Life is Learning

I finally mustered up the courage to send my manuscript off to someone for an editorial pass. A momentous step indeed. Not so much because I feel this is a step towards success as a writer, but because it’s a step towards me taking my work seriously and accepting that I need help in order to get better and better and continually more betterer at writing.

As you can see, I openly admit that I have a lot to learn. I realise this will be a long haul.

As much as I would like to be an instant success and receive great acclaim for my writing, I know this is not likely to be the case. I wish I had some magical powers, some mystical bardic charm that enchanted anyone who read my words, enticing them to throw money and accolades my way. But I have been down this road of creative discovery before and I know better.

I remember when I first started playing guitar, I wanted to be good right away. I wanted to be able to express all the musical ideas that were in my head and it was frustrating to have to wait till I was any good to do so. The poetry and the melody  was trapped within me and I had no musical skill or language with which to express it. The thought that it would take me years to be any good at guitar was so daunting at the age of 18. I was in such a hurry to express myself and achieve greatness. Of course, time flew…as it does…and playing guitar comes relatively easily to me now. Though, strangely enough, I do not seek greatness as much as I seek fulfillment and satisfaction. I know that ultimately, there are more important things than living up to expectations of others or following markets and trends. Being comfortable to express myself is my main priority, even if that means not producing something that is seen as marketable.

Right now, I’m experiencing this same beginning phase with my writing and while I think it’s important for me to constantly strive to be better, I can’t get lost in worrying about what other people will think of my work.

Ever since I was a child I have loved writing and though I have always kept it up, only recently have I started to take it seriously as a skill to be trained. My wordsmithing muscles are just like my guitar fingers and they need constant exercise. And just like learning an instrument, I need to be more comfortable with the language of storytelling. I need to learn from others about the rules of the craft, just like when learning music, you have to know how the rules work before you can bend them.

There is no better way to do that than to get someone else to help you. A teacher, a mentor, a friend, someone outside yourself who can form an opinion about your art. It’s time for me to take on another step of learning by opening up myself to constructive criticism.

It is also important to realise that we are never too old to learn and never too old to receive advice. When I used to teach guitar, I often would take on mature age students and I was surprised at how many of them felt embarrassed about picking up the guitar in their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s or whatever! They all had a touch of shame when they first sat down and admitted that they were probably too old and should have had lessons years ago. The only shame they should feel is for thinking that their age should determine the goals they set for their life.

There is nothing, I repeat….nothing, better in life than finding a way to express yourself, be it through art, through music, through writing, through exploring, through conversation, through your day job even. Communication is the essence of human experience and it is never too late to pick up a new tool, take a few lessons or ask for help or advice when discovering a new way to create the art of your life.

How many of us out there have ever put off doing something we dream of for ages, only to find out that when we finally make that leap, it wasn’t as hard as we thought it would be? What dreams do you have that you prefer to keep as abstract goals rather than tackle the challenge of actively seeking to realise them?

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Creativity in the Subconscious Realm

My life is full of Zen-like sound recording moments where I get to take in the world around me in a way that most people overlook. Sound is the first sense that we encounter in this life, we experience sound in the womb and yet, most of the time, most of us don’t pay a lot of attention to the sounds we hear. When I get to go out and record sound for a film I’m working on, I really listen to the world. Not just beautiful things like forests or mountains, but stuff like factories and industrial areas too. It is a chance to take stock of the world around me in a very unique way and there really is noting like it.

You sit there with your headphones on, your microphone on a stand and at first you simply listen to the space. You listen to what is really going on. What are the different sounds, how do they interact? You analyze the technical stuff like how the sound is reflecting off different surfaces or what is the texture of different trees and listening to how they move. Then after a few minuets, you wonder if you have recorded enough…if it is a nice recording, you might decide to stay there and just capture a good length of sound ten or twenty minutes maybe. Then something strange happens…you stop thinking entirely. You aren’t thinking about the sounds, you aren’t planning your life, you aren’t even thinking about the time anymore…you are just in the space, part of it. It is the closest I feel to how I experienced the world as a child, before I had deadlines, commitments, schedules or plans. I could just sit and watch the world and literally just – space out.

