My year of living creatively

2013-12-17 18.53.49

On the 22nd December 2012 I received the proof copy of my thriller novel Hard Change and it’s safe to say things haven’t been the same since. Not having been through the process of writing and publishing a book before, I thought that the writing was the creative bit and that I’d have a year of being practical (didn’t sound that exciting), marketing the book (do I have to) and re-building my consultancy business after taking time out to write (a must do but daunting, especially having set my stall out as a writer I wasn’t exactly sure what that was now.)

What’s happened throughout 2013 is that I’ve found myself becoming more creative in different ways, finding stimulating stories everywhere and encouraging others to let their imaginations run wild. This year I’ve been more creative because I’ve changed my view about what creativity is and who does it. Also I’ve learnt loads about creative processes, developed some of my own and tested and developed myself.

So, what’s creative and what isn’t?
Well… everything, it just depends on how you look at it. I’ve tried to bring creativity to every decision I’ve made this year and it’s really paid off. Thinking about a new website and logo, forced to me to not only to refresh the story I was telling about myself but to write a new one.

I took a few creative leaps selling the book, getting myself out and about in random places like the Cardiff Millennium stadium – (thanks to LGComms) and Coventry City Council, Hounslow and Worcester. I found myself in interesting conversations with anyone and everyone about what I was doing, this included taxi drivers, football fans, eco-warriors and my amazing local MP Jeremy Corbyn who agreed to launch the book back in March. I was also shoved by my partner into an empty seat next to Ed Balls on the tube – very embarrassing but he was actually a real gent.

I developed a creative thriller writing workshop for local government officers (not obvious I know) and dream come true, on the back of this, The Guardian asked me to write an article for them. That opportunity helped me think more widely about the use of stories in organisations and how I could help turn around some of the negative narratives about the public sector in the UK. This directly tapped into my novel and the idea of Hard Change, change is hard but possible. So on the road again, I went to York (thanks to SOLACE) and now there are creative leadership workshops which have been generated fantastic energy (more of that in 2014 and thanks to East Sussex, Calderdale and Ealing.)

Who is creative?
Everyone! Not only people who’ve been to art-college, drama school, architects and the like. I did Business Studies so I understand completely that people might think they aren’t creative, I thought that too. My writing came out of my urge to write about the world I know and from a different, gritty but positive perspective (which turned into a thriller). It certainly wasn’t a burning desire to be a writer.

I’ve learnt that quiet reflection, the time to gather and play with your own thoughts and ideas, is a key component of being creative. That time isn’t something we always get or indeed want. I’m mainly an extrovert but learned to embrace my inner introvert. During the writing phase I surprised myself to find that I could sit quietly at my computer writing for months on end – (only going slightly mad) but I really valued it.

This year I’ve learned that with short, focused bursts of quiet time (sometimes only ten minutes) and with a bit of structure, anyone can come up with something, a small gem or two. And it’s bound to be original in some way because we are all unique, there’s a magic mix of our personalities, our situations and world views, which makes every story different. The more we draw on and allow our own thoughts out, the better. In one of the workshops I did this year, I challenged (and supported) a room full of Chartered accountants to write their own thrillers in 45minutes. After flinching and looking highly dubious, they all did it and loved it.

How to be creative?
Experiment. This year has also been full experiments and adaptation of the cheap and cheerful variety. I’ve done a few things I wouldn’t normally do… including getting drunk in the afternoon with two old colleagues in a back street pub full of postal workers and bin men. It reminded me that in so many walks of life “you don’t have to make it up” and 4 beer-mats later I had the bones of a plot for book 2.

And an example of something I’ve done that hasn’t worked this year and that turned out to be pretty expensive. I pressed the worldwide button on a book give-away website – why not I thought? It meant a massive postage bill and books disappearing into the far flung reaches of the Philippines, Romania and Chile.

We are all creative in so many ways; in the way we make jokes, how we use language, through singing in the car, dancing around the living room, decorating our houses/ourselves. Creativity helps the way we work, how we problem solve, manage, innovate, care for others and live in the world. We just need to do it more often. This year I’ve been seeing stories everywhere, including on Jury Service, lots of material there (and the good stuff is not just about the cases I was sitting on.) Plus I’ve got some exciting stories from working in Nigeria which will definitely feature in book 3.

How to develop your creative self?
Be open to it, whatever it is. Being creative can be a rollercoaster – ups, downs, moments of terror and serious furious duck paddling legs under the water. In fact if you don’t feel uncomfortable at some point in a creative process, you’re probably missing the fun part. (Arrgghh did I really say that?) Or you might be missing the point – it has to feel different / awkward / risky and you have to experience that to get a new perspective.

Of course I wouldn’t change anything about this year. I can’t even if I wanted to. But I’ve loved it. At one of the conferences I went to this year, a kind person on the next door stand stuck a glass of red wine in my hand said “here, you’re a writer now, got to look the part.” (It worked by the way; I sold about 25 books in an hour, mainly because it was the drinks reception.)

My new friend was right, and that turned out to be the hardest thing. I had to see myself as a writer and accept that being creative is part of me. In the same way as it’s part of everyone. So I’m not a different person, I’m the same person only more so and being creative is about having the courage to be and express yourself.

Big thanks to everyone who has helped make 2013 so creative. Here’s to more of the good stuff in 2014.

P.s. I’m drinking a mince-pie caipirinha – a vodka based cocktail with real mince pie in it. Xmas magic!

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