A Clear-Minded Creative Challenge: Four for Feb

There are exactly four weeks in February. With it being a nice short month, it’s the perfect opportunity to set yourself an achievable goal and commit to completing it.

If you have trouble sticking to your goals, it’s important to keep this one as simple as possible. All I’m suggesting you do is commit to taking part in one creative activity each week for the month of February.

It can be as simple as sticking to one blog post a week. Now that might sound laughably easy, but in the past I’ve gone for weeks without updating my personal blog. I committed to updating this blog twice a week in January and although at times it was difficult to fit it in, I’m delighted to have achieved that goal. Of course one month isn’t a long time but it’s a good start and it’s helped my confidence.

Some suggestions

Here are some other ideas for what you could do each week so that by the end of February you have four concrete creative tasks completed:

  • One painting or drawing a week
  • Write one new song each week or spend an hour a week practising a musical instrument
  • One photography project a week (see the 30/30 project for a nice example)
  • half an hour of knitting
  • Write one chapter of a book
  • Write a poem

Obviously the options are endless and you’ll no doubt have your own idea of what you want to focus on. It could even be something that’s not creative in and of itself, but something that helps you get more clear-minded, such as committing to going for a walk somewhere different for an hour a week (the fantastic Bindu Wiles wrote a great post about exploring/aimless wandering on her blog) or it could be learning a new skill to help you fulfil your longer term creative goals.

Set yourself up for success

The whole point is not to over-estimate what you’ll be able to achieve. Keep it very simple so that you’re setting yourself up for success at the end of the month.

Maybe next month you can build on that success but for now you want to make it as foolproof as possible (we all know unexpected events can come up that will stop us achieving what we want).

It’s also important to make this goal something you really want to do, not something you feel you should be doing, or you just won’t have the motivation to complete it.

Let yourself eat cake!

Reward yourself. You know you want to!

Visualise yourself at the end of February having completed your goal. How will you celebrate? Try and come up with a small but satisfying way you can reward yourself, such as going for a nice lunch or buying yourself a new book. Cake is another valid option..

Make the pledge

Here’s a pledge you can print off, sign, and stick on your wall to remind you to do what you’ve planned – or you might prefer to set aside a couple of hours each week in your calendar/add a weekly reminder.

Will you take the challenge?

Let me know in the comments if you’re up for taking part and if so, what you’re going to commit to, even if it’s something you’re already doing regularly (keeping momentum up can be just as hard as starting something new). Feel free to email me with your finished projects and you may even see your work mentioned in the weekly newsletter.

Melissa Dinwiddie

Artist & Entrepreneur Melissa Dinwiddie

Melissa Dinwiddie

Melissa Dinwiddie is a great example of someone with numerous creative passions who is actually making a full-time living from her art and online ventures.

But it’s not always been plain-sailing as her answers below reveal:

Please can you describe who you are and what you are up to at the moment?

Who I am and what I do has evolved quite a bit over time, but as I look back on my life, the one constant is a focus on creative pursuits.

I’ve made my living as an artist for many years but because I do so many different things, I now call myself a Multi-Passionate Creative ARTrepreneur and Creativity Enabler. I create in a variety of different expressions – art, music, writing – and I help other people follow their creative bliss through teaching, coaching and consulting. It took a long time to figure this out, though.

I blog about my creative journey and showcase my various offerings on my blog, Living A Creative Life.

As for what I’m up to, here’s a run-down:

I currently make most of my income from my art and design, primarily for weddings and lifecycle events, which you can find at http://ketubahworks.com. I also teach calligraphy out of my home, and occasionally around the country, and I teach voice lessons and performance skills.

More recently I’ve been creating “digital products,” and I expect this part of my business to grow, and eventually overtake the wedding art.

In December I launched my first online course, the Thriving Artists Project *, which I created to help give other artists and creatives the inspiration and tools they need to bust the “starving artist” mindset and really thrive from their art. The TAP is an interactive membership site featuring interviews with successful artists and creatives, lessons on marketing and business, a member forum and monthly live Q&As and webinars.

With the launch of tTAP I’ve been offering consulting and coaching for creatives, and will soon be offering group coaching “mastermind” classes as well.

On January 1 I also launched a new website about creativity, 365 Days of Genius. It currently features articles from a variety of writers related to creativity, innovation and the way the mind works; daily resource links; a Genius Question of the Week; and 6-months of free creativity lessons. Eventually I’ll add a forum and other cool features as well.

Did you always know what you wanted to do (creatively) or has it been a process of trial and error to get to the point you’re at now? If it’s the latter, how did you decide what to focus on?

Oh for goodness sake, no! I was very artistic and creative as a kid — my parents thought I was going to grow up to be an artist — and I made art, played piano, violin, viola, and sang in a choir, but I was probably more focused on doing well in school than anything else. (That and animals — at age 3 I was going to grow up to be a cat.)

Everything changed when I discovered dance my last year in high school. I dove in like a woman possessed, and discovered my first true creative passion. Everything else took a back seat — way back!

I took a year “off” after graduating in order to focus on dancing, spent the following year in Letters & Science at UC Berkeley, then dropped out to go to Juilliard in New York, with great hopes of a successful career as a dancer and choreographer.

