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Goals, Dreams and To-do Lists

All three of the above things are a big part of being successful in any creative or business field so I thought I’d talk about all three, what they are, how they fit together and how to make the most of them, especially from a creative perspective.

Dreams are the things that make us get excited and buzzed, they’re a big part of living life and pretty much everyone has them. Often they consist of things like getting married and having kids but they also include things like writing novels, making movies and starting a business.

From that point dreams can get even more specific. You can dream of starting a business that eventually makes millions a year, or owning a bookshop chain across the country, or making the NYT bestseller list with a novel. They’re still dreams though as a lot of different factors need to come together to make them happen and not all of them are in your control.

Goals are milestone markers on the way to getting your dreams, but controllable by you. So if you were starting a business, the first goal might be to get your product and unique selling point defined, your next goal might be have your product in a shop of some kind, the next might be obtain an advertising plan so people can hear about you.

If you were doing something creative, it might be get a gallery worth of finished paintings, or write a series of novels. Either way, goals should be achievements that get you closer to those dreams, but something you can control and see yourself getting towards. It should be something relatively measureable, but it can still be a long-term thing and take years of effort to get to.

That’s where to-do lists come in. Sometimes each goal is huge and breaking it down into a list of tasks to tackle one by one can make the dreams and goals come closer inch by inch. It gives you something to focus on today in the here and now that isn’t as scary and overwhelming as dreaming of the NYT bestseller list or a million pound company.

Say that you’ve got your product and know why it’s good but you aren’t sure how to get the shop side of things going. The to-do list would make that easier. You can break down your goal into tasks, like:

  • Approach ‘this relevant’ shop chain about stocking your product.
  • Research the cost of getting a website set up to sell through.
  • Get website set up/Raise funds to pay someone else
  • Set up a facebook page that takes orders (or other useful social media)
  • Set up an Ebay account to sell through
  • Promote a launch event either physically or digitally (dependent on product)

Some of those can be broken down into smaller tasks again, but it gives the general idea, and each day when you get up you’ll have something you can work towards without worrying about how far you are from the dream. Before you know it you’ll have some of those goals passed (I fully believe in rewarding yourself at each milestone), and be well on your way to seeing your dream become a reality.

There will be tough days, there always are when you’re chasing dreams, but on those days I try to make sure a little something is done towards the goals and to-do list, even if it’s just to write a few more words of a story. Every day chipping away adds up until, step by step, you’ve reached the end. I personally don’t like making to-do lists, but time and time again, making one has helped my brain get through the fog of having a goal and feeling like I can’t get there. And there’s something amazingly satisfying about ticking things off to-do lists.

So if you have something that you’ve always dreamt of, work out what the exact dream is, break it down into milestones along the way and start making a to-do list of tasks to get you to that first goal. Then every day until you reach that goal, do something towards those tasks. And most importantly, keep dreaming.

Writer’s block

I’ve been asked quite a few times what I think of writer’s block and how often I get it so I thought I’d post about it on my blog.

I don’t actually believe in writer’s block as such. I actually just think one of two things happens. We either get worn out creatively and need to recharge our memory banks with experiences or we get distracted too easily. Both can slow down a writing schedule alone but when both strike together it can pretty much kill a well planned schedule. I know that from first hand experience. As I write this I’m actually struggling with both. My creative capacity feels dry and I just don’t seem to have any motivation to ignore the many distractions trying to get my attention.

Today I want to talk about ways to refill that creative well and get the new ideas and juices flowing again.

The first thing I try when struggling is a good old fashioned walk. I know where all the good walks are near my house for good and bad weather. I also find walking to a coffee shop can help but sometimes it’s just good to get out the house and let the brain dwell on anything else it might want to process before it can get back to my complicated plots and character’s lives. The sunshine is also really good and stops me appearing quite such a pasty faced geek.

If that doesn’t work I’ll take a day or two off and indulge in all my hobbies. Anything that might put ideas into the pot, like reading books, watching films and playing computer games. It’s important that there is inspiration coming into the mix and fresh ideas so I usually find this is a good time to read, watch or play something a bit more out there and different to my usual fare.

If that still leaves me feeling uninterested or uninspired I switch to one of my other creative pursuits. Either clothes design or drawing or anything else that’s different enough I can get the pressure off and try and create without deadlines or need for it to be any good. If pressure or worry about something not being good enough has been the killer of my creativity then this works a charm.

