Four for Feb: The Final Countdown

Ok so today is the last day of February. If you signed up for the Four for Feb challenge, how did you get on?

If you succeeded, well done. If not, I can fully understand, because I struggled this month myself (apart from the four photos I took that you can see here).

In January I had every weekend free, leaving me plenty of time to concentrate on this blog. But in February two of my weekends were taken up with family visits, and I also started doing some extra freelance work.

All this meant that I had great difficulty sticking to the schedule I had set myself, and  last week I didn’t manage to send out a newsletter AT ALL.

So apologies, newsletter subscribers – I’ve let you down, and I’ve let myself down. I could list all my excuses here but really there’s no excuse.

And because you didn’t get a reminder about your Four for Feb projects last week I’ve decided to give everyone a few extra days to complete their projects and send them to me for inclusion in Four for Feb: File Under Finished which is a little downloadable keepsake that I’m in the process of putting together (sneak preview below).

So let me know about your finished Four for Feb projects by midnight on Sunday 6th March and I’ll make sure they’re included! You can either comment below, send me an email or message over Twitter, or post your finished work over on the Facebook group.

In the meantime, stay tuned because next Monday I’ll be suggesting a nice simple challenge for the rest of March which will enable you to make space for future creative projects now that spring (and therefore new beginnings) are just around the corner.

Thom Chambers NewPortraitSmall

Editor and Publisher Thom Chambers

Not only does he spell his first name the same way as your man out of Radiohead (sorry, couldn’t resist), Thom Chambers is a very talented bloke.

He  edits and publishes a beautifully designed monthly e-magazine called In Treehouses, which is inspired by Kevin Kelly’s influential concept that an artist only needs 1,000 True Fans to make a living (highly relevant for anyone wanting to be a Clear-minded Creative).

I’ve been reading In Treehouses since the beginning, and the latest issue is an impressively in-depth look at a topic very close to my heart as a writer – the future of publishing. So I was delighted when Thom agreed to answer my questions about what makes him tick creatively:

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

I’m the editor and publisher of In Treehouses, which is a free e-magazine designed to help people reach 1,000 True Fans.

A True Fan is defined, pretty much, as someone who buys everything you create, who reads everything you write – someone around whom you can start to build your microbusiness.

Beyond that, I’m currently the marketing manager for a design and marketing agency in Cheltenham, England. As of May, though, I’m setting out on a new adventure and exploring uncharted waters by starting a digital publishing house. I can’t give too much more away on that just yet, but you can follow @intreehouses on Twitter or subscribe to In Treehouses to be kept up to date as things develop.

At the moment I’m living deep in the Hampshire countryside, working on an ebook that’s going to help people get a start on the journey towards their True Fans.

I’ve had lots of readers asking for help in the early stages – rather than reaching 1,000 True Fans, they’re more interested in how to reach one or five or ten to begin with. The great thing is that it scales. The things that will get you one True Fan will also get you your second, your hundredth, and your thousandth. So I’m writing an ebook to help people get over that first hurdle and get started on the journey.

And then there’s the latest edition of the magazine, although at the time of writing I’ve only just finished the latest one. I’m taking a breather for a day or two before starting the next edition.

The current edition of In Treehouses

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?

It’s evolved, really. I wanted to work online and I wanted to create something stickier than a blog, so the magazine was a result. All the same, it took a few nudges from blog posts and the like to get started.

As soon as I started on it, though, the magazine felt natural in a way that blogging never did. I like being able to multitask with it – to do the writing, designing, editing, publishing, promoting, and so on.

One doesn’t have that control with a blog – you’re bound by the constraints of HTML and your own coding abilities a bit more. The magazine played to my strengths, really, and my desire to make sure all aspects of the experience were up to standard.

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

One has to, I think. I’m still working full time at the moment (although doing so remotely, so thankfully there’s no commute) and I’ve had to set myself a fairly strict routine of when I can work on the magazine and the creative side in general. I’m up at 5 most days, working for a couple of hours before I start the day job, and then put in another hour or two at the end of the day.

I’m putting in fairly anti-social hours for a few months so that I can reap the benefits longer-term, really. It’s winter, there’s not a whole lot on, and I’m living in a fairly rural part of the world so there are few distractions. It’s good, it forces me to focus on the work and get stuff done.

