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??

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Mel

X

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

 

 

 

New Podcast at last – ‘Daring to Write’

Yes, the summer is over, but you won’t find me complaining. As the nights draw in and it’s time to fire up the heating, it’s the perfect start to a new ‘term’of creativity. With that in mind, the Squatting Toad podcast is firmly back on the cultural and creative map.

In this inspiring episode, I meet author Angela Thirlwell, who give us some insight into her writing career and plenty of helpful advice for aspiring writers.

Listening to the episode again, I realise that I thanked Angela for her time, but not for her wisdom. I’ll correct that right now. Thank you, Angela, for wise words and inspiration.

Enjoy the episode and do take a look at Angela’s website here.

Soon available on iTunes, but for your delight and delectation on Podomatic, first of all, you can find it here.

And not forgetting our old friend, Soundcloud:

Happy listening and Happy Creating.

Mel

 

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.

Social Loafing and A Team of One

Teamwork is a wonderful thing, but technology allows us all to be teams of one these days. Over dinner and a glass of something (I believe it was water) the other night, a friend told me about her husband’s new album. Not for him expensive studios and mixing desks and wee CDs for sale, not that we have any record shops left (sigh!). No, he made it totally alone, playing the guitar in his living room, adding the other instruments on his computer and producing the whole thing to a point where he was able to market it online. Brilliant!

Would it have been a different album if he had made it with a team? You bet! Would it have been better? No, it would have been different. He hasn’t had to alter his vision and if we don’t like it, well, that’s up to us. He likes it, is proud of it, and that’s enough. Having listened to it, I can tell you I think it’s brilliant. No, I’m not biased. I’d like to tell you more, but I’m hoping to interview him for the podcast, when all will be revealed. (I know, another shameless teaser advert.)

I also follow a number of self-published authors on social media and I am always amazed at their commitment, not just to their writing, but to the time they put in to engaging with readers. Not to mention the hours spent on marketing and publicity.

Like my musician friend, I like to create alone, but I also like a good natter. In fact, you’d be hard-pushed to find somebody who loves a good natter more than I do. Plenty of my best ideas come to me in ‘lightbulb’ moments during conversations, moments I wouldn’t have had alone. But these aren’t forced moments, where each of us is compelled to come up with brilliant ideas as the clock ticks down, like an episode of ‘Countdown’. I fear the yawning chasm of an empty diary awaits, should I introduce brainstorming sessions into a girls’ night out.

For brainstorming is what that would be, and although it might seem like the new rock and roll, given the importance so many organisations give to it, it has serious limitations. In any group of people, organisational dynamics will tend to trump the generating of ideas. A shy person with a brilliant idea is likely to take a back seat to a more dominant person in the group, even if their idea isn’t as good or as innovative. There’s also less pressure on us if we work in a group. We don’t need to give 100% of ourselves, we can just be a constituent percentage of the whole. All that wasted percentage left over! I learnt a new term for this today, it’s called Social Loafing. I like to learn new things.

So, better then to work alone? And how does this affect us creatively?

Well, getting the best ideas doesn’t necessarily mean working in a freezing, friendless garret. Why not get your ideas down on paper, work on them and then test them out on the world? For our creative endeavours,it helps to have clarity of vision, before you get your feedback. I read recently that the great Philip Roth always tests out later drafts of new novels on a group of readers. Not his first draft, mind, maybe his third or fourth.

Of course, many brilliant things are created by teams of people, but I bet you’ll find, if you strip the thing right back, that the basic idea came from one person.

FACT: All the brainstorming in the world won’t give you an idea. It can help to develop one, or plant the seed of one but the idea comes from inside you, either as a result of something someone said, or a thought you had, or….well, who knows where ideas come from? You can’t buy them on eBay, that’s for sure.

In life, in work, in creative endeavours, our new ideas, whatever they are, move us forward. Be a team of one, and keep the ideas coming. Write them down, because, if you can’t use them today, there’s always tomorrow. Not all of them will work, but that’s ok. And when you have a pile of ideas, you can take your Team of One (yes, capitalising now) out for an awayday, or a posh lunch, or even a Christmas party. Because more than a good natter, we all like a party.

Keep the ideas coming, and happy creating until next time.

Mel X

 

 

Useful Work!

