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Guest Post: Are You Overworked and Underplayed?

Excited to have Steven Sparling from The Thriving Creative doing a guest post today. I was featured on The Thriving Creative on Saturday, and it’s always the first place I go to for creative business knowledge!

 

As creative people, we can sometimes be a little OCD. You know how you get that great idea and suddenly NOTHING will stand in the way of you completing it. You forgo sleep. You skip bathing. You avoid Facebook and email in order to burn the candle at both ends.

And what happens?

Often you see what started out as a really good idea gets the life choked out of it as you surround it like a helicopter parent smothering it will love, labour and attention.

You’ve overworked your creative idea to death.

What went wrong?

You (and your idea) became overworked and underplayed.

Can you recognise the signs of overworking?

Try these on for size.
• are you bored with life?
• does everything feel like an uphill slog?
• do the things that once brought you joy now seem stale?

I’ve been feeling this way lately. Not really wanting to sing. Finding it a chore to sit and the computer and write. Not even wanting to leave the house.

But that feeling has shifted.

I can attribute it to two things.

1. Spring has arrived here in London. We’ve had some nice sunny days lately and I’ve been making a real effort to get outside for walks (I even tentatively started a running programme with the aptly named app ‘from couch to 5K’).

2. I’ve been re-reading The Artists Way by Julia Cameron and doing the exercises.

Every seven years, or so, I revisit this evergreen book. And every time I do it opens up new doors for me. So the question, “are you overworked & underplayed” is Cameron’s.

Her point is that when we get ‘stuck in’ with our creative practice, it can sometimes start to feel like work. When you are trying to meet deadlines, or trying to make things happen on the business front, or paying attention to your website, or keeping an eye on the bank balance (all the things that I advocate at The Thriving Creative http://www.thethrivingcreative.com) it can sometimes make it start to feel like….. well a job…. or a career.

Which it is.

But it’s also an art form. And art and creativity DIE without a sense of PLAY.

What we have to master is the ability to change roles. At times we need to put our adult hat on to update a spreadsheet tracking pending invoices, or to write the web copy for your website, or to make cold calls to potential customers.

But then you equally need to tap into that playful fun inner child and let him or her loose with the crayons and the spray paint and silly hats.

When we’re overworked and underplayed we just get BORING and BORED. And then everything seems like work.

So. Here’s three things to think about:

1. Schedule blocks of time for business work and EQUAL blocks of time for Play. If you spend 6 hours on the business and give yourself 30 minutes to play (or create) you are going to end up back in that overworked and underplayed place. On the flip side (and this is where many artists start) is that you give yourself 6 hours to play and only 30 minutes to deal with the business side — this leads to starvation. So schedule equal times for them.

2. Find ways to sneak play into the business work. Just because you are sorting out your finances doesn’t mean you can’t make a game out of them. Since January, I’ve been using Toshl (www.toshl.com) to track my finances. I chose it because unlike all the other software programmes I looked at, this one was fun. There are monsters, bright colours and funny sayings that pop up. It makes me laugh every time I use it. So I am accomplishing a business task (tracking my outgoings and incomings) while at the same time I am still keeping it fun.

3. Again borrowing from Julia Cameron — once per week get yourself out of the house, or out of the studio, and go out in the world for an ‘artist’s date.’ A time (even an hour) where you do something fun with no aim or objective attached to it. Time where you explore, get stimulated and reconnect with the pleasure of being amongst real people and fresh ideas. It might be a trip to a museum or it might be a visit to a flower market. It can be as high-brow or low-brow as you want AS LONG AS IT’S FUN. [Confession: I still find this one hard to do. I find it really hard to make time for this to happen. But every time I do, it’s like someone has lit a fire under my creativity.]

That’s it. Three ways to bring more fun into your life.

So next time you feel that cloud starting to hover over you and your creative work, know that it’s a pretty clear sign you need to go outside and play.

 

 

Steven Sparling is an actor, writer and teacher. He is a PhD candidate in Creative and Cultural Entrepreneurship at Goldsmiths College, University of London. He teaches voice at the London College of Music, leads creative entrepreneurship workshops at Be Smart About Art and has appeared as an actor in the West End, in feature films and on tour throughout the UK and Canada. For weekly insight into creative entrepreneurship and how you can begin to thrive in your creative career, please visit http://www.thethrivingcreative.com and sign up for the free monthly newsletter.

