creativity

On exploring point-and-shoot photography

I remember getting my first camera as a child. It was our first holiday to India at eight years old (I was born in India, but moved to New Zealand that same year so didn’t remember what it was like). My sister and I were both given these pink-on-pink Barbie cameras, and it was one of the presents I loved the most. The whole process of photography was exciting – finding things that interested me, framing the shot, hoping I hadn’t done anything wrong, and waiting to see how it turned out.

For me, photography has been just for fun, though like many I harbour a desire for professional skills. Like writing, I just never thought I’d be good enough (and also in this case, afford the gear), but this year I am moving forward in my own hands-on, experimental way. I am using 365Project as a way to encourage me to photograph every day, and will be signing up for the 100 Days Project for the same reason.

Thus far the photos I’ve taken have been digital photos taken on my phone, but I have bought an old 35mm film point-and-shoot camera off TradeMe (for non-kiwi readers, that’s our version of eBay), and am just waiting for the film to arrive. I look forward with a nostalgic glee to using an actual viewfinder, having to be creative with less control, and the cross-your-fingers-and-wait aspect of film photography. Fun times ahead!

My new old film camera!

 

Behind the Scenes, Children's Fiction, creativity, Depression & Anxiety, Thoughts & Ramblings

Long term thinking and believing in yourself

And following on from Monday’s little rant / big lesson… I was listening to Joanna Penn’s podcast the other day (which I haven’t been listening to as much as I used to), and it was an episode about author mindset. I think it was just after she’d released her book on that topic.

Anyway, she was being interviewed and she talked about one of the ‘problems’ that many indie authors have is not thinking long-term. When I finished The Caretaker of Imagination (TCOI), my intention was to keep publishing books in a loose series (which I have), at a rate of 3-4 per year (which I haven’t). She emphasised that if you stick with it, you’ll have a backlist in no time, and that’s the best thing you can do for your career.

Helen Wadsworth (whom I now work for) introducing my books at my first launch party.

Originally, my vision was that by my 31st birthday, in January 2020, I would have a backlist of about 20 books. This would be a solid platform for myself as an author.

So what went wrong? When writing TCOI, I was a bit nervous about my lack of writing experience, but confident that with constructive criticism, lots of editing, and my love of children’s literature I would be able to produce an acceptable book. I did, and then I wrote another one, Lucy’s Story: The End of the World, which I was actually really happy with (see video below).

And then I hit a snag. I received some very un-constructive criticism, and I started comparing my work unfavourably against others. I was told the way things were done, and they weren’t always what I was doing. I started taking any feedback that was given and using it to reinforce the belief that I sucked at writing. I started listening to the rules and becoming scared of breaking them. I wasn’t making a profit, and I took that as meaning I was a failure.

Because I’m stubborn, I dragged myself through a couple more books, but they took a long time, and I was dealing with the voice of self-doubt on a constant basis. I wasn’t as proud of them as I was of TCOI or of Lucy’s Story, because the criticism and rules of other people were always in the background, ready to speak up at the hint of any praise.

What comes to mind is that old adage – the best time to plant a tree is ten years ago; the next best time is today. If I’d stuck with my original schedule, I’d have about ten books in the series by now. I have four – not even halfway.

I don’t regret the non-fiction books I’ve published in the meantime, I love that I made time for painting, and for playing with zines. Both I Am A Writer and I Am An Artist were fun to write, helpful to other people (both children and adults, surprisingly), and it was a great opportunity to work with people whom I admire. But my day job is part time, and I only started studying this year. If it hadn’t let the criticism get to me, there’s no reason why I couldn’t have done both the fiction and non-fiction books.

Four of the artists from ‘I am an Artist’: Zee, Anna, Jane & Megan (photo credit: L. Simpson)

So this is me committing to myself. I know my books have value, and I know there are readers who love my weirdness. There are many, many more stories I want to tell, so I’m going to plant that tree today to grow my backlist, build a career that I am proud of, and contribute my unique voice to the literary landscape.

creativity

Spending time on creativity

In some ways, everything I do is creative – but in some ways it’s really not. Writing a book, drawing an illustration, painting a picture… these all sound creative, and by all means there is creativity in the process, but a lot of it is just doing the work (and supporting the work with admin and sales).

I’ve realised that my artist dates are like the days that I actually get to be creative. They’re one day in the week when I give myself permission to do whatever I want. I’m allowed to spend the day walking around a garden and ‘waiting for inspiration’, following that shiny new idea that’s been trying to distract me all week, or sitting in a cafe and writing about things that I might do someday. Or, if I feel like it, I can just let my feet (and mind) wander all day.

It’s a bit like that 20% rule of Google’s (that may or may not exist, but I like it in theory). Or in some schools, where they’re allowed one block a week to work on a ‘passion project’ or learn a new skill. I’m committing this time to myself on a weekly basis (though there’s bound to be the occasional day where I’ll choose to work instead, and that’s okay too).

zr southcombe zee eden garden artist date winter
At Eden Gardens, an exotic garden in the middle of suburban Auckland.

