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.

Friday, 21 June 2013

The Part-Time Creative

During the long winter that enveloped the UK until about the end of spring this year, any small beacon of light and warmth was welcomed with an open heart. In January, Fabian Kruse (of the Friendly Anarchist) contacted his mailing list and asked for thoughts on making time for creativity without compromising creative integrity.

In terms of a career change, he rightly pointed out that simply quitting a day job might not be as simple as it sounds. Particularly when lack of income is a highly likely possibility!

As Fabian saw it, there were four options. One involved lucking in to a big windfall, while another relied on compromise and frugal living. The other focussed on ‘strategic quitting’, but the most interesting for me was the first:

1. Stay in your job and somehow hack your energy to work on personal stuff during your free time. Hard to do, but possible.

Running On Empty?

Even in a humble office setting, there are days at work that are simply exhausting. Getting home and cooking tea is about as much as my brain can comprehend.

It’s also true that running, and trying to look after myself as best I can, has brought benefits like more energy and greater drive to do creative work for a couple of hours in the evening.

This is good because, for the most part, I like my day job and the people I work with. Working in the technical department of an insulation manufacturer might not hold much relevance to my creative endeavours, but it is part of me.

Indeed, if you’d ever seen the cartoon I drew on the office whiteboard every day for several months – and the simple, beautiful joy it often gave my colleagues – you’d have seen how creativity can bloom in unexpected places.

“You’re wasted in here,” people occasionally said. But I didn’t see that as a bad thing; more a vindication that I was right to keep pursuing my creative path simultaneously.

Comfort In Routine

However much I might one day wish to pursue something different, it will take a compelling set of circumstances for me to confidently leave behind the knowledge and experience I’ve built up in the construction industry.

Even though I lack the means to determine the exact direction of my day job, it doesn’t mean I’m actively seeking to abandon the corporate environment at the first opportunity. Doubtless, much of its appeal is in the regular salary, and a lot of the rest is down to comfort and familiarity.

But a big part of my soul is unwilling to let a decade of hard work and personal development go to waste.


Fabian’s e-mail helped me realise just how much I cared about making these distinct parts of my life work together (at least to the point that one day a creative career could take over as my main source of income).

It stirred the fires of defiance inside me: if the perception is that it can’t work, I want to show that it can. From that point forward, I decided it would forever be known simply as ‘Option 1’ – like some military codeword from the script of a cliché-ridden movie (“Sir, we have no choice. We need to enact Option One!”).

As a result, self-publishing my first ebook last week gave me enormous satisfaction.

Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc?

The book was certainly a while in coming. I wrote the bulk of it in a single week during December and have sat on it since (sometimes literally, as a test of the manuscript’s orthopaedic qualities). I’m not sure why I waited, but it felt like the work was missing a certain ‘something’.

Yes, I often thought about changes I wanted to make to the draft, but I also thought I needed some indefinable inspiration to complete it to the standard I wanted and expected.

In an effort to find that mythical inspiration, I instead worked on tweaking the balance between the competing commitments in my life. And it worked, in the sense that when I did start working on it again, I could do so consistently and to completion.

Ultimately though, that ‘something’ was me simply sitting down and getting back to work on it.

Needing Another Fix

Thanks to some assistance from others, as well as the tools provided by Amazon, the book is finally available for sale. I felt a huge sense of pride in seeing it go live, and now I know there are no barriers to getting more work listed in the Amazon store.

Thankfully, I have several (hopefully good) ideas for what that work could be!

What I’m Missing

A couple of days after publication I got an e-mail from Milo McLaughlin, who has continued to be a huge inspiration and source of help. Amongst other things, he said: “I hope the launch went well.” And it’s true that I did manage some sort of launch.

Friends and acquaintances showed a lot of goodwill, retweeting my Twitter announcement and sharing the link to the book on Amazon. But the truth remains that I don’t have an audience to speak of, so during the build-up I was only ever telling the same people about the book’s impending arrival. In other words, I certainly had no expectation of achieving massive sales!

Time Takes Time, You Know

I’ve only had an over-arching theme for this blog since Christmas and, as the recent post about pies(!) demonstrated, I haven’t fully explored its true potential. I’m working on it, but have to balance writing new posts with the pursuit of my larger projects, and all in the context of still wanting to do my day job.

What that doesn’t leave much time for is the business and marketing side of my writing.

But what is the use in continuing to produce work that doesn’t reach many eyes? Where is the right balance between writing and marketing? This Blogger platform works for me, but is it part of what is holding me back? Should it look more professional?

Should I be encouraging people to use the e-mail sign-up? Or is the problem more fundamental: do I have a mistaken view of the quality and usefulness of my work?

Six months is not a long time, and there are people who have worked on their creative identity full time for two, three, five years, or even more. I didn’t expect to be a renowned writer and blogger by now, but I thought I might have seen a few more results.

Take A Chance

Perhaps I need to experiment more, but I fear becoming irritating to the few people who do take notice of me. I don’t have the available time to consistently read and comment on more blogs and more websites – I would end up consuming all the time rather than creating! – but how do I otherwise attempt to forge meaningful connections with other people?

I want to get the other book ideas written and published. I want to have a catalogue of work available on Amazon, to give me the best chance of being taken seriously as the writer I aspire to be. I know I can continue doing that purely in my spare time.

‘Option 1’ can work in that sense. But if my ‘marketing’ is ineffective, do I need to consider turning part-time into full-time? What are my Options when it comes to getting my work read and noticed?

Sunday, 9 June 2013

The Pie’s The Limit

As this blog continues taking steps on its creative journey, I’ve come to realise that it’s lacking something.

Well, it’s probably lacking several things – some maybe more fundamental than others – but hopefully things I can change or fix as I learn more. But the immediate ‘thing’ I’ve realised it lacks is some actual fruitless work!

