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Your Creative Ikigai

Many many moons ago, I lived in Japan. The Japanese live life well. Despite the technological advances, they appreciate the simple things in life.

A phrase often heard from kindergarten kids to 90 year olds is ikigai.‘ Before I fully understood the translation of the word, which as luck would have it has become a borrowed word in the English language, I got it. I got it, because the ever so helpful body language told me all I needed to know.

Ikigai has the guaranteed side effect of smiling, a warm fuzzy feeling and heartfelt happiness

The dictionary or hand held electronic translation (yep that used to be a thing kids) wasn’t necessary because the obligatory accompaniment to ‘ikigai’ was a smile, a warm glow or a hand placed over the heart that often triggered a smile.

The body language, was usually accompanied by some kind of action, be it flower arranging, a tea ceremony, tending the garden, growing veg, keeping chickens, writing, painting, playing tennis, swimming, walking, doing yoga, practising martial arts. An endless list….. Ikigai, is an activity or feeling that one enjoys in the moment when doing something one loves.

A love affair with the living of life itself that is true, honest and full of delight.

Ikigai is something money simply can’t buy, it’s without class, without divide, open to all to enjoy, equally.

There isn’t one word in the English language that can sum it up, it is a combination of so much of what we treasure in life. In essence, it’s the reason we get up in the morning, our passion, our ‘go to’ thing in life, that’s beyond a quick fix of Netflix or Amazon Prime. I say that as someone who regularly finds solace in movies and TV series, especially in lockdown days. Deep down, I know that my ikigai is an inner creativity and encouraging others to create.

Creative Carpe Diem

So, look back on your today and if there was joy, look at where that joy was. If it was when you sat down and came to the page or your laptop to write, shooting that scene on the underground with masks, a morning walk, run or playing football. Whatever it was, make it a regular thing if you can. It’s not a to do list or a must have number of words, it’s a desire, a passion, a match that thing or thing(s) that lights your inner fire. So, seize the day and do more of what brings you ikiagi, today, tomorrow and whenever you feel you need a reason to live. If you didn’t experience that today, think about what brings you joy and add it into any time left today and definitely your tomorrows.

Arigato gozaimashita Japan……….

The Dawn of The Age of Collaboration

creative collaborationThank you 2020 for bringing many of us together, the year ‘collaboration’ became ‘cool’.

Let’s face it, without collaboration, we wouldn’t have got as much done. If you are enjoying your new found ‘collaboration’ you will love what we do at Collab Writers. The clue is in our name, we are all about ‘collaboration’ of writers and other creatives.

Goodbye ‘me, myself and I’ culture

There’s no denying that part of our old society is crumbling together with the ‘me me me’ culture. In case you’ve forgotten it already, this was the culture where people cared quite a lot about themselves, how rich they were, and what they could achieve in life. Competition was the name of the game. Keeping up with the Jones’s was more important than giving the Jones’s a helping hand.

Enter 2020, and we have got to know our neighbours, and have helped in the community. We are becoming more ‘us’ than ‘I’, also marking the dawn of The Great Collaboration.

“The old way of life has been paused by a power greater than us and the ‘me, me, me’ culture crystallised in history to make way for The Age of Collaboration.”

If we stop and think, even the best of us were a bit ‘me, me ‘me’ focused until 2020 arrived. As we emerge like butterflies from lockdown, we are transformed, thinking about how we can help others, opening us up to finding ways of working with others.

Hello Collaboration – working together as one

Collab Writers was born (pre-pandemic) to connect people, to help them get to know one another and build up relationships of trust. The collaborative creative community was born to encourage creatives to collaborate through telling stories together. We are here to connect, support and inspire you to join forces to create passion projects.

As distance disappears, and time differences become less important, we are paying less attention to individual difference and believing more in commonalities. The time to collaborate is NOW. When Collab Writers was born, 18 months ago ‘collaboration’ was a word we didn’t hear that often. It is now on every forward thinking company’s radar.

So how does collaboration happen at Collab Writers?

We bring people together. We identify creative synergies and make creative collaborations happen. How? We just do. There is no clever algorithm. We know creative talent when we see it, old hands or emerging creatives, all are welcome. Our collaborative crystal ball gives us the vision of what we feel will work collaboratively. Then we connect people and collaborations just happen. It’s why we were created, and we truly believe it’s the reason we are here.

On top of the many ongoing collaborations that have been born and come to life through Collab Writers, our members have also collaborated with big players, the Raindance Film Festival, The Showface Festival, and Manga Big Bang to name a few. Our Small Ads, Big Roles Feature on our newsletter is open to all members as a platform to seek collaborators and shout from the rooftops about collaborations and creative projects.

