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

 

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Making Virtual Music, but Really

I massively enjoyed tonight’s Last Night of the Proms. Some have accused it of jingoism  in the past with all that flag-waving, but, let’s be honest, it’s all about the music, of course it is. With fine tunes from Borodin, Donizetti and Rossini, to name but three, and tenor, Juan Diego Flores, dressed as Manco Capac, founder of the Inca civilisation, it’s hardly a rousing celebration of Britishness. Even Padington Bear, who made a surprise appearance, is from Peru.

Yet I do feel that this kind of life-affirming, ‘let’s-all-join-in-the-songs-even-if-we-don’t-know-the-words’ kind of event is something we Brits do so well. We’ve always loved a good party and a good sing song, and the Last Night is just one of the most public.  Even the the daily concerts that lead up to this grand finale have a warmth and informality about them that I can’t imagine being replicated elsewhere. Heavens, when a symphony is played, people applaud BETWEEN the movements! Simply not done under normal circumstances, dear boy.

The Proms are sponsored by the BBC which has done a brilliant job of drawing in the viewing and listening public. This year’s ‘Virtual Orchestra’ is a great initiative to encourage people, who may well have hidden the instruments they once loved at the back of the attic, to dust them off and play a tune. Any instrument will do, almost. Have a look a  the list.

Bravo to all of you who take part.It’s so easy to bundle our creative talents away at the back of the attic of our mind, and sometimes all we need is a little encouragement to rip back the dustsheets and get cracking again. We all mean to, when we have the time. One day, we say, we’ll get our metaphorical ladder out and have a good rummage and maybe take up playing, painting, writing again. When we have the time. Come on, if we wait for ‘enough’ time, it will never come. We need to make time and not be scared of that. Maybe just ten minutes to start with. And, this is the important bit -it doesn’t need to be great, or even good, what you do then create. We’ll have no truck with ‘I’m no good at this any more.’. Who said you weren’t, apart from you? Who made you Ruler of the Kingdom of Good?

But, seriously, I say this because I go through it too. I have to tell myself, ‘Just a little bit of writing, every day’. No judgements, no critiques. Just doing. I want to and because, to be my best self, I need to. Can’t say fairer than that.

Now, hand me my air banjo.

Happy creating to you all.

Mel

 

Back to the School o’ Life

It’s that time of year again; the August Bank Holiday that marks the passing of summer, the end of the holidays, and, for students old and young, almost time to go back to school. It’s some years since I was a student, but, even now, I can’t help mentally dividing my year into ‘term-time’ and ‘holidays’. I’m bitter, even now, that I can’t have two weeks off over Easter. And whatever became of half-term?

On the up side, I have always loved the coming of September, which marked me out as an oddity as a teenager, I can tell you. For me, though, it always signalled a new beginning, and a chance to do better than the last academic year (although the trajectory was rarely upwards).

Who doesn’t love a clean slate? Who doesn’t love some crisp, new white uniform shirts and some freshly sharpened pencils? The shirts are more colourful, and larger, now, but I still have new pencils ready and poised. And I’m going back to school. I have two short courses booked in for September, both on creative topics. I am genuinely excited, not in that meaningless ‘exciting new retail outlet opening soon’ kind of way, but really excited that I will learn something and  be able to apply it. Or maybe I won’t be able to, any more than I have applied trigonometry since I last studied maths, but, I like to think, I will be a better person for listening to someone else’s expertise. I reckon one small nugget of something that gets me thinking will be worth it. Someone, I can’t remember who, once said that the best thing we learn at school is the ability to think. That sounds like our old friend, creativity, to me. Surely that is the logical extension of this, when it becomes the ability to apply creative solutions. Crucially, it’s also the ability to keep refining them and not worry if they are ‘wrong’.  Keep doing. Keep learning.

So, as the sun literally sets on the last public holiday in the UK until Christmas Day (shocking, eh?), I wish you all new, creative beginnings. Iron your shirts, sharpen your pencils, and polish up your thinking skills. And watch out for new podcasts heading your way in this creative autumn, or spring, if you are in the Southern Hemisphere.

