inspiration

Practising in public

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Last night while drinking champagne and eating crackers with soft cheese and slices of fresh tomato (topped with ground salt and black pepper), my friend Tonia and I got to chatting about bell-ringers and how they manage to stop those giant bells from tolling past the designated number on any given hour. (Do you know how they do it?)

Creatively inspired by the champagne and the lateness of the hour, we came up with all kinds of theories, ranging from shoving some kind of giant feather duster up in between the clapper* and the inside of the bell, to having a second bell-ringer whose job it was to catch hold of the bell as it swung and then hold it there (perilously, in our imaginings, tilting over the edge of a bell-tower while holding back a giant brass bell with all their apparently-considerable strength). I have my suspicions that our theories would not hold water in a peer-reviewed study, but they filled our evening with laughter. 

And somewhere in the midst of all this my brain, probably once again influenced by the champagne and the late night, made the leap from creative theorising on bell-ringers to creative inspiration in general to Quasimodo and the way jobs that were once intensely private (like bell-ringers in Notre Dame) were now as open to the world as anyone else (thanks to the Internet and in particular social media) to the way many artists are now using this phenomenon to practise in public and build a tribe or community of like-minded supporters around them (these thoughts followed one another in the space of about five seconds, by the way)... to oh yes! I am teaching a course about this! Let's talk about practising in public on the blog! 

Which brings us to the present. 

Most of the time when I work with clients, teach my Create With Confidence course, or even teach my Beautiful Letter course, we focus on what is going on for the person on the inside, on the challenges and joys that make up a person's creative life.

At some point, though, most people begin to look outward, to what needs to happen when they want to share their creative work, or promote their creative work, or even sell their creative work. But to do this, they need to get comfortable with the idea of other people seeing their creations... and even with others seeing their creations before they are absolutely perfect. Eep!

This can bring up all sorts of fears and insecurities, but I think it is important that, if we ever plan to share our work with the public, we get used to sharing it before we deem it perfect. 

Why? Because if you wait until your creations are perfect, you might never share them. After all, even great and successful artists often cringe at their work:

  • In 1908, Monet destroyed at least 15 of his major works just before they were due to be exhibited in the Durand-Ruel gallery
  • Franz Kafka burned 90 percent of his writings and instructed in his Will that the rest was to be burned unread. The only reason we have Kafka's works today is because his friend ignored his wishes
  • Billy Joel said of his 1989 hit We Didn’t Start the Fire that “That melody is horrendous. It’s like a mosquito droning. It’s one of the worst melodies I’ve ever written.”
  • Woody Allen hated his classic movie Manhattan so much that he begged United Artists not to release it, and even offered to do another movie for free just to stop it from being released 
  • Harper Lee tossed the manuscript for one of the world's most beloved novels, To Kill a Mockingbird, out the window
  • I once read that Picasso had been banned from certain galleries for trying to ‘fix’ his own paintings 

The only reason we have these great works today is because the artists ultimately shared their work, despite their misgivings. (Even Kafka refrained from burning that final 10 percent of his work).

One of the best ways to get comfortable with sharing your work before it is 'perfect' is to start by practising in public, so that's where I like to start, too...

Most performers understand the art of practising in public really well. No musician quietly practises vocals and guitar in the privacy of their bedroom for years, only to emerge one day ready to take the band on tour and perform for crowds of thousands. Normally, they practise a few songs and when the songs don't suck, they get a gig: something like Uncle Norm and Aunty Glennis' 60th wedding anniversary, or a high school parade. Bit by bit, they do more of these "friends and family" gigs, learning more songs and improving their skills and understanding how to perform to a group (rather than the mirror).

Over time, maybe they get some gigs at local pubs and RSL clubs. The regulars come to know them, and know their songs. Maybe the musician tries out some of their own music at these gigs, alongside the well-known classics. They learn which songs connect and which ones don't, and tweak their compositions when they see they're losing people's attention. Bit by bit the gigs improve: some corporate hotel work here to pay the bills; a support act for a friend who is launching an album there; playing or singing backup for a more established singer now to pay more of the bills... 

By the time most of the musicians we have heard of "make it," they have been practising in public for five or ten years, or more.

I read an article recently that said, "The creative impulse fundamentally involves connecting with other people, even if we don’t recognize it."

My husband often asks me about this. I sometimes write the most niche of stuff. A magical realism novella about an old man? A book about snail mail? I am well aware that the books I write are not mass market or even mediocre market sellers. "So why bother at all?" my husband asks me. "Just write for yourself." And I reply, "Because I want to share."

This is what Jeff Goins, the author of Real Artists Don't Starve, has to say about the need to share (and the ickiness of self promotion):

"We all need our work to resonate with someone; our art needs an audience. The way the Starving Artist attempts this is by working in private, secretly hoping to be discovered some day. She spurns the need for an audience and chooses to suffer for her work instead, holding out for that lucky moment when someone stumbles upon her genius. The Thriving Artist, on the other hand, chooses a different path: she shares her work by practising in public. Not by being sleazy or self-promotional but by letting people simply watch her work."

In other words, by practising in public. Here's why I think we should put our work out there:

It's an act of generosity

Sharing your work in public before it is 'perfect' is an act of generosity. Instead of presenting yourself to the world as the answer to your particular niche, you share your journey and your progress, which is an open invitation for them to share theirs, as well.

