The Clear-Minded Creative: one of Scotland’s Best Websites

Don’t worry, I’ve not suddenly been overcome by a massive dose of hubris, but I am on a little bit of a happy high, because The Clear-Minded Creative been included in highly respected Scottish culture magazine The List‘s ahem, list.. of Best Scottish Websites, coming in at no.14 out of the 30 they mention.

It’s a particular honour because I’m in such tremendous company, from the brilliant resources for creative people that are Blipfoto and Central Station, to local eco blog Greener Leith and the excellent cinema blog Reel Scotland, to some of my favourite music sites such as Radio Magnetic, Glasgow Podcart, Song, By Toad, The Pop Cop and Is This Music?, and of course Lis from Last Year’s Girl who is one of our lovely Clear-Minded Creative Types. Plus a few other faves and a few that are new discoveries for me.

The List do clarify that they were looking for unique and interesting ideas rather than the biggest and best known sites (thankfully for me!) But of course some of my other favourite Scottish blogs are notable by their absence, as always happens with these things.

Once the full article is up on the List’s website I’ll share it here. But for now, here is an extract from the kind words that List writer Kirsten Innes penned about this blog:

The most recent start-up in our list, Milo McLaughlin’s fascinating blog does exactly what it says on the tin: it helps creative people stay focused and, er, clear-minded… McLaughlin is no catchphrase-spouting self-help guru, though. The blog is equal parts personal journey and guide, and was set up as much to help him trace his own clear-minded path as to assist others with theirs.

Which makes me extremely happy as it’s exactly what I intended this blog to be. Sometimes, when you feel like giving up, you get just the encouragement you need – and this, combined with everyone’s generous comments and tweets regarding my last post, have been really touching and helped me to stay positive -so  thanks.

If you’re in Edinburgh or Glasgow pick up the latest issue of The List now from all good newsagents – it also comes with a massive free Edinburgh Festival guide.

Update: The full list is now online

teaching

Mike Davenport of Stick Figure Simple

Here’s an interesting interview with an unusual creative type – Mike Davenport has been a teacher for over 30 years, and it doesn’t seem to have dampened his humour as you’ll see by his answers (hint: doughnuts feature heavily).

Mike’s one of those rare people who practice what they preach, as seen by his wise advice  on clarity over at stickfiguresimple.com and his ability to express complex ideas through his deceptively simple stick figure drawings. He’s also an active member of the Third Tribe marketing forum, run by Copyblogger Media.

Let’s hear what he’s got to say. I’ll give him a moment to prepare himself first.

Mike? Are you in the zone yet?

Okay, I’m ready. Bring on the toughest questions you got. Fire ‘em up.

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

Starting easy on me, are ya? Okay.

I’m actually two people—not physically, but mentally. A part of me works with actual humans for my day job, coaching and teach. The other part dabbles here on the net—working with humans (at least I hope they are) virtually and digitally. I draw stick figure images and use simple drawings in an attempt to help readers find clarity and better engage their audience.

Exciting, eh?

Some days I remind myself of this fellow who’s eating a dozen doughnuts by himself. But he’s drinking water because he is conscious about his weight. Kinda schizo, a nice guy, but ya gotta wonder what he’s thinking.

About doughnuts, I guess? 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’ve always known that I wanted to teach—and I’ve been lucky enough to do that for over 30 years.

But the tricky part has been WHAT do I want to teach. And I’ve been all over the place on that. I’ve taught courses ranging from cross-country skiing to courses on failure and wisdom. Now I’m teaching on the web about clarity. Man, that’s a wide spectrum of stuff. Keeps me young and attentive . . . er . . . what were we talking about??

Clarity, I believe. Speaking of which, how do you define success?

Oh . . . questions getting tougher, I see. How about four versions then.

Short version: success = living

Long version: success = living a long, prosperous, engaging, and compassionate life.

Heavy version: success = the split-second before you die you do a quick review of your life and you realize that you made a difference.

