Welcome to my adventures and experiments in creativity. Where writing is like running: sometimes I know where I'm going, and sometimes I see where the mood takes me.

Thursday, 31 January 2013

The Circle Of Life

Rarely a day goes by when the human race does not disappoint me in one way or another. Usually that disappointment is simply the result of my own frailties and failings.

But then you meet a new baby, not more than 50 hours since your friends welcomed him into the world, and it cheers you.

Global over-population and food shortages. Over-exploitation of natural resources and economic inequality. All these things go to the back of your mind for as long as you cradle that sleeping body in your arms.

I admire the bravery of my friends, being willing to raise a child in a world facing problems as great as it’s ever had to face. I’m not sure I have that bravery (yet), but the child knows nothing of these issues.

He is a blank canvas. You look at his tiny hands, his toothless gums. You look at all his POTENTIAL. There are so many things to show him, to teach him. I can imagine not just responsibility, but also a great liberty in knowing there are so many good things in the world he can be exposed to.

Embrace that responsibility, and that liberty, and what is to say he can’t be one who helps find the solution?

Sunday, 27 January 2013

We Are Go For Launch

As the day approaches where I have a completed piece of creative work to share with the world, so I allow the occasional fleeting thought to linger about how I might announce its availability. For anyone else – particularly anyone established – this would be a launch.

I’m not convinced I can legitimately ‘launch’ anything when I have no substantial audience to appeal to. The “fake it ‘till you make it” line springs to mind: shout about the project enough and people might be convinced a loyal band of supporters have been downloading for all they’re worth. And, as a result, they will feel compelled to join in. That’s the theory!

But is it really my style?

In truth, I don’t know what my style is. I might not know until I actually have the finished product. I’ve spent all my life in environments where the targets were effectively set for me – school, college, work. The end result was something required by someone else; success was born of achieving a clearly defined goal.

The work I’ve been doing, writing longer pieces on subjects that mean something to me rather than somebody else, has been a new experience. Which is all very well, but clearly I need to find a reason why other people should want to read it…

Two people have got me thinking about this subject. The first is Chris Gillebeau and a section in his 279 Days To Overnight Success manifesto, dealing directly with the launching of a product. Principally, the following sentence:

“Don’t just put up a link one day and say, hey, here’s my product.”

The second is Michael Nobbs and the launch of his new book, Drawing Your Life. I’ve recently become a member on Michael’s website, Sustainably Creative, because I wanted to read his books about taking small, measured steps to achieve long-term goals. I could have bought the books without becoming a member, but I also wanted to understand and experience his philosophy on a more day-to-day basis.

Joining the site has coincided with Michael launching a countdown to the publication date, and I’ll be watching with interest as that day approaches. For now, I’ll continue to ponder the potential launching of my work in the future, and share the video that Michael has created about his countdown.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Self Publisher-ing

Over Christmas, I wrote a 12,000-word guide to creative lessons that can be learnt from the sport of football. It’s not perfect (yet!), but it only needs a couple of weeks more work before it is ready to be unleashed.

The main thing I need to think about is presenting it; moulding the words I’ve so carefully crafted into something appealing and readable. I’m aware of Adobe InDesign, and I’ve read about Scribus, an open source desktop publishing program. The former would require a lot of expense and learning. The latter would merely require a lot of learning.

Either way, a lot of learning…

Just before Christmas, I bought a book to teach myself HTML and CSS programming. I’ve flicked through the book, and the prospect of learning it excites me. But then I settled down to doing actual writing and the programming suddenly didn’t seem quite so important. For now, my time is better spent doing and learning other things.

Some of the advice I’ve read about getting involved in the world of self-publishing can be boiled down to this: find your own method. Do it YOUR way.

So that’s what I want to try. The other day, in a quiet moment at work, I started playing around with Microsoft Publisher 2010. With a quality photograph downloaded under a Creative Commons license, I was able to mock up a decent-looking front cover for the guide. In the space of a few minutes, I went from Publisher? Yeah, right, to, This might be a genuine option.

I’m not saying it’ll be a long-term option. I might find the whole process harder than it needs to be. Hell, just writing a blog post in MS Word can be a frustrating experience at times! One day I’ll probably want to learn something more complex but now, while I’m finding my feet, it may well be the way I want to do it.

If I really want a challenge, I might mess around with making the guide in my ‘retro’ copy of Publisher 2000. I haven’t done the same upgrade at home that I’ve been given at work. The 2010 version of the Office suite can be bloated and frustrating, even impenetrable at times. But, to its credit, it does offer some features that could be considered attractive (while still offering the WordArt that screams ‘school project’ any time you see it used).

