Tag Archives: inspiration

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.


Druidry and Inspiration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The importance of hope

When times are hard, hope can get us through. The simplest hope that things can be better, and that this is not going to be the way of it forever, can keep a person going. Often it doesn’t take much.

It is also true that the glimmers of hope can be what hurt you most. They keep you hanging on, striving, trying, and sometimes it would be better to give up and walk away.

When it comes to things like politics, climate crisis, and covid, there is no away. If we give up, there’s nowhere to retreat to where things will be better. It’s not like giving up on a career – where you might find a better one, or admitting a marriage isn’t working when you have the hopes of improving your life by getting out. There is no out. And around these huge issues, hope can be in short supply.

Without hope, it is difficult to see how to keep going, how to change things or what to do. That’s paralysing, and no one makes much good for themselves when they are frozen in this way. No one makes radical changes from a place of feeling like there’s no point even trying.

Hope has fellow travellers, it is nourished and enabled by experiences of warmth and joy, beauty  laughter, delight, and kindness. So if building hope seems too ambitious, look for the small wonders and beauties and try to focus on those. Share them. A picture of a pretty sunset can birth the hope of being able to see the person who took the photo. The promise of a good book to read can create some sense of there being a tomorrow.

Find what sweetness you can, share it where you can. It may not seem like much, but the tiniest threads of hope are enough to keep a person going in hard times. I know, because I’ve done it. The smallest things can make the difference between knowing how to keep going and being entirely defeated.


Druidry and Crafting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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