That is a story in itself, but the upshot was very painful, both physically and emotionally: I developed acute tendinitis and had to stop dancing altogether. I didn’t realize at the time that this was the end of my dance career, which was probably a good thing, as I might have done something drastic!

This period was a real low point in my life. I graduated from Berkeley and went on to get a Masters at University of Birmingham in England, but in the midst of it all I spent several years not just lost, but very disconnected from my creative self. Being young and naive, I truly believed that I’d had my one shot at passion, and could now only expect to trudge through the rest of my life.

Yoga artwork by Melissa Dinwiddie

Thankfully, I went on to discover a number of different passions over the intervening years, starting with calligraphy in my late 20s, then music — in particular singing jazz — and now writing as well. I like to joke that I discover a new passion about every decade, but I think that might be speeding up, as just this past summer I fell in love with the ukulele, right on the heels of (re-) discovering my passion for writing.

As for what to focus on, it’s taken me decades to realize and accept that I’m hard wired to be multi-passionate. This means that I’ll probably never be able to focus 100% on one thing. In some ways, this is a curse, because without that consistent 100% focus I’ll never achieve the level of mastery that I might. But on the other hand, it’s a blessing, because it just makes me happy to have so many things I love to do!

I think of my passions as pots on a stove. Only one or two can be up front at any given time, so the others stay simmering on the back burners until I’m compelled to pull them up front again. It seems that the pots often move around on a 3-4 month cycle. Some things stay on the back burner for years, but then my passion will flare up again and I’ll have a mad binge attack of creating in that particular expression before it recedes to the back burner again.

The good thing about being where I am now is that I understand my process a lot more than I used to. When I was younger I tried to do everything all the time, and felt terrible when of course that didn’t work. Thankfully now I’m fairly relaxed about not doing any particular thing at any given moment. I know that it will cycle around again when the time is right.

Have you organised your life in a certain way/made sacrifices in order to continue to be creative?

Well, I made the decision over a decade ago that I’d rather enjoy my day-to-day life than acquire a lot of wealth and “things,” though this never felt like a sacrifice per se. In the past year especially I’ve really worked set up my life to spend as much time as possible engaged in my creative passions. This is an ongoing process, and not always easy, but I’m committed to keep chasing after what I call my “evolving bliss.” (Or in my case, blisses!)

How do you define success?

To me, success is having control over how I spend my time, feeling content and happy with my life, and making a positive impact on the world. I’d be lying if I said money didn’t play a part – for example, when I first started making my full living from my art & creative efforts it was a huge boost to my self-confidence, and I definitely have financial goals that will feel great when I achieve them. But making money for the sake of making money has never been part of my definition of success.

What in your opinion are the positives and negatives of technology when it comes to both creating and promoting your work?

Technology has been a tremendous boon for me in so many ways! My wedding art & design business would not exist without technology. Although I create my artwork by hand in “natural media,” I print my fine art ketubah prints in-house (making great use of Photoshop and InDesign) and sell my work almost entirely online.

My latest “baby,” the Thriving Artists Project, wouldn’t exist at all without technology and the internet.

I also only really discovered my passion for writing when I started blogging. I’d tried to be a writer 15 years earlier, but didn’t stick with it. Now I like to say that I just needed to find the right genre — blogging – which didn’t exist back then!

That said, I spend a lot more time on the computer than I’d really like. So that’s a negative: technology is a huge time sink that sucks me in on a regular basis.

Card by Melissa Dinwiddie

Do you collaborate with others or prefer to work alone, and why?

So far I’ve mostly worked alone, except when making music, which is extremely collaborative. I love playing and improvising with other musicians!

More recently I partnered with Heather Claus on 365 Days of Genius, and that’s been a great experience, and very educational. Good communication is key, as is never taking anything personally!

I’m also going to be offering an online course later this year in partnership with another artist and online whiz, Kirsty Hall, and I’d definitely love to collaborate more, both in creative businesses and in purely creative non-business endeavors.

Is community important to you – either local or online – and if so, why?

Community is hugely important to me. I’m a very connection-driven person, and am happiest when I’m able to make a positive difference in other people’s lives. That’s one of the things that really appeals to me about the internet and social media — the ability to connect in ways that weren’t possible before.

It’s also why I included a member forum in the Thriving Artists Project. Since community has made a big difference in my life, I wanted to offer a way for my members to connect with each other and with me, so that we could support each other most effectively.

I’ve always found consistency difficult in terms of learning a craft and then practicing it regularly – is this something you’ve mastered and do you have any advice on how to maintain this?

I have certainly not mastered this! When I was a dancer, going to class every day (sometimes multiple times a day) was part of my life, and I was so driven to master my craft that it wasn’t a question. People often refer to my discipline, but I don’t feel like a particularly disciplined person. It’s only when I’m madly in love with what I’m doing that I’m “disciplined” about doing it! And since what compels me most cycles around among my various pursuits, the things I’m less compelled by at any given time get sorely neglected.

Perhaps if I weren’t so multi-passionate I’d be able to be more consistent. As it is, I’ve found that taking regular classes or lessons helps tremendously, since I don’t want to be behind the rest of the class, or make a fool of myself when I’m asked to perform and it’s clear I haven’t practiced!

I think the real key here is to find your unique motivators. If you know what drives you — whether it’s moving toward something you want, or avoiding some kind of pain — you can use that to help create systems to keep you en route to your goals.

