’t seen me write about and wish I would, please say. That kind of feedback is really good for me.


On the Bard path

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Trust and inspiration

This is a photo from one of my new ventures. I’ve wanted to do this for a long time, and at the recent Steampunk event in Gloucester I was able to pull a team together for some improvisation-heavy theatre. I’ve wanted to do scratch theatre in a steampunk context for ages. It has to be a bit cobbled together because we weren’t able to meet before the event for rehearsals and this would always be the way of it with steampunks travelling from all over the place to events.

I wrote an outline. Craig Hallam brought poems – the setup was a literary salon run by a psychopath (me, being Mrs Beaten) with Craig as Hopeless Maine poet Algernon Lear. Other cast members took on characters suitable to the setting, while John Bassett played Reverend Davies.

I’ve been dabbling with plays for years – mostly mumming plays, which are short, anarchic folk plays with a format around death and rebirth. Usually I write characters based either on traditional material, or for the person who will be playing the part. Getting to see someone bring to life a character I did not write for them has been an affecting sort of experience. 

For me, what’s most exciting in this kind of creative project is the mix of trust and uncertainty. I knew I had a great team, and they were willing to trust me that we could do this thing. We had a framework, but no one really knew how any of it would work or what would happen in the moment. And there were some wonderful moments with people interacting, sparring verbally, or at one point literally sparring with a cane and a massive spoon… When people collaborate amazing things can and do happen.

We made a space and a possibility. We held that space between us, and supported each other in being entertaining and funny and a bit weird, and I am really happy with how it all went. There will be more of this, and it means I can include more people.


Inspiration and Performance

Often, we talk about inspiration as being the act of creating a piece of work. That’s not quite what happens around performance. It is possible to be a really good performer – of music, poetry, theatre, dance… without creating original pieces of work. There are a number of ways in which inspiration can manifest.

Firstly there’s the choice of material. An inspired choice will be a powerful thing. This is about finding the perfect piece for the setting, the time of year, the audience, the mood on the day. When this works it can be truly magical. As you’re preparing material and won’t necessarily be able to fettle those choices in situ, how inspired you are in your choices can make a lot of odds.

There’s a lot of work involved in learning and arranging a performance. A lot of your own creative energy will go into this. What you do with your voice or body to bring a piece to life is very much yours. The preparation work you do will also inform how you are able to interpret and perform the piece in the moment and what you can do to tailor it to the space, audience etc. Whether you prepare with the intention of doing it in a way you’ve settled on, or whether you prepare to try and have many options on the day is also a factor.

Then there’s what happens in the moment. When you step into a space and decide how to perform what you’ve brought with you. The more confident you are, the better. The more sure of your material you are, the better. But there’s also always that scope for something magical to enter in and influence what you do. Performance itself can be inspired, and when it is, there is a considerable difference.

Creativity is a way of being in the world, a way of being open and interacting with the material, the spaces, the audience. Inspiration is a strange, glorious process that can strike at any time. Anything we do can be lit up with inspiration and can be made more wonderful by having that extra spark in it.


Sharing my inspiration

Regular readers will know that I’ve been sharing a lot of art by Dr Abbey in recent months and that most weeks I put up a piece we’ve collaborated on. There’s a lot more going on in the background as we’re working on several much larger projects that will also involve Tom in the future. (For those of you who don’t stalk me thoroughly enough to know the details, Tom is my husband and co-creator on the Hopeless Maine graphic novels).

In recent months, Abbey has quite simply been my muse. I’ve had a lot of years struggling creatively, being short of ideas and energy and not getting much written. Working with Abbey has changed that dramatically. He has more ideas than I know what to do with. Most days he sends me new art he’s working on, and ideas to explore. He’s opened doors inside my head and has helped me find my way back to wanting to create, and to feeling excited about what I do. I’d missed that, and I’ve been missing it for a long time.

I’m always happiest when I’m creating with people rather than on my own, and I’ve been blessed with some fabulous creative collaborators along the way. Abbey is more than that, and has taught me a great deal about how to be myself, a process that has changed me in the last few years. Thanks to him I have a much clearer sense of who I am and where I need to be going, and a better understanding of where my creativity fits in all of that. 

