Where Do The Ideas Come From?

This is the unanswerable question.

How do I know?

I will wager that you can remember where you came up with an idea, maybe even some of the elements which went into the brew, but exactly why you thought that particular idea will allude you.

That is until you come up with a very plausible answer when it is time to do the publicity rounds.

We do that all the time with our characters – backfill – we have had plenty of practice.

So here is my thread for the day:

  • A David Hockney quote about how Japanese artists would paint a walk that they had taken during the day. There were no shadows in the painting because the time line was the length of a day, which meant the shadow would have constantly been moving in the picture.
  • The name Kenneth Gilbert.
  • Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs. Dalloway which takes place over one day.
  • There are two Kenneth Gilberts – one of them maybe the shadow of the other one (for publicity purposes this is very Haruki Murakami, and I was trying to draw kanji earlier for a painting which must have had an impact on my imagining of the idea).

Think of one of your ideas – explain it – publicity round or exactly why you came up with it?

Paula Scher: Graphic Designer

My creative tv programme for the day is from Netflix – Abstract, The Art of Design.

You will quickly realise, as I did, that you are far more familiar with Scher’s work than her name.

The episode is a subtle masterclass in how to design and create a unified theme which can be used to maintain the central message in a number of settings.

What’s the unifying theme in your creative work?

This doesn’t mean that you have to do only one thing but perhaps think in phases or projects.

Everything you put out is part of your brand and you need to make people aware of that brand. The connectivity of your branding is drawing your visitors further into your work.

Get onto Netflix and check out the series and this episode in particular.

And here are a couple of links to get you onto a brief biography of Paula Scher and her company site.

See how much of her work you know here.

Chase Jarvis – Creative Calling – Pt.2

Last week I shared some takeaways from the first session of Chase Jarvis’ Creative Calling Bookclub – if you missed it then click here!

Week 2 was about focusing on the I.

  • I – Imagine what you want
  • D – Design a system to do it
  • E – execute the plan
  • A – Amplify

So Imagine what you want.

Then be creative and take it further – take it as far as it will go. Push the envelope. What does the want look like now?

As a writer my want might be to get book(s) published. I can push this further to, publish enough books to mean I can write full time. Plus, I want to publish a fiction book one year and a non-fiction book the next year.

Let’s keep being creative!

The fiction books I want to write will be a series and some stand alones. The non-fiction books I want to write will be sport based, focused on the teams I follow, spending a season with each. Other creative arts as well.

More creative!

Let’s not worry about bestsellers but add in a podcast and still sharing writer’s knowledge to help others on the journey. I’m pretty keen on music as well – and art – so maybe the odd book or the podcast can cover these subjects?

Where does this all leave me?

Planning!

I might not be a full time writer yet, but I can sure plan as if I was!

I can set out a three, five, or ten year plan – or all of them.

What books do I plan to write first? Fiction series – more chance of catching a book deal when there is the easy sell, several more similar to the one an editor/publisher might like. I want the fourth book I write to be non-fiction.

I’m going to develop a podcast alongside those first few books – writer’s craft and the other creative arts I’m interested in. Part of this development is to start talking with other creatives in these different fields. This is preparing the way for the non-fiction books.

All the time I’m developing and adding to the blog/website.

The timeline is the guide for me to get my butt in the seat researching and writing! It all might be completed slightly sooner or later. It almost doesn’t matter. I can adapt and adjust, so long as I keep researching and writing.

Whilst doing all of this I need to keep learning and take on board new stuff.

For this Chase Jarvis recommends the following – DEAR.

  • D – Deconstruct
  • E – Emulate
  • A – Action
  • R – Review

In all of the areas I have identified I need to Deconstruct – Look at the best in craft in the type of fiction and non-fiction I want to write. Listen to the best podcasts similar to what I want to produce.

Then I need to Emulate – I need to practice all of those good things I deconstructed from the best in the business.

I need to take Action – by analysing what I have produced and checking it against the guides and teachers from that original deconstructing.

Finally, Review – go back to the beginning and start all over again, with the new writers/podcasters who have risen to the top since I last looked.

Now it’s your turn!

What’s your 3 or 5 of 10 year plan?

