My guest today is Bonnie Grotjahn, a psychotherapist and recent improv theatre convert, who has had a very varied career. Originally from the US, Bonnie lived in Russia for 7 years before coming to the UK 17 years ago and is now based in Stroud in Gloucestershire. In this episode, she shares her recent exploration into long-form improv theatre and how she is planning on extending that and combining it with her interesting life history into a one-woman show. Bonnie also shares her tips for finding inspiration and dealing with the problem of having too many ideas.
What you will learn in this episode:
- Bonnie’s story
- What creative projects Bonnie is currently working on
- A bit more about her one-woman show
- Bonnie’s tips for finding inspiration
- How to keep track of ideas and deal with too many ideas
- Suggested creative tools and approaches
Bonnie has a degree in Russian and East European studies, which led her on an adventure in the 90s to Russia where she taught English. She also worked for a small Quaker project around social justice. Then, when she came to the UK and while she was studying to be a psychotherapist, she got work as a project worker for The Children’s Society in South London. She also became a Caretaker for a Quaker Meetinghouse part-time while seeing a few psychotherapy clients.
Bonnie says she feels like her life is a creative project. She has often combined different bits and pieces of work. Having been through some big changes in her personal life in the past couple of years, she’s recently been striking out in new directions. ‘Life is here now, not to be wasted. “What do I want to do?” is the question that’s been coming up a lot for her lately. Professionally, Bonnie has a small private practice as a therapist and also runs group coaching for self-employed people. Creatively, she has several projects on the go.
Current Creative Projects
Last autumn, Bonnie did a public speaking course about sharing a personal story in public in a connected way. She did this with a group of 5 women, all challenging and supporting each other. It culminated in a public event at a small performance space in Stroud. They blew themselves away (and the man that ran the course) so much that they have since done 2 more shows with the wider community, teaching them ways of connecting and getting into their bodies rather than panicking when on stage, which is easy to do. The group is now called A Story Party, which is similar to the events started by Beverley Glick in London.
Bonnie had too many ideas for what to share in the speaking course and felt really overwhelmed at times, but also had the idea of doing a one-woman show. From this idea and at the encouragement of some friends, she began doing long-form improv theatre workshops. She decided that if she was going to do a one-woman show, she needed to be ‘adding to her plot’. This has been another exercise in pushing her comfort zone, but it’s a nice group where they are all encouraged to support each other. The idea behind improv is to start with a tiny bit of an idea, listen to what’s happening or what’s inside of you, say yes and commit. So it’s about engaging and being in the moment. Some attempts go better than others, just like in life.
The One-Woman Show
Bonnie isn’t quite sure yet what journey the One Woman Show is going to take her on. She has just started learning the ukulele because that will be some part of it, along with the improv and story sharing. It will likely be about her life story being an American, living in Russia and then the UK. Bonnie feels she is opening herself up to the universe in a larger way than she has before and some bizarre things have come out of it. Serendipitously, another one-woman show about living in Russia in the 90s came to Stroud and she met a Russian woman on a bus in Stroud who has invited her to stay in her flat in St. Petersburg, Russia (where she once lived). Originally she thought she wanted to do the show this year but has decided to enjoy the process so now it will be next year.
Tips for finding inspiration
Bonnie feels that when she’s lacking inspiration it’s often because she’s trying too hard or putting herself under pressure. So she likes to take the pressure off, go out for a walk or cycle, or meet a friend for a drink, and that helps spark inspiration. The long-form improv has also helped with inspiration because it is about practicing starting with anything and building on it until you come up with something. She also finds ideas grow from talking to people, especially creative people, and from things like looking at photos from life in Russia that she hasn’t seen in years.
Cycling is a big source of inspiration for Bonnie. She takes photos more often when going cycling alone, as the dynamic is different when going with a group. She enjoys looking at shapes and colours in the landscape, and signs and maps about the journey also give her ideas.
Keeping track of ideas and dealing with too many ideas
Bonnie uses notebooks of various sorts, as well as the voice memo function on her phone, which is particularly helpful for recording ideas when cycling. The one-woman show has its own dedicated notebook/scrap book as well as a box of inspirational and relevant photographs.
Having too many ideas is a problem Bonnie has. She finds one thing that helps is accountability and deadlines. When she is doing a course, like the story-telling course, every week they had opportunity for accountability and feedback. Putting on a show is also a form of accountability and a deadline that gets things done, but even internally set deadlines work for Bonnie. She also likes talking to a sympathetic and understanding friend, somebody who will be honest about her ideas, but not make the decision for her.
Suggested creative tools and approaches
Bonnie uses her phone a lot for photos and voice memos. She also likes notebooks and has an A3 sized sketchbook that she loves.
One suggestion from Bonnie is to do courses and activities to take yourself out of your comfort zone. It’s important to put something out into the world, see what happens and build on it. She says this makes life more fun and also helps her work against decades of perfectionism.
Connect with Bonnie
My podcast guest today is Michi Mathias. Originally from the States, Michi has lived in the UK for well over 30 years. Her background is quite mixed and includes jewellery making, building work, music making and teaching as well as working for an environmental group. However, primarily Michi is an illustrator and comic book artist, who has a number of creative projects underway. In this episode, she also shares her struggle keeping track of ideas and how she manages to overcome perfectionism.
What you will learn in this episode:
• How Michi rediscovered her passion for drawing
• What creative projects Michi has on the go at the moment
• Michi’s tips for finding inspiration and managing ideas
• Suggested creative tools and resources
• A note about perfectionism
As a kid and up until her 20s, Michi was constantly drawing. She aimed for a really tight realism style, and could never quite reach a point she was happy with. In her 20s she got bored of her own style and stopped drawing for decades. One day she got an email about John William’s 30 Day Challenge and says ‘something made me sign up for it’.’ In that challenge, she decided to write an illustrated choose-your-own-adventure book for small kids about being self-employed. She didn’t get close to finishing it in that 30 Day Challenge, but the good news is that it did eventually get completed last year.
