FORTY HOURS OF PAY

I recently met a professional scriptwriter, who told me that the secret was never to work for more than three hours per day on any writing project. I took it as sound advice, and I think he’s sort of right. He’s also very successful at what he does. (No, you will not hear the clanging of a dropped name here, dear readers!)

Of course, now I find myself clock watching about two hours in, thinking, ‘Well, I’m nearly done’. I think the secret is actually to stop when you want to stop, and whether that’s two hours or six and a half hours, you know when you’ve run out of steam.

Whilst this ‘rule’ can happily apply to any of our creative endeavours, imagine if we tried it in the day job! ‘I have applied myself with diligence to this data input for three hours now. My work here is done, I am off down the pub.’

Less a case of ‘Later, Losers!’ than one of ‘Hello, HR!’.

Much has been written lately of Sweden’s experiment with the six hour working day. The bad news for the workers is that it turns out to be too costly to continue the scheme, at least in the care sector.

The irony is that most of us spend a goodly portion of our eight hours making tea, chatting, or having a sneaky peak at Facebook, just to break up the monotony. Our wee brains need a break. In fact, I’m writing this long overdue post because I need a break from doing Powerpoint Slides for my upcoming show ( I mentioned it last time, remember?).What I need to do is plan in my breaks and return to my slides refreshed.

(I once saw my old boss book an entire family skiing holiday during work hours. Took him ages. Of course, if I’d be concentrating on my own tasks, I might not have witnessed the spectacle. But shirking bosses are for another post.)

What I suppose I’m leading up to is the question of how many hours is enough hours, or too many? Or not enough? When it comes to work, I mean.

I am a great believer in 40 hours meaning 40 hours. Not 45, 50 or 60. If your contract says 40 hours, then the expectation must be that your job can be done in that number of hours. Beware any prospective employer who tells you that ‘We’re not a 9-5 organisation’ or ‘You find people here at all times of the night’. That means that anything less than buying into that will be seen as shirking.

Personally, I like the idea of ‘flow’, where you lose yourself in the task so much that you don’t notice the passage of time. Somehow, I fear that ‘flow’ and data entry or cardboard box making might not be entirely compatible. I used to be a vicious opponent of the wearing of headphones whilst working but, now, I say, bring them on. Why not concentrate on Radio 4 Extra and its many classic comedies if they make the 40 hours seem shorter? And, if you’re writing, painting or tinkering with your car, you won’t need the headphones. You’ll know when the flowing has stopped.

Now, where are those slides??

 

 

 

 

 

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Back to the School o’ Life

It’s that time of year again; the August Bank Holiday that marks the passing of summer, the end of the holidays, and, for students old and young, almost time to go back to school. It’s some years since I was a student, but, even now, I can’t help mentally dividing my year into ‘term-time’ and ‘holidays’. I’m bitter, even now, that I can’t have two weeks off over Easter. And whatever became of half-term?

On the up side, I have always loved the coming of September, which marked me out as an oddity as a teenager, I can tell you. For me, though, it always signalled a new beginning, and a chance to do better than the last academic year (although the trajectory was rarely upwards).

Who doesn’t love a clean slate? Who doesn’t love some crisp, new white uniform shirts and some freshly sharpened pencils? The shirts are more colourful, and larger, now, but I still have new pencils ready and poised. And I’m going back to school. I have two short courses booked in for September, both on creative topics. I am genuinely excited, not in that meaningless ‘exciting new retail outlet opening soon’ kind of way, but really excited that I will learn something and  be able to apply it. Or maybe I won’t be able to, any more than I have applied trigonometry since I last studied maths, but, I like to think, I will be a better person for listening to someone else’s expertise. I reckon one small nugget of something that gets me thinking will be worth it. Someone, I can’t remember who, once said that the best thing we learn at school is the ability to think. That sounds like our old friend, creativity, to me. Surely that is the logical extension of this, when it becomes the ability to apply creative solutions. Crucially, it’s also the ability to keep refining them and not worry if they are ‘wrong’.  Keep doing. Keep learning.

So, as the sun literally sets on the last public holiday in the UK until Christmas Day (shocking, eh?), I wish you all new, creative beginnings. Iron your shirts, sharpen your pencils, and polish up your thinking skills. And watch out for new podcasts heading your way in this creative autumn, or spring, if you are in the Southern Hemisphere.

Have fun and be creative until the next time.

Mel X

 

Beyond the Comfort Zone.