Phew! I have no idea how Melissa fits all that in. Can you relate to her “multi-passionate” creativity? Why not say hello in the comments.

*This is an affiliate link to Melissa’s Thriving Artist Project, which in theory means I would earn a commission if you buy it, and you can currently get a free 30 day sneak peek inside so everybody wins! I’m a member myself and there’s some great content there already including interviews with Chris Guillebeau & Michael Nobbs, and a whole bunch of helpful creative people involved in the forums.

ARTIST IN THE OFFICE

Can You Be Creative and Work Full-Time?

Watch clocking. Image by Poolie

There are lots of blogs which encourage people to give up their jobs and live a fancy-free ‘location independent’ lifestyle but it’s not that easy for everyone and often there’s a lot of planning that needs to happen before that transition can be made.

Why I Won’t Apologise for Having a Day Job

I thought long and hard about whether to start this blog before I had achieved my ultimate aim of being a full-time freelance writer or working in some other line of work that could be defined as ‘creative’. After all, although my current job actually does involve some creativity as I’m working in digital communications, the nature of working in the civil service means that bureaucracy will always trump creativity on a day to day basis.

But over the last ten years I’ve achieved quite a bit creatively alongside my full-time job, whether it’s writing for local magazines and blogging, doing my own radio show and podcast or playing my own songs live. Each thing I’ve done I’ve enjoyed for its own sake, even if there weren’t financial rewards.

Time is more valuable than money

In the latest step in my mission to becoming a Clear-Minded Creative, I’ve recently requested to cut back my hours at work so from next month I’ll be working four days a week instead of five. I’m hoping that this will give me some extra time to write and also to teach myself some new skills. Of course it’s also going to have a financial impact and I’m going to have to be much more frugal than before.

It’s not as dramatic a decision as someone like Nicola from The Redundancy Experiment who has taken voluntary redundancy in order to set up a freelance copywriting business. But I feel like it’s a real step in the right direction. Whilst I’ll still be able to cover my essential costs like my mortgage and bills, I’ll be losing a substantial chunk of the disposable income I’ve come to rely on. This will hopefully give me the extra kick up the arse I need to find some paid writing work rather than working for others for free which I’ve done too much in the past.

But what if the problem is me?

According to the beautifully illustrated book The Artist in the Office: How to Creatively Survive and Thrive Seven Days a Week* by Summer Pierre “your job is not the problem”.  It might be that what’s making you miserable is in fact your own outlook on life or personal issues.

“it finally dawned on me that it didn’t matter how much money I was being paid, or what kind of environment I was in, it was still me coming to work: depressed, sarcastic, adolescent me. I realised if anything was going to change, it had to start with me.”

She takes the reader through a process of reframing your negative thoughts and seeing things in a new positive light, suggesting making a list of all the things your job provides for you. So rather than saying “it allows me to pay the rent/mortgage” you instead focus on the concrete benefits, e.g.  “it allows me to live in a flat with a telly and broadband internet access, it allows me to have a decent social life, be a member of a gym” etc. From this exercise you can realise that you’re not a victim or ‘wage-slave’, you are actually getting some serious benefits from having a job.

So despite my recent decision to cut back my hours, not everyone has to give up their job or go part-time to fit creativity in. In her book Pierre suggests a few small creative projects you can fit in around work, and I’m sure you have your own suggestions and experiences doing this too.

Tips on Finding Extra Time & Fitting In Creative Projects

Here’s a tip which writer and cartoonist Blythe Robertson posted on the Clear-Minded Creative Facebook page on using the daily commute to get things done:

“I’ve been getting a lot of good work done on the bus and train, lately. Things like editing the previous day’s pages or working on plans and outlines – the boring tasks that quickly mount up. Generally, if you can organise things so you can keep tasks small, you can cram creative bursts in to the most unlikely places. Technology and connectivity does help, so you don’t get yourself tied up in knots with having different versions in different places (still not quite mastered that one fully, yet).

Rory the Roar-Quacker by Blythe Robertson

I’ve also been working on dialogue sections and have found it REALLY useful. I don’t mean from eavesdropping purposes (although that can sometimes be hilarious) but from the point of view of being able to reference how convincing your dialogue is against the different accents and cadences you here from snippets of conversation.”

You can see some of the results over at Blythe’s blog (as you can see, he is very much a man of letters). He also drew the wonderful illustration of Rory the Roar-Quacker you can see here.

And photographer John Sinclair replied to last week’s newsletter to say:

“My tip is aimed at people taking photographs and is an idea that resulted from a challenge I set myself just t’other day. To beat procrastination over what photographs you should make or which project to do next set yourself a quick topic and aim to get thirty pictures in thirty minutes. It will force you to look hard and look fast and think quickly about what you’re doing.

Think about subjects near and dear to you or things that you wouldn’t dream of tackling. My first project was discarded xmas trees on the murky streets of Edinburgh. The outcome should be thirty pictures that wouldn’t cause you great shame if they were stuck up on a wall with your name beside them.”

He’s even just set up a brand new Flickr group for anyone who wants to take part in his challenge.

What do you think? Are you able to fit creativity around a full-time job or are you looking for a job that allows you to be creative full-time? Share your experiences in the comments.

