From the Desk Remix! – Lots of Fish but only One Shark.

I think being creative is often the easiest part.

Generally, I have no shortage of ideas and inspiration, whether it is writing or art.

The problem comes in that they are often like a shoal of fish and I am in the middle of them.

Even sharks find grabbing hold of just one of those fish difficult.

And even if you do grab hold of one, then there are still all of the others whirling around you.

The last few days has been one of those periods where I’ve been lost in the shoal.

What am I doing? What should I be doing? Should I continue with this, or begin anew with that?

There is a lot of advice out there, I think given by people who aren’t in the actual middle of a shoal of fish!

My general way of dealing with the situation is to keep going until you hit a mini-breakdown – I am not recommending this as an actual practise by the way! – then you stop doing everything.

After a couple of days of thinking, reading, searching, prayer, listening to the voices in your head as well as the loud music, the fog begins to clear.

I am listening to Anberlin even whilst writing this.

After a couple of days of thinking, reading, searching, prayer, listening to the voices in your head as well as the loud music, the fog begins to clear.

It is probably more sensible, however, to:

  • take a step back
  • refocus on your priorities for your creative work
  • assess the projects you are currently dealing with
  • choose the one which is the most important/pulls the hardest at your creative muscles
  • set out a clear time frame for completing this one project
  • list, in order, the other projects to be completed if you decide to complete them

Stephen King recommends that, once you have finished your first draft of a novel, you place it in a drawer for at least six weeks, then revisit it, read it, and start editing.

This will work with ideas and inspiration as well.

Keep a notebook and write down all of your inspirations and ideas, but set a day/time when you will revisit the idea, and see what its impact on you is later on. This also stops you (me!) from chasing every fish in ths shoal!

From the Desk Remix! – The October Country.

Yesterday was the last day of September. It has passed quickly. There is more darkness and the rains have returned.

The end of a month is like walking through a doorway. Your back is to where you have come from and there is quickly a barrier between you and it.

You are now in a new space. A new environment. Perhaps familiar but perhaps not.

I mention in the ‘Welcome!’ to this site, that the American writer Ray Bradbury made me into a writer. I read his novel Something Wicked This Way Comes easily more than a hundred times before I left school. The story takes place in October.

This October I am being ambitious.

I am taking on The Literal Challenge’s Scriptly Writing, which is a fortenight of daily writing prompts for a two page script.

I’ve never written a proper script before, but why would that stop me?

What attracted me to this challenge is the focus on characters and what they say. I’ve always found writing dialogue between characters easier than the descriptive connectors and narrated plots drivers.

I’ve also decided to do NaNoWriMo again, which means October is now officially Preptober!

Choose your project, announce it, perpare yourself and those around you for the 1667 words a day during November.

I’ve got my BHAGs lined up! (Big Hairy Audacious Goals, if you’re not familiar with Jerry Collins’ Good to Great.)

I am also going to be trialing a ten minute work flow.

I have always been spikey about being interrupted when I am in a creative flow. To avoid this I generally won’t start something creative if I don’t have a reasonable length of time to go at it.

I can’t being to calculate how much creative time I’ve lost with this attitude/habit.

So I am going to force myself to work in ten minute sprints. If someone wants to disturb me during a sprint then they will have to wait between 9 and 1 minute for my attention.

Hopefully, I can stitch together several sprints in one go but if not I have used a minimum of ten minutes usefully on a creative endeavour.

I will let you know how it goes!

What are your plans for October, or the last few months of the 2021? Let people know your BHAG’s!

Discard What You Don’t Need.

This is an easy piece of advice to agree with.

Until we open a drawer, or look in a cupboard, or try and find a file on our computers.

There are lots of reasons and theories about how and why we accumulate so much stuff and our parents, spouses or partners, and professionals, telling us to cut down or not buy more to begin with.

The same can be said about our creativity.

We accumulate.

We accumulate attitudes, ideas, ways of doing, which over time can leave us in a mess.

