business

Aligning Planets, Aligning Dreams: How to be an efficient creative being.

I didn’t see the eclipse this morning. I was lying in what felt like the world’s most comfortable bed, in the most gorgeous hotel, having drunk a leetle too much champagne the night before and simply breathing. I lay there in this comfortable bed and thought ‘Ah, I remember this. This is what it feels like not to worry.’

I am a worried. I am also a planner, a schemer, a long-term investor, a busy body and someone who gets rundown easily. I am possibly the worst person to be self-employed. I do maths, I make charts- ‘How can I increase my efficiency?’ ‘Can I squeeze in any more hours this week?’ ‘How much more can I get done if I learn to be happy with six hours sleep a night?’

This is not the right way to be efficient. Or creative. Or a human being that other human beings want to be around.

This is the way to a nervous breakdown and a heartattack before I’m thirty.

So as I lay there in this very comfortable bed, doing nothing but ruminating and breathing, I thought to myself ‘Why am I panicking when everything seems to be going right?’

I wonder if you ever have this sensation too? That you are so full of dreams and hopes and plans that they never feel like they’ll get there soon enough. And by the time they arrive, you are too busy worrying about the next plans to fully enjoy them.

This, I believe, is about alignment. On my MA in Creative Entrepreneurship, I was required to write a five year arts and business plan. This was meant as a tool to equip me on my writing career. It had contacts, it had aims and goals and ways of achieving them. But nowhere in that plan did I factor in the astonishing realisation that whilst you’re working towards these goals, life is still happening. Life doesn’t stop to let you catch up, or get ahead. I could sit here and work out that x+y = 13 books a year, and how much a % commission is and what likelihood it is that I could write full time…but you know how my time would be better spent? Writing book 5. And letting book 13 work itself out when I get there.

I spend a lot of time tutoring kids in analysing Of Mice and Men by Steinbeck. It’s a brilliant book, and often the essay question the kids get is: ‘Explore the importance of dreams in the novel.’ It throws them, because they can’t see any dreams in the novel, no-one’s asleep and imagining crazy things, no-one’s looking up at the Hollywood sign and saying ‘I’m gonna be a star’ (although one character thought that, once). It’s a landscape of failed dreams and unachievable goals. But here’s the catch, the important thing was to have a dream. To let it nourish you, to give you strength to get through another crappy day where nothing seemed to change. To let it be your lullaby when your weary head hit the pillow.

My lesson here, dear readers? Dreams should be invigorating, they should give you purpose and movement and strength. But they are no substitute for real life. Let your dreams inspire your life, but let your life be more important than your dreams. Work hard, play hard and BE PRESENT. Only then, can your creativity align with your passion. I’d also recommend mindfulness, and I’ll be posting some mindfulness writing tasks next week for those of you who want to be more present in your present!

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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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Creative Entrepreneurship

As many of you know, I’m taking a Masters in Creative Entrepreneurship. Most people don’t know what this is, but it’s becoming very relevant in today’s ‘Big Society’. This is the time for the Artist to step up, embrace their role in society. Artists are relevant during a recession. They brighten things up, provide colour and vibrance, and through that, hope.

They also are the only people who stand to make any money during our dry economic times, and this is due to innovation and adaptability. There will always be writers and artists and musicians, just as there will always be accountants and businessmen and bank managers. But one group of people work within a recognised structure. They get up and go to work, and yes, they worry about whether they’ll be fired, but the job that they do won’t change. The other group have to make that structure they work within. Find their jobs, and if there is no market for them, create a market for themselves.

So is creative entrepreneurship just creative business? No, it’s a form of survival. Business entrepreneurship is about making capital. Social entrepreneurship is about making change happen. Creative entrepreneurship is simply about making.

So that’s what I’m up to right now. I’m making stuff. And I’m making a space for it in the marketplace. My workshop plans are coming along nicely, my Cafe idea has made a large jump nearer reality (thanks to the excellent advice of ex-local authority Arts Officer Wendy Lockwood).

The writing, however, the true defining point of me as an Artist? Well, I should be off doing that instead of writing this.