Up until now, Abbey has done most of his creative sharing on Facebook, aside from what shows up here and on the Hopeless Maine blog. He’s now striking out with a ko-fi page, which means it’s easier to make his work visible to people. One of the (many) nice things about ko-fi is that you can follow people to see what they do. If you’ve found the collaborative pieces here interesting then I heartily recommend following Dr Abbey on ko-fi so that you can see and engage with more of his work.

Wander this way… https://ko-fi.com/abbeymasahiro


Inspiration and time

While inspiration can strike as lightning, it also requires time. It doesn’t turn up in a mind that is overwhelmed. When you are relentlessly busy and have to pay attention to a lot of things, there’s often no space for inspiration to get in. If your world is too noisy, overstimulated, and relentless, there’s no time or space to notice the flashes of inspiration.

That in turn makes us vulnerable. Rather than having the chance to be excited about our own ideas, we’re sold other people’s ideas. Instead of having the opportunity to work out what we need and what would be good, we’re sold solutions. We’re told what to want.

Quietness, wool gathering and even boredom are necessary to make space for inspiration to get in. We need time to ourselves, and time to be with ourselves to have ideas. Without that space, our minds fill up with other people’s ideas instead, and those ideas are seldom kind, or neutral. What’s being fed to us is very much about making money for other people and keeping us in line as cogs in the capitalist machine.

Our daydreaming doesn’t make billionaires richer. 

Steal back whatever time you can. Make some quiet space. Look away from the screen and out of the window. Go on. I’ll stop writing now to make it easier for you.


What do we inspire?

This question has been on my mind a lot in recent weeks, and I’ve had some interesting social media conversations around it as well. I have issues around not inspiring in people the things that I need and want.

A fellow Pagan with ongoing health issues talked about how difficult it is if you don’t inspire care in others. It took me a long time, several tattoos and a birth to decide that I don’t have a low pain threshold – as I’d always been told – and that I may be experiencing a lot of pain. That I’m able to do a lot can make it hard for people to see what I can’t do, or how much it might cost me. When people are convinced that you are robust and healthybut you aren’t, they may also be convinced that you’re making a fuss or being lazy. That doesn’t inspire care or kindness.

I was asked why I felt the onus was on me to inspire in the first place. I recognise that this is all tied up with feeling that I need to earn a place – that warmth and care for example, are not things I should assume would come my way, but that they have to be earned. I’m better than I was at not assuming all of my relationships will be about utility, because a number of people have gone to some deliberate effort to demonstrate otherwise. But still, it casts a long shadow. I expect to have to earn things and the flip side of this is that if I don’t get what I need in a situation, I tend to assume it’s my fault for not having been good enough in the first place.

There are always interesting questions to ask about where we assume power to be centred. People who feel that they have earned and are responsible for every good thing that comes their way can miss the roles of luck and privilege. People who feel responsible for the things that go wrong can miss the influence of bad luck and other people being unkind or unhelpful. It’s not easy territory in which to strike a healthy balance. We can divide along lines of people who think they are responsible for everything, and people who feel responsible for nothing. Some of us only own our good fortune and feel anything that goes wrong is not of our making. Others of us do the reverse, feeling to blame for any problem and setback, but grateful or lucky in face of anything going well.

What do we inspire? What should we expect from others? How much is a response to me a measure of who I am as a person? When I’m trying to think about this dispassionately, ideas like ‘deserve’ seem largely absurd. Who gets what they truly deserve? Probably no one. Does everyone deserve kindness, respect and a chance to explain when things go wrong? I think so, except I’m not good at applying it to me.

For much of my life, I’ve had an array of issues around what my face and body do or do not inspire in other people. I’ve been bullied a lot over how I look. I’ve had how I look used as a justification for doing all kinds of horrible things to me. The accident of my face and bone structure, the accident of a stomach that just doesn’t develop decent muscles no matter how I try. The accident of a body that stores calories when stressed… things I have little control over that have dominated a number of important relationships.

Perhaps it’s not about what’s intrinsic to me. Perhaps the bigger issue is the way people read meanings into bodies and then refuse to consider anything else. I don’t have a delicate bone structure. That’s not a measure of my overall health and wellbeing. My body shape has a lot to do with how my body is, and is not a measure of a lack of virtue. Perhaps there are other stories to tell where I don’t have to feel entirely responsible for how people react to me.


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.