Current Creative Projects
After that first 30 Day Challenge, Michi did another one with graphic recipes of simple, family home-cooking for her son to take to university. It turned out to be unexpectedly popular and people wanted to buy that, so it’s one project that continues to this day. She’s now doing a second collection, which she started drafting as a part of Ink-tober in October. The first collection was all vegetarian recipes, so this next collection is a vegan collection as it seems like the next logical step for Michi.
Another current obsession and passion for Michi is to create a graphic novel. Her working title is Ireland on Two Shillings a Day and it’s about a true story set in 1897 of the beginning of cycle camping/bicycle touring. It’s based on a book by the pioneer in camping and cycling, using his own writing but illustrating it with Michi’s art. She’s also trying to get into animation for a music video for a friend’s song. This is an area completely new to Michi but she’s figuring it out as she goes along. She can’t draw her usual style on the computer so it’s a process of doing it on paper as normal and then scanning the pages.
Last month Michi finished a picture book for a Ministry of Stories’ charity in London, which helps kids express themselves. Their Saturday Morning Club with 17 kids was given a task of writing stories for younger kids, and then the Ministry of Stories got 17 illustrators for each of those stories. Now it’s being published by Penguin Random House in a small run for local libraries and schools.
Michi’s tips for inspiration and idea management
Michi gets her ideas from real life. It could be hearing bits of conversation, seeing something really annoying, or doing a really dumb thing. She says things just occur to her and she jots them down in a notebook and then forgets them. She feels she needs to sort out her own system of holding onto ideas and keeping track of ideas. She has tried online systems but prefers notebooks. Michi designed her own diary, which is blank on one side and has the days of the week on the other side, so she can use the blank page for various types of sketching and note-taking. Each big project does also have a dedicated notebook.
Michi feels she does sort of have the problem of too many ideas. She realizes it’s good to focus on one to make good progress on it, so she tries to stick to as few as possible running in the background. The graphic novel is one of these ongoing, long-term background projects. Accountability groups really help Michi stay on track, and she has both an offline monthly meeting and an online weekly meeting. She says it’s not the whole answer because she still manages to not do what she says she is going to do but the deadline, whether self-imposed or not, is really what she needs to be productive and stick to a timeline.
Suggested creative tools
In terms of physical tools, Michi favours her fountain pen, and has also used dip pens but likes a nice dark ink black line. Before the pen stage, she will draft in pencil. She has tried various kinds of mechanical pencil, but the only one she really likes is one made of wood by the Japanese shop, Muji, which feels like a real pencil. She has also tried various kinds of ink and finally found one that is fast-drying, doesn’t clog and reasonably waterproof called Documentis. Michi also uses watercolours, and likes a standard kind of A5 notebook, too. Her light table is also something she finds very useful, especially when doing second drafts.
Michi loves to listen to podcasts while drawing and some of her favourites are Make It Then Tell Everybody with Dan Berry, Own It with Judith Morgan and Nicola Cairncross, The Pen Addict and of course, Radio 4.
Books and courses Michi likes
As for books, people or courses, The 30 Day Challenge is the main one that has influenced Michi because it’s what got her back into drawing after decades. She has also enjoyed The Creative Focus Workshop by Jessica Abel and is looking forward to her upcoming book called Growing Gills.
A note about perfectionism
Michi used to really suffer from perfectionism, but has sort of gotten over that by allowing things to be a bit wonkier than they used to be. Sometimes she will have trouble with the finishing stages for somebody else and has to fight the tendency to over draw in order to keep the looseness. There’s always a fear when you have to show it to somebody else, but she reminds herself that they liked the draft so why worry about whether they will like the final copy?
Connect with Michi
Today’s show features Stephanie Bisby, a writer who writes under her maiden name Stephanie Cage. Currently based in Yorkshire but from the south of England originally, Stephanie writes mainly romantic fiction. Having worked a lot in marketing, business, and communications, this tends to creep into her writing too. Her most recent book The Crash is an experiment in blogging a book releasing a chapter at a time on her website.
What you will learn in this episode:
- What creative projects Stephanie is currently working on
- A word on traditional and self-publishing
- Stephanie’s tips for finding inspiration and managing ideas
- Why too many ideas are not the problem you think they are
- Stephanie’s Favourite Creative Tools
Current creative projects
Stephanie’s current novel is called The Crash and it’s about a businessman who runs a car parts firm. It’s a little inspired by Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in that it’s about a person who completely changes their outlook. It also combines Stephanie’s two fascinations, business, and fiction, because although it’s a novel, it teaches some of the lessons she feels are important to learn in business. It’s not a romance but rather a didactic novel that aims to teach about people and principles, similar to Eli Goldratt’s The Goal.
This project is interesting because Stephanie is blogging it one chapter at a time. The book is complete in draft form already, and putting in on her website means she can polish one chapter at a time and receive feedback from the public. It was a kind of personal challenge to do it this way. At the end, she hopes to self-publish through Amazon CreateSpace, hopefully in July or August this year.
A word on Traditional vs. Self-Publishing
Stephanie has done both traditional and is currently in the process of self-publishing. Her romance novels are published by Crimson Romance, which has now been bought by Simon and Schuster. She hasn’t gotten too far down the self-publishing route yet so it’s difficult to compare them. One reason she’s leaning towards self-publishing currently is because of the amount of work the author still has to do in traditional publishing. Unless you are a big name like J. K. Rowling or Stephen King or somebody coming into publishing with a following from another field, you have to do so much work yourself in terms of marketing and promotion, that in a sense a lot of the hard work is still yours whether you’re traditionally publishing or not. Stephanie decided that because of this, and for the sake of having control as well, it might be worth taking on some of the rest of the work.
