creativity

Ode to doing nothing

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In the beginning, the silence is uncanny. You can’t hear anything at all, not at first. But you have to let yourself go completely still.

Then you realise there are birds in the distant trees. Nearby, a cicada calls. Then the wind picks up and trees begin whispering to one another, and now you can hear the creaks and cracks that are the growing pains of the ancient bush. Hidden rustlings of secret creatures, the crunch of bark underfoot, the hum of something winged buzzing just past your ear.

And you realise the silence is actually a cacophony, and that the empty landscape is a crowd.

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We have been staying on a friend’s farm, in the Macedon mountain ranges about an hour outside Melbourne.

The fields at the moment are, appropriately, autumnal gold. They might be the freshly-shorn fields of an autumn harvest, but then again they might just be the visible remnants of a brutally hot summer. Either way they are, undisputedly, gold. And more beautiful than you could imagine.

Smooth gusts of wind make patterns in the grass in gold and sand, as though unseen gods are passing by and gently stroking their hands over the grass. As perhaps they are.

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In the afternoon I take a walk through the trees and then sit down amid the grass to listen to the wind. One of the horses in the bottom paddock spots me and nickers hopefully, wanting carrots. I’m empty handed, but I walk across to him and stroke his soft nose, then bend and breathe into his nostrils, the way I was taught to do with horses when I was a child.

His earthy, honey-breath is achingly familiar, and I feel a stab of love for my own beautiful old horse, Starbrow. Did you know that horse-breath smells like honey? I used to sit in the grass in our own paddock as a teenager, and Starbrow would wander over to pass the time. I’d breathe in his honey-breath, and stroke his nose until his eyelids drooped and he fell asleep on his feet, with his head in my lap.

Those were days in my life when sitting still meant actually doing nothing. I wasn’t multitasking, I didn’t carry a phone, and I didn’t even own a laptop. The only ‘data’ I was consuming was the touch of the wind on my bare arms, the sound of lorikeets bickering in the trees behind us, the sandpaper prickle of the bracken where I sat, and the scent of this sleepy old horse with his head resting on my crossed legs.

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On the weekend, we sat still again.

We sat in the shade of a tree beside the dam, while the children fed about twenty ducks that felt like a hundred ducks, three pushy ‘bin-birds,’ and one very courageous magpie. When the children were all out of food, the ducks retreated to the shade of a willow-tree on a little island, and Scout and Ralph retreated to our spot on the banks of the dam, where we all proceeded to do… nothing much.

Scout leaned against us and methodically worked away on the friendship bracelet she’d been taught to weave by the little girl at the Girl Guides stall at the markets that morning. Ralph emptied the bag of cars he’d purchased for $1 at the same market onto the ground, and began digging a dirt track in which to race them.

And Mr B and I talked. We talked like we so rarely get to talk these days, about nothing, which felt like everything. We told each other stories, shared jokes, made plans, and dreamed dreams. And as the afternoon slowly unfolded it felt as though we were rediscovering each other. Mr B and I are always good friends, but the roles we play throughout the day (our “jobs,” if you want to think about this in career terms) are so different from one another that we can easily go through life feeling more apart than we actually are. But that afternoon under the tree doing nothing was a reminder of how much we shared, in opinions and in ethics and in life, despite our separate daily experiences.

It was a lovely gift, and something we could only have experienced because we gave ourselves permission to do nothing. In that afternoon, I felt a rush of affection for the man I married.

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Right now I’m working on an article for a magazine, and it’s about the way that building “white space” into our days can free up our creative ideas and inspiration. Or, to put it in terms I heard at the My Open Kitchen gathering last year, “While ever you are consuming, you are not creating.”

It’s a subject I teach on and a subject I’ve been researching for this article. But sometimes we have to live something, don’t we, before the lesson can move from head to heart. Finally - finally - on the weekend, I stopped. At least for a little while. And I learned my own lesson.

White space - boredom - unplugging - stopping - doing nothing… no matter what you want to call it, it’s the stopping that can kick-start the new beginnings. In creativity, in ideas, in love, and in life.

Wouldn’t you agree?

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Frequently asked

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I thought it was about time I answered the questions I receive the most, somewhere that they could all be found in one place. Have I missed something you’d like to know? Feel free to ask away in the comments, and I promise to reply.

Here we go…

How do you get watercolours to show up brightly on brown kraft paper?

The secret is they’re not just watercolours. I also use gouache paints, which look and feel pretty much the same, but are chalkier in consistency, and brighter and more opaque on the paper. Back in the old days, poster artists often worked in gouache. I mix my gouache and watercolour paints together within my images (and often combine them with one another to create the exact colour and consistency I want).

What pens do you use in your artwork?

