SPARK: 27 Ways To Get The Most Out of Creating in 2020

As we approach each year, we reflect on what we have achieved, and forecast what we’d like to achieve. 

Over here in the JAR Laboratory we’ve been thinking about how we can get the most out of creating in the Year of Hindsight: 2020. 

Every creative person will have a different plan or path, reason or excuse, direction or wandering about how and what they are going to create.

We’ve put together our lists of 9 Ways To Get the Most Out Of Creating in 2020.

JODI

1. Commit to explore something you love.
In the same way you might commit to someone you love: get excited, make time, turn up, engage your curiosity, open your heart, and keep turning up. This doesn’t have to be massive investment of time. The smaller the time investment, the more powerful this becomes over time, because ultimately consistency matters. Aim to want to spend time doing this and the excitement will flow over into other aspects of your life.

2. Know WHY you create.
Then remain true to that regardless of what shiny things cross your path. Knowing your core values in regards to your creative expression and practise is an essential tool. This is good for the soul but it is also good business sense. Doing an inventory of your beliefs and personal narratives at the beginning of the year can be a way to know how aligned you are with where you want to go (because it may be different to last year!).

3. Create/schedule downtime.
Guard it with all your might and all your heart. This is time and space to check in with yourself and check out of reality; to slow down, dream, mentally meander; it is time to remember how to breathe and to remind yourself of what’s important. To get grounded and centered.

4. Care for yourself as the precious individual you are.
It is not selfish to put yourself first, especially when prioritising good health and wellness as a 360-degree experience. If something doesn’t feel right, treat it as something not right. Believe me, being sub-par physically makes creating more difficult than it needs to be.

5. Have something you want to achieve by the end of the year.
…and start now. Work out what you need to do to move yourself from here to there. Break it down into the smallest possible actionable pieces. Decide what resources you need. What support you require. Set it up–now! Test drive it for a few weeks before you begin, to allow space and time to trouble shoot and refine your process. Schedule with plenty of padding (add 3x the amount of time you think you will need–it is human nature to underestimate the time required). Find ways to stay accountable that inspire rather than shame. Find ways to stay excited.

6. Engage with inspirational people.
Those souls who expand your mind, your heart, your world view and bring sanity, stability or a deeper understanding to your experience. Ask questions. Make space for discussions. This doesn’t have to be other creatives. Inspiring people come from all walks of life, professional disciplines, backgrounds, traditions and experiences.

7. Build bridges.
Between different different parts of your creative life; between different parts of your overall life; with people you’d love to collaborate with. Introduce people you know who would love to get to know each other. Be willing to reach out to someone you haven’t spoken to in a long time. Initiate something especially when it would be easier to do nothing.

8. Tend your flame.
This is different for everyone but the essentials are similar. Tending requires focus, time, patience, persistence, maintenance, love, care and attention. Passionate people are the best antidote to apathy. Being passionate invites more of the same energy and people into your life. Sometimes they will come along to help tend the flame, when you’re struggling to do it.

9. Sync with natural cycles.
Why battle the tides? I can think of better ways to invest my energy than doing something the hard way. Jack Dann once told me: Give the best part of the day to your writing. Know what’s the best part of your day. Know how you can flow with the wax and wane of the moon. Know what moon signs are best for doing specific jobs. Find the dates of Mercury Retrograde (the best time for editing). Get to know the prevailing astrological forecast and use it (like you use the weather forecast to plan your day/week).

ADAM

1. Limit your projects.
Ideas are like seeds; some will grow and some will not. You need to tend and nurture the ideas you care about the most. Others are dandelions you can blow away on the breeze.

2. Measure your time.
It’s finite. It involves sacrifice. It involves commitment. Waste it when you want to and have planned to do so. Don’t waste time when you have planned to make it productive.

3. Listen to new music.
Or read new books. Buy a new comic book. (or make use of second hand stores and thrift shops – if it’s new to you, enjoy it).

4. Finish the fucker.
I’m not usually a swearing person but I liked the alliterative burst it gave because it’s also a kick in bum for me to make sure I keep forging ahead. Make it happen. If it takes a year, it takes a year. Plan your time to make sure you finish.

5. Walk around the house naked.
Be happy in your own skin literally and metaphorically. If you want to be a creative person, become a creative person. Don’t doubt it; own it. 

6. Know your body’s cycles.
Rest if you need to. I know the times of the year when my work load makes creativity difficult to achieve. I can therefore plan around it. Those times of busyness may be times you allow yourself to be fallow and let the ground regenerate. 