She finds marketing other people’s things very easy but doesn’t find marketing her own work easy at all. That’s scary, British people don’t blow their own trumpets! Stephanie feels too close to it and so involved that it’s difficult not to give too much detail, which isn’t necessarily what you want when you’re pitching a book.
Tips for inspiration and ideas management
Some of Stephanie’s ideas come from her work, but her other passion is dancing. Her biggest romance novel is called Perfect Partners and was sort of inspired by Strictly Come Dancing. Crimson Romance take individual books and create box sets of a collection of books with a common thread, for example, stage romances, or second chance love stories.
Stephanie’s general experience of ideas is they tend to happen when something meets something else. She loves looking at the different ways people approach stories. She says she will have all kinds of ideas all the time, for example, she might see somebody interesting on a bus and go off on a flight of fancy, but it’s not an idea yet. When it becomes an idea is when it bumps up against something else.
Stephanie says she has ‘an awful lot of notebooks.’ She has one she carries with her, one in the bedroom, several around the house as well as using both her computer and mobile phone to keep track of notes. She likes going over the notebooks because each notebook will be a series of notes from different times and that’s when the things bump up against each other and become ideas. She will often have half an idea floating around already, and then something else will come up and bump against it, and then it flows and comes out very quickly. This is how Stephanie wrote The Stone Child, a short story for a 24-hour story competition.
Why too many ideas are not a problem
Stephanie doesn’t think too many ideas are really a problem. It’s the nature of creative people to have too many ideas and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with developing two in tandem or 4 or 5 of them as long as they’re progressing and as long as some of them at some point reach a conclusion. There are times when she is writing one story and interrupts herself part way to go write something completely different. Then, when eventually she comes back to the first story, she is much fresher and feels her writing is better off for having the time away.
Barbara Sher’s book What Do I Do When I Want To Do Everything? has been enormously influential for Stephanie, both in allowing her to work with many ideas and in using the school day model for working out her time. She finds she focuses in very short bursts and gets really bored if she has to do one thing for very long. What works for her is to have a period of time when she will focus very intensely on one project, but then later in the day might choose to focus on something completely different.
When managing multiple projects, Stephanie can’t be at the same stage with several projects at once. Therefore she will tend to have one project in the first draft phase, one project in the 2nd draft phase, one in the final edit and one that she’s marketing and promoting. She doesn’t always schedule her time but does find, unsurprisingly, that it’s the time when she does schedule that she gets more done. Working full time at the moment she is trying to schedule writing on weekends and bank holidays, but otherwise, it’s just a case of fitting it in where possible.
Stephanie’s Favourite Creative Tools
Stephanie is a huge fan of pretty notebooks and her small ASUS T100 computer. She tends to write factual rough drafts on paper, and fiction rough drafts on the computer. She used to use Microsoft Word for this but she’s now experimenting with Scrivener.
She enjoys The Creative Penn Podcast with Joanna Penn
Books she recommends include Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and Artists Way at Work, Writing with Power by Peter Elbow, and Strunk and White’s Elements of Style.
Connect with Stephanie
Today’s podcast guest is Morwhenna Woolcock, the founder of The Creative Adventurer. Based in a little village between Bristol and Bath, Morwhenna helps people rediscover their creativity and sense of adventure for a richer life. She also works part time for a charity called Creative Works doing communications and marketing. In this episode we explore many of Morwhenna’s creative projects and how her health led her to rediscover her creativity in her 30s. She did this for herself, but then realised she could use all the things she learned in these projects to help other people.
What you will learn in this episode
- Morwhenna’s creative journey and major projects, including The UK Islands Project, Bags of Love for Bristol and the Forty-Forty Project
- Why health and adventure have been big inspirations for Morwhenna to rediscover her creativity
- How Morwhenna generates and keeps track of her many ideas
- Morwhenna’s favourite creative tools and resources
- The UK Islands Project
Morwhenna’s current creative project is the UK Islands project. She is visiting a different UK Island a month for 12 months, exploring how the different islands have inspired different creative people and then creating a piece of work herself in response to her experience of the island.
So far Morwhenna has been to the Isles of Portland, Sheppey, Scilly, Lundy and Skomer. She was inspired to go to Portland because of the stone used by Henry Moore and by Barbara Hepworth, as well as the book The Isle of Slingers by Thomas Hardy. Similarly, she was inspired to go to the Isle of Sheppey because Turner and Dickens were both inspired by the island.
Morwhenna says this project, much like many of her others, is about following the crumbs of curiosity and seeing where they lead. She goes to the islands to explore, meet up with local creative people, and collect resources for her to turn into an artwork afterwards. Sometimes she goes with other people, including her partner Richard, but other times she goes by herself. She says she notices more that way because she isn’t distracted by others.
In 2012, the first creative project Morwhenna did was as part of the 30 Day Challenge. She made 30 bags from recycled materials and screen printed them with the words ‘Do What You Love’. Then she left the bags around Bristol with instructions for people to send her a picture of themselves using them. She ended up with about 15 people return photos to her and she loved seeing the bags go on to have a life of their own and have adventures.
When Morwhenna turned 40 she ignored people telling her aging was terrible and decided it was an opportunity for a project. After starting with a list of hundreds, she whittled it down to a list of 40 things she’d like to do in the year of being 40 years old. However, as she was working through them she realised she didn’t want to rush them for the sake of cramming them into the year. The focus was on the experience more than the speed of it, so she decided to extend it to be ‘in the 40s’ to give her a full ten years to complete everything. So far she has completed about 25 of the items and all the information about it is on her website.
Other Creative Projects
The 30 Day Challenge was the catalyst for Morwhenna to start doing some of the projects she’d been thinking about for years but had never had the confidence to do. After Bags of Love for Bristol, she did a joint project with a photographer called Do What You Love, where they interviewed and photographed 10 people doing what they loved.
Then Morwhenna did a year without buying any new clothes, which she shared online and had people all around the world joining in. She was also involved indirectly with an exhibition about the history of women in textiles in St. Ives.