Chase Jarvis – Creative Calling – Pt.1

You know who Chase Jarvis is right? You’ve heard of CreativeLive?

No? Then hit the links before reading any further.

It’s okay. I’ll wait for you.

Sorted? Great!

Now we all are familiar with Chase and his amazing team in CreativeLive, then let’s get into his book Creative Calling.

This book is his blueprint and experience of living a full life of creativity and harnessing the energy of your talents to live the life you truly want.

It covers all types of creative impulses and outlets.

Chase puts out a massive amount of free content in personal sharings, interviews with the top creatives and entrepreneurs in the game. There is a mass of free content on the CreativeLive site as well.

The latest offering from Chase is the Creative Calling Book Club.

This is a free 6-weekly class where you are tutored and taken through the key elements of the book with Chase Jarvis himself, for about an hour. There is usually a long Q&A session at the end as well. It takes place live each Saturday – 6pm UK time – but the content is then up on webpage shortly after.

In this post I want to share the main takeaways from Week 1.

The first takeaway is in essence a daily mantra for creatives:

  • We are all Creative!
  • Believe Creativity is a muscle!
  • Do small Creative acts in daily ways.

You don’t need to see a painter cut off his ear to know that being creative is just as much an emotional/passionate state of being as it is a job of work like any other, needing continual inspiration and daily input.

We are all Creative – most of us need to use it – that part of us – more regularly.

In fact Chase has a saying which puts this the best: Do the verb to be the noun.

You have probably heard of writer’s block? I’m not sure if there is an equivalent in other artists’ endeavours? Painter’s Block . . . Embroiderer’s Block . . . Musician’s Block . . ?

Creativity is a muscle. So what’s your daily work out and is it in your calendar alongside your physical workout?

You’ve not got either? Then that’s a whole different blog post!

Athletes don’t just train a couple of times a week. Most will train everyday, but they vary what they do and tailor workouts to specific skills in their disciplines or areas of their bodies.

Small Creative acts in daily ways. If I focus on writing, which is my predominant creative sphere, then I need to write everyday on my main project. I also need to do research. I need to read other writer’s words and see how they do their thing. I need to play around with words – use them, flip them around, drop them into different orders, see what happens and what they can do.

How do these three elements fit into you creative sphere?

The next big takeaway is IDEA.

  • I – Imagine what you want
  • D – Design a system to do it!
  • E – Execute the plan!
  • A – Amplify

What do you want from your creativity? Is it a full time career? Is it the ‘me’ time you rarely get? Is it to create art for your family and friends? The what is a value set against a graph it is the sum of your desire for your creativity.

Once you’ve decided (and it is okay to change your mind!) what you want then you need to design a system to accomplish that want. There are plenty of generic systems out there but you need to design one which fits your current life and circumstances. How much time can you put aside each day? When? What sequence do you need to create in? Get your system!

Now you have the want and the system, you’ve got to execute! Start creating and keep doing it, in line with your system, every day, or the days you’ve allocated to being creative. This is down to you. You may have the support of family and friends to help and encourage you, but ultimately it is you in the cockpit – fly the plane!

To finish with you need to amplify. Take your system and improve it, build upon it, make it slicker or bigger. Develop your want and alter it, enlarge it. Increase the time you spend on your creative endeavour. Change the days you do each element on. Switch to every other day but increase the time in one go. The choices are yours to make.

Chase Jarvis and CreativeLive – they’ve made a huge difference to my creative attitude and output. See what they can do for you.

(And no, I’m not being paid my them – they don’t even know I’m here!)

It is okay not to finish (at the moment).

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Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

I am sure I’m not alone in this.

Sometimes you just can’t finish a project.

You hit a wall. You lose the thread. A character doesn’t follow the plot line you have carefully constructed for them.

I’m sure it happens to artists and musicians also.

As a writer you normally do two things.

First, you give up; thus proving that you probably aren’t really good enough to be a writer after all. Second, you become belligerent and try and force the character, or plot, into fitting into the shape you created for it.

I’ve done both.

But, more recently, I’ve been learning there is a third way.

And it is easier than the other two.

You just close the notebook or electronic file and open up a new one.

Then, every now and again, let your creative mind wander back to the project and see if anything new occurs to you.

