Finding (or not finding) my flow: art in the time of parenting

Hello Magpies!

I am sorry that I missed last week’s post. My brain feels like a sack of porridge at the moment.

I have been thinking a bit about creativity and the stop start nature of artistic work when you are also a parent of a young child. While it took me a while to adjust to having a young son, I feel as though I have got to a place where I am fitting in art, writing or film making every day at the moment. Baby Magpie’s naps have got slightly more predictable, and I’ve also found some time some evenings to do stuff.

So the logistics are beginning to work themselves out, and I am pleased with myself for that. But for me there is a second element to creative work that is really important, and that I’m having a bit less success with. I can have a plan, and follow the plan. I can do 200 words a day for example, but are they good words?

I struggle to find my flow when I am squeezing in work into twenty minute chunks here and there. Flow is a psychological concept, described by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, that describes that really enjoyable mental state where everything is working together, your focus is aligned with what you are doing, and time passes by unmarked. If you are interested in reading more, I think this book is good.

I find that it is in this state that my best ideas for my art come to me, and I find it hard to completely enter that state when I also have one eye, or one ear on the baby. Has anyone else experienced this? if you have, and have tips on how to manage this pleased let me know in the comments below.

Thank you for reading. I also make art. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.

Scraping together time for art.

It’s been a busy few weeks here in the Magpie Nest. I was finally able to take Baby Magpie home to spend some time with his grandparents, which was great but exhausting. We also have quite a lot of jobs that need doing on the house, and the day to day jobs involved in looking after a small person.

With all of this going on I have been finding it hard to fit in time for creative things at the moment, as Baby Magpie is reaching an age where he is interested in everything, and beginning to be able to move himself about the place just a little, but not quite enough to satisfy his curiosity. It is difficult to find the kind of quiet alone time that you some times need just to think a bit of creative work through.

One of the little projects I had in mind was a card for Mr Magpie, as it was his birthday recently. I have given him hand made cards for his birthday every year since we’ve been together and it’s one of the little rituals of our relationship that I don’t want to let slide. I had a design in mind but found it difficult to just sneak away and put my design onto paper, which began to make me very anxious.

In the end I was able to manage it by pretending I had another piece of work I wanted to do and getting Mr Magpie to sit with him for a while for a while. It wasn’t the best solution, it would be better if I could find ways of managing my time better, but it worked as a fix at the time.

Baby Magpie is just beginning to take regular naps reliably, so I am hoping to be able to concentrate more on my projects during that time. Thus far I’ve not demonstrated a particularly strong ability to put boundaries around my time, or be disciplined at the opportunity arises, but this is something I plan to work on. I will let you know how it goes.

Thank you for reading. I also make art. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.

‘I’ll fix that later’: things that help when trying to write and look after a baby.

When I was pregnant last year I had difficulty thinking about how I would continue to ‘be me’ and also be a mum. Keeping up my creative practice was one of the ‘be me’ things I was worried about. As I write this my baby is almost eleven weeks old and, as I’ve written about here, I’m concentrating on the writing at the moment, as it’s the easiest thing for me to manage. This has been pretty helpful to me from a psychological point of view, as my identity inevitably changes, and I have limits on my time, I am finding myself able to continue with a few things that were important to me.

Obviously I’m no expert in productivity, I’ve been working on my novel for a long time (eight years and counting), but I’m beginning to figure out some of the things that help me actually get words on the screen. I’m also understanding what I need to let go of for now. Here are my thoughts for now:

1. The phrase ‘I’ll fix that later’ is your friend. I have found that the less I try to get everything down perfectly the more I can actually get done. Interrupting the flow of writing to try to fix something or research something normally just results in me not doing anything. Instead I try to keep with the flow, and where I notice I’ve just done something I don’t really like I think ‘I’ll fix that later’. It’s then quite straightforward to fix issues in an edit when there is a bit more time.

2. Small chunks of writing are possible in even very short periods of time. I have found two to four hundred words very doable in ten minutes, which is two to four hundred words more than yesterday.

3. Small chunks of writing are only possible if I give myself reminders. If I try to cast around for the muse in ten minutes I inevitably don’t find her. So, if I have to put my writing down quickly, which I frequently do at the moment, I’m finding that if I can get a sentence down (often highlighted in red) to remind me what I was going to write next I have no trouble returning to it.

I hope this is helpful. Now I need to go and cuddle the baby.

I also make art. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.

