Tag Archives: inspiration

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.


Druidry without hierarchy

This week I read a really interesting post over on Tommy Elf’s blog about leadership. In it, he talks about being asked who he considers his mentors to be, and says that he doesn’t go in for that. He does however consider me to be one of his influences, along with Cat Treadwell. You can read the post here – https://tommyelf22.wordpress.com/2018/11/24/keeping-things-on-level-ground/

Aside from the delight of getting name-checked in a blog I am subscribed to, I was struck by this post. Cat Treadwell and Tommy Elf are very much influences on me – I follow both of their blogs. I follow a number of other Druid bloggers as well. I used to follow the other Druid he mentions but don’t any more for more reasons than I have space or inclination to share.

Druidry can of course be massively hierarchical, with grades to advance through and titles to aspire to. Not all of us want to be an Arch-Druid. As architecture goes, I see myself as more of a flying buttress… Arches are pretty and all that, but they aren’t the only thing you can be. I’ve dabbled in leadership, I’ve run groups and I’ve taught, more and less formally. I absolutely get where Tommy is coming from in his blog about not wanting to be put on a pedestal or treated as a source of authority. I’m seeing more of this in Druidry all the time.

Leading is mostly a practical job – someone has to figure out when and where to meet and what to bring and to hold the space. Someone has to teach people who show up wanting to learn. Someone has to do the rites of passage people want and need. These are jobs we can do for each other. I think it works better when there’s fluidity in it. Leading all the time is hard work, can be an obstacle to following your own path, and can be an epic ego trap. Leadership can be the enemy of spirituality. However, if you share it around and hold it lightly, this isn’t a problem.

If some days you are the teacher, and some days you are the student, you’ll never feel like you’re supposed to know it all. If you can lead ceremony, but there are also people you can go to if you need someone to hold the space for you, that’s much happier as a way of being. If you can run things, and go along to things other people are running, it’s much more relaxed. Plus you’ll never end up feeling like it’s the work you do that gives you a space, or that being accepted is conditional on your work.

A person can share their experience without having to assert that theirs is the one true way. We can offer our wisdom to others without demanding that they accept it. We can share what we do without someone having to be the authority. We can take responsibility for our own paths, looking to each other for inspiration rather than instruction.


Worklife Druid

I’ve never felt easy about having my Druidry be something I do in my spare time and my working life being separate from that. I’ve been fortunate in that there are things I can do that lend themselves to taking my Druidry to work. However, I’ve done all kinds of odd jobs along the way, and there are all kinds of things that mean I can take what I believe into employed spaces. This is not about evangelising, but about walking my talk. I appreciate not everyone will be able to do all of these, but I float them out in case anything inspires anyone.

I can walk to work, or work from home. I can make a point of turning things off to reduce energy use and looking out for other opportunities to make wherever I’m working a bit greener. I can quietly support and encourage those around me in making greener choices.

I can refuse to support unethical working arrangements. Now, this one is hard and costly, and on one occasion meant me quitting a job. Being able to take that risk is possible for me because I’ve always maintained a financial safety net – there’s all kinds of privilege underpinning that. If you do have the means to vote with your feet, it is important to do so. The people who are most exploited in their workplaces are the ones with the least power to resist it.

I can stand up to workplace bullying, and support anyone who is badly treated in their workplace. I can’t always fix things. I’ve seen horrendous workplace bullying in situations where it was pretty much impossible for the person on the receiving end to get it stopped without quitting their job, and they couldn’t afford to quit. Someone who is bullied at work may have to weigh fear of poverty against what they endure day to day. They may be responsible for other people and unable to take the risks of getting out. They may be trying to find something else and unable to jump until they have somewhere to jump to. If the bully gets to write your reference, that can be difficult, and fear of how they will punish you for leaving is a real thing.

I can bring my creativity and my inspiration into any work situation. I can bring my desire to uplift, inspire and encourage other people into any job. It doesn’t have to be overtly spiritual work for me to try and be a good thing for those around me. I can give the best of what I’ve got and find ways to apply that. Much of the paid work I do is not conventionally thought of as ‘creative’ in the same way that music, fiction and art are. However, I use my bardic skills all the time. I find them relevant. I also find that the more I do this, the better I feel about myself and the jobs I am doing.

The desire to be seen as a creative professional can have creative people sacrificing their autonomy for the sake of success. You write what the publisher’s accountant likes the look of. You draw what the person offering the money wanted. You sing what you think Simon Cowell wanted to hear. Sometimes the price of fame and success is creating on other people’s terms.

