How To Wait For Creative Inspiration

Before I begin, I should point out that “waiting for inspiration” is something you shouldn’t rely on if you want to be an artist, writer etc… because regular scheduled practice (even when you don’t make anything good and/or feel “uninspired”) is a much better way to train your mind to be consistently creative.

Regularly “showing up” and actively looking for inspiration (even if you don’t find it every time and sometimes end up churning out second-rate work) will give you so many more ideas and so much more confidence than if you just sit around and wait for inspiration to come to you. If you push yourself to make something every day, every three days, every week etc… even if it isn’t very good, then you’ll find that feeling uninspired becomes less of an issue over time. Creativity is a skill that requires practice.

Even so, there’s no denying that it’s a really cool experience when an idea just appears in your mind. And, since this happened to me a couple of times recently (I thought that I’d lost interest in making comics… only to suddenly think of ideas for two short parody comics that were too hilarious not to make), I thought that I’d offer a few tips about how to wait for inspiration. Although, again, you shouldn’t rely on this as your main source of creative ideas. It’s a fun supplement to regular practice and nothing more.

1) Do something else:
If you’re feeling uninspired, then it can be tempting to stare at the blank page or blank screen and rack your brain for ideas. Everyone does this at some point and it is nothing to feel ashamed of. However, it is the worst way to find sudden moments of inspiration. It doesn’t work very often because you’re too busy feeling frustrated about not having ideas to give your mind any room to actually work on creating them.

So, do something else. Do something a bit mindless that allows you to let your mind wander and to daydream. Something relaxing and/or enjoyably boring. Something that requires you to think about what you are doing, but also doesn’t take up 100% of your mind’s resources. Not only will this distract you from the feelings of frustration that you’ll get if you just stare at your sketchbook or computer, but this relaxation and/or mild boredom is also the perfect conditions for daydreams, which can turn into good “inspired” ideas.

For example, when I had the ideas for the two parody comics I mentioned earlier, I had one when I was watering some plants and I had the other when I was re-playing an old computer game during a few spare minutes. Both things were relaxing enough to make me daydream, but also required enough attention to distract me from any frustrating feelings of “being uninspired”.

2) Keep your mind fuelled: In short, you’re more likely to suddenly have “inspired” ideas if you regularly keep your mind fuelled with a variety of different creative works. The emphasis here is on “regularly” and “variety”.

Frequent exposure to other examples of creativity (eg: novels, films, comics, games, music etc…) provides a good jumping off point for your own daydreams and also means that there will be something new for your mind to examine on a regular basis. It keeps your imagination well-stocked with prompts that can be turned into new and interesting ideas. But, this is also why variety is important.

Unless you’re writing fan fiction or making fan art, then you’ll want your “inspired” ideas to actually be original ones. And the best way to give your imagination the source material it needs to create original ideas is to expose yourself to a wide variety of different things that it can combine, cross-reference, compare etc… in new and interesting ways, to look at a wide variety of different things that your imagination can meld together into something that is completely different from any one thing you’ve been exposed to.

So, read stories by different authors in different genres, look at different styles of art, play a variety of different games, listen to a few genres of music etc…. The more you regularly expose yourself to a variety of different creative works, the more likely you will be to have sudden moments of inspiration.

3) Give it time: Sometimes, an “inspired” idea will appear fully-formed and ready to go. However, this isn’t all that common. What tends to happen a lot more often is that you’ll only get part of an idea. This will usually seem absolutely brilliant at first but, when you try to make a sketch or write a few paragraphs, it just feels incomplete and/or doesn’t work properly. Needless to say, this can be more than a little bit frustrating. So, what should you do?

First of all, make a note of it (seriously, write it down!). Secondly, just give it time. If the idea is any good, then the rest of it will end up appearing at some point in the future. It might end up being very different or there might just be one really obvious small change that just makes it “work”, but it will appear when it is ready.

There’s no hidden trick to this. Sometimes you’ll get part of an “inspired” idea and the rest of it might not appear for literally years. Sometimes the rest of it will appear five minutes later. As I mentioned earlier, just waiting for inspiration isn’t the most reliable or consistent way to get creative ideas. So, be sure to practice regularly whilst you wait for the rest of your “inspired” idea to appear.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three More Reasons Why Reading Regularly Is Important For Writers

Although I’ve talked before about the famous advice (summed up most pithily by Stephen King) about the importance of reading regularly if you’re a writer, I thought that I’d look at this topic again since I’ve been thinking about some more of the useful things it can do for authors. But, since I’ll be talking a lot about inspiration (and copyright) here, I should probably give the obligatory “I am not a lawyer” disclaimer right now.

1) It widens your palette: The more fiction you read by more different authors, the more interesting and varied your stories will be. Often, this won’t be blatant or obvious, but it’ll often allow you to add all sorts of subtle stuff to your story that you might not have even thought about including before. Every book you read leaves a small trace in your imagination and expands your own personal definition of what a story is and what sort of stuff it can include.