You'll find a community

This means that practising in public is also a way to find like-minded friends, building around you a community of people who feel personally invested in your work, and who genuinely want you to succeed. It's by sharing that you will find people who can provide aid, advice, encouragement and support on your creative journey.

Your community is cheering you on, asking when you'll share the next thing you made, asking how you achieved that particular technique, sharing their own work, and sharing their own techniques. When you practise your work in public in this way, your generosity attracts the kind of camaraderie that is usually found in a workshop or class.

You'll hone your abilities

It's not just the sharing of your work in public that is important, it's the practising. At the same time that you are attracting this community, this audience who cares about what you are sharing, practising in public is also enabling you to hone your abilities.

"It's not just the fact that she did her work in public that made [her success] happen," Goins said of cartoonist Stephanie Halligan. "It's that she practised, gradually getting better and allowing her audience to see that progress." (Halligan shares the story of how practising in public turned into a global platform and a full-time job, here).

Your confidence will grow

The more you share in public, the more confident you will be. Like the musician who first started out at their aunty's and uncle's wedding anniversary: that first 'gig' was probably terrifying! But I'm willing to bet it got easier over time. This will be the case for you, too.

Gentle accountability

If you struggle with motivation or staying the path, practising in public is a wonderful way to hold yourself accountable.

If you commit to a 100-day challenge all by yourself, it won't be easy to stay the course when the going gets tough or life gets busy. But if you make an announcement in public that you have committed to this 100-day challenge, and if you share the results of that challenge every day for 100 days, people will cheer you on, and they will be watching for you, and rooting for you, and holding you (gently) accountable to keep going.

* I had to look up 'clapper.' Now my Google history shows "what is the name of the donging bit in a bell?" I wonder what the aliens would think about us if they read our Google histories. 

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This piece on practising in public is a sneak-peek adaptation from the introductory copy to my Sales & Social Masterclass for Makers online course, which launches this September. I created the masterclass originally for students in my Create With Confidence course, but the content was so big it needed to have its own space, and I have to confess I am really proud of the result. Here's a super-quick overview:

What's in it

The Sales & Social Masterclass for Makers is incredibly practical, guiding people through all the ins and outs and options they need to consider when it comes to all kinds of things about going public, including understanding the psychology behind a personal brand, finding your "right people" online, navigating social media (including choosing your platform and protecting your privacy), launching a newsletter, pitching stories to the media, building a website, blogging in 2018, and learning how to sell (both in craft markets and also online).

Community and publicity support

For people wanting to find like-minded community, I have created a Facebook group where we can all share our experiences, seek help through our hurdles and celebrate our wins, and I'll host challenges on there that help people find accountability and support in various elements of the masterclass content. I'll also launch what I'm calling the Naomi Loves Marketplace, a regular feature on my Instagram Stories during which I'll share anything the participants are making, doing or selling, to my audience. 

Wise words from people already doing this (well)

I'll leave you now with some words of wisdom from some of the experts I interviewed for the making of this masterclass... 

“As small makers or creatives we have a huge advantage over the big companies when it comes to social media. You know those big brands that spend a fortune on creating a 'friendly' marketing tone with a team of people replying on twitter like you're best friends? They're trying to fake being like us.” - Sara Tasker of Me & Orla on social media for creatives
“Tell us what you want to achieve with your work or story and tell us more about your style. What feelings do you want to evoke with your work or story? How did you come up with this? What is your inspiration? What material did you use? You don’t have to write a book or a long letter about your work or story, but some personal details can make a difference.” - Journalists from Flow Magazine on pitching to magazines
“Deliver what you have promised, plus a little bit more. Delight your customers, look after them, treat them as friends, and be grateful for their interest in you and the things you make. Every single time an order comes in, I am thankful to that person.” - Brenner Lowe of Boots Paper on selling online
“I find the format of newsletters really exciting. It is personal. Intimate, even, a bit like podcasts. There’s a degree of trust that people give you by voluntarily sharing their email addresses with you, and that can make this format feel a lot more familiar than, say, social media.” - Sophie Hansen of Local is Lovely and My Open Kitchen on writing compelling newsletters
“Add height to your stall. Use boxes, small suitcases, anything you can find and adapt that will add height and dimension to your stall. This will make it a lot more interesting and inviting than a simple flat table.” - Dee Wild of Wild About Melbourne on how to sell your handmade goods at markets
“In the last few months I’ve heard voices become louder and louder. They don’t just want ‘micro-blogs’ like Instagram. They want to read articles and essays with soul. Well-written, thoughtful pieces that engage and inspire. I’m constantly looking for bloggers with something interesting to say – and I know other people are, too.” - Helen Redfern of A Bookish Baker on blogging in 2018

If you like the sound of the Sales & Social Masterclass for Makers and would like to join in or learn more, there's a whole lot of information right here, or just feel free to send me an email.

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Mindfulness walking

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Recently on our morning walks to school, Scout and I have started practising what we call 'mindfulness walking'. Essentially, it is paying attention to our senses while we walk, rather than allowing the path to roll away underneath our feet, unnoticed.

It starts when I ask a simple question: "What can you see?" 