When you’ve constantly got temptation and are having to turn stuff down to work creatively, it can be easy to start to resent the creative side. It can start to feel like something that’s holding you back from going out with friends or whatever, rather than something on which you want to be working.

I look at what I’m doing now and the way I’m living now as a short-term thing, though. Come summertime I’ll have left full time work, so will be able to balance things a little more.

How do you define success?

Emerson said, “As fast as you conform your life to the pure idea in your mind, that will unfold its great proportions”. I’ve always held to the idea that success is to be able to see the life you want to live and to set about creating it.

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

In terms of the creation, I couldn’t do it without the technology. Being a digital magazine, I’m reliant on computers – that said, I’m no expert so am limited far beneath the extent of the design software that i use (Adobe CS). It’s nice to know the possibility is there, though.

And technology is at the heart of the way I promote the magazine, too. I’ve never advertised it and only ever done a handful of interviews, so the only way it spreads really is by people talking about it organically and spreading the magazine via digital word of mouth.

As for the negatives… it doesn’t affect me too much, but I’m intrigued by the lack of value placed on digital art. The digital world has created new opportunities for musicians and writers to pursue their 1,000 True Fans and sell digital versions of their work, but because computers have such visual possibility and one sees a thousand incredible images every day online, it’s hard for digital art to have value. Art (and photography) has become a screensaver and nobody wants to pay for that.

It seems that, unlike music or literature, we only value art and photography when we can have the physical version of it. Digital doesn’t work.

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

I have interviewees and the occasional contributor, but it’s mostly all me. Partly through the necessity of running such a small operation, and partly because I believe in the power of the individual to make something great, rather than the power of the collective – which has the power to spread the idea. Maybe it’s just a controlling thing, but I think there’s more chance of creating something remarkable when you’re working solo.

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

Yeah, naturally. The community is how the message of the magazine spreads, which is great. There are always cheerleaders who don’t need pushing to tell others to check out your stuff. Even though I prefer to create the magazine alone, it’s written for the community and for their enjoyment. When R.E.M. play live, Michael Stipe often introduces their biggest hit – Losing My Religion – with the words “this is your song, we just wrote it”. I like that idea, that once you’ve created something successful then in a way it becomes the property of the fans and the community.

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?

There’s the saying, isn’t there – you don’t wait for the spirit to move you, you have to move the spirit. I think that’s the best way. You’re never going to be on top form every day. To drop in another cliche, even Shakespeare wrote bad plays. It’s about turning up and doing the work and accepting that some days you won’t feel like doing it. And then doing it anyway.

Thanks Thom for taking the time to answer and sharing your knowledge! What do you think? Why not say hello in the comments.

As well as being able to get the current issue for free, you can also buy the first 6 issues of In Treehouses in a handy 120 page ebook called The Almanac (they are no longer available to buy individually).

Note: This is of course an affiliate link, so I can sit back and watch the money roll in whilst I plan how to spend the endless hours of leisure that will make up my early retirement (if only!)

Notes From a Train

How’s your February going? If you signed up to the Four for Feb challenge, are you on schedule?

My February has been hectic, with visitors, social events, and a busy time at work. I’m writing this on the train back from Birmingham where I’ve been visiting family for the weekend, and because I don’t have access to a wi-fi connection I’m posting this via the WordPress app on my iPhone which has proved rather unreliable. Clearly I’m not quite set up for ‘location independence’ blogging just yet!

Because of all this extra activity my ability to focus on this blog has been curtailed which is frustrating after such a successful start in January. And I know that most people reading will also have this issue, because life keeps throwing things at us until it feels like we will never have time to catch up.

But there’s one week of the month left, so let’s see what we can salvage. There’s still time to achieve something and set ourselves up for a positive start to March.

And next month’s challenge is going to tackle the problem of ‘too much to do, too little time’ head on so stay tuned!

How have your creative projects fared in February? Are you on schedule to complete your ‘Four for Feb’? Let me know in the comments.

Lisa-Marie Paris train

Journalist, Blogger & Photographer Lisa-Marie Ferla

Lisa-Marie Ferla on the Outbound Train

This week’s interview is with one of my Scottish blogging buddies, Lisa-Marie Ferla, aka Last Year’s Girl. She’s a massive supporter of Scottish music both on her own blog and on The Scotsman’s Radar blog to which she regularly contributes.