Every now and then we may have a tidy up but how many times do we discard.

The writer Stephen King was stern in his advice to ‘kill your darlings’ – those characters, paragraphs, ideas, which are you need to discard.

It is difficult to determine what we don’t need.

Creatively, surely the more skills and techniques we have the better we become?

Yes and no.

The more skills we have the more versatile we can be, but they can also lock us into a particular way of doing things which maybe limiting.

In art, think of how differing brush strokes created whole new movements such as the Impressionists

In music, think of how discarding notes from a chord helped to produce the deeper and heavier tones of Rock/Metal.

But what do we discard?

Discard whatever is holding you back.

Creatively experiment by removing things.

If, as a writer, you spend ages writing descriptive passages because you find them difficult, then discard them. Be simple and straight to the point. Your reader will help by filling in the gaps.

If, as an artist, you struggle to draw faces then don’t draw them. Most fashion designers don’t. Go further and don’t draw the bodies either.

Discarding isn’t always about getting rid of something.

It is about making space where you can choose to bring something new in.

Replace lines for dots, chords for individual notes. A human character for a non-human character.

And remember you can discard your thoughts.

You don’t need to remind yourself of what you can’t do.

Discard.

Remind yourself of what you can do.

The ‘Chicken and the Egg’ Guide for Creatives?

It is a common catchphrase – which came first, the chicken or the egg? – which appears to have a simple answer, either way, until you come to justify it.

Apparently, it was Plutarch which first posed the question in the 1st Century AD, addressing the problems of origin and first cause. Aristotle, writing four centturies earlier wouldn’t even have considered the question as he believed there was no true origin.

By the close of the Sixteenth Century the Christian world didn’t even consider the dilema as God made, or created, everything. By the Twentieth Century Evolutionary Biologists decided the answer had to be the ‘Egg’ as they calculated that the first hard shelled egg – not laid in water – couldn’t have happened until about 312 Million years ago.

So what has 2000-312,000,000 year old debate have to do with creativity?

To answer the much more pressing question of whether I am procrastinating or not!

If the egg = researching for searching for the creative impulse and chicken = actually doing the creative thing, then you are looking at the problem as I am.

I am new to art and, although I have always loved looking at art and watched lots of documentaries on art movements and artists, I am acutely aware of the lack of reference points and natural triggers I possess when I come to do the creative action.

So I research. A lot.

The it struck me, this morning as I glanced at my still empty sketchbook pages for the day, that most of the time I had for the action of creativity was in fact being taken up by the research to obtain the creative triggers, to then be creative.

So which comes first?

Creative Action?

Or Creative Thought?

Ironically, as a writer I would definitely tick the box of Creative Action. I usually start with the thinnest sliver of a starting point – maybe a few words or a person walking or entering a building – then I write. As I write the Creative Thought occurs and I get the next scene or chapter developing in my head.

As an artist the process is definitely the reverse.

Perhaps it is because there are more elements to taking action? What type of surface, what type of meduim, brushes or palette knives, sketch an outline or simply apply the paint?

In general though, how does your creativity arrive?

If you are a person of faith, or an evolutionary biologist, then you maybe decisively fall on one side or the other of the debate. Or perhaps you give the answer of certitude ‘well, it depends . . . ‘

I appear to have a foot in both camps.

My faith make me certain that the chicken came first, and if it turns out the egg was created before the chicken, then the whole creation thing happened anyway, so the principle is still proven.

I beleive that creativity comes from the Creator.

So my creative thinking process is, as I have begun to suspect, an elaborate means of procrastination.

But taking time to think and research has definitely furnished me with many creative ideas and actions!

However, if I fill in the time sheet of thought versus action, then the beginning of the Bible would go like this:

In the beginning, God took five and a half days to do research then realised it was almost the Day of Rest, so he decided to do a final bit of research and then wrote in his planner to definitely create something first thing on Sunday!