I use fine-line archival ink pens for outlines and details in my paintings, and to write the addresses in my mail-art. The ink is waterproof, so it doesn’t run with the paints. My favourites are these Sakura Pigma Micron pens, and I have a collection of nib sizes that range from 005 (very fine for detailed work) to 05 (thick and bold, good for addresses).

Where can I find likeminded pen-pals?

There are loads of places to find people to write to. Pen-pal groups, yes, but also other projects and programs through which you can brighten someone’s day with a handwritten letter. I shared a list of some of my ideas for the show notes of this podcast episode with Tea & Tattle (scroll to the bottom of the show notes to find the list). I also teach about finding like-minded people to write to (and people who will write back) in my letter-writing e-course.

What camera do you use on your blog and Instagram?

To be honest, 99 percent of my photographs these days are taken using my iPhone. I have a DSLR Olympus PEN camera that I love, and it definitely takes better pictures, but the reality is that I can’t always carry it with me everywhere I go. The iPhone lets me capture small surprises and spontaneous moments in my day, no matter where I am.

Whats happening with the Meals in the Mail project?

Ahhh, that project. Meals in the Mail remains one of the favourite projects I’ve ever run. Here’s where it’s at: at the start, I promised to turn all the recipes into a book, but I received more than 250 letters (after expecting 20-50). To share the recipes, mail-art and stories in this way would make for a book that was around 750 pages long, which would be as unwieldy and impractical as it would be impossibly expensive, so I had to rethink.

I dabbled with the idea of giving the project its own blog instead, but that felt flat to me, and didn’t do these wonderful letters justice. So right now I am in the midst of making the recipes myself, one at a time, and talking to the makers about their food and the stories that make them special, for a podcast project. I can’t wait to share when it’s ready.

When will your snail-mail book come out?

Soon! The copy is finished and edited, the cover is done, and the design is in place. I am finalising some extra illustrations needed, and then it’s off to print. More about this book here.

How do you find the time for all your creative projects?

I could be glib and say there’s never enough time, and that’s certainly true to an extent. I’m definitely not as productive as I’d like to be (case in point the snail-mail book above, which has been in progress for more than four years!). But I do have some tips for finding or making time to be creative, or maximising the little bit of time we have. I’ve put them all into a little e-book called “Time to Make,” which you can download for free when you subscribe to my newsletter (which you can do here).

How can I do more with my creative ideas / start selling my creative work?

I teach all of my knowledge on the personal aspects of creativity (creative block, perfectionism, confidence, time, those sorts of things) in my hybrid coaching and e-course, Create With Confidence which runs once a year. For people who want help going public to share or sell their creative work I have a self-paced course called the Sales & Social Masterclass for Makers, which you can join at any time. I also share tips for free in my newsletter, and am happy to answer your questions via email.

Why and how did you come to spend so much time in France?

Think of that self-imposed sabbatical as me cashing in my ‘holiday savings’ after seven years of not stopping. The idea was my husband’s, after he knew he’d be heading to Italy for work in 2018, and thought that if the children and I were nearby we could all meet up.

We chose to stay in Brittany in France because that’s my family background on my father’s side, and we wanted the children to learn a little of the language and culture that was part of their heritage. At ages four and six, with Scout only in her first year of school, it was an ideal time to travel, before missing so much school became a problem.

I am lucky that I work from home, so I didn’t need to take leave from any bosses. I worked ridiculous hours in the lead-up to the trip, which in retrospect wasn’t the healthiest of ways to save money (ever heard of just “not spending,” Naomi?) but even so, we will be probably be paying off the debts incurred during this time for quite a while.

It was worth it.


That’s it from me for now. As I said, please feel free to ask me anything I haven’t covered yet here. Or (better still), tell me about you! What do you love, make, do, feel?

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All the light we see

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As the days grow shorter I find I am following the light around our little apartment, seeking moments of calm in a sun that illuminates but does not burn. In the afternoon, the light slants through the dormer windows and over the table where I paint, creating patterns and shadows that are as real as they are transient, and breathtakingly beautiful.

I sit by the window and make notes in the little ‘field notes’ notebook with a blackbird the cover that I picked up at the Horniman Museum gift shop when we were in London in September. As for so many other people at this time of year (maybe you?), my thoughts are turning to introspection, a kind of ‘life stocktake of 2018’, if you like, alongside all my hopes, dreams and plans for 2019.

When it comes to ‘hopes, dreams and plans’, the key challenge I find is deciding where to put my energy. I have been guilty (and I’m sure I’m not alone here!) of taking on way too much. And as I don’t like to do anything half-hearted, I throw myself into all the things and all too often end up exhausted, burnt out, and unable to be present for my family in the way I want to be.

Do you relate?