However, if your desire is to be creative, you can take that into any kind of work and find a way to apply it. I say this having worked on checkouts. I spent one summer washing and packing glassware. How we are in the world does not have to be defined by the role we are cast in, and anything can be made better if you can find even the smallest ways of bringing your inspiration to the job.


Nature pushes through

The natural world offers us many examples of incredible action against the odds. From the tiniest plants breaking their way through pavements, to the epic challenges of migration, to life clinging on at the edges in the least likely places. Nature pushes through. It is tenacious, it does not give up, it takes on the most outrageous challenges.

If we read the book of nature as our guiding text, there are lots of examples of how struggling to overcome is part of the natural order. We can also see lots of examples of effort; the busy bees, the diligent ants and so forth. None of these things are properly models for us.

When we turn to nature for guidance and inspiration, it is important to remember that everything we see has evolved to do what it does. It’s evolved over a very long time to have the kind of existence and form that allows it to do what it does. The trek of the penguins inland in the Antarctic is a peculiarly penguin activity. Mammals who migrate do so to survive. Most mammals have not evolved to live in a state of perpetual crisis where having to make colossal efforts to survive is an everyday thing.

We are not tiny seedlings pushing the tarmac open. We are not grazing herds obliged to cross crocodile infested rivers to find food. We are not salmon swimming upstream to find the place we were spawned. We might take ideas and inspiration from anything of this nature, but it is really important to remember that we are not part of these stories. We can do amazing things in the short term, we adapt and survive startlingly well with these soft bodies of ours. Even if you profoundly identify with another living being though, your body is still your body and has not evolved to do the things that creature does – or the semblance of it.

When we look to nature, it is vital to remember that nature also exists in us. We have evolved to be what we are and to deal with certain kinds of challenges. Most of those challenges are not the ones we meet in modern life. We’re supposed to be running away from predators, not stressing ourselves sick while sitting at desks. Looking to nature will not teach us how to deal with the unnatural environments we insist on creating for ourselves.


Keeping creative

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Making room for inspiration

I only write fiction and poetry when I feel inspired to do so. I’ve got a small trick for the blog which is to note down subjects when I’m inspired and then do the writing first thing of a morning. However, only writing when I’m inspired doesn’t mean sitting around waiting for inspiration to show up. I don’t have to be feeling like I’m on fire to redraft and edit, or to promote books so there are parts of the process I can do any time. I also do things to give inspiration the scope to happen.

A lot of our brain processes happen out of sight of the conscious bits of our minds. This is as well. I don’t want to have to micro-manage my internal organs in a conscious way. Aspects of how we absorb information are unconscious. Inspiration is often the putting together of bits and pieces from here and there and seeing how a new thing can be made. That little spark can then be fanned into flame by imaginative work – playing with the ideas, testing them, exploring, and then waiting again for more of the alluring pinging noises as new things come into being.

If I’m not feeling inspired, I need two things – input and space.

Input can be absolutely anything at all that nourishes me. It can be reading a novel, a non-fic book, a blog post. It can be music, film, or it can be live performance. It might be a conversation with an interesting person, a walk over the hills, an unexpected encounter with a fox. If I’m not feeling inspired, then I have to feed myself things that my brain can chew on and turn into something.

I may do some of that chewing in a conscious, deliberate way, but I won’t settle for what comes out of that process. Deliberately trying to come up with ideas results, for me, in ideas that are far less interesting than the ones I let come to me.

Waiting is an important part of the process for me, too. It’s the most unpredictable part. How much time I need varies a lot. I need time when my mind can wander a bit, when I’m not feeding it, and there is room for the magic thing to happen. I have found a number of activities really good for holding this stage. Walking, crafting and housework. Although not too much housework…

Inspiration is not just about making forms of art. It is an issue for all aspects of life, and anything you do can be enriched if you have the space to get inspiration and act on it. I think the absence of that space is a soul destroying thing and I’m conscious that many jobs leave very little room for personal innovation.

I took a week off between Christmas and New Year. I watched a lot of films, read books, pottered about and hung out with people. I did no deliberate planning, although I realised that I needed to do some deliberate planning. A few days after that patch of time off, I had a light bulb moment about where we are economically as a household, what options we have and what I need most. This is going to be a Hopeless Maine year in a serious and dedicated way.

How inspiration will work for anyone else, I can’t say. But, I think the principles of feeding it and giving it space to happen are likely key.