Even heavier version: success = getting the last doughnut.

Ah, the doughnuts again, I notice a recurring theme!

In a possibly futile attempt to distract you from circular sugary foodstuffs, what in your opinion are the positives and negatives of technology when it comes to both creating and promoting your work?

Jeez, I should have studied harder. Okay . . . hm . .

There is this wicked cool part to technology and that is how fast new things can appear, almost out of nowhere. Like smart phones. Within the last two years the market has exploded with users and with the ability of the phone and access to services.

Yet there is a negative of side to technology—and it is often very significant. And that is how your work can now be seen by an enormous audience, and very quickly. (As I write this one of our political leaders has just resigned due to the fact he was sending explicit images of himself to women over his smart phone. I don’t think he realized that that material could (and was) easily shared with others.)

See, people struggle with the power of new technology sometimes, like this poor chap did.

So what? Well, I draw simple stick figure images. Those have been around for thousands of years. And back then a guy probably put the image up on the cave wall to impress a gal or his family. But technology, such as smart phones, now makes it so anyone in the world that has one can see my images in a second.

That can freak a guy out sometimes. Really.

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

I do both. I collaborate usually until I annoy the heck out of someone then I end up working alone. Hm . . that should be telling me something.

There’s a lesson in there somewhere! Seriously though, is community important to you – either local or online – and if so, why?

Community is where it is happening—both real and web-real. To me, stories are critical to what I do and if I’m just telling stories to myself, well, that’s weird and kinda scary. I get stoked by an active and vibrant community. Bored by my lonesome.

Hm . . this is almost like a therapy session. Do I need to pay you an hourly rate?

No, but maybe therapy is the way forward for me. At least that’s what my wife tells me…

In fact here’s one of my recurring issues: 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?

Y’know, I’ve entered this mid-life point—fifties actually. And I can hang my hat (and I do wear hats) on two things that I have been trying to master.

Be authentic, and be honest.

Both have been hard for me to get a handle on, and I still struggle, but in terms of what I do and how I do it, those are the most critical parts.

Brilliant, thanks very much Mike, for taking my quite serious questions not at all seriously and thus reminding me to take myself less seriously too – a good lesson indeed. And of course for the illustrations which he drew especially for this interview. Don’t forget to check out his stuff over at stickfiguresimple.com.

aw

Clear-Minded Classic #3: The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

When I was about 20 years old, I was totally and utterly lost. I was in my fourth year of studying for a degree and I was disillusioned with the whole process. I could see no clear way forward in terms of finding a job or career at the end of it, and I was drinking heavily.

When I was younger I’d always been creative. I used to make and sell my own comics, and then my interest moved into acting and making videos. One of the reasons I came to Edinburgh to study a Communications Degree was because the course curriculum included film-making. The prospectus had featured photographs of a pretty girl with a video camera and daft as it now sounds, that pretty much sold me on coming over from Ireland to check out the college for an open day.

When I arrived, the beauty of the city itself sealed the deal, plus the promise of decent gigs in both Edinburgh and Glasgow. I was also keen to get as far away from home as possible, as my parents had recently separated and I wanted to be as independent as possible. I was 16 when I moved.

Unfortunately it turned out that making videos was only a small part of the course, and by the time the opportunity came I was already drinking too much to properly focus on it. I could have made more of it if I’d had the right mindset – but I was already sucked into a kind of apathetic black hole where I just wanted to blot everything out rather than face up to reality.

At a certain point though, I had a moment of clarity and realised that if I continued in this way I was going to be in a seriously bad situation when I left college, if indeed I managed to complete my degree at all.

Thankfully, when I was browsing the shelves in Waterstone’s I spotted a book called The Artist’s Way and I found the real kick up the arse I needed.

Now I was not your typical purchaser of self-help books. After all, my whole persona at the time was centred around being a drunken cynic and nihilist.I can’t actually remember doing it now, and what was going through my mind at the time, but I’m guessing it was a sense of desperation that led me to buy the book.