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Wellbeing at the Weekend: Week 1

Hi all,

 

I’m going to try and offer a writing exercise every Sunday that will be gently creative, something for you to try out and explore for your wellbeing at the weekend.

This week we’re going to start with narrative. What is the story and structure of your life? What has been achieved? Where have your plot points and tailspins and adventures been?

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Imagine you are writing your autobiography. Choosing what to include and not include in the story of your life is defining for you- what makes your story? What was the making of you?

Think about what the title would be, consider how you would arrange your chapters, what those chapter titles would be. Where would you start and end your story? Is it a star chart, jumping from point to point, getting higher and higher? Did you have a dip? Have you risen again from the ashes?

 

Don’t feel you have to force a plotline to form. Our lives, day to day, are about plodding. They’re about slow and quiet realisations that look little but mean much. Looks for the simples and re-occurring themes in your life. This can be as simple as noticing the bluebells in the garden every year, and recognising the passage of time. The tune that recalls a certain memory when you hear it. These realisations and moments of contemplation matter, they are the fabric that binds us.

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Think about the stages in your life. Where are you now? Are you at the beginning of your journey? We are always discovering, always changing and growing. Do you think you can recognise the stages and phrases of those changes?

 

You do not have to write your biography, just plan our the chapters. Give them titles, decide what would be involved. Perhaps you would like to try to write a bit about some of those moments that you feel are defining. Try to get as close and as within the moment as you can- look for the sensory memories, the strange details. As you envelope yourself in your own memories you will often find these details appear. The taste of school dinners, the journey to your first job, the feelings and sounds and blur of having children. Look through photos, talk to people, try and regain the wholeness of these moments. To truly own your history is a beautiful thing, and to find the narrative is to feel like the journey carries on, open for exploration and new beginnings.

 

Don’t forget about my Writing for Wellbeing Workshop in April!

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Stories, Festivals and Studying

Hey there,

Long time no write!  A little update on a few of the bits and pieces that I’m up to at the moment:

The new novel- it’s coming along painstakingly slowly, mainly because whilst I adore jumping back and forth through time and perspective, I hate the necessity of dates and detail in those jumps. Not that this is a time travel book. I’m just interested in nostalgia. Anyway, the book now has a title: Little Birds. I quite like it. 

This is a link to a piece of work by David Apps called No Birds Do Sing that inspired me, and I would absolutely love to use as the cover.

Birds are a theme, obviously.

In other news:

I’ve started an MsC in Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes, which is at the Metanoia Institute in Ealing- It’s brilliant and you’ll be hearing a lot more from me on the therapeutic power of writing workshops as I go along in the course. Words have so much power, not only to create, but to heal. It’s honestly amazing.

Also:

I’m setting up a Lit Fest in January at Red Door Studios where I’m the writer in residence. It’s called Words With Edge and it’s about ways of telling stories, about not fearing the isolation and disconnectedness of not being a ‘reader’, when we all have a story of value to share and express. So far, we’ve got a bunch of brilliant people on the line up- including Hollie Mcnish, and Roundhouse graduates the Early Doors Collective. The festival will run from 24th – 30th January 2014  and includes performances, workshops, exhibition, interactive installations and stalls, talks, and lots more! 

If you want to get involved, you can email wordswithedgefest@gmail.com and we’ll start tweeting on @wordswithedge soon!

 

 

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Why I Love my Kindle…And Why I Hate Myself For It.

 

I was a steadfast, never-changing, can’t-see-the-point, technology-goes-too-far defender of printed books. The ‘Original Book’ if you will. I spent a year on my MA in Creative Entrepreneurship listening to people defending the uses of e-readers, imploring me to consider changing markets and adapting writing to new ways of reading. I refused. The printed book will never be replaced, and I just wasn’t interested. However, when I needed to start editing other people’s books and stories, and my back was starting to break from dragging my laptop everywhere (which I still do, I’ve just added a kindle to the Big Bag of Doom), I decided to give them a chance.

Reasons I love it:

1. Instantaneous gratification

Ooh, I really want that book. Ooh, it’s coming out today! I can’t get to the shop today. My local bookshop doesn’t stock it. Oh, I don’t want to order it and wait for weeks, I want it NOW. Oh, BLAM, look at that! I have it. Shopping for books is one of the greatest pleasures, I may even prefer it to reading books. Seeing a book that grabs me, and instantly getting to read and enjoy it really feels good.

