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??







Why ‘Squatting Toad’ again?

When is it too late to wish people Happy New Year? Mid-Jan’s still fine, right? Yeah, I think so. Well, a Happy New Year to you.

Dare I ask how the resolutions are going? What do you mean, you didn’t make any? Even I made one or two..loose ones you understand, nothing that I couldn’t quietly file away under ‘abandoned’ unnoticed.Which rather defeats the purpose, wouldn’t you agree? I should be out and proud. Significantly, I made a vow to make this blog and the podcast funnier this year. Well, you’d notice if I didn’t do that! Ha ha, funny lady.

I’ve been thinking a lot, too, about work. Cue no laughter whatsoever, as who among us actually likes their job enough to read Squatting Toad rambling on about working life? We get enough of that five days a week, thank you very much. Don’t forget,though, the name comes from that wry, bitter Larkin Poem, Toads, so, having commandeered the name, I feel some level of obligation to address the topic.

Yes, why should we let this bloody toad squat on our lives? Well, according to a a recent global survey, fully 60% of us really would rather not. We feel disengaged, which I always think is just a fancy way of saying we hate our jobs. I also fear that this means that 40% of us are lying. I don’t know anybody who really loves their job. Contradict me in the comments section, please, if you do. I’d like to put you in a glass case with a label ‘Rare Specimen – Person who Loves their Job’, for the benefit of bemused and unbelieving museum visitors. Which museum I’ve no idea, for who could afford such an uncommon piece?

But, seriously, when I see a figure like that I get a little bit excited, having been through the wringer myself, to know that ‘it’s not just me’. It really isn’t. Obviously, I wouldn’t dream of going into detail…oh, all right…

Tick em off:

  • Four hour daily commutes.
  • Interminable meetings that go nowhere and achieve nothing.
  • Colleagues so determined to succeed that they routinely crap on the rest of us.
  • Two redundancies (‘sorry, it’s not you, you’re great. we’re just restructuring’).
  • Goalposts moved on promised bonuses at the last minute.
  • Too much time spent reporting on what I’m doing rather than actually doing it .(This they call ‘micromanagement’. I love it when there’s a handy name for some of this rubbish.)
  • And the big one…Psycho bosses from hell.

That will do for starters.

You will have more, or not. You may have reasons to be cheerful in the workplace. Let me know, one way or the other.

But what has all this to do with the Creative Life, Squatting Toad’s raison d’etre up to now? Well, you can’t separate them. Since we spend so much time at work, we need to feel it’s tapping into our creative instincts. Finally, the science is telling us this, although, of course, we still need the money. So, if we’re bored and/ or underused, it can affect our ability to create outside of work. And that’s not on, friends, just not on!!

Right now I am doing a lot of research into why work is getting us down and channelling it into a wee show I hope to take to the Edinburgh Fringe in Summer (watch this space).You can help, as I say, by letting me know about some of your worst or best work experiences. I’ll keep asking so, go on, you might as well.

Note how I just slipped my new project in there, right at the end! So modest. That may be why me and work struggle to get along. No place for the meek here. Meek =weak.

Goodness, what a gloomy start to the year’s writings!!

I’ll stop now, but Happy Working to you. And, if work isn’t working for you, keep reading the posts, when we’ll look at why and ask what we can do about it.

Bye for now.



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?


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.



Ideas in Boxes (Making Creativity Happen, Part 4)

Well, it has been a long time, but I’m back from Italy and feeling refreshed and creative.In fact, I am brimming with ideas. But rest easy, friends, this is not going to turn into an Eat, Pray, Love ‘look at me, gadding about Italy in my privileged, first world way, breathing in inspiration so I can make money telling you what a wonderful life I have.’ Oh no. (Did I sound bitter there? Really, no, did I? ) Come on, it was only a week, part of which was spent at a friend’s house, catching up after a long time. And we flew Ryanair! Yes, that’s how privileged I am.

But ideas, yes, I came back with a few. So, what next? The truth is, I am something of an ideas factory. I’ve been churning them out for years. I have a little burgundy box, it originally contained miniature Sachertorten, into which I have thrown my scribbled ideas for the past two decades. Some are just on little torn bits of paper, the backs of envelopes and the like. Some make no sense,or are just one word, like ‘crisps’.

Looking back, some of them are not half bad, but I feel the moment has passed for many of them and that what I should do now is develop the more recent ones into something finished, and, hopefully, entertaining. But mostly I don’t. I think it’s because I have a fantasy in my head of what that idea will look like on the page, or on the screen, or in the theatre and I don’t want to ruin that by trying to shape it into something less good than that fantasy. Well, that’s my problem, and I need to get over it. And perhaps I should stop thinking in so many different genres.

What’s exciting is that I am having ideas, lots of them, for everything starts with an idea, even if it is just ‘crisps’. I think of them a little like flat pack furniture. You get all the bits in a box, but you have to make it into a table.