*Amazon.com affiliate link. Buy from Amazon.co.uk

Main image credit: Poolie

Dougie takes his time getting into a cab, NYC

Broadcaster & Writer Douglas Anderson

Dougie takes his time getting into a cab, NYC

The third in this weekly series of interviews with clear-minded creative types is my old pal Douglas Anderson. It was a no-brainer to include him here because Dougie is probably the most determinedly creative person I have ever met. I’ve seen him go from making daft DIY videos about the A-Team for a laugh to interviewing Dirk Benedict (aka The Face) himself on live national breakfast telly (I nearly choked on my Cheerios!).

All the way though he’s worked on and developed his own creativity, whether it be by scripting and directing his own short films or writing regularly on his website.  He was most recently spotted performing as top Scottish band Belle & Sebastian’s manager (more on that below) and is a regular on BBC Radio 5 Live’s Fighting Talk.

Hey Dougie – tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m a broadcaster and writer primarily but also try to keep doing my personal creative projects in my spare time such as short filmmaking. I’ve worked a lot for the BBC and Channel 4 as well as other broadcasters, production companies, bands and writers.

Did you always know what you wanted to do (creatively) or has it been a process of trial and error to get to the point you’re at now?

From my mid teens all I really wanted to do was be in a band and play music. I went on to play in several but although coming close at times never got signed.

It was all a valuable experience though and I went on to work with some good independent music producers and contribute music to short films and independent features. I became more and more interested in short filmmaking and along with some likeminded friends, started to make my own. It was all very DIY, no budget but a lot of fun and creatively gratifying.

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do professionally and the whole TV world seemed an impenetrable place, a bit like the Death Star. However, I filmed a short about what you can get up to in the summer if you’re skint, edited it in-camera (who knew where edit suites were?) and sent it to the BBC. They saw something in it and that’s how I got into presenting and the media world.

I would quickly find out that this was not a typical entrance as other presenters seemed to be either ex-models or former researchers who wanted to appear in front of camera. This contributed to me feeling like I was slightly in my own world due to my creative background but that’s not necessary a bad thing.

I also enjoyed not having to rely on other musicians who can be, shall we say, unreliable at times. I liked knowing that I could rely on myself to get stuff done. Obviously, I needed the work opportunities as well.

Have you organised your life in a certain way/made  sacrifices in order to continue to be creative?

 

I’ve made quite a few sacrifices but that’s what you have to do at times. Someone in my position needs to be focused and I think I have a good work ethic, as old fashioned as that sounds. One of the biggest things I did was moving to London from Edinburgh without a job at the other end. It was a risk in some ways but one I was prepared to take.

You can look at these type of things as part of life’s adventures but when you’re on the overnight bus surrounded by drunks and not knowing how things will pan out, it can feel a bit nervy.

Sometimes it’s good to take a leap in to the unknown. Other sacrifices are simpler but still important such as deciding not to go to the pub and instead try and start a script you have the seed of an idea for. The pint will always taste better after you have got somewhere with an idea.

I’ve met some people over the years who seem to have a Bukowski-esque outlook to creativity ie, get drunk, talk about what they are going to do artistically but never get around to it. The thing is, Charles got drunk but he never forgot to write.

 

How do you define success?

If success means having loads of money then I’m in trouble. There’s no doubt that it’s nice to be paid well for your creativity but I’ve never taken the quick buck for the sake of it. Maybe I should have done but you go with instinct. I suppose success could be viewed as being personally gratified at the body of work you have done. Or as I mentioned earlier, being able to do professional work as well as independent creative ventures.

I still do short films, they don’t make money but they are good to do. For example, last year I filmed my short Timber! Due to good will and contacts, I got professional actors in and a great crew. I ended up being producer, actor, director and a lot more besides but I saw it as a success as I got something from script to the finished article which I think looks great. It’s a cliche but it is surprising what you can accomplish if you put your mind to it, keep focused and put in the necessary effort.

Screenshots from Timber, featuring Dougie & Miles Jupp

We all have to make money and there are definitely times when you have to do jobs which whilst perhaps not being the perfect gig, are good for other reasons such as making new contacts, raising your profile and of course making money to pay the bills.

To give you another example, I worked with Belle & Sebastian recently, one of my favourite bands. They asked me personally and as a result, the show we made together felt very much like a successful creative undertaking. It didn’t make me loads of money but it wasn’t like I started looking at flats in Mayfair before filming began. I went record shopping instead!

What in your opinion are the positives and negatives of technology when it comes to both creating and promoting your work?

It’s important to have a web presence but more than that, a good web site. I see some presenters’ sites and at times it looks like a case of style over substance. For me, it’s great to have a site where I can have examples of my professional work, short films, articles I’ve written and a blog.

I guess some of the negatives are that everyone seems to have an online presence so there’s a lot of competition for views. My advice would always be to have a site which is easy to navigate. You don’t want to get to a site and have no idea where the blog is or examples of work and have to drag your mouse over loads of images in the hope they might link to something. As I’m bound to say, I think my site looks good, but it’s also easy to get around.

Do you collaborate with others or prefer to work alone, and why?

I love working with others. On tv and radio shows there are obviously more than those on-air working on the show. It’s also nice to be around fellow creatives to share and exchange ideas. Regardless of all that, it’s good to be around those with a similar outlook to yourself.