In addition Lis writes about travel, cinema and everything in-between, always with a personal and heartfelt touch, and is an accomplished photographer (though she modestly claims not to be!)

Let’s hear what she’s got to say for herself.

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

I’m a redundant legal journalist and editor, currently working in retail. I’ve been blogging since before the word was even invented – according to Wikipedia – and have been famous on the internet since 1999 (but not quite as famous as Neil Gaiman).

I take photographs with little skill and lots of enthusiasm, and write about bands with a bit more skill and even more enthusiasm for anybody who’ll have me. Seriously. I go on like a hyperactive five-year-old. Don’t ask me about The Hold Steady.

My main website is, but you’re going to find more regular/actually updated content on my world famous, quoted-in-the-Guardian-that-one-time blog,

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?

It’s probably fair to say “trial and error”. I mean, I always wanted to be a writer of some description; whether I was scribbling down stories in recycled school jotter in the bathroom when I should have been asleep, or stirring up my little brother and sister into a frenzy so they’d make some contributions to the magazine I put together on my teeny toy typewriter when my mum went away for the weekend.

Even at an early age I knew this was never going to be as lucrative an ambition as becoming a teacher like the rest of my family, which I suppose is where “journalist” entered into the mix, but in the late 1980s none of us could have foreseen the ways in which technology would change that particular profession, rendering it almost unrecognisable and increasingly difficult to make a living from.

I guess I’ve stumbled into many of the opportunities I’ve been given. I don’t mean to belittle my achievements, because I have worked incredibly hard, but there has certainly been an element of “right place, right time” to many of my adventures.

From a professional perspective, although my MSc in Journalism continues to impress I would never have been given the opportunity to edit and grow The Specialist Paralegal magazine had it not been for my law degree. The vast majority of my extracurricular activities have come about through my reputation as a blogger.

Honestly? I still have no idea what I want to do when I grow up.

Lisa-Marie Ferla taken by Neil Thomas Douglas for the Eclectic Peel exhibition.

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

Not really. The unfortunate fact of it is, and it’s particularly true of life these days, is that one still has to pay the bills.

I have a terrible habit of saying “yes” to absolutely everything I can despite a history of mental health problems, which tends to result in burnout and periods when I get home from work and would rather stare at the ceiling than turn on my computer.

It’s something I’m working on. I know what inspires me. I need space, good music in my life and long train trips staring out of the window. It’s not always possible to make that kind of time.

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

Lissie Does Dixie

Well it’s blogging that I’m known for, so without technology my work wouldn’t exist! Or, at least, not in the same form that it does now, and certainly without the same audience… if you are the sort of person who finds the urge to create, you will find a way to do that regardless of the resources that are available to you.

The truth is that I am never happier than – and I feel I do my best writing – when I am scribbling my travel journals down in some notebook or other. And, without the distractions of Twitter and Facebook, I’m far more likely to get things done.

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

At the risk of sounding like a bit of an arse, the personal nature of my writing – even when it isn’t supposed to be personal, see every music-themed blog post I’ve ever written – means I prefer to work alone.

Saying that, I take much of my inspiration from others -snippets of overheard conversations, debates with my friends…

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

Definitely. Perhaps because I’ve been doing this for so long, or maybe because of the nature of my work, I find it difficult to make a distinction between the two. Over the last year, particularly, there has been an incredible “online into offline” crossover between the Scottish music blogging, photography and performance community. It makes all the difference in the world – and gives you so much motivation not to quit – when you know you’re not alone.

Couldn’t agree more.  As well as checking out Lis’s blog and website, go say hello to her on Twitter (where she is so popular her wedding last year was a trending topic) or leave a comment.

The Path of Least Resistance

Last week I talked about Steven Pressfield’s book The War of Art which is all about beating inner resistance to creativity. Well recently I’ve been doing pretty well in that regard but I think it’s fair to say I had a relapse this weekend.

Usually I have Monday’s post ready to go for 10am, and the newsletter ready soon after if not before. But this week my own resistance was too strong and I crumbled.

I’ve basically spent the whole day procrastinating instead of writing a blog post and in the end I decided to record myself playing a song I wrote a while ago called ‘The Path of Least Resistance’ which is about exactly the problem I’ve had today – wasting time.