So, the more books you read, the wider your “palette” will be when it comes to crafting original story ideas of your own or even working out how to create a particular effect or mood in any one part of your story.

All creative people are inspired by everything that we have ever read, watched, seen, played, heard etc… Originality comes from having a wide enough range of these things that an instinctive, well-chosen combination of general elements, themes, stylistic pointers etc.. from all of these things (but NOT highly-specific copyrightable details, because that is plagiarism) turns into something that the reader has never quite seen before. So, the more books you read, the wider the palette you’ll have when creating your own stories and story ideas.

2) “I wish I could have written that!”: If you read regularly, you’re going to have this reaction. You’ve just read an absolutely amazing book and you think “I wish I could have written that!“. Of course, if you’re either still in the early stages of learning how to write fiction, haven’t read that much or don’t have enough ideas of your own yet, then this will probably result in you writing some non-commercial “fan fiction” that uses the characters, settings etc… from the book you’ve just read.

Of course, if you’re a bit more experienced and, more crucially, have read quite a bit then you’ll probably think of examples where other authors have clearly had these moments but done something a lot more imaginative with them. After all, they wanted to write a “proper” book that they could publish and sell. Not only couldn’t they directly copy the thing that inspired them (because of copyright law and all that…), but they also then did something different with it that was much more in tune with their own imagination, sensibilities, interests etc…

Reading a lot of books (and, even better, reviewing them) makes you think about books on a more technical and thematic level. It gives you the ability to work out exactly what inspires you so much about a book and exactly what elements set your favourite type of book apart from the rest. It allows you to refine this definition through seeing lots of books that you do and don’t like. And when you’ve worked out what all of your favourite books by different authors have in common, then you have the beginnings of a good story idea that you’ll be really inspired to write.

Of course, you also need to know yourself. You need to, through experiences, introspection, daydreaming and – of course, reading, watching etc… lots of stuff, have a very good understanding of your own imagination. Since, although you might have your “all my favourite things have this in common!” idea, you still need to tailor-make it into something that only you can write. You need to use it as a skeleton to put all of your stuff on top of.

Yes, your final story will (and should, if you want to avoid copyright problems) be fairly different from the story that initially made you think “I wish I could have written that!” But, it’ll be something better. It’ll be an interesting, unique story that will probably make other people think “I wish I could have written that!”.

3) Finding your writing style: The more you read and write, the more your own distinctive writing style will evolve. And, yes, this another reason why reading a lot – especially reading lots of different authors – matters so much.

Reading a lot exposes you to lots of different writing styles and, if you’re new to writing, you’re almost certainly going to spend time copying your favourite ones (for example, when I was 17, virtually every story I wrote sounded like either Conan Doyle and/or Lovecraft). Although these stories will be second-rate imitations of your favourite writers, they are still important! Because, when you’ve done this enough times, when you’ve read enough different writing styles and “tried out” a few of them, your own unique style – a combination of all of them in varying proportions- will begin to emerge.

So, not only is reading a lot (by different authors) important for developing your own writing style, but it also shows you that styles that you might have written off as “boring” or “annoying” can actually work well. For example, when I got back into reading regularly a little over a year ago, I tended to focus slightly more on books that were written in a fast-paced, informal way because this was fun to read. In fact, I even started to notice how formal the writing in a lot of older 1880s-1990s books I read when I was younger were and, for a while at least, I thought that formal narration was a “bad thing”. Old-fashioned, dull, slow-paced etc…

Then I started to notice how these types of slow-paced, formal writing styles allowed for a lot more depth and atmosphere (something only noticeable when you’ve read several informal, fast-paced books and then read a formal one). Then, more importantly, I started practicing and experimenting with writing at length again (after dabbling with short stories). And I tried to write fast-paced thrillers, written in a punchy, informal style that was just like the thriller novels I really enjoyed reading.

After a while, these stories felt limp, empty, repetitive, boring and/or monotonous to write. All of these fast-paced stories failed in one way or another. It was only then that I remembered that, yes, I know how to write formal narration (eg: all of that practice with writing in the style of Conan Doyle, Lovecraft etc.. when I was younger and all the practice I’ve had writing these articles) and that reintroducing some of these “slow-paced” elements to my writing style would allow me to write much richer, deeper and more atmospheric stories.

So, yes, reading a lot will help you to refine your writing style into something unique and interesting that is both fun to write and to read.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Why Dismissing The Past Is Bad For Creativity- A Ramble

After seeing a few random articles on the internet that seemed to criticise older creative works purely because of their age (rather than taking a more nuanced view of their strengths and flaws), I’d originally planned to write a somewhat cynical and opinionated article about this attitude. But, then I realised that the attitude I was going to criticise can also be found in a lot of older works too and is actually a surprisingly timeless thing.