Whatever happens in the future, one thing’s for sure, it’s Goodbye the ‘Me me me’ culture, and it’s Hello to the ‘let’s work together, as one’ culture.

If you want to know what all of the buzz is about, join us at Collab Writers in September on ZOOM with a special creative guest. We are also delighted that we have more new and exciting international collaborations stirring in the Collab pot, to be announced soon.

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Create what matters to you

BALI, INDONESIA - DECEMBER 5, 2017: Balinese man praying in Tirta Empul Temple.
BALI, INDONESIA – DECEMBER 5, 2017: Balinese man praying in Tirta Empul Temple. Bali island

The message of this blog is short, so if you are short on time, or your attention span is short read on, I’ll be quick. I promise.

Create with EASE

It’s Sunday morning and I’m reminded of the song ‘Easy like Sunday morning.’ That’s exactly how your relationship with creativity can and should be.

If you are a writer or a filmmaker here on this planet right now you have a duty, you have a duty to pour your creative music onto the page, through words, drawing, painting. Whatever mode you’ve chosen, or has chosen you, give birth to it.

Create NOW

Forget the excuse of ‘I don’t have time.’ Time won’t give you time so you better do it now, in the present rather than waiting till tomorrow, when there will be one day less.

During lockdown, I’ve heard the same old question, hard on the ears like a stuck record.: ‘What sort of stories do you think the market will be looking for?‘ Frankly, who gives a flying saucer what the market thinks. If you try to write a disaster movie because you think that’s what a fearful population wants to see, write it by all means but if you ain’t passionate about it, it won’t fly. Besides, haven’t we got enough disaster in the world without inflicting fictional disaster on our fellow human beings?

Create what MATTERS

I honestly feel that anyone with a single creative bone in their body was born to share their message with the world. And, each of us has something different that matters to us, be it fair treatment and equality, religion, saving the world, animals, coffee, chocolate.

Create what you CARE ABOUT

I dare you do one thing after reading this. Plant a seedling of something creative that MATTERS TO YOU. Not what matters to Netflix, Channel 4 or any other studio seeking work, but create what matters to you.

Create with EMOTION

In the words of Collab Writers’ Founder Collaborator, Elliot Grove:

“Good storytelling is all about the emotion.”

Without the emotion, your creation will be flat and I reckon you can only inject that ‘real’ emotion into writing, or a painting if you have some kind of feelings about your subject. You might love it, you might hate it, either works. What you mustn’t show is an I couldn’t care, nonchalant attitude. That doesn’t rock anyone’s boat.

If you want an example of raw emotion, and lesson 101 in storytelling that matters, re-watch the movies of one of my favourite actors and filmmakers, Mr Clint Eastwood.

Create after doing your HOMEWORK

Last night I watched Gran Torino, a tour de force dealing with, amongst other things, social issues, nationalism and racial tension that matter more than ever today. The tension and conflict build from the get go and has you on the edge of your seat until the shocking ending. I’ve seen the film at least twice before but my emotional rollercoaster began as soon as the opening credits fell away.

Create a rollercoaster of EMOTION

I felt an immense dislike for the lead character, Walt from his first sentence and spitting at his neighbours. The racist views made my blood boil. The writers and filmmakers did their job brilliantly, emotive story telling that built and built with each inciting incident. And they achieved that really clever thing, that the best movies do where the character changes, grows and learns from the mistakes of his past, embraces change and with that you, the see’er grow to have a deep respect for him. As the movie develops, Walt discovers he has more in common with his neighbours than his own people and they become his family. In the end, he commits the ultimate sacrifice caring more about their survival than his own. Now that’s what I call emotional telling of a story that matters.

To steal the emotion from another great emotive movie ‘The Godfather’:

“You’ve gotta “go for the marmite” with your creative works.”
– Jennie Griffiths

Love or hate what you write about. Never, ever ‘like’ or shrug your shoulders about your subject or message, feel the emotion and whatever you create will matter. 

 

Go fund yourself (and bake cherry pie)

Finance

Bake & sell every slice of your creative pie

If you cringed at the thought of a money blog, read on. If you were tempted by the thought of cherry pie, read on.  Many creatives think money and art don’t go hand in hand but it doesn’t need to be that way. We aren’t driven to create for money but that doesn’t mean we don’t deserve to be paid for our creations! Stop waiting around for Hollywood to come knocking, get savvy and learn to go fund yourself...

