Category Archives: Nigel

Inspiration Monday: Whats Inspiring Me Right Now

VW desktopFor today’s post, I thought I would bring you a little window into my creative mind.  Here are some of the things that are really getting my brain going at the moment.

This post from Kate Courageous really is causing a revolution inside my skull.  Imagine – learning to accept Nigel instead of kicking him?

Not practising enough?  Susan Piver has some interesting things to say about beating yourself up that are relevant whether you are talking about your meditation or your creative practise.

Found this lovely old post by Holly Becker on Decor8 about visual journals.  I really like this one about creating a lookbook too.

The New York Times on why handwriting matters.  Don’t say I didn’t tell you so.

The Handmade Home geniuses have their new 2015 planner out!  And yes, I am a total planner geek.  See also the fact that I have just discovered how Pinterest can feed my addiction!

I love Brainpickings.

I love iHanna’s blog, but I especially like this post – ‘Glue book where I collect happiness.’  Isn’t that a brilliant idea?  Collecting happiness between the pages of a journal.  Count me in.

This book.  I’ve lost count of how many times I have read this biography of Virginia Woolf, but right now, every time I pick it up, I am filled with a new rush of ideas, inspiration, and fixes for my novel.

I’m loving this book as well.

Well, that should keep us all going for a while.  Hope you have an inspired and creative week,

EF

 

 

 

 

 

Inspiration Monday: Creativity is Catching

Top.BMPToday we had the pleasure of attending the opening of an art exhibition by a friend, Martin Battye FRSA.

Martin is a pal of my husband’s from the cricket club, but he is also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Art, and his paintings are vibrant, vigorous and exciting.  It is always a delight to get to see his work, and today’s opening was no exception.  Martin is using oil colours on paper at the moment, and his pure pigments, textures and abstract designs are fascinating.  Scattered around the gallery were also a selection of his recent sketchbooks, and for all the wonder of the major pieces, I found these the most inspiring.  They show an artist’s process, the act of creativity itself, caught as if in aspic.  They contain the genus of the bigger paintings, as well as scribbled thoughts, poignant quotes and articles cut from newspapers and magazines.

I came away aching.

I want to do that, my heart said.

It’s been so long since I used my paints, since I dared to draw.

Lately, I have been remembering the two years of my art ‘A’ level course, when I started discovering other artists, the revelation of abstract art, the earthquake of Modernist artists, architects and designers like Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier, Matisse and Rothko.  I felt so excited, so fascinated by their ideas and the pared-down beauty they created.  I was never able to liberate myself from the tyranny of the figurative, though, as they had, nor from my own self-abusive perfectionism.  I couldn’t, and still can’t, make a mess, try things out, paint outside the lines.

But what would happen if I DARED?

What would happen if I could BE MY OWN HERO?

The truth is that I want to create abstract art.  I want to make paintings that please me as much as Martin’s do.  I want to have his exuberance, his extravagant variety and colour, his sense of fun.

I keep thinking of Jamie Ridler’s exhortation to not judge the art you are called upon to make.  To just do it.

So I have decided to try and find out if I can recover that sense of adventure I had went I was 18 and reading about Modern Art for the first time.  I want to know if I can finally overcome the Nigel voice in my head that says I can’t get messy or paint outside the lines.  I want to find out, one tiny baby step at a time, if I can be the artist who lives inside me, safe in the knowledge that that artist will feed the writer, and vice versa.

Inspired by Martin’s creative process, EXPLORATION is my word for March.  I’m going to explore my creativity and have some fun.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

(If you are in Norwich, do visit Mandell’s Gallery in Elm Hill to enjoy Martin Battye’s wonderful work, open Mon – Sat, 10am to 5pm.)

Happy Creating,

EF

The Frustration Monster

Rose Quartz for healing and a bear for intuition.  I keep this stone by my bed to remind me what energy I need in my life rigth now.

Rose Quartz for healing and a bear for intuition. I keep this stone by my bed to remind me what energy I need in my life right now.

Aaaaaaaargh!

Do you ever feel like that?

I’ve got a whole belly-full of OUGHTS right now, and the Frustration Monster is biting at my tail, dammit!

I’m still in the midst of bear energy, but I don’t feel calm at all.  I’ve been trying to think of a sensible post to write, but my brain is like porridge and I am not feeling very at peace with all this hibernation/intuition stuff now that its finally getting sunny and mild outside.

Yes, I’ve got a bad case of the OUGHTS.