All creative works exist in response to the past and/or present. This is how, for good or bad, innovation happens. People become fed up with either modern or old culture and decide to do something different. I mean, this is probably one of the reasons why the British version of the awesome splatterpunk genre of horror fiction emerged in the 1970s/80s (starting with James Herbert’s “The Rats” in 1974 and then including authors like Shaun Hutson and Clive Barker during the 1980s.).

Before then, horror fiction tended to rely more on suspense, implication, psychological horror etc.. and it tended to be a bit more stylised, old-fashioned and/or moralistic. So, writing horror fiction set in grim “modern” locations that featured cynical social commentary, a nihilistic attitude and/or the kind of extreme gore that even the “video nasty” horror movies of the time couldn’t get away with was a refreshing rebellion against this staid old trend.

You can also see the same thing in the punk music of 1970s Britain, which was not only a rebellion against the stiflingly traditional and economically troubled society that the musicians were surrounded by, but also against the more optimistic and cheerful music of the 1960s too. The low-budget and gritty nature of punk music was also probably a reaction against the more commercial and glamourous mainstream rock music of the time too.

Interestingly, a similar thing happened with grunge music in 1990s America – which was a similar reaction against the awesome heavy metal/hard rock of the 1980s (and I’m still amazed that the ’80s were apparently a decade where both heavy metal music and horror fiction were actually mainstream and popular 🙂 ).

All creative works are a response to what has come before them. I mean, this is why we now have indie computer games that not only use 1990s-style pixel art graphics but will also often borrow gameplay elements from these brilliant older games too (and are a low-budget reaction to the many flaws of modern “AAA” games). People see something lacking in modern culture and decide to either make something new and/or revive something from the past (perhaps with a few changes to update it) in order to fill that gap.

But, why is ignoring or dismissing the past so bad for creativity?

Well, for starters, old stuff has a lot to teach us. Not only do many creative people get inspired to start writing, making art, playing music etc… because they’ve seen some classic or other that has impressed them enough to think “I want to make something like that” , but older creative works can also provide us with a lot of lessons about what does and doesn’t “work”. So, studying older works can teach you a lot about your chosen type of creativity.

For example, although 1970s-80s splatterpunk fiction was a reaction to the traditional horror fiction that had come before it, it was aware enough of the genre’s history to keep all of the good parts of older horror fiction. Although the splatterpunk genre might be famous for its over-the-top gory horror, you’ll still find a lot of “old-school” elements (eg: suspense, atmosphere, characterisation etc…) in a surprising number of vintage 1970s-80s splatterpunk novels. Why? Because they work! This is also why you’ll find these “old” things in modern horror fiction too – usually “turned up to 11” for maximum effect.

More than that, older works can also be brilliant sources of inspiration too. In order to create something “new” and original, you need to have as many different influences and inspirations as possible. You need to not only be well-versed in your chosen field (so you know what has been done before and can try either putting a new spin on it or doing something totally different), but you also need to know about different genres, different times and places, different types of creativity etc.. in order to add interesting new stuff to the things you create.

For example, the 1982 sci-fi masterpiece “Blade Runner” was a groundbreaking film that went on to inspire numerous other things in the sci-fi genre. When it was released, there was apparently nothing else quite like it. After all, it had taken inspiration from more than just other things in the sci-fi genre (even though it was based on a 1960s sci-fi novel ). For example, in addition to taking visual inspiration from various cities in Asia, the film also took strong visual inspiration from the old “film noir” detective movies of the 1930s-50s too.

Plus, in every age, people are still people. In other words, you’ll probably find that there is some writer, artist, musician etc… from the past that you have something in common with. After all, a lot of elements of the human condition are timeless things. Not only does this allow you to place the things you create within a much larger tradition, but it also means that you can do things like paying tribute to older stuff, reworking/remaking/parodying/critiquing these things in your work, making “spiritual successors” etc… Again, people are still people in every age of history.

So, by ignoring the past, you end up ignoring a lot of timeless stuff that can inspire you. Yes, the past certainly wasn’t perfect, but – like any age- it was a mixture of good and bad things. And, even if you absolutely despise everything from the past, then you still need to know what you are rebelling against.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Things That Writers Can Learn From 1980s Clive Barker Novels

Well, since I’ve started re-reading a 1980s horror novel by Clive Barker (“The Damnation Game”, if anyone is curious), I thought that I’d write something vaguely similar to my other recent article about writing lessons that can be learnt from 1980s Shaun Hutson novels, but about the writing lessons that can be found in Clive Barker novels – especially those from the 1980s.

Still, I should point out that this article may contain some SPOILERS for Clive Barker’s “Cabal” and “Weaveworld”.