It’s funny as ‘media types’ have a certain reputation and there is some truth in it but there are many others who work in the industry because like me, they had an unquenchable urge to create in some form of artistic realm. It’s also important to have friends who don’t work in the industry as you don’t want to be submerged in it all the time. That would be counter productive and also bloody boring.

Is community important to you – either local or online – and if so, why?

 

Well, as someone who lives in London, community in the traditional sense is not too prevalent due to the vastness of the city. It’s different online of course where geography goes out the window somewhat. Networking sites such as Twitter are certainly helpful as they can put similar minded people in touch and open communications.

I’ve often found consistency difficult in terms of learning a craft and then practicing it regularly – is this something you’ve mastered and do you have any advice on how to maintain this?

I’ve always been of the mind set that you never really master a craft, you just get better at it the more you do it. It’s all a continuous learning process. I think it’s good to learn as many crafts as possible but at the same time not spread yourself too thin.

You can undoubtedly learn many skills without at times knowing what they are. It’s a case of determining what skills you have amassed and how they can be used to greatest effect. That sounds like something a careers advisor would say and I’m not one of those, I’m still trying to determine my own!

You can hear Dougie on a recent Word Magazine podcast below.

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CMClassic 1

Clear-Minded Classics #1: The Career Guide for Creative and Unconventional People

"We're not like the others."

My attorney saw the hitchhiker long before I did. “Let’s give this boy a lift,” he said, and before I could mount any argument he was stopped and this poor Okie kid was running up to the car with a big grin on his face, saying, “Hot damn! I never rode in a convertible before!”

“Is that right?” I said. “Well, I guess you’re about ready, eh?”

The kid nodded eagerly as we roared off.

“We’re your friends,” said my attorney. “We’re not like the others.”

O Christ, I thought, he’s gone around the bend. “No more of that talk,” I said sharply. “Or I’ll put the leeches on you.”

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

The quote “we’re not like the others” from the above passage has always stuck in my mind, and it’s a remark that could easily be shouted from the rooftops by many of us creative types. We often feel like a square peg in a round hole, especially when it comes to work.

I’ve worked numerous jobs where I’ve felt seriously miserable, yet others around me seemed to be fine. I mean they would probably prefer not to be there, but it wasn’t seriously messing with their soul or anything.

I felt isolated and wondered if this was some terrible personality flaw of mine. I will own up to having my fair share of such flaws. But it’s not just me who feels like this at work, there’s a lot of us out there who feel the same.

Let me out.. yeah, let me out by meddygarnet

Stuck in a rut


A few years back I realised I was going nowhere fast. Ok, I’d gradually moved up the ladder in the civil service and got better paid jobs with more responsibility, and it looked fairly realistic to say I could continue to do so in the future, but the fact was I didn’t want to. In fact, I couldn’t think of anything worse.

I decided a career change was going to be necessary but I wasn’t sure what exactly to do. I wanted to make sure I made the right choice – I’d already spent four years doing a Communications Studies degree and didn’t feel it was at all worthwhile in career terms as it was a pretty vague and woolly subject with little in the way of vocational training (also I was very young and unfocused at the time).

I decided to research possible careers as thoroughly as I could before making the decision to go back to full-time or part-time education. Especially as I couldn’t afford it and was reluctant to get back into debt.

The truth is, I’m still working the day job, and still researching, still trying to learn new skills in my free time, from books and the internet. But some of the resources I’ve found have really helped me on my mission to become either more clear-minded or more creative, and in this new series I want to feature the best of them.

When looking into changing careers I first read the Guardian book How to Change Your Career, which gave me some initial encouragement. They even have a quote from psychologist Dr Charles Johnson who says: “being stale at your work is a way of ageing quickly.” At last, an explanation for my receding hairline and premature grey hairs. They also said that age shouldn’t be an obstacle to changing careers, so being in my 30s wasn’t necessarily a problem either.

The book has some useful info in it, with lots of details about specific jobs/career paths. But none of them seemed right for me. I mean journalism was the obvious choice, but I’d already done quite a bit of arts journalism in my spare time and found it hard to find work, and I wasn’t interested in news or sports. Plus, the journalism industry was now in disarray due to the ubiquity of the internet.

The next book I picked up at least made me feel a lot better about myself. The Career Guide for Creative and Unconventional People, by Carol Eickleberry, spoke directly to my experience. (note this is an affiliate link – for more details see foot of post).

Eickleberry focuses much more on the psychology of finding the right career/job and for me this was a breath of fresh air compared to most other career books which only really skim the surface. On the first page the author invites the reader to start their own personal adventure. She says: “the adventure begins when you set out to develop your own unique potential instead of following conventional expectations to become like someone else.”

This was a different approach to careers than those I’d seen before which you could paraphrase as ‘pick a profession which sounds like it might be ok and risk years of your life and a small fortune on the chance that a) you might enjoy it and b)  there might actually be some jobs available in the field’.

Holland’s Theory

Jool's Theory, by Milo

Eikleberry goes into detail about Holland’s theory, that “there are six basic personality types in the world of work, and six corresponding work environments”. She provides exercises to help you determine which type you most closely correspond to (please note that the theory comes from a psychologist named John Holland, not Jools Holland, former Squeeze musician turned TV presenter).