I OUGHT to be writing something.

I OUGHT to be writing something serious.

I OUGHT to be keeping a writing notebook.

I OUGHT to be keeping a better, serious, consistent writing notebook.

I OUGHT to be making more of this website.

I OUGHT to be writing my journalling ebook.

I OUGHT to be earning money.

I OUGHT to be doing the garden/cleaning the house/washing up/ making new curtains/planting bulbs/scrubbing the bath/calling that friend I haven’t seen for ages/ doing yoga/ meditating/ making green smoothies/ feeling better by now etc. etc. etc.

Instead, I can just about manage writing in my diary some days.  I can make the supper.  I can stuff laundry in the machine and press the button.  I can do what is absolutely necessary, but not much more.

I have written this week, despite this.  I have had two days of absolute brain dump.  Verbal runs.  On Monday I wrote so hard, so fast, I actually ended up dizzy (NOTE TO SELF: remember to breath whilst typing).

Yes, I made a story of 2195 words in two hours, but I didn’t feel good about it, and not just because of the whole ‘not breathing’ thing.  It was a fanfic.  And not even a ‘Sherlock’ fanfic, but a ‘Lewis’ one. (How the hell did I develop a hierarchy of OUGHTS about fanfics, for Gods’ sakes?)  Somehow, right now, that doesn’t feel good enough.  I just couldn’t be glad that I had actually managed to write something, anything, for the first time in two months.

Hello Nigel, Hello Perfectionism.

Nothing is good enough.  Nothing is enough.  Everything is SHOULD and OUGHT.  And all those words lead to is: me beating myself up.  Which is not what bear energy is about.

Tomorrow, I intend to feel better.  Tomorrow I am going to have peace, and relax, and not care about the fact that I can’t think straight.  But today I’m going to have a pity party and throw things and be a general grump, because sometimes, you just have to get it out of your system.

I hope you aren’t being dogged by the Frustration Monster, or scrambling over mountains of SHOULDS  and OUGHTS, but if you are, please know that you aren’t alone.  And we’ll get through it.

Oh, and tell Nigel to piss off from me, will you?

Happy creating,

EF

Postcard from the Underworld

There is some weird and funky stuff going on with my energy levels at the moment.  And some strange synchronicities keep happening.  Too many to ignore.

The Universe is sending me messages.

Let me explain:

Since Christmas I’ve been struggling with low energy, pain and brain fog.  Being creative has been an uphill struggle.  Most of the time it has not been happening at all.  I mean, who has the strength to be creative when every step feels like walking on broken glass, or when it’s all you can do to keep your eyes open for an hour at a time?

Then there are the synchronicities that just keep on popping up.  Seriously, it is like the Universe is jumping about and waiving it’s arms, trying to get me to notice.

The Persephone Myth.

Bears.

Hibernation.

These stories and images keep arriving on my desk, my desktop, in magazines, on Facebook, in books and on the TV.

‘The only way out is through.’

Today, I was working with my therapist on all the OUGHTs I have piling up inside my brain.  Nigel has been shouting pretty loudly lately, so the first thing to do was to kick him firmly out of the door, SHOULDS and all.  No more SHOULDS or OUGHTS for me, at least for an afternoon!

I talked about the pain and exhaustion I’ve been experiencing, and then I mentioned the fact that bears have been on my mind lately.

‘Let’s look them up,’ says my ever-resourceful therapist.

Bears, according to Native American theology, are about intuition.  They are about being true to yourself, and trusting your instincts as you go in search of the honey of inner truth.  They are about Shamanic inner journeys, visiting the Dreamlodge, the Otherworld, about contemplation and hibernation and ultimately, rebirth.

Not far away, then, from the myth of Persephone’s journey into Hades, her sojourn in the darkness comforting the souls of the dead and learning inner wisdom, and her return to the surface world in Spring, older and wiser.

Bears are animals that hibernate.  In the depths of winter many beasts, seeds, roots and bulbs in the ground are sleeping in darkness, recharging, waiting for the surge of renewal that comes with the returning sun.

Well, you may not be into New Age symbolism, but these are ancient archetypes of the kind favoured by Jung, and it is not hard to extrapolate from these metaphors to the period of hibernation that my low energy suggests.  Human beings were once small, furry creatures that may have hibernated, and who is to say that some of us don’t still carry the imprint of that behaviour somewhere in the primitive vestiges of our primate brains. Anyone who has suffered from even the mildest symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) would certainly agree.

