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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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

 

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

 

 

Creative Commuting.

Hello again.

If you’ve listened to the second episode of the podcast, you’ll have heard crafter, Emma McArthur, talk about how she used her morning bus ride to work to think about her creative work. Well, I have a bus ride to work. I have stuff I want to create. I could do that. So, I thought I’d try it this week, just for a week. See how it goes.

In truth, the daily commute is a bit of a chore for me, because I can’t read or write on a bus without feeling sick and dizzy. I can’t wear headphones, as they give me a splitting headache. So, the journey is often spent getting forensic over the working day, or fretting about things that really don’t matter that much but which grow to epic proportions when stuck on the top deck of a London bus. There’s nothing like a long bus journey for some unhealthy introspection, except maybe a long walk.

Here’s my first (and only) piece of advice to today’s readers. If you set yourself a time-based goal, with the hope of achieving something concrete by the end of it, don’t forget to start it. Yes, seriously, I blinking well forgot this morning, didn’t I? Monday mornings don’t often start with a bang, but forgetting was pretty unforgiveable.

I’d had it all planned out so neatly. Next to the stop where I end my journey is a bench. I would sit on that bench and quickly jot down all the creative ideas that were forming in my head before a short walk to the office. Given that I can’t write whilst travelling, due to the aforementioned nausea, a speedy recording of any gems seemed to be called for.

But I clean forgot. So I did have to question my commitment, but I really am going to try. Tomorrow I fly to Portugal for work, and I think that counts as a commute. The one vehicle I can happily read and write on is a plane, unless it’s very turbulent. If it is, creative gems won’t be high on my list anyway. Fear will nudge them aside. Assuming a smooth passage, I shall try to focus.

Let’s catch up here again soon. And I will fill you in on my progress. I can’t promise to share all my ideas, just in case they get stolen by the unscrupulous. That’s not you, my friends, but the online world is a devilish place.

Happy commuting yourselves until next time.

All best

Mel

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