7. Support other artists.
Respond to their Instagram posts or blog feeds. Tell them why you like their work. Give them shout outs. 

8. Blow words up.
Interrogate them. Exploit them. Cuddle next to them and spoon them. Be intimate. Very intimate. Draw your thoughts. Write explicit stories and destroy them. Aim to be included in the Bad Sex in Literature Awards. 

9. Discuss your process with other creatives.
Find out how other creative people outside of your creative field operate. Learn new techniques. Work out how your process operates. Read about others’ experiences. It may not be compatible to yours but understand how to learn.

RUS

1. Write uninhibitedly.
Unless you are on deadline for some urgent piece that an editor’s nudging you to finish, write uninhibitedly for an audience of none. Discard worries about spelling, punctuation, grammar, tense, and anything else that nags at you. Just write whatever draft or entry that thrives undiscovered within you. No real rules, no real expectations; just write uninhibitedly.

2. Be one with your Daybook.
It doesn’t really matter if it is a 59-cent spiral notebook or a 30-dollar Moleskine journal; find a daybook that is the perfect fit. If you’re wondering what that feels like, you’ll get that feeling like Harry Potter had when he was paired with the wand that was made for him. You might like blank or lined pages; a spiral or flex binding; 5 x 8 or 9 x 12; or thin or thick paper. Perhaps you like to write with fountain pens and require a thicker paper; maybe you want to feel the ballpoint roll over the parchment sleek like silk.

Once you discover your one-of-a-kind daybook, keep it with you always, and chronicle your life in it, in all ways.

3. Create playlists.
I have a unique playlist for every story I write. I even have playlists just for daybooking. They unfailingly put me in the zone to write (uninhibitedly) that particular story, essay, or entry. Playlists can be as short as one song (“Eleanor Rigby” on repeat got me through the final edits on my MFA thesis) or 137 songs (as were my playlists for my last novel). Creating a playlist that insulates you as you write will put you in the zone instantly, making you more productive, as well as a better writer,

4. Find your Querencia.
This – Querencia – is your wanting-place, where you feel invincible. For some, this might mean a very physical, geographical location, like the beach, or even the outdoors; for others, it might mean wherever you are with your Daybook. As writers and creatives, we need to find that place where we can do the work stay focused. Nothing can touch you here. Find it. Preserve it. Believe in it.

5. Trust the process.
How can we ever fully understand what we have not yet created or written? As much as we might want to control the process, to map out our every word, we must trust the process to lead us from the undiscovered to the end product. We might believe that we have the whole story prewritten in our minds, but the process might lead us down a very different path. Trust the process. As Jodi reminds me all the time, the day you are writing is the day you were meant to write that story. So just trust the process.

6. Find your tribe.
I learned the hard way that there are some people who will actually sabotage you and your writing for selfish reasons. You need to find your small tribe of creatives that will support you, give you the advice you need, and encourage you to take risks to grow in your craft.

7. Make (and keep) little deadlines.
The best way to reach the Deadline of all Deadlines: the final, polished product, is to make hundreds of tiny, little deadlines to keep your project moving forward. Write one page a day, or 1,000 words. Finish a chapter in three days, or three weeks. Whatever you are working on, break it up into little, do-able chunks, and make the little deadlines that lead you to slaying that Deadline of all Deadlines, and probably with a few days to spare.

8. Find, and then never surrender, your voice.
One of the greatest moments in a writer’s life is when s/he discovers their voice within, that distinct style in writing that distinguishes them from every other individual who has ever picked up the pen. We discover our voice through writing daily and uninhibitedly, as well as trusting the process fully. And once you do find it, never EVER surrender it for brevity or under the (really bad) advice from an editor. Your voice is your DNA.

9. Just write the damned thing.
Probably the best advice ever given to me. When I had the chance to talk about writing with author Tom Clancy, I babbled on about this and that and why and why not. He sat there and listened patiently, then said, “Just write the damned thing.” And that’s what I’ve been doing ever since. Don’t tell me or others about why you can’t write; instead, just write the damned thing.

📸 annette.amini2019 via Pexels

If you could pick from our lists to create your own, what would your list of nine be? Listen to Clare Bowditch’s beautiful song while you create your list…

SPARK: The Path of the Creative Seeker

Spark is a monthly collaborative post written from a spark of inspiration that organically finds its way to us. This month we were inspired by the idea of how we progress in our creative journeys.

ADAM

There’s a creek at the bottom of the street where I grew up and is traversed through the Australian bush and my brother and I would spend many hours down there with our dog. We would follow the path alongside the creek, sticks in hand to sweep away spiders’ webs and keep away the snakes (not that we ever saw a snake – I did see an eel in the creek once).