She has run some online workshops in conjunction with Jamie McDonald called Connect to Nature, Connect to Self which were basically creative adventures in nature to help people with inspiration, mindfulness, wellbeing and rediscovering their childlike wonder and curiosity. Morwhenna also has run an online course about doodling, which she is now turning into live, in-person workshops, as well as a retreat in Lundy Island inspired by the Famous Five books.
She also did a walk following in the footsteps of Saint Morwenna from Brecon Beacons in Cardiff to Morwenstow. This was something she’d had the idea to do 6 years prior to doing it, but with some physical challenges, it seemed for a long time impossible. However, Morwhenna found that once she committed to doing it, things started to happen. She says you never know where the things you do will end up. The Pilgrim Postcards project also started with that walking trip, and now she is also doing it in a slightly different form with the UK Islands Project.
Health, Adventure and Creativity
About 5 years ago, Morwhenna was quite poorly and was looking for ways to make herself better without having to rely on anti-depressant tablets. She felt she needed a way to look after herself and revisiting creativity really helped her. It then began developing into creating workshops to help other people do the same. All of Morwhenna’s creative projects involve nature in some way and often walking, which have also been shown to benefit people’s mental health. The three threads that run through everything she does are creativity, adventure and nature.
On the adventure side, Morwhenna had always wanted to go on a volunteer placement and specifically wanted something that would involve using art for wellbeing and mental health. She happened upon Art Relief International, based in Chang Mai, Thailand. She booked a trip to work for them and also started a whole lot of other related activities to fundraise for the trip. It’s only once she decided to take those steps that it all began to fall into place.
Generating and keeping track of ideas
For Morwhenna, ideas come from all over the place, including walking in nature, exploring places, reading books, looking at maps and going to 2nd hand book shops. She follows the crumbs of her interest, notices what sparks ideas and then does research and waits to see what happens.
With so many ideas and projects, Morwhenna does find keeping track of them difficult and it sometimes wears her out. She usually uses hand-written ways of keeping track of ideas rather than technological ways. Although she does keep notes on her phone she prefers to use notebooks, diaries and big whiteboard sheets stuck to the wall. Mind mapping has also been extremely useful for her and suggests dating the ideas when they come so you can keep track of it over time.
Reflection and quiet time are also very important for Morwhenna’s creative process. She tends to work in fits and starts, so it’s important that she work with that energy and allow for stillness so as to not wear herself out. Choosing which idea to go with used to be a sticking point for her but doing the 30 Day Project helped free her up form that so she could pick one and actually get on with doing the project.
Morwhenna’s favourite resources
Laura Hollick who does Intuitive Art
John Williams’ 30 Day Challenge and his book The Play Projects
Alistair Humphreys work on Micro Adventures
Danny Wallace’s books, including The Yes Man
Phoebe Smith wild camping extreme sleeping adventurer
Connect with Morwhenna
She has some upcoming events in September including a Creative Retreat and an online course called “How to be a Creative Adventurer”
Justina Hart is a professional writer who writes novels, poetry and non-fiction. Unfortunately, Justina and I had a few technical problems and a slight delay on Skype so I have also had a transcription made which you can find below.
Justina Hart Podcast Transcription
Tara: Hi Justina, thanks for joining me on the podcast. Just wondering if you could tell me a little bit about you, where you’re based, a bit about your background and what you do.
Justina: Hi Tara.Thanks for asking me to speak today. I’m a novelist, a poet and non-fiction writer. I live in Staffordshire and I live and write aboard an ex-working narrow-boat that is very old, that has been beautifully renovated. So that’s my exciting day-to-day life. And I’ve got a background as a features writer and journalist working for national newspapers, and as a commissioning editor working on- and offline.
Tara: So what is a features writer?
Justina: Oh, it’s basically somebody who doesn’t do news.
Justina: Who sort of writes pieces that are not direct news stories. So, expand to a lot of different subjects and pieces from sort of arts reviews to, I don’t know, lifestyle features. A lot of writing about education, travel pieces, all sorts of things like that.
Tara: Ah you have to have a real knowledge of everything then.
Justina: Well and then a sort of, I think one of the things I used to love about it as a features writer was, I mean you would…the turnover of your articles was very fast so you would become a kind of expert very quickly in something. Well, “expert” in inverted commas, but then you would drop that knowledge to replace it with the next thing so you were a mini expert for about two seconds.
Tara: So your current creative projects, the novel: is that the big one you’ve got going on? Or perhaps you could tell me a bit about what you’ve got going on at the moment?
Justina: Yeah, yes. I’ve… my two biggest projects are the novel and a poetry pamphlet. I’ll tell you about the novel first. So, I’m finishing—and I love that word because it’s been a long project—so it’s also a long novel, about 140,000 words. And it’s a book called Oyster Man and you wanted to know what inspired it, so that was originally inspired by renting a kind of rickety old house by the seaside in the winter, which was very atmospheric and a little bit spooky
Tara: So what sort of book is it then? What’s it’s…Can you give gist of what it’s about?
Justina: The genre, it is I would say it’s, oh gosh it’s a very mixed genre but I say it’s loosely a kind of murder-mystery-cum-detective story with a bit of ghostliness and some surreal elements thrown in there so it’s quite a lot going on. And yeah it’s about a couple of girls who, I mean women, who buy their dream seaside house. They’re just friends and they buy this house and everything goes wrong, basically. They buy this house that’s sort of right on the beach, looking at the sea and yeah, everything goes from bad to worse.
Tara: Aw. So did these ghostly happenings happen when you were at the house?
Justina: No, no. It’s a work of fiction but I did, I don’t know if this is common for creative people but I did think that I should experience time there on my own and I think that at some points I sort of overdid it, you know. I spent two weeks in this house in the middle of nowhere on my own. I mean, it wasn’t quite in the middle of nowhere but in the wintertime when the weather was not good, you know, you got very isolated and you know, you’re hearing the storm howling around you. And I did get quite scared. I also spent time on my own in another house that was quite on its own, an isolated place up in Yorkshire and I got pretty scared there, and I think it’s those sort of psychological elements—
Justina: I took for the book really. Yeah the emotional content is real to some extent.