Arty

It wouldn’t take a genius to work out that I scored most highly in the ‘artistic’ category. I also scored fairly highly in the ‘social’ category, which included possible job roles such as counsellor or teacher. Eikleberry explains that knowing this second category is useful if you’re confused about what artistic avenue to pursue or are drawn to a number of different directions.

She also quotes statistics which show that there are a lot more artistic types out there than there are artistic jobs. Again, I started to understand better why I hadn’t yet found a job I really enjoyed.

The Reasons Why You Hate Your Job

In fact the book goes a long way towards explaining my seemingly incurable workplace malaise:

“Creative work requires a very high level of skill. It feels bad to have a high level of ability but not use it. One major study found that underutilisation of abilities is positively related to job dissatisfaction, low self-esteem, and depression.” I certainly felt this way about the lack of writing/creative opportunities at my job at the time.

She also says that non-artistic types (the majority) can consider artistic types (the minority) in a negative light, or even choose to ignore their talents and accomplishments completely because they’re unwilling to see an alternative to their own value systems and beliefs. This lack of understanding, whether intentional or not, can mean constant misinterpretation of what the creative person is all about:

“Many creative people look like chronic malcontents to outsiders, because they are always searching for what can be improved.”

Coupled with our desire to do things our own way, and therefore difficulty in bowing to authority, it’s no wonder some of us don’t fit into traditional workplaces! And the news wasn’t good when it came to mental health either:

“Because psychological adjustment is defined, in part, as the ability to fit in, it’s not too surprising to learn that artistic types as a group demonstrate the least confidence and the greatest psychological distress of all six types.”

Composing Your Ideal Career

Once it has laid out the reasons why a traditional job is not suitable for creative types, the book goes on to give plenty of advice on working out your abilities, interests and motivators (there are plenty of resources for this on the accompanying website) as well as how to ‘compose your ideal career’. Eikleberry also suggests some specific roles you may want to look into further, based on what you find out about yourself.

The book didn’t give me all the answers by any means, but most importantly it made me realise I wasn’t alone, and I wasn’t ‘broken’ in some way, I was just different. And it’s made me determined to find work that suited who I am, instead of trying to fit into to a role which someone else expected me to fulfil.

Was this post useful? Let me know what you think.

If you’re interested in buying this book, I’ve included links below to Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. These are affiliate links which means if you buy it I will receive a tiny amount of money for recommending it, but it won’t cost you anymore than it would otherwise.

amazon.com
The Career Guide for Creative and Unconventional People – Paperback

amazon.co.uk
Career Guide for Creative and Unconventional People – Paperback
The Career Guide for Creative and Unconventional People – Kindle Edition

Main image by meddygarnet

Andrew Eaton - photo taken by Hamish Brown

Musician & Journalist Andrew Eaton

Andrew Eaton – photo taken by Hamish Brown

The second in this series of interviews with inspiring creative people is musician and journalist Andrew Eaton.

Andrew co-runs Biphonic Records, an Edinburgh based independent label, through which he releases some great music including his own, both in the band Swimmer One and for his solo project Seafieldroad. And he’s even been brave enough to share some of his home demos on his new blog!

I asked him to introduce himself and answer some probing questions on his creative habits:

Please can you describe who you are and what you are up to at the moment?

By day I’m an arts journalist for the Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday. On evenings and weekends I make music – with my band Swimmer One and as Seafieldroad (which is mostly me, but my bandmates are involved in that too).

I’m a slightly obsessive songwriter – I’ve recorded well over 40 hours of music since my early teens, mostly on a home studio. Recently I started sifting through all my old recordings and began posting them, one song a week, on a blog called Might Make A B Side.

A lot of them are terrible, but I’m putting them up anyway on the grounds that they’re sometimes terrible in a quite interesting way. Or a funny way. You should hear the way I sang as a 14-year-old.

Did you always know what you wanted to do (creatively) or has it been a process of trial and error to get to the point you’re at now? If it’s the latter, how did you decide what to focus on?

I started writing songs at a very early age, without really intending to. I remember listening to Radio One as a child and thinking that particular songs would sound much better if there was a slightly different chord change in the middle eight. So I was sort of making my own versions of other people’s records, because I thought I could do it better.

If you listen to my old demos though, I’m all over the place – punky guitar songs, electropop, comedy songs, weird film soundtrack type music. I’ve never really had any idea what kind of music I wanted to make.

That’s still true now – Swimmer One are all over the place stylistically, especially on our second album. I don’t imagine there are many bands who get compared to both Belle and Sebastian and the Who. It’s probably not done us any favours commercially, but some people seem to like it, if they can get their heads around it.

How do you define success?

I suspect that success, creatively, is getting to do the thing that you really love doing for about two thirds of your time – and no more than that. If you do it all of the time, you probably end up hating it, or you stagnate, or you get stuck in a comfortable bubble. If you don’t get to do it often enough, you’re frustrated. It’s a fine line.

I suspect that, even though I’ve never made much of a ‘career’ out of music, I’ve been reasonably ‘successful’ at it, in the sense that I still love doing it and am excited by it. That’s what’s important.

 

What in your opinion are the positives and negatives of technology when it comes to both creating and promoting your work?

Technology has obviously made it much easier to make yourself visible to the world. The downside, of course, is that it’s much harder to make any money now – recorded music is no longer regarded as something you should pay for.