This is what I love most about sound, connecting to that very rare mind space, and experience a little moment in time that I can keep for later. But its not even just about capturing it, it is about letting go of being in the world and just stepping back and letting it tell its story.

So speaking of stories, where is mine? It has been a while since my last post. Have I forgotten about my story?

Sound has once again dominated my world. I do love sound and it is through helping to shape other peoples stories that I learn more about my own.

The thing is, when I’m working on a film, be it a short film, or a feature film, I tend to feel like you shouldn’t be doing anything else with my life. Exercise takes a nose dive, cooking, cleaning, everything associated with my own needs suddenly takes a back seat to my need to feed and develop this creative project that someone has been carrying with them form months/years/decades. I stop planing and structuring my book and start thinking how to conceptualize the film…what sounds I can go and record to bring this film to life, to make it something new and fresh, something never been heard before.

It’s a good feeling to be involved with bringing someone else’s dream to life. I just hope that one day I can be in the position with my books, getting other people to help me bring my vision into reality.

At the moment though, my book and all associated activities…(my blog, my reading, my research, my sketching, my thinking of the plot while I am doing household chores) have come to a stand still. It’s not just that it takes up most of my time to work on a film, it kind of hijacks all of my creative energy. To get my head into a project in such a deep and engrossing way, I need to stop thinking about my book, since normally my book is always at the forefront of my mind, like a demanding child stamping its feet and pestering me for its attention.

I always thought I was great at multitasking and in fact, most of the time, I need to have myself involved in a few art projects at once. I’ll swap between painting, music, sound and writing quite happily, but as soon as one of them becomes a JOB, it takes over and bullies all my other hobbies, interests and passions into a dark corner of my life. A corner rife with creative cobwebs. My JOB whatever it may be, becomes a gorging – rampaging – power-hungry – mind tyrant!

I have sometimes thought about trying to write more than one book at a time, but maybe I’d end up having some sort of manic episode. Maybe I’m just not experienced enough to live in more than one world at a time? I do have a lot of ideas for other stories beyond the one I’m writing now, but I’m not sure I could ever straddle more than one writing project, cause as soon as I get into writing a book, it demands so much of my brain’s CPU and I get obsessed.

I’m not sure if I can find such moments of peace while writing. The act of writing is so different to what I do in sound, It feels more difficult to find a way to tap into my subconscious like recording sound does. I do come up with a lot of ideas in my sleep or when I day dream, so maybe that is part of the subconscious writing process – daydreaming…inhabiting the world within my head.

So what about you? Do you suffer from mind tyrants? Do you have problems juggling multiple projects? Do they fight in your brain for attention making you feel like someone with multiple personality disorder? Or are you able to organize your artistic projects and still find time for those Zen artistic moments?How does your subconscious influence your creative process?

 

The Morning vs Evening Artists

I recently had a conversation with a friend about artists working at night and the stereotypes of the creative night owl.

Many artists slip into the habit of working at nights to avoid the distractions of the day and all of the annoying, loud and demanding people in it.

I was saying how ‘I’m not a morning person so to speak, but I really hate being a night person.’

I have discovered over the years, that this is not because I don’t think it’s fun to stay up late, weather it’s for the sake of having a good time, or for work, or just being creative. Nor is it simply because I’m getting older or I find it hard to stay up late. On the contrary I think that there is something magical about staying awake through the hours of darkness. It is an enchanting time, a bewitching time, a time when our decision making is not necessarily at its best, but this can often help us to achieve things we never would in the daylight hours. Some of my best and most inspired creations have happened late at night.

But I just cant do it all the time, or I go nuts!

I have discovered that when you develop a creative process that flourishes during the day, you can achieve results that are perhaps more consistent, productive and healthy.

This is what I said to my friend. “I’m finding that I’m a morning person these days just because I’m enjoying being healthy.”

Being creative during the day is something that you really have to just deal with  if you are working on someone else’s project. So when I shifted from being a lazy afternoon working guitar teacher and late night gig performer, to an all day sound editor on films, I really needed to be able to get up early and fly into that creative head space with little prompting other than a hearty coffee (or three).

So, even when I am not working on films now, I feel a compulsion to go flat out all day on my own creative projects.