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Certainly, the first half of this year looked like that, but this extended stay in France has helped give me the mental white-space I’ve needed to see things with a little more clarity.

For example, with the clarity of emotional distance, I can look on our French sojourn as the cumulation of all those missed holidays and breaks. Aside from one week in Tasmania 18 months ago, I have not taken a break since I fell pregnant with my daughter in 2011. I worked up until the day before both of my children were born, and was back at work when my daughter was only six weeks old, and my son only three weeks old.

Of course, I work from home, so it’s not as though I’ve been in the office for all that time, and my hours equate to part time. But working from home means it’s almost more difficult to switch off, and the lines between work and family blur even further. And the rest of the time is taken up with those not-insigificant hours of cleaning, cooking, administering and nurturing to my little family. As much as I enjoy work and parenting none of it feels like a break!

This stay in France has been like a recuperation period, a chance to finally stop and rest and reflect and play. If I’d been sensible and taken two or three weeks a year during the past six years for holidays, they would have added up to the same amount of time out, but maybe just maybe, I could have avoided the sense of overload and overwhelm I’d been experiencing in the lead-up to this trip. (I suspect there’s a lesson in there for me somewhere.)

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So now I sit by the window in the weakening light and sip my tea, and make notes in my blackbird notebook. Everything I’ve been doing, work-wise, this year. What’s working for me, and what isn’t. What feeds my soul and supports my family, and what detracts from soul or family (or both).

And I write down all those plans. So many creative dreams, all of which I am eager to sink my teeth into. Finally releasing that snail-mail book. A podcast about meals in the mail. Another colouring book. An illustrated year-book. A collaboration on sustainability that I’ve been invited to take on. A charity cook-book. Weekend intensive workshops for students. Postcard and zine projects. Stationery kits. Seed packets. Finally learning pottery. And how to crochet.

My first instinct is to take on ALL the plans, and pile them on top of everything I’m already doing. But in the calm and quiet sunshine of this much-needed time out, I can see more clearly. Looking down at that notebook, I can see projects that I loved this year but that didn’t serve me or my family. I can see creative ideas that I know I’ll love but that won’t serve us in 2019.

Slowly, I am paring back and choosing favourites… and choosing health and family and joy as well as, well, sheer productivity.

It’s easy to see a holiday as a great indulgence. Maybe it’s a vestige of the Protestant Work Ethic, but both my husband and I find it hard to stop. If one of us doesn’t work at night after dinner, the other one exclaims in surprise, “Oh! No work tonight!” and within the celebration of freedom there’s also an unspoken undercurrent of, “Must be nice to lead such a leisurely life.”

It’s time to reset. We both need to stop glorifying ‘being busy’.

Instead, I want to structure my days like the farmers of old. Work hard all day. Stop for a proper lunch to gain sustenance and energy for the afternoon ahead. After dinner, enjoy a well-earned rest: read a book, paint, watch TV, play board-games, write letters, crochet… in other words, leisure. Earmark at least one day each weekend for family and no work.

And once a year, while the earth sleeps (aka quieter times at work), take a break. Nothing necessarily as grand or expensive as an overseas trip (although wouldn’t that be lovely!), but ensure a deliberate, physical separation from work and obligations, to rest and reset.

These thoughts are all scribbled down in my notebook, in jumbles and pieces side-by-side with shopping lists and plant-doodles and wifi keys from the various places we’ve stayed. As I read over them before the light fades, I realise I may be making changes in 2019, bigger than I’d anticipated, pivoting again. And it feels good to finally begin to see.

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Phone phobias & coaching calls

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Earlier this year I discovered, to my genuine surprise, that I really really enjoy mentoring and coaching people over the ‘phone.

It’s not the “helping people” bit that came as a surprise, it’s the “over the ‘phone” bit. I am a person who, normally, intensely dislikes talking on the telephone. Maybe it has something to do with being an introvert, maybe it’s that mobile ‘phones have made us way too accessible all the time, and I need a break. Whatever it is, I resent that jarring ring-tone when it hits me through the day, and feel flutters of undefined anxiety before I ever pick up the ‘phone to call anyone. Yes, even people I dearly love, whose company I adore and who I genuinely want to talk to. It’s not them, it’s that piece of technology attached to my ears.

Do you relate to any of this? I’m sure I’m not alone.

But late last year, people began approaching me for one-to-one help with their creative paths and, since almost all of those people lived in different cities or countries to me, that meant using the telephone. Or more accurately, Skype, but audio-only because the reception drops markedly at my place whenever we turn on video. Also because I’m most often in my pyjamas.

It was a huge, huge step for me to push myself this far outside of my comfort zone to help people in this way, and I was genuinely miserable before my first call. The immediacy! I’m no good at thinking on my feet! The awkwardness of talking to strangers! The whole phone-anxiety thing in general!