Australian summer can be hot and in the cleft of the valley the heat would sink in, offset by the coolness of the water when you passed under the shadow of the trees. I knew each bend in the path. I recognised the same fallen trees, the growth of ferns and grasses.

It was also a place I liked to walk alone.

I cherished my solitary explorations, even if I trod the same path frequently. It was about the wonder and the exhilaration of walking and watching, listening and observing.

The external is often a metaphor for the internal and in the last few years of working with Rus and Jodi on various projects, discussing our own works and visions, we have a shared, and very varied, perspective on the creative path we walk, how we approach it, how we work through the cycles of our own creativity.

But perhaps in walking this creative path we are not so much forging new ground as making a map of where we are and where we have been in order that we can expand the boundaries of our understanding. And in the unknown sections we can write, “Here Be Dragons” until we decide whether we need to confront them or domesticate them.

For me, the path of the creative seeker is a journey of discovery that is internal.
It seeks to map out a sense of purpose: What do I want to say?
An understanding of form: How do I want to say this?
An awareness of audience: Who am I creating for?
A perspective of the heart and mind: What is it that drives me?

I am mapping my progress, tilling the soil of creative projects, watering the plants and taking long walks down the toilet paper aisle of the supermarket. If I can mix my metaphors for a moment, maybe I am not following a path established by others but wandering through a library of creatives’ work so that I may ponder and consider in order that I can make my own library for others to come and browse.

Drop in. I’ll have the kettle on.

RUS

I love telling others about my days in youth when I would take long walks in the woods, many under the light of the moon. The meandering along the oft-neglected paths allowed me to open my mind and heart to my surroundings. I found myself, time and time again, immersed in the unknown, alert to accept any sound, or sight, or experience around me. I made it a priority to put myself on that path, to expose myself to the what-ifs and the unknowns that always existed.

How easy it was for me to choose to be there and witness, experience, capture a world that existed beyond my prior knowledge.

As I got older, and as the world of domesticity crept in around me, my days on trails diminished, and I found myself recalling those sounds and sights more from the ramblings in my journals than from new experiences.

The Creative Seeker’s path is no different, is it?

Again- when I was younger and free time tipped the scales in its favor more easily than now, my creative journeys and jaunts were more frequently taken, though probably also more frequently taken for granted. While I allowed myself to go deeper in my creative explorations, I didn’t always appreciate the gold that I found in those hours.

What I have learned in my later years is that my time on the trails in the woods and immersed in creative excursions is more important that it ever was. Each journey holds a deeper meaning, but I must also force myself to be present in both worlds more ferociously. I cannot succumb to the temptations of putting either on the to-do list, the if-I-have-time backburners. Instead, I remind myself every day of the importance – absolute and essential – in opening the journal, of stepping on to the path, and of showing up to immerse myself in to the unknown, where I can learn of new scenes, characters, and conflicts that need to be seen and heard – first by me, and then for all of you.

The path of the creative seeker exists for each of us, right now; what makes the difference is your desire and effort to step on to it, with open mind and heart, and to accept all it has to share with you, no matter how old, or how complicated, your life might be.

The path awaits. Seek it out.

JODI

Truth and Understanding

While I haven’t quite taken the usual path (ie. international travel or higher education) of a sun-sign Sagittarian, the quest to know and understand drives so many things in my life, like a heartbeat that’s always there, though general aware isn’t always. Writing is a unique place to explore the higher expressions of my Sagittarian nature—mostly because it gives me a chance to ‘leave’ while staying at home. Because a lot of what I write is channelled, I get to see the world intimately through very different eyes; it’s walk a mile in someone else’s shoes on amphetamines often. It has given me an appreciation for the uniqueness of the individual but also the ways in which humanity’s common needs and desires collectively bind us. It engenders a deep empathy for even the most crooked, broken or evil individual. To understand how someone came to be as they are today and what that possibly means for the future.

Through writing I am able to seek and connect with people in ways I might not otherwise be able to—at least not at the moment, bound to my current home and life.