I was talking with a biographer recently and asked what method she followed when researching a subject. She didn’t have a set method, as it turned out, but said that, most often, one source pointed her to another and that to yet another, and so on. It was a relief to know that I wasn’t missing out on some rarefied methodology, as that’s pretty much what I have been doing of late. It’s exciting stuff, as you never know where it might lead. I’m writing a piece about the world of work, which, I hope, will be entertaining.

Just last week, my reading led me, of all places, to an essay of 1884 by socialist and designer, William Morris (yes, he of the lovely wallpaper). Entitled ‘Useful Work versus Useless Toil‘, it might lack the entertainment value I’m going for, but it’s a fascinating, if demanding read.

I like to think we have moved on some way since late Victorian times in improving some of the injustices he rails against, though clearly not all. In fact, more than we would want to admit. I can also forgive his constant use of the word ‘men’ without a single mention of ‘women’, because a) it was 1884 and b) he bequeathed us the afore-mentioned lovely wallpaper. So, I read it as one might pluck the petals of a daisy; ‘I love this bit’, ‘I love this bit not’.

There’s a link to the whole piece at the end, but one sentence, in particular, struck a chord with me.

But a man (or woman, William!) at work, making something which he feels will exist because he is working at it and wills it, is exercising the energies of his mind and soul as well as of his body.’

So, here he is, talking about creativity, our favourite topic, and the thing, as I’ve said before, I believe separates us from the beasts and makes us who we are. Of course, he was a man of great creative genius himself. I worry, though, that he would find my Morris-branded hand cream (see photo) a shade too decadent and exactly the kind of frivolous product made to pander to the demands of the non-producing classes. But I’m giving away the ending there. You should read the essay for yourselves.

He talks of ‘the hope of pleasure in our daily creative skill’. Daily? Heck, the only way we’re going to achieve daily creativity is if we find it in our work.

Bingo!

Here we are at Squatting Toad, devoting podcast time to delving into people’s extra-curricular creative activities, when our 9-5 needs to satisfy that part of us too. If it doesn’t, then we find ourselves, among other things, stressed, as mentioned in the last post. And, if we’re stressed, how can we create and feel that ‘hope of pleasure’? I don’t have the answer to that, by the way. It’s a huge topic and one that takes me down a different path.

Fulfilment in post-work creative activities? Box ticked.

Fulfilment in daily work context? Pen still hovering.

As I say, I am doing lots of research on this, and what I hope to achieve is some ‘Useful Work’ on this very topic. And don’t worry, it won’t be too serious. Heaven knows, I’ve laughed a lot already, because sometimes if you don’t, you’d cry. Or maybe it’s the pleasure.

Work? What is it good for? Damned if I know, but ‘hope of pleasure in our daily creative skill‘ will do for a start. Now we’ve just got to get there. There’ll be bumps on the way, to be sure. Join me, as I try to un-pick it all.

In the meantime, have a read of William Morris’s essay. Next time, I’ll maybe reveal one of my more up-to-date sources.

Happy creativity in the meantime.

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

 

 

Why We Need Art

I hope you enjoyed my last podcast with Barbara de Biasi giving us insight into the power of music. Among other things, there’s solid evidence that it can help delay dementia symptoms. Power indeed.

It’s no secret that I love my old movies. I often play one in the background as I potter about the house. One of the last legends of that long lost era, Olivia de Havilland, celebrated her 100th birthday last week. A few years ago, she narrated a documentary called ‘I Remember Better When I Paint’. As the title suggests, painting has been found to have hugely beneficial effects on patients with Alzheimer’s, helping them to reconnect with the world, and communicate more fully. It’s a very moving film, and documents, in part, the journey of the painter Hilda Gorenstein, known as Hilgos, whose own Alzheimer’s symptoms were improved immeasurably by a re-connection with the art she so loved.

As the head of one of the organisations that takes care of the patients says: ‘Creative arts bypass the limitations and go straight to the strengths.’

That’s a very powerful sentence, and has applications for all of us. We all can, and should, take strength from our creativity. The benefits are too great to ignore.

There are a couple of clips from ‘I Remember Better When I Paint’ on YouTube and you can find out more about the Hilgos Foundation, which is dedicated to using the creative arts to benefit Alzheimer’s sufferers, here.

Do we NEED art? Do we NEED creativity? By heck, we do, make no mistake.

Happy Creating

Mel

PS: Olivia is well and living in Paris

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