1) Mediums, imagination and creativity: One of the most interesting things about Clive Barker is that he didn’t really start out as a horror author. Before his first short story collection, “The Books Of Blood”, was published in the mid-1980s, he was already a playwright and an artist. Then, sometime after the publication of his novella “The Hellbound Heart“, he both wrote and directed the famous film adaptation of it. Later, in the early 2000s, he also helped to design a computer game called “Clive Barker’s Undying” too.

The main lesson we can learn from this is that learning other skills and experimenting with different creative mediums will result in better writing. Not only will it give you a better idea about which creative ideas will work best in story form (and which might be better suited to art, poetry etc…), but it also forces you to learn more about your own imagination too.

I mean, one of the cool things about Clive Barker’s art, fiction, films etc… is that you can tell that they all came from the same person. For example, Barker’s paintings often display the same focus on the human body and/or bizarre dream-like weirdness that his fiction does.

So, don’t be afraid to experiment with other creative mediums. You’ll get to know yourself better and this will result in better and more imaginative writing.

2) Don’t self-censor: Although the 1980s was well-renowned as a time where horror authors had more creative freedom than ever before (I mean, it was the heyday of the splatterpunk genre) and probably ever since, Clive Barker used this creative freedom for more than just shock value or titillation. He also used it to tell the kind of weird, subversive, nuanced, emotionally mature, imaginative, transgressive and unique stories that feel timelessly refreshing to read.

For example, his 1988 horror/dark fantasy novel “Cabal” contrasts an underground city of strange, scary-looking “monsters” with an upstanding, respectable psychologist…. who is also a serial killer. It’s a brilliantly subversive novel, showing how mainstream society is eager to destroy or condemn whatever it considers “weird” without ever looking at the far greater problems within itself.

This theme is also explored in Barker’s 1987 dark fantasy novel “Weaveworld“, where the main antagonist isn’t a fantastical monster (in fact the closest thing to a villainous “monster”, Immacolata, actually becomes a more sympathetic character later in the story) but a fanatical “moralistic” policeman who is often depicted in a brilliantly satirical way. Again, this comments on how mainstream, respectable etc.. society never really thinks to look at the problems within itself whenever there is something else it can condemn instead.

Plus, of course, when he was writing in a genre that was seen as “low brow” in the 1980s, Barker never simplified or toned down his writing. Although most 1980s horror fiction is more well-written than it is often given credit for, Barker often wrote the kind of complex, poetic, intelligent, painting-with-words, nuanced etc… fiction that would have probably won numerous major literary awards if it didn’t have the word “Horror” on the back cover.

Likewise, despite the highly “literary” writing style and the many grim and macabre horrors within his 1980s novels, Barker’s fiction will often display a wonderfully impish sense of humour too. These two things might seem like polar opposites, but it’s the contradiction between them that really makes his stories so distinctive. And it is the kind of thing a writer can only truly do if they don’t censor themselves.

One other great thing about old Clive Barker novels is how they don’t contain the puritanical undertones of most 1980s horror fiction and this is still refreshing even today. These are novels that don’t hypocritically condemn their more risque elements, but instead often show both their comedic absurdity and also their timelessly human and spiritual qualities. This is difficult to describe whilst still keeping this article “safe for work” (ironic, I know), but it results in the kind of timelessly open-minded stories that are still refreshing to read even thirty years or more after they were published.

Yet, Barker’s brilliant lack of self-censorship also manifests in more “PG-rated” ways too. For example, despite initially building his reputation as an expert writer of “edgy” horror stories during the 1980s, he decided to write a much more innocent, fantastical and wonder-filled series of YA novels in the 2000s (the “Abarat” novels) and they are just as creative, imaginative, subversive etc… as his general fiction novels are. You really get the sense that Barker is genuinely showing off another part of his imagination, rather than watering his stories down for the sake of popularity.

Yes, these days, “don’t self-censor” is probably dangerous advice. Perhaps it always has been. But, the less you censor yourself, the more interesting and creative your stories can be.

3) Imagination is infectious: One of the great things about Clive Barker’s writing is how it lingers in your imagination long after you’ve finished reading. This can have some wonderfully weird effects.

For example, in early 2010, I tried reading Barker’s 1989 novel “The Great And Secret Show”. Although I couldn’t get past the first 100 pages for reasons I still don’t quite understand, what I read still lingered in my mind to the point that, whenever I saw a dramatic-looking road I used to walk along every few days, I always thought of this story. After this happened a couple of times, I suddenly started thinking of it as “The Clive Barker road”. And the idea of visiting somewhere that reminded me of a Clive Barker novel made this road feel like a more interesting place.

In 2009, I fell asleep one night and had five nightmares – these were all “dream within a dream” nightmares which each began with me dreaming about waking up. Interestingly, the coolest – and least scary – moment in this sequence of dreams was when, at the end of the third one, I suddenly found myself triumphantly shouting the tagline from the cover of my old second-hand 1980s paperback copy of “Cabal” (“At last, the night has a hero”).

