Creativity Update.

I have taken once again to writing my reflections upon a verse of the Bible each week day. As always I write what I most need to hear and do. I am conscious of more focus on individual words in this phase of writing than before. Then the whole verse was in consideration. Now it is one word. One detail. I try to find the right expression of that word. Possibly using many more words than I need.

I had intended to finish one of my novels during this April Camp of NaNoWriMo. It stood at just over 75,000 words. By day two I completely lost the compulsion to continue. I don’t think this was due to hesitancy or doubt on my part. My focus had shifted.

Since I first summoned the courage to place artistic Apple Pencil upon iPad paper on 24th Jan of this year, I have now produced over 400 pieces of art. Many will be consigned to the dusty storage boxes of the iCloud, but I have begun to share some of them via Instagram. More courage. At times I am overwhelmed by how little I know about art and a deplorable lack of skills, in a way that I am not with writing. Despite this I am trying to fill the gaps.

As with the Daily Verse I am captured by a single detail. It may be a specific colour or combination of colours. It may be a pattern or shape. I am studying other artists and their works. I am watching YouTube videos and events online from galleries. You must watch ‘The Eye of the Storm‘ about Scottish artist James Morrison. (The link may only work if you are in the UK – sorry!)

Each image I make has become like an act of meditation. I relax. I have no anticipation of the final result. I try to be aware of God as a draw or paint. The emblem of three trees and the cross are repeated motifs.

I will try and share more, more regularly.

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.

23 Days in July 2019 – Le Tour – Stage 16.

The final week of the Tour has begun. The end is near. Expectations of a French victor – Alaphilippe or Pinot – has the home crowd on a high, but there is still plenty of opportunity for the non-French riders in the top six on GC. Team Ineos had two possible winners, with one being Geraint Thomas last year’s winner.

This stage is Nimes to Nimes. The last opportunity for sprinters before the Champs-Elysees. 177km with only one 4 Cat climb, so there will be breakaways but they are unlikely to stay away, despite those riders being very unlikely to be a GC threat.

The end of any long project can be full of mixed emotions. There is the anticipation and desire for the end, but also apprehension at the end of the routine you’ve made part of your life. You may feel that you have exceeded expectation, or that you have missed opportunities and could have done better. However, looking back you will acknowledge that you have completed a ‘Tour’ and that in itself will be a major accomplishment.

Stage Summary:

177km – Nimes to Nimes.

Caleb Ewan taking his second stage victory of this year’s Tour, coming from a long way back but making it looking convincing on the line, Breakaways did come but the riders were most 2 hours down on the GC standings, so were allowed their TV time, but the sprinters weren’t keen to give them too much of a lead. In the end they were hauled back in with just under 3k left.

Day 436 – Sunday Reflection.

Style.

I re-watched the movie The Thomas Crown Affair the other night and Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway clearly had style, in both their personalities and their fashion.

Creatively, I think we spend a long time trying to find our ‘style’. Early works are often composites of our favourite writers/artists/musicians, as we learn new techniques and experiment out of confidence in our ability to produce something maybe worthwhile.

Structure and technique can both define and dictate what we produce, but most of the successful creatives you could name eventually do something a little different and that is what gets them noticed.

What’s your sense of ‘different’ from your heroes or fellow creatives?

Chase Jarvis put out a great podcast/video on style with fellow photographer Alex Strohl – it is worth a look.

Day 433 – Idea Notebook.

Some writers seem to swear by a notebook. Others swear at the mere suggestion of one.

Most artists make sketches. Most musicians will record something on their mobiles – probably.

Have some way of recording your thoughts, ideas, research, and inspirations, is essential.

Too much happens to us on any given day to remember every idea we have.

I think it was Under the Dome which Stephen King had the idea for when he was still a teacher. He may even have written a scene or section. That became something special when he eventually returned to it after becoming one of the most successful novelists of his generation.