So here I am, dug deep in my cave, wrapped up in the comforting furry arms of my bear familiar, letting the energy of hibernation circulate around me.

It is not static energy, oh no.

I may be resting, contemplative, still, but here in my snug little fug, stories are gestating.  Sometimes we need these times of hiatus to feed our creative souls.  It is not just my exhausted body and drained mind that need rest.  My Muse needs to sleep too.  And while she sleeps, babies grow in her belly.

I have realised that pushing myself to climb out into the sun too soon will be a mistake.  All the plans and intentions, those things-I-am-not-calling-goals, will have to wait until I am ready, physically, mentally, and creatively.  I must remind myself not to rush things.  Don’t birth the babies until they are properly ‘cooked’!

Are you in a time of hibernation too?  Were you propelled into 2014 with renewed gusto, or are you like me, groping your way like a blind mole, struggling to hold your head up in the pale wintry light?

If you are the latter, try to forgive yourself.  We cannot make ourselves energetic if the juice just isn’t there, no matter how much Society nags us that it should be.  Tell your Nigel to take a hike.  Snuggle down, like me, in your burrow and nurture your bear energy.  Find out what the stillness of hibernation has to say to you, how it can nourish you for future months.  Don’t force things.  Wait it out.

Spring, with all its creative renewal, will come soon enough.

Happy hibernating,

EF

Creative Intentions for 2014: DARE and DEPTH

Getting over our emergency Christmas is proving a longer, harder effort than I had thought.  My brain is a puddle, so don’t ask me if I have written anything or created anything yet this year, because ain’t nothin’ goin’ on up there but clouds.

However.

Just occasionally, I have flashes of conscious thought.

I got into a conversation with Writerfriend on New Year’s Eve about plans for the coming year, as I mentioned previously, and it occurred to me today, while mulling that conversation over, that having a word for the year for my creative endeavours as well might be a good way forward.

Having two might be argued as cheating.  One word should fit all of my life, after all.  And yes, it fits the overview of where I want to go this year, of who I want to be.  My word represents the attitude I want to cultivate throughout the coming year.  It represents my willingness to ‘have a bash’, to move away from a fear and scarcity mindset, away from perfectionism and Nigel.

So maybe a Creative Word isn’t so much a word for the year as a Creative Intention.  A theme.  A direction in which to move.

The word I have chosen is:

DEPTH

I want to deepen my writing, explore a more multi-layered story-world, deeper characters.  I want to write an original work that displays this quality.  In short, I want to get serious.

I suppose this is an extension of the intentions I was nourishing in the Autumn of 2013.  The desire to read more quality fiction, the need to take my writing to the next level.  I am currently making a plan to help me step into this new phase.  It will involve:

  • Reading lots of new, literary fiction (luckily, Santa was kind to me on this front, with a supply of yummy new novels!)
  • Refreshing my basic writing skills
  • Reading works on writing by published authors – A L Kennedy and Paul Auster are first on my list.
  • Writing every day
  • Making better use of my writers notebook.

At present it is quite a sketchy plan, but no doubt it will firm up into clear tasks.  I don’t want it to get too firm.  I want it to evolve and morph with my needs and creative interests.  Nothing too concrete.  It is an intention, a theme, after all.

And no doubt writing blog posts here will be part of that plan, as well as a commentary on progress.

So that’s my Creative Theme/Intention/Word for the year 2014.

What about you?  What do you want to achieve?  Is there a quality you want to invoke into your creative life, or are there specific works you want to make in the coming months?  I’d love to hear about your plans in the comments section.

Happy creating,

EF

Journal Friday: Wardrobe Planning

More dashBecause I’m ill, I am not able to work, and that means everything I do has to be on a budget – energy-wise and money-wise.  As a result, planning is my friend.  If I have thought about something beforehand, it makes everything so much quicker, easier, and less worrying.  That includes clothes.

I was looking at this fantastic dressing room today, and was shocked that anyone could have that many clothes.  If I did, I’d never get dressed at all because I wouldn’t have the energy to decide what to wear.  I have a small wardrobe, partly on purpose, because cutting down options means less to worry about, but also because of money.  I just can’t afford to spend lots.

Mostly I buy my clothes from my catalogue, on a monthly payment basis, and annually, with my birthday money.  Relatives are kind enough to donate to my clothing fund every year, and I plan very carefully what I am going to spend it on.  I make sure all my big purchases colour co-ordinate, and concentrate on one core colour and two accent colours.