 

Behind the Scenes, creativity, Out & About

On artist dates and daily habits

I was introduced to the idea of an artist date from Julia Cameron, who wrote The Artist’s Way.  Spending a day on my own has always been something I’ve enjoyed, but it was nice to have a name for it, and to feel like there was more of a purpose than escapism.

From Julia Cameron’s website:

“The Artist Date is a once-weekly, festive, solo expedition to explore something that interests you. The Artist Date need not be overtly “artistic” — think mischief more than mastery. Artist Dates fire up the imagination. They spark whimsy. They encourage play. Since art is about the play of ideas, they feed our creative work by replenishing our inner well of images and inspiration. When choosing an Artist Date, it is good to ask yourself, “what sounds fun?” — and then allow yourself to try it.”

Often, I’ll go for a tramp*. I’ll pack a lunch, make a flask of tea, and make a day of it. I might stop and do a short meditation part-way through. Nature is incredibly inspiring for me, so I usually get back home physically tired, but mentally rejuvenated and emotionally  clear.

My weekly schedule is a bunch of part-time jobs: part artist & writer, part tutor, part student (and sometimes part bookshop assistant). What works for me is dedicating a day to a certain role. So, Mon-Thurs is tutoring in the afternoons, and the mornings are spent on my work in progress, accounting, exercise, housework, and networking – whatever needs to be done, really. Saturday is for my artist/writer role, and Sunday is for study. Friday is my ‘day off’.

So last Friday I caught a bus to Parnell and took myself out for brunch and a delicious tea (Nepal Masala by Tea Total). I spent the morning wandering around the museum, especially the natural history section. I realised I’d missed something from Ramble On – flightless birds! So even for that it was worth the visit. I then took a hot chocolate and sat outside, reading a book on crowdfunding (which I’m considering for Ramble On).

After that, I walked down to the Wintergardens and did some sketching. I’ve been commissioned to do some colouring art for a project by The Happiness Idea and Wellington Botanic Gardens so this was my research time. I found myself most fascinated by leaves, of all things! There were so many different shades of green, variations in shape and size, and intricate patterns. It was truly fascinating. I sat and sketched for about an hour, and then took a walk through the domain to town.

My two big aims at the moment are to rebuild my writing habit, and to exercise daily (especially for my half-marathon training, but also for my mental health). I bought two packs of stickers, so that every day I write 500 words, and every day I go for a walk or run, I get a sticker to celebrate each achievement.

I had a thoroughly good day, which felt like a bit of an adventure, so I’ll be aiming to take on the advice of Julia Cameron and make this a weekly endeavour. May the fun continue!

Linkies:

*hike

 

creativity, News, Thoughts & Ramblings, writing

The Freedom of Writing Non-Fiction / Making Art for Me

Last week I held a stall at the Oratia Markets with my mum. There was a wonderfully creative group of people, and one of them (a visual artist) and I started talking about art, and art careers, and art education.

Her son’s an artist too, and she said that he’d become disillusioned with, and cynical of, the art world (which can be easy to do, unfortunately).

But there is a happy ending – when we make art for ourselves first, that is when it is successful.

When I started writing, I wanted my stories to be something that a younger version of myself would have loved, and that’s what I kept in mind as I was writing The Caretaker of Imagination, and Lucy’s Story. It wasn’t about following the rules or taking genre guidelines into account.

But when I started drafting the third book, Beyond the End of the World, I also started thinking more about what I should (and shouldn’t) be doing.

My writer-friend Cassie (J.C. Hart) labels these “should-isms”. They should be avoided, squashed, or otherwise destroyed.

You may have noticed that I’ve taken a HUGE break from my fiction. My last release was in June 2016, and I didn’t make much of a deal about it. I then got about a third of the way into a new draft, and put it aside.

I decided to take a break from it because I wasn’t happy, and I didn’t know why. I didn’t want to know why, I just wanted it to be okay again. While I was letting those feelings settle, I worked on non-fiction instead (I’m pretty good at avoidance strategy). For some time, I’d wanted to do a sort of memoir about my ‘journey’. This morphed into an art course, which morphed into an art book.

I am an Artist was born, and it has become something I am incredibly proud of. It is inspiring, encouraging, down to earth, and practical.

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I’m now working on I am a Writer and a small non-fiction series about writing, starting with Where Do Ideas Come From?  These books are specifically for other people. They come from the things that I get asked at school visits and by my non-writer friends.

Having these books that are written for others frees up space for me to write my fiction just for me.

Now I can treat my fiction-writing the way I treat my art-making: it doesn’t actually matter what other people think about it, as long as it tangibilises the emotional blueprint I have planned for it. The people who resonate with the ideas in my writing will love it, and the people who don’t will find other things that they do resonate with.

And that’s totally okay.

What lessons have you learnt about writing? Do you write just for you, or for a specific audience?

You can purchase my work from Felt or Etsy.