As it happens, it was the perfect book for me to read at the time.

What’s the big deal?

The Artist’s Way is undoubtedly one of the most popular books ever written about creativity. A number of people have mentioned it in the Clear-Minded Creative Types series of interviews or when commenting on this blog, and time and time again it will pop up in conversations about the topic. There’s even a whole online forum devoted to it.

But not everyone is sold on it, because of its heavy focus on spirituality. It’s basically a recovery programme for people who have lost their faith in their own creativity, and so has similarities with recovery programmes for addictions, such as alcoholics anonymous. A key part of it involves believing that creativity has a spiritual origin.

Now although I am not a member of any religion I do have spiritual beliefs. But I don’t want to impose my views on anyone else so I’ll just say this -if you’re a truly committed athiest or agnostic who cannot stand any foray into this type of thing, then the book isn’t for you. Having said that, there are some great methods for getting more creative and clear-minded you could still take from it, which I’ll detail below.

What’s Involved?

Working with this book you will experience an intensive, guided encounter with your own creativity – your private villains, champions, wishes, fears, dreams, hopes and triumphs. The experience will make you excited, depressed, angry, afraid, joyous, hopeful and ultimately more free. Julia Cameron

So, to reiterate, the Artist’s Way is more of a recovery programme than a book which you sit down and read and then put away and forget forever. It involves making a commitment to read a chapter a week for 12 weeks, and to establish two key new habits in your life:

  • Daily “Morning Pages”
  • A Weekly ”Artist’s Date”

Plus there’s a bunch of other tasks at the end of each chapter. Now I’m not sure how much of these additional tasks I did when I first went through the book, but when it came to the morning pages, I committed and stuck to them like my life depended on it.

The whole idea is to write for 3 pages every morning, without censoring yourself. You just keep writing, even if it’s the first daft thing that pops into your head. They aren’t meant to be re-read, and Cameron strictly forbids you to share them with anyone else. The point is to be completely honest and real. She describes them as a form of meditation, the sole purpose of which is to get all the crap in your head out onto the page and thus leaving you more clear-minded.

We meditate to discover our own identity, our right place in the scheme of the universe. Through meditation we acquire, and eventually acknowledge our connection to an inner power source that has the ability to transform our outer world. Julia Cameron

You don’t need to be a writer, as this isn’t about creating something literary or clever. This is a splurge of words, which creates the space you need to allow the spark of creativity to be re-ignited.

An outpouring of words

Doing the morning pages led to an outpouring of writing for me. I would get up and start writing the moment I woke up, and often I would be writing poetry with images from my dreams, which were still fresh in my mind. I wrote a bunch of lyrics and some short stories. I was delighted to be writing again and it gave me renewed hope for the future.

Last year I started doing this again, via the site 750words.com. Based on the idea of the morning pages (750 words is about 3 pages) this brilliant site is cleverly designed to encourage and reward those people who manage to write every day. Over the course of a few months last year I clocked up 100,000 words. Some of it was just plain journalling, as Cameron suggests, but sometimes I would write a blog post or something else if I was inspired to. I worked a lot on the idea for this blog and what I wanted to cover on it.

Cameron goes on to describes the artist date as “a block of time, perhaps two hours weekly, especially set aside and commmitted to nurturing your creative consciousness, your inner artist”. She says this is equally as important to the morning pages as a way of opening yourself to inspiration.

The Censor = Resistance

As we saw in the previous Clear-Minded Classic The War of Art, Steven Pressfield identified the enemy of creativity as ‘resistance’. Cameron sees the problem as ‘the censor’ – another internal barrier we need to overcome.

We are victims of our own internalised perfectionist, a nasty and eternal critic, the censor – who resides in our (left) brain and keeps a constant stream of subversive remarks that are often disguised as the truth’ Julia Cameron

As with the resistance, the inner censor is a clever foe, and it takes a lot of work to get around it. but I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that..