Anyway, what was the point of these journeys down memory lane? Well, it is to show how imagination is infectious. If you write something that is distinctive, unusual, interesting, personality-filled and/or imaginative enough, then it will take on a life of it’s own. To give you an example, even though Clive Barker hasn’t ever made a heavy metal album, his books were imaginative and inspirational enough to inspire the band Cradle Of Filth to make one (called “Midian”).

So, one lesson that is worth learning from Clive Barker’s fiction is that imagination is infectious. That you should strive to tell the kind of stories that linger in your readers’ imaginations and which inspire people to create things themselves.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Should Writers Take Influence From Films?

When I was reading the 1980s horror thriller novel that I reviewed yesterday, one of the things that surprised me was how cinematic it was at times. How I could very easily imagine various scenes from the novel being part of a low-budget “Video Nasty“, an enjoyably cheesy old TV show or something from one of George Romero’s classic zombie movies. So, naturally, this made me think about whether writers should take influence from films.

The short answer to this question is that it depends on your story. It works for some stories and doesn’t for others. A lot of this has to do with pacing, atmosphere and what you are trying to do with your story.

In short, if you want to write a fast-paced story that has a slightly stylised atmosphere and is written to entertain the reader, then taking inspiration from films is a good idea. After all, by virtue of the medium, the majority of films are relatively fast-paced. After all, they have between 90-180 minutes to tell a full, self-contained story. So, things like well-planned pacing and efficient visual storytelling (eg: the whole “show, don’t tell” thing) are at a premium. And, when used in novels like Shaun Hutson’s “Deathday” or Clive Cussler & Graham Brown’s “Zero Hour“, this can result in a truly gripping novel.

Likewise, if your story contains spectacular set-pieces or other such things, then taking inspiration from films can also be a good idea – especially since novels have a massive advantage in this area. In short, novels don’t have to worry about a special effects budget or the technology needed to create special effects. One person with a word processor (or even just a pen and paper) can create better “special effects” than a giant film studio with millions of pounds or dollars at their disposal. So, if your novel is going to contain a lot of spectacular moments, then it might be worth taking inspiration from films.

Plus, if you’re writing in the thriller genre, then film and television can offer all sorts of lessons about how to make your story more gripping and dramatic. Whether it is the clever use of mini-cliffhangers and/or multiple plot threads, how to create a gripping premise, how to use suspense, how to write snappy dialogue etc…. Or whether it is more cautionary lessons, like how making the main character too powerful/invulnerable can ruin suspense and lower the reader’s investment in the story (compare the first and fifth “Die Hard” films for an example of this), films can teach us a lot about the thriller genre.

In addition to all of this, because your reader will probably be imagining the events of your novel visually, taking inspiration from film can also help you to refine and think about the overall “look” of your novel too. When done well, this can result in a very atmospheric and memorable story.

On the other hand, there are good reasons not to take inspiration from film when writing a novel. First of all, there are things that novels can do that films can’t really do, and you can use these to give your reader a much deeper and richer experience than they will find in a film.

For example, novels can directly show a character’s thoughts, novels can easily use non-visual storytelling (and, yes, sometimes it is better to tell than show the reader something), novels can use a distinctive narrative voice, novels can use detailed descriptions and an author also has much more control over the flow of time (eg: the events of a minute can take either a single sentence or several pages) than film-makers do.

All of these things give novels a level of vividness, immersion and depth that films can only dream of. At the same time, doing all of this stuff will probably slow down the pace of your novel a bit. But, for stories where the emphasis is on the characters, atmosphere, fictional world, the writing itself etc… then it can really work wonders. So, if you are telling one of these stories, then taking inspiration from films probably isn’t a good idea – because films can’t do this stuff as well as books can.

Plus, thanks to things like the economics of film (a film costs a lot to make, so it has to appeal to a mass audience), film censorship (eg: the current trend for “PG-13″/”12A” rated films) and the dominance of Hollywood, there are either formal or informal limits on the types of stories that films can tell. On the other hand, writers have far fewer of these restrictions and can tell the kind of imaginative, quirky, subversive, unusual, complex, transgressive and/or personality-filled stories that would never make it to the screen.

What this also means is that, if you primarily take inspiration from films, you are limiting the kinds of stories you can tell. This will affect the characters of your story, the atmosphere of your story, the scale of your story’s drama (since large-scale stories tend to be more common in “blockbuster” films), the themes of your story (and the level of nuance they are presented with), the settings of your story (eg: the limited repertoire of cities that films usually take place in), the events of your story and even the emotional tone of your story.