The onus, however, is on readability with these sorts of documents. Optimised for browsers and tablets, lots of white space, that sort of thing. Keeping it simple is the name of the game. Publisher 2000 might be enough.

I could have this all wrong. It could be that lots of people out there use Publisher for similar things. It seems unlikely, given the plethora of Apple products in the design world and the general attitude toward Microsoft, but I’d be happily proved wrong. If it turns out to be viable though, that might be a lesson that’s every bit as valuable as learning something three times as complex from scratch.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Good News!

Amid all the general progress of the last few weeks, a couple of bits of definitive positive news are worth noting.

First (though it happened second), my entry to Milo McLaughlin’s Seth Godin contest was selected as a winner. With Milo’s recent focus on Godin’s work, I’m excited to receive a copy of his new book, The Icarus Deception. Something different – potentially very different – to include on the 2013 reading list!

Secondly (though it happened … oh, you know what I mean), I’m delighted to have had a piece accepted for publication in #5, the impending new issue of Prototype magazine. Demonstrating the benefits of keeping a circle of creative friends and acquaintances – on this occasion, my good friend Katie – I only became aware of this publication thanks to good ol’ Twitter and the power of a retweet.

Sending off a submission involved some blind optimism, having no idea of the magazine’s style or whether I might be successful. Happily, Laura Allen – Prototype’s founder and editor – replied less than 24 hours later with a wonderfully positive e-mail, and I have the pleasure of looking forward to seeing my work in print.

Not just in print, but illustrated for good measure. I can’t wait to see how someone interprets my words.

Perhaps most exciting is the fact that Prototype is based in Newcastle. No, not that Newcastle. Newcastle-under-Lyme. The one just down the road from where I live. It’s the first proper hint I’ve had that a creative ‘scene’ exists somewhere in Stoke-on-Trent. A scene that might embrace the digital revolution that is happening around us. A scene that isn’t struggling to keep up with the ‘new’ way of doing things, but understands what it means to make things happen for itself, using local resources.

One of the beauties of the World Wide Web is that first W. It’s possible to get to know people anywhere, and that brings benefits of inspiration from cultures alternative to your own. But it can also be somewhat disconnecting. I’ve known for a while that I’d like to be involved in something more local, but I haven’t known where to start finding it.

This is only a first step, and it’s a step that may or may not lead to another one. But making just one step is very good news indeed.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Reading Too Much Into It

It’s my own stupid fault.

Stephen King’s 11.22.63 has been on my Kindle for months now. I kept thinking, I’ll just finish that other book first and now we’re two-thirds of the way through January and I’ve got this near-900 page epic to tackle.

2013 marks the fourth year of what I called a ‘Decade of Reading’. I blogged about it when I first hit on the idea – to document everything I read over a ten year period – but have been lax in following it up. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve kept the list, just forgotten to do anything with it (if, indeed, there is anything to be done!).

But now I’m writing more, and late nights spent on words about cinemas in Copenhagen are not conducive to keeping up the reading habit. I’ve not yet failed in my quest to read at least a page of something every day, but there are many nights where it is not much more than a page.

So this year’s list does not look like growing very quickly, and I’ve promised myself not to buy any new books until I’ve read everything I’ve got outstanding.

Except … that doesn’t stop me downloading new reading material. And as I’ve expanded the sources from where I gain creative inspiration, so I have discovered digital books, guides and manifestos galore! All of them free, all of them ready to pour yet more ideas into a head-full of thoughts that I’m trying to simplify.

So far, I’m managing to keep the partition between my newfound work ethic and the ideas of others relatively intact (with the exception of a few leaks, as described in yesterday’s post). But I want to read these guides because I need to expand my knowledge and understanding of creativity.

Having found the time to write frequently, now I feel the need to find more time to read yet more new things! As problems go, it’s not exactly life and death. It’s the product of an over-active mind at best; a desire to absorb new information.

Ironically, when I first envisaged the ‘Decade of Reading’, it was not born of some attempt at self-improvement. It was intended to reflect the simple act of reading itself and the pleasure contained therein. Maybe that can start to change now. Maybe it doesn’t have to be just another Fruitless side project, and can instead act as a measure of the progress I make in my creative ambitions.

As long as I can tame the impatient side of my brain, that is. As long as I accept that I can only consume things at a certain pace. I don’t need to know all the answers straight away. I can learn and grow, and use what I read to build that growth. I’ve tried to do things instantly in the past, and failed.