Whether you use apps on your phone, or a notebook, or both, keep them handy and use them. Read back through them on a regular basis.

Transfer those ideas as you develop them to a bigger notebook or your laptop.

Return to them and with a little TLC they will grow into something special.

23 Days in July 2019 – Le Tour – Stage 11.

Like the anticipation of any big event, the few days before are nervous and conservative. In a bike race like the Tour de France all of the GC favourites become chess players, mindful and trying to think ahead as many moves as they are able. The difference being their eventual execution of those moves will rely on their physical capabilities to match their intellectual efforts.

Any creative mind embarked upon a project will exhibit similar tendencies. There is a natural state of anticipation, nerves, euphoria, a sense of what might have been if only we had done this or that. There is a flow and ebb. We need to recognise this and react accordingly.

I’ve written already about preparation and scheduling. We are on a journey, like the Tour. Mountains and flats. Sprints and individual races against the clock.

Caleb Ewan has been there or there abouts on pretty much all the stages where there has been a main group sprint. Up until now he has not had the ‘luck’. Still he has persisted. That persistence paid off today. He is a young rider who had to leave his wife and newborn child, still in the hospital, to go to the Tour. He has a job and that dictates your life at times. I am sure he will dedicate that stage win to his wife and daughter.

Creativity can be a career or a hobby. For one you have to make sacrifices, for the other you can easily place it to one side. If you are pursuing the former it can be difficult to make that transition from the latter. Like Caleb Ewan, this is where persistence brings you the win.

Stage Summary:

167km – Albi to Toulouse.

A 4th Cat and a a 3rd Cat climb, so generally should be a sprinters’ day.

Caleb Ewan took his first major tour stage win with a good sprint from a long way out. He held onto the right wheels and made it across the line to take his first major tour, let alone his first Tour de France stage, win. The French are still cheering on Julian Alaphilippe in the Maillot Jaune. Interestingly, the French seem to be holding out for Thibaut Pinot, but evert Tour commentator which mentions him immediately follows it up with the assertion that he does not have the mental edge to win the Tour. It has been a long time sine Bernard Hinault last won the race in 1985, and maybe the French are used to wanting to win so are banking on Pinot, or probably won’t win, because they don’t know what to do if a Frenchman does actually win it.

Day 432 – Dark-side of the Moon.

This isn’t an inspired by Pink Floyd post – not that I have anything against the band.

The anniversary of the lunar landings let people know what was on the side we all can gaze out of our windows and see.

Sure, it took a lot of effort to get there, but very quickly we kind of knew what we didn’t know before.

So then people started to wonder what was on the other side – the dark side.

It is a metaphor that’s been there in creative arts forever.

So what’s on the other side of the ideas you’ve been working on recently?

Day 425 – What’s Your Next Project?

There should always be a next project.

What is it?

Still finishing up on a current project? It doesn’t matter.

There should already be another project.

How far through planning and scheduling it are you? Get on with it!

I’ll admit it is a fine line between dividing your creative focus between finishing your current project and the next one.

I find it difficult myself. It is easy to lose the flow and feeling in the words of the current idea when the next one is in my mind.

Here’s where a notebook comes in useful. Take a little extra time and get some of the ideas out of your head and down on paper. I prefer to do this with physically – pen and paper. Release some of that creative pressure in a positive way.

So what’s your next project?

I’ve had novels like H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, George Orwell’s 1984, and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, going around in my head for a few weeks now, so I am thinking that a story in that direction might be my next focus.

Day 423 – Back Catalogue.

As soon as we find a new artist who captures our attention we look for their back catalogue.

For some writers/artists/musicians there is a lot to see/hear/read. For others, not so much.

For some, the back catalogue is diverse and wide ranging. For others, not so much.

There isn’t a ‘right’ back catalogue. There just is what there is.

What’s your back catalogue like?

Is it what you want it to be? If someone discovers your creative endeavours, would they find a body of work which reflects your creativity?