Currently navy is my core, and bright red and bright (lime) green are my accents.  At the moment, though, I am feeling a pull towards charcoal grey, and since I bought a dark grey sweater in the sales a few years ago, I’ve been thinking I might go in that direction a little.  Plus it seems to bring out the colour of my eyes.  (It’s really hard to work out what colours I can wear these days, as I am growing out my coloured hair and letting the grey come through.  I didn’t think this measure, taken because I just can’t be fussed with home dyeing anymore, would make such a big difference to my complexion, but it does.)

grey croppedAnyway, the way my brain is, I can’t keep all this information in my head anymore, so I have started using my journal to plan my outfits.

I have an ulterior motive here too.  I haven’t been able to get past the creative block I have with my art, and I find that if I just do a scribble in my journal, it doesn’t have to perfect.  It is just a gesture drawing with a few colours to note down information in a graphic form, and it cons Nigel into thinking what I am doing is actually not painting at all!  Clever, eh?

black hat litUsing my journal in this way is a helpful planning tool.  It helps me to work out what extras I need in addition to what I already have, and to budget for them.  It also allows me to think through how I really want to look for a particular occasion, such as a wedding.  I am also finding it is changing the way I feel about my clothes.  I’m finally at the age when I can get away with wearing very classic styles, and you can see from my sketches that there is a distinctly ‘50s vibe going on.  I’ve always been in love with Dior’s 1947 New Look, and it looks like that is where I am going.  I’m intend to grow old elegantly as well as disgracefully!

How could you use your journal to plan your life or your look?

Happy journaling,

EF

On Perfectionism (and Timing)

Carpet makers in Turkey weave a mistake into every carpet they produce - because, they say, only what God makes is perfect.

Carpet makers in Turkey weave a mistake into every carpet they produce because, they say, only what God makes is perfect.

A friend was trying to finish his novel.

‘So many grammatical errors,’ he moaned.  ‘So many mistakes.’

He worked so hard that he wept.  It would never be perfect.  It would never be good enough.

All this effort, two days before he was due to be married.

There is perfectionism, and there is timing.

Perfectionism is a disease I suffer from myself.  It has blocked me for years.  Nothing can ever be good enough.

I set my standards so high, I never fail to fail.  And then I look at what I have failed to do, and tell myself I am useless, and that I will never finish anything.  Without noticing (conveniently) that I have set myself up for the perfect fall.

I am perfect at this.

So it is with this blog.  It had to be perfect.  It had to be faultless.

Never mind that I have a serious chronic illness that regularly prevents me from leaving the house, which affects my cognitive function to the extent that at times I can neither read nor write, nor understand what is said to me.

The blog still had to be perfect.  And I had to post three times a week.  Regardless.

Regardless of my health, or looking after elderly, sick parents, or my husband’s workload, or my marriage, or the weather, or having to attend friends’ weddings, or making time for much-needed holidays, or anything else that comprises having a life.

Add in the blog and perfectionism and you have a recipe for disaster.  Or at least a very poorly blogger.

This is as insane as my friend trying to perfect his novel two days before one of the most important and stressful days of his life.  (And happiest, lest we forget.)

Sometimes, you have to sit down and recognise that perfectionism is a disease created by Nigel.  Sometimes you have to stop, and realise you haven’t been very realistic about what you can achieve.

And you have to move the bar.

Perfectionism and timing have combined to create the perfect storm in my life right now.  I have been going through a bout of severe illness, and just at the start of August, the busiest month of my year so far.  My mother is coming to stay for a week.  Friends are getting married, and babies are being welcomed into the clan.  The garden needs watering, and I have a craving to write original fiction that I have not felt in many months.  With limited energy, and limited time, I can only do so much.

Conclusion:  this blog cannot be perfect.  It only has to be good enough.

It only has to be here to encourage you, dear reader, on your own journey of writing and creative discovery.  It only has to be witness to my own creative process, as I try to navigate a way through illness and into producing a novel that will make my soul sing, and make you turn the page with delight.  It doesn’t need to be the be-all and end-all of teaching writing – there are plenty of other people who can do that so much better than me.

Here are my good enough dreams:

I want to write that novel.  I want to write an ebook on journaling for you, too.