Have fun and be creative until the next time.

Mel X

 

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

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

 

 

The Power of Persistence, or ‘Stay on the F***ing Bus’

The picture you see above is of Helsinki Railway Station, a Jugendstil masterpiece built by Eliel Saarinen in 1919. I present it to you for three reasons, the first two being that it is a stunning building, one of the world’s finest stations, and that I took the photograph. That’s not showing off, it just means I don’t have to pay anyone for the rights. The third reason is that it’s the closest thing I have to an image of Helsinki Bus Station, which is where I want to take you today. We only need to cross the road  and we are there, in a somewhat more prosaic setting than the one available to rail travellers, but that’s life, and that’s bus travel.

In 2004, Finnish photographer, Arno Minkkinen, himself clearly no stranger to a bus ride out of the capital, put forward his theory on what makes for a fulfilling creative life and career. It’s called Helsinki Bus Station Theory and illustrates the importance of persistence in pursuit of one’s own voice and of creative success. It goes like this:

There are around twenty four platforms at Helsinki Bus Station and all buses leave the city by the same route for at least the first kilometre. There are intermediate bus stops on the main road out and each bus stops at these too. Taking his own profession as his example, Minkkinen thinks of each of these stops as the first years in the career of a photographer. After,say, three stops,when you have built up three years’ worth of work, you hop off the bus and present that work to a gallerist (insert publisher/ producer etc. as appropriate). That gatekeeper knocks you right back by telling you your work is just the same as that of someone else who’s come along the same bus route before. Gutted, you jump a cab straight back to the bus station, because life is short, and you get on another bus. Three years/stops later, you hop off again, with a new body of work to show and the same thing happens. It turns out it’s just too similar to somebody else’s work and they don’t want it. Another tearful cab ride back to town to start the whole process again. And it keeps happening, always being compared to someone else and being rejected.

What’s the solution, how do we break the cycle?  Minkkinen is very clear here. ‘Stay on the bus. Stay on the f***ing bus.’ After a kilometre, the buses diverge, taking different routes out of the city. So, stick with the journey you’re on and you’ll find your own unique way, your own path.

Persist and thrive.

As I’ve talked about before, we all start out imitating or inspired by someone else. That’s OK. We need to do that. ‘Derivative’ is a much-derided concept, but, to me, it means we started with an idea used by someone else and then changed it a bit. Maybe not much, but that little bit is what makes it ours, and we can keep changing and refining, and at some point put forward our own ideas.

Remember the ‘What If?’ question I mentioned before? (See blogpost from May 3rd) If you stay on the bus, you give yourself time to ask that, as the road winds on before you. The twists and turns as the bus moves deeper into the suburbs or the Finnish countryside, well, they can shape our ‘What If?’ questions.

Arno Minkkinen also went through this process himself, finding his work compared to other contemporary photographers who had gone before, so he knows whereof he speaks. Personally, I think his work is beautiful and unlike anything I have ever seen. You can visit his website here  to see some of his astonishing photos of the human body integrated with nature.

So, dear friends, if you are nervous about getting on the bus, it is understandable. To decide to create a single work or a body of work is to risk rejection and accusations of non-originality. But, get on the bus, then stay on the bus. Remember, just because one person finds a reason that the work is wrong for them, doesn’t mean it’s actually wrong, or that it couldn’t be made better.

Go on, take the ride. But do stop to admire the lovely railway station first.

Happy creating.

Mel

PS: You can read Arno Mikkinen’s speech in which he first put forward the theory here.

Squatting Toad Podcast Episode 3 is Live.

This time, we meet Tania Hummel, Coach, HR Specialist and writer. We talked about so much, it was hard to edit down. So, expect to hear more from Tania later. I hope you find this interesting and inspiring. There are a few bangs on the recording, which was one or both of us tapping the dining room table for emphasis. Would have looked good on a video.

Here’s Tania’s website:

http://www.letsthrive.co.uk/

And, as promised, a link to the course she mentioned:

http://www.skyros.com/writing_holidays.htm

Enjoy the podcast and send me your thoughts. More of my own thoughts soon.

Happy creating.

Mel