Tag Archives: inspiration

Inspiration and grind

Creativity depends more on effort than it does on inspiration. There’s the work you need to put in to develop your craft and study the forms you want to work in. There’s the effort it takes to go from original, brilliant idea to finished piece – planning, researching sketching, drafting, editing, revising, learning, practicing – depending on what you do. Without graft, that first spark of inspiration isn’t worth much at all.

But at the same time, without the spark of inspiration what does the grafting do? To my mind, when its just graft, what I’m doing is developing my skills, not creating something new. Sometimes that’s a very good thing – as with practicing a song, or looking at other people’s work in order to learn.

It is of course possible to set about something in a deliberate, workish way, and then have the inspiration turn up because you’ve made a space for it. Some people may find this an effective method, for others it won’t work as well. I find it works well for me to play with ideas in my head when the spark of inspiration turns up, and get it to the paper when I have time. I don’t have to be all fire in my head for the writing down part of the process, just for the ideas stage.

Some things don’t need full on fire in the head creativity. This blog doesn’t. Not every day. Today I’m working with what I have – habit and craft – rather than a flash of wild creative thinking to get things moving. There are quite a few things I can do from this sort of headspace. I can edit and work as a colourist, and I can write articles if someone chucks a topic at me.

I have in the past tried to write creatively when I’ve felt no real inspiration but just wanted to feel like I was still a writer, or had a deadline to meet. That approach doesn’t work for me. It leaves me feeling hollow and weary. The creative writing I produce when I’m just knocking it out is not work I tend to like at all. I do not get to access my best thinking, and there may be some very solid technical reasons for this.

If I use my conscious mind to knock out a piece – well, that’s fine for nonfiction, where putting together facts and ideas in an organised way is the main point. What I think inspiration means, when looked at mechanically, is that the less conscious bits of my brain have absorbed an array of things and put them together out of sight of my conscious, and it is now all ready to roll. If I’m working consciously, I will tend to do things that are obvious, less original, there won’t be that underlying flow of ideas moving me onwards. It all feels a bit constipated.

Very conscious, deliberate, planned writing allows a person to stick to traditional story shapes, and I assume traditional methods in any other art form. Creating unconsciously from inspiration rather than a plan can allow all kinds of previously unthought and unthinkable things into the mix. Often a balance of the two is called for, bringing skill, knowledge and discipline in to balance up the delirious outpourings.

Advertisements

Bard Magic

Normally we talk about magic in terms of acts of will crafting deliberate change. For me, bardic magic has always had a distinctive flavour of its own, a very different form and highly unpredictable consequences.

For a start, bardic magic is something that happens as a consequence of doing bard stuff. It doesn’t always happen, it can be elusive, and is certainly not obedient. You can set out to be creative, and it often helps to be clear about what you want to make – be that a song, a story, a pie, a garden… The magic is not something you direct, but something you make room for. That room is made by the creative act itself, and it means what comes out at the end might not be as you intended.

For example… imagine a group of people getting together to share music. Often if the people are good, what you get is good. Sometimes, if the people doing the music are not just good, but open to each other and to inspiration, magic, awen, in just the right way, something else gets in. Something happens that changes the music into an experience of soul and wonder. What consequences that may have for each player, who can say? The music that comes out of such moments is often far more powerful and affecting than anything you can do by skill alone.

In regular magic, we draw our circles, put up our protection and steer things in the direction of our choosing. Bard magic is something you let in. You go to it vulnerable and exposed, and you let it come through you and into the world. It can break your heart, unsettle your mind, rearrange your priorities.

Try to tame inspiration as a force, try to keep it tidy, controlled and in line with your will, and you may never even glimpse it. Awen does not manifest on those terms. It does not come to do your bidding, although it may rise up at your call to sear its way through your soul and transform the lead of your plan into the gold of the sublimely unexpected.


Bard Magic

We tend to talk about the modern bard path purely in the sense of creativity, inspiration and performance. If you start from the belief that magic means transformation, then bard craft has an enormous potential for magic.

In creating a piece, be that poem, song, sculpture or cake, a person is using their will to manifest something in the world. Something new. Like any manifestation of will, what you create as a bard has the power to change things.

Bards usually commit (if they undertake any of the Bardic initiations I’ve encountered) to working for the good of the land, their tribe, their gods or however else they may express their sense of sacredness. To be a bard is to set out to be inspired by the sacred and to share that inspiration. In essence, you offer to be a doorway through which things can enter the world.