WARNING: RIDICULOUS DREAM SHARE ALERT

I want to make a collectors’ edition of my novel, illustrated with my own art, for you to buy.  Yes, I know, it’s crazy, but it’s something that is calling me, and somehow I know I have to follow its siren song.  And you are supposed to share your creative dreams, aren’t you, to help make them happen?  So I am sharing my dream with you to give it some karmic weight.  (Yeah, I believe in this stuff.  Bear with me.)

I also want to be well, have a holiday, enjoy some quality time with my mum, have a happy marriage (i.e. see my husband occasionally), water the garden and, well, have a life, really.

And I don’t want either perfectionism or bad timing to get in the way.

So I’ll make a deal with you:

I’m going to blog twice a week, instead of three times.

Sometimes I might only manage once, but if I do, I want you to know that the time I haven’t spent writing a blog post for you has been spent either a) getting well or, b) working on a creative project like my novel.  Because the blog can’t take up all my creative energy.  That just doesn’t make sense.  The blog is not the purpose, it is secondary to the purpose.  The purpose is the writing.

There was a time, this time last year, when I thought I would never have the courage to set up this blog.  Right now, I am scared that I will never have either an ebook or a novel to offer through it.  This time next year, I hope I’ll have proved at least one of those fears wrong.  In the meantime, I am moving the goalposts, lowering the bar, and whatever other clichés you care to insert.

I hope that you will stick with me.  I hope that you will share my journey, and tell me about yours too.  I hope that we can learn this together, that we can kick Nigel into touch and fill our lives with creative joy.

Happy creating,

EF

Journal Friday: Reflecting on Creative Blocks

paintbox

So, if you read my last post, you will know that I am increasingly drawn towards drawing and painting at the moment.  This is my current creative season and I want to honour it.  So today, no doubt, you will be expecting me to deluge you with jpegs of the beautiful pictures I have been creating.

Yeah, Right.

Nigel has been hard at work again.  I have produced the sum total of zero drawings in the last two days.  Yesterday I couldn’t even bring myself to go into the study to get out my sketchbook and paints.  The blank page suddenly seems terrifying.  I can’t even doodle.  How the hell have I lost the ability to doodle, for Gods’ sakes?

Bit not good.

This, my friends, is where the journal really comes into play.  I sat down with my trusty moleskine and pen, and thought about my childhood memories of drawing.

I used to draw all the time.  It was what I was known for, amongst family and friends.  I was never without a piece of paper and a pencil.  I made little books and illustrated them.  I wrote stories and illustrated them.  I wrote stories about my favourite TV programmes, like ‘Blakes 7’ (remember that one?  I had a terrible crush on Paul Darrow) and drew the characters all the time.  (If only I had known about fanfiction and fanart then!)  I was obsessed at one point with the Tudor monarchs, and copied their opulent portraits and clothes with fibre tipped colouring pens.  Then I got into the Ancient Egyptians, and copied their sideways style of representation.  I even copied the drawings of E.H Shepherd in the beautiful edition of Kenneth Graham’s ‘The Wind in the Willows’, which my father gave me – it was his favourite book.  And I painstakingly illustrated all my school work (except the Maths, of course, because that was too serious, which was probably why I was never any good at it.)  In other words, I spent hours absorbed in transferring images from my head onto the page.

What happened?  Senior school art classes.  Hours of drawing still lives of pots and pans. Teachers who made us draw boring subjects, and never gave us any information about technique.  I’ve learn everything I have ever learnt about art and how to use paint from copying, which my art teachers said was the worst possible sin.

(But I am getting ahead of myself, I’m supposed to be thinking about my childhood drawing.)

As a kid, art was my obsession, but it requires materials, and they were in short supply.  For paper, my dad bought home gash computer paper from work, the perforated kind that comes in a concertina, with holes along the edges, and with about the same handling quality as IZAL toilet paper.  I was occasionally bought coloured felt-tipped pens but in the 1970s they were rubbish, and the black ones were invariably dried out before they were even used.  At least 25% of the pens in the pack didn’t work within about two days of having them, and you had to conserve those that did with fiendish vigilance.  There were occasional gifts of watercolour pan boxes, but they were very low pigment, and anyway, painting in your bedroom is frowned upon by most mothers because it is messy.  And there wasn’t anywhere else to paint.  What I am trying to say is that I grew up yearning for those huge bottles of poster colour paint that stood on the trolley in school.  The thought of being able to just splash paint about willy-nilly was ridiculous.  My parents wanted to encourage my artistic side, but they didn’t have the disposable income or the mindset to invest in good raw materials for it.