So, how is all this lengthy preamble helping any of us to create? Here is what I’ve learnt, or am learning, and what I want to share with you today:

  1. Never stop having ideas, no matter how ridiculous they may seem. Statistically,not all of them can develop into something, so you’ve got to have lots to find the gems.
  2. Always, and I mean ALWAYS, write them down. Carry a notebook, record them into your phone. Ideas are everywhere and can strike anywhere and at any time of the day.
  3. Make some time to have ideas every week, every day, if you can. If you have one idea a day, that’s 365 in a year. If 10% are workable into a story, painting, song, or even a joke, that’s 36.5 usable ideas.
  4. Start to develop your ideas as soon as you can, so you never feel the moment has passed. That’s a mistake I have made too often. Ah, well, I put those lost ones down as part of the 90% for now, but it might be a waste. Waste is a Bad Thing.
  5. Don’t be intimidated by the quantity of your ideas. Pick one and run with it as far as you can. If it doesn’t work out, it’s just making you ready for the next idea out of the hat that will succeed. Think of it as training, or at the least, a good stretch and a warm up.
  6. Never stop having ideas.

I’m off now to start crafting and polishing. That makes me sound like a sculptor or a jeweller. They’re creatives too, you know. We are all creatives. As someone once said, even telling lies is creativity. And even a lie starts with an idea.

Until next time, Happy Creating.


No more job.

It’s been a momentous week. First, I gave in my month’s notice. That’s it, finito, finishing job and not going back after Christmas. Great. But also scary. Of course,there is an irony in the creator of a podcast which started on the topic of fitting in your creative projects around your work, giving up work (temporarily) to find more time to podcast. But time is what I need right now, and hopefully I’ll do some part-time or project-based work in the coming months. I ain’t gone yet.

Then, as if that weren’t enough, I finally unravelled the mystery of uploading my podcast in iTunes. I can’t tell you how significant a step forward that is for me. It means I can start to build an audience and interact. Well, I suppose I shouldn’t count my chickens, as I now await the ‘green light’ email from iTunes. But that should come soon.

So, yes, in January, I have a whole heap of projects I want to get off the ground, including more, and better, podcasts. If I’m quiet for now, that means I’m thinking. Thinking hard.

Hang on to your hats, world. Squatting Toad is really coming for you now!

Peace, happiness and creativity to all, as one year ends and another begins, and a new door opens.

Love, Mel



Squatting Toad Podcast Episode 5 is Live

This time we talk to Maria Vassilopoulos of Once Upon the Book, a blog for booklovers. As a (very obviously) novice blogger myself, I was keen to get some tips and hints. And as a booklover, well, it’s just cool to talk with a fellow enthusiast.

Enjoy, and when you have, check out Maria’s blog:

Publishing Was Not Built on The Novel- Academic Books Are All Around Us…

And don’t forget to check out the Writers and Artists website:

Until next time, which will be soon.

Take care

Mel Byron


A Precious Banjo and a Great Big Apology

Dear Friends

I hope you enjoyed the last podcast, my interview with the Wrablers. Since I posted it, I keep seeing references to the healing power of music. Some of them, it has to be admitted, posted on Facebook by the Wrablers. But the message is consistent, music does you good. I don’t have many regrets in life, but I do regret that I can’t play an instrument. Still, life isn’t over yet, and, if I have a long and active retirement, who knows what I can achieve?

Let me share with you this excellent short documentary I heard on the radio the other day. ‘Vital Mental Medicine’ takes its name from a quote by Polar explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton. On the fateful journey to the South Pole on the Endeavour, one of his team took along a banjo. Shackleton understood the power of  music to shore up the crew’s morale on such a long and difficult voyage and, as the ship was sinking, ran aboard to rescue the banjo himself. Their regular concerts had become essential to everyone’s well-being and they weren’t going to give up on these.

You can hear the programme here:

I realise theirs was an extreme situation, four and half months waiting to be rescued with their routine periodically broken by a good old sing song, but the priniciple applies to all our lives. And it doesn’t have to be music.

I’ve started reading other people on this topic of creativity too, and will share my thoughts in a later podcast.  I’m also thinking of taking a sewing class. That might not sound too adventurous, but for me it’s quite a leap. It was always a bit of a joke when I was at school just how bad I was at anything arty or crafty, and I wonder now if that was unfair. If anyone can sing, can anyone sew? Or bake? Some people will always be better than others, as is the case with singing, but is it possible to have zero ability? More on that later, too.

So back to the Wrablers and a huge apology. I neglected to credit one of the members who was part of our interview. So, Janette Lee, take a belated bow. After all, you introduced us to Pouffe Drums, and for  that we thank you.

I’ll be back with you again soon with a new podcast and more. In the meantime, Happy Creating.