Now songwriting and playing the guitar is very much an occasional hobby for me so please forgive the poor quality in that regard, but hopefully the cool iPhone 4 timelapse footage will make up for that somewhat. And normal service will resume next week, I promise.

p.s. If you want to see a real music video with proper music and animation and all, here’s a lovely one for the Scottish band Kid Canaveral by artist David Gelletly:

p.p.s In the first video above you can see me watching the massively epic and equally bizarre 35 minute music video/short film Kanye West made for his new album/the song Runaway (not for those who intensely dislike him or are easily offended, obviously):

Given my (cough) difficulties today, this week’s newsletter will be going out a day or two late but please make sure you’re subscribed if you’re taking part in the Four for Feb challenge because there’ll be an update on how to submit your Four for Feb results for an end of month round up post.

Hande Zapsu Watt

Clear-Minded Creative Types #6: Novelist/Editor Hande Zapsu Watt

Hande Zapsu Watt

Most writers dream of having a novel published; this week’s Clear-Minded Creative Type has achieved that goal and more besides. Now involved in an exciting new international literary project which has strong links to Scotland, Hande Zapsu Watt shares her story so far and how her habits and environment have shaped her life and work.

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

I’m a writer/editor/translator/teacher/student, so in short, a little all over the place but I guess that’s what happens when you can’t sit still.

I’ll try that again with a little more clarity:

When I wake up, I’m never quite sure who I am. I dream a lot, almost every night, crazy vivid dreams that seem to go on for hours. I see grizzly bears taking over the world, snipers dropping out of the sky, machines looking for lost souls…so it usually takes a wee while to adjust.

After my first cup of coffee, I’m an editor. I edit my own work, other people’s work (sometimes as a favour, sometimes as a job) and recently I have become the editor of The Istanbul Review.

After my second cup of coffee I am a writer. I write paranormal/historical novels using the pen name Mina Hepsen ( Depending on the day and publisher deadlines, I also work on my (I hesitate to use the word ‘literary’ so I’ll say ‘non-genre’) novels.

There is Through the Dust for example, a novel I have been working on for about five years. It’s slow going. It’s not the lack of ideas or direction, but the fact that my main characters are so hopeless, so afraid… in order to write them, I need to put myself in their heads and I can’t keep it up for too long. It makes me mopey and pessimistic (I like to think of myself as an optimist) so I’ve been writing it bit by bit.

After my third cup of coffee I’m a student/tutor. I’m studying Creative Writing (final months of my PhD) at Edinburgh University and I also run English Literature tutorials there. It’s a continuous round of writing the thesis, preparing classes and grading papers. It takes up time but makes for a nice change and gives purpose to cup number three.

Later in the day, after an episode of House or Dexter or True Blood, I am whatever I need to be. Sometimes that means translator: I recently translated a book from Turkish into English called Black Milk* by Elif Shafak (out this April from Penguin). Sometimes that means more editing or writing. And sometimes it means trying hard to do nothing at all.

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?

No, not at all actually. I always knew I wanted to try and change the world, to help people in some way, but I never imagined myself as a writer.

When I was very young I wanted to be a lawyer. The idea was simple: to save innocent people and make lots of money while doing it which I could then spend on charities. I soon fell out of love with that idea.

Hande in Morocco

The desire to be a doctor hit me next. I was 14 and spending my weekends working as a volunteer at a hospital in Istanbul. It was going really well, I was imagining a future filled with saving lives. And then one day I was waiting for a lift next to a young girl in a wheel chair. It was obvious she was a cancer patient and not doing well. Her hands were pale and limp. She had lost all her hair. It took me a moment to notice that her oxygen tube had fallen away from her nose. She couldn’t breathe, but she wasn’t struggling. There was no panic in her eyes, only a plea. She didn’t want me to help her. I called out to her attendant who was gossiping with the guy behind the information desk. That was when the doctor dream ended.

I toyed with the idea of being a biologist next. The Human Genome Project wasn’t complete yet, and genetics looked like it could produce cures for the suffering. The summer I turned 16, I was at Smith College studying science, working on dissection skills and DNA gels. The next summer I was back to medicine, but this time it was psychology. A few months working at a mental institution cured me of that notion and fast.

Finally I decided politics was the way forward. If I couldn’t keep innocents out of jail, if I couldn’t cure their cancer or fix their mental states then I could work on world peace (surely that was a cure to all of the above?).  I studied Political Science and Philosophy at Tufts University in Massachusetts.

