Line Up Your Shoes.

It is traditional when entering a Japanese home to take off your shoes and place them together, neatly, inside the hallway. These shoes should also be pointing out of the building, prepared and ready for your outward journey.

Creative types come in all shapes and sizes – like people really,

There is a romantic notion of creative genius being messy and chaotic but creating beauty out of it.

For some of us that might be true – messy and chaotic at the very least.

Others may be ordered and organised.

I have no judgement on either type, but I will confess that I can easily slip into one but prefer being the other – you can decide which.

One of the traditional ways of craftspeople and artists in Japan I admire the most is their focus on their tools and the process of creating.

For them, their tools are an extention of their movements and the process is part of the creativity.

Preparation and tool placement is very much like the chef’s mise en place.

Every thought and movement you make in the process of your creativity, helps to form the final piece.

Wasted movements take away from the creativity.

Searching for a brush you know is somewhere in a drawer, running out of a tube of paint in the process of application, trying to find the piece of paper you wrote that chord progression on in the footwell of your car, all interrupt and divert.

Organisation my not be a ‘creative’ word, but preparation and making the process as smooth as possible will have a fantastic impact upon your creativity.

Like lining up your shoes for the next journey, line up your tools for the process of creating.

Ethan Hawke on Creativity.

Actor, writer, director, Ethan Hawke recorded a TED talk in June of this year. I came across it yesterday. So far I’ve watched it three times.

One of the key themes he mentions is this, being an artist is about trying to make sense of the world.

It is the purpose, or role, of creatives is to try and make sense of all of the emotions and experiences of life and then communicate them to others.

‘Others’ might only be an audience of one, or ten thousand. It doesn’t matter, because we – as receivers of creative output – are constantly sifting to find that filter which makes the most sense of the world to us.

As an actor Hawke mentions that he has played good guys and bad guys, priests and sinners, and these characters are lenses which focus on situations in life. They are guides or warnings to us.

Hawke urges us to seek out what we love and then get as close to it as we can.

He gives the example of going to see the movie Top Gun with his brother. Hawke came out of the movie wanting to be in movies like that and his brother came out wanting to go into the military.

One stimulus but two outcomes.

A dozen creative people can look at the same thing, or event, and you will most likely get a dozen different expressions of that same thing.

Don’t worry if your creative output isn’t the same as other peoples.

Your expression is your filter on life. Other people will want to see the world through that filter.

Hawke also tells us that creativity is communication through which we connect to others.

This is sort of back to the point I made last but it is useful to remind ourselves that when we undertake our creative work it is also communication with others.

Even if that poem we write, or picture we paint, is kept in a locked draw and no one ever sees or reads them, the very act of their creation is us communicating outwardly.

If you haven’t already watched the TED Talk then do it now – if you have watched it already, then tell me you noticed the necklace appearing and disappearing?

(I am still trying to work out if it is significant!)

Creativity on the Clock.

Photo by Tristan Gassert on Unsplash
Photo by <a href=”http://Tristan Gassert on Unsplash

Normal is no longer ‘normal’.

The rules have changed.

All those books, videos, and articles, telling us how to streamline our days to gain us that often small precious window of time to achieve our creative endeavours, are now a thing of the past.

Why?

Because we all suddenly have gained lots of extra time.

Commuting time. Coffee break and lunch time, where most of us probably still sat at our desks and worked. Outside the house hobby and sport time.

You can make your own list.

Instead we have the pressure to create because we have all of this ‘time to create’ time.

It turns out that having all the time we need is just as paralysing as not having enough time for our creative endeavours.

So what’s the solution?

For me, I went on the clock.

Some of you might remember going to work and having to ‘clock in’?

You had a card and you put it in the machine and your name and time ended up on a little printed receipt roll, which told the office that you had turned up on time, worked your day (when you clocked out) so they should pay you your full daily amount.

My own version of this has been to set a count down timer for fifteen minutes.

I clock in – press start.

Then stop when Chewbacca roars at me.

It doesn’t sound much, does it?

Fifteen minutes.

But with this timer I’m hitting an average of 440 words in that fifteen minutes and this includes ‘thinking time’, as I am generally a ‘pantser’ when I write fiction.

Two fifteen minute sessions and I am almost hitting my minimum 1000 word target a day.

Why did I choose 15 minutes?

Two reasons.

I realised that I often wrote as much in 15-20 minutes as I sometimes did in an hour!

