Observation Journal: Time & self-management aka immoveable moods, moveable objects

Or: a not terribly flattering portrait of the artist.

Every so often I attempt to use the observation journal to optimise my time management (ugh — and perilously close to being introspective). It’s useful because the journal structure contains that urge and keeps the results in one place, so that I can look back and see what has changed (very little) and what approach actually works for me (one thing), and how much enjoyment analysing it brings me (moderate to minimal).

Executive summary: The one lesson that has consistently been helpful is knowing I am that way.

Effective workarounds vary from day to day, some tips and tricks and epiphanies break through for a while. What remains useful is being able to accept that I will react a certain way, and then attempting to remember to account for that (or at least not blaming myself too bitterly when myself happens).

I still wanted to share these pages, because I find it useful to look at the structures around creative work occasionally (if only to remind myself not to spend too much time on it) and because the exercises were useful — just not always in the way I’d expected. (The deviations were, however, consistent.)

Side notes:

  • These approaches have created more grand practical solutions (vs calm acceptance) when I’ve applied them to physical workspaces. See: Space and time and more epiphanies.
  • If you’re into productivity and time management books, you might spot some oblique references to techniques from Dan Charnas’ Work CleanPeter M Ball recommended that to me, and it was very useful for working out how to do the bare minimum to keep on top of the worst of the admin. If you follow or support Peter (newsletter and Patreon links are on his page) he often has good tips and précis on similar books, and details on how he applies them to his own projects.
  • Distractions and interruptions
    • On the first of these pages, I made a list of distractions and interruptions to my work. I then noted how I tended to react, why I react that way, and whether there was an obvious solution.
    • Often there was an obvious solution that was not feasible (for reasons ranging from pandemic realities to the nature of deadlines). Accepting that helped me temper my reactions a little. Knowing my reactions made me better able to deal with them.
    • There were some interesting patterns — resentment tended to be directed at entirely innocent external parties and was due to me running late (sorry everyone); weariness attended large non-creative things I nevertheless wanted; anxiety came from competing equally-weighted commitments.
    • The obvious answer to all of this was to do work regularly early. Isn’t it always? The practical answer was to be aware of how I was about to act out, and rein myself in.
  • Things that work and why I don’t do them
    • The next week I jotted down a few things I know help me get work done. For each I noted why I suspected it worked, and why I don’t do them. (And, occasionally, a possible solution.)
    • I also made a little list of improbable ideals, which is always illuminating, if unflattering. Basically, mine boil down to having someone to whom to outsource most executive functions. (I do in fact know why I am this way.)
    • The most useful part of this exercise has not been these secondary solutions, although I do refer back to them. Rather, since I seem to be committed to a degree of emergency-as-lifestyle, it’s been useful having a conscious list of approaches that have worked, and which I can deploy in an emergency (even if I don’t like employing them consistently).
    • I’d like to revisit this list and look at the reasons behind the reasons I don’t do the “correct” things. I suspect that would be more illuminating, and suggest some… not workarounds, but ways to trick myself into doing decent work while thinking I am having a good time. I learned some very good lessons about this in the first semester of my MPhil, so it is possible.
  • Objections and intentions
    • The following week I tried to pre-empt my contrary nature again. I made a list of things I wanted to try (early rising, etc), my likely objections, and possible workarounds. I succeeded in achieving remarkably few of them.
    • This exercise make me more aware of some of my own arguments against myself. But it confirmed that, in general, the path of least resistance is (where possible) to reconfigure the physical world around my inclinations, rather than the other way around. (Immoveable objects are a matter for another day).


I haven’t written this up as a creative exercise because it isn’t about drawing or writing as such. But if you are interested in looking at your own work habits, these are some interesting questions to lean into. But I particularly recommend asking those further questions at the end: what did you notice not only through the exercise but about the exercise, and how it worked with or for or against you.

Anyway: back to the art and writing!

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Handouts as a structuring principle, mockups for getting things done

Mock-ups of a book of map making instructions

For the 1-hour drop-in map workshop at BWF, I made little zine-fold (aka 8-fold) booklets, which I put in little mermaid-stamped envelopes with little pencils and little pieces of nice drawing paper. (I think I learned this in primary school, but there are plenty of instructions for this sort of booklet online, e.g. wikiHow.)

Above, you can see the mock-up process (the easiest way to turn a vague idea into something real: Mockups and outlines).

Photo of yellow envelopes stamped with a linocut mermaid, with versafine clair stamp pad and hand-carved stamp in foreground
  • I folded a piece of paper into a booklet and really quickly, without thinking too hard, scribbled the whole layout into it. Then I went back over and drew all over that with arrows, moving things around — but that hand-drawn version has almost everything in it.
  • Then I drew up a template in Photoshop, with shading for margins and areas that wouldn’t print, so I knew what I had to work with.
  • I put the main text roughly into place, and then put in the example images I already had (I’d deliberately drawn some calendar pages and other illustration to give me examples for map workshops — see for example Tiny Forests and Banners).
  • I printed that out, and used it as a template to draw all the extra details around, like the map and lettering on the front cover.
  • Then my housemate and I proofread it a few times, and I spent some pleasant hours cutting and folding and listening to music.

Was this overkill for a free one-hour drop-in workshop? Yes. Was I overcompensating for my own uncertainty as to the exact venue constraints and whether this workshop could be done in an hour? Yes. Would I do it again? Yes.

Designing and folding the booklets took time, but it was proportionate to the result. People enjoyed them (they were awfully cute), and said it was good to have for such a short class, and to be able to take away if they had to leave early (since it was drop-in). And I really liked have a physical object to give people, so I knew they left the workshop with something.

