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!

Advertisements
Uncategorized

What is Creative Entrepreneurship?

I was recently asked to give a talk at the UEA London Campus on what it means to be a creative entrepreneur. I thought I’d post the talk here, as most people still seem to have trouble with the concept of arts and business intermingling.

This is only my personal account of the course, and is fairly anecdotal, but it sums up what I think I gained from this excellent MA, and how I got to where I am now.

It’s a bit like therapy when you start out. Hi, my name is Andrea Michael, and I am a creative entrepreneur. It feels a bit strange when you first tell people that, and we certainly spent enough time on the course examining the root of that word, ‘entrepreneur’, and what people think when you say it.

 

I can tell you this:

 

I do not look like an entrepreneur. I do not wear designer suits to get attention, you cannot judge me by my watch. I, like most other graduates, still live at home. In short, I am not Alan Sugar.

But I am a businesswoman. And an artist. And that merging of two amazing worlds is what I’m here to talk to you about. Because I think getting a Masters in Creative Entrepreneurship has been the most important thing I’ve done so far, and I’ve been an ambassador for merging business and art ever since.

I am a writer. I write novels. Mainly for adults, but also for teenagers and children. I write poetry, blog posts, articles, reviews, web content, comedy and outraged letters. And still, after doing this for years, even after graduating from UEA’s highly respected BA in English Literature with Creative Writing, I still walked into my first lesson on this MA, unable to call myself a writer.

 

I studied, I practiced my craft, and I was actually pretty good. But I still didn’t have the confidence to proclaim myself an artist. I had a excellent degree from a distinguished university and  had absolutely no idea where to go next. I didn’t even know it was possible to be a full time writer! I certainly had no business skills. All I had was my writing, my passion and a desire to never work a nine-to-five in my life. I like to think it’s my enthusiasm that got me accepted onto the MA, and the skills that I gained there that got me to where I am now.

 

We learned about all the things that my academic degree had failed to give me- an understanding of how to do things for yourself. How to market myself, to analyse my strengths and weaknesses, and work through, or around them. To use budgets, understand self-employment and tax. To set up a website, apply for funding. How to best use your ideas, and your art, to benefit you and others.

 

Traditionally, art has been seen as almost a polar opposite to business. But if there has been anything I learnt on this course, it is this: Art has two types of value. The first is the obvious, the aesthetic. The first reason an artist creates: to speak to an audience. To express passion or ideas, to create something meaningful and send it out into the world. But the second is monetary value. Art is worth a lot. And like all things, it has a price.

An artist may be creating out of love, or hatred or politics, or whatever drives them. But that artist also has overheads; tools to pay for, travel expenses and labour costs. Why shouldn’t that be viewed in terms of business? An artist has goods and services to sell. There is no shame in combining artistry and money. Good art is not made through starvation. It is made through understanding your own value.

That, above all, is what I prize most about this course. It gave me a sense of my own value. It made me confident enough in my skills to stand before you today and call myself a writer.

There are many other benefits. Being surrounded by like-minded people from different artistic backgrounds, ages, parts of the world, all of whom want to do the same thing- make a living from their art. With the course being so intimate, you create a support network, one which I still rely on today. My course-mates are talented and passionate professionals, and we still stay in touch, passing on work, bouncing ideas. We created a sense of identity on the course, we became artists who understood the importance of creating our own revenue, not depending on grants or funding from outside sources.

Similarly, that network expanded to include the specialist advisors and guest lecturers who gave lessons in their fields, whether that was how to write a press release, how to identify your selling points, or how to use social media to your advantage. Like the business world, the arts world is also all about who you know. And this course introduces you to all the right people.

 

Traditional scholars may tell you that art is sullied by business. But we are not living in a world where the cliched whimsical artist is provided for by a patron. Art cannot afford to be blind to value. Artists cannot afford to ignore how their talent can be used. There is no reason that when I call myself an artist, people should assume that I am not a businesswoman also. Companies seems to search for creativity amongst their employees, and the artist has this in abundance. Knowing how to apply it is the key. Creativity is not a weakness. Don’t I have to work to deadlines? Search for new clients? Imaginatively problem solve? Appeal to my target market? I can do these things, and now I realise how much they are worth.

 

 

It has been a year since I graduated, and in that time, my life as a writer has taken tremendous leaps forward.

A large part of the course is creating an Arts Plan, a guide for how I plan to steer my creative career over the next five years. It is a collage of aspirations, strengths and weaknesses, contacts, business plans, account details and a constant reminder of how far I have come, and how far I have to go. I ‘check in’ with this document, update my plans, maybe change things, but having it there to look at helps me push forward. And I am going places.

 

My first novel (which was a coursework piece) is being considered for publication, my second novel has just been finished, and the third is in the works. Various articles on the intermingling of arts and business, as well as fiction, have been published in magazines, and I’ve gained some great contacts in the publishing industry, as well as winning a few prizes along the way.