If I try to do the same thing again, it’ll be my own stupid fault.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Taking Things Seriously

Changing your life is hard.

Changing your life while keeping a lot of it the same as it was before is even harder.

In pinpointing what you can do differently – for example, simplifying certain aspects of every day to maximise the time spent being creative – you naturally seek inspiration from others who have trod a similar path and are willing to share their experiences.

Another change I’m trying to make is to engage with the creative ‘scene’ a lot more than I have before. Engage with people I trust, and from whom I have started to draw some of that inspiration. Part of the increased engagement is simply a natural result of feeling happier about the work I’m doing.

It’s not a process I’m going to complete overnight.

There are plenty of people out there offering advice on creativity and lifestyle whose work I am reading, but with whom I have yet to make any sort of contact. A certain section of that reading is quite serious. There’s nothing wrong with that in of itself; of course there isn’t. And it’s not to say that its creators don’t have fun.

But it seems to come from a place of such zen-like contentment that it is a little scary. Among the lessons I take from it, I also take a feeling of resignation at not yet having worked out how I will find my audience and distribute the work I am currently producing.

I know it’s silly, but it is also somehow unavoidable. And I’ve noticed that it’s affecting the work. Rather than retaining a sense of fun and occasional flippancy, it feels as though my work needs to become serious if I am to be taken the same way.

So I’m going to keep reading and keep writing. The work remains the focus, but I’m still trying to get a handle on how my attitude is altering. I’m having a lot of fun getting the writing done – I just need to make sure that’s reflected in the words I commit to paper.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Keeping To The Point

I need to learn brevity.

That sentence was all I was going to say on the subject. An ironic, hopefully amusing post that kept to the point and sort-of-illustrated it perfectly.

But I had to keep writing. And that, precisely, is the problem.

Once, at school, we did an exercise in summarising. Highlight the most relevant points in a given article. The teacher expected us to find twenty or so. I picked out closer to fifty.

I never know when enough information becomes too much information. I talk with friends about ideas for creative projects, but rather than summarising the idea in one catchy sentence I explode in a torrent of stream-of-conscious thoughts and expect them to pick out salient points.

Any number of psychological observations could probably be extracted from that, but in a break from tradition I’m going to avoid trying to list them all.

I like information. I want to pass on information. If I’m seeking an opinion on an idea, it only seems right that I illuminate that idea as fully as possible. Or is that a way of trying to bully people into accepting it; some demonstration of ‘look how much thought I’ve put into this, so please indulge my unspoken desire for acceptance’?

Look, you see, I’ve started the list…

I don’t know if brevity can be learned, but I want to explore the topic further. Maybe, now that I seem to have a clearer idea of the creative direction I want to follow, it will start to occur more naturally. Or maybe I just need to edit my thoughts more ruthlessly before expressing them.

Any tips, I’d love to hear them!

Wednesday, 9 January 2013


Before this week, I was only vaguely aware of Seth Godin and certainly didn’t know much about his philosophy. Then Milo McLaughlin declared that he was devoting a week to Mr. Godin and his ‘Sethisms’, and laid down this challenge.

It seemed rude not to accept, so I took myself off to Mr. Godin’s website and started reading. And I liked what I found – his style is distinctive and authoritative, and slightly scary in the way that all successful people are when they make it sound so easy.

I can’t say the following was inspired by any one particular idea, it was just a feeling that built from the fact that Mr. Godin manages to communicate a set of ideas and ideals in so many different ways. I’ve tried to mimic the style a little, and hopefully it meets Milo’s brief. It might not be ridiculous, but it does include a bit of wordplay I’m rather pleased with...

Metaphorically Speaking

In art, as in life, there is endless capacity for metaphors that describe the same thing. Endless capacity to present one piece of advice so it appeals to as many people as possible. If you’re lucky, you’ve found the metaphor that communicates to you.  If you’re really lucky, you can experiment and work out your own metaphor.

Be the wily velociraptor from Jurassic Park.

Be the relentless rolling stone from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

In short, be the metaphor that is most simile to the way you create. Then write it down and pass it on.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

The Non-Review Of 2012

At the dawn of a new year, the creative world is possessed by an almost cultish fascination with reviewing the 12 months just ended. This is understandable because when you are accountable only to yourself, nobody offers the opportunity to appraise your performance or set goals for the immediate future.

For me, creatively, 2012 started so badly that ending the year still sane was an achievement in itself. There is nothing to review, and there is nothing to say about 2013. I have goals in mind, but things are ‘fluid’ at the moment and – as per my last post – I’m all about doing.