Even the most successful bands aren’t making the kind of money that they did a few years ago. Live performance and merchandise is the only way to make a living as a musician now, because those things can’t be downloaded. Unfortunately I don’t like playing live very much.

In terms of creating work, having spent years making quite complicated, ambitious, technology-based music with Swimmer One, I’m actually finding myself wanting to use as little technology as possible. My ‘solo’ project, Seafieldroad, is just me and a piano. That partly comes of wanting a simpler life generally. Technology is useful when it’s a tool for making life simpler, less so when it takes over your life.

Is community important to you – either local or online – and if so, why?

I suspect I’d sound like a better person if I said yes to this, but the honest answer is no. The buzz idea these days is that musicians will thrive by collaborating with their fans – getting them to suggest song ideas via Twitter, or just offer direct feedback via the internet. That’s a lovely idea. But I’m still at my happiest making music on my own, or with a couple of other people, for ourselves and on our own terms.

Which is maybe one of the reasons why I’m not more successful – we’ve never been part of any ‘scene’, which undoubtedly helps you get along, especially in a place as small and community-spirited as the Scottish music industry – but you have to be true to yourself.

Swimmer One: Laura Cameron Lewis, Hamish Brown, Andrew Eaton. Photo by Jannica Honey

I’ve always found consistency difficult in terms of learning a craft and then practicing it regularly – is this something you’ve mastered and do you have any advice on how to maintain this?

I’m completely inconsistent, and all over the place creatively, possibly to my detriment. When I was younger I thought writing songs would get me nowhere so I should become a writer of other things. I tried to write a novel, was useless at it, and became a journalist instead.

In more recent years I’ve dabbled in theatre and in art installations, but rarely do the same thing twice. In the end I instinctively keep coming back to songwriting, and sometimes wish I’d focused more on that, and really pursued it, at an early age. I would have quite liked to be a songwriter-for-hire, someone like Eg White. I had no idea that existed as a living though.

Advice? Find something you love and are good at, and pursue that relentlessly rather than fall into something for the sake of it. You’ll probably have a more rewarding life. Then again, some of the most interesting, enjoyable and transforming experiences you have in life are the ones you have quite by accident. I’ve had a lot of those, and they’ve often made me very happy. So perhaps constistency is overrated.

That’s good to hear! Many thanks to Andrew for answering so honestly – what do you think? Say hello and add your thoughts in the comments.

I Want to Believe The Hype - Stallio

Is Your Scepticism Holding You Back?

Image: I Want to Believe The Hype by Stallio

A massive thank you to everybody who has commented, spread the word on Twitter & Facebook, or emailed me with feedback about the first week of The Clear-Minded Creative – the response has been fantastic.

The blog was even featured on The Guardian Edinburgh, which amusingly attracted my very own “hater” in the comments, who described me as “like Anthony Robbins meets Adrian Mole”.

Unfortunately for my hater, I actually take that as a compliment – I was a big fan of Sue Townsend’s geeky creation as a kid, and I also think Anthony Robbins has a lot of good things to say.

What?? I hear you gasp!

Wait a minute – don’t tell me – might you be hugely sceptical or cynical about self-development?

If so, I can totally relate. It’s hard not to be in the face of an ever-increasing queue of self-appointed ‘gurus’, lining up to sell you the ‘secret’ or ‘hidden key’ to success, or a miracle cure for your insomnia/low self-esteem/alektorophobia (fear of chickens) – especially when you have to remortgage your house to afford it.

Anyone who sets themselves up as a guru immediately sets alarm bells ringing in our minds. Nobody’s perfect after all, so if someone’s selling us their lifestyle or personality as something we should be aspiring to, I for one can’t help wondering what they’re not telling us about this perfect life of theirs, like what skeletons they have in their closet or bodies buried under their patio.

Okay, I have an over-active imagination but you might have the same nagging sensation that the image they’re portraying is not quite the whole truth.

Throughout my adult life I’ve fluctuated between wide-eyed naivety (or open-mindedness depending on your view), and a stubborn cynicism. The truth is though that I regret the extended periods where I was most sceptical and closed-off to the possibilities of self-improvement.

But Surely It’s Good to be a ‘Healthy Sceptic?’

Now I do believe that there is such thing as healthy scepticism, because people need to have a sense of when people are trying to con them and scepticism of generally accepted “truths” can be a very healthy thing. We need to challenge pointless traditions and out-dated systems and opinions.

However if a person is too sceptical about things that could be helpful to them surely it is counter-productive.

Old-School Self-Help

We’ve all heard of self-help gurus who have become hugely successful such as Anthony Robbins, Deepak Chopra and Brian Tracy. Whilst the advice these people offer can often be very helpful for anyone willing to put in the hard work to implementing it, they also often charge a premium for their services and use pushy sales techniques which could put people off.

And many people can come away disappointed because they thought there would be an easy answer to their problems.

Despite this, I personally have benefited from the advice of these old school self-help types because I gave them the benefit of the doubt and listened to the useful things they had to say.

And the likes of Anthony Robbins have inspired others, such as life coach Tim Brownson who is bringing self-help kicking and screaming into modern times with his no-nonsense, but highly effective approach. You can tell just by reading his excellent blog that Tim is no ordinary life coach.

