Inspirational writing

I have just finished reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: some instructions on writing and life and wanted to let you know about this wonderful book. First published in 1994, it has been described as the bible of writing guides and it’s easy to see why.

It is full of creative strategies to take you through the various stages of the writing process – from getting started and beyond the panic of the empty page right up to publication – in a way that is refreshingly honest, uncomplicated and funny. It is also a wonderful meditation on life, and the importance of family and friendships.

Whether you are a writer or not, this wonderful book has some great insights that will make you laugh out loud. If you get through the chapter called Someone to read your drafts with a straight face I want to hear about it!!

bird-by-bird-image

Creativity rules!!!

As we move into a new age, a new way if thinking, creativity and innovation have become the ‘buzz’ words of the decade.  We are moving from an economy and a society built on the logical, linear, computer like capabilities of the Information Age to an economy and a society built on the inventive, empathic, big-picture capabilities of what’s rising in its place, the Conceptual Age.1

Creativity means many things to different people and in different contexts.  It involves bringing ideas to life, making the imaginative real.  It permeates our lives and affects how we live them.  Definitions of creativity and creators vary.   Creativity is not just for artist. It is for business people looking for a new way to close a sale; it is for engineers trying to solve a problem; it is for parents who want their children to see the world in more than one way.2 Creativity is an essential part of being human and something that we all have the capacity to learn, or re-learn.  As children creativity is something that comes naturally – just watch any child at play and observe how they engage their imagination. Often  we have this creativity “knocked out” of us as we move through life’s aging stages where greater emphasis is placed upon logic and reason.

In his research during the 1950 and 60s Professor Roger W. Sperry discovered that the brain divides tasks into two main categories within the hemispheres of the cerebral cortex.  The left hemispheres deals with tasks logically and analytically, with language and numbers, reasons sequentially.  The right hemispheres reasons holistically, interprets nonverbal expression and emotions, deals with spatial awareness, recognises pattern or whole picture awareness, and imagines and daydreams.3 Creativity stems from the right cerebral cortex, the “right brain” activity and in the Conceptual Age the tasks handled by this area of the brain will be valued as never before.

During his research Sperry observed that people trained in skills relying on one side of the brain as opposed to the other, formed dominant habits that favoured activities controlled by the favoured brain side, strengthening these activities and habits over time.  However, “When people who are weak in one area were trained in that area by experts, they invariably increased their skills and strength in that given area, and, what’s more, simultaneously strengthened their performance in other areas.”4 In short, thinking from one part of your brain or another is really a function of habit.  Like all habits thinking can be expanded to incorporate new experiences and elements, and to increase access to and use of the “other” non-dominant side of your brain.

Try the following activities to stimulate your right brain thinking, break some habits and expand your creativity:

Give yourself permission – first off give yourself permission to “play”, to create, to tap into avenues for self-expression different from what you usually do; and permission to enjoy whatever happens as a result of this “play” time.  Not everything has to be about an outcome.

Sharpen your curiosity – take yourself on what Julia Cameron calls The Artist Date,  “a block of time, perhaps two hours weekly, especially set aside and committed to nurturing your creative consciousness, your inner artist.”5 Go off and do what brings you fun, joy and stimulates your curiosity. Take a notebook and pen to record your imaginative thoughts along the way.

Take a week off – from distractions that stop you from being creative.  Turn off the television, stop reading the newspaper, leave the computer or phone off when you are at home and see what happens as your imagination flourishes.

Create a Mind map rather than a list – when faced with tasks/challenges/finding solutions consider doing a mind-map rather than a written list.  Draw up a map of all the ingredients and have fun accessing your right brain for ideas.

Daydream or do nothing – both of these activities allow the unconscious to become conscious and the imagination to surface and flourish.  To get you started sit back and think about the first time you created something and what that felt like.  Let your mind drift from there.  If asked to explain what you are up to just quote Steven Spielberg and say ”I dream for a living”.

Visualise – a very powerful tool to enable you to open up your thinking. “In creative visualisation you use your imagination to create a clear image, idea, or feeling of something you wish to manifest.”   So take a stack of magazines, choose a central image to represent your goal or theme and then cut out and paste images to support that image onto card.  It is fun to do, very relaxing and can yield surprising results.

Whatever you choose to do – enjoy.

[1] Pink, Daniel H., 2006, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainer Will Rule the Future, Riverhead Books, New York, p. 2
[2] Tharp, Twyla, 2006, The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life, Simon & Schuster Paperback, New York, p.7
[3] For an amazing story about on the difference between right and left brained thinking check out the following site: http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight.html
[4] Buzan, Tony, 2005, The Ultimate Book of Mind Maps, Thorsons, London, p. 53
[5] Cameron, Julia, 1994, The Artist’s Way, Pan Books, London, p.19

It’s time to take a break!