So I thought I’d ‘review’ in a different way. Thought I’d make a (roughly chronological) list of things I experienced or achieved for the first time in the last calendar year. Not all of them are successful; most of them don’t relate to creativity. But they all build a round picture, and act as a reminder that we often do more than we perhaps realise:

- Got back to basics and enjoyed a board games day; played Formula One, Ocean Trader and introduced my friends to the game Risk.
- Worked for a multi-national, foreign-owned company.
- Climbed York Minster.
- Was invited to a celebration event for the writing course I attended in the second half of 2011.
- Made up a poor excuse for not going and missed the celebration event due to low confidence.
- Received training on manual handling, COSHH, and environmental awareness (sadly, the latter not from Captain Planet).
- Went to see the Strictly Come Dancing live tour.
- Ate Chinese food served in half a pineapple.
- Hosted a barbecue in January.
- Suffered the ordeal of ordering glasses through Specsavers.
- Bought clothes based on the requirements of a television production company.
- Experienced a corporate evening out bowling.
- Had a photo done for the ‘staff’ section of the work website.
- Filmed and appeared on a television game show.
- Spent £30 on raffle tickets in one night and won nothing.
- Single-handedly looked after Chloe for five days.
- Deliberately purchased trainers for running.
- Spent several hundred pounds on a dog kennel … to go in the back of the car.
- Visited Cleethorpes.
- Left Cleethorpes after a Morrison’s salad box, half an hour’s walking, and an ice cream.
- Paid £8.50 to take Chloe into the Italian gardens at the Trentham Estate (not sure she appreciated it).
- Went to a full evening session of bingo and won £20.
- Spent a night in a Travelodge at work’s expense.
- Visited Gateshead.
- Bought an iPhone.
- Rode a Segway.
- Fell off a Segway.
- Had a member of the public record his phone conversation with me.
- Live tweeted during sex.
- Included a joke on this list.
- Ate Junior Mints and saw Jerry Seinfeld perform stand up.
- Celebrated four years in a relationship.
- Watched the first three Die Hard films.
- Started writing ‘Lord of the Rings cricket’, eighteen months after originally coming up with the idea.
- Visited the Cotswolds.
- Won a plant as a prize for winning a quiz.
- Refused to watch myself on television.
- Participated in a Jubilee tea party.
- Won the board game version of Pointless.
- Spent a month with a cough.
- Visited Ireland/Dublin, saw an 800-year-old book, and witnessed Bloomsday.
- Flew with Ryanair.
- Drove a courtesy car.
- Bought a box of 100 packets of football stickers.
- Had breakfast at Blakehall Fisheries near Cheadle.
- Visited the BBA (British Board of Agrement) in Watford.
- Nearly suffered whiplash from a taxi driver braking suddenly just to ogle a woman while saying, “Look at those!”
- Visited Swallow Falls in North Wales.
- Started Christmas shopping in August.
- Envied the atmosphere at an Olympic Judo event.
- Celebrated one year of owning a dog.
- Returned home to find a leather sofa chewed up by our dog.
- Learnt how to perform U-value calculations and got a certificate declaring me to be competent.
- Bought a proper rucksack, with chest and abdomen straps and everything.
- Drank an Italian soda.
- Ate a seven-course meal.
- Discovered that Belgian waffles are an excellent dessert.
- Ran six miles in one go (and in about an hour).
- Expressed interest in running a half marathon.
- Visited Tebay services on the M6.
- Spent a week in the Scottish Highlands and saw Loch Ness.
- Climbed, and stood at the summit of, Ben Nevis.
- Had an existential crisis on the side of a mountain.
- Listened to a German man sing the Italian national anthem in German; worked with a Spaniard.
- Wrote a haiku.
- Dreamt that I let a man plummet to his death in a broken lift.
- Dreamt that a woman tried to kill me with a felt tip pen.
- Sampled the ‘hottest curry in the world’ (Satan’s Ashes).
- Attended a race night (and took part ‘ownership’ of a horse called ‘Fear of Loss’).
- Purchased dedicated running gear and a book called ‘How To Run Faster’.
- Suffered a bleeding nipple and bought Vaseline to combat it.
- Bought a rolling pin.
- Had a tweet retweeted by two people!
- Cooked a full roast dinner, toad in the hole, rump steak, and a savoury pie (though not all on the same day).
- Visited Cardiff and the Doctor Who Experience.
- Squealed like a girl when Felix Baumgartner jumped ‘from the edge of space’.
- Conceived the idea for a digital magazine called ‘On The Eighth Day’.
- Attended a dog agility class (with a dog).
- Compiled a photobook.
- Used all seven of my tiles in one go during a game of Scrabble.
- Visited Denmark/Copenhagen, and a Danish Lego store; spent £16 on a starter, and visited a continental indie cinema.
- Got asked to take a photo by two different people on the same day.
- Had serious inspiration for a proper actual book that even I might be able to write and finish.
- Wore the Studio Ghibli t-shirt I bought in Japan four years ago, because it finally fitted comfortably.
- Got ‘star letter’ in ‘Dogs Today’ magazine.
- Wrote 5000 words in less than a week, and completed a draft of a 12,000 word document (a guide to creative lessons we can learn from football).
- Bought a book to learn HTML coding.