And, I could not possibly find an excuse not to write for fifteen minutes if/when our new normal goes back to the old normal.

Try it for yourselves.

Set a timer for whatever period works best for your type of creativity.

It might be a 30 minutes session if you are a musician? An hour session if you paint.

Remember you can do multiples!

Experiment.

Clock in and clock out.

Let me know how you get on with it.

 

 

23 Days in July 2019 – Le Tour – Stage 3.

This stage of the Tour leaves Belgium and enters France, travelling on one of the longest routes of this edition through the famous Champagne region. Dom Perpignan will watch over the riders as they pass through the vines of Moët and Chandon.

Also in this stage there is the relatively recent invention of time bonuses over some specific climbs, as a way to spice up the race. Interestingly, perhaps one of the reasons why not much happens in some of these early long stages is exactly that – it is an early stage in a three week race and it is ridiculously long.

Over recent years there has been much publicity attached to the design of each year’s Tour and the organiser’s attempts to break the control of the winning teams – well Team Sky really. It also happened before with the various incarnations of the teams of the now disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong.

This always seems to be the reverse of what should happen.

The weight of tradition and teams who carry on doing what they have always done – and not being successful or at least only being partially successful – seem to apply pressure to the race organisers to adapt the course to try and ‘defeat’ the top teams/contenders.

Surely those teams missing out on a final podium place and/or the Yellow Jersey should be adapting the winning habits of those teams winning?

One of the key developments in the Creative world recently is surely the amount of information which can be shared/learned from other creatives?

In the past there have been ‘schools’ of art and music, mostly from the physical proximity of those people involved. Now we can link up with creatives from all over the world at the tap of a screen or press of a keyboard.

What remains, however, is the individual’s uptake of those lessons, which I suspect is read/seen but then not fully adopted. You can see this in sport all the time.

I am not suggesting that we all follow the same blueprint and become clones of each other, but if a sports team/person, or Creative, is producing great results from following specific habits or actions, why wouldn’t we want to add that to our armoury also?

Here is my Tour inspired Creative list of things to do to accomplish your aims:

1. Be clear about the desired end result – e.g. at the end of 90 days you will have a 90,000 word story complete, or you will have a fully completed canvas after 3 days, or 12 song ideas for development after 12 days. The length of time does and doesn’t matter. It is the time frame which you set and will complete the task by.

2. What do you need to do to prepare undertake the task? Think planning, materials, schedules, letting people know you will be engaged upon your creative endeavour for a specific amount of time each day etc. Do you need to plot in detail or just have the basic skeleton of your story? Do you need certain paints or new strings for your guitar. Once you start your creative ‘tour’ if you don’t have it then it is to late.

3. Be clear about the route – each of the Tour riders have a handbook which contains every detail about each stage route they could possibly need. You need to think like this too. Each day you will write 1000 words and spend 20 minutes reviewing the previous day’s efforts. You will spend 3 days sketching and 5 days painting. Each song needs to be between 3-4 minutes and you will lay down the basic guitar chords and a hummed melody for each.

4. What do you need to do each day to optimise your performance? Make sure the cupboard is well stocked with coffee. A short walk before you start writing, or walking and feeding the dog before you paint. 20 minutes of warm-up on the guitar before you start with new ideas. Whatever works best for you.

5. How will you celebrate the wins along the way? Stage winners and Jersey leaders on the Tour get to stand on a podium, shake hands with the local dignitaries, wave at the crowd. What are you going to do? A meal out at the end of each week with your wife if you hit your target. Watching your favourite tv show at the end of your painting session. PlayStation with the kids once you have rough recorded the chords and melody.

Stage Summary:

215km – Binche to Epernay – Essentially flat apart from the one Cat 4 and three Cat 3 climbs right towards the end. The breakaways were kept on a short lead for most of the day but then the peloton were caught napping by J. Alaphilippe. Egan Bernal gained 5 seconds over Geraint Thomas from a small break in the chasing pack and the Tour press seemed keen to try and make something out of this. Potentially Alaphilippe could hold onto the journey for a few stages.

Day 405 – This Is What It Feels Like.

After you read this, watch this.

What you are going to watch is a like writing.

This is what it feels like.

If it doesn’t, you must be doing it wrong.

It is tricky, it is thrilling, it is dangerous. There are plenty of places where you want to get off.

There is the uphill bit in the middle, which is just a slog.

Then there is the end, which is even more scary than the beginning.