We get all the obvious things out of the way first: trees, cars, houses... but then slowly we start to really notice what is around us. A man carrying what looks like a very heavy stack of metal poles, on his shoulder. The way the wind makes the leaves on a gum tree in the middle of a roundabout sway like a dance. A cloud that looks like an elephant wearing roller-skates. 

I ask, "What can you hear?" We walk a little further, hand in hand. 

A drill from a nearby building site, passers-by talking to one another. A flock of birds that swoops past, screeching. We continue walking. "I can sort of hear the wind pushing past my ears," Scout says. I say, "I can just hear our footsteps." We start to notice other things: the hum of an air conditioner on a building, a helicopter in the distance, the clanking of unseen dishes inside someone's house, the soft whoosh of bicycle tyres as they pass us by. 

I ask, "What can you smell?"

We smell car exhaust and the tinder tang of fired metal on the building site. Fresh coffee. A garbage bin. We stop and crush leaves between our fingers. "Lemon!" cries Scout. And then of another, "Um, kind of herby?"

Mostly we are at school by now but if there is time, I ask, "What can you feel?" The way the ground under our feet changes from smooth footpath to uneven cobblestones to sand to spongy grass. The warm sun on our faces. The cool breeze making goosebumps rise on our arms. The fabric of our clothes: is it soft? Or scratchy? A pebble in my shoe. School bag straps chafing shoulders. 

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Of course this is more than a pleasantly curious way to pass the time. What Scout and I are practising on these walks is mindfulness in its most basic and simple of forms. We are simply paying attention, without passing judgement. And there is something rather special to be said about paying attention, being present in the moment, and indulging in some good, old-fashioned curiosity.

There are loads of benefits to practising mindfulness and I'm sure you've heard them before. Things like reduced stress, improved memory, better focus, and less emotional reactivity. But what these walks are also doing is giving our brains some exercise in the area that houses the 'salience network,' a network of brain circuitry that helps us decide what to pay attention to, and what to ignore. This process is called 'latent inhibition' and it just so happens to have a big impact on creativity, an area in which I work and teach. 

Latent inhibition is our subconscious deciding what, from the cacophony of sensory stimuli that we are exposed to in any given second, to take in, and what to ignore. Imagine if our brains gave equal weight to everything we saw, heard, smelled, touched and tasted, at the same time, all the time. The world would be almost unbearably loud and bright, something I imagine akin to standing in the middle of the traffic in the middle of New York Times Square during rush-hour (and possibly just as deadly). I've heard that some research studies have linked a reduction in latent inhibition to psychosis, and that doesn't surprise me one bit. 

On the other hand, a conscious, deliberate, mindful reducing of our latent inhibitions, during something like a mindfulness walk, can be powerfully beneficial. A research study of individuals with high IQ scores found that those who were also classified as "eminent creative achievers" were seven times more likely to have low, rather than high, latent inhibition scores. As the researchers put it, people who were less likely to classify sounds or objects as irrelevant were at an advantage when it came to producing creative, original content.

So by the simple act of paying attention during a walk, Scout and I are exercising our brains, and giving them permission to notice and give relevance to our surroundings. This in turn leads to more creative thinking in all areas of life, from artistic expression to problem-solving and innovation. 

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(Side note: speaking of paying attention, here is something I have noticed in the picture above. Because of the time of day, the shadows were right in front of this gardener and you can hardly see them. Look at her feet. Does something seem wrong? No shadows! It kind of looks like I have photoshopped her in from some other picture, and failed to add in grounding shadows. I didn't, this shot is unedited, but it is driving me crazy. For people who ask me about painting tips, this is why shadows - even soft ones - can make a big difference to a scene.)

After my mindfulness walk with Scout this morning, I decided I would write about it, so I kept my iPhone out to take some pictures of things I noticed, too, during my solitary walk to pick up the mail and get my morning coffee. At one point, I leant across a fence to photograph some beautiful, peeling paint on a brick wall (something I had walked past more than 100 times before and never properly noticed) and, as I leaned, I accidentally crushed some rosemary. The honeyed, herbaceous fragrance instantly lifted my spirits, so I picked a sprig and carried it with me the rest of the way.  

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What to do on a mindfulness walk 

The next time you take a solitary walk - or a walk with the children if they are willing - take at least some of that time to try a deliberate mindfulness practise. Here are some ideas to get you started: 

1. Bring a piece of paper and pen with you, and start recording things. List 10 things you can see, 10 things you can hear, 10 things you can smell, and 10 things you can feel. There probably won't be 10 things you want to taste, but don't let me hold you back if that's your thing! I have made a pretty worksheet for this exercise that you can download here if you'd like it. 

2. Take a camera and go for a walk to see what you can see. I have been recommending this as a tool for overcoming creative block for years. There is something about the combination of exercise, a change of scenery, and exercising creativity in a different kind of way that can often be just the break your brain needs to unblock whatever was stopping you in your project. Walking with a camera can also be a beautiful way to practise mindfulness, because you are more likely to notice things. Really pay attention, and make the effort to capture what you see. Think about light and shadows and details. Crouch down to get a different perspective. Zoom in closer for some detail. Look for unexpected shapes in building angles and white space. 

