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??







The ‘Thing’ – at last!

I have a similar relationship with writing this blog as I have with exercise; I know they’re both jolly beneficial (to me, at least), but I can’t always manage to fit them. Given that my local gym, like the internet, is now open 24/7, my excuses for neglect become ever more feeble-sounding.

But here’s the thing – actually The Thing. I started on this creative journey of mine last year, and had no idea where it would lead. I remain fascinated by creativity and what sparks it in people, but, back then, I was a mere onlooker. Then I found The Thing, the creative avenue I knew I wanted to take, and so I have started on my first tentative steps. It’s less neglect, you see, than merely cracking on with the job in hand, without stopping to perhaps comment on progress.

So, it went something like this. Q:What do you really ache to do?  A: Stand up and talk at people….sorry, perform. Q: What do you have to talk about? A: Eh, hello, 20+ years in the crazy world of work, for one thing.Being ‘of a certain age’. Being generally baffled by life. Q: And how do you propose marrying these ? A: Stand-up, jokes and commentary on what I’ve learned. It might not be informative, but it will be entertaining.

This left a number of boxes to be ticked. The first was to get back on the comedy scene, older, but wiser. Now, that’s fun when you’re surrounded by 25 year olds. I’ve done two five minute spots in the last week, both to about four and a half people, but I have begun. I got my confidence back by attending a 10-week stand-up evening class, which ends soon with our ‘graduation gig’. After that, I’m going to keep motoring and get as many gigs under my belt as possible. Sure, nobody’s going to pay me at first, but the main thing is to start. Actually, the main thing is to not give up, like I did before. And a secondary main thing is to not keep beating myself up for giving up and regretting it. Regrets, like writing and exercise, take up a lot of one’s free time.

In the meantime, I have a plan for my longer form comedy show. Did I say it’s all about work? Anyone who’s ever had a job will know that there’s so much nonsense in so many workplaces that this practically writes itself.

Finally, why am I writing this today, and what can I pass on to you, fellow fans of creativity?

First, you can do it, whatever ‘it’ is. We all have something to say, or some meaning to impart. I want mine to be to make people laugh. Everybody’s got something.

Go for it, however old you are, wherever you are in life. Funny, as you get older, the fear of failure lessens, even if just a little. I wish I could tell my younger self that failure is an option, as it’s just a staging post on the way to something better. Oh, that sounds like a regret, so forget I wrote it. Wipe it from your collective memories, as I will from mine.

Take inspiration from everywhere you’ve ever been, everything you’ve ever done. It might not mean much now, but those collective experiences will one day give back an awful lot.

Right, now I’m off to think up a gag or two and I might even share one with you next time.

Happy creative week, everyone.

Mel X




Do you have a Secret Self?

Turns out I have five, although Emma only has three. I hope she doesn’t mind you knowing that. One of mine would like a table at the Ivy without booking. How is that creative?

Look, once you set your imagination rolling with an exercise like ‘What’s your secret self?’, of course you’re creating. Telling lies is creative, you know.

And so it was, that on a very cold Monday evening, a group of us sat down at the first Squatting Toad Creative Networking Evening to a) talk about our creative endeavours and b) get our creative juices flowing in exercises lead by the wonderful Tania Hummel of Thrive.

If you’ve listened to the podcast, you’ll recognise Tania’s name. We interviewed her a while ago for thoughts on creativity and on balancing your life. Catch it again here. She was the perfect leader for what I wanted us to achieve that night. It was all about removing barriers. Some of the questions she threw at us, we had to answer really quickly, without thinking. As she said, once you let your logical brain take over, it’s likely to find a reason why you can’t.

Some of the more personal questions were difficult. Who wants to remember why their parents thought their creative ambitions were pointless? But the answers reveal a lot about our own anxieties.

Don’t worry, the evening wasn’t too heavy. We ate a lot of chips and put the world to rights in our own way, and we made new friends too. Creating can be a lonely endeavour, and, although my online friends and followers are really important, it’s joyous to spend time with like-minded folk in the upstairs room of a London pub.

So, come join us next time. I guarantee it will be fun and enlightening.

Oh, and those secret selves? Well, we all had to come up with five, and it’s then that you realise how many personae you don for different situations. So, if fear and anxiety are holding you back, maybe don the most confident one when you create. Tania didn’t say we couldn’t mix them up.