(Saturday is the Jewish Sabbath – just in case you were wondering.)

So, maybe you are like me and you are certain you’re pretty sure you know which comes first?!

Then again both options are creative, so what does it matter?

Or maybe this brings us onto another age old debate?

If a tree falls in a wood with no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?

Or, are you only being creative if there is an end product to prove it?

Go and be creatively thoughtful or creatively creative, and I will join you.

Daily Verse – Struggle.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Ephesians 6:12 NIVUK

In this verse the Apostle Paul is teaching, and reminding, believers that our world and lives are more complicated than we think.

Before becoming believers we were purely physical beings and existed in a world of physical situations and challenges.

Now, as believers, we have had the spiritual connection, which Adam and Eve originally possessed, put back into place through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

This spiritual ‘refit’ brings us to a new life but a life which also has it’s own unique set of circumstances.

When I read through this verse this morning I got stuck on the ‘struggle’.

The Greek word used is palé and occurs only in this verse in the whole of the New Testament.

Translated mostly as ‘struggle’ it derives from the word ‘pallo’ which means wrestling or to wrestle.

Often our struggles are very much like a wrestling match. We are in the grip of an issue or problem and we are trying to pull away or overpower the ‘thing’.

I am reminded again of the story of Jacob wrestling the Angel of the Lord, mentioned in yesterday’s Daily Verse.

Jacob saw and understood our lives/world is much more complicated than we often care to consider.

We can struggle creatively as well.

Creativity is a mental and physical experience.

Even creatives who are not believers will refer to their practice as often being a spiritual process.

Recognising and making connection with the spiritual can still mean we struggle or wrestle – with doubts, with processes, with realising that physical form of the mental idea.

If we wrestle like Jacob we will become stronger in our spiritual lives and creative practices.

Daily Verse – Gladness and Singing.

Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.

Psalms 100:2 NIVUK

The Hebrew word translated here as ‘worship’ – ‘iḇ·ḏū – is more correctly ‘to serve’ – to be linked together in a close bond.

We are to be bonded to serve God with gladness – bə·śim·ḥāh – with pleasure, rejoicing, joyfulness.

King David was a singer and musician, so it is natural that he wrote that we should sing – bir·nā·nāh a joyful voice – to the Lord but I think we can bring to God any of our gifts.

All of our creativity can be offered in joy and service.

When you paint, when you write, when you dance or, like David, when you sing and create music, think of it all as praise and service to God.

Whatever we bring to the Lord let us do it with gladness.

Words Fail Me.

I’ve been trying to write an update of where I currently am creatively for over a week.

Literally, the words have failed me.

I’ve struggled to even write a handful of words.

I’ve reflected upon the reasons for my sudden wordly-mutism.

The closest reason I can come to is that it is like having another language. If you stop using it, you are going to struggle to find the right words when you need it.

Recently all my creative attention has been on art – painting, drawing, looking at, watching, learning.

My words are sulking in a corner, like a dog when you arrive back home after leaving them behind.

Maybe I am not bi-lingual and this will always be a problem for me?

Or perhaps I need to balance my focus and attention between the art and writing?

What if I wrote about art or paint words?

This is undoubtedly a very creative period for me but also a little confusing as I haven’t developed a clear path through it all yet.

The pathway will become apparent.

I am reading Welsh poet Gillian Clarke’s new book Roots Home. The Welsh words catching my attention and reminding me of years spent in the vale and mountains.

My wife mentioned living in Wales again, and the next day an artist on Instagram posted a photo of the hills behind our old house. Maybe it is a sign.

I’m struggling to juggle art and words, adding Welsh into the mix could be entertaining.

But then, Dylan Thomas didn’t write in Welsh, although he undoubtedly understood it.

Roots Home.

Creative roots.

Art came before the Words.

The Art was stopped and the Words sustained me.

Art – Roots. Words – Home.

500 Word Challenge – The Old Man.

A month or so back, I began the 500 Word Challenge.