3. Make a mini-movie by recording one-second videos every minute or so on your walk. Then when you get home, edit them together. You will be amazed, once you start recording, the sounds and sights you hadn't noticed until that moment. Possibly when you watch your edited movie back, you will also realise there were other things going on at the time (a woman pushing a pram on the other side of the road while you were filming a letter-box; a bus starting up from around the corner while you were filming a bird singing) and that will help you be even more mindful the next time you go walking. 

4. Just before you go for your walk, use your phone (or any other device) to make an audio recording of your walk. You don't need to do anything with this recording - you can even delete it as soon as you're done - but the very fact that you are recording will heighten your awareness of the sounds around you, and help you to pay attention. The bang of the front door as you pull it shut (even the click of the lock), a magpie warbling, the squeal of car tyres somewhere in the distance, bees on a bush, a baby crying, snippets of conversations. 

I would love to know if you find these ideas helpful, or if there is anything similar that you do in your own life, that others could benefit from knowing. What do you think? 

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Horizons (+ podcasts for creatives)

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Somewhere on the road in between Swansea and Binalong Bay, as the past four days of clouds scuttled out to sea and the tiny coastal towns rolled away behind us in fresh new sunshine, my own horizons began to open up, too.

Because, of course, holidays are as good for the mind as they are for the body. Bogged down in the everyday needs of meetings and deadlines and parenting and just, well, life, I couldn't see the path forward, and I had no idea what to do. I was so desperately unhappy in the work I was doing, but my financial obligations to my family meant I didn't have a whole lot of choice. Writing was the only thing I knew how to do that would earn me a 'real' income, and copywriting was the most reliable way to earn that income, but boy was it taking its toll. I was bored, tired, uninspired and unenthusiastic, and resented every second I gave to that work, which took me away from my children and from doing the creative things I loved. 

But as the road unfolded in front of us and the children slept in the back seat, the salt air began cleaning away all that resentment and I began to spy, in its place, opportunity

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Creative thinking needs space to breathe, and the road and the sea breeze and the early nights were just the space my brain needed break free. 

I came home and did something radical. I changed all my work priorities around to pursue my passions of art, snail-mail, and slow-living.

First, I built a new website (the one you're reading now). Then I created an e-course about snail-mail, using some of the content from the book I'd been writing for the past three years. Against all my expectations, the course sold out. Not once, but twice, and there's already a waiting list for a third intake. 

While that was happening, I sat up night after night drawing designs for a unique colouring book that contained more than 60 mail-art envelope templates. I launched the colouring book as a downloadable product only, and pre-sold more than 100 in the first week I announced it. 

All of this was happening late at night and early in the morning, to work around time spent with my children and on the day-job. But in October, I finally made the decision to quit copywriting. Financially this wasn't the smartest move, but boy it felt good. I spent a whole day sorting out my office and shredding secure documents from past clients, and if I'd been burning sage it could not have felt more cleansing. Ever since that day, I've sat down in my office on those three official 'work days' while the children are in childcare, and I work on the things I truly love. 

The income side of it is a bit messy. I illustrate for commissions. I make e-courses. I'm a TA for another online educator. I write magazine articles. I write books. I illustrate books. All of that adds up to the very bare bones, a lot less than I was earning before, yet I'm working harder than I ever have before. But every day, when I sit down at this little office, it is with joy. 

I'm so full of energy and ideas that the day flies past, and when I stop work to go and pick up the kids it almost feels like waking up from a dream. Awake, and satisfied that I've given this work my all, I'm also in a much better place to give my kids my all. My time is all theirs and, again, it is with joy. 

I have so many plans I don't know what to share with you first. Honestly I don't even know why I'm writing this blog post, other than that I just feel so free and happy to be working so hard on what I loved, that I wanted to share. And I want to thank you for reading this blog, and for supporting me in so many ways.

Whether its buying my courses or products, reading my blog or newsletter, commenting to let me know you're there on Instagram, or in myriad other ways, you are the community that has kept me going. You've told me what you liked (and didn't like), what you wanted, and how you wanted it. You inspire me every day to make and give away new things, and I'm just so grateful for the support and inspiration. 

Here's to new horizons. Here's to you! 

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ps. At night time in Tasmania, while the children and my husband all slept, I started listening to podcasts to find inspiration and practical ideas for turning what I love into the way I make my living. I'd make a cup of tea, put in headphones so I wouldn't wake my family, curl my feet under a chair in our holiday house, and listen in. It felt like private coaching from a whole host of experts, right at the time I was dreaming about a new way forward. I've shared my favourites of those podcasts here, in case you're searching, too. 

Podcasts for creative people in business 

Courage & Spice: the podcast for humans with self doubt
by Sas Petherick
The blurb: "If self-doubt is holding you back in your relationships, career, creativity or your business, Courage & Spice is especially for you. You’ll find inspiring conversations about all things self-doubt – including real-life stories and research-led approaches to help you navigate through it."

Explore Your Enthusiasm 
by Tara Swiger
The blurb: "Let's explore what it takes to craft a sustainable, profitable, FUN business, while staying enthusiastic and motivated. Whether you just opened your first Etsy shop, or you've been selling your art, design or writing full-time for years - you struggle with doubt, loneliness, motivation and getting it all done. In this podcast we'll explore what you REALLY want from your small business so that you can follow your enthusiasm, make your art and make money. Each episode is a mini-lesson in exploring what you want out of your OWN business, so that you can craft a life and business that fills your life with enthusiasm."