The result is that the scarcity of my childhood has bloomed into a scarcity paranoia in adulthood.  As soon as I was earning, I went out and bought decent art materials, but then I couldn’t make myself use them.  I have drawers and boxes full of sketchbooks, pastels, inks and paint tubes that have never been opened because I still have the mindset that they have to be conserved.  I can’t waste a thing.  To the point where I can’t use a thing.

None of this would I know and understand, were it not for exploring it in my journal.  And in my journal have come the little glimmers of a solution, a plan to tackle my stuckness with baby steps so minute that I can fool Nigel into thinking I’m not even putting pen to paper at all!  Slowly and gently, I will con myself into the belief that making a tiny drawing is safe.  And then I will con myself into making a bigger one.  Until one day I will fulfil my dream of illustrating my own novels, and making huge abstract expressionist canvases like Rothko and Pollock.  But not yet.  To begin with, I will throw out everything I learnt in art class, scrunch up my eyes and begin again, as a child.  It will be hard, but I can do it.  I did it with the writing, after all…

Journal Exercise:

Are you also struggling with a creative block?  Is there something you used to do, and would like to do again, but are afraid to?  Perhaps you are just stuck and you can’t get out of your own way.  You probably don’t even know why.

Get out your journal and take a few deep breaths.  Close your eyes and let yourself fall backwards through time. Feel yourself become a child, doing that thing you loved do and don’t do anymore, whatever it is.  Immerse yourself in that memory.  How did it feel?  What was so satisfying, enticing, transcendently joyful or just effortless about it?  How did splashing paint on paper, sewing a doll’s dress or dancing to the radio help you express yourself?  Connect with the fun, the pleasure, the satisfaction.

Now write about it.  Take time to write out all you can remember about doing that creative activity, and take the memory from as early an age as possible.

Now take another deep breath and continue to write, this time about when you stopped pursuing that activity.  What happened?  What age where you?  Was there criticism from parents or responsible adults?  Or was it competition with other children who you regarded as being better at the skill than you?  Perhaps you reached puberty and decided that form of creativity was childish and no longer for you?  Or you felt you couldn’t go any further with it because you couldn’t make a living at it?  Whatever the reason, explore your memories of it.  Be as thorough as you can.

Give yourself some time to sit with these memories, to contemplate them.  Decide what aspects are still stopping you.  Are you, like me, fearful that your work won’t be ‘GOOD ENOUGH’ (thanks, Nigel), or still carrying that fear that there isn’t paper to waste?  Will doing this activity make you vulnerable in some way?  (If so, you don’t have to show it to anybody, just keep it for yourself.)

(If some major trauma is involved, it is wise to seek professional help.  A therapist is invaluable, and those who specialise in expressive arts or Gestalt might be just what you need.  Don’t suffer flashbacks alone as a result of this exercise.  Self care should always be the first rule of creative expression.)

Think about ways to ease yourself through these issues.  Maybe taking a beginners or taster course, where everyone will be fumbling about at the same starter level, could encourage you that what you make doesn’t have to be perfect.  Perhaps an online course that you can follow in private, and at your own pace (Alisa Burke has some brilliant art and sewing courses.)  Or you could buy some kids art materials and use them with your own kids (or borrow someone else’s for an afternoon).  Watch how kids are completely free of judgement when they make art.  They are just having fun.  You can, too.  (Actually, I think I may have to borrow some children and do this myself!)

Trust that what comes up in writing your journal is from deep within, an inner wisdom that will guide you back to your creative centre.  Above all, be gentle with yourself as your formulate your action plan, and give yourself as much time as you need.  You don’t have to become Picasso or Nijinsky overnight.

Happy Creating,

EF

Outflow: My Creativity Right Now

Picasso ceramicsWe are having a heatwave here in the UK, and I’m not very good in hot weather.  The result is that my brain has gone on strike, as has much of my body.  Which makes me think about ‘creative seasons’ and the Habit of Art.

My ongoing health problems taught me long ago to have peace with the days when I can’t do anything beyond lie on the sofa and practise my groaning. ( I’m getting quite good at groaning, I have to say.)  Chronic Illness is, however, a bit of an extreme way of forcing oneself to recognise one’s creative cycles, and not one I would recommend.

There are lots of creativity gurus who are adamant that turning up at the page, or the canvas, and making yourself do the work is the only way forward, and for the most part, I would agree.  But what do you do on the days, like today, when it just ain’t gonna happen?

Take note, that’s what.