Let me give you an example.

I will call the project White Ladder.

White Ladder started with an image of two old men talking in a room one evening. They see a news clip of a new movie actress wowing audiences. It turns out that one of the men knew her mother.

That image and about 400 words, of mostly dialogue, was over 20 years ago.

It just never got past that initial stage.

A couple of years ago I heard a radio programme which focused on particular musicians and their defining albums. They played some of the songs and talked about the inspirations and processes of making the albums.

The one I listened to was David Gray, talking about his album White Ladder.

Suddenly that image of the two men talking came back to me and a variation on the theme started to form, energised by the words and mood of David Gray’s album.

The plot line was now dictated by the titles of each of the tracks on the album and the mood set by, often, just one line of the lyrics.

I don’t usually plan. I am a pantser by trade.

A couple of weeks of looking back at the plot line then led me to open up a project on Scrivener and start putting words on the page.

74,428 words later I stalled. I was at the three-quarters finished stage.

The two main characters had not followed the plot line and were all out refusing to do so.

I huffed and puffed and threatened to delete them, but they knew I was bluffing. So I gave them the cold shoulder for about six weeks. It turned out they were more patient than me.

So I took a key idea from within the project and tried to write the story from that perspective instead.

That was good for 34,149 words. Then the plot line decided not to follow the original plot I had carefully conceived. The two main characters waited patiently on the street they were walking, looking at me, waiting for me to make a decision.

I now had the word count of a full length novel, but three-quarters and one-quarter of the same story in two versions.

Dust gathered on both versions. Apart from reworking the whole plot into a series of ten short stories, telling the story from the perspectives of different characters.

I think I got that idea from Patrick Gale and his fantastic book Notes from an Exhibition.

Dust still gathers.

I know this story will be finished, because it keeps tapping on the door of my creative studio, reminding me that it is still there.

But in not finishing White Ladder (yet!) I have learnt a lot.

I have learnt that one simple scene will eventually become a full story if you wait long enough.

I have devised a story plot three different ways.

I have 108,000+ words of writing practice, which will eventually be a finished novel.

I have learnt to be patient with myself.

I haven’t failed because the book isn’t completed.

It’s okay not to finish – for the moment!

 

Productivity isn’t always what you think.

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Photo by Carl Heyerdahl on Unsplash

Choose twenty books about being creative and they will tell you to produce!

They aren’t wrong.

If you are a creative then create.

I think it was Seth Godin who said, real artists ship.

I am not arguing with him.

If I am a writer, then I need to stand at my desk and write. I need to complete that novel.

Recently though, I’ve become more persuaded that productivity isn’t just the end product.

If I write with a fountain pen, at some point I need to load it with ink. Without that ink, the words on the page will be invisible.

The ink is the books I’ve read, the drafts which have drifted towards the electronic storeroom or the recycling bin, the interviews I’ve heard or seen with authors, the ideas sparked by the movies and tv series I’ve watched, the conversations I’ve overheard, waking up in the middle of the night with words like a whisper in my ear . . .

Being creative is your way of life. It is you being productive.

Don’t always judge yourself by the final product.

If I write 200 words less than my target, I can easily judge myself a failure, but the interview I heard with John Le Carre, or Ian Rankin, could fuel my next two books.

Don’t stop shipping, but don’t begrudge stocktaking either.

 

Day 467 – Creative Like Bill Belichick, Pt.2.

So yesterday I suggested that relatives could take inspiration/lessons from sports and hopefully I will convince you today.

Bill Belichick is the most successful NFL coach ever because:

  • He stays focused on the overall goal and works hard to achieve it
  • He never goes through the motions and always trains with purpose
  • He makes sure that he puts the right players on the pitch at the right time
  • He doesn’t panic if things don’t seem to be working early on in the season and understands the importance of late on in the game and the season
  • He doesn’t waste time talking about the game

So how does this translate into being creative?

Be really clear about what you are trying to achieve.

Belichick knows the season is about winning the Super Bowl and so is the pre-season and the post-season. If you want to write a novel then that is the goal, nothing else. Prepare. Execute. Analyse to make next year’s performance better. It is hard work so put in the hours. Be focused and cut out distractions. Commit and achieve.

