Bless me someone…

  1.  I don’t have the right notebook.
  2. I don’t have the right pen.
  3. What am I doing, using paper and pen?
  4. I’m not in the right mood.
  5. The sun is not in alignment with Sagittarius.
  6. My desk needs dusting.
  7. Great film on BBC2.
  8. I have run out of lipgloss.
  9. My kitchen needs painting.
  10. I hate painting.
  11. Olympics.
  12. I am way too busy sharing my annoying first world problems with the blogosphere.
  13. It’s raining.
  14. It’s windy.
  15. The phone’s ringing.
  16. The phone hasn’t rung for days, I must check it’s working.
  17. It’s time to write my Christmas cards.
  18. I have to unfriend some people on Facebook.
  19. Just joking about that last one, I love you all!
  20. Is it on my To Do list?
  21. My postillion has been struck by lightning.

And these, oh gods of creativity, are but 21 of the reasons I was unable to create much of value this weekend. Tomorrow is Monday. Let the juices flow again.

And no excuses!

Hope you all ‘got stuff done’.

Mel X

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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

 

 

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!

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

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.

LONDON EVENT DETAILS HERE

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

Mel

 

Entrepreneur? Me?

So, last week’s creative commuting project was something of a mixed bag. The commuting bit was ok, in that I got to where I was going to.  As for the creativity, I probably made a poor choice of week, what with a business trip overseas and all. Too much in-flight turbulence put paid to clear thinking.

But here’s a jolly thing. As I was waiting for the train to Heathrow, who should hove into view but my old chum, Kathryn. I hadn’t seen her for literally years. She’s currently living in the Netherlands, and, although I keep meaning to find time in my work schedule to visit, it hasn’t happened up to now. So, it was one of those happy happenings. I mean, when do you bump into someone you know on an Underground platform? We had ten minutes to chat before she had to get off the train. It seems she’s just given up her job and was over here networking, her intention being to work freelance. In the Netherlands, she tells me, any self-employed person is called an ‘entrepreneur’. Of course! And that’s it! That’s what Squatting Toad is all about. We’re not would-be entrepreneurs like those misguided Apprentice contestants, we’re entrepreneurial about every aspect of ourselves. What am I good at? What am I passionate about? What can I create that will make me and others happy? At the end of the day, we are all more than the sum of the ‘Skills and Experience’ section of our CVs. In an ideal Squatting Toad-administered universe, we wouldn’t need formal CVs.

I arrived at the airport excited and enthused, and feeling every inch the entrepreneur. Thanks, Kathryn.

I’m still committed to the idea of using this otherwise ‘dead’ commuting time to do some thinking and planning and otherwise moving Squatting Toad forward. I’ve more podcasts to write, for one thing. Tomorrow is Monday, day one of the new entrepreneurial week. Bring it on!

Have a good, creative one yourselves. And watch out for the next podcast, coming your way later this week.

Mel

Did I say ‘Better than ever’?

Yep, just checked my last post and I sure did. And I am, really. Hit a bump in the road, in terms of the podcasting technology, but the great thing is, there was help available. In need of a quick solution, I emailed Andrew at Make and Break Education (http://www.makeandbreakeducation.com/), who kindly emailed straight back, even though it was Sunday. And his tip worked,so back in business.

As someone who is prone to the odd panic, what this blogging/ soon-to-be-podcasting exercise has taught me is that people want to help. The creative world is so supportive, even if you’re doing a solitary activity.

At the weekend, a couple of friends and I were riffing on what we’d like to do next creatively and it was quickly apparent that there was much we could do to help each other.

If, like me, you are no good at asking for help, just take a deep breath and get your question out there. In the worst case scenario, you end up back where you started. You certainly won’t be worse off.

If, like me, you want to make some changes in your life, make them a matter of record, with the right people of course. Maybe not your boss, for now. Talk it through with good people who have no other agenda than seeing you achieve your full potential and who knows what might happen. It might be a friend, it might be a life coach, but get it out there.

Off to cook dinner and count how many ‘good people’ I know, so I don’t get bogged down worrying about the bad ones.

Take care.

Mel

X