Pushing the boundary

If standard metrics for creative seeking existed, part of me thinks I would fail on all of them. I rarely, actively look for new ways to explore creativity and if something does pique my interest, there is a laziness in me that holds me in my own inertia (which means I’ve never been to a life drawing class, I’ve never searched out a replacement singing group for the one I lucked into a decade ago, I’ve left my guitar sitting abandoned in my room for years and I still wonder what it would be like to learn to paint with water colours/do pottery.) Often a new door of creative inquiry and expression opens serendipitously when someone says: hey, did you know about (flash fiction/cut-up poetry/suminagashi) or a few existing ideas combine in a brand new way (Chinese Whisperings and Literary Mixed tapes anthology/Piper’s Reach/The Jar). Having found my way into that space, I then set about doing everything in my power to push the absolute boundaries of that creative platform—to continually reimagine what is possible in that space, seek the dark spaces and hop-skip-jump merrily out of the margins.

It is why I love collaboration; the possibilities are infinite and there is nothing like going on a quest with your most favourite companions to see what’s over the next ridgeline… and the next… and the next…

By Map and Dice

I have had this desire for almost a decade. It involves a car, a handful of writing friends, a map and a dice. In this perfect scenario of a literary road trip, each morning we take out our map, we mark 250-300km in six different directions and roll a dice to see where we go next. Along the way we stop in small towns. We explore colonial cemeteries, museums and antique stores. We bushwalk to waterfalls and lookouts and other places of interest, guided by the green road signs. We stop and eat lunch in small town cafes, bakeries and dusty milkbars, or from basic picnic-styled sandwiches we’ve thrown together that morning. Eventually mid-afternoon we arrive at our destination, check into accommodation and then sit to write for a few hours, before finding somewhere for dinner and to share ideas and read aloud from what we have written. In the evening, we collaborate on other ideas, read, or quietly hangout under the stars. To wake in the morning and do it all over again.

I yearn to know what would come out of such a road trip—how far we’d get. Of the places we’d go. Of how we’d know each other differently at the end. Of the ideas we’d generate, share, and grow across or a week or ten day. And if we’d choose do it all again the following year.

Small Rebellious Acts of Creativity #18

Small Rebellious Acts of Creativity (#SRAOC) is a weekly invitation to explore a word, or phrase, through whichever creative avenue, platform or modality the participant wishes. It is intended to be a philosophical or creative catalyst moreso than a straight up writing prompt.

Small

Make it accessible for yourself. Easeful. Invite yourself into a place and a space free from the pressure of overwhelm. Pressure to perform. Keep it simple. Small is not subjugation. Small is not less than. Small carries a power all of its own. Gift yourself 5 minutes. Sometimes it doesn’t need to be anything more.

Rebellious

Rebel against apathy, procrastination, perfection, self contempt, self doubt, lack of confidence, lack of time, other people’s antagonism, lack of belief, the voice of the inner critic, and anything else that wants to tell you ‘no’. Flip the bird at your Imposter Complex. Interrogate. Innovate. Initiate. This is a space for saying yes.

Act Of

Do. Doable. Doing. Done. Even if it’s five bed-headed minutes, on a Wednesday morning, with your first infusion of caffeine for the day, tapping a list of ten things into your phone. Make a space. Fill it.

Creativity

Make something from nothing. Anything. The possibilities are endless. Draw. Paint. Build. Dance in the shower. Play. Howl. Doodle. Bake. Cut up poetry. Block out text. Collage magazine pictures. Snap a photograph. Garden. Read something aloud. Send someone a card. Make a digital mash-up. Create a playlist. Hum a song. Journal. Daybook. Write a list. Instagram a favourite quote. Play the instrument you have buried away in your cupboard.

This week’s invitation is…

We will be back Monday to share our meanderings and renderings and to see where ‘perception’ took you during the week.

SPARK: Making Love With The Unknown

Spark is a monthly collaborative post written from a spark of inspiration that organically finds its way to us. This month we were inspired by this Instagram post from the artist Frederic Hoffmann.

Why not? Indeed.

ADAM

Writing and Sex – A Dubious Metaphor

In the process of editing my novel, I thought about the relationship a writer has with a story. It may be a short story, or a novel, a poem, a piece of art. And there is this creative process we go through in our relationship with the Work In Progress from initial idea through to completion, submission, and publication.

I’m going to dirty it up and compare it to sex.

The Initial Idea -Something catches your eye; piques your interest. You look, but don’t want to get caught looking. There may even be some casual flirtation after initial introductions are made. After some witty repartee, numbers are exchanged and there is a tentative agreement made to meet up for coffee later in the week.

Sketchy Ideas – you know there’s something special but it’s taking a while to figure out. Texts, phone calls, flirty messages, chats over coffee, even a small gift have done little to assuage the feeling of “I think it’s right but I’m just not sure yet.”
So you take the plunge.