Hashtag Authentic - for Instagram, Blogging and Beyond
by Sara Tasker
The blurb: "Want to find an audience online for your creative work? Hashtag Authentic is a weekly podcast exploring the secrets to online success for dreamers, makers and creatives. With practical tips and inspiring stories, Sara Tasker of 'Me & Orla' guides you through the lessons and strategies she used to grow her 250k+ audience and six-figure business online. Tune in every Wednesday for analysis and interviews with trailblazing creatives, for an insider's view of all things Instagram, blogging, social media and beyond. Hashtag Authentic will equip you for the online world, dose you up on inspiration & information, and help you find your online tribe."

Make it Happen: a podcast for big hearted creative business owners
by Jen Carrington
The blurb: "Make It Happen is a podcast for big-hearted creatives who are ready to build an impactful, fulfilling, and sustainable creative life. Brought to you by Jen Carrington, a creative coach, this podcast is for you if you're ready to make things happen in your creative work and life on your own terms, in your own way, and by your own rules every step of the way."

My Open Kitchen 
by Sophie Hansen and Skye Manson
The blurb: "My Open Kitchen is a podcast celebrating great stories from behind the farm gate, inspiring people, seasonal produce and the power of social media to help us all connect, collaborate and build communities."

Soulful PR Podcast
by Janet Murray
The blurb: "Learn how to get PR for your business that will help you grow your email list, social media followers and your client list. If you’re an entrepreneur wanting to get coverage in newspapers, magazines, and on radio & TV, tune in every Friday for insider tips and easy-to-implement strategies from award-winning Guardian journalist Janet Murray. You’ll hear inspiring interviews with entrepreneurs who are using traditional PR alongside blogging, webinars, email marketing and social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and Youtube to attract leads and grow their business."

The Membership Guys Podcast 
by Mike Morrison
The blurb: "Weekly episodes containing proven, practical advice, strategy and tips for planning, creating and growing a successful membership website."

Pursuit With Purpose
by Melissa Griffin
The blurb: "I know first hand that it's way too easy to slip into the rat race of competition and comparison. In 2016 I hit my first million-dollar year in my business... yet, I was totally miserable. At the time, I was focused on numbers and status, rather than what would actually bring me real happiness and create an impact on the world. That all changed. This podcast is about my journey to meaning and fulfilment and how you can bring it to your own life - today and every day."

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14 ways to boost creativity and find inspiration

These are some of the things I do when I'm stuck, stumped, confused, de-motivated, or just facing some kind of creative block. I thought I'd share them, in case you want to try, too. 

You probably have a hundred more. If so, I'd love to hear them! 

1. Create white space in your life, time in which you are doing nothing, or doing manual non-thinking labour (walking to the tram stop; in the shower; washing up; weeding the garden). Don’t listen to podcasts or music or anything, and let your brain rest and wander without agenda 

2. Seek inspiration: go to a gallery, listen to music, listen to a podcast, read a good book (not a blog, a real book). Social media is good but also prone to trends that we can get sucked into - try to look further afield than the Internet 

3. Take a walk with a camera. Even if you’re not a photographer or creating visual art, looking at things through a camera lens creates a different perspective and helps unlock creativity in your brain for other projects 

4. Get a good night’s sleep. I know, sometimes that's easier said than done, but it’s hard to think creatively when you’re tired

5. Get a second opinion. Ask someone who you admire creatively (and who you trust to be constructive) to look at what you’ve done, and brainstorm ideas or opportunities. OR share what you’ve done on social media and invite feedback (but only if you feel this is a supportive community for you)

6. Try something different. If you usually like to paint, learn a language instead; if you like to write, take a cooking class. It's the creative part of your brain's version of "a change is as good as a holiday"

7. Do it for the joy of it. The pressure of deadlines, income, other peoples’ expectations, can all get in the way of creativity 

8. Get some exercise. Even just walking regularly can help but, according to research, the key word here is regularly

9. Avoid social media distractions. Take a few hours away from your phone every day - maybe even put it in another room. If you can’t help yourself, remove social media apps from your phone

10. Write down your ideas, thoughts and feelings by hand. This prompts “reflective functioning” because it causes you to both feel an experience as you write it down, and then reflect on it, or make sense of it, when you read it back. I don't know why, but this is a lot more powerful when you write rather than type 

11. This idea comes from the Me & Orla "Bloom and Grow" Instagram course. Create a Pinterest board of things that inspire you. Or several boards, if you like. Whenever you come across an image or idea that you like, or that sparks your curiosity, pin it to your board. Then at any time when you are looking for ideas, you can revisit that board for creative inspiration

12. Collaborate - once when I was trying to write a character of an old man, I asked an actor friend of mine to role-play the old man so I could better brainstorm ideas

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13. What else is going on in your life? The stresses and trials of life - children, work, finances, an argument with your spouse... all of these can temporarily block creativity. Be kind to yourself. sleep on it, do what you need to do first. Have faith that inspiration and motivation will return and, when life calms down a little, try one or more of the techniques above

14. Carry a notebook and pen with you everywhere so that when inspiration does strike, you can capture it before it slips away

Alright that's me for now. What do you do to boost creativity and inspiration? 

ps. I've made this list downloadable in case you'd like to print it off and take it with you. You can download it here. And of course don't forget you can always pin it for later. x

ps. have you heard about my new letter-writing and mail-art e-course?