Late night research and the Hidden Life of Trees

Followers of this blog may know that I’ve been working on a novel for some time (like ten years worth of time). I think it’s taken so long because it took me a while to work out what kind of book I was writing. When I started I had pretentions towards a kind of literary book, maybe magical realism, but wouldn’t have placed it in any kind of genre. Over time my ideas have evolved and I have ended up writing something that fits more squarely with the science fiction/ urban fantasy genres, with a strong environmental and mental health theme. I hesitate to call it feminist, but it has two female protagonists who are complicated, and as ‘whole’ as I can make them so far.

One of the things I’ve been doing while up in the middle of the night expressing milk for the baby is to read non fiction books that could be called ‘research’ for this. I think this may be where the famous ‘multi tasking’ that women are often claimed to have begins, because I certainly wouldn’t claim to be a multi-tasker, but I’ve found that I can just about manage to hold a breast pump and balance my chrome book on my knees at the same time.

My list so far has been slightly eclectic, and tending towards environmental themes. I’ve read This Changes Everything, by Naomi Klein, which I really liked/ was deeply frightened by, and also Into the Woods, by John Yorke, which is a really nice book about the mechanics of storytelling.

I’ve just begun reading the Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, which is a really interesting insight into the biology of forests. It explains how trees in forests communicate through a ‘wood wide web’ and form a social network through which they can support each other and warn each other of threats. I really like these ideas for my novel. I was finding the idea of writing science fiction because there was no place for things like robots or computer science (yet) in my book. Equally I was having difficulty with the idea of writing fantasy as so far there are no elves or swords in my story (although with time who knows – these things evolve). But I feel like I am on good ground with biological sciences, which I always found a had most affinty with.

For anyone interestes in reading about the social life of trees I would suggest this book as a nice tour. The writing in the early chapters reads a bit like an essay someone has written for GCSE biology, with a series of chapters that read a bit like lists of interesting things, rather than a coherent story, but this evens out later in the book.

Happy reading.

This article contains affliate links. Should you choose to buy one of the books cited with the links here amazon will throw few pennies my way. I also make art. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.

Trying to be a new parent and creative at the same time: Write everyday?

IMG_20200302_041051151 It’s been almost 9 weeks since I had my baby and I’ve been beginning to get back thinking about how to be a creative person, at the same time as being a new parent. It’s been quite a learning curve, but I think that he’s beginning to settle into a routine, which means I’m beginning to be able to predict when I will have a little bit of time to engage with my creativity.

For anyone who has followed my blog over the years, you’ll know that I’ve always had several projects on the go, including writing a novel, making art (some of which is available here), and trying to finish a documentary, as well as a day job. The big, important thing I have learned since having my baby is that I am only likely to have a little bit of time in any given day, so I need to choose wisely how I use it. Most of my projects involve getting out camera kit or bits of paper or other stuff which will a) take half of the short amount of time I have to set up, and b) will be abandoned half way through my trying to do what ever it is I am trying to do to get tripped over or sat on by cats.

At the moment I’ve chosen to focus on my writing because that’s the one project I have that I can pick up and put down easily. At home I have two computers, one which is a mac that has all my film making software and word on, and a chrome book which is really designed for using a range of apps and the internet. At the moment I have a draft of my novel on the go in google docs, which means that I can work on it from either computer. I’m finding this really helps. I almost always have the chrome book to hand to add in a few sentences to a page. I turn on the mac for moments when I know I will have a bit longer to do a more concentrated bit of work.

I’ve also been listening to a podcast called The Bestseller Experiment (check out the website here), which has been going for several years now. I started right at the beginning and find it’s a good thing to listen to when I’m in the bath in the evening. The podcast is full of interviews with people who have written best selling books, and has lots of interesting insights. One of the big messages they have, which has come out of interviews with lots of authors, is to write everyday, even if it’s only 200 words. I am trying that out at the moment, which is a different approach for me, as before I was saving my creative work for times when I knew I would have a big block of time (half of which I inevitably spent procrastinating).

I am finding the write every day approach is helping a lot, as it forces me to keep continuity on a single project. I’m finding I’m having a lot more ideas as I work this way, and am making a lot more progress than I did with the big blocks of time approach, so this is a win I think. I expected parenthood to be teaching me all sorts of new things. I was concerned that I would lose the creative part of my life to being a mum, so it’s really nice that some of those things are about how to be more creative.

I also make art. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.