The biggest lesson for me was how useful this sort of booklet/zine/object was in planning and giving the workshop. It’s easy to just go wild with handouts. But this was a single, self-contained object, with a size appropriate to the length of the class (three double-page openings and a wrap-around cover — the flip-side of the paper was blank for people to use as scrap paper). It was something that constrained my natural urge to put ALL THE INFORMATION in a talk, but it was also a prop I could talk to and scale my time around.

It might not apply to every format, but I’d like to experiment with similar (if less-illustrated) scaled handouts as a central structuring object for other workshops.

Photo of whiteboard with very scribbly fairy-tale map on it
The whiteboard by the end of the workshop

I’m adding this to my running list of lessons I’ve learned for giving workshops and presentations (see e.g. lessons for presentations and conferences). I should probably do a master post at some point, but for now the main lessons I have learned (your mileage my vary) are:

  • Use a handout scaled to the workshop size.
  • Do an initial outline very quickly, before overthinking.
  • If a presentation is image based, arrange images in the slideshow first, print them out 9-to-a-page to keep track, then just talk to/about the pictures. Minimal script needed — often any title-slides and maybe one or two scribbled notes of phrases to remember are enough.
  • If a slideshow is image-heavy, export a copy to PDF and use that if the tech set-up allows — you can zoom in on a PDF in ways a Powerpoint doesn’t easily allow.
  • If a script is necessary, use cascading dot-points — this makes it easier to edit for time (skip up to high-level dot-points) or elaborate (by referring to the low-level ones), as well as to navigate quickly.
  • If it’s a creative workshop, get people making things as early as possible.
  • If you want people to interact, get them to share their thoughts/activities in smaller groups, then pick on the groups for any ideas that emerge (giving everyone safety in numbers/plausible deniability).
  • If possible, mixed-age workshops can be great. Adults mellow the kids, kids loosen up the adults, everyone seems more willing to show their work, and if you need someone to act out an implausible action for art reference purposes, young joints are better suited.

Observation Journal — time vs floors and ceilings

It’s all a bit Alice-in-Wonderland

As well as an excuse to draw Alice in Wonderland (see previously), this page of the observation journal was an opportunity to think about me vs time. Specifically, it’s a musing on the pleasant and horrible aspects of treating a deadline as a ceiling vs the present as a floor.

The well-known meteorological classifications “high little many clouds, & lower puffy ones”

I have always been a deadline-motivated person, as well as very good at procrastinating (I don’t know which is the cause and which the effect). But some combination of 2020 and too many deadlines were breaking that system. The really useful aspects of deadlines (motivation, eventually, and productive procrastination) were suffering.

Changing my approach and treating now as a place to begin seemed promising. But it’s a skill I only learned very recently (at the beginning of my MPhil, in fact) and it is not yet innate.

Time vs me is, I suspect, an ongoing process rather than a work in progress. And these approaches are less in opposition than part of a continuum. A setting I need to constantly, consciously slide and adjust according to circumstances — ideally before but certainly when (as recently) cracks open and things fall into them. (Apologies.)

Potplant vs ceiling

Some previous Alice, also available on Redbubble and Spoonflower.


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Observation Journal: Work at Play

Four very tiny unicorn drawings, in ballpoint pen lines on gridded paper with a little bit of blue watercolour for the shadow.

Tiny unicorn drawings, from a mid-April Lessons Learned page of the Observation Journal. These led directly to the unicorn calendar.

A printable calendar page for May 2020, with a design of unicorns and vines on a starry twilight-blue background.

I’ve been giving some school workshops on drawing tiny things, and quite apart from all the other uses of drawing small, the playfulness of it always charms me.

A hand-written page from the observation journal, with tiny writing of various lessons learned, and also small unicorns.

A lot of these notes were specific to the week of 14-17 April 2020! But an ongoing lesson is that I am most likely to work on a project if there is impetus and enjoyment — a sense of catching the wave of a project, and of play. Ideally, I’d have both, but either one can help create the other.

That week, I worked out a way to restart a sense of both momentum and play on a dragging project. The first 15 minutes (at least) of a work block (or longer at the beginning of a project) should be time to tinker — to try out the tools on fun little drawings, or riff on scenes, or write silly little variations on the core idea. It warms the project up again, and gets some traction, and helps me to like the work again.

Observation journal — space and time and small epiphanies

One of the unexpected results of the observation journal project was that it provided a thread through 2020 — something colourful holding it together, and occasionally a way to work out what was happening.

I’ve mentioned several times that the journal helped me to clarify (and work around the fact) that I don’t enjoy extended introspection (see e.g. Observation journal: flirting with contagion, and soothing with reflection and the links there). But from time to time the journal was a usefully contained place to work out why I felt a certain way (instead of analysing stories and motifs about which I felt strongly, which was more fun).

These two pages were a week apart. The context was April 2020.

On the first, I was trying to work out 10 WAYS TO ACTUALLY STOP AND NOT FRITTER:

Scan of two handwritten journal pages. On the left are five things seen, heard, and done, and a drawing of a slug trail. On the right is a list of thoughts about how not to fritter away time.

My go-to emergency relaxation/circuit breaker is going to the movies. (It’s air conditioned and you can’t wander off and do something else around the house and sometimes there are large explosions). Making a list of other available (and actually relaxing) options was… not helpful, in that most of my go-tos had vanished. There was no-one to sketch, and the cafes were closed, and I couldn’t meander on errands, and most other options either ran up against or turned into actual work at some point.

It was illuminating, though. I never quite worked out better alternatives (my housemate and I did watch a lot of Midsomer Murders and Miss Marple). But it made me realise that although I thought I was already working from home, I really wasn’