There’s a lot more to The Artist’s Way than I can go into here. If you’re already firing on all creative cylinders then you probably don’t need this book, but if you’re willing to do a bit of soul-searching and feel like you need to recover that creative spark inside yourself it’s most definitely worthwhile.

Now I reckon it’s about time I started doing my 750 words a day again…

Buy The Artist’s Way on Amazon.co.uk

Buy The Artist’s Way on Amazon.com

Have you read/used the Artist’s Way? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Creative Catch Up – April

I’m writing this post at an Edinburgh blogger’s meet up at Sofi’s bar in Leith organised by Georgia of IdeaSpotting. It’s an attempt to be sociable *and* get some blogging done, so I’m interested to see if it’s possible to do both at the same time!

Mainly because I’ve not been very good at making the time to post recently (as you may have noticed). And maybe, just maybe, a bit of friendly peer pressure will help..

I figured I’d try and reignite the blogging spark by doing a short round-up post. I used to do these on my personal blog and they were quite popular. It might be that these are better suited for Sundays in future, to tie in with..

Share Your Wares Sundays

I asked people to share something creative they’d completed during the week on the Facebook page each Sunday. It’s had a pretty good reaction so far, especially considering I haven’t done an awful lot to publicise it yet.

Emily Dodd shared the story of 11 year old Adam Bojelian who can’t speak or write with a pen but creates poetry by blinking. Emily just happened to be at the bloggers’ meet up too, and she told me how she met Adam and his mum at a recent Social Media Surgery in Edinburgh. Following Emily’s excellent advice on getting the word out they have now raised over £2,000 for his trike ride to support disabled children and their families.

Baker at Catfish Parade also posted his reaction to a post by Mars Dorian which has created a bit of a stir.

Basically Mars reckons that trying to do too many things at once is a recipe for career disaster. He strongly advises against trying to be a jack of all trades, master of none. Now a lot of bloggers are multi-talented and proud of it, so there was a bit of a backlash.

Personally I’m a little torn about this one. I really enjoy Mars’s blog because he isn’t afraid to make strong arguments, and I basically agree with his essential point – he’s suggesting clarity and focus is best when communicating who you are with other people – which is basically the message of this blog too.

I think though that who we are and what we do in life evolves naturally over time, so it’s not like we have to choose one thing and stick to it. But maybe it’s a good idea to define what we do in a clearer way. What do you think?

Please do visit the Facebook page and have a look at all the cool creative projects that other people have been posting.

Tumbling again

I’ve also started posting some interesting stuff on the Clear-Minded Creative tumblr page. This content feeds through to Facebook but if you’re on Tumblr you might prefer to follow it that way. Tumblr is a great way to find really cool content and also a good way to try out blogging if you’ve not done it before, because it’s so easy to use.

I loved this quote in particular:

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.

A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work.

Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through. – Ira Glass via Sam Sketch

And to go back to Mars Dorian, here’s his advice on how to close the gap.

p.s. You can also submit your creative work to the Tumblr blog if you ‘re not a fan of Facebook.

So, I did get a blog post out of the meet-up, as well as meeting some interesting new people – including unashamed gossip-monger Andrew Burnett and film blogger Mark Davidson. And congratulations to co-organiser Trudy Peaches who published her very first blog post whilst she was there!

In the meantime, now that I’m back in the blogging mindset, keep an eye out for another great interview and more coming very soon..

Spring-Clean Your Routine

Spring Cleaning by √oхέƒx™

Congratulations to everyone who completed the Four for Feb challenge (the downloadable PDF memorabilia thingy will be posted soon), and even if you didn’t quite make it but managed to do something creative during the month, it’s a great achievement. Why? Because NONE OF US HAVE ENOUGH TIME.

The demands on our time and attention only increase as we get older and our lives become more complex (unless you’re already retired or independently wealthy  in which case congratulations!).