I like getting up in the morning and getting stuck into my work, creating and achieving a lot before the day is even half over. Once I have already achieved something in the morning, I feel better about the rest of the day.

This goes hand in hand with finding time to exercise. So many colleagues of mine who work in film say that they are too busy to exercise. But I find it is the opposite. I find that taking time to exercise somehow creates more time and makes me more productive. It’s like magic.

As soon as I have gone for a run, or done a work out, all of a sudden, my enthusiasm lifts and I feel that I have so much extra time, simply because I don’t waste time by feeling bad about myself. I feel less like eating bad food to comfort myself.  I feel proud of my achievements and if I do splash out and eat bad food, I don’t feel as much like I need to punish myself because I have already done something positive with my day. So the earlier I get out there and just do it, the better.

At this point in the conversation I told my friend that I want to be a Nike artist. – “Just do it!”

Forget about excuses, forget about image, just get your arse out of bed and go make art!

I know it is harder for musicians, because you have to perform at night, but in all things there must be a balance. As my favourite Greek god Apollo said ‘practice all things in moderation, including moderation.’

So, even though I love my mornings and my days and getting the most out of my creative time, there should always be time for the late night creative burst of inspiration. Or a crazy jam with some creative friends while drinking bunch of fruit cocktails!

I found this article, which suggests that people who are night owls tend to be more intelligent, but more susceptible to addiction and generally less reliable, hence the typical muso stereotype. But is it really that simple? Are people who stay up all night working on crazy schemes really smarter or do they just like to think that they are?

http://theweek.com/article/index/209165/night-owls-vs-morning-people-whos-smarter

Other articles I read, suggested that morning people, ‘Larks,’ are often happier, but I know plenty of people who are  forced to get up in the morning, and they are anything but happy about it.

What do you all think? I’d like to hear your opinions. Especially in relation to your creative habits?

Are you early risers, conditioned to the  9-5? (or in my case the 8:30- 7:30)

Or are you chronic night owls, chugging away in the hours of darkness? Clinging to the romantic fantasy of the manic artist while insisting that you can’t get up in the morning because you’re ‘simply too intelligent for all that nonsense.’

Which ever way you want to go…I say just be Nike about it. – smash that art and enjoy yourself.

JUST DO IT!

 

The Artistic Journey

I am on a journey. Like my characters who are sailing off into space with a collection of misfit aliens on a dangerous and often mismanaged quest.

I am on a journey of my own. A journey of discovery. I’m learning how to take the reigns of my creative project and slay the dragon of resistance.

Self publishing is all about being the creative director of the book, its not about finding an easy way out of traditional publishing paths, it is about taking control. It’s about having choice.

I have always loved art, and Turner was one of my greatest inspirations. The work above is one of his. A painter, like a writer is subject to the styles and tastes of the period he or she is in. Likewise, the state of the artistic ‘market’ will always determine his or her success. However, when an artist paints a picture, do they then submit the work to a bunch of other people, (some of whom are not even artists themselves), to shape it before it goes into a gallery or is put up for sale. At least I don’t think it usually works this way for Artists. Why should writers have to jump through such hoops in order to see their work on the shelf?

I understand that publishing by traditional methods sometimes works great and can be very rewarding. But I also wonder why has it taken so long to accept that if people want to produce written works by themselves, then they should be given the opportunity to.

If you have put the time and the effort to into your work, you should be allowed to TRY and sell it. It seems that in many ways the notion of self-publishing has only just become a viable option for authors. I knew about self publishing about a decade ago, and like many people, I thought it was just something that people did if they really couldn’t get published NORMALLY…i.e. they weren’t that good. Now though, in the last couple of years, we see evidence on the net and in the media, that the stigma associated with not being traditionally published is slowly becoming alleviated. It seems absurd that publishing has taken so long to catch on to this concept.

However, I think it is critical  to realize how important it is to not do it all yourself. Have your writing properly edited by a professional. Get the cover and formatting done by a professional, and take the time to revise things like structure to ensure that the book is the best it can be before it goes out into the world.

This is where the indie-author is not just the creator, but the director of a creative processes. Getting other people involved in the development of the project, editors, designers and revision peers who can give critical feedback, gives the project more strength. More people become invested in the project and their interest in it’s success will propel it forward.