 

My comedic blog, Cafe Disaster, about the trials of working as a highly educated but minimally paid barista in Kensington, now has thousands of hits a week, a dedicated fanbase, and various advertising offers. This started as a creative outlet on the course, to amuse my friends and classmates. It’s now taken on a life of it’s own and is being seen as an example of the problems facing the graduates of the recession generation.

 

I started my own business, The DumbSaint Project, which provides creative writing workshops for children, teenagers and adults. It’s gained a great reputation at festivals and is expanding on target. I have since been able to quit my job as a barista and focus solely on my writing and workshops. My readers are worried that the blog will suffer.

I cannot recommend this course highly enough, and I have friends who joined the MA after me, because I pointed out that they had perfected their craft over the years, but were strangers to the life skills needed for their career. This course equips you with the tools you need to carve out a life for yourself as an artist. It allows you to find your own path, your creative niche, but also gives you the chance to experiment before you’re thrown out into a world that doesn’t always recognise the value of artists.

 

I can now legitimately call myself a writer. Because that is what I do. I write, I advertise, I arrange a business, I network, I do my accounts. I apply my skills in ways that allow me to live. I use my ideas to survive. And that is what being an entrepreneur is.

Uncategorized

The Three Cs: Continuity, Collaboration and Chick Books

These three are featuring rather heavily in my writing life at the moment. So I thought I’d spend a post postulating and considering their merits and downsides, as somewhat useful procrastination.

 

Continuity

Not in the typical way. As in, I haven’t suddenly messed up my whole novel with an inconsistency that laughs in the face of space and time. What I mean is that I am apparently a fickle writer. I am the writing equivalent of Joey Potter in Dawson’s Creek: does she love Dawson, does she love Pacey, does she want to date some random guy whilst thinking of Dawson, running from Pacey and trying to find herself? Tune in next week for another five years of back and forth.

(Apologies for those of you who were not pre-teens in the nineties, or had better things to do than watch teenagers spouting polysyllabic words to emphasise their angst. This comparison will probably not mean much.) 

I had it all planned. Finished the ‘literary coming-of-age-novel’, moved onto (and thoroughly planned during my travels) the ‘kid book’ (Friday Jones and the Thirteen Club) then move on to either the ‘teen summer book’ or return to the ‘unfinished nostalgic dissertation’ to turn into a novel.

 

There was a PLAN. Except Friday Jones has been eluding me. It’s been a bit of a struggle. And as much as I respected my A-Level English teacher telling me my brain should be hurting if I’m working hard enough, there was no flow here. So it drizzled away until I stopped. For days and days and days. And could not get excited about it again.

 

Chick Book

Then BAM. Tabby Riley happened. Just in case you don’t know, Tabby Riley is my new heroine. And my new favourite person. Because…drum roll…I’m writing a chick book. I hope that you know when I say ‘chick book’ I clearly mean ‘intelligent writing aimed at women who are sceptical about the all-encompassing love ideals fostered by Disney, but are tired of reading Sartre and would quite frankly like something cheerful and full of snarkiness.’ Snarky and sarcastic are the name of the game here. Plus I have the slight problem that I created such a hot leading man I’m a little in love with a fictional character. My own fictional character. He’s a boywhore with a heart of gold, just the way I like ‘em.

 

I suppose I’m going to get some derisive looks and judgemental comments about female fiction, but my honest response is ‘so what?’ Good chick lit is hard to write, there’s a lot of terrible stuff out there. But I’m pretty sure I can do this. So let’s see if I stick with it. It’s already very different in process to the kids book, a lot more like my first novel, where I had to scribble down conversations between characters in the middle of the night. It’s a necessity, rather than work at the moment. So here’s hoping, it gets somewhere.

 

Collaboration

I think collaboration is the key to any good writing life. Sure, you can be the cliche hermit all you want, and you need to be in your own head to get work done. But you’ve got to leave the room and join the party sometimes. Connecting with other artists, whether they’re writers or not is a comforting and invigorating experience. They may not be focusing on what you’re writing about, what they’re passionate about may be really far from your interests, but one conversation can spark inspiration. Hell, a word they said five years ago may be the start of your next book. Never underestimate the importance of companionship. Or even just having someone understanding the problems you face.

This was a really big part of my MA in Creative Entrepreneurship, being surrounded by artists who got what it was like to be an artist.

So, just as I’ve batted ideas back and forth with him for years, I’m hopefully going to start working with my good friend Jay on some projects. If you don’t know the work of Jay Crisp, you should, because he’s awesome. Check out his art and manic humour over at The Wild Side web comic, and Touc Reviews on Youtube. He’s been one of the main people I moan about writing to, and like I say, it’s important to have people around you who know what it’s like. If the websites are anything to go by, I suspect the Touc and Twisted Barista have a sense of humour (and rage) in common. Here’s to creative collaborations!