Over four weeks, I will guide you through multiple methods of making beautiful mail-art and creative, handmade stationery; teach you the art of writing and storytelling; help you forge personal connections in your letters and find pen-pals if you want them; and share time-management tips so even the busiest people can enjoy sending and receiving letters. Register your place or find out more information right here

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Five senses

For your ears:

  Image credit: My Open Kitchen

Image credit: My Open Kitchen

The podcast My Open Kitchen. Oh my goodness! I only discovered this podcast very recently, when they (so kindly!) mentioned my blog and #mealsinthemail project in their Top 5 list on Episode 8 of Season 2. After I listened to that episode, I literally went back and listened to every episode of both seasons. The My Open Kitchen podcast is supposedly for primary producers - country growers and makers - but I live in the inner city and I still absolutely adore it. It's about slow-living, food and baking, gardening, and creative ways to connect and communicate through social media. If that sounds up your alley, scroll down the My Open Kitchen podcast and blog to find the show notes for each, which are full of useful links and also enable you to listen in (or of course you can subscribe in the usual ways on Androids and iPhones). Strangely, listening to this podcast has even helped me make my peace with the imminent arrival of spring and summer. Sort of. 

Also, an honourable mention has to go to Sara Tasker's podcast Hashtag Authentic, which re-started this week with Season 2. I included it in a previous podcast roundup, but just had to mention this week's episode, which was an interview with Tara Mohr. I always love Sara's podcast but didn't expect my response to this episode: I was in floods of tears while sorting the socks, and felt like a light came on inside my head about why I had been feeling and behaving certain ways. It's as though I saw things I couldn't un-see, and now I'm super motivated to take action! 


For your eyes: 

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I have two great reads to recommend today. The first is a cookbook by a lovely New Zealand lady with the enviable name of Amber Rose. (I mean seriously? Such a beautiful name!) The book is called The Wholefood Pantry and if you haven't come across it already, I highly recommend it. Basically, Amber takes us through how to make really wholesome, healthy, tasty pantry staples. The kinds of staples that most of us have bought from the shops for decades, but which can be made by hand and packed with so much more nutrition. Soups and broths, yoghurts, spice mixes, ferments, butters and oils, breads, jams... You get the picture! She also helpfully explains the why of using these ingredients and making these staples from hand. 

My second recommendation is Lunch Lady magazine. Probably you've already come across this Australian quarterly beauty but, if not, it is such a wonderful read. I have every issue and look forward to it with ridiculous, childlike excitement. Even the typography and graphics are cheerful and somehow welcoming, like a hug. There are quirky and nutritious family recipes; essays from parents that have made me laugh, or cry, or both; and fun, accessible, family-friendly activities. Like edible garden tips, how to make coloured pasta, a guide to mushroom foraging, and common trail signs used by woodmen and campers. 


For your mouth:

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Of course, that has to be Meals in the Mail right now. As I finally read through all the letters and recipes that people have sent me, my heart just swells. This project is about food but it's about more than food: it's about what that food represents - comfort, love, nostalgia, community... And this project is about mail but it's about more than mail: it's about connections, and travel, and cultures, and art, and the love, care, generosity and permanence of writing things by hand. 

Budget-wise I don't quite know how I'm going to make this book happen in a way that celebrates it the way it should be celebrated. I had counted on 20 to 50 recipes and stories, which I was going to photocopy and bind. Now I have more than 200 recipes and stories, many of them illustrated, as well as the beautiful envelopes they came in. The cost of printing this book is going to be considerable, and I am as short on the time it takes to successfully run a crowd-funding campaign as I am on the cash to just do it myself. However... I am determined to make this happen, and to make it as beautiful as I can see in my mind that it will be. I have my thinking-cap on. Watch this space! 


For your nose:  

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Even the simple act of breathing in deeply, and exhaling fully, is like a mini-meditation. You can feel your body relax. And now for the flavour - take a wiff of these:  

  • Pick a sprig of mint or rosemary and crush it in your hand
  • Coffee in the morning 
  • Stand near the ocean, close your eyes, and inhale
  • Bake bread. I once read a quote somewhere saying that parents of small children should bake a loaf of bread every morning: even if you get nothing else done that entire day, you'll have delicious bread to eat, and the whole house will smell great
  • Bury your nose into an old book
  • Go stand in the garden when it rains
  • Tip-toe into your sleeping kids' rooms before you go to bed, kiss them, and breathe in the smell of their warm hair and skin 

For your hands:

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Have you heard? I've made a downloadable colouring book! 

On the one hand it's a traditional colouring book, the kind you'd turn to for a spot of creative expression, and mindfulness. But what makes it different to most other colouring books out there is that every one of the illustrations is designed as an envelope template, so you can make it and post it off when you've finished. 

The idea is that this colouring book is not just for you, but for the people you care about, who will be surprised, touched and thrilled when they receive your colourful mail-art in the post. 