2. Holidays

I have always been a bookworm. When we went away on holiday, as a kid I had to think very carefully about my packing allowance. I always had three books for the plane (just in case) and five more in my case (for a two week holiday). No more using up all my packing space, weighing down my luggage, or having to make awful torn decisions about which book had to be left behind (poor little thing).

3. People can’t see what you’re reading

I think this was voted the number one favourite thing about e-readers. If I’m reading my typical maudlin YA fiction that I’ve read a hundred times before and probably has nothing to offer me, no one can judge. If I did want to read such absolute shite as Fifty Shades of Grey, or Twilight, I could do so without judgement. Which perhaps should be counted as a negative, as shaming people out of buying such things might be a good idea.

4. Supporting indie authors

It’s pretty easy to publish on Amazon for kindle, or even publish an e-book. For a minimal price, you can instantly support an author trying to make it, you can spend fifty pence and show solidarity without even really having to read the thing. It’s one click to make someone really happy. I’ve found some great stuff on twitter, downloaded it straight to my kindle, and it’s a bit like finding some hidden gems, it wasn’t what you were looking for, but you’re glad you took a chance.

 

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And some things I just can’t get over:

 

– People can’t see what you’re reading

As a Londoner, I’m quite averse to unnecessary communications on public transport, BUT sometimes it’s nice to have a chat with another book nerd on a bus. When I worked as a barista, it was really easy to start up a conversation with someone about their book. Reading is an internal thing, but the externalising is the talking about it.

You can’t lend books!

This absolutely drives me mad. I recently read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, and it was one of the best books I’d read in ages. And whilst I was recommending it to everyone, could I force it on them by physically handing them a copy? No. So e-books are cheaper, but you have to buy them. Again, internalising reading.

On the beach

There’s something very anti-holiday reading about screens and glare and doohickeys and technology. I like the way my pages get crinkled in the sun, and sand gets between the pages. Getting sand on a kindle-fear.

I worry about getting mugged

No-one’s ever going to stop me for my copy of Harry Potter, but for an e-reader worth a hundred quid? My reading on the tube makes me feel like I’ve got to stow everything away going to the ‘dodgier’ parts of London. And that’s not nice.

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You know what I mean, don’t you?

 

As always, you can buy my book in physical print and on kindle. Because having the best of both is important, right?

 

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Andi Says RELAX

 

 

When people ask me what my main strength is, I don’t tend to say writing. I tend to say enthusiasm. I am like a child. Give me a task and I’ll see an adventure. On the right day, I may even jump up and down and clap my hands. I love what I do. I love writing, teaching, reading, editing and helping people learn to harness their gift. But goddamn, it’s exhausting sometimes.

Creative Entrepreneurship teaches us that, as artists, we are likely to get our wages from a variety of income streams. The more strings to your bow, the more you can make. Now, I’m not saying a 9-5 isn’t exhausting, but this whole multiple income streams business makes me look like I’m vibrating on a different frequency. You have to be able to switch between projects pretty quickly, as well as travelling, planning, executing, arranging and looking out for new opportunities whilst making sure you don’t lose the ones you already have. Plus there’s social media, which can’t be ignored. What’s the point of doing all this work if no-one knows about it?

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I wasn’t this exhausted when I worked a PAYE job, and worked for myself part time. And I got up at 5am most days.

This is the question: Should we do many things, and do them well enough, or do a few and do them brilliantly?

When you split your income stream, you split your focus. If you have to teach to make more money immediately, then the novel gets put on the backburner in order to plan a lesson. Do we end up prioritising away the whole reason for this lifestyle?

When your job splits down into five or six different jobs, and then you consider the average tasks that come with being a human- paying bills, grocery shopping, socialising, doing laundry, going to the bank….how do we ever get stuff done?

I think I’ve found the answer. Or rather, I’ve known the answer all along, I’m just incapable of sticking to it:

CALM THE HELL DOWN.

Frazzled, exhausted minds do not do good work. Unless you’re Hemingway. Or Kerouac.

If we are our own boss, we need to treat ourselves nicely. We need to know when to switch off the laptop, put down the pen, turn off the phone, and STOP WORRYING. We need to sleep well, eat good food, exercise. Spend time thinking about things that aren’t work. Stop thinking that we’re not going to survive if we don’t do it ALL RIGHT NOW. Make plans with friends and stick to them, prioritise them over the chance to make a little more money.