But to my complete and utter surprise, I just loved every second of that first call. As, in retrospect, makes perfect sense. What I love to do most is to see people embrace and celebrate their creative sides, and to get to be a part of that is pure joy. There were nerves on both sides at first, but no weird-stranger-awkwardness: after all, this woman had approached me. She knew me from what I shared online (and I’m pretty honest), and had chosen me because of what she felt I could offer her. We were each other’s right person and were soon in the thick of a wonderful, laughter-filled, constructive natter. I came away from that call buzzing a little (albeit exhausted), and excited for more.

So I booked more calls and the more I did the more I loved them, and that was what gave me the confidence to factor one-on-one mentoring into the Create With Confidence program I ran back in June this year. I knew that the calls would enable me to really get to the heart of what each person was hoping to gain from the course, and tailor what we did to their needs. Also, I felt as though I forged 18 new friendships!

All this is a very long lead-up to announce, with much excitement, that I have decided to formalise these coaching calls, and have opened up a small number of appointments for personal, one-on-one creative coaching with me in 2019!

Normally this is the kind of information I save for my newsletter. New courses, programs, that sort of thing, I share in there along with my templates. But I don’t know. I just have an inkling about you, dear blog friends. I already know that most of the people who read my blog are my people, do you know what I mean? You feel like friends not-yet-met. So I thought that just in case you were also wanting to overcome some creative hurdles or take things further with your creativity, you might like to hear about these calls, too.

(Stop reading here if you’ve already read about this in my newsletter or you’re not at all interested in this program, and just let me know instead if you are ‘phone-phobic too, so I don’t feel like a weird loner! But if you’re curious to know what I’m doing next year and/or if you’d like to be part of it, read on)…

What are the coaching calls?

This is where we get on the 'phone (or Skype) together and settle in for a cosy chat about you and your creative goals, and together make some plans to help you achieve them. 

You can choose a one-hour chat if there's just one thing you really want to get to the bottom of, and forge a path forward. Or you can book a three-month intensive coaching program, during which we work together with regular calls and activities in between to help you overcome your creative challenges and really affect the big changes you have been longing for. 

There’s loads more information about the coaching calls on my website now (yes, I’ve made it official), so take a read here if you’re curious.

To ensure I can give you my full attention, and to ensure my introverted soul can give you all the emotional energy you need, three-month sessions are limited in number, and only available to book for either February-April sessions, or July-September sessions.

Also, I realise that 2019 seems a million miles away right now, but we are already in October and if your November-December is anything like mine, things get pretty hectic at this time of year and we can forget to plan ahead until it’s too late. So consider this a gentle reminder if you’re hoping to give more of your time and attention to your creativity in the New Year.

Are we right for each other?

It's a beautiful, big, diverse world we live in, and the 'right people' are out there for all of us. We both want to enjoy our chats together and see the biggest transformation for you, so let’s figure this out. You and I are probably right for each other if you... 

  • are struggling with creative block, creative confidence, or the emotional side of going public with your creative work

  • need help starting or improving on the practical side of sharing your work (think social media, websites, newsletters, sales, and the like) 

  • feel a bit lost when it comes to your creative path, and that's left you feeling alone - "always on the outside looking in" (that song will be stuck in your head all day now)

  • want to create a workable road-map, with a step-by-step plan to affect the change you want to see and make things finally happen for you 

  • are hard-working, gentle, honest, open to change, and have the time to commit to really working on your goals over a three-month period to see the change you desire

What do you say? Do you want to get on the ‘phone with me? As it turns out, I would genuinely love to chat with you. Who’d ‘a thunk it?

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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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Creativity, kindness, and the Internet

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So, this is one of the most beautiful stories I have ever had the pleasure of sharing. A few weeks ago, I shared a photograph of this mail-art on my Instagram account: a painted journey (kind of a map for the postie) of the route my letter will take, from my home in Melbourne, out through the suburbs, past vineyards and the iconic Hanging Rock (remember?), all the way to Pippa's house in a country town at the edge of the Macedon Ranges.

A day later, I received a message from a beautiful German lady called Fine. She had used my mail-art as inspiration to write a short story about a different sort of journey, the slow unfolding of an old man from retirement and grief to openness and adventure. She wrote the story "just because," and sent it to me as a gift. With her permission, I have reproduced it for you here (I gave the story its title, but the rest of the words are Fine's own).

Fine's gift of this story left me slightly breathless. I am always telling people that writing a letter (as opposed to, say, an email or Facebook message) is extra special because you are giving someone the gift of your time. I feel the same way about this story, because she took the time to think about my painting, and through it brought an old man to life with her words.

