Category Archives: Outwitting Nigel

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

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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

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

Word of the Year 2014

So, we have thought about intentions, and we have begun to consider the words that identify how we want to feel.  Those (five) words are the place from whence our intentions arise.  Because every day we can choose to do things that make us feel that way.

Clever, eh?

But there’s more:

You may have bumped into the idea of having a Word of the Year.  You can find out more about this habit here.

A Word of the Year is a kind of overall intention.  It gives you a direction, a way of formulating how you want to be in the world. It also has an uncanny habit of bringing into your life exactly what it says.

My word for 2013 was

Revolutionary

And oh boy, was it?!

This year has fundamentally changed how I feel about myself.  I have undergone a revolution in my core beliefs and my way of approaching the world.  I have turned my attitudes about my place in the world and, most particularly, in the world of work, on their heads.  In some ways, I have also revolved (the other meaning of revolutionary), coming back full circle to revisit issues that I thought I had dealt with before.

I have revolutionised the way I write and the way I feel about my writing.  I have set up this website and begun to dream new dreams about the kind of things I want to create.  It is exhilarating.

Let me tell you, revolution doesn’t have to be a violent upheaval that ends with tyranny and blood.

I have to confess that when the word first came to me, in the form of just revolution, (while I was still in the malaise of a serious bout of influenza which brought me close to being hospitalised), I was a bit scared.  I knew it was the word I needed, but it sounded frightening, as if I could be inviting an earthquake into my life.  Was I really ready for that much change?  After all, with limited energy, poor health and a susceptibility to anxiety and stress, it didn’t really sound a good idea to invite those kinds of energies into my world.  So I fiddled with it until it felt more friendly, more manageable.  And more appropriate to what I could cope with.  It became:

I AM REVOLUTIONARY

And this year, I have been.

So the question then becomes, what do I want to be next?

I don’t have to stop being revolutionary, of course, but 2014 needs a new word, something that allows new energies into my life, allowing me to blossom and grow in new ways.

I have been sitting with my five words and my journal and calendar, contemplating what I want to be and do next year.  How I want to build on the intentions and lessons that revolutionary brought with it?  I thought about kind, lovingkindness, courage, and strength.  The first two felt too soft, and the last two, too tough.  I needed something flexible, something I can grow with, something I can work with whilst still treating myself with lovingkindess.  And this is what I came up with:

DARE

Dare feels good.  It popped into my head at 2am on the way back to bed after a loo break (TMI), and I knew it was the right word.

Dare is about having a go, putting yourself out there, but not in a way that is perfectionist.  Not in a Nigel way.  Dare means trying something out and seeing if it fits.  It means trying something, and knowing that it doesn’t matter if I fail or if I don’t get it exactly right the first time, or even if it turns out to be the wrong thing after all.  At least I will have tried.  At least I will be in the arena fighting, as Roosevelt would put it.

Journal Exercise:

So, I invite you to take time to sit with your feelings words, with your creative and life intentions, and to consider what word might truly describe and inspire how and who you want to be in 2014.  What feelings and new adventures do you want to manifest in your life?  What energies do you want to invoke?

When you consider this, do it in the spirit of lovingkindness towards yourself.  Look at your life with a gentle hope, not in the spirit of forcing yourself into new contortions.  This is not some New Agey wishing, some pseudo-psychobabble soppy thing.  This is a life affirming way of moving yourself to new levels, of becoming more yourself every day, and of being deeply, affirmatively and satisfyingly creative.

Everyday life is a continual act of creativity.

When I say ‘sit with it’, I mean: allow yourself time to consider.  Allow ideas to filter, percolate and bubble in your mind.  Don’t force it.  It will come to you.  Let it happen.  You know deep inside what you want for yourself as a creative being.  Allow it to emerge.  And then rejoice in it.  Allow it to inspire every corner of your life for the whole year.

I guarantee it will take you places you can’t even begin to imagine right now.

Happy Creating,

EF

Owning It

Have you been there too?  That cringe-making moment at a social event when you meet someone new and they ask you what you do.

For me it is a doubly difficult dilemma.

Do I give them one version of the truth:  I haven’t been able to do paid work since 2001 because of chronic health difficulties.  Which either makes me look like I am scrounging off the State, or like a whinging hypochondriac.  Either one pretty much means the end of the conversation.

Or do I say, Oh, I’m a writer and artist.  To which I get the next question:  where can I get your books?  So thats a whole ‘nother minefield.  Yes, I have written seven novels.  No, you cannot buy them in the shops. I publish on the internet.

(Oh, well you aren’t a proper writer, then, are you?  You’re just one of those middle class kept wives who plays at being a creative but is actually too mediocre at it to cut it in the real world.)

Admittedly, this last is probably supplied by Nigel, who is only too happy to make me feel like a loser and a waste of space, so that I will never take any risks or put my work out there.

These days, its even worse if I mention that I write fanfiction, because people have finally heard of it, and they always, always want to talk about 50 Shades of Grey.  Don’t mention that book in front of me.  Please.  (You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.)

The other day I was at a social event and met someone new.  She was a fascinating person, and great fun.  I liked her a lot.  She asked me what I did.  I said, ‘I’m a writer and artist.’  Cue discussion about novels not yet published, how I am trying to make a go of this website, and why I am interested in creativity, which happened to be her field of research.

All fine.

I came home and felt like a total fraud.

Why is it so difficult to own our creativity?

I may not have had a novel published in conventional form, but then I’ve never really submitted one to a publisher.  I’ve written and published 42 works of fanfiction on the internet, some of which have novel-sized wordcounts.  I get around 100 readers per day of my fictions, and regularly get daily reader numbers over 500, figures that most conventionally published writers would give their eye-teeth for.  This website has over 300 followers.  What is it about these statistics that makes me not a writer?

What really makes me a writer is that I write.  Every day.  Being published does not make me a writer.  Public recognition does not make me a writer.  Having books on the shelves does not make me a writer, if I am not writing.

Being a writer is not something that other people tell you that you are.

Being a writer is what you do.  Day in. Day out.    I write because I need to write, not for the end result.  I write because it comes to me as naturally, and as necessarily, as breathing.

So why can I not own it?  Why do I not feel entitled to it?  Why am I embarassed to say it in front of someone new because Society says I do not tick the boxes required (ie publications, awards etc etc)?  Will I have to wait until I am as old and lauded as the late Nobel Prize laureate Doris Lessing before I can finally say I am a writer, and feel entitled to it?  (I really hope not.)  Do any writers ever feel entitled to the label?

Do you feel entitled to your creativity?  Do you make excuses that you are only a hobbyist painter or dancer, whether to yourself or others?  Do you feel you must keep your creative projects secret for fear that they will not be understood?  And is it really necessary to have public recognition for our art?

I’m not saying there are anwsers, or even right answers.  I think the answer is different for every one of us.  It is a complex tangle.  I simply think we have to address it in some way as artists in whatever medium, if only to find out what stifles or liberates our own voices.

And maybe this time next year, when I meet someone new at a party, I will feel entitled to say: ‘I am a writer’, and own it.

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