In short, there isn’t really a clear answer to whether writers should be influenced by films or not. It depends on the type of story you are trying to tell, not to mention that it also isn’t a binary yes/no thing either. In other words, it’s possible (in fact, it’s normal) to be partially inspired by films whilst also being inspired by other stuff too. After all, pretty much everyone has watched at least a few films and has seen at least a couple that they liked enough for them to be an influence. So, it is more of a matter of degree and extent than a “yes or no” thing.

Still, depending on the type of story you are telling and what you want your story to do, you should think carefully about the extent you want it to be inspired by films.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Artistic Inspiration And Focus – A Ramble

Well, it has been quite a while since I last wrote about making art and, although many of this month’s paintings aren’t exactly the most inspired or detailed ones I’ve ever made, I’ve found that I’ve been feeling more inspired when preparing some of next month’s paintings. Here’s a preview of one of them:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 4th January 2020.

So, what changed? Well, simply put, I had a bit more time to make art than I’ve had when making this month’s art. But, in addition to this, I also made a bit more of a decision to prioritise making art than I did when I made some of this month’s paintings since, due to being busy with various things, it was often fairly low on my priority list.

And, when I placed more focus and emphasis on making art, I suddenly found that I felt more inspired. But, why? Well, it is because actually making the paintings isn’t the most complicated or time-consuming part of making art. No, the most important part of making art is actually planning your next painting.

This doesn’t mean that you have to make a collection of detailed preliminary sketches months in advance or anything like that, it just means that when you sit down to start sketching out your next painting, you need to give it your full attention. You need to be in a state of mind where the full force of your imagination is focused on daydreaming about interesting places, moments, scenes etc… So, that when an interesting-looking image appears in your mind, you can notice it and turn it into art.

But, most of all, you need to spend your focus wisely. If you treat making art as an important thing, as a chance to make something cool, then you’ll find that you’re more likely to feel inspired. The more you put into art, the more you’ll probably get out of it. Yes, this won’t work literally every time (since uninspiration can be caused by all sorts of different things), but it can be useful sometimes.

Even so, you still need to keep making art when you are feeling uninspired, when you feel that art is less important, when every piece of art you make looks terrible, when you don’t have the right amount of time to do it justice, when you’re tired or distracted etc… too. Why? Well, it is a good way of staying ready for the times when you are able to give your art the amount of focus that it needs to really do it justice.

Even when making art feels like an annoying chore, keeping up regular art practice means that you’ll still be in the right frame of mind for making art when it doesn’t feel like a chore. Even if you’re just paying lip service to your art practice during these times, the fact that you’re staying in practice means that, when you get the chance to focus more on art, you’ll be able to seize it quickly and make the most of it.

Yes, it isn’t practical to give art the level of focus or priority that it needs literally all of the time but, making more time for it when possible or keeping up your practice (however superficially) until more time appears to be one of the best ways to get inspired. Again, this doesn’t work with literally every type of uninspiration, but it can be a useful thing to bear in mind during the times when you can’t seem to come up with any good ideas for paintings or drawings.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Creativity And Forgotten Places – A Ramble

A while before I wrote this article, I ended up reading a nostalgic online opinion article about video rental shops. This of course, made me think of all of the memories I had about these places.

For starters, there was the local video rental shop (sadly defunct since some time during the mid-2000s) which was the inspiration for the background of this retro horror movie-style painting I made a couple of years ago.

“Late Return (II)” By C. A. Brown (2016/17)

I also used this now-defunct shop (albeit with some artistic licence with regard to layout, size etc..) as the basis for this stylised gothic 1980s/1990s-style painting that will appear here in about a week and a half’s time:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 29th June.

I also have nostalgic memories about the ex-rental DVDs and VHS tapes I’d sometimes find in rental shops when I was a teenager. There was the time I watched “Shooting Fish” on rental VHS during my childhood (which was the first “12” certificate film I ever saw).

Then there was seeing the first “Saw” movie on a rental DVD (which was probably the last time I saw a rented film). I could go on but, although video rental shops weren’t really a major part of my life, they certainly seem to evoke a lot of nostalgia.

This, of course, made me think about why the best forms of nostalgia-based inspiration seem to come from places. The other classic example is the humble shopping centre. Even though, when I actually visited these places, they were just ordinary generic places which often only had 1-3 shops that were actually worth visiting, they’ve become more nostalgic these days.

This is probably due to their decline (especially over in America), which has been documented in things like Dan Bell’s “Dead Mall Series“. This has turned these humdrum places (which were often just slightly too up-market to house really interesting shops) into the modern equivalent of old gothic ruins or monuments to the memory of the 1990s/2000s.

So, of course, they’ve also been a source of literary inspiration and artistic inspiration for me during the past couple of years:

“The Forgotten Food Court” By C. A. Brown

“And Once A Palace” By C. A. Brown

But, why are forgotten places such brilliant sources of creative inspiration?

Simply put, they are almost a blank canvas. They can be the setting for almost any type of story and they can also be re-imagined and reconfigured in all sorts of interesting ways too.

