Image by Thomas Dworzak, Russia, February 2001. Words from Care of the Soul.
Image by Thomas Dworzak, Russia, February 2001. Words from Care of the Soul.
This combo gave me pause to think on what I do to ground myself to align with my creativity. Here, CBR talks about the King’s confidence becoming a rigidness that prevents new ideas.
I get that confidence has the capacity to create a false sense of security that can compel you to continue to do the same thing, with the same result, over and over (some will tell you that’s success!) but for me confidence has always inspired me to try new things. When I am confident I take major leaps and major risks. I also tend to sparkle enough with those new ideas to co-opt others into jumping with me.
I stay grounded with the mundane – washing, dishes, cooking to name three. They are great places to gestate new ideas.
I was reminded of this yesterday when I was forced to walk to retrieve my car from the mechanic. And guess what – I’m far from being as unfit as I think I am. I really enjoyed it. My routine , within my body, has settled enough now that I can think about an afternoon walk again without keeling over from exhaustion.
What do you do to stay grounded and available for the incoming flow of ideas? Is confidence restrictive or liberating?
For NatCon2013, I was invited to sit on a panel about mentorship alongside Kaaron Warren, Jo Anderton and Kimberly Gael. My first response to the invitation was: are you sure? I don’t think I know anything about mentoring other than that bit of youth mentor training I did back when I worked in behaviour management? (and I was pretty sure that I was the only one who knew about that a decade on!)
If it were possible to attach a good-hearted chuckle to an email, the reply would have come with it, plus: you’ve been mentoring writers for years, you’ve just never seen it as mentoring. It made me look at (and appreciate) my business and creative practices in a whole new way.
I came from a grassroots publication where it was the people who mattered most. I spent three years as a magazine editor seeking out, collating and publishing the most personal stories: those of birth and early parenting. Part of that job was belonging to and participating in a small but incredibly strong community. That same community sustained, educated and supported me throughout my pregnancy, birth and early years of parenting.
When I left Down to Birth and started eMergent Publishing with Paul Anderson in 2008, I took what I knew of community building and peer support and wove it into the foundations of our new business. It was less a conscious decision of this is what we will do and more an intuitive approach of what I knew, where my comfort zone was and how it melded beautifully with Paul’s worldview.
It also had a lot to do with what both Paul and I really wanted to do – we wanted to create publishing experiences for authors who were keen to collaborate because, at that time, collaboration between authors was rare, even rarer as a large group, and most of the collaborative efforts were published online. And while we were able to begin because of the digital revolution and the low overheads that came with it, we were able to show a few years later, in dead-tree print, complex collaboration and high-concept ideas were absolutely possible in publishing.
A VERY HUMAN TWIST OF FATE
When I began editing fiction, I came to it with a false notion it was just about the best arrangement of words on the page to convey the most powerful story. I had no idea at the time that the role of editor (especially in long projects) was also that of best friend and most sworn enemy, harshest critic and most exuberant cheer squad, confidante, life coach and magician. The relationship between author and editor is synergistic. It’s the most human element of publishing, one I find equally challenging and fulfilling in its frustrations and intimacies.
A COOPERATIVE ROLE CALL
As an editor, I’ve had the honour of giving dozens of writers their first publication credit and for many of those it was also their first paid publication. For other writers it was the first chance to work closely with a professional editor or to work with other authors. My preference has always been to work with new and emerging writers.
As a publisher, I’ve been lucky enough to create projects that facilitate collaboration and creative exchange, opportunities for writers to connect and work with each other, in a way traditional models of anthology collation do not make possible. I’ve always been more interested in working with a group of writing to develop and publish the best stories each individual could write rather than opening to public submission and publishing the best individual stories from there. Because of this very different model, new writers have left projects with a support network they didn’t have when they started.
As a workshop facilitator, I’ve had the fortune of interacting with (and learning from) an ever-broadening group of people. For the past three years I’ve delivered the highly sought after self-editing and critique seminar through the Queensland Writers Centre. Alongside hints and tips on how to edit your work, I’ve also been sneaky enough to transform the impersonal seminar space into a personal one that pushes writers our of their silence to talk and connect with each other.