Tara: So when’s your book going to be out, do you know?
Justina: Well, first it can be a really long process if you want to get it traditionally published, you know through a mainstream publisher, so first of all I need to get a new agent, a new literary agent. So, I’ll be polishing the book soon and then sending that out to agents. And then once I find somebody to take me on, which can be a little bit like gold dust these days, then the agent sends the book to publishers, and they aim to get the best deal that they can for you. With fiction it then takes around two years for the book to get into print. So it can be coming out, you know, sometime after you’ve written it.
Tara: Two years. I can’t believe it!
Justina: It’s very slow, whereas with non-fiction the process is getting much shorter, it can be sort of 6 months or less. So yes the other projects I mentioned, yeah sorry
Tara: No, I was going to ask you about the other projects.
Justina: I think the journalist in me, isn’t it. “And part B was”. So yeah the other thing is the poetry pamphlet, which is sort of… A pamphlet is kind of a smaller than a full book, it’s sort of 15-20 poems. And these are some poems I wrote a few years ago but I now want to finish—that magical word again—get them out and send those off to a publisher. So yeah you… maybe again this is something that you’re finding with creative people, that we’re not always, the finishing isn’t always our strongest suit. But so these poems were inspired by the ending of a big relationship and there was a lot of grief and leaving my home and so forth. But it was also about building a new life, mapping out a new life, and there’s a theme of kind of, I love maps and there’s a lot of kind of map references going on. There’s also a sense of direction and finding that out when you don’t actually have such a good spatial reasoning yourself.
Tara: So I was gonna ask how you get ideas? So ideas are all around you I guess. You’ve taken them from life, have you?
Justina: Ideas, yeah, I don’t know again if other people say the same sort of things really, but novelists particularly are always being asked about how they get ideas. And it’s, it is kind of the stuff of life really, that’s not the hard bit generally speaking. Yeah, it’s really something that comes from everything you see and everything you do and everything you experience. But I am very grateful for ideas. I mean, I could talk briefly about how there was a time in my life when I was needing to fit into some sort of corporate jobs, and to do so it felt that my imagination was really absent and not required, and I really didn’t have time to do my own creative work. And I kind of really felt that I, to do that successfully, I had to sort of, I really switched off the tap of my creativity, it was quite a conscious effort in order to sort of survive in the corporate world. Or else it would just be too painful to have all those ideas—
Justina: —and the imagination I couldn’t use. And then something that I discovered years later when I was wanting to get back into my creative writing, that that was a very, very painful process getting that turned on again. You know, once it’s open it’s flowing and I think even if you’re not using ideas all the time, you’re not using all the ideas that come to you, I have learnt that it’s very important to say, “even though I’m not using these ideas, I don’t need this many ideas, I’m grateful for them.”
Justina: You know, keep that tap open, keep the water of the ideas flowing.
Tara: So how did you get the tap open?
Justina: Oh, gosh, that’s a really good question. Trial and error and a lot of pain. I, well, I mean I just started writing for one thing. I joined a creative writing crit group, you know, where they look at what you’ve written and feedback on it, which was… I didn’t necessarily so much need the criticism at the time because these pieces, these stories that were just coming out of nowhere after such a long time of nothing, were very new but I did get really positive approbation that this was, that they were something really interesting. And from that course I met some likeminded friends. I think likeminded friends are really essential. People doing what you do and who kind of understand you. That’s really, really essential. And also, at that time, I read, I did The Artist’s Way, which one of these friends told me. She basically said it was a rude word, but a rude word that works. Basically it’s rubbish, but rubbish that works. I think she felt it was a bit hippy-ish. It’s a bit mind-body-spirit-y and she wasn’t into that, and there’s quite a lot of God stuff in it for anyone who’s used it, but it actually it is very helpful and it’s kind of been, that’s been a very useful touchstone.
Tara: Oh say, Richard actually also, who I’d…Richard Pettitt who I’d interviewed, he found he loved that book as well, which is quite interesting. It’s obviously a common theme that runs through. So,
Justina: Oh it’s good, I think it’s useful… I sort of mentioned it because I think it’s useful…can you hear me?
Justina: I think it’s a useful book if people are blocked creatively.
Tara: So how do you keep track of ideas? Do you notebook or journal them?
Tara: Do you keep your ideas in any way?
Justina: Yes. Yeah I mean I have quite a few thoughts about this really because sometimes I have so many ideas that I know in a way it’s not worth keeping track of them. For instance if I have lots of ideas for new businesses, perhaps, some of those businesses I know that I’m never going to do. You know, ideas for a new project or a new way for a business to run what they do, you know. I know, I’ve learnt from experience to focus on what I do or else you know you’ll just be run ragged. I’m not going to do all those ideas. So it’s about being discriminating, but you know, for instance if a beautiful line of poetry comes into my head I would be a fool not to write that down. So, from the ideas I keep, when I do keep them, I keep them all over the place really. I’ve kind of gone back to an offline note app on my phone. I keep them in Scrivener files, which is a writing program. I keep them in real notebooks. But I would say that sometimes if I have an idea and I don’t actually execute the idea right away…let’s say it’s an idea for a short story or a poem, if I don’t execute it right away, sometimes it can also be a waste, almost a waste writing it down because to actually execute the idea I have to be almost in that exact same state and have that exact same thought process going on so you know, often I just write them down for writing them down’s sake.
Tara: Do you ever draw on any of those ideas?
Justina: —if you come up with novel ideas you…Oh I do a little bit, not a lot but I do really, really love visual things and I find that very helpful. I do an awful lot of sort of scatter-maps. A lot of little maps using coloured pens. That’s how I will—
Tara: Is that almost like mind mapping?