In other words, taking inspiration from one of these types of places gives you enough of an idea of what to draw or write about so that you don’t feel blocked or uninspired, but it also gives you enough creative freedom to really let your imagination run wild.

In addition to this, it also allows you to express feelings of rose-tinted nostalgia in a really vivid way too. Not to mention that it also allows you to celebrate places which were just “mundane” once, but have become a lot more mysterious and mythologised after they began to disappear.

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Sorry for the short and random article, but I hope it was interesting 🙂

Three Tips For Finding A Short Story Idea

Well, I thought that I’d talk about how to come up with ideas for short stories today. This is mostly because the types of ideas that really work for short stories are at least slightly different to those that work for novellas, novels and other longer projects.

When short stories are at their best, they will often focus on one core idea, event or theme. The difference between a novel’s storyline and a short story’s storyline is kind of like the difference between a comic book (containing lots of pictures) and a single, detailed painting.

So, how can you find an idea for your short story?

1) Background: Start by focusing on the things that interest you. Watch films or TV shows in your favourite genres, read novels that interest you and/or spend some time randomly researching whatever fascinates you on the internet. Whatever you do, try to expose yourself to as many things as possible that make you feel fascinated or curious.

Then, after you’ve done this for a while, ask yourself what fascinates you about these things. Try to work out why they are so fascinating. If possible, try to distil your answers into a few short descriptions.

For example, if you love the movie “Blade Runner” or if you love modern Youtube footage of people exploring old abandoned shopping centres, then your answers would be something like: “The contrast between old and new”, “mysterious places”, “decaying civilisations”, “1980s/90s nostalgia” etc…

Once you’ve got your list of answers, you’ve got what will become the core of your short story. This will be the central theme or idea that your short story focuses on.

2) The plot: As counter-intuitive as it sounds, the plot shouldn’t be too complex. In short, you need a basic single-sentence plot idea which you can use as a skeleton for adding lots of extra depth, character and complexity to when you start writing. Something like “Two washed-up rock musicians have a conversation”, “Someone finds a secret page on a website” or “A criminal is on the run from the police.”

Just come up with a single, short idea. It doesn’t even have to be anything particularly spectacular or groundbreaking. If you’re really stuck for an idea, just go for something really basic like – someone finding something strange, a contest between two rivals, someone encountering a monster etc….

The thing that really makes short stories distinctive isn’t the plot, it’s how the plot is handled. Since you’ve only got a small number of words to work with, it’s usually better to add lots of creativity to a fairly basic and simple plot than trying to cram a complex, multi-layered storyline into just a few thousand words.

Plus, of course, having a basic, simple idea means that you can get on with writing a lot more quickly than you would if you try to think up something too complex.

3) Characters and locations: In short, you want to keep the number of characters and locations in your story reasonably small. This means that you’ll have more space to really add some depth to them. So, you might only have to think of, for example, 1-5 main characters and maybe 2-3 main locations.

This means that each character and location matters a lot more than it might do in a novel. However, if you’re stuck with one element of your story, then you can always get around this by compensating for it by focusing on the other elements.

For example, if you’re stuck for character ideas, then just use the old trick of writing a first-person perspective story using a nameless narrator and focus more on things like the settings, the atmosphere or the themes of your story. If you can’t think of an interesting setting, then just choose a fairly “ordinary” one and make sure that the characters are really interesting. I’m sure you get the idea….

Yes, you should ideally pay equal attention to the characters and the settings. But, if you’ve got writer’s block and just need a way to start writing, then don’t be afraid to focus more on one than the other.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Using Connections To Beat Writer’s Block- A Ramble

Well, for today, I thought that I’d talk quickly about one rather interesting way to get past writer’s block that I discovered whilst writing a couple of the short stories that appeared here last March.

Simply put, I was able to feel inspired whilst writing both stories because I tried to connect two (or more) seemingly different inspirations in each one.

For example, one story called “Common Factor” was inspired by the fact that the story was originally written whilst I was reading the cyberpunk novel (“Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson) that I’ll hopefully review tomorrow and after finding several interesting Youtube videos on a channel about an instrument called the hurdy gurdy.

So, not having any better ideas, I tried to cram “Snow Crash”-style cyberpunk and something to do with a hurdy gurdy into the same story. And, surprisingly, it worked. I looked at some of the themes in “Snow Crash” (eg: futuristic technology, social fragmentation etc..) and I remembered how I was fascinated by the hurdy gurdy videos even though I’m terrible at playing instruments.

Then, somehow, the two things coalesced into the idea that geekiness/fascination is a common trait that finds many different expressions. And, suddenly, I had a theme and an idea for my story. After that, the rest of the story appeared reasonably easily.

Likewise, I was still reading “Snow Crash” before I wrote another story called “Rusty“, so I was still in the mood for cyberpunk fiction. However, the bulk of the inspiration from this story came from two rather different sources.