Practise with purpose and put what you learn into action.

A very underestimated part of what Belichick does is the practice field. The Patriots train with crowd noise. They train with old and scuffed up balls, removing as much of the grip as they can. They try to recreate conditions similar to the ones they will play in. All practice is purposeful.

It can be hard if you are time pressed for your creative pursuit but you need to practice. If you are a writer then try and find an extra couple of hundred words which are based on what you are writing, or will write in the next chapter. It might be character descriptions, or scene setting, or dialogue. If you are an artist you might need to experiment with colour, or sketch certain body parts, or try different techniques for applying the paint.

Use the creativity you need for that particular moment.

Don’t get distracted or show off. Use the skills to produce the elements you need to make that particular chapter, or picture, or composition, exactly as you need it. Be prepared and execute. If the scene is your chapter is heavy on dialogue, then make sure you have been practicing that element. Listen to good movies or tv, listen to or read good scenes from books and plays.

Don’t Panic!

Sometimes, particularly in the early stages, things might not go quite the way you had planned. It happens. Work out why and fix the issue. Sometimes there might not be a specific problem, you just didn’t execute well enough, so make sure you do the next time. Keep pressing on and know everything will come together late on in the season when it really matters. You may have zigged when you wanted to zag but keep the process going and remain focused on the end result.

Don’t waste time and energy.

Monosyllabic answers and repetitive phrases at press conferences are communicating that this isn’t where we win championships and Super Bowls.

As creatives we have platforms which can really boost the audience for our creativity in ways which no other writers/artists have had before, but it can also be a massive distraction. Social Media is the press conference. Learn from Bill. Don’t waste your energy and know it is taking time away from your main job. It is necessary, which why even he does them, but his conduct tells you that he knows what is important. The end result.

So Create Like Bill! And I hope to see you all in the Hall of Fame! (But don’t be surprised if Bill doesn’t speak with us!)

Day 466 – Creative Like Bill Belichick, Pt.1.

I’m not trying to alienate anyone here by mentioning the New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick. I understand that the franchise and the coach are like Marmite – you love them or you hate them.

For full disclosure I am a San Francisco 49ers fan, but as a sports coach you have got to learn from the best and the 6 Super Bowl victories simply make him the best.

I was listening to the Sky Sports NFL podcast, with the excellent Neil Reynolds and Jeff Reinebold, where they were finishing up their pre-season ‘state of the franchise’ thoughts and the final team being mentioned was the Patriots.

It occurred to me that surely the secrets of Belichick’s success could be applied to being creative.

Hear me out.

Players on a team are ultimately a set of skills and experiences. The coach uses those skills and experiences to craft a win. You get enough wins in a season then you get the big prize at the end; but even if you don’t, those wins remain achievements in themselves.

As a creative you gather together as many skills and experiences as you can. You use those to produce a piece of work. You put together a good enough body of work then you are often acknowledged/rewarded/awarded titles and prizes.

Let me be more specific.

You are a writer. You gather your group of players – in this case authors/books/characters/plots from across all your years of reading. You use this knowledge, these skills and experiences, to write a chapter – to win. You win as many regular season games as you can – you write as many chapters as successfully as you can. Losses and ties mean you need to do some revision. The post-season is where you hone it all down to that last championship game – the finished novel.

Perhaps, alternatively, the different games in the normal season are different types of writing. The post-season is your overall body of work.

The head coach is the natural editor in your brain. A little more of this. A little less of that. Those elements for that particular match, or these elements for this piece of writing, in order to be successful.

Hopefully, you can see where I am going with this.

Tomorrow, I will try and convince you of what Bill Belichick can bring to our creative endeavours.

Day 444 – A Sense of Place.

I’ve been listening to a BBC Radio documentary on The Pennine Way.

It is a national trail which runs for 268 miles through England and up into Scotland, and the hills over which it runs is often called the ‘backbone’ of England.

The documentary describes the places and the people along it, the music, songs, and poetry which it inspires, the history and the culture of its length.

Many creatives are both inspired and captivated by what is right there on their doorstep.

Which places and people, history and culture, inspires you and how does it inspire and direct your creative output?