On a personal and ‘isn’t it a small world?’ note, one of our number, Cynthia, is a performance poet. As soon as she said this, a lightbulb came on. Battersea Arts Centre, Christmas 2006. I can see her on the stage now. ‘Were you there?’, she asked. ‘I was the MC’. Seems I made less of an impression than she did! We both came away from the evening with a desire to perform again, so watch this space!

Until then, keep creating and watch out for your secret selves. Why not give them names and a full wardrobe of clothes.







The Infuriating ‘i’ Word

I’m at home today, with the worst head cold I’ve had in years, feeling sorry for myself. So, that might be why I’m also at ‘peak’ belligerence. Seriously, enough is enough. Yes, I like a nice cliche and a hackneyed expression as much as the next person (inserts notional smiley face), but it’s time to pick up the red pen and strip the word ‘iconic’ from the language. There’s a call to arms coming, so I do hope you’ll join me. Why must everything be ‘iconic’ and is something of less value if it isn’t? Here are just a few recent examples, some from people who ought to know better:


If you’ve ever had the misfortune to watch the Wheeler Dealers TV show, you’ll know it’s also liberally peppered with the offending word.

2) Hinduja Group Formally Acquires Iconic London Building

A headline from yesterday’s NDTV about the purchase of Churchill’s old war office at 57, Whitehall. Bear in mind, most people don’t even know this building  and couldn’t point to it on a map. But, according to Visit London, the city is home to some of the world’s most…you guessed it… iconic buildings in the world.

3) Here’s a photo I took at the National Theatre on Monday night:


Disappointing, I felt, in a building full of some of the most brilliant, creative minds we have. Alice is Wonderland is so many things, unique, witty, entertaining, meaningful and, yes, important.

4) My God, there’s even an iconic estate agent. Thank you, Norwich.

I have no objection to the word itself, just to its overuse and the fact that it has been rendered so meaningless.

Here’s how the online Oxford Dictionary defines ‘iconic’

1)Relating to or of the nature of an icon:he became an iconic figure for directors around the world

2)Of a classical Greek statue) depicting a victorious athlete in a conventional style.

Interestingly, here’s the definition from the online Cambridge dictionary:
Very ​famous or ​popular, ​especially being ​considered to ​representparticularopinions or a ​particulartime:John Lennon ​gained iconic ​statusfollowing his ​death.
It seems the boffins at Cambridge are more up to date on usage, though it pains me to admit that they are nearer to the mark, as  their definition gives us all carte blanche to label anyone or anything famous as ‘iconic’. We have such a rich language, and so many words to choose from. This ‘iconic’ trend is fairly new, so what did we use before? Let’s go back to ‘seminal’, ‘ideal’, ‘representative’ and, yes, ‘important’.
So, are you with me? Will you join me in this campaign to expunge the ‘i’ word, or at least put it back where it belongs, as a very special word, only to be used to describe the most…um…’totemic’ of people, places and things?
Civil disobedience. Switch off Wheeler Dealers, deface posters, and write in the strongest words to the editor of The Times.
Together we can make this happen, people. I’ve even created a hashtag. #iconicballs. Use it with pride.
And why Bette Davis? Well, she is, isn’t she? A true icon, properly iconic, and I just love this image.
Back with you when my head is clearer.


Networking, but Socially

Disclaimer alert, friends. This isn’t, I promise, an extended advert for the event mentioned at the end of this post. (But, if you’re in London on March 7th, do come and join us.) What I wanted to do was merely reveal some of my thought processes. Creativity unmasked, if you will.

I came to the idea of doing a podcast by asking myself two questions. What am I good at? What would I like to be doing? The answer to the first is ‘talking’, so question two more or less answered itself. In truth, I think I missed my calling to be a radio presenter, but the great thing about our digital age is that I can make that happen for myself. Of course, ‘What am I good at?’ didn’t encompass technical skills, such as editing, but I was open to learning and am still working to improve on what I have learnt in a relatively short space of time.

So, now that I’m up and running, and have written some blogs and made some episodes, I need to reach people. The obvious method is through the array of social media that abound these days. I’ve been posting on Facebook and have become a complete Twitter convert. I think it’s the shortness of it; 140 characters and no punctuation, what’s not to like? But, fun as it is, there’s something missing. So, I asked myself again, what am I good at? What is the best way I can promote myself? Well, duh, face to face, that’s how.