The first was the experience of playing the fan-made “Doom II” level that I reviewed yesterday. I hadn’t played the game for a while and, to my surprise, I found myself playing a little bit more clumsily than I expected. Likewise, the game seemed a little bit more difficult than usual. As soon as I started feeling surprised and regretful about getting so out of practice, I realised “This would be a perfect theme for a story!” But I didn’t know quite how to put this idea into a story.

Then, later that evening, I found the hilarious pirate-themed music video (Explicit lyrics) for “Drink The Rum” by Lagerstein and suddenly it all came together. A cyberpunk story about someone being out of practice with a pirate-themed virtual reality videogame.

So, yes, one way to beat writer’s block is to look around for a few things – the more different the better – that interest or fascinate you in some way, and then try to find some way to fit the basic underlying themes of these things into the same story.

This works because it forces you to think about things on a thematic level, it gives you the basic building blocks for a narrative and it changes the focus from “what do I write about?” to “how can I cram these two awesome things into one story?“. This change in focus might sound trivial but it turns the process of trying to write a story into an intriguingly puzzle-like exercise, rather than a frustrating search for ideas.

Best of all, it can also result in some gloriously bizarre stories too.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Two Sneaky Ways To Be An Inspired Artist Again

Well, it’s been a few days since I wrote about making art. So, I thought that I’d talk about how to get into an inspired frame of mind because I seem to be feeling very inspired at the time of writing. This has led to digitally-edited paintings like these:

“Metal Returns” By C. A. Brown

“Cyberpunk Ruins” By C. A. Brown

But, during the weeks before this, I found myself grappling with uninspiration a few times. Whether it was the uninspiration that comes from thinking things like “what’s the point of making art? It feels like a chore” or whether it was the type of uninspiration where you just can’t think of what to paint, it was a world apart from the inspired phase I’m going through at the time of writing.

So, I thought that I’d offer a couple of tips for getting into a highly inspired frame of mind. Enjoy 🙂

1) Enjoy something new!: This may sound counter-intuitive, but find a creative work that you really enjoy, then enjoy it. This works especially well if it’s something that is new to you, but it can also work with fairly familiar stuff too. But, why can this make you feel more inspired?

First of all, it reminds you of how awesome creativity can be. If a game, comic, song, novel, film, TV show etc.. can make you feel amazed, then it means that it is possible for creative works to evoke these emotions. And, guess what? You also have the power to make things that make you feel awesome. So, it can be a great motivational tool.

Not only that, seeing things that you enjoy makes you think “I want to make something like that“. This then means that you’ll have an incentive to work out how to take inspiration from the thing you’ve seen and then create something new and original. In other words, seeing something that amazes you not only gives you a starting point for an original piece of art but it also gives you a thrilling challenge too (eg: how can I make something new and original that makes me feel as awesome as I did when I saw that other thing?).

In addition to this, it also makes you think about your favourite things. After all, if you are amazed by something, there has to be a reason for it. This will probably cause associative memories of other things that fill you with enthusiasm, fascination etc.. and help you to feel inspired.

For example, a couple of days before I made the inspired paintings I showed you earlier, I remembered reading Shaun Hutson’s “Erebus” and this made me think of the 1980s, cheesy horror movies, gloomy rural locations, ominous things lurking in the shadows and other wonderfully cheesy and atmospheric things. Needless to say, this also led to a highly inspired painting:

“Rural Gothic” By C. A. Brown

Finally, it makes you relax. Feeling uninspired is stressful, depressing, annoying etc… and if you focus on these emotions, then it’s only going to get worse. So, distracting yourself by spending some time with an awesome creative work can be a good way to get into a more relaxed and cheerful frame of mind. This can help you feel inspired.

2) Try something different:
Another way to make highly inspired art is to think of an artistic technique, art material, art style etc.. that you either haven’t used for a while or are vaguely curious about. This can help you feel inspired again for a couple of different reasons.

The first is that it adds an element of novelty to the “ordinary” process of making art. In other words, it makes making art feel excitingly new again. This is one way to deal with the “making art feels like a chore” type of uninspiration.

For example, both of the two example paintings at the beginning of the article use digital lighting effects. Although I’ve used these effects a few times before, they aren’t something I’ve really used that regularly. So, they were something that seemed worth experimenting with – especially since they require you to think even more carefully about lighting (eg: placement of light sources etc..) when painting. And, since lighting is one of my favourite elements of painting, this revitalised my interest in painting again.

Likewise, the painting that I’ll be posting here tonight also allowed me to experiment again with adding mist effects to my art digitally (using the “airbrush” feature in GIMP, but with the brush size cranked up to over 300-400). Here’s a reduced-size preview of it:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here later tonight.

So, yes, trying different or new things can be a great way to feel inspired again.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