Finally, if I’m still struggling after all that I’ll consider my options carefully. I may just need some more time off because it’s stress that’s caused the problems. I may just need to recharge and talk to people, or I may need to just give myself a good kick up the butt and get working again. Very very occasionally I might need to stop the project I’m struggling with and come back to it a few months down the line. Sometimes the timing just isn’t right.

Either way. It usually get’s resolved eventually. Now I’m off to play some games…

Regrets

I recently read a blog by author Bobbi Holmes about death and she mentioned that it had made her wonder if family of deceased authors read the books they wrote because they realise the author has left something of themselves behind.

It made me think, especially about the idea that something of us goes into our art, and that it’s an important part of us. My words have me in them, and anyone who reads them is connecting with me, even if they are the other side of the planet.

As a writer I know it means a lot to me when people I care about take the time to appreciate my art. There’s very little that says I value you more than someone taking the time to read something I put hours of my time, countless emotions, and a small part of some vulnerable inner place.

I sometimes wonder how many people realise that something like this goes into the creative process and I wonder how many realise it too late. I Know if it was me I would struggle with feelings of regret. I would regret not reading while they were alive, and I’d regret not telling them if I appreciated it, but most of all I would regret how I hadn’t let them know I cared, that I wanted to get to know them.

So today I want to remind myself to appreciate the creativity of the people I care about, to do something that let’s them know I care, to take an interest in them and try to ensure that when they are gone, I’ve one less possible regret.

Artistic creativity vs logical creativity

This is one of those subjects I’ve debated several times in person and one that was struck up by some friends recently on twitter. I chose not to really get involved on twitter as I hate debating on such a limited social network but I am not great at leaving this topic of conversation alone.

From what I can gather the rough comment that sparked the debate was – Logical people can be creative, but it’s creativity within logic. Creatives can be creative outside this.

I mostly agree with this statement although the outside this is a little ambiguous and does imply a lesser creativity is harnessed by logic to the creativity harnessed by artistic means. That part I don’t agree with. Both are important and needed in life.

Let’s start with the fundamanetal of what a person does whether aristic or logical, making a song or writing code. Both types of people are taking a blank canvas of some kind and are filling it. They are taking nothing and turning it into something, therefore on the basic level something has definitely been created!

The biggest difference is why they are doing so. A logical person probably has some kind of job (or is studying for one) that involves taking a problem, like how to stop all the harmful gas in a mine being leaked into the air or how can we make a more efficient car that runs more cheaply for an average family. There is a problem and solving it provides some kind of gain to our way of life, preserving the planet, saving us money, saving lives etc.

An artistic person can create for a much wider set of reasons (not necessarily more or less important). They might feel hurt and wish to create something that comforts others in similar situations, they might feel it necessary to challenge a particular worldview or opinion to ensure humanity doesn’t go down a dark path. They might not even know why they are creating but feel the need to do so anyway and express what’s inside them in the hope to gain clarity.

Notice in the logical examples it is some kind of physical need, in the artisitc examples it is all centered around feelings, emotions and morals.  This is what is drawn on to create our new thing, whatever it is. An artist often draws on the emotional side of things to create, often creating their best work when they have freely explored that emotion, often in a very unlogical way (the brain often just dredges up all the associated experiences they’ve ever had that relate in no logical order).

A logical person sometimes has a brief of what their project has to do and they set about thinking through how that is going to be solved. Often the process going on in their brain is as subconscious as the process going on in an artistically creative’s brain. They are trying to come up with the best solution to the problem but often their emotions are unengaged. My husband frequently tells me that he can’t code and think about coding while angry or even happy. He has to focus on something that is neither of those and similar to the process of solving a sudoku he goes through a bunch of logical steps (drawing on previous knowledge and understanding often subconsciously) to solve the task.

Then comes the editing side of things, A coder checks for bugs and might tweak code to make it more simplistic – the aim is an elegant coding that solves every part of the initial problem. Again another rather logical process. It’s not a fun stage of things. It requires being critical and deliberately looking for flaws.

A songwriter tweaks odd words, and checks for jarring notes – the aim is a graceful piece of music and lyrics that conveys the message it’s meant to. It can seem more logical. It is when all the technique and knowledge is applied but it’s still done from an emotional position. If a word can be changed because the new word conveys more of the emotion intended it is. Words have meaning which goes beyond face value. They drudge up memories, thoughts and associations that the artistically creative draw upon. The same with colours, textures and visual effects. This can often be a painful process for the artistic. They are looking at the creation that has often come from a very vulnerable emotional part of them and they are examining it critically for flaws.