The downloadable colouring book will be available in October, in time to make and send mail-art for Christmas, Thanksgiving, or any other end-of-year mail you'd like to send. There are 60 illustrations, and the book is available for pre-sale now (currently on special for $17.95, down from $23.95, until Monday 11 September).  

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8 autumn-winter plans

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It's no secret that I love winter. I am no friend of heat and humidity, but I love the sting of cold on my cheeks, and the sight of my breath in the air in the morning.

I also love crocheted nanna-rugs, hot chocolates, bed-socks, mac-n-cheese, and flannel shirts. I like hiking up mountains or along city streets without breaking a sweat, the smell of wood fires after dark, candles at dinner-time, and lazy bubble-baths on weekends.

After what felt like the longest summer in the history of all the summers, we are finally seeing the start of autumn. So, just in case this is also the shortest winter in the history of all the winters, I have made some plans to make the most of the cooler months.

1. Learn how to bake bread really well. I've enrolled in a bread-making class at Abbotsford Bakery next month that I'm really looking forward to

2. Take the children to see snow

3. Go bushwalking. Now that the hot weather has gone and the snakes are asleep, I want to get back out among the trees

4. Forage for wild mushrooms in the pine forest. There are guided tours that take you on these foraging missions, to be sure the mushrooms are actually mushrooms, not toadstools. I've been wanting to do this for ages, but nobody wants to come with me. Will you?

5. Take better care of my skin. One of the down-sides to winter is the damage all that dry air and internal heating does to your skin. When I lived in New York, I was great at using scrubs and moisturisers to protect my skin. I'm older now so it's even more important that I make the effort

6. Dig, prune and nurture. I keep a seasonal diary to remind me what needs to happen in my garden. In the coming months, that will mean formwork pruning of some plants, heavy cutbacks to others, sowing some seeds, fertilising, aerating the soil, and applying a thick mulch to protect it

7. Make friends with the slow-cooker. I tell myself I'll do this every year. This is the year!

8. Rug up and have a winter picnic. I'll pack thermoses of hot chocolate or tea, knee-rugs as well as picnic rugs, beanies, and candles or possibly a little campfire. We will find somewhere pretty, and our picnic will look like this

How about you? What are your plans for winter? What should I add to my list?

Image credits: Daniel Bowman // Siebe Warmoeskerken // Annie Spratt // Samuel Scrimshaw

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8 podcasts I'm loving right now

Processed with VSCO with a5 preset Do you listen to podcasts? When I do, I like to imagine I am living in the 1940s, getting information and inspiration from the wireless while partaking of tea and crumpets. 

Sometimes I like to listen to podcasts while I'm painting, and also if I'm walking alone. If the kids are not around, I slip my phone into my pocket and put on a podcast while I'm doing the housework or cooking a meal. 

Here are some of my favourites at the moment. Maybe these will be new to you, or maybe you know them already. I'd love to know what you listen to, so I can add your ideas to my download list! 

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Hashtag Authentic - for Instagram, blogging and beyond

Host: Sara Tasker Frequency: weekly  Why I love it: fantastic, friendly advice and encouragement not only for people who use Instagram, but for anyone who is doing something creative and putting their work out there for the public eye (get it here)

The Slow Home Podcast 

Host: Brooke McAlary Frequency: every few days  Why I love it: really practical ideas and advice for "slow-living" in a busy world. By slow-living, Brooke is really talking about a more mindful and purposeful way of thinking and experiencing life (get it here)

Serial

Host: Sarah Koenig Frequency: weekly, while the season is running Why I love it: each season (we are about to start the third season) is an in-depth investigation into a modern mystery. It's really fantastic story-telling that unravels week by week (get it here)

TED Radio Hour

Host: Guy Raz Frequency: weekly  Why I love it: I feel smarter just listening to this podcast. All those fascinating topics you love about TED Talks, but adapted for radio. They pick a theme, and then play portions of various TED-talks as well as interviews with the original speakers, to tease out the theme from different angles (get it here)

Sweet Teen Club

Hosts: Stacey Roberts & Carly Jacobs Frequency: weekly Why I love it: 90s pop culture nostalgia. Allllll the nostalgia. Buffy! FRIENDS! Clueless! Reality Bites! Sweet Valley High! Tamagotchi! (get it here)

Magic Lessons

Host: Elizabeth Gilbert Frequency: weekly Why I love it: it's Elizabeth Gilbert in phone conversations with people everywhere who want to tap their creativity, but feel blocked somehow. She gives tips and encouragement to get past creative block, and then in a subsequent episode, speaks with another successful artist to gain further insights (get it here)

Unexplained

Host: Richard Maclean Smith Frequency: bi-weekly Why I love it: this podcast is cool and spooky and fascinating all at once. It explores modern mysteries, events that can't seem to be explained by our normal parameters of logic and science (get it here)

Good Life Project

Host: Jonathan Fields  Frequency: every four days or so Why I love it: actually this podcast is hard to describe. It's inspiration and information on just "living a better life," whatever that might mean for you. It bills itself as "In-depth, unscripted, deeply-inspiring conversations and insights from acclaimed artists, entrepreneurs, makers and world-shakers." Yeah, that (get it here)

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The honeybees and me

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Oh hello. Look, that's me in the picture! 