I’ve already carried on quite a bit, so I won’t get into my forays into the realm of politics. Safe to say I got a good look, saw a lot of grey and decided it was not for me. Then through some luck and a lost bet, I got a letter from a publisher saying they wanted to buy my book. I had been writing since before the first career dream; poems, stories and finally a novel written during Ancient Russian History and Politics in Modern Japan classes. I loved doing it, but I had never seen it as a career possibility. I was too realistic for that.

So much for realism. I’ve published four novels and two children’s books since.

Hande, drawn by Oguz Demir

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

I think I touched on the ‘organized your life’ bit with the answer to your first question. I’m not kidding about the cups of coffee. I find I can’t write well if I fall out of routine, so I try to stick to it as strictly as possible.

There are, of course, grieving periods. Those days following the end of a novel after the elation has dimmed at having produced something complete. The world feels wrong during those days. I like to travel if I can, to exchange ‘wrong’ for ‘new’.

How do you define success?

Giving love, being loved and doing what I love. If I have all three and am managing to survive, I’ve succeeded.

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

Togo, Africa

Technology is both brilliant and utterly frustrating. It is absolutely brilliant in terms of having knowledge at your fingertips. I recently had to describe dead bodies being pulled out of a river and had no clue how to do it. Would they be blue, black, bloated, rotten…what would happen to the eyes, the mouth, the hair? I keep lots of text books at home for research, but some things are just not covered in basic Anatomy books. Online, I can find the information I need in minutes…it’s all there.

Technology is also great to connect with readers. I love the letters I get through my website, love to browse pages where people I’ve never met are discussing characters I made up. I even like reading criticisms, if it’s not just a random rant they can be very useful to take things on board, to see your own flaws.

But the internet can also make things a little difficult. More and more, publishers rely on e-books and online selling which means they can spend less money on print runs, and very little money promoting your work. You need to promote yourself online, to stand out somehow amidst the millions of texts available. You need a website, a blog, a Facebook page…you need to tweet. And if you don’t, well you might be lucky and reach the readers anyway.

Maybe your publisher will spend the cash and rent one of those neat window spots for your book in Waterstones, or maybe you’ll get a fabulous review and people will flock to the stores making Blackwell’s want to order a whole load of copies. But in general it’s hard to stand out without jumping on the technology wagon. And jumping on that wagon means Time.

For me it also means frustration. I love writing back to emails, but tweeting? I’m terrible at it. I can’t fit any of my thoughts into that word limit so I end up talking about the weather. Literally.

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

Collaboration is great with people who work the same way that you do. I like getting things done. Everything on time, everything in order (I grew up in Germany and often feel that that part of myself comes from my time in Munich).

Unfortunately, not many creative people I know like to work that way. That’s why I was so lucky to find Oguz Demir, who I did the children’s books with. Not only is he a brilliant artist, but he sets due dates and keeps them. And it’s been the same for The Istanbul Review.

My partners Miriam Johnson and Victoria Harben are not only hard working, but they are fast too. We had our website up and running in three days and now, only two weeks after the project begun in earnest we’ve already had contributions from Paulo Coelho, Elif Shafak and Ludmilla Petrushevskaya (We are taking submissions at the moment for our inaugural review, so for all you creatives out there do have a look!)


Namibian Sand Dunes

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

Community is definitely important. Not only the people and their tendencies but also the architecture, the weather, all of it put together. It’s hard to explain, but there are places in the world where I can write, and other places where I turn into a sponge. Nothing comes out.

I know that sounds a bit strange, and I’m still not sure what exactly accounts for this odd phenomenon but I’ve been able to narrow it down a little. I can’t write at all in New York, Amsterdam or Paris. I can write for a few hours a day in Istanbul, Boston and Miami. But Edinburgh is where I am most efficient and I am sure it has something to do with the community here. Maybe it’s the gothic architecture, but I rather think it’s the duality of the city and the people in it. Active and passive, hopeful and pessimistic, rainy and sunny: the city of walking rainbows.

Oh, and I can’t write on a cruise ship. Pretty random I know. Sorry, I don’t think I’ve answered your question very well.