The next time social media algorithms or online bullying or targeted advertisements on the Internet weigh you down, think about Fine, and this story, and how people all over the world are making the Internet work for them (not the other way around), using it to spread creativity and kindness as far as they can go.


GUS AND THE YELLOW BICYCLE 

by Fine Winkel

The elderly white haired man with his old and rusty yellow bicycle (that squeaked with every step on the pedal) had long ago stopped dreaming. Had stopped caring, and had stopped doing anything wholeheartedly.

When he woke in the morning, he allowed himself to wince for just a second, glimpsing at the empty pillow next to his, where he used to see Erna’s red curls and her beautiful, warm smile first thing every morning. As the red had faded into white Erna had begun to fade away herself, somehow getting smaller and in the end with her, all the laughter, the friendly chatter, the music and the delicious smell of apple cake had disappeared. After she was gone, the house felt empty and cold, and the lines on his face were no longer from smiling but from cruel scribbles of grief.

His light-blue mailman uniform was still pressed and the remaining strains of his white hair were neatly tucked under his dark blue cap, but he avoided looking into the mirror over the bathroom sink other than to shave, because he could hear Erna’s frail voice making him give three promises on the last morning they had woken up next to each other… and he could practically see her disappointment reflected in his own eyes.

The promise to call their son every week, the promise to harvest the crunchy and juicy apples from the tree they had planted together when their son George was born (so he could make apple cake with Molly, their granddaughter, who had inherited her grannie’s red curls and twinkling green eyes), and the promise to go to the pound and adopt a deserted old dog who would trot alongside his bike on his daily delivery routes.

He had tried the first year, he really did. But he wasn’t good at putting his feelings into words, so he had stopped calling George after a few stilted conversations with increasing periods of silence. He couldn’t find Erna’s recipe book so the cake had been a disaster, and Molly seemed to be afraid of the haggard-faced old man who had instead served dry-as-dust cookies from the rear end of the kitchen cupboard, having forgotten to buy milk and ice-cream, so he had stopped inviting her. He had made his way down to the pound several times, but just couldn‘t bring himself to walk into the sterile, rectangular building that crouched at the bottom of the hill just outside the village, for fear that even the poor creatures inside would sense his grief and plainly refuse to come home with him. 

So when old mailman Gus stepped into the red-brick Post Office for the last time, the day before his dreaded retirement, he didn’t expect in the least that his life would be going to be turned upside down in a heartbeat. He didn’t mind that there wasn’t any bon-voyage bunting over the door, or a cake in the break room, or even a card on his small desk to bid farewell to one of their own after 49 years of doing his duty and unfailingly delivering each and every letter to his destination. He had become solitary, and his sendoff would be a silent one.

Still, he would miss slipping into his uniform and feeling his life still had a small purpose in this world. 

Gus began to re-sort the few letters addressed by hand that couldn’t be read by the machine that by now did all the sorting. To make out the flowing handwriting, Gus had to put on his glasses, which he knew would have made Erna giggle with delight at her husband’s vanity and tell him, “Honey, maybe it’s a good thing you’re as blind as a bat without your glasses and you refuse to wear them. Your eyes have a built-in Gaussian blur to hide all my imperfections.” He briskly shoved aside this sentimental thought and concentrated on the task ahead, just now noticing an envelope at the bottom of the pile. 

During almost twelve hundred days of delivering mail, Gus had never seen a letter more beautiful, and was instantly reminded of the most exquisite illustrations in an old children’s book Erna had loved to read to little George and later to Molly. The kids had spent hours discovering small details and oohing and ahhing over tiny maps depicting the magical village surrounded by woods steeped in legend. It made him sad to see all this elaborate drawing on the letter, knowing it would never arrive at its destination behind the densely wooded mountains. His replacement Kevin, though much younger and stronger than Gus, wouldn’t care for the extra work and would just mark it return-to-sender or, even worse, put it into a folder and forget it ever existed.

Once again Gus could hear Erna’s voice, but this time it wasn’t frail or sad or disappointed: it was strong and energetic, and it reminded him of all the adventures that he, George and their dog Albert had planned while studying the cherished illustrated map. More than once they had packed their backpacks and taken their bikes to start on an adventure, coming home sweaty and with messy hair, but with enormous smiles on their faces, to breathlessly tell Erna everything they had seen, while eating cake fresh from the oven.

No, he wouldn’t let this envelope that had, as if by magic, replaced his wife’s sad mutter with joyous incentive, just sit in a folder gathering dust. He would – and he couldn’t quite grasp his own boldness – deliver the letter himself, and start on an adventure once more. Quickly he glanced around, making sure no one saw him slipping the envelope into his pocket. 

He hadn’t felt this alive in years, as the warm fall afternoon turned into night, and he made his way home from the pound on his squeaky old bike with a new faithful companion by his side.