As a community builder, I’ve had the joy of building and facilitating spaces (in and beyond eMergent Publishing’s boundaries) where individuals or clusters of writers have come together to help and support each other, to foster new and enduring relationships and friendships. Last year I wrote about the experience of accidentally building an online community of writers. The article was published in IF:Books and Editia press’s n00bz.
A RECIPROCAL CONNECTION
As a writer, I’ve seen the importance of peer support and encouragement, and been lucky enough to find other writers and industry professionals who’ve been able to help me. From the people who took me under their wing and introduced me around at Cons and literary events when I knew no one, to others who have offered advice or guidance over the years.
And there are others, those with whom I have written shoulder-to-shoulder with over the years, in collaborative arrangements, as beta readers, as fellow travellers, as members of online writing groups and community, who have challenged me to be the best writer I can be. They have been there with me through good times and bad.
I have always tried to pay it forward because I am everything I am today, not just because of the hard work I’ve put in, but because of the hard work my writing colleagues have put into me.
THE BIRTH OF A MENTORSHIP PROGRAM
I’m not the only one who hungers for connection, for support and for the confidence that comes when others invest their belief in you.
I’m also not the only one who is constantly looking to upgrade their skills, deepen their creative connection and seek innovation in story telling.
And surprisingly enough, I’m not the only one looking for creative and sustainable ways of building an art-commerce model of income to support myself – in this case it’s the double whammy of not just funding myself as a writer but also a small press that wants to pay authors well.
This has culminated in the conception of a mentorship program that draws on my own experiences, skills and accumulated insights. My vision is to be the curator of a supported creative space with the benefits of one-to-one personalised attention and small group interaction.
FOR THE ASKING
For The Asking is a hybrid program combining direct mentorship, a writing course and elements of creative exploration. It has the flexibility to accommodate different goals while at the same time providing a shared space to connect with (or hone) the craft of writing through experimentation in style, form, voice, genre and different creative modalities, combined with thoughtful critique, self-reflection and peer interaction. Each mentee will also have the opportunity to pursue one or two writing related goals.
The first 12-week mentorship block begins Sunday 13th September.
The program is open to all writers 18 years and over. Places are limited to FOUR and are via an application process. Successful applicants will be notified by Sunday 6th September.
Investment* is A$250.00
Additional information and the application form can be downloaded here.
*The proceeds from this mentorship block will fund the publication of ‘The Heart is an Echo Chamber’ (the follow up to ‘No Need to Reply’), the second Pandora’s Paradox novel and eMergent Publishing’s website redevelopment. 10% will be invested via Patreon into my favourite podcast, Tea and Jeopardy, created by Emma and Peter Newman.
The current Venus Retrograde transit through Leo continues to be an artistically auspicious one for me – someone who is usually bent toward the creation of pictures and stories through words than words and stories through pictures.
As the photographs show, I’ve been creating in the same medium as last week: basically one side of a Delite’s rice cracker box, two pieces of origami paper unearthed from the bottom drawer of my desk (thank you Daiso for your beautiful, inexpensive paper and thank you past me who wanted to make paper cranes!) and a randomly selected page of Italo Calvino’s ‘Six Memos’ (did I ever tell you the story about how my dog ate Calvino?). The rest is communing with scissors, glue and random acts of meaning.
‘Arting’ – as I’ve come to think of it, has been a way to remove my mind from the turbulence of the here and now. It’s also been an opportunity to create something unique for the special people in my life. The top square is a birthday present for Kim and the bottom a housewarming present from Rob. (This time I’ve shown them as works in progress rather than as the polished, final piece!)
Amid the glue — and the chaos that comes with breathing out a little too hard and blowing tiny pieces of paper across the desk (and thus, for a few horrible minutes, destroying the perfect poetry of the words assembled because one of the words can no longer be found!) — there was a gift for me!
Many years ago I learned as an editor and a publisher of strange and left-of-field conceptual ideas that the best approach to any project once it had been conceived and entrusted to a group of writers was to step the hell out of the way. The Chinese Whisperings and Literary Mix Tapes anthologies are the results of this ‘letting go’. Of trusting that the writers involved had the capacity to grow an idea far beyond anything I was able to.