Thanks to limited time and a focus on bigger projects, I’ve neglected the recording of some of the random creative moments that were the original motivation behind the FruitlessWork theme. And in an effort to start rectifying that, I have something truly random to share.

Steak and Ale

Thanks to a conversation with a few friends about pies – involving some dubious pie-themed punnage – I was inspired (sorry, ins-pie-ered) to write the following:

I once met a certain Mr. Winton of televisual fame. He was trying to train his dog, but wasn't having much luck and was a bit down about it.
"He just won't do as he's told," Winton said to me.
I got him to give me a demonstration, and sure enough, when he asked the dog to wait, it wouldn't listen.
"I think it's the commands," said Dale. "I don't think 'stay' is good enough, he doesn't seem to like it. 'Stay' can't be used."
"Don't stress, fella," I replied. "I might know someone who can help you out. Don't use words like 'can't'. When it comes to commands that work, 'Stay' can, Dale."
I walked away, having an unexplained urge to go and buy a pie.

Perfectly silly, I’m sure you’ll agree. Needless to say, I immediately shared it with my friends and got to work thinking of another.

Chicken and Mushroom

I was reminded of the time I got stuck in a lift with a certain Mr. Dodd. It was a tiny lift, and we were in there for hours with only a few bottles of whisky to sustain us throughout the ordeal.
Alas, my temper could not survive the experience, and about 90 minutes in - when we were both very merry - I began to find the invasion on my personal space too much to bear. Slurring badly, I could contain my frustration no longer.
"Gee, Ken, ain' mush room," I attempted to say, before slumping in a corner and falling asleep through stress. For some reason, I dreamt of pies...

Feeling unjustifiably smug with the day’s work, I gave little further thought to other common pie flavours. They all seemed too much like hard work, and I expected my friends’ patience to wear as thin as a good shortcrust pastry.

Chicken Tikka

The next day, as if to somehow prove that ideas will spread if you show them to the right people, Martin (my team mate when we appeared on the quiz show Pointless) got in touch with his own e-mail.

I was once perusing the wares in a local antique store, looking for a specific item. I got in to a long and arduous argument with the proprietor as to whether the item I was looking for existed, and so we started going through catalogues and eventually the net to look at various dealer websites.
“So you’re looking for a tropical hardwood piece, with a particular pattern?” the proprietor confirmed.
“Yes,” I replied, “preferably something to do with young farmyard animals, in particular I’m a fan of roosting birds.”
“I really don’t think we’ll find anything, sir!” said the owner, exasperated. So I made a bet that if we found it he’d give me half price, and if we didn’t, I’d pay him anyway for his time.
Hours later:
“Wait!!” I exclaimed, happy to finally be able to win the bet and rub it in a bit, “look at that listing there! ...  Chick on Teak! Aaaah!” For some reason I went away dreaming of pies...

Chicken and Asparagus

All was quiet for a few hours, until the third participant in this conversation replied to us both. It took the whole pie ‘thing’ in an unexpected direction. Why?

Because he had a request.

Unbeknownst to Martin and me, he forwarded the previous e-mails to a few of his colleagues. And they apparently wanted to set a challenge or two… ‘Meat and potato’ was duly despatched with a slightly clumsy effort. ‘Fish pie’ was politely glossed over: there’s not much pun potential in those two words, and trying to come up with a punnable combination of any or all of cod, haddock, salmon, prawns and cheesy sauce proved to be a task beyond my wits.

Then somebody said they like chicken and asparagus...

Ken and Emma from the waterfowl farm sat in the car. Two of their birds were on the back seat, languid, as if they somehow knew their ultimate fate.
"I thought he was very rude," said Ken. "Never in all my years of selling to fast food restaurants have I been talked to like that."
"Okay, well, he was a she, for a start," said Emma, remaining rational. "At least you sold one of the geese to the other place. There's clearly a market for these chains to use better ingredients, so don't give up just yet."
"He didn't have to question the quality of what we were offering though!"
"Ken, it was a woman we were talking to. And it doesn't matter, I can still spin the story the right way in the press release."
"I think you should threaten a bad media story. What headline are you thinking of? He'd soon change his opinion if it meant good press..."
Emma sighed. "How many times? SHE, Ken! Nandos spare a goose?"
Ken grunted, refusing to say anything. He started the car and set off, for some reason thinking about pies.

I shouldn’t really have learnt anything from this entirely pointless and frivolous exercise. Yet, the unavoidable conclusion was that – possibly for the first time in my creative life – I had found a genuine audience for something I'd built from nothing.

It was a small audience, and the whole thing fizzled out after the adventures of Ken and Emma. Arguably, we simply knew when to stop! Regardless, it was wholly satisfying to have strangers reading something I’d written and (on some level at least) find it entertaining enough to want more. It was enough of an experience to make me believe it can happen again, and hopefully on a larger scale.

Half-Baked Fantasy

Once upon a time, I wanted to write a novel. When I look back on my efforts now, I am truly ashamed at the lack of imagination and technical ability on display. Non-fiction is definitely my preferred form of written expression.

Another result of crafting these silly tales, however, was to reignite the dormant passion for imagining stories. There was definitely something to be learnt from having an end point – the pie name in pun form – and then incorporating all the elements necessary for it to make some sort of sense (relatively speaking!).

In truth, it was probably closer to joke writing than fiction writing, but I always try to write with a sense of humour (even though honesty and earnestness sometimes mean that humour isn’t much in evidence…) and so I couldn't help but focus on the storytelling element.

I still doubt that I possess the ability to upscale the technique to novella or novel length fiction, but maybe one day I’ll consider trying to write a short story or two. Just to see what comes of it, of course.

After all, anything to help earn a crust…