For now he would call George and ask him to come over for apple pie next week (the handwritten recipe book had been found lying in a box with Albert’s old bowl and collar, clever Erna). But first thing tomorrow, Gus and the chocolate Labrador, Hamilton, would embark on an adventure. And he couldn’t wait... 

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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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Tea at dawn

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This is when I do my best work. In the pre-dawn, while most of the world sleeps. 

I'm not a masochist, nor a particularly motivated person. It's just that I'm a morning person so I wake early naturally, and of course it makes sense to get as much work done as I can while the children sleep. My brain is rested, and rejuvenated, and I can do my best work at this time. I wrote my book The Art of Mail almost entirely between the hours of five and six in the morning. I write most of my blog posts at five, and that's when I research and craft most of my courses. 

Last month I put out a survey in my newsletter, asking people to share with me the biggest challenges they faced when it came to being creative. I gave them a list of choices, based on previous conversations I'd had. Hurdles they faced, like needing accountability, lack of confidence, and too many distractions. I received hundreds of responses to this survey, and the number one reason - in fact more than 80 percent of people ticked this box - was this:

"I want to be more creative but I don't have enough time.

A lot of them felt super frustrated with the popular 'wisdom' that is often spouted about finding time: "If you want it badly enough, you'll make the time." They felt disempowered by this statement and, personally, I think it is cruel. It's one thing expecting people to take responsibility for their own lives - which we all should! - but it is way too simplistic to say "You don't want it badly enough" to someone who struggles to make time for the things that give them joy. 

I have a job, and that takes time. I am trying to build a business, and that takes even more time. I have a husband and two small children. They take a LOT of time. My husband works 80+ hours a week so I essentially run our house on its own. That takes a good whack of time too. I don't have a car, so even getting from A to B if I need to do something like buy milk takes more time out of my day than it otherwise might. This list could go on, as I'm sure yours could too.

And it's not as though I could drop any of those other responsibilities, even if I wanted to (I generally don't want to). I need to work because my family relies on my income. I need to look after my children because my husband is at work and, while they have school and childcare on some days, they also need their parents! I need to cook and clean and otherwise run the house because if I didn't, we'd be living in a pile of rubbish comprised of dirty clothes, lego pieces, dust bunnies and food scraps, while eating takeout for every meal. 

But where in my busy life - or in yours - is the room for creating? For making just for the sake of making? For learning something new? For playing with art? For self-improvement? 

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Right now I'm working on a short course made specifically for all those lovely people who responded to my survey, about how to find (or make) time to be creative. It is about guilt-free ways we can use more of our time for the things that spark joy, and train our brains to be more creative, without feeling as though we need to drop our responsibilities or small pleasures. 

That will come very soon (if you happen to be awake at 5am Melbourne time on most days, you'll be able to picture me sitting at my desk with a  hot cup of tea, writing it). In the meantime, today I thought I'd share something else that several people in the survey asked for: an idea of what a typical day looks like for me. How do I divide up my time, they wanted to know, to fit in all those things. 

The short answer is, of course, that I generally fail in one area or another. I'm not super-human and I regularly feel as though I'm playing catch-up, or having to reshuffle priorities. Also, my day - just like yours - is never typical. So, bearing that in mind, here is a rough idea of what my days look like on one of the three days a week that my children are in childcare. 

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The day always starts with tea

5am: I make a cup of tea and take it into my office (a tiny, windowless room that is actually a converted wine cellar. It is always more cluttered and messier than I'd like it to be). I work on a key writing project, such as course material, book copy, blog posts. At some point during this time my husband usually gets up, showers, and leaves for work. 

6.30am: The children get up. I close the computer, we have cuddles, then get breakfast ready. We put on music (the children call it "calm music" and generally it's classical music at this time of morning), and we sit at the table together to eat. I try not to rush this and I try not to have my phone in my hand. We talk about the day ahead. What's on at school or kinder, any reading they've been doing, events that happened the day before (often they are too tired and their heads are too busy to talk in the afternoon, but it all comes out over breakfast). In Scout's case, there are often elaborate discussions about what she will wear for that day.

7am: While the children are still eating and chatting, I make their lunches and pack their lunch boxes, then check they have everything they need packed in their bags (hats, sunscreen, lunches, bottles of water, tissues, readers, library books, signed permission slips, and a change of clothes in case of over-enthusiastic water-play). At this point I often also realise I have forgotten to let the cat out, so I open up the little outdoor room where she sleeps. 

Honestly, mornings are mostly lovely. Last year they were hectic, but now we are in a rhythm, and most mornings we have fun. Sometimes we change up the "calm music" for something more lively, and take a moment to dance together around the kitchen. 