The wonderful part is both logical creativity and aristic creativity brings satisfaction to the creator once it is complete. Both have strived for beauty and elegance in what they have created and both get the same sense of achievement when they manage it, they have simply done so by drawing on different states of mind. One the logical need to solve a problem, the other the emotional need to solve what is also considered a problem of some sort. The problems are just set by different things physical needs or emotional/moral needs.

It also comes intuitively. Neither task requires the problem solver to tell their brain which method of creativity to use. I’ve never had to sit down with a sudoku and tell my brain to turn off it’s emotions and just apply the logical things it’s learnt. It knows to do that. Likewise I never have to sit down to write a poem and tell my brain to focus on the relevant emotion. It knows to do that.

Most of the time we find ourselves better at one of these processes than the other, either drawing on our emotions or the logical knowledge we’ve picked up during our life. They both come with their stereotypes. The mad scientist who forgets everything but the speed of light and spends hours studying light’s properties but ten seconds putting their clothes on and the artistic person who doesn’t care if they’ve eaten as long as they’ve made the world think about the importance of love.

Different but both important and, in their own ways, both beautiful.

How to change the world

Let’s face it, one of the big reasons people create is to make the world a different place. We want our viewpoint on the way the world should work to be listened to and we want to influence nations for the better (at least I definitely do) and while this can seem like a daunting task; the world is a pretty big place. Here’s some things I’ve learnt on how the world is changed.

Now I bet you’ve heard the idea of you want to change the world you have to start with yourself and while this idea is mostly true. In terms of creating, often what’s in the core of us comes out, so it does make sense but it’s not entirely all about being good intentioned.

Recently I’ve been rewatching the TV series the 4400 and in this series a whole bunch of people are abducted from varying times and then all brought back at once with an extra funky super power each. The first one of these to realise what his super powers is accidentally kills someone with it when he gets angry. The next one gets killed by a bunch of thugs for trying to clean up a park in a small neighbourhood.

Now you’d think these were changes for the bad but the series goes on to show that both of these actually led to positive results. In the first case the guy who was killed has been running a billion dollar fraud scam thingy and him dieing saves the government those billions. In the second case the community around the small park all see that they’ve let their own neighbourhood go to ruin and band together to sort it out again.

In short each one of the actions creates ripples of good, spreading out from the original action. Now, of course we can’t go around killing people but we can do things like clean up stuff and smile at people as we pass them, which is a bit more like changing ourselves but an action based version of it.

And I can guess at this point that you’re probably thinking, how on earth is smiling at someone going to change the whole world (or making that small painting or writing that poem etc) but that’s where the ripple effect idea becomes amazing. No one every smiles just once or creates just one painting. We smile to people all the time and we create in lots of ways. Also the people who’s days are brightened by our smile might then go say something positive to one of their employees which might give them the confidence to try that something they’ve always wanted to but thought might be too difficult and so on. Once a ripple starts there’s no way of knowing how far it gets and how many lives it effects on the way.

Think of an empty swimming pool and yourself standing by the side. It’s perfectly calm and then you drop a pebble into it (that poem you wrote) and another when you smiled at someone. There’s now some movement. You start dropping an assortment of differing sized rocks and pebbles into the swimming pool, the bigger ones to represent the things that had a bigger impact on the people around you.

Then one of the people you’ve effected comes and joins you, also flinging their own pebbles and rocks in and then someone they’ve effected comes and joins in and another of your own and this keeps happening until the pool is surrounded by people chucking stuff in. It’s not going to be still anymore. It’s going to be loud and chaotic and, chances are, the water is going to spill over and get people wet, because all the rocks and pebbles are going to fill up the space the water was in before, and the water will overflow and start running over the floor. On top of that, even if all the rocks were removed the water would never quite be able to go back the way it was. It’s changed and can’t ever go back.

A single person may only be able to make ripples, but they can change the world, one ripple effect at a time.

Freedom of Speech, Creativity and Wikileaks

I really really think freedom is important. As a lot of people are already well aware I’m quite vocal about my dislike of the trafficking rise lately and the twenty seven million people who are slaves in the world at the moment.