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 can’t claim to have mastered anything really. As for advice, for those who hope to make a living through their creative work I would say: know the truth (the odds, the process, the reality behind getting your work out there), work hard and don’t give up.

And writers? Find creative things to do with rejection letters. Origami swans is one way to go.

Thanks Hande for the extremely interesting insights and excellent advice. What do you think? Share your thoughts  in the comments.

*affiliate link


Clear-Minded Classics #2: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Image: Turf Wars – The Art Police by Pranksky

By turning the title of Sun Tzu’s ancient battle strategy The Art of War neatly on its head with The War of Art author Steven Pressfield is making a bold statement. But it’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that the book is every bit as fundamental and essential a read for creative people as the Chinese text has long been for the military (and the cunning business types who later adopted it).

Now a well respected historical novelist and screenwriter, his background as a US marine suggests that the word ‘war’ is not one that Pressfield takes lightly. But this is an internal battle, against the forces within us which keep us from moving forward.

Here’s how he describes his beliefs on writing and creativity on his website:

My writing philosophy is a kind of warrior code—internal rather than external—in which the enemy is identified as those forms of self-sabotage that I call “Resistance” with a capital R. The technique for combating these foes can be described as “turning pro.”

Now I’ve read a lot of books on creativity, and indeed many other topics, but I can say that none have had the dramatic effect on me that Pressfield’s book has. It was an instant wake-up call, making me realise that every day that went by that I wasn’t being creative was a wasted day because for whatever reason, I need to do it to feel good about myself.

It made me realise that the best way to stop being my usual miserable self was to get to work and practice my writing (and other creative skills) as often as possible. Now there has been the odd relapse, but I have written for approximately half an hour most days during the last six months and the effect on my confidence has been enormous.

Going Pro

What Pressfield is saying is, if you really want to conquer resistance to doing your creative work (or any other major thing that you want to achieve, whether it be run a marathon or start a business) you have to get serious about it. You have to accept that this is a daily battle against the forces within you which would rather take the easy way out and keep you firmly within your comfort zone. Deciding that you will do whatever it takes to win that battle is what Pressfield refers to when he talks about “turning pro”.

Whilst viewing things from this perspective may seem daunting at first, it’s actually a great relief to realise that you no longer need to blame or criticise yourself for your lack of progress in the past. Resistance is a fundamental aspect of human nature, and you’ve simply been lacking the correct strategy to overcome it. By identifying it and committing to fighting it, the book offers you the means to conquer the internal forces that seems determined to stop you achieving your goals.

The Daily Battle

The War of Art unfolds over various short passages exploring different aspects of what constitutes resistance and ways of combating it by committing to being a pro. One of the most affecting for me is ‘What a Writer’s Day Feels Like’. Nothing I’ve ever read before has so accurately captured the feeling of frustration I have if I go for very long without being creative:

I wake up with a gnawing feeling of dissatisfaction. Already I feel fear. Already the loved ones around me are starting to fade. I interact, I’m present. But I’m not.

(–)What I’m aware of is Resistance. I feel it in my guts. I afford it the utmost respect, because I know it can defeat me on any given day as easily as the need for a drink can overcome an alcoholic.

As long as he can get his creative work done each day, Pressfield describes how he can then relax and enjoy life and spending time with his family. Beating the resistance within himself feels literally like a weight off his shoulders:

The tension drains from my neck and back. What I feel and say and do this night will not be coming from any disowned or unresolved part of me, any part corrupted by Resistance.

In the final section Pressfield explores the spiritual aspect of creativity, what he calls the Muse. Again from his website, here’s a summary of what he believes:

I believe in previous lives and the Muse—and that books and music exist before they are written and that they are propelled into material being by their own imperative to be born, via the offices of those willing servants of discipline, imagination and inspiration, whom we call artists.

My conception of the artist’s role is a combination of reverence for the unknowable nature of “where it all comes from” and a no-nonsense, blue-collar demystification of the process by which this mystery is approached. In other words, a paradox.

I can understand how this latter section might put some people off if they don’t share the same views, but most creative people at least acknowledge the mysterious nature of inspiration – even if it is only 1% of the creative process, as per Thomas Edison’s famous quote that “genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration”.