This was a writing challenge to myself to write for approximately 15-20 minutes, about whatever was in my head at the time.

Sometimes the result was fiction. Sometimes it wasn’t.

Sometimes it took longer. Sometimes it wasn’t just 500 words.

It turns out there is a rebel in me after all.

Here is the result of one of those challenges:

The farmer O’Hare met the Old Man at the gate to North Field. This was normal on early spring mornings. The Old Man’s frame, tall and broad, had aged and weathered like the gate post which he was leaning upon.

Nine, O’Hare’s sheep dog was doing a lackadasical job of keeping a group of fifteen goats moving down the narrow lane. His master was inclined to ignore his dog’s poor workmanship on the understanding that he was a sheep dog and not a goat dog after all. 

The goats didn’t stray very far anyhow.

The Old Man had turned his gaze towards the farmer, his clear blue eyes were unblinking. His shaggy eyebrows hooded down, like a hawks. He liked O’Hare. He was a straight forward man and there weren’t too many of those in the world from his experience of it.

O’Hare greeted him with a nod of his head once he was a few feet away.

The Old Man responded with a gravelly voice which started from deep in his chest.

‘When are you going to get a proper goat dog?’

‘Far too expensive, you know that? Nine is good enough, they’re only goats after all.’

The Old Man gave a single nod of his head, then waited for the other man to give him the news.

O’Hare tried to sound level and even in his delivery.

‘I see some young fella from the city has taken your cousin’s cottage?’

‘So I am told.’

‘For a month no less?’

The Old Man turned his gaze towards Nine, who was now lying in the middle of the lane whilst the goats attacked part of the hedgerow.

‘Apparently, he is an illustrator. Plants and flowers and stuff like that.’

‘Is that so?’

‘Surely, your cousin has told you so?’

‘She knew you would do it for her.’

O’Hare laughed quickly.

‘You bastard.’

The Old Man lifted himself up from post. He was a tall man.

‘So my Mam always told me.’

O’Hare knew that was a lie. The Old Man had never known his mother, dying in child birth as she had. It was a tragedy in the village and make no mistake.

O’Hare’s attention was drawn back.

‘Have you seen the fella?’

He shook his head.

‘He arrived late last night by all accounts.’

The Old Man broke a smile which increased the lines in his face.

‘You mean by Lettie’s account, which is why you are late in getting getting the goats this far.’

‘By Jesus, I’m not that late, Old Man. You must have been out here earlier than usual, that’s all.’

‘Have it your way, Michael, but I will say you should make an honest woman of the poor girl.’

‘Girl? She’s older than the both of us!’

‘In that case what you’re doing must surely be illegal, and not just what the youngsters say about you and those goats.’

O’Hare grinned back at him, shaking his head.

‘I’m just waiting for that little fucker, Billy G to get himself closer enough to Nine – his precious Mam will have him away to the Medical Centre getting rabies shots and all sorts.’

The Old Man reached out an enormous hand and gripped the other man’s shoulder reassuringly.

‘I’ve thought about biting the little bastard myself.’

‘Once I know anything else, I will let you know, of course.’

‘Thank you, Michael, I’d appreciate that.’

He removed his hand and O’Hare turned, calling to Nine, who leapt up and went and barked at the nearest goat to at least show some form of willing.

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.

Changes.

Change happens all the time.

For the most part we probably don’t notice.

This last year, the changes have been much more obvious for most of us.

I expect we all have reflected a good deal on our lives and what we do with them.

I continue to stumble through writing, still convinced that this is what I want to do, despite the fitful bursts of words.

I have begun to engage with visual art.

One of my earliest memories is of painting.

I always watch art programmes and read about art history.

I know how much colours effect me, so I began to play with colours once again.

Music is never far away.

Faith holds me together.

I am hoping to share an expression of my current creative pilgrimage.

Part of the journey is realising that you always have been and will continue to be ‘on the Way’.