I find my creativity goes in bursts, as I have mentioned before, and in recent years I have noticed that my writing seagues slowly into art in the summer months.  Writing is a great thing to be doing when the weather is cold and wet, and all you want to do is curl up in the warm.  In the summer, though, the urge to get out there into the landscape and experience the world is almost irresistible, as anyone who has ever worked through the summer in an office will agree.  Right now I am experiencing the difficult-to-ignore urge to paint rather than write.

And I am OK with that.

Yes, I am feeling a bit frustrated that I can’t settle to the writing projects I want to progress, but I can’t force it, or I will get resentful, and probably produce pages of complete drivel that I’ll hate later.  The urge to be creative is still with me, though.  It is just taking a different, more exterior form.  I want to draw, paint, decorate pottery, make cushion covers, garden, and bake cupcakes.  So that’s what I’m going to do – at least as soon as the weather cools down and my brain starts functioning again!

There is a tension between turning up to create and the creative seasons themselves, and the skill of a true creative is to be able to accept the difference between a) the resistance to sitting at the desk and working, which is procrastination and stopping oneself being all one can be, and b) the natural flow of creativity as it morphs from one season to the next.  There is much to be said for making yourself sit down to create every day, but using it as a stick to beat yourself with is not helpful.  We need to be aware of when our creativity transforms, and to trust it enough to go with the flow.  This doesn’t mean I am abandoning my writing for good, simply that I know that right now, that isn’t where my best work will come.

The image in my head to illustrate this is when Picasso discovered the provencale village of Vallauris and threw himself into the art of ceramics.  I have no doubt there were those who worried that his canvas days were over, but that was far from the truth.  Instead, he trusted his creative urges enough to know that ceramics was a road he had to walk at that point in his life.

So I am trying to emulate Picasso, and to be at peace with where my creative road is taking me.  It’s not easy, and Nigel has a lot to say about not having the gumption to get on with the novel, but frankly, STUFF NIGEL!  Lets get out in the sun, eat ice cream, and do creativity the way we need to right now!

Happy sun-bathing and creating,

EF

How to Take Criticism

The idea for this post came to me last week when I got a pretty starchy comment on one of my stories.  It happens sometimes.  Actually, I have to say I can think of only two previous occasions when comments have upset me in three years of online publishing, so I suppose I am doing pretty well.  My pals were very supportive, as was my husband.  No sweat, right?

Hmmm.

It got me thinking about how as artists we approach taking criticism.  Art of whatever form is a subjective thing.  Whether we like it or not is a personal matter.  You can’t please all of the people all of the time, as they say.  It is just a fact of artistic life, and we can learn a great deal from it.

The problem with art in general, and writing in particular, is that it is the product of our soul.  That makes it very close to us, an expression of our feelings, of everything we believe in.  And that, in turn, makes it hard not to take criticism personally.  Which is why a negative review can feel like being emotionally disembowelled.  It can be crippling.  It can block us completely, so that we never creatively express ourselves again.  That is why it is so important to know how to deal with it.

It strikes me that there are two types of criticism.

  1. Constructive Criticism.  This is the kind that comes from readers who support your work, who appreciate what an emotional risk it is to put your work out there, and who want to help you to improve.  They give honest, caring feedback.
  2. Rants.  You know this kind of comment.  It is usually about content, not plot, pace, language or technique.  It is usually angry, often vindictive, and actually has nothing to do with your work, and everything to do with the commenter’s personal ‘stuff’.

Constructive criticism comes from a place of empathy and support.  Its aim is to help you along the road to expressing yourself better.  It may seem niggly (you missed a comma out, for instance, or left a typo in) but it is there with positive intent.

Rants are to do with issues that the critic has in their own life.  The first nasty experience I had with this was with my story, ‘Property Of:’.  A reviewer wrote a vicious snarl about how I had depicted the armed forces as being shagging frantically in trenches at every opportunity, and that it was disgusting that I should suggest this, or that Dr Watson could have been involved with a married person.  My (possibly misguided) response was to email the person in question and ask her to expand on her comments.  What I got back was a three page diatribe on the fact that Watson should be whiter-than-white and how dare I criticise the army.

Clearly she had issues surrounding infidelity and the armed forces.

I don’t write for Disney.  I deal with the real shit. Real life.   Real people.  And real people make mistakes and get scared and do weird, unexpected things under pressure.  She had her own reasons for not liking my story.  Fine.  I triggered them.  Okay.  But I am not going to change the whole tenor of what I write to please one person, however hurt they have been.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I love criticsm.  When it is constructive.