Monday, 7 January 2013

New Year, New View

In the last couple of weeks, as ideas have begat confidence and confidence has begat a degree of unfortunate over-confidence, so old habits have easily been restored.

Talking rather than doing.

If it isn’t an inferiority complex and a lot of talking about what it would be nice to do, it’s an unwarranted sense of accomplishment and a lot of talking about what it is good to be doing. In both cases, the crucial elements are a lack of anything actually being done, and too much talking.

Take, as an example, me convincing myself I needed a new website. This humble Blogger-hosted weblog couldn’t possibly meet my needs, couldn’t possibly contain all the ideas that were threatening to pour from my over-active brain. I was going to make a new home for my work, and prolific output would follow.

Except … I couldn’t work out how I wanted it to look. Couldn’t work out what structure it should have. Couldn’t work out whether it should be a minimalist writing exhibition or a full-blown social networking party. I was going to learn HTML and CSS so I could have complete control over an appearance I couldn’t decide upon.

So rather than talking and thinking and thinking and talking, I’ve decided to do. Decided to write, based on all the lessons I’ve been learning. Create the material I’ve haphazardly mapped out, then work out what form it should take. There’s no use planning if you can’t decide how to put the plan into action. I’m not convinced a blog is the ultimate long-term outlet for my work, so why spend time and money on a new one?

For that reason, I’m sticking with Blogger for now – updating and face-lifting my existing corner of the internet to better reflect what I want to achieve in 2013 and beyond. It might not be the most professional option, but it gives me a convenient means to test out some of the design ideas I’ve considered: the purple theme, a few illustrative images, less clutter.

More importantly, it gives me the time to concentrate on writing – on doing, and talking about things only when they’re done. I hope you like it.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Dynamic Simplicity

The other night I wrote a blog post about how I’m changing as a person; about how my pursuit of creative fulfilment is changing my attitude to life. It was also about how my changing attitude to life is improving my pursuit of creative fulfilment, for you can’t have one without the other. Over the course of 2012, I became tired of feeling ‘busy’ without ever striking the right balance. I accepted that to aim for success, I had to start ‘doing’ rather than ‘talking about doing’.

Do the important things, cut out the extraneous things.

It’s a long process, and one I’ve only just started. It’s a process that may never end, and will almost certainly see my thoughts and feelings change again over the coming weeks and months.

The pursuit of a ‘simpler’ life coincided with Christmas, and I felt the need to reflect on what that means. How do I communicate my changing attitude to the people around me? Society is so entrenched, particularly in the consumer ideals of Christmas, that it was a shock to suddenly find myself standing on the margins gazing in. I felt a crushing weight of guilt that suddenly my family might not know who I am. How can they, if I don’t really know who I am?

With fevered creative energy, I wrote for two hours. Smashed out 1300 words, trying to illustrate the journey I find myself on. I worried the tone was wrong or could be misinterpreted, but I read and re-read it and felt confident I’d captured that feeling of change. I’d never felt such dynamism in my writing and I hoped that would come across to the readers; I rushed it onto the blog, thinking I had achieved some sort of breakthrough.

In hindsight, it probably contained enough material for two or three separate posts. Two or three considered posts. There is a time for dynamism, but maybe not when trying to reflect. I’ve read enough good writing by other creative folk to understand that these things are better approached in a sustainable fashion, rather than going all out to achieve some instant epiphany.

So I’ve deleted what I wrote. I’m going to channel that dynamism in a different direction, and build on the sense that I want to communicate my evolving philosophy. I still think I’ve got a viewpoint and story to offer to other creatives, I just need to establish the right way of telling it. And accept that sometimes I won’t always get it right.