After taking some time out to watch the Olympic games in Beijing in August, I came to reflect on how elite athletes can provide us with some wonderful inspiration and insights into how we as artists and creatives can train and compete as sole business owners.

As we go about our practice and business there are many important things that we, like athletes need to consider – building and maintaining our fitness, building our stamina and skills, preparing for the big race, celebrating our successes, reflecting on and learning from our mistakes, and importantly refreshing ourselves after our achievements – both mentally and physically.

After a big competition, great athletes understand the importance of recharging, of recuperating, of maintaining clarity and refocusing on the next event and the gold medal in the case of Olympians. In our creative practice we also need to do this – not only on a yearly basis also importantly on a daily basis. It is about ensuring that we have the stamina to go the distance to fulfil our goals and be attentive and successful artists and creators.

In their book The Power of Full Engagement, Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz state that “the challenge of great performance is to manage energy more effectively in all dimensions to achieve your goals”1.   They go on to say ”… engagement is not simply one-dimensional. The energy that pulses through us is physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. All four dynamics are critical, none is sufficient by itself and each profoundly influences the others. To perform at our best, we must skilfully manage each of these interconnected dimensions of energy.”

My question to you is: how do you manage your energy, and do you give yourself time to rest, recuperate and recharge across all your four energy dynamics on a daily basis?  If the answer is no then it may be time to re-evaluate and refresh. Try out the suggestions below to see if they help you keep energy levels at peak.

  • Do at least one thing a day that brings joy into your life. Spend some time identifying things that make you joyful and make a commitment to yourself to do at least one of them daily. It can be a simple thing like brushing your dog or cat, going for a run or walk, reading a book or listening to music of your choice. It is great for your stress management and lifts your soul.
  • Make time to play2, and feed the creative part of your life. By play I mean having fun, doing something that allows you to listen to what’s going on ‘inside’ for you, to be caught up in living in the moment.

It may be cooking a meal for friends, going to a movie, leaving work early to go to a play or book reading, going to a painting class or writing your book, watching sport. Play opens your mind to new possibilities.

  • Take time for physical exercise and to move your body. Exercise is a natural stimulant with both proven physical and psychological benefits. On a physical level it increases your aerobic and anaerobic fitness, muscle tone and strength, energy levels, flexibility, sleep quality to name a few.

On a psychological level it improves your confidence and self-esteem, reduces your stress levels, and increases your feeling of well-being. In short, it makes you feel good and gets you away from your desk and computer.

  • Allow some time in your day to reflect on your successes, on your life, those people who are important to you. Take time to be grateful for all of it.

At the end of the busy day it is easy to focus on the negative and where things went wrong, what you didn’t get to complete. In taking time to reflect on what is right with our lives we move to a different mind set, a celebratory place, a happier place.  Keeping a gratitude diary is one way to record these aspects of your life. It is a positive way to take a break in a busy day.

And to support yourself daily in the above, develop and maintain a healthy diet and sleep routine. The importance of a healthy diet is well known and documented. Food is fuel for our body and is required at regular intervals to ensure that our energy can be maintained at optimum levels. Too little or too much food at the wrong times can impact on how we perform.

Get to know what food is best for your body and when to eat it. Take a proper breakfast, lunch or dinner break and allow your body and mind to enjoy your food. Develop supportive rituals around your food and sleep.

Schedule your work to ensure you get between seven and eight hours sleep a night. Taking care of both these areas will reduce the possibility of you feeling tired or sluggish and allow you to give yourself the best chance of doing your best.

So give yourself a break, you don’t just deserve it – you need it.


1Loehr, Jim and Schwartz, Tony (2005) The Power of Full Engagement – The Free Press, New York, page 9

2National Institute for Play at http://www.nifplay.org

How to Choose a Coach

Coaching involves working closely in a partnership based on trust, respect, support and encouragement. It involves you communicating your vision and dreams with your coach, and sharing what is important so that you can move freely towards your goals and potential. It is important that you have the right coach to work with.

Here is a process to help you find a coach who is right for you.

  • Be clear about what you want and why you feel coaching, and not a consultant or counseling, is right for you
  • Find at least three coaches to talk to about coaching. You can do this by asking for recommendations, looking at listings or visiting websites (See my blog roll for some recommendations)
  • Interview the coaches and ask them some questions. I have included some for you here.
  • Evaluate your interviews and consider your impressions of each coach. How did they make you feel? Were you feel relaxed? Did you feel understood? Was it easy to talk to the coach? Were you listened to? Did you have fun and enjoy your talk? Do you think you could work together and achieve your goals?
  • Think about your evaluation scores for a couple of days Make a decision on which coach felt right for you and what you want to achieve at this point in time. (Remember as you achieve your goals your needs will change)
  • Call the coach and start coaching.

Good luck finding the coach who is right for you.