Writing.

This feeling is why we do it and why you should see it through right to the end.

This is what it feels like.

Day 392 – Pacific Island Rugby Players.

Pacific Island rugby players – those players from Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa – make up twenty percent of players in the Northern and Southern Hemisphere leagues.

They don’t always get the advice and support that they need.

Dan Leo, a former player himself, has been highlighting the skill and the immense physical stature of the Island players, as well as their often difficult circumstances after they leave the game.

Watch the following short film about one of the greatest Island players.

Rupeni Caucaunibuca: Oceans Apart #1

Day 391 – What’s In The Box?

In a TED talk, J.J. Abrams talks about the mystery of the box.

He explains how he was interested in magic tricks as a younger boy and once bought a box for $15 which was supposed to have tricks worth $50 in it.

Here’s the thing – he never opened the box.

To him the mystery of what was in the box was more powerful than actually finding out if the value of what was inside was worth more or less than he had paid for it.

The mystery of what might be in the box was what was valuable.

I think creatives can think the same way.

Our talent is in the box.

If it stays closed then we can neither be disappointed or elated.

Elation is a risky business. It might only be short lived and therefore better saved.

We naturally feel better if our disappointment is figured but never confirmed.

But unless we open the box we can never use what is inside and using what is inside is where the real value is at.

Day 390 – Dark Mode.

Earlier today I watched some highlights of the Apple event introducing the iPadOS.

Giant screens, new developments, cheering and squeals from the packed venue audience. High tech glamour and entertainment.

(A quick confession – I own/have owned most things Apple have produced.)

Then it came . . .

Excitement from the guy on the platform making the announcement . . .

Shouts and screaming from the audience . . .

. . . Dark Mode . . .

What the??

Since when does your screen/apps having a darker tone/appearance rate as something new and inventive which means we should go wild with excitement?

Even I have a dark mode – just watch me change when my rugby team loses!

As a creative type I have two takeaways from the Dark Mode:

• People are perfectly happy – even get excited – by something which isn’t even, well, that new or exciting – ship average and ship often.

• Spend the time to come up with something which actually is innovative and sends the crowds wild – ship special and ship when it is ready.

Day 387 – Winning in Unexpected Ways.

Rugby Union’s Exeter Chiefs and Football’s Liverpool are losers.

Exeter lost the Premiership Final to Saracens and Liverpool finished second to Manchester City in the Premier League.

Yet Exeter finished top of the league table, with a league points tally of 86 points. Their points tally to end the season has only been bested once (by one point) since the bonus point system was introduced. They were only promoted into the Premiership on the 2010/11 season.

Yet Liverpool finished second but with a points score which (even when converted into the old league points system) would have won them every League title except the last two.

Exeter have been finalists for four years in a row, but Liverpool have won the Champions League title this season.

Our accepted mindset is finish first or be the loser.

Both teams have cultivated exceptional cultures.

Sometimes being successful isn’t winning.

Your book might not top the charts. Your art work might not be the most expensive in the gallery. Your music might not get you headlining at a festival of your choice.

It does not mean that you haven’t achieved something significant this year.

I have to be honest – I would not mind be a loser like Exeter or Liverpool.

Day 386 – Taking Stock.

It has been three hundred and eighty-six days since I made the decision to write with serious intent.

On Day 71 I began entries in a red Moleskine notebook in Le Touquet, France. Nothing says serious writer like a Moleskine Notebook, does it?

Since then I’ve written fervently. I’ve written depressively.

I’ve had more ideas that I can get written frustratingly.

I’ve improved in my craft, but I still make some dumb mistakes.

I’ve planned and I’ve written without knowing what was coming next.

I’ve read my favourite authors and some of it might have rubbed off – Lee Child. Ian Rankin. John Le Carre. Michael Connelly. Haruki Murrakami.

I’ve read and listened, via audiobook, to advice on the craft: Reacher Said Nothing and the Making of Make Me by Andy Martin, Stephen King’s On Writing, and Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit. I’ve watched John Le Carre’s talk on behalf of Medicine Sans Frontiers about his life and craft.

I haven’t published a book yet, but I’ve written three, and had kind words from one of the top agencies about one.

I decided to listen to a new album everyday and I’m taking heart from the fact that there is some really good music out there which gets nowhere near the mainstream outlets. This is almost certainly true of writing also.

I’ve taken Seth Godin’s advice and undertaken to write in this blog everyday.