Many creatives are struggling in these times which has inspired us at Collab HQ to offer practical and supportive tips to help monetise creative talent. You are talented and deserve to be rewarded. As your grandmother hopefully taught you, never put all your eggs in one basket. Rather than having another Netflix binge, grab a pen and paper and draw a circle. How many slices are there to your creative pie? In each section, label a creative talent you could earn from. We invite you to take one action every day for the next 21 days to monetise your creative talent pie.

1.Examine your thoughts & money habits

This is the hard bit. Examine your relationship with money. Do you see money as negative? Listen to your thoughts and conversations about money. If you are in debt and moan about never having enough, you’ll attract more of the same. For a bit of fun, why not try Rhonda Byrne’s the Secret and write yourself a cheque for your creative projects, put it up on your fridge and manifest!

2.Reframe your money relationship

If you tell yourself your life is abundant then you might just end up attracting more money. This isn’t pie in the sky, for more motivation on earning money whilst doing what you love, check out ‘The Money Tree’ by Chris Guillebeau. Keep a ledger of your incomings and outgoings for the next 21 days (including direct debits). If there are things you don’t want to spend money on that you don’t have to, don’t.

3.Pie chart your creative income sources

Back in school we drew pie charts. Think of your creative life as a warm juicy cherry pie. Decide whether you are going to cut your pie into halves, quarters, sixes or sevens. Label your creative talents into pie portions and write down a monthly figure that your time is worth. Stick your pie chart on your fridge, alongside your cheque from the universe.

4.Develop a portfolio of creative outlets to help fund your projects

Once you’ve cut your pie, let the cherries ooze out. One of our founder collaborators is fluent in a second language and in lockdown has been tutoring via Zoom. Another member has been mentoring and coaching actors, soundproofed a cupboard and recorded an audio book. These are just some of the countless ways to get creative in ways that’ll reap rewards. If you play an instrument, can that be a slice of pie – piano lessons via zoom? Can you write for a magazine? Baking a creative pie is building your brand and showing you aren’t a one trick pony.  Get creative and don’t be shy about hustling for work and flaunting your skills.

5.Patreon your projects – it’s as easy as…pie

My dad’s an artist, always has been, always will be. Self taught, no posh art school diploma, his art was a product of hard graft, passion and grit. He painted whenever he could and built up a collection he exhibited in local art galleries. This created a fan base and demand drove commissions. A local hotel loved his work so much they filled it with his local watercolour paintings that adorn the walls today. It was hard to get creative work out there in those days, there was no social media, it was word of mouth worthiness. Today, it’s a piece of pie, so there is no reason not to be earning from your work (if you want to). All you need to do is get it out there and remember, money is applause!

Do you want to get paid for the art you are creating? Do you want to build a fan base for your work? If so, PATREON is a no brainer contestant for a slice of your pie!

In a nutshell, it’s a virtual shop/online channel to you and your creative projects. Supporters pay per post or creation, or on a monthly basis. You decide the frequency of your creations, whatever suits you. The other cool thing is you get to engage directly with your supporters. Unlike Kickstarter or Indiegogo, there is no end date, Patreon support is ongoing.

6.Crowdsource

Many members developing projects are eager to crowdsource but having not done it before don’t know where to start. On top of Patreon, you could do a one-off campaign to fund a social/creative movement, book or movie. There are many options – first off, do your homework, plan your campaign, think up rewards, shoot a short video on your phone, tell people about your project through social media, market the project and you’re ready, steady, GO!

Indiegogo – the preferred site of filmmakers. Current creative projects include writing and publishing, TV and web series, music, photography, film, comics (the list is endless).

Kickstarteras it’s all or nothing, the fees are lower than Indiegogo but there is a risk that you might not hit your goal. Another reason your marketing and social media campaign is critical to its success.

The key difference between these two platforms is that Indiegogo has a ‘flexible funding’ method so you get whatever amount you’ve raised (even if you don’t meet your goal). Kickstarter, is a ‘fixed funding’ site so if you don’t hit your goal you walk away with nothing. Remember that supporters are buying into ‘you’ so make your campaign as genuine and real as possible and deliver on your promises.

From experience, add a year to your timeframe. Creative projects take longer than you imagine and there are unexpected events like this year that you can’t foresee. Two years on, we are still editing Consequences (the novel that was one of our crowdfunding rewards). We will get it out to our backers (hopefully this year) but it has been later than planned and we really appreciate the patience of our supporters.