Justina: Yeah, it’s like a simple form of mind mapping and I can use those to extrapolate the seed of an idea very often.
Justina: But I could also use them to plan my day, you know. Or I can use them to plan my holiday packing or work out a short story, I find that very useful. But I think colours as well, the different colours also somehow stimulates my brain anyway. And sometimes little drawings if I’m not too embarrassed by my own drawing.
Tara: Many creatives—and I think I know your answer to this—including myself, have too many ideas, they find it hard to choose or stick to one at a time. Do you have this problem?
Justina: Yeah, yeah I do. It pretty much comes back to the answer to the last question really.
Tara: So, so you keep yourself on track by just trying to focus on one or two ideas, is that?
Justina: How do I keep myself on track?
Justina: Well I think that’s actually been, that’s taken a long time to learn what works for me, really. Particularly with a bigger project like a novel, or a long novel in this case. I think of myself as sort of more of a sort of natural sprinter who’s become a marathon runner, so I have had to learn how to do that. And one of the things, one of the tools I use is just a really simple log, you know, like a mileage logbook. I actually keep that on my computer but you could just as easily have that in a diary or notebook. And I literally sort of write down the date, the time, the number of hours I spent, what I aimed to do in that session and what I actually did do in that session. I mostly use that for the novel rather than just creativity in general.
Tara: Oh that’s a, do you use that for your sort of freelance work as well? Do you do it the same?
Justina: No because I’m incredibly motivated by a deadline. So if I schedule it, it gets done. Anything with a deadline gets done whereas if you’re at the point of being an unpublished novelist, basically a friend of mine…
Justina: Well I’ve heard, a friend of mine once described, if you’re doing a very long project but you don’t have a publisher yet, yeah it can feel like never-ending homework, because there’s nobody waiting for it at the end. So you have to find tricks to basically keep yourself going, sometimes over a period of years.
Tara: Yeah. So have you got any favourite creative tools? Could be physical or you know, apps, anything like that.
Justina: Yeah I mean really I would probably come back to those sort of mind maps, the kind of scatter maps that I do do a lot. I like, I haven’t used it for a while, but I do like a blank A3 sketch book so that I can go big with my felt tips and so on, and just map things out. And I really like colours so I’m a big obsessive about pens and sort of
Tara: Stationery! Good old stationery.
Justina: Yeah I do find I love stationery, so I do, although on a boat I can’t have too many notebooks, as you can imagine, but I do like, I do find the act of doing something sort of physical, you know, real world, rather than keeping it on my computer, is sort of more creative, more helpful in a way.
Tara: So are there any books, people or courses that have really inspired you creatively?
Justina: I actually can’t, I couldn’t off the top single out anything really, I just think it’s an absolutely ongoing process of you know, everything you see, everything you do. I mean I, I’m aware that, you know, that I have certain friends who are also creative and when I see certain people I come away really fuelled and really inspired. So it’s important to have people like that in your life. I find going to an art gallery or an exhibition really helpful, I find the visual very helpful. Getting away from books sometimes. What else is, what else? You know, being in nature, all those obvious things.
Justina: But as for a particular course, I can’t, you know… I think it’s always about going on a search for the next thing that’s going to be, you know…that you do have to find, you know, the old stuff that works for you, and then be in touch with the new and the innovative. Oh I know that I wanted to say that actually books about and programs about other creative people and creative lives I find can be very, very inspiring. You know, how somebody overcame all the obstacles and stuck to their path.
Justina: Especially didn’t spend their entire life necessarily fuelling their creativity into a corporate job but kept some of themselves free to actually do their art. That I find helpful.
Tara: I haven’t put this in my questions, but I was really interested that you do songwriting. Are you happy to talk a bit about that? How you mentioned it recently?
Justina: Oh the singing, yeah the singing course, with the songwriting, composing. Yes. Yeah I am because again it kind of refers to a previous question about kind of remaining inspired to an extent that I really, I just wanted to do some kind of a course that wasn’t, that actually wasn’t related to writing, that was creative. And I thought it would be something, I thought it might be painting or something visual. I really did. And then this email about this sort of singing/songwriting course landed in my inbox and intuitively I just felt that it would be really good for me, right for me at this moment. And I did sense that it would be very helpful in other ways, in a sort of transferrable way. I’d been sort of moving towards getting my work out in to the world a lot more, whereas I had this sort of issue that through set backs I kept a lot of my creative writing to myself. So, getting back into that sort of sharing your work with other people, which, you know that reciprocity which is so vital and lifeblood to you and helpful and entertaining to the audience. So the course has helped me with that, because it’s about performing to some extent. Also the songwriting element has been really interesting because it’s something, I love achieving something or trying something that I never in a million years expected to do. So never had the ambition to write a song. Had no idea I knew how to write a melody, so it’s been a real challenge, and one that I’ve achieved, certainly, with one professionally recorded song. And I’m so chuffed to have done that. And I think, I think when you try a different thing that is sort of related it’s again, it’s a form of writing, it can you know kind of refresh those other writing bits of you, it keeps you going. But I had to be careful that it doesn’t take over, you know, that I don’t put too much time and energy into the hobby, I suppose.
Tara: So have you got the album coming out soon?
Justina: We have actually, there’s an album but it is just each person in the group. I think there are about ten people in the singing group. We each created our own song, so it’s just this kind of private album with ten different songs. And we were very encouraged to write that deep and meaningful stuff, so people have written about things that are very, very powerful to them, you know. Like somebody had just lost their mother and he’s written a song about having just lost his mother, so you know it’s really, really deep stuff, but very beautiful.
Justina: And not on sale, I should say.
Tara: Okay, won’t find it on Spotify. …So where’s the best place for people to find out about you? And are you still doing your writing sort of retreats? Or writing days?