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I’m terrible at this. I’m an overachiever, right until I burn out and spend weeks feeling ill and depressed. And then obviously it’s so much harder to get back to work with that attitude. Balance. That is what we need, and what I’ve been searching for. We all know the basics: Eat well, exercise, work, learn, socialise, have fun, create, sleep.

I used to think the busier I LOOKED, the more successful I was. This isn’t true. You think you’re juggling balls and spinning plates like a pro, when actually you look like a run-down jittery maniac running on coffee and determination. No-one approves of that person, because their work is destroying them. That’s not smart.

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So, next week I will be on holiday. Problem being I’ve already agreed to do a proofread on a client’s novel and set myself the task of polishing up one of my novels for perusal by an interested publisher. So I’ve pretty much just agreed to sit doing two weeks worth of work in 5 days. Why did I do that? Because I looked at them and thought ‘Ooh, those days are free!’ THAT IS THE WAY THEY’RE MEANT TO STAY. My holiday is usually for reading and writing, but in a non-uniformed, enjoyable and open way. No goals, just fun. And I’m not saying I won’t be sitting there with a cocktail in hand whilst I do it, but the lesson has yet to be learnt.

We need time to ourselves, to heal and reboot and relax. So I hope you can learn from my mistakes!

 

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Things and Stuff this Summer

So, just incase anyone missed the first few thousand times I talked about it, you can buy my debut novel at the publisher’s website. If anyone would like to post reviews in the comments box on this post, I’d appreciate it!

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In other news,

  • I’ll be starting my writing residency over at Red Door Studios in Newham in the next few months. I’ll be running workshops, doing a writer’s cafe and arranging a mini lit fest! So come get involved out on London’s East Edge. You can keep up with my musings at Red Door over here.

 

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  • I’ll be at a bunch of festivals running creative writing classes with The DumbSaint Project. You can find us at Larmertree (where I’ll also be doing a special reading from my novel, and a chat about being entrepreneurial), Cornbury Fest (Where my amazing mum will be coming along to make some excellent Sea Stories themed crafts- AHOY!) and End of the Road Fest, with fabulous poet Joe McBride. It’s going to be a busy summer!

 

I’ll also be performing at She Grrrowls! in Kingston on the 22nd July. Run by the most excellent poet (and current writer in residence at Bang Said the Gun! -frickin’ awesome) Carmina Masoliver. This is the first time I’ll be performing excerpts from my novel since the launch, and I think that’s removed a bunch of the nerves. So come down for some excellent performances and good booze!

 

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That’s it for now! Phew!

 

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Wine Dark Sea Blue- A Look Back at the Book Launch

So, it’s been a while since the book launch for Wine Dark, Sea Blue, and life is still getting back into it’s own little rhythm.

I have been assured by everyone it was a wonderful night. (Am I reminding anyone of Mrs Elton in Austen’s Emma? Where she flatters herself by saying how much other people enjoy her company?) To be honest, I was buzzing around like a bumblebee on crack, so I’m kind of depending on everyone else’s opinions here.

So the UEA INTO Launch started earlier in the day, with a wonderful speech from Professor Sarah Churchwell (Who you can find out more about here). It was so great to hear a writer and lecturer who didn’t know me at all really get what I was trying to achieve with this novel. To have someone who knows good writing understand my themes and narratives, and the point of my writing just made the day for me. 

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Then we went down to Dirty Dicks Pub, where festivities were about to begin! Opening the show was Northern Irish writer Louise Davidson, who has also helped me with work on The DumbSaint Project. It was then followed by a ‘thrown voice’ poetry show by Joe McBride and Joe Shefer, exploring the voiceless poet. We had a spoken word/sound art collaboration with Victoria Karlsson (using Joe McBride’s work- you can listen here). Poetry from Stairwell Books’ Rose Drew. Songs from the excellent Emma Weston, accompanied by Sam Weston. And then onto partying with The Elisa Jeffery Collective!

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So, my advice for a launch?

  • Pre-sign ALL THE BOOKS. Sure, it’s nice to write specific messages, but it’ll take time and make your life difficult.
  • Get someone else to deal with ALL the OTHER SHIT. You will not have the time to greet people, sign books, sell, check the state of the nibbles and make sure the band have leads etc. Get HELP
  • Themed cupcakes are always a winner
  • Provide entertainment but maybe not too much entertainment
  • Maybe trust that when you invite your friends, and they invite their friends, you probably will have enough people!
  • It’s your night! Take the time to enjoy it!
  • Merchandise is fun!