7.Apply for film grants, enter contests and seek charitable funding to support your work

Whilst many organisations have cut funding for the arts, some remain and you’ve got to be in it to win it. So, use this ‘indoor time’ to throw your creative hat into the ring. The BFI Fund remains. If you’re a screenwriter, The ISA has multiple contests, including the Emerging Screenwriter contest for TV pilots or features (deadline June 30th 2020). If you are telling stories that matter that reflect the issues of our time, you may be in with a chance. And, let’s remember, Film Festivals that can showcase your work like the Raindance Film Festival, established by Founder Partner, Elliot Grove.

On the theme of stories that matter, have a think about charities that might be interested in the work you are creating. If your film promotes diversity or mental health support then contact charities and ask how you might work together. If your goals merge, they might give you a mountain to shout from. Many creatives don’t get paid because people who might support them don’t know they exist. You are ‘real’ influencers, you have something to say through your creations, so it’s time to get on social media and give future generations someone to follow who can teach them something that matters.

8.Walls are tumbling down – send your work to publishers /industry and enter writing competitions

Publishers who were once closed to unrepresented writers are opening their doors to unsolicited manuscripts. You don’t need an agent to get noticed these days. Take advantage, knock on those virtual doors and submit your work.

If you’ve got any slices of pie left (are you hungry yet? I am) please offer one slice to writing competitions. There are so many out there. It’s fun, good practice and if you’re lucky you might be long or short listed or better still, win! Here’s a list of this year’s top writing competitions. Don’t be put off if they don’t bite, accolades are just applause and like marmite you’ll never be everyone’s cup of tea. Your pie is delicious whether you got paid for all of it or offered up a slice or two for free. And none of those ‘I don’t have time’ excuses, how many Netflix series have you watched this year?? Some writing contests are 100 words for micro fiction, check out Retreat West.

Conscious that many of you are keen to learn from industry professionals about how to finance your writing and movie projects, one of our favourite Film Producers and Writers, Ali Mashayekhi has accepted our invitation to the next Collab Writers’ meet-up on July 2nd to share his top tips on crowdfunding and tricks of the trade.

Tune in to hear Ali’s top tips on Thursday 2 July at 7pm BST. Till then, I’m off to bake and eat that delicious cherry pie…and I hope you will too.

The 5 Secrets to Creative Productivity

Collab Writers is delighted to bring you a guest blog on the 5 secrets to creative productivity, by celebrated author and Collab Writers founder member, N J Simmonds.

The 5 Secrets to Creative Productivity

Creativity can’t be switched on or off, yet we all need to produce in order to create. So how can you ensure that where you put your creative energy yields results?

I have five points for you to consider…but first, a little about me and why I’m known for being so prolific.

NJ SimmondsMy name is Natali and I write all types of fantasy under various names. I’m a mum of two and although originally from London, I now live in The Netherlands (after seven years in Spain). As well being a mum in a foreign country with no family support, I also run my own brand consultancy business and I’m the author of fantasy books The Path Keeper, Son of Secrets, and Children of Shadows (signed to US publisher BHC Press as N J Simmonds), I’m a writer of Manga (for Big Bang! Manga magazine), one half of Paranormal Romance writing duo Caedis Knight (first series the Blood Web Chronicles launching this autumn), and I currently have a middle grade novel and a fantasy duology out with agents. Yup. That’s a lot of output.

‘let us understand how you do it,’ I was asked before writing this blog. ‘Tell them how you manage to juggle so much and still create!’

So here are five points to consider.

1) Don’t Assume Creativity is a Level Playing Field

Before I start raving about how we all have twenty-four hours in the day and if Beyonce can do it, why can’t you? I’d like to talk about privilege. No matter what level you are at in your craft, the space and time to be creatively productive is a luxury. It’s important we all recognise that.

I have achieved a lot in my life because I’m organised, motivated, positive and brimming with ideas etc etc…yes, that’s all great and I’ll come to these points later…but I’m also in a position of privilege. I tell you this because I don’t want you reading my tips and feeling like you’re not trying hard enough.

Firstly, I have space in my life to create at the speed that I do. I run my own company, but I also have a partner with a good job so I’m under no pressure to single-handedly provide. If I were a single mother with three demanding young kids and a full-time job that rendered me exhausted by 6pm, do you still think I’d be able to do what I do? No. I couldn’t. And on top of that many people have physical and mental health reasons why constant productivity is impossible. I have the luxury to manage my own working hours and to take creative risks with projects that sometimes pay…and sometimes don’t. I also have kids who, at aged 9 and 11, leave me alone a lot. Plus I’m healthy with an abundance of energy (I can get by on 5 or 6 hours of sleep a night). Those perks aren’t available to everyone…no matter how much they push for it.