I’m learning the same lessons over again, this time through art.
I was afraid the first one of these little squares would be the best I’d ever make and everything after would be dross. The Ego of Perfectionism has always been my nemesis when it comes to art (far less so with writing). It’s an easy way of opting out of my creative expression. I can give in, do nothing because I believe I’ll never be good enough…
… or I can step the hell out of my own way. Let go.
Tuesday afternoon I sent this message to Kim (after messages earlier in the day about getting over oneself in the creative process!)
Lesson 1: every little piece of art has its own energy and dynamism. This means if you step out of the way of expecting anything of it, it can ‘become’ all by itself.
Lesson 2: return to Lesson 1
And at the end of the ‘becoming’ you let it go and so it can ‘become’ again when it reaches its new home.
Then you go back to the supermarket and stock up on packets of Delites, thumb old books in boxes downstairs that haven’t quite made it to the donation bin (in the hope it might be the new cornucopia of found poetry) and wait for the time and space to imperfectly create again.
Thank you to Rowena for the gift (a pre-release!) of She Makes War’s new album Direction of Travel (which I’ve been listening to as I’ve been writing). I am ever so grateful for beautiful, generous friends who bring rays of light in a week of turmoil.
We spent the afternoon at the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA), soaking up the 7th Triennial Asia Pacific Exhibition. There were stunning pieces and plenty of my kind of art: visual feasts that challenge social, political, economic and cultural mores. We ooo-ed and ahhh-ed in all the right places (the right places being different for all of us) and moved with the best kind of questioning wonder and amazement through the paintings and sculptures, the installations and masks, the short films and photographs.
But the most fun the four of us had at the exhibition was producing our own art it in the dedicated kids’ area: masks based on Hahan’s work, crazy family photos from Kazakhstan, Parastou Forouhar’s zoomorphic calligraphy animations*. We adults got into it more than than Mr D.
It reminded me of what Julia Cameron says in The Artist Way, that we produce some of our best creative works before we reach primary school. That we are at our creative peak at kindergarten!
Society delineates between ‘high art’ and ‘low art’, ‘art’ and ‘craft’, ‘professional’ and ‘amateur’, ‘commericial’ and ‘cottage’. All arbitrary terms created by someone who wanted to sell something to someone and make a little extra dosh. And don’t get me started on elitism.
The thing with ‘high art’ though–whether it be a professional theatrical or dancing production, a gallery showing, scoring that illusive commercial deal for a book or album– the creation of ‘high art’ is beyond the reach of most of us. And it’s marketed as being beyond us… it is art made by experts, highly trained professionals who have dedicated their life’s work to doing what they do. Not nufties like you and me.
It didn’t start of that way for us though. As kids we are oblivious to this tripe! The older we get, the more we understand this dichotomy between ‘high’ and ‘low’, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ (we see it in all forms of artistic pursuits—think the age old argument between literary fiction and genre fiction—high and low art!) and the more we feel separate from it.
We see it in the way ‘talented’ kids are singled out and nurtured, to the exclusion of others. We learn creative success is earned by a lucky few, and is not intended for everyone. Creativity is an exclusive club not meant for us.
What kids create is often seen as ‘junk’ or disposable (outside of their adoring parents and family members/close friends) in comparison to the ‘high art’ adults make. But childlike creativity is accessible, fulfilling and available to all (regardless of age) to engage with and enjoy. That’s priceless. Not junk!
The best thing about my kindergarten was the old red telephone box in the playground (yes, I was raised on healthy Dr Who, just like my son!). When I wasn’t inside making phone calls or flying away to faraway lands, I was painting and playing in the coloured water trough, typing things on the typewriter. I loved glitter, the more the merrier (and I still have a soft spot for it now, especially when its going on someone else’s floor!)
I remember I made a magenta leather bookmark for my father, weaving leather strap through holes punched in along the sides. Dad used it for years and years and years. I also remember a dried flower collage on a cork coaster… it hung on the wall for years and years too.