Today I’d like to talk about another form of freedom; Freedom of Speech. I actually believe that freedom of speech and openness in opinions is important in any world trying not to be corrupt. I also think as a creative person that freedom of speech is important. If our ability to speak out against things is hampered then so is our art and that can begin the descent of a very slippery slope in which just for creating the wrong thing someone can be jailed.

As a creative it’s important to me to be able to write, draw or paint about anything I feel is in my heart to do so. I can’t stifle the opinions of a piece or I’m stifling my very core. By bringing these potentially contentious opinions out in the open it allows for discussion and progression, and I’m not the only one who thinks it’s more important to create without that kind of restraint, here’s a few quotes:

“The only real way to be creative is to create. Without attachment to outcome. Without attachment to sales figures or blog hits. Without caring about the ways in which your work is dissected, criticized or loved. But with a keen, overwhelming, burning, passionate focus on what it is you long to say more than anything in the world. That’s the thing. That’s the only thing.” – Patti Digh

“When it comes to fiction, the writer’s only responsibility is to look for the truth inside their own heart. It won’t always be the reader’s truth, or the critic’s truth, but as long as it’s the writer’s truth – as long as he or she doesn’t truckle, or hold out his or her hat to Fashion – all is well” –  Stephen King

Writing is a struggle against silence.  – Carlos Fuentes

Creating is important to creative people, we often feel like our lives wouldn’t be worth living if we couldn’t create and if we are bounded by other people’s opinions of what we should create about we’re stifled and stopped from creating.

I feel that this relates to things like Wikileaks. Wikileaks have spent the last few years exposing corruption in corporations and governments and anything else they get handed. They’ve said what a lot of people have expected all along and proved it. They are being brave and speaking out against people doing bad things. This should be a good thing and I think artistic people should be doing it too.

The problem has arisen in the response of the corrupt people. They’ve done everything they can to slander and ruin the people brave enough to speak out. The recent release from wikileaks is the start of 5.5 million emails from the private investigation company Stratfor and it’s customers, in a lot of cases US government officials or investigation bureaus.

These emails discuss the US wanting to bankrupt Assange and have him charged with something so they can extradite him to the US and charge him with espionage, all because he revealed their dirty secrets. Below is a quote from one of the emails here:

“I think it’s very difficult to indict him on anything though.
MAYBE espionage, but even those laws are still too old. I think
your FBI contact is right (sadly). the US can really only get the
person who did the leak, not who published it–George also pointed
this out over the weekend.

What would the sealed indictment be for?

(this is also why they will get him on some other charges in
another country….)”

This email is between what appears to be a group of people including Stratfor representatives, Fred Burton who is considered an expert on terrorism and security against them and possibly the FBI. The email discusses all sort of ways they might be able to get Assange arrested directly and remove him from the public sphere.

Another email chain released yesterday speculates on Bradley Manning who supposedly was the source for one of the major leaks (note he’s not been charged, just held in prison for almost two years in what amounts to torturous conditions) and what’s going to happen to him? It seem Stratfor thinks he’ll get the death penalty. That’s right folks, The US government is considering killing someone for sourcing files that show the world they were up to no good! Files which the pentagon say have put no one in any extra danger (despite some newspaper claims which were later redacted, although a Guardian reporter leaked the security code for over 250k unredacted files in an ebook)

There is also another set of emails written by Fred Burton, and others within Stratfor, full of vitriole and hatred towards Assange saying about ruining him before he’s arrested. Also they want to have him extradited to the US, where a secret Jury now meets, with no defense lawyers for Assange, working out whether he should be convicted for anything.

Basically looking at the emails currently released that mention Assange or Bradley Manning these Americans think that they’re taking down an egotistical maniac that has dared to threaten their country and everyone connected to him, in the hopes that they’ll be cutting the head off the hydra and it won’t grow more.

Simply put I don’t think we should stand for this. It affects anyone who wants to expose corruption and stand up for what they believe in! The US government is reacting badly to something they should be apologising for. The shouldn’t be trying to ruin the people who dared to question the use of their authority. So in light of that I’ll stand by the wikileaks folks and be counted. Assange may be at the top but a lot of people think their work is important, me included.

If you want to donate to wikileaks you can do so here and if you want to help go through all the published leaks and pull out relevant info to write articles you can also do that here

You can also sign up to the website here to become a friend of wikileaks and help band with them.