The War of Art is essential reading for anyone who has ever procrastinated and delayed doing something that they know will improve their life, whether it be creative or not, because it lets you identify resistance and gives you tactics to defeat it. I also recommend following Pressfield’s Writing Wednesdays series in which he shares his continued battle against resistance – he is also currently sharing some of the processes involved in the publication of his latest book.

Buy The War of Art from| (Kindle edition) (affiliate links) or download the ebook (pdf & epub)

Have you encountered resistance to being creative or to achieving other goals in your life? Have you read the War of Art? Let me know in the comments.

Note: for weekly updates on the current Clear-Minded Creative Challenge, and for extra tips and links on Clear-Minded Creativity, please sign up to the newsletter which goes out every Monday.

Large Finbarr Group

Journalist & Blogger Finbarr Bermingham

This week’s interview is with journalist and blogger Finbarr Bermingham, who as well as having a highly memorable name, is also a great writer as can be seen from his blog.  Finbarr is a fellow contributor to The Skinny, a Scottish culture and listings magazine which we have both written for many times in the past.

Below he talks about setting a creative routine and sticking to it, how exercise helps with clarity, taking risks to get yourself out of a rut, and how progress is a great indicator of success.

Hi Finbarr! Please can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you’re up to?

 I am a freelance journalist and occasional blogger from Northern Ireland, masquerading as a teacher in South Korea. I’ve been writing since my schooldays but started to take it seriously when living in Edinburgh, doing pieces for The Skinny about five years ago.

I then spent some time in Brighton, where I gained NCTJ accreditation. Having huffed and puffed in the UK, trying in vain to earn a crust, I decided a new strategy was required and set off for South Korea about a year ago. At the moment, I spend my evenings as an ESL teacher and as much time as possible is devoted to writing. I also have a weekly radio slot here in Gwangju (English speaking, of course!).

Until a couple of years ago, all the writing I did was music based. Some of it still is, but it is (and I fear always will be) a labour of love. I’ve made a conscious effort to branch out into travel writing, current affairs, sport and wider cultural issues, to varying degrees of success. I’ve had work published in Asia Times, Irish News, Q, Restaurant Magazine and a fair number of arts publications.

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 always had a nebulous notion of being a writer, but I never challenged myself as to what that actually meant until I was in my twenties. I always liked the idea of journalism and I suppose I thought I would just fall into that line of work… as long as I said I wanted to do it, it would happen.

I drifted through university, fell into an office job and woke up one day realizing I was no closer to becoming a writer than I had been at school.I eventually gave myself a kick up the arse and got the ball rolling, but my strategies have always been short term and my objectives are constantly changing.

Finbarr conducting an interview with one of the world’s leading geologists, Professor Min Huh. Photo by Gyonggu Shin

I’m not a great planner and my actions tend to be based more on circumstance than foresight.I haven’t ever felt like I was working towards one incandescent Holy Grail on the horizon. It’s more getting from A-B, and once I get there, I decide where to go next.

For the past few years, though, I’ve been surer on the general direction in which I’ve been headed, even if the exact route has remained a bit woolly.

Finbarr’s poetically titled blog, Scrawls and Bawls

I think my time here has helped me become more focused, too. I’ve come to realize what I do well and what I don’t. I have always tended to write about what interests me in the hope that it interests others, too. I have been lucky that Korea has given me a whole raft of fresh subject matter that fascinates me and that I’ve landed in the country at a time in which other people are intrigued by it, too. I know this won’t always be the case and that sometimes, I may need to be more accommodating in my writing if I am to make it a career.

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

Despite what I said previously, I have consciously made a couple of huge decisions in my life in order to progress my writing. I left a reasonably well paid job and a comfortable life in Edinburgh to return to education in Brighton at a time when steady work seemed to be the exception, rather than the rule. Whilst there were other factors in my coming to Korea, there was a large part of me that viewed it as a creative opportunity. I have certainly become a more creative person as a result.

Recently, I’ve indirectly cut down on things that are counter productive to me being creative and productive. Over the past six months, I’ve gotten into long distance running, a pastime that doesn’t marry too well with steady drinking. I’ve since discovered a kind of structured creativity I never had before. I feel more clear-headed and imaginative… a charge that could never have been pinned on me during my hazy early months here. I formulate a lot of my ideas whilst running now and often have the skeleton of a piece in my head by the time I get to the shower.