Most of us work full-time. Some of us do extra freelance or other creative work on top of that. Some people have children, some are in long-term relationships. Most have daily, weekly and monthly chores to get done. Some people have people to care for, or their own illnesses and other issues and problems to deal with.

And most of us like to have a bit of a social life and have fun every now and again to0. It’s important t0 get some downtime,  to properly rest and relax. And we like to keep up with what’s going on in the world, through a variety of sources, the news, blogs, magazines, TV.

So for most of us, are lives are already full. We have packed our days to capacity with endless activities, and I for one find it overwhelming at times.

So the next challenge I’m suggesting is one where you sit down and actually work out how you can free up some space in your schedule.

Leo Babauta, one of the most successful bloggers on the planet, wrote a brilliant post about how you need to create time to make serious changes in your life. This is what I did for myself when I gave up writing about local music and recording my monthly podcasts, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed doing, because I knew they were not sustainable activities in the long run because neither earned me any money.

Does that mean I won’t do things for free that I enjoy in the future? Not at all. But by giving up those things I was able to get experience doing other things, and spend some time working out what I wanted to do next, and actually earn some money doing other freelance writing/web work. Last year I also missed out on blogging for a few months, and didn’t socialise very much, all because I was focused on trying to get work I enjoyed.

So you do need to prioritise and decide what’s most important to focus on. Seth Godin’s book The Dip is all about the difficult period in any project or activity when your enthusiasm wanes, difficulty levels increase and you need a lot of self-discipline just to continue. His point is that in some cases it’s extremely important to get through the dip to the other side, but in some cases it’s not worth it because they are dead-ends. You need to decide which of your activities is which, and stop the ones that are getting you nowhere.

But even then, you might struggle to find any free time, because you lack the basic awareness of how you’re behaving throughout the day. I know I can be in denial sometimes about my procrastination, but spending an hour reading blogs when I could be writing my own is probably not the best use of that one hour each day that I can keep free to myself. Laura Vanderkam’s book 168 Hours is all about this topic, and she suggests tracking how you’re spending your time. You can download a free time management spreadsheet from her site which will help you do this.

As we’ve seen from many of the Clear-Minded Creative Type interviews so far, a strict routine can be the best way to stick to get creative work done, whether it be managing your projects along with your caffeine intake like Hande Zapsu Watt, or getting up ridiculously early each morning like Thom Chambers. Here it’s impossible not to mention Leo Babauta again as his book The Power of Less talks about setting morning and evening routines which allow you to be creative, or get regular exercise, or even just to get some quiet time to yourself to read a book.

So the challenge for March/April is to “spring-clean your routine” and find at least one regular time-wasting activity that is no longer of value to you and no longer contributes to your goals to eliminate from your life.

In March I suggest you try and become aware of how you’re spending your time. Spring starts on 21st March so see if you can identify by then what you’re going to stop doing and make a plan for how you’re going to do it.

Then in April you can start to establish a new routine to allow you to achieve your creative goals. Imagine how freeing it will be to have that extra space in your life to achieve what you really want. I guarantee you will feel more clear-minded as a result :)

Photo credit: √oхέƒx™ Note: all book links are part of Amazon.com’s affiliate scheme. Because I need the money to buy Apple products.

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!

Welcome to The Clear-Minded Creative

Image: I Think I'm Starting to Crack by Nina Matthews Photography

Hello and welcome to The Clear-Minded Creative, thanks for stopping by :)

I’ll be posting new content here every week starting from January 2011. But before we start, you probably want to know what the blog is all about – well if you answer yes to any of the following questions then this is probably the blog for you.

Are you:

  • Confused about what you want to do with your life?
  • Desperate to be more creative, but struggle to find the time?
  • Forever trying new things but never spending enough time on one thing to get really good at it?
  • Unable to find a job that you enjoy and truly motivates you?
  • Stuck in a destructive loop of procrastination and “analysis paralysis” as you flounder from one day to the next in a drunken, confused haze?

Glad it’s not just me then.