Last week, my husband, you know him as Mr Toad, asked me to film his comedy gig. Well, even I can manage to hold my phone in the air for ten minutes, so request duly granted. There are a few wobbles, but nothing I’m ashamed of.

This week, Mr T asks if I might be in a position to edit said video into something shorter for his Facebook page. Heck. Not sure. Never edited video before. But I am willing to give it a try. A year ago, I couldn’t edit sound for a podcast, now look at me! Better yet, listen to me. Ok, I don’t always get it right, sometimes I get it good and properly wrong, sound-quality-wise, but I carry on. I have zero technical skills, usually, but I was, and remain, determined to push myself out of my comfort zone.

Creatively, and in life, I recommend it. Learning doesn’t stop when we leave school, and development doesn’t begin when our companies decide to splash some training budget on an Excel course. The English comic actor, Kenneth Williams,  was famous for learning one new word a day straight from the dictionary, with the result that he had a vast and varied vocabulary. If you ever heard him on Just a Minute, you’ll know that he used it. We need to keep learning and doing things we might not think we can, or we will stagnate and maybe die out as a race. Honest.

The Comfort Zone is called that because it is just like sitting on a heap of fluffy cushions, eating warm chocolate fudge cake whilst listening to The Lark Ascending. It’s comfortable and it’s safe. It’s amazing the number of things that make us feel anxious and unsafe: learning something new,  change at work, exams. I learnt only this week that our response to this kind of threat, fear of change or fear of failure, comes from the same part of our brain that tells us to be scared when we are in a life or death situation.

A bit over the top? After all, I’ve only had to learn how to press some buttons, but my brain doesn’t know that. At least not that bit of it. So, it’s important to push through. There is no such thing as failure. As Thomas Edison said: ‘I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.’ Now, there was a man who had no time for comfort zones, and the fact that I’m writing this by the light of a bulb is testament to that.

So, let’s live a life beyond the Comfort Zone and try something new and a tiny bit scary. Ready? Now, editing software, you can run, but you can’t hide.

Mel.

New podcast – North London Dramaphilia

Welcome, friends, to my latest podcast. Angharad Ellis Jones of the Crouch End Players and I discuss the joys, and the ups and downs, of the amateur/ community theatre world. It’s such fun, but not as much fun as inventing news words, as we were convinced we had. Turns out that ‘dramaphile’ already exists, but, according to some definitions, is more likely to mean someone who enjoys a bit of a crisis (cf: drama queen) than someone who spends their Wednesday nights in a church hall rehearsing Oscar Wilde. No matter, I am sticking with it, hence the title.

It’s been a while since my last broadcast, so I’ll try to keep the gap smaller next time. In the meantime, enjoy this one and maybe think about treading the boards come autumn.

 

And it’s also here on Podomatic. It’ll pull through to my iTunes channel soon.

Happy listening.

Mel

 

Perfection is the Enemy

Or to be more accurate, perfectionism is our foe. If you’ve been listening to the podcast, you’ll know that I have some misgivings about Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic, but when it comes to creative perfectionism she is bang on the button. She described it as just a fancy name for  a fear of failure. How right she is. As long we have a work that’s ‘in progress’ , something that we are getting into a state of just right-ness, we can never say we’ve failed. How can we fail, if we don’t get something out there into the world at large? And so we carry on, honing and perfecting until the moment has gone, until sometimes we just don’t love what we’re working on any more. Then we kill off the project, give it a half-decent burial, courtesy of the shredder, and declare it as having been unworthy of us all the time. Who are we kidding?

Am I reading your thoughts right now? Well, it’s not any kind of mystical jiggery-pokery on my part, it’s just that I’ve been through exactly that process many times myself. In fact if there’s anything I’m an expert in, it’s in giving up, because I just can’t get a writing project finished to the high standard I expect of myself. Who am I kidding?

I haven’t posted a blog for over a week, because I was worrying that any chosen topic might not be quite the right one,and I wouldn’t have enough to say, or at least enough that was devastatingly insightful and witty. So I just didn’t write – at all. And in not writing, I think I have actually misunderstood this whole blogging thing. Some people post every day and I am flipping sure they’re not tearing themselves to pieces over wit and insight. They just say what they want to say and I applaud them. And, yes, some of them are very witty and insightful indeed.

So, my notes to self for this week are as follows:

  1. Don’t get it perfect, get it done.
  2. Find time to post more often. There’s always something to say, even if it won’t get me a Nobel Prize.
  3. Stop kidding yourself…about everything.
  4. Well, that’s enough for one week.

Who knows, you may even hear from me before the week is out. Let’s all keep writing.

