Saying “what a strange year” is both such an understatement and so obvious that I’m sure it doesn’t need to be said, but I can’t help but say it anyway. What a strange, strange year. Mostly I turned to books to get me through it, but there were also plenty of standouts in other mediums that offered entertainment and escapism through the weirdness of 2020. Here are a few of my favourites from the year in music, tv, film*, and podcasts.Continue reading “My favourite music, tv, and podcasts of 2020”
Yesterday I went to the National Gallery of Victoria to see their current special exhibition, Escher X nendo | Between Two Worlds, before it closes next week. First off, if you live in Melbourne and you have the time between now and 7 April, please do try to give it a visit. The fantastic show creates a dialogue between the work of Dutch artist M.C. Escher, most known for his fantastical optical illusion creations, and Japanese design house nendo, who drew inspiration from Escher’s art to create a series of interactive displays and installations that guide you through the exhibition and into a dreamy, yet high-contrast world of black and white geometry.
I brought my camera intending to take a few photos of works in the exhibition, but instead I found myself captivated by other people’s photos. Everywhere I looked, folks had their phones out, cameras on, capturing their own photos of the lithographs, prints, and installations. I was fascinated to get this glimpse into everyone else’s experiences of the show. It’s so rare that we get to see through someone else’s eyes in real time, our windows into their perspective coloured after the fact by the pictures they choose to share, the filters they use.
As I walked through the exhibit, I spent as much time looking at the other visitors as I did looking at the works of art. I loved seeing which pieces they connected with, which ones they wanted to remember. I liked seeing the way they chose to document the art they saw: did they faithfully capture the full work or try to put their own artistic spin on their photo by cropping a detail or including a companion? Did they photograph the information card as well, or were they content to divorce the image from its title and history?
With apologies to the people through whose viewfinders I creepily photographed, seeing the exhibit through multiple points of view added a new layer to my understanding and enjoyment of the art. Escher’s work is all about reflections and twisted perspectives, and looking at the photos that others took brought that fascinatingly distorted outlook to my own experience of the exhibit. I definitely recommend seeing Escher x nendo | Between Two Worlds at the NGV if you can, but whether you go to this exhibit or any art show in the future, look around at the other visitors and see what they see for a moment or two.
Nobody is self-deprecating like a writer. Partially it’s because we trade in words and so we’re good using those words to gently mock ourselves, partially it’s because it’s so easy to feel impostor syndrome when we’re infinitely connected via social media with other people publishing short stories and blogs and novels and journalism and fantastic work around the globe, mostly it’s because when we’re staring at a blank notebook or Scriviner page or Word document with nothing but the lyrics to Ariana Grande’s ‘7 Rings’ in our heads it’s easier to laugh than to cry.
I’ve written before about my experiences with creative burnout, but it’s not just burnout that sometimes makes it feel like putting a few words on a page is an insurmountable challenge. Sometimes it’s just good old writer’s block. We’ve all felt it. Even if you’re not a writer, you’ve probably felt it staring down a deadline for an essay in high school or college. Or you’ve felt the equivalent—photographer’s block or knitter’s block or baker’s block (are any of these real terms? doesn’t matter)—regarding your preferred creative outlet.
So what do you do when you feel like you’re never going to write another sentence, or draw another picture or play another song? Here are some ideas:
(note: I’m directing these ideas toward writers, but of course they can be adapted for any creative pursuit)
Take a walk.
I’ve come to realise that my creative drive is directly proportional with how much time I spend in nature. One thing I don’t love about living in Melbourne is that it’s much more difficult to get away from the city; it’s large and spread out and the parks are manicured and obviously man-made. Still, even just getting outside into one of these crafted green spaces and seeing something that isn’t streets and skyscrapers makes such a difference in how inspired I feel to write. When my imagination wanes, taking a moment to reconnect with nature kindles it again.
Steal some inspiration.