So, this change in my thinking has somewhat alleviated my fear of – “what if I don’t get published?” because I know, that no matter what, I will start to think of myself as an Author – or else! I will publish my books – or else!

Now that I’m not worried about failing, I can focus on writing and write for myself and what I want to read, not for some pigeon hole in a market.

Regardless of how I choose to do it – self publishing – traditional – eBook – audiobook (heck as a sound designer working on films, you bet I’m going to try this out.) My books will take over my world!

Now, if I could just finish that first pesky manuscript.

Everyone’s journey is unique, on the high seas of artistic adventure. There are currents that flow faster than others and their are courses that are easier follow, so I can choose my own path without having to worry about compromising on what I feel is important about my story. Through the internet, it has become even easier to share our journeys with each other and to see what our options are. We can learn from others mistakes and celebrate in their victories. So tell me your story…fellow adventurers. No matter what your vessel is, painting, music, dancing, Kung Fu…whatever! We all have a tale to tell.

‘Once upon a time…’

Happy writing everyone!

Self Doubt and Emotional Roller-Coaster of the Artist

What if I fail? What if I actually stink at my art?

Anyone who is an artist in any vocation will know what the emotional roller-coaster of the creative person feels like.

We switch from thinking – “Man I love this…this is awesome….I can’t believe I created this, it is amazing!” – to – “How can I be so delusional, how can I think that anyone else would like this? I can even afford to buy the things I need to live, why do I persist in believing I can make a living off this rubbish?”

Sometimes this polarization of mood can happen in the space of a day or even an hour! Sometimes we use devices to try and actively switch the mood; stimulations like coffee or relaxants like alcohol.

There is nothing worse than getting stuck in a cycle where you think; “I write my best stuff at 2am after 5 glasses of wine.”(Believe me!)

Then of course there are those moments when we wonder; “Maybe I’m bipolar or something? Maybe my mood swinging is not healthy?”

I think it is.

To love and doubt oneself is completely normal and actually a healthy step in the artistic process. We are evaluating ourselves. We put ourselves temporarily in the shoes of someone who might hate what we do. This is so we can imagine how we might confront such criticism if someone else throws it at us. An important step in being able to confront doubt and criticism from others, is to first rehearsing it with ourselves.

Sometimes we simply take this rehearsal too far. I myself have been guilty of verbally abusing myself in the kitchen over coffee, or while violently preparing a meal.

When you live with another artist, our fragile nature can become really apparent and you both constantly have to prop the other up when the self loathing sets in.

Or if you have collaborators or peers who can help critique and support you, it makes us feel like we are not alone, spinning around in these mad cycles of ecstasy and despair.

I read this article just now and it made me feel better, as it always does, to see other artists struggle with the same self doubt.

How to Flip Your Self-Doubts as a Writer

The author, Suzannah Windsor Freeman, gives some really good examples of how to turn negative thoughts like

  •  “A little voice in my head would always be saying, “You are not a writer. You are a person who says you’re a writer.”

to positive ones like:

  •  “Writers are people who write. That’s all.”

Harboring negativity is inevitable and important for us artists, so we don’t develop an over-inflated ego. It’s important also to be able to see the positive effects of combating real problems and issues in our craft.

For me the hardest part comes when the writing is done and I don’t know what to do next. Learning about the publishing industry and networking platforms is the hardest part. Admitting to people that I’m not just writing for fun, but that I want to take my work seriously…that is also a difficult step.

Having this blog seems to be helping, as I know with every new post, I take a tiny step forwards in thinking of myself as an active professional writer. I know that if it is like any of the other art-forms I have thrown myself into (music, painting, sound, dancing) it simply takes time before it becomes a component of myself; as clear and definable as a personality trait. Some of my personality traits I can identify within myself very strongly, other traits people think of me, depending on how much time I have spent with them. Some people who know me may think I am kind and decent, while others might think me rude or selfish. I really don’t know how other people perceive my personality, but their regard of me can always be attributed to how much effort I have put into each relationship. Art is just the same I think. The more you invest in a creative aspect of yourself, the more honest and comfortable you will feel about sharing it with yourself and others.

Regardless of how good you are at something, if you do it, you become it. Art should be for everyone.

Happy writing everyone!