(At some time after breakfast, I aim to post an Instagram picture. I choose this time because I find that for me, a lot of my tribe are also online at that time, so we can chat and be engaged. I don't post unless I am relatively confident that I can respond to comments, and comment on other people's posts, during the next half hour. That's why if you follow me on Instagram you'll notice that I've been quiet lately. I don't feel it's fair to post a picture and then walk away, so I haven't been posting all that frequently of late, since mornings have been quite busy). 

7.30: The children play or read books while I go upstairs and make the beds, shower and dress, pick out clothes for them to wear, and water the upstairs plants if they need them (it's hot here right now and upstairs is like an oven, so they need watering almost daily). 

8am: I get the children dressed, brush their teeth and my teeth, do Scout's hair, and hunt for their shoes (generally at least one of them has lost at least one shoe). We need to be out of the house by 8.20am on two of the three days. On Tuesdays, all of the above still has to happen, but we need to be out of the house by 7.30am at the absolute latest, so imagine everything occurring at double speed. 

8.30am: Drop Ralph at kinder, settle him in, then walk Scout to school. 

9am: Say goodbye to Scout at school, then walk home, picking up a coffee on the way to bring home, and sometimes checking the PO Box for mail. 

9.30am: Finally I sit back down in front of my computer in the little windowless office. There are four core activities I do in my business. I always try to maintain a balance of these four in my week (preferably even in my day) because if I spend too much time on any one of these, or neglect any one of these, my business suffers. 

1. COMMUNITY: That means responding to comments and emails from my students; responding to questions on Instagram; replying to other emails; and caring for the Me & Orla community (I am a TA/VA for Sara Tasker) by responding to comments and questions from her students. This is also when I'll work on questions, strategies and responses for the people I mentor on a one-to-one basis. 

2. PRODUCTS: To make money in my business, I actually need to be constantly making things that I can sell. Writing courses, writing books, making colouring books, establishing master-mind groups, painting stationery designs for Boots Paper (I am the in-house illustrator for Boots), writing paid magazine articles, painting privately-commissioned pieces.  

3. PROMOTION: By this I mean all the things I do to share my work and my business with my tribe. This blog, updates to my website, my newsletter, Instagram, unpaid magazine articles, magazine and podcast interviews, pitching story ideas to magazines, and guest blog posts. A lot of people have asked me to create video tutorials and this is definitely something I'd love to start doing, but (as you can see) I have a lot to fit into three half-days already, so we'll see!

4. RESEARCH & LEARNING: My business is less than five months old, and I started it without planning or strategy (I wrote about that here), so I have a LOT to learn. I listen to podcasts a lot because I can do that while I'm painting. I research and read material online, I read books, and recent courses I've done include two on Instagram with Sara Tasker, one on Pinterest with Melyssa Griffin, some smaller courses on selling without being sleazy with Jessica Lorimer, and I've joined the Soulful PR community with Janet Murray. I also booked a one-hour coaching call with Jen Carrington that helped give me a lot of clarity. 

Depending on what is going on on that particular day, I prioritise COMMUNITY first, because I don't want people to wait too long to hear from me. Then the balance of PRODUCTS or PROMOTION will depend on what I have going on. For example right now I'm working on that "Time to Create" course I told you about, so I might prioritise that a little more heavily. When I'm ready to release it, or my book comes out, I'll move more into PROMOTION mode.

But to maintain some balance, I try to spread things out. I spent an hour on emails and comments this morning, now I'm writing this blog post. Afterwards, I'll dig back into writing the course. Last week, I spent the bulk of my time painting the artwork for the cover of my book, and the week before that I was editing the copy. Because of all those things, I've fallen behind on the promo side - this blog has been woefully neglected, as has Instagram. So I'll be working on redressing that balance soon.

I like to do my painting and drawing work in the afternoon. My brain is getting tired (remember I've been up since 5am!), so after lunch I'll sit down to paint, while listening to podcasts or audio books, so I can combine my PRODUCTS tasks with my RESEARCH & LEARNING tasks. 

3.15pm: I leave home to pick up Scout from school, then we walk back together, just in time to pick up Ralph from kinder.

4.15pm: We all arrive home and the children have some afternoon tea. We sit at the table again, and pull out any homework that Scout might have (she is only five so it's just readers, and school is so new - we started at the beginning of Feb - that she still enjoys them). 

While the children play, I clean up a bit. Clean the kitchen from meals cooked during the day (my grown-up step-daughter Em is living with us right now so there are several meals going on), empty and wash up lunch boxes, pick up clothes and toys that got scattered about that morning but which I didn't prioritise because I wanted to get straight to work, put on a load of washing, vacuum. Those kinds of things. 