Justina: Oh yeah, I’m actually currently, I’m currently still running a writing club. It’s called The Writing Ramp club and that can be found on my website which is justinahart.com H-A-R-T. And the writing club is, it’s a really, for people who want to, they can be new writers or experienced writers. But it’s for people who want to complete a project that might be a little bit bigger. So it could be completing an e-book or a book. It could be completing a radio play, it could be completing a travel book. You know, they’ve spent a year travelling and they want to write up their book. And I’ve had all those different people in the club. And it kind of gives people, well it kind of gives people everything I wish I had found in a club when I was sort of struggling to get back into my writing and struggling to stay the course years ago. So it includes all those things, it’s like a very safe environment with lots of tools to help people keep going week on week and month on month. Yeah so that’s on my website. And I’ve got a Facebook Author page, Justina Hart Author. And I’m on Twitter because the book, literary industry loves Twitter. They think that’s, you know, THE social media to be a part of so you’ve gotta be good at Twitter. So some annoying person had already stolen my name, so I’m—I know, how dare they! So I’m late to the party!—so I’m @JustinaHart_ with an underscore at the end which is very irritating…
Tara: Nevermind. Well thank you very much.
Justina: Thank you very much, thanks a lot Tara. It was great fun.
My podcast guest today is Andrea Jordan, a writer, photographer and business strategist for creative entrepreneurs who runs her business from her backpack. Currently Andrea is in Buenos Aires in Argentina, however, she is originally from New Zealand and has also lived in London. In this episode, we discover Andrea’s favourite place for photography as well as her tips for finding inspiration and managing ideas.
What you will learn in this episode
- How Andrea went from corporate lawyer to business woman and nomadic creative strategist
- Why travelling in itself creative and what creative projects Andrea has on the go at the moment
- Andrea’s favourite place for photography
- Tips for finding inspiration and managing ideas
- Andrea’s favourite creative tools and resources
Andrea has been travelling around Latin America for the last 11 months. He business is that of a business strategist, helping early start-up businesses in their first 1 – 3 years. She works mainly with creative entrepreneurs. She is also a photographer as well, but her background is as a corporate lawyer in both London and NZ.
It took a few years to transform from lawyer to the life she has today. In London, she was working foolish hours as a lawyer and got sick. After being signed off on sick leave for a couple of weeks Andrea went to Devon and remembers waking up that first morning thinking ‘I don’t want to be a lawyer anymore’. So she went to a couple of career coaches, moved back to NZ, and then started to find her way into a different career.
On travel and creative projects
Coming to a new place in itself is a creative project because there is so much inspiration everywhere. Andrea finds inspiration walking the streets with her camera seeing if she can capture what daily life is all about.
At the moment, in Buenos Aires, she is enjoying the dancing, especially the tango. Andrea says it’s fabulous to watch. There’s also a lot of street art which is interesting, as well as differences in markets and buildings and landscapes that she enjoys noticing.
Andrea also has a passion for writing, and has done since a she was a little girl. As a lawyer she did mostly technical writing but now she writes regularly on the blog for business posts and does creative writing, including children’s stories, just for herself. She does hope to put these out into the world someday.
Favourite place for photography
Andrea recently visited Antartica and says it’s a spectacular place and her favourite place in the world to photograph because of all the wildlife. She was lucky enough to have close encounters with penguins, whales and seals which was amazing. While she was there she also won 2 competitions with her photos from the trip. A landscape of an avalanche won the landscape competition, and a photo of a leopard seal won the wildlife section.
Tips for inspiration and managing ideas
Andrea finds getting out and walking about the best thing, either with or without her camera. Although she does this travelling, she says you don’t have to be far from home to find inspiration. You simply need your sense of adventure and curiosity. Andrea prefers walking in nature or new places and she is constantly noticing things, looking for odd or quirky things, beautiful buildings, and lovely landscapes.
Andrea uses a notebook and her laptop to keep track of ideas, as well as the catalogue of photographs from her camera. She finds looking through her photos a great help for writing the blog posts for her website. She says she definitely does suffer from the common problem of too many ideas. A wealth of ideas is fun but then you do have to sit down and think about the purpose. Is it a hobby or is it part of a business? Is this particular idea just for fun or is it a learning experience? You can easily get overwhelmed with too many ideas and never move any of them forward so she says you need to narrow it down.
An organized approach works best for Andrea. She decides what to focus on each week, using a diary for business to plan out each day and each week. She will write a hand-written list for the following week on a Sunday so she can avoid mucking around or self-doubt and just get up and go.
Favourite creative tools and resources
Andrea does use Photoshop but more often uses LightRoom for photography projects.
She highly recommends the Pomodoro productivity technique and says it’s especially good for the days when energy is a bit low or for bigger, more time-consuming projects.
Connect with Andrea
If you want to learn more about Andrea you can find her at www.learndiscoverbefree.com for all her one-on-one business strategist work and also the blogging course she offers.
My guest today is Susanna Reay, a fine artist, creativity teacher and consultant. Susanna currently lives in South Oxfordshire but has travelled and lived extensively abroad. She started her career as a textile designer but more recently has moved into sculptural and mixed media art for the home and garden. She is also working on creativity consultations for workplaces.
What you will learn in this episode:
- Susanna’s creative projects
- The benefits of creating without technology
- Tips for generating and keeping track of ideas
- How to overcome being overwhelmed with too many ideas and getting yourself unstuck when the ideas aren’t flowing
- Susanna’s favourite creative tools and resources
Susanna’s current projects
For the last 30 days Susanna has been working on creative clinic posts to inspire others to keep their creativity going. It’s a combination of tasks she’s doing and giving people challenges and inspiration for getting unstuck creatively. When all these posts get put together she hopes to create a short book.
Susanna will also take those same elements into workplaces for teambuilding days. This will help people use creativity in the workplace to look for new solutions to problems. As a lot of creative people do, Susanna balances that business and workplace side with her other side as a fine artist.