When you put yourself forward as a bard, you can have an immediate impact on how other people feel – a bard can uplift, cheer and inspire, create empathy and understanding, foster a sense of the scared, of magic and possibility. A bard can change how people think about themselves, each other, the culture they live in…  In practice the lines between spells and songs, poems and prayers, is not a clear line. A story can be an invocation. Art can heal, it can make sayable what was unsaid.

Bards can challenge how we conventionally think about things, can satirise politics and mock the ethically bankrupt. It is a path that enables subversion, radical reimagining and changing the stories that shape how we think and act. We can give voices to the voiceless, we can empower, uplift and enable others.

You don’t have to think anything supernatural is going on for this to work, but if your world view includes that kind of magic, the bard path remains relevant. Bard craft can make a good focus for spell work. When we set out to enchant and inspire each other, the world is a much better sort of place.


Notes on creativity

Those of you who have followed this blog for a while will know I’ve had ongoing struggles with creative work. The creative industries are a mess, austerity means many people can’t afford books, art or music. It’s really hard making a living at the moment. There’s only so much time and energy available to me. However, over the last six months or so I’ve learned a lot of useful things about staying creative, so, here’s what’s been helping me get moving again.

  1. Not using writing to pay the bills. It’s incredibly stressful and requires a rapid output, which I have found depressing and exhausting every time I’ve tried it. I am more likely to make money from writing if I write the things I want to write and then try to find a home for it, and not have making it pay be my primary concern. If I’ve got my responsibilities to my family covered, I feel freer in my writing, and other forms of creativity too.
  2. Peer support. Knowing it’s not just me, it’s not my failing but an industry-wide issue. Feeling recognised and respected by creative people I admire and respect helps maintain morale.
  3. People to create for. For me an art is only complete when it encounters someone else. A book no one reads is unfinished. People to write for give me a sense of hope and purpose. This blog helps me keep going, I’ve also felt really inspired as a consequence of support for my Patreon. It’s more about people wanting my work than the money, but the money helps.
  4. Making headspace. I can do the disciplined churning out of words, but to really create I need time to daydream, wonder, question and whatnot. I need time when I’m not directly using my brain for other things. I need to be ok with apparently doing nothing in order to make a space for inspiration to come in.
  5. Time to study. I need raw material to use creatively. This means reading, experiencing, learning. I need time to take workshops or lessons, time to pick up courses – not all of it directly about writing, either!
  6. Opportunities to be inspired. Other people’s books, live music, theatre, film, walks, good food, nights spent dancing, conversations with friends, beautiful landscapes… If I don’t feed my soul, all the time, then I can’t create. Get this right and I’m much more likely to be inspired.

Put that together and what you get are creative friends I can spend time with, whose creativity I can be inspired by and who are up for reading my stuff as well. People to walk with, cook with, hang out with, go to gigs with… and as there’s been a lot of that in my life in recent months, it turned out all I had to do was start making better spaces for myself, and putting down things that don’t serve me, and creativity becomes a good deal more feasible.


Sharing your fire

  • In the current environment, being passionate feels risky. Many of us are keeping our heads down. It’s harder to be a passionate creative if you feel you’re surrounded by wary and measured people, or worse yet, cynical cold people.

When someone else shares their fire, the cold in my heart eases a bit. It doesn’t seem to matter what form it takes – overt creativity, the passion of activism, reading poetry, laughter that comes from the belly, affection that comes from the heart. I’ve never been the sort of person who could get by without other people. If I’m not in contact with other people’s inspiration, I wither away.

I can tackle this by picking good books to read, listening to great music, seeking out inspired films. I can book tickets for gigs and other live shows. I can actively seek other inspired people to help me keep my own small flame going. When I’m depressed, it’s harder to make the effort to do that, simply. I’m guessing it’s not just me, and that when we dare to share our passion, intensity and inspiration, we may all be able to lift each other a bit.

During the dark depths of last week, I had a flash of insight about how important it is to me to be in contact with other people’s inspiration, and the first small, creative piece of writing I’ve done in ages came into being as a consequence…

Show me your fire.

Show me the starstruck, moon crazed

Heart surging tsunami rush,

Deranged, intoxicated, transfixed.

Show me the wild honey

On your lips.

Show me the swan flight

In your dance, show me

Enchantments, woven with fingertips

And more than this,

Show me the consuming blaze of it

In your eyes, as though

A spark could leap the gap,

One igniting the other.

And awen bolt striking as lightning,

None to say which the source

And which the destination.


Naming the creative challenges

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

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

 

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


Where is my inspiration?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Bardic: Performance and the Awen

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

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

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

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


The unconscious plotter

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

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

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

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

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

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


Flows of inspiration

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

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

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

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

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

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