The First Draft – You rip off each others’ clothes and engage in primeval, animalistic, urge-driven sex. It’s a quickie. Pants are down around your ankles. There is speed. There is haste. There is mess. There is no thought to foreplay or decorum. It just happens. There is celebration of sorts. It’s rather selfish as all you think about is how good your idea is.

Subsequent Drafts – You’ve seen each other naked but you know there is work to be done. You’ve know reached the “awkward” phase in the relationship with the story.
In a half-baked attempt at romance, you take things a little slower. There is the offer of flowers, desserts, sensuous massage, candles, walks along the beach. Even a movie if you’re particularly keen. You’ve even made a mix tape to make out to. You have playlists for when you’re cooking dinner or breakfast.

But, you still can’t quite figure out how to get the bra off without appearing like you’re an incompetent teenager and breaking the mood. You have even remembered to shower.

Sometimes you finish first. Sometimes nothing happens and it feels like a let down. Just don’t be tempted to flirt with other story ideas. Work at it. This is an investment.

Each time you come back, you’ve learned a little more. You know when and where to stimulate it to make it work. You take your time. You luxuriate in your story. You have even gone out and bought new underwear to let the story know it’s special.

Each time you are together, you learn to work more closely, watching, listening, learning.

The Final Draft– You have now learned to make love to your story.

You have explored every nook and cranny; you know what turns your story on. You can undo the bra. In the dark. One handed.

Truly you have learned to make love to your story. You consider its feelings by not passing wind when you are intimate together. Snuggling after sex is enjoyable. Intimacy is achieved; a connection of souls.

Cigarette, anyone?

JODI

A Dubious Guide to Making Love to the Unknown

To make love to the known immediately makes me think of four things.

  • to connect to the unknown
  • to surrender to the unknown
  • to be present with the unknown
  • to find pleasure and embodiment in the unknown

All of which are counter intuitive – because, well, the unknown is the unknown.

How do you connect to it? How do you surrender to it? To be present with it? Or find pleasure and embodiment with it – especially if the unknown brings with it fear?

Do you open? Do you carry no expectations of what will be? Do you scream ‘Hello, I’m here’ and wait to see what happens next?

Making love is an existential meld with the past, present and the future. A tryst with the unknown is no different.

I’ve always been more on the intrepid side of things (though as I have got older this has toned down as fear and the need to be responsible have somewhat blunted the sharp thrilling edge of it). The unknown has not bothered me. I’ve known I’ve been in the right place when I’ve been excited-terrified. The last four years I’ve danced in the shadows, unearthed, released and healed parts of myself eons old and as a consequence it has been a completely different journey into the unknown.

Next time fear or age-wearied responsibility tries to muscle in, I’ll remember something that’s said about giving birth in hospital – would you let all those people in your bedroom to make a baby? (Probably not unless you have a penchant for role playing doctors and nurses with a bunch of strangers).

I adore the idea of making love to the unknown – even if it carries something of the paradox in and of itself. So yes, I’ll be less keen on welcoming fear and responsibility in as co-lovers in creative spaces (or just life in general). I’ll make love to the unknown in as authentic a resonance as I’m capable of: surrendered, connected, present, totally embodied and embracing of pleasure. Why not?

Photo by Jens Johnsson from Pexels

RUS

For most of my life, I have been keenly aware of Querencia, our wanting-place where we feel most in our element to do or try just about anything. Some might confuse this with a comfort zone. This is totally antithetical to comfort; it is all about confidence. I have found it impossible to do anything from a place of comfort, especially when it comes to making love with the unknown. What prevents us from doing so is fear: fear of change, of losing our comfort, of revealing ourselves to a larger world beyond the walls we know and trust too well. To make love with the unknown, one must first know her Querencia, and begin there.

My friend T and I would take spontaneous road trips when we were in college. Each adventure would uncover some wild aspect of ourselves and the world around us. We did make love with the unknown while on the road, practicing a certain foreplay with nature as we headed to some unknown destination, some deeply satisfying climax that we still remember today. Whether it was in the mountains along the Appalachian Trail, on the shores of Chesapeake Bay, or among the two-lane main streets of Maryland’s smallest towns, we made love with the earth, with time, with singular moments that could not be imagined, only experienced in ways that were possible right then, right there.

And because we so freely made love with the unknown 35 years ago, the doors were opened permanently for me to embark – so confidently – into the unknown, freely and sensuously, wherever I desire. The comforts of older age knock at my door occasionally, but I rarely acknowledge them.

I. Love. Life. And no creatures of comfort will ever lure me away from the absolute thrill and passion I have for making love with the unknown.