Having always enjoyed art and sculpture, and with textile design as a background, Susanna has discovered a new medium combining the two. It’s called Powertex and she is using it to create a form of kinetic sculptural art. She is making large flowers out of fabric but the fabric solidifies so it can be put out in the garden. The flowers are then put on wooden and metal poles so they sway in the wind.
Susanna likes this medium because it helps her immerse herself in the joy of creation. So much of modern life is based on technology, but by doing something messy and different you have to turn the phone and computer off so there are no distractions. Powertex is a wet medium which does not combine well with modern technology. This allows you space to just create.
Susanna has lots of tips to generate ideas. She suggests surrounding yourself with creative people and gaining insight from other people’s perspectives. She also advises, “Just start! Don’t worry about getting things perfect. The hardest thing is getting going and you’ve got to train yourself creatively to keep going.”
She says the best pieces are the ones that she doesn’t pre-think too much. She might have a feeling to work towards but no fixed thing in mind. Happy accidents are quite common in art.
To keep track of ideas Susanna uses a combination of an A3 sketchbook, a phone and a camera. She uses the app EverNote which is very useful because it syncs with the main computer.
She also creates mood boards, but her tip is to take a photograph of the mood board and upload it into the computer. After moving and travelling so much, Susanna favours digital archiving systems.
Idea overwhelm and finding inspiration
To overcome having too many ideas, Susanna suggests being accountable to a group of like-minded people. It’s a good way of staying on track and it’s a safe environment. She also says scheduling time for creativity is good but she doesn’t always stick to the schedule.
To get inspiration flowing again, she says the worst thing you can do is sit and stare at your project that isn’t moving. Susanna’s advice is to move away from the desk, go out, move and do something else. Take the pressure off by getting outside and going for a walk, for example.
Creativity tools and resources
The person who is inspiring Susanna the most at the moment is the Art Historian Esther De Charon De Saint Germain . She works with wonderfully weird women in a mastermind course that offers accountability and challenge.
Connect with Susanna Reay
My guest today is Jennifer Syme also known as The Cramped Creative. She’s a writer and creative who runs a website encouraging others to find their creativity and build their creative habit. In this episode we discuss her book Freeing Your Inner Creativity and online course Find Your Creative Freedom, as well as the strategies she teaches people to help them build a creative habit. Jennifer also shares her tips for generating and keeping track of ideas, and her favourite resources for the creative person.
What you will learn in this episode:
- Practical prompts for developing creative habits
- How to deal with gremlins
- Tips for generating and keeping track of ideas
- Jennifer’s favourite creative tools and resources
Practical Creative Prompts to Build a Creative Habit
Go outside and draw or take a photograph of something in nature that inspires you, and using that picture come back inside and do something creative with it.Try different creative things that you haven’t tried. If you’re a writer try drawing or vice versa!
It doesn’t matter if you’re any good at it. Take the pressure off of being any good because that idea that they need to be good at something is what holds people back. It’s all just about having a go and seeing where you end up with it.
Get outside to get inspiration flowing again. Get into fresh air, be quite active. Do something mindless but active, e.g. weeding the garden, cleaning the bath. There is science behind mundane tasks leading to creativity.
Everybody has gremlins, but some of those prompts (e.g. draw with your non-dominant hand) are to help get over those gremlins.
The gremlin is the inner voice that says ‘you can’t do this’. The trick to getting you past that is by doing small things. Doing something different comes in there as well. Jennifer says as a writer she wants to write, but if she decided to draw or take a photograph the gremlin ignores that because it’s not something that it sees as a threat.
Jennifer’s ideas come mainly from life. She often imagines the ‘what if’s in the mundane.
For others seeking to generate ideas, Jennifer says, “Keep your eyes and ears open and let your mind play with those ideas. Giving yourself the time and space to do that is key.”
Jennifer suggests also deliberately unplugging from all the distractions so you can really look or listen in to what’s happening around you. So often nobody’s paying attention and that stifles creativity. “Look for inspiration rather than sitting wishing the bus would come.”
For keeping track of ideas, although she does use a notebook she doesn’t write in it very much. Mostly Jennifer uses EverNote on her phone as it captures so much more than a notebook and also syncs easily with the computer. This is important because the tags make it much easier to find later on.
Creative tools and resources
Courses she has found useful were the Strathclyde University Online Writing Course and an in person Urban Writers Retreat called The Writer’s Playground.
My guest today on the Idea Medic Podcast is Scott Thomson, from positively postal a postal artist and stamp dealer.
Scott creates mail art, which is art you create and then send in the post to another artist or art lover. Mail art was originally conceived in an effort to make art less elite. Scott’s latest project is to create 365 queens heads each filled with a different pattern that will then be sent off in the post around the world.
Tools and Books Scott Recommends
Creative idea generator – www.ideagenerator.creativitygames.net
Patterns and colour swatch inspiration – www.colourlovers.com/
Good Mail Day: A Primer for Making Eye-Popping Postal Art, by Jennie Hinchcliff – Amazon
Twitter Art Exhibition
Mailart People to Follow
Some of Scott Thomson’s Mail Art
Dalek from stamps
Dove made up of stamps
A piece of mailart created by Scott
Mailart 365 stamp project
All images © Scott Thomson
My guest today is Richard Pettit, a comic strip artist.
Richard latest venture is a weekly comic strip called Oojo and Bink which is out every Monday. I just watched the brilliant first episode which Richard created as a short animation including doing all the voices.
Tools and Books Richard Recommends
The Artist Way – A book by Julia Cameron
Morning Pages – Freewriting your thoughts in the morning – a brain dump
Mastering Comics – Jessica Abel
Calvin and Hobbes – A popular comic strip, the story of a boy and his real-only-to-him tiger
Bristol Board – A smooth surface board for fine detail illustrations
Some of Richard’s Cartoons
Oojo and Bink
In the News Cartoon
All images © Richard Pettitt