Another factor to consider that some of you may have noticed during this current pandemic, is that creativity can’t be forced, and external pressures can really stifle the imagination. When we are all struggling at the bottom rung of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and living in survival mode, coming up with cool plot ideas or feeling in the mood to paint for five hours isn’t going to happen.

Yet there are plenty of people who do have the space and time to create, some even more so than me, but they still go all day with nothing to show for their time. So let’s look at how they can increase their productivity.

NJ Simmonds Fantasy Author

2) Something Has To Give

What’s currently stopping you from getting stuff done? Do you feel like you don’t have enough time? Resources? Money? Energy? Head space? Ideas? Whatever it is, the one problem most people share is time.

The ‘everyone has 24 hours in the day’ fallacy is nonsense. Yes, we all have the same amount of hours to play with, but some of us have no choice but to use those hours doing things we don’t want to – even outside of working hours. Cooking, grocery shopping, childcare, life admin…you name it, some days we wonder what the hell we’ve been wasting our time on.

I have news for you. Something has to give.

That doesn’t mean you stop feeding yourself or leave your children on a street corner – it means prioritising, discipline and exercising boundaries. Why boundaries? Because if you are serious about your art then those around you need to understand it too.

I’ve never calculated how many hours it has taken me to write my books, but I started plotting my debut The Path Keeper in 2012 and it went on sale in 2017. That’s a lot of hours of work. And from 2016 until 2020 I have written (or still in the process of writing) a further ten books plus a 12-part Manga cartoon. As I said, that’s a lot of hours of not doing other things.

So what had to give? I watch less TV than before, I go out less, I sleep less, and I don’t spend hours working out or making myself pretty. I also run a very tight household where my kids are expected to chip in, and they know that when I’m working they have to respect that.

Ask anyone who writes more than one book a year how much they go out or lie in and they will laugh. Because you can’t have it all. And if you want to create a lot, then you have to choose art first.

3) Colour in the Blank Spaces

Saying that though, you can also be creative WHILE doing mundane stuff. When I wrote my debut novel my children were only one and three years old and they cried all night. I didn’t get more than 90 mins consecutive sleep and it was killing me – which is why I started to make up my story in my head at 2am, 4am, 6am.

And I still create characters and plots during the blank spaces of my day. While in the shower, driving, hanging out the washing you can still be coming up with ideas. You may also have to do two things at once – ring your mum while walking around the supermarket, watch your TV show while cooking, read your book while having lunch – whatever it takes to buy back some time to create.

This probably explains why I sleep so little, my mind has been trained to not stop, but it also means you never spend a day staring at a blank page because the idea has already been formed during your empty times.

4) Plan/ And Stick To It

But let’s not forget the most obvious of tips. Plan. You have to be organised to run so many projects at once and keep churning creative work out.

I’m very strict about how I plan my day. I check social media and emails from 6am-7am, get the kids to school and do housework 7am-9am, then I work (dealing with my creative projects or clients, with my phone on plane mode and no social media open on my laptop so I don’t peak). But I will gove myself a treat every 45 mins of chatting on Twitter or watching Netflix over lunch. When the kids get home I keep working while also looking after their needs, cook dinner, then have quality time with my family. By 8pm I stop because…

5) Treat Yourself As You Would Treat Others

…you have to be kind to yourself.

Productivity is more about the quantity of art you create it’s not about the quality. And if you don’t put effort and love into your family, relationship, friendships and yourself you will crumble. So also try and switch off sometimes.

You’d think that would be hard to do when you’re doing so much in the day – but actually, the sense of satisfaction you get from achieving what you set out to do will give you a sense of accomplishment so large you’ll be totally fine about stopping and treating yourself to a movie, a bath or a cocktail with friends.

Know your limits. Some people need to work on one thing at a time and that’s great, break down what you need to do and give yourself enough time to work through the list with buffers for when life gets in the way. And others like me, who are restless and impatient and obsessive, need to constantly have twenty balls up in the air for the high, for the variety, and for that giddy sense of momentum.

But remember – no artist hits the jackpot on their first time, so for any level of success you have to keep creating. Don’t be scared to try new things and branch out. After all, Picasso created 50,000 pieces of art, from sculptures and ceramics to sketches and oils, and I bet you can’t name thirty of them! Keep making, keep producing, and one day one of those things you create will make you.

By N J Simmonds for Collab Writers

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