The pure joy of a child’s creativity is well within everyone’s reach. What we have to do is step up and embrace being kids again. It’s the best antidote to exclusivity of ‘high art’; to feeling beyond, frozen out.
We were all creative at kindergarten—cut and pasted, nailed, sewed, weaved, painted, constructed, coloured-in, sang, danced, played instruments, dressed up and put our dreams into motion through play.
Some of my most treasured moments are not on a stage in front of a paying audience but in a lounge room or front lawn in a semi-organised concert with my cousin and my sister. I remember many holidays dancing on a platform in our potato packing shed with just the dust and rats looking on (I can still remember several dance moves from the Footloose number we did!). And other holidays with my Nanna and Pa, making smiley faces on Marie biscuits from smarties, orange segment lollies and icing.
I wrote notes to Willy Wagtails on the back of gum leaves at my cousin’s and weighed them down with pebbles atop fence post so they wouldn’t blow away. I sang loudly in the toilet (my parents joked it was the acoustics) and when I got older, in the shower (they may have been right about the acoustics of small spaces!). From scraps of material I sewed Barbie clothes. I knitted jumpers for dolls from wool I scavenged.
My love of colouring-in lasted long past its age-appropriate used-by-date. The last colouring book I owned was of Ewoks during the summer of my last year at primary school in 1985.
As a teenager I bound my book reviews as tiny books with staples and gaffa tape, accompanied by hand drawn covers. All my assignments had colourful borders–one on my family history had a stone paved border that after page three didn’t seem like such a good idea, but I kept going with it. I sketched Wendy James and Patrick Swayze when I wasn’t scribbling stories. I skipped out on classic piano music to play jazz standards and old show tunes from organ books I borrowed from my Grandma. My friend Kim and I performed Chicago’s “Hard To Say I’m Sorry” for a school arts day. For drama a drew detailed character mock ups to accompany the scripts I’d written.
But the older I got, the more the other creative pursuits petered off until I was left with dancing and writing. Then just writing. Then nothing.
We make excuses for not doing the things we want to do. The things we know will make our heart sing; bring lightness and variety into the otherwise dull, monotony of life.
There’s all the excuses under the sun by the time we’re adults, not to be creative: I’m tone deaf; I can’t draw a stick figure; I have two left feet; I burn water. But as a four-year-old did any of that matter to you?
You sang loudly and off key, knowing only ever fourth word, but did it with gusto. You splashed paint on a piece of white paper or smooshed it between your fingers and smiled proudly when your folks unpegged it to take home at the end of the day. You danced the hokey pokey and it didn’t matter which was left of right. You poured pink water into weird shaped containers and created fountains and rivers, you formed up the best mud pies in the world with no thought to if it was under done or over cooked or if anyone else liked it but you.
As adults we need to embrace our inner child and re-approach creativity with the open-minded wonder of a four-year-old who doesn’t care what others think, who has all the time in the world to be absorbed and dissolved in colour, sound, movement and all degrees of imagination.
We need to step away from the awareness of skill, experience, status, money, critical acclaim or any other of the external accruements that attach themselves to creative endeavours beyond childhood. It’s time to get back to basics: the simple act of doing something creative for the sheer enjoyment of it.
So, what did you really enjoy doing as a kid? Now go out and rediscover the joy all over again.
* Yes, that’s the goat I designed with the computer program!
Extended Reading: For more great reflections and ideas on rediscovering creativity dip into Adam Byatt’s three part serial:
…or how I found my way back to the light
When Ella-Louise slipped into the car on January 5th, I had no idea the wonderful creative adventures and opportunities writing her letters would birth, or the richness and depth she’d bring to my life. Much less the structure she and Jude would build, to enable Adam and I to work together across an entire year.
The momentum born of writing letters again, the enthusiasm to explore the world through Ella-Louise’s eyes and my interest in her backstory, spawned What I Left to Forget, the first short story I’d written in a long time. And like the proverbial rolling stone, I kept on rolling. I’ve been prolific: written poetry, a novella, short stories, vignettes, short film scripts and a box full of letters from Ella-Louise. I’ve taken risks and experimented and in doing so, seen more of my work enter the public realm.