It can’t be just me that thinks all this ‘social’ networking can be anything but. Meeting people, talking and, crucially, listening, has still got to be the best way to promote what you do, especially if what you do best is – YOU! I find once I take myself out of the equation, and stare at a screen, aching for just one extra Twitter follower, I am in danger of ploughing a lonely furrow. I love the immediacy of the online connections, but, when someone gives me a ‘like’, I want to hear about them. It’s a bit like starting an interesting conversation at a bus stop, just as the other person’s bus arrives….and they’re gone.

So, I’m trying to get out and about. I’ve already written about Spark London’s Storytelling evening last month, and I’ll go to one of those again soon. I was at a music open mic night on Sunday, and there might well be an upcoming podcast on that. Who can say? I’m off to a huge craft fair in April. I’m hoping to take EmmaLucyMakes with me. Someone to talk to, and someone who knows what the heck we’re looking at. Crochet, anyone.

As creators, of course, we need time alone to create, but we also need to get out and talk to people. Anyone who’s sold their crafts at local fairs will tell you that. Maybe what you’ll hear from your customers, or potential customers (we are all customers, in the same way as we all have something to sell), is not what you expected, or even wanted to hear, but it’s best that you hear it. Online connections are great, and I truly value mine, but I need to be out in the world.

My next step was obvious. A networking evening. I can’t wait. I can talk about what I’ve been doing and hope people are interested, as well as hear about what they’re up to. We’ll all learn something and, I hope, have some fun. That what’s I call truly social networking. Come and join us. It’s Monday March 7th in a historic pub in London, W1. More below.


Let’s show the world we can really network, and be truly social.



Anyone can tell a Story

My favourite singer, Dianne Reeves, sometimes ends her concerts by exhorting her audience to tell their stories, and ‘may all your stories have meaningful and happy endings’.

It’s a Monday night, and it’s cold, dark and dreary and Dianne Reeves is, alas, not playing London tonight. Monday’s a rubbish night anyway, so what’s a girl to do to cheer the evening along to a speedy close? Take in a story-telling evening in South London, that’s what. I know, SOUTH London. That means crossing the river,  and at this time of night!

In the spirit of understanding creative motivation, I was keen to visit the Spark London event in Brixton. Just to observe, of course. I would sit quietly at the back and bother nobody. I really didn’t know what to expect,or even if I knew what storytelling was.

(See Spark’s Website –

The house lights dimmed (actually, they were already dimmed, but I’m trying to set the mood here) and the storytelling began. Joanna opened with a break-up tale, which involved the film, Desperately Seeking Susan. From the back of the room, a lightbulb quietly lit up over my head. That reminded me of seeing that self same (dreadful) film in 1985. Is that worth telling? I asked myself this question, via the discreet medium of Twitter, and almost immediately was Tweeted back by the organisers ‘Anyone can tell a story’. The gauntlet was thrown down, so up I went.

Having done stand-up in my youth in rooms packed with baying hounds, or stag parties, I forget which, I felt not a shred of nerves on that stage in front of this warm and willing audience. Their Monday night was also being enhanced, and partly because they wanted it to be. The trouble with the heckling stag parties is that they want you to fail. How does that make for great entertainment for anyone?

This audience was just lovely, and the stories, all compelling in different ways, were given the space they needed to flow. Martha from Scotland’s story of a death threat was a particular highlight, and she’d never performed before! She was just as funny on the tube going home, with her tale of buying a spiralizer. Some people are just born to storytelling. Some people confine their talents to anecdotes told over a pint of beer, but these are still stories that bear the telling and leave their listeners with a warm, fuzzy glow, even if, in the haze of the morning after, they can’t quite recall the tale. Others tell their stories through music or painting, but stories they remain.

It’s true, we can all tell stories. As we know, there is nothing worse than an untold story, especially for the teller.

To top the evening off, all the performers are entered into a draw for free cinema tickets and I only flipping won them, didn’t I? Not that that was my motivation. Oh no.

I chatted to a couple of fellow performers after the show, and hope to persuade at least one to talk about their experience, and their motivation, in a future podcast.

Thank you, Spark London, for a great night. I am still feeling the warm and fuzzy glow.