Aesthetics are Important

These days, someone like Chris Guillebeau who uses fresh and modern design is more likely to get the trust of the modern creative person than someone like Brian Tracy with his old school aesthetics. But sometimes it’s worth pushing past your preconceptions.

The Advantages of an Open Mind

This excellent article on the same topic at The School of Life suggests we need to reclaim a sense of ‘sceptical optimism and down to earth happiness’.

With an open mind you can look past things like aesthetics and find some useful information.  And no-one’s saying you have to agree with everything a person says to get something useful out of it. Each person is unique and a critical eye is of course necessary in order to pick out the specific things that apply to your own personality, talents and life situation.

Do you agree or disagree that there are benefits to having a more open mind? Have your say in the comments.

Nine CMC

Clear-Minded Creative Types #1: Nine

Nine – picture by Emli Bendixen

This is the first in a series of interviews with creative types who are doing things a little differently to the norm, and I’m delighted that the first interview is with my friend Nine, who also happens to be one of my favourite writers. I asked her to introduce herself:

I’m a freelance editor, zinester, traveller, and member of the redundancy club. I work while I’m on the road, and avoid paying rent by finding house sitting assignments. My where-next shortlist changes weekly.

My zines are If Destroyed Still True (about stuff that happens to me) and Sex Industry Apologist (based on my years as a staff member at a support project for sex workers).

Abyssinia, Henry is my primary blog these days, documenting where I’m at, but my other one is called Everyone I Ever Kissed, which is exactly what it sounds like: it’s been on hiatus for a while, but I’ll get on with it eventually. I also used to edit the LGBT and subsequently Deviance sections of The Skinny magazine.

Did you always know what you wanted to do (creatively) or has it been a process of trial and error to get to the point you’re at now? If it’s the latter, how did you decide what to focus on?

I pretty much always wanted to be a writer, though when I was a kid I wrote short stories and now I’m all about non-fiction. I like to read fiction by others, but real life is too interesting for me to make things up.

In my mid- to late teens I wanted to be a music journalist, and worked on that quite a bit, but eventually I got really sick of it – I felt like I was bluffing my way through it. I guess my motivation was wrong: I wanted to write about music because I loved music (and I loved getting free stuff, and getting onto the guest list reduced my chances of getting ID’d), but not because I loved writing about music.

I gradually realised that I’d been trying to sound like some sort of all-knowing observer with no discernible personality. I was writing in this voice because I thought that was what you were supposed to do. Then I discovered zines, and got more into punk and DIY scenes, and that kind of changed everything.

A lot of the zines I read had that confessional/memoir thing going on, which appealed to me. And I saw that actually, I could create something just the way I wanted it – I didn’t need to follow anyone else’s formula for what constitutes ‘proper’ writing or ‘proper’ publishing or whatever, and I could have full control of how it looked and where it went.

So then I wound up largely focusing on my own life, though often incorporating the personal-is-political approach. It’s always felt completely natural to me – I’m just writing in my own voice rather than taking a step back and pretending I’m not really there. Although I’m aware that my life might not be all that conventional by some people’s standards, it’s not actually about accentuating (perceived) difference. There are universal experiences to talk about, and I want to strike a chord with people.

Self Portrait by chefranden

3 Simple Questions that are Difficult to Answer

So you’ve seen the name of this blog and maybe it sparked your interest – but you might still be wondering if being a clear-minded creative is even possible. Isn’t it a contradiction in terms?

After all, aren’t most creative people the opposite of clear-minded, with so many thoughts going round their heads they feel as if they might explode? Aren’t creative people spontaneous, confused and more often than not intoxicated?

It’s on the tip of my tongue..

I can’t deny that confusion, spontaneity and occasional hedonism are often part and parcel of a creative life. However there are great benefits to getting as clear-minded as possible if you want to really achieve something remarkable.

You know when you have the name of something on the “tip of your tongue” but no matter how hard you try you can’t think of it? Then ten minutes or an hour later, when you’re involved in something else entirely, it suddenly comes to you out of the blue?

Inspiration is like that – it needs space to grow, just like you need to make time to practice if you want to get better at a creative skill. The more clear-minded you are, the more access you have to that mysterious input.

Becoming a clear-minded creative takes a lot of hard work and determination. It begins with learning about yourself and making changes where needed. It involves setting up habits and systems that help you achieve as much as possible. And it involves continuous awareness.

Read on for three simple questions that are difficult to answer but key to being a clear-minded creative:

Happy New Year!

Hello! I’m excited to kick of 2011 with my first ‘proper’ post on this new blog – and I decided to record a quick video just to explain a bit further what you can expect.

In the video I talk briefly about the need for creative people to gain clarity, consistency and confidence in order to move ahead with their work.

The lack of any of these can seriously hold you back – and coincidentally, straight after I recorded it I was checking my Google Reader and found this excellent video by Chris Brogan on the exact same topic: My Escape Velocity – Confidence is a Key

I think he might be copying me with that beard though..

I’ve now also added an About Page in case you’re interested, and over the next few weeks I’ll be exploring what I mean by Clear-Minded Creativity a little further. In fact, posting here regularly is my ‘blogging new year resolution’, as you can see from this post over at Blogging Teacher in which I and 34 other bloggers reveal our intentions for the year.

What Have You Got Planned?

As I mention in the video, I’d love to hear about the creative projects you’ve all got planned for 2011 – please let me know in the comments!