I do try to structure my day in order to make the most of it. I’ve learned that I work best when I first wake up. My job starts at 3pm, which gives me ample time to get what I need done in the mornings and early afternoon. Sometimes, I’ll avoid writing emails or speaking to people before I’ve gotten something written… usually something that needs doing, but anything will do. Generally, your thoughts are more interesting at that stage. It took me a while to realize that such a schedule could work for me, but now it’s a routine I treasure.

Finbarr’s interview with The National made The Skinny’s cover in May 2010

How do you define success?

There are different levels of success. I do think that to be paid for doing something creative should be considered success and an achievement, particularly if it’s something I’ve enjoyed doing. But that’s not the be all and end all; otherwise most of us would be pretty miserable.

Progression is an indicator of success. At the end of a week, or month, or year; if I can look back on that time and see that I’m further along the line than I was at the start, then it’s a success.

If I get published somewhere new, I’m pleased. If someone independently compliments me on what I’ve done, I’m delighted. It sounds conceited, but unfortunately kind words are too often the currency writers deal in. If something I write provokes discussion, then that too is rewarding.

On a personal level, all of these represent small successes. In the grand scheme of things, success (or my own perception of it) is an evolving entity. Not having an explicit goal means there’s always room for improvement.

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

I think technology is essential. I am an irregular blogger, but I think the platform is absolutely vital to any writer. I view my blog as a blank canvas. It’s a space for trialing concepts and ideas – many of them fleeting and inconsistent. Whilst that may not make for a coherent and cognizant body of work, it allows me to articulate thoughts I may not be confident of getting published.

If I want to write something on a whim, at least I know there will always be a home for it. I’ve been told that a blog can act as a real-time résumé for potential publishers and employees, so occasionally, I will direct such folks towards it as well.

I was a latecomer to Twitter, but I use it regularly now too. Not only is it useful as a promotional tool, it’s also an excellent research facility. There is a wealth of information on there waiting to be tapped and it makes me laugh when people are skeptical about it. Sure, it is littered with insignificant platitudes (which anyone who follows me will testify), but if you are selective with who you follow then it is a wonderful resource for journalists.

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

The act of writing, itself, is a solitary one. Whilst I have collaborated on a couple of pieces in the past, they’ve always been independently written and magically coalesced by the hand of a higher power! I do, however, enjoy trialing ideas through with others.

I like polling opinions on issues and non-issues alike… sometimes conversations that are months old can come flooding back when I’m writing something. If I’m writing an article that requires primary research, I will obviously speak to a lot of people in the planning stages; but besides that, general, untargeted conversations help me greatly.

Teaching is particularly useful in that regard. Everyday I speak to my students about what’s happening in Korea, be it news, entertainment or sport. Most of them will echo the views they’ve heard over breakfast at home. More often than not, the mood of the people is reflected in their young. When my language skills are basic at best, I’ve found that this rejigging of ‘collaborative learning’ has proven very insightful and mutually beneficial.

Koreanosaurus Boseongensis: front cover of Gwangju News, Dec 2010

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

I think it has become increasingly important to me. Gwangju has a few thousand ex-pats, in a city of 1.5million. The community here is close-knit and it’s one of my favourite things about the place. The flipside of it is that it’s very easy to get involved in whatever is happening: the local press, radio and blogs. Amongst the expats, not so many are interested in extra-curricular activities and the ones that are, are thrust together closer still.

Online, I guess it’s useful to have a presence in certain communities, although I would say I am peripheral at most. Monitoring the blogging community in Scotland from afar, I can see that it is growing alongside the arts community exponentially and creating a real online buzz. It’s exciting just to observe and I hope it’s a sign of things to come.

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 think I have attained some level of consistency, in that I could probably rustle up a decent piece on just about anything given some time. I agree that regular practice is crucial. It’s very easy to get rusty. I have by no means mastered anything, though. I’m not sure that would ever be possible.

I also find that maintaining other areas of your life can have a positive effect on your creativity (writing, for sure). Reading is of paramount importance. I notice that when I haven’t been reading a lot, it comes across in my writing and as such, sometimes have to make a conscious effort to read more. So whilst yes, application can improve consistency, I feel it’s important to make room for other valuable and complimentary pursuits.

As well as really enjoying his work I’m very impressed with the decisions Finbarr has made in order to progress his writing and expand his experiences.

What do you think? Share your thoughts/say hello in the comments!