Writing exercises aren’t just for students. If your block is coming from a lack of ideas rather than a lack of words, let someone else guide you. There are countless places to find fiction and nonfiction writing prompts online, from dedicated communities on Reddit to a search for journaling prompts on Pinterest. Pick something that strikes your fancy and give it a whirl (or pick something that doesn’t and try to make it work). While realistically you probably won’t stick with it in the long-term, it’s another way to get over the writer’s block hurdle so you can work on something you really want.
Be shit at something new.
“Shitty first drafts” from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird is practically a Biblical text to most writers. But nobody wants to feel like they’re not good at something important to them. Instead, try being bad at something else. If you’re a writer, grab a camera and take some shitty photographs. If you’re a photographer, paint a shitty painting. If you’re a painter, give a cake some shitty decorations. It’s easier to be okay with being bad at things that we don’t expect ourselves to be good at, and it’s still creative work that helps to get rid of the mental block.
Set the smallest goal.
In On Writing, Stephen King said that he aims to write 2,000 words a day; sometimes it takes a few hours and sometimes nearly until sunset, but by setting a daily goal it forces you to push through the writer’s block and get the words out. In a perfect world, I would write 1,000 or so words per day. Sometimes that’s just not going to happen, though, so instead I set a goal that’s a minuscule percentage of that: 10 words. Just 10. One sentence, maybe two. Generally, once you start you’re not going to stop at 10, but even if you do you’re ending the day with 10 more words than you started with, and that’s something.
We all tend to think that what we’re writing is trash while we’re writing it. It’s one of the reasons that NaNoWriMo exists, to force us to resist the urge to ruthlessly edit and cut and hack at our work whilst we’re writing until there’s nothing left. But sometimes what we’re writing is just not working. In these instances, set it aside and start something else. Pretend you’re done with that piece of crap story forever and put it in a folder named “trash”—don’t actually trash it, though. With some time away and the excitement of a new project in front of you, you’ll likely come back to that old, stagnant piece and realise it’s not half as bad as you thought.
September is flying by. Two months from now, Steve and I will be leaving New Zealand and heading to Australia (visas pending… should probably get on applying for those). In the meantime, we have two trips planned (well, one planned and one planning-in-progress… can you tell I’m a bit behind on my to-do list?), heaps of people to spend time with, and a couple more items to cross off the kiwi bucket list.
The weather’s also starting to warm up (yay!) which has meant that my Septemberwrimo goal has gotten slightly off-track. Only slightly, I’m at ~24,000 words and I expect I’ll hit 27,000 at least by the time the month finishes, but I have no desire to sit inside on my laptop when it’s sunny and there are mountains to climb. But that’s not important. Even if I only write one word in a day I try to celebrate it, because it’s one more word than I had on the page before.
I’ve written before about how much I love listening to podcasts during pretty much every waking moment. Walking to work? Podcasts. Freelancing? Podcasts. Out for a run? Podcasts. On a long drive? Yep, podcasts. Most of the time I listen to podcasts for entertainment, whether they’re fiction or true crime or, my favourite genre, folklore and paranormal. However, there are also plenty of great podcasts out there that can educate, inform, and best of all, help you with your creative work.
Obviously, podcasting is a creative medium in itself, but it’s also increasingly becoming a way for creative business owners to share their secrets, talk to other creatives, and discuss the process of creative work. Whether you’re a blogger, a wedding photographer, an artist, or just keen on learning about how you can enhance your creative process or maybe even turn it into a side-gig or a career, here are some of my favourite listens for getting the creative juices flowing.
If you’ve got a creative bone in your body, you know how hard it is to make a living from your craft. And if you don’t know, someone will tell you. Unsolicited and often. Most of us will only ever write our novels, take our photos, play our instruments for fun, and we accept that our passion will probably have to be an evening pursuit after our time spent at the workplace. But for some, making a living from doing the creative work they love isn’t just a pipe dream.
There’s a certain feeling of pride and jealousy combined that comes up every time I read about a friend’s book deal or see their byline on one of my favourite websites. It’s amazing to see people achieving their dreams, especially if they can actually pay the bills with it. While I’ve been lucky enough (or, sometimes I think, unlucky enough) to incorporate my love of writing into my work, it’s definitely not easy or lucrative.