Recently I was approached by New Zealand artist Katherine Steeds to have my portrait painted. (I know - lucky me!) It was to be one of 50 small, sepia watercolour portraits (each about the size of a postcard) which, when exhibited together, would cluster and flutter on the gallery walls a lot like a friendly swarm of honeybees.

The exhibition was to be called "The Bee Appreciation Society AGM," and Katherine's purpose was to draw attention to the plight of the honeybee, globally.

You've probably heard the disturbing news that our pesticides are killing our bees. The National Geographic says world is in an unprecedented "pollinator crisis," and projections are that this year we will lose close to 60 percent of the world's honeybee population.

This is sad in its own right, because, the poor bees! But there are some fairly serious implications for us, too, and they are a lot worse than missing out on delicious honey for our toast.

A full third of our foods rely on bees for pollination, including apples, nuts, pretty much all the summer fruits (like stone fruits and berries), onions, broccoli, alfalfa (which is eaten by cows), and a whole lot more.

I don't know about you, but I'm not ready to give up all those delicious foods (up to 100 crops are being impacted) just yet! 

Plus, bee health can tell us a lot about environmental health, and therefore about our own wellbeing.

Here are some actions we can all take to help save the bees:

1. If you have room for growing things at your place, plant bee-friendly flowers and flowering herbs in your garden or pots 2. Don't use chemicals and pesticides to treat your garden or grass (products like “Round Up” weed killer and “Confidor” insecticides have been proven to harm bees. Glyphosate – the active ingredient in Round Up – has been banned in several countries for being carcinogenic) 3. Where possible, try to buy organic, pesticide-free, GM-free produce (organic farmers' markets are a great place to find good produce, often a lot cheaper than organic food in the shops) 4. Buy local, raw honey (this is honey that hasn't been treated with chemicals or processed with heat to stop it crystallising.) An added bonus is that it carries a lot of health benefits: it's a good source of antioxidants, has antibacterial and antifungal properties, is filled with phytonutrients, and tastes delicious!

There is some more useful information about this issue on Save the Bees Australia if you want to read up on all this. 

In the meantime, pop on over to Katherine's Facebook page and start a conversation with her! 

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Animals in sweaters

knits-elephantsknits-penguins knits-chickens I am super tired this morning, and entering the week already exhausted is never fun. I was going to (try to) write you something insightful and meaningful, but my brain just won't cooperate. So instead, I decided to share something altogether lighter: animals in sweaters! 

The chickens, from Cornwall in the UK, are wearing knits to protect them from cold temperatures. They are retired battery hens who, after spending a lifetime in cages, are not able to acclimatise to weather fluctuations. 

The elephants are from a conservation for formerly-abused elephants in Mathura, India, and local villagers knitted these sweaters when they were warned that temperatures were forecast to dip to near-freezing, making the elephants vulnerable. 

The penguins are from an ongoing conservation project on Phillip Island, Australia. For penguins in rehab that have been covered in toxic oil from spills, the sweaters keep them warm and prevent them from trying to clean the oil off with their beaks. 

Every one of these groups of animals was made sick or vulnerable because of something that humans did to them. Thankfully, humans are also mobilising to protect and care for them. I feel better about Monday already. I hope you do, too! 

ps. I'm launching a big giveaway of beautiful things on Instagram today. Pop on over if you'd like to enter! 

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Talking trees

forest Yesterday I listened to this TED Talk by Suzanne Simard that blew my mind. Actually first I listened to Suzanne being interviewed on the TED Radio Hour (here's the transcript), then went across to listen to her whole talk.

It sent me reeling, and I spent the rest of the day thinking about it over and over again, and pondering the implications. 

Suzanne is an ecologist, and a few years ago she made the astonishing, world-changing discovery (which anyone who has read the Narnia books already secretly suspected) that trees in a forest talk with each other - and share with each other, and nurture each other - using a massive subterranean fungal network attached to their roots. 

If one tree comes under attack, from say bugs or something, it can communicate this to the other healthy trees around it and they increase their defence systems in preparation. 

If a tree is in need of more carbon, nutrients or water, it can communicate this to the other trees, and trees that have excess of any of these pass them along, to help the struggling tree survive. 

Bigger, older trees become "mother-trees" and they nurture their "young," the seedlings and saplings in the under-story. They pass along nutrients, carbon and water, and even adjust their own root systems to make room for the younger ones to grow. 

Suzanne did some experiments on this behaviour to find out if the mother-trees recognised their own young, by placing saplings under them that were both from the mother-tree and elsewhere. The mother-tree did recognise its own children, and passed significantly more of all that goodness onto them.

Suzanne even said that when a mother-tree is dying, it passed wisdom on to the younger trees. I wish she had elaborated on that point because I want to know what that wisdom might be. Understandings about the conditions around it, maybe? "The bugs always come in spring, grow more thorns then," or, "Shed your leaves early this year, it's gonna be a cold one." 

When I was growing up, digging away in the garden with my mother, we always understood that trees and plants competed for space, water, and sunlight. What Suzanne has revealed to the world is that, in the forest at least, far from competing, the trees are cooperating, and to an astonishing extent. 

Mind. Blown. 

Image credit: photo by Will Fuller, licensed for unlimited use 

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