5pm: The children have either a bath or a shower. If they shower, I sit in my windowless office which is right next door, and answer any 'community' questions that have popped up since that morning. If they have a bath, upstairs, I use the time to respond to any comments or questions on Instagram while supervising them as they play. Or I fold the laundry.

5.30pm-6pm: Sometime around this point, the children have dinner. It's only light: normally salad with some kind of protein like tuna or ham or egg or cheese, followed by fruit. On school days they are never particularly hungry but are always exhausted so they just want to go to bed. Then we brush teeth, and go upstairs to read stories. 

6.30pm-7pm: The children are in bed. I come back downstairs and clean the kitchen again after the children's dinner. Normally this is when I'd start to cook dinner for the grown-ups.

Lately though, we've been trying something different. I was finding I'd start cooking this late, so the food wouldn't be ready until 8pm, and often Mr B would then be in meetings or functions and so he wouldn't want to eat at all, and the food would be wasted (plus I'd be exhausted and then have to do even more washing up). Instead, we've started ordering "clean foods" meals from YouFoodz. I can see myself getting sick of them but right now, I like that they are fresh (not frozen), and come in recyclable containers so while not ideal, at least they don't go into landfill. I grab one and either eat it cold, pop it into the microwave, or stir-fry it on the stove-top. I miss cooking, but this certainly saves me at least an hour a night! Once my business gets through this intensive early-growth stage, I look forward to cooking again. 

7.30pm: After dinner, I settle in to work. At this time of night I'm not at my best for crafting words or retaining research. Instead, I do most of my painting at this time. If I have PRODUCT work to do (painting for Boots, or a client, or my book etc), I do that. This is also when I create the templates and paint the samples for my newsletters. If I don't have painting to do, I use this time to write letters to people, edit photographs for Instagram, and make mail-art for the joy of it. If I'm painting or editing photographs my brain is mostly free, and Mr B and I like to binge-watch whatever our new favourite show is on Netflix while he signs thousands of letters. I do sometimes laugh at the incongruence of painting a beautiful, peaceful botanical illustration while people slaughter each other on Vikings, but that's just how I roll. 

10.30pm-11pm: I do the final round of washing up (a lot less since YouFoodz), feed the cat and lock her up, hang up any wet washing from that load I put on earlier, and generally ready the house for the next day. If things are quiet I go to bed. If I'm busy or on a deadline, I can stay up much later, although I don't think I've worked past 1am more than a few times. After a few late nights, I'll often give up and go to bed earlier - about 9.30pm - to catch up. I have to be up again at 5am the next day, or 6am if I'm tired and need a sleep-in, to do it all again. 

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So... that's what my day looks like three days a week, give or take afternoon kid activities like ballet or karate or French lessons or swimming. On the other two week-days I have Ralph at home with me, so there are no big blocks of working time. I do my early-morning work, then after school drop-off he and I usually go out to the park or somewhere, but he goes down for a little nap after lunch and I work then. I prioritise COMMUNITY during that nap hour and then, if there is still time, I pick from either PRODUCT or PROMOTIONS, depending on what's on that week. After Ralph's nap we pick up Scout from school, and the afternoon progresses in pretty much the same way. 

On the weekends, I'll still work in the early mornings, and again at night on painting, if we don't have to go out, and occasionally in the afternoons if the children have naps. But mostly, I try to make those days about family time. Because Mr B works such long hours, we prioritise the time that he is home to spend time together. Sometimes that has to involve cleaning the house, but we get out and about as much as we can on at least one of the weekend days. 

One last thing... 

I realise my hours are long, and not particularly sustainable. Please don't think I will be encouraging or expecting others to do the same things when I teach my Time to Create course. I'm at a point in my life where I'm building a brand-new business, and my time is extremely limited, so I'm squeezing every last morsel out of it. I don't intend to do this in the long term, and I don't expect anyone else to do this. 

What I do love about my busy life right now is that I have, by trial and error, managed to block out specific times for specific things. For example, I'm not working while supervising the kids. I used to do that and I felt doubly guilty: guilty that I wasn't paying proper attention to my children, and guilty that I wasn't paying proper attention to my work. I don't look at social media while I'm with the kids (except when supervising bath times), nor do I answer (many) emails in front of them. I sit at that meal table and we chat, actively listening to one another, and making eye contact. Then when I sit down at my desk to work, I'm all about the work. My phone is on silent and often in a different room. 

It's not perfect, but as someone who has freelanced for the better part of 15 years, I feel like I'm finally getting into some kind of workable rhythm, even while having small children around. 

How about you? I'd love to know how you balance your work / family / fun time. 

(Everybody sing together: "You can't hiiiiiiide / Your tired eyes....")

(Everybody sing together: "You can't hiiiiiiide / Your tired eyes....")

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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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