Happy creating.

Your non-prize winning friend, Mel

 

 

Viva La Musica – The Podcast

Hello friends

Following on from my last post, here it is, the latest podcast. It’s an inspirational interview with Barbara de Biasi, head of London’s Fireworks Music School.

If, like me, you’ve ever regretted not learning an instrument, and are wondering if it’s too late, you’ll want to hear this. Seems its not too late, and there are huge health benefits too. Here it is on Soundcloud. Scroll down too, for more useful links, including the Fireworks Music School. Give ’em a call.

 

And here it is on Podomatic:  http://imasquattingtoad.podomatic.com/entry/2016-06-30T10_32_47-07_00

Here’s Barbara’s website:    http://www.barbaradebiasi.com/

And the music school:http://www.fireworksmusicschool.com/

Read about research into the positive effects of music:  http://www.anitacollinsmusic.com/neuroandmused/

Well, that’s enough to be getting on with for now. Enjoy the podcast and keep creating.

Mel

X

Viva La Musica!

I’m writing a TV ad for my latest podcast. The episode will be ready on Wednesday, so I’d better get to it pretty damned quick. The ad will feature me in  a starched, white apron, flashing my starched, white teeth and holding a packet of NEW Squatting Toad, ‘The podcast that adds a pinch of creativity and removes the stain of hate.Try it now. Guaranteed or your money back.’

Well, you’ll all be getting your money back. And I’ll be giving it back because I lied to you. A proper bare-faced lie, like the ones we’ve heard here in the UK this week, the ones that tell you that foreigners are dragging our country down, taking everything and giving nothing in return.

Can you tell I’m angry? Too right, I’m angry. What were we thinking, voting to leave the EU, and on so-called evidence that foreign migrants are diminishing the nation? AND on the very day I interview one of the most inspiring people I have ever met, who lives here in London and just happens to be Italian.

OK, so now this is an ad for my upcoming episode and you’ll want to hear it, because you will agree that Barbara de Biasi’s contribution to our cultural life is immense. She’s a composer and a music teacher and a passionate believer in the power of music. Here’s an article on just one of her recent projects.

http://www.standard.co.uk/news/education/this-is-how-to-get-free-piano-lessons-at-st-pancras-station-a3250766.html

Yes, the lessons were free!

We know creativity is crucial and, as I mentioned last time, what sets us apart from the animals. Barbara has travelled many miles from her home to find a place that has offered her the opportunity both to learn and to give back. She deserves better than the threat of having to leave or having to jump through administrative hoops to be able to stay.

Advert, rant, information – what a lot just one post can give you. Stay tuned for my interview with Barbara, and share it far and wide, if you agree that we need to keep our world, our hearts and our minds open. Then we can really show we are above hate and destruction.

Viva La Musica (as Barbara might say)!

Mel

 

New Podcast (hurrah). Top Books for Creative People

Hello Friends

We all need some inspiration from time to time, either somebody to give us a motivating kick in the proverbial, or just  time out to read some wise words in a good book.

Well, embarrassment of riches time, because in today’s podcast, I bring you wise words from three good books. I’ve chosen these books because I found them inspiring, not because I was looking for some books to review. I hope you’ll invest in at least one of them (or find them in your library), and I hope you’ll agree.

Don’t worry if you don’t agree, just tell me which books have moved you and I can maybe feature them in a later episode.

Here goes on Soundcloud:

I will post iTunes and Podomatic links soonest.

Have a great, creative weekend.

Mel

What is ‘bad’ creative work? New podcast episode tries to answer.

Hello friends

My latest podcast is available now. (Links below.)

Painter, Alex Vassiliadis talks about the joy she gets from the process of creating, even if the outcome isn’t so great. Personally, I love this painting, it exudes such light and spirit. What do you think?

20160508_131543

Listen to Alex talk about her creative life in the latest Squatting Toad podcast, available now on Soundcloud and Podomatic. Up on iTunes very soon.

Podomatic link is here:

Happy listening and thanks.

Mel

 

Making Creativity Happen (Part 3)

What a deceptive, cheating person I am. I reel you in with a promise of more inspiration and all you get is my latest podcast. Shame on me.

Well, fret not, it is inspirational. It’s a bit of a summary of things I’ve written here before, and things I’ve discovered on my journey. Good stuff and, I truly believe, worth some repetition. There’s new stuff here too, and a plug for previous podcasts. I know, no shame. Enjoy on Soundcloud and do tell your friends. And tell me how you are getting on.

Happy Creating.

Mel