In the course of publishing daily episodes of ‘The Case of the Cuddle’, for example, I realised from comments being made that I had left out a whole area of the story between Lestrade and Mycroft.  Without it, their responses to later events made no sense.  If it had not been for those reviewers who were unafraid to ask awkward questions in a supportive way, I would not have noticed the gaping hole in my narrative.  I hacked together an extra two chapters to insert into the story, and fixed the problem.  Bravo critics.  I learnt something.  Thank you.

That is the point of contructive critisicm.  You learn something.  The way to approach any kind of criticism is to ask this question:

What can I learn from this?

So, how do you deal with criticism, nasty or kind?  Here are a few tips:

  • Take a deep breath.  Walk away.  Give yourself some space.  DO NOT immediately fire back a stroppy reply that will only provoke further attack.
  • Work out which kind of criticism is being offered.  Calmly.
  • If this person has been triggered by some issue in your work, accept their right to their emotions, however wrong they are in venting them on you.  Something horrible has clearly happened to them to provoke such an outburst.
  • You don’t necessarily have to email them, or reply at all.  If you are really upset, do not engage.
  • If you write about difficult stuff, things that are likely to trigger strong reactions in your readers, them you should expect rants a bit more often than if you only write fluff.  Be prepared, but DO NOT back off from writing about the tough stuff.  It is only if we talk about these things that we can address them in society and heal the suffering they cause.  You are doing good work.  Keep doing it.
  • If you find yourself reacting strongly to a challenging, or ranting comment, it is worth thinking about why.  Perhaps this review has triggered something for you?  My commenter from last week challenged me about a prejudice I had been kidding myself I didn’t have.  On reflection, I realised not that she had a point, because I stand by the artistic decision I made, but that there was an element of truth in her accusation.  From now on, I will think more carefully about my responses to certain situations and where they come from.  I have learnt from her, and not just in terms of my writing.
  • You do not have to rewrite your work just because someone negatively criticises it, nor should anyone expect you to do so.
  • Think about the reasons why you made the artistic or aesthetic choice you did.  If your choice is rationally defensible, ie there is a better argument than ‘because thats the way I want to do it!’ (accompanied with a stamping of the foot), then let it stand.  If, on reflection, you decide that it could have been done better had you made a different choice, then you can take the criticism on board, and maybe do it different next time.  Make the decision to learn from it.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff.  I find myself getting very gnarly when someone is kind enough to point out where I left a typo in.  Gggggrrrrrrr!  But actually, they are doing me a favour.  Not only are they acting as a free proof reader, they are also helping tackle my Perfectionism, and giving Nigel a good kick in the teeth at the same time!
  • Allow yourself to absorb the helpful comments at your own pace.  Sometimes it can be very challenging to be told your sentence structure is a bit dense, or that your character’s motivation is shaky.  Are you ready, at this point in your development as a writer, to accept this criticism?  If you are, take it on board.  If not, put it aside, and keep doing your best.
  • Don’t trust your first defensive denial.  If the comment is offered sympathetically, with the earnest desire to help, then examine it.
  • As with all criticism, take what feels truthful to you, and leave the rest.  Just let it go.
  • NO ONE has the right to browbeat you, attack you, abuse you, or verbally savage you to the point where you give up writing.  Constructive comments on the work are helpful, personal attacks are not.  Report vicious repeat flamers where necessary.  Bullying is NOT ACCEPTABLE.
  • The internet gives you the opportunity to get free comments on your work in a way that never would have been possible twenty years ago.  It is a huge resource.  People take a great deal of time and effort to read your work.  Thank them for the time they take to respond to it, and choose to learn from what they say, as far as you can.
  • Relax.  No, really.  This is not personal.  Rejoice in the feedback you get.  Why?  because it means you are OUT THERE, being seen, and that, my friend is a HUGE blessing.

No doubt there is a great deal more that I could add.  Taking criticism constructively is something you learn by doing.  It really helps to join a writers group, where you can trust your fellows to offer you helpful feedback on a regular basis, so that you get used to it, and build up your ‘resistance’. (More on writers groups in a future post) In the meantime, I return to the following, which is the best advice I can offer:

Take what feels truthful to you, and leave the rest.

Next Wednesday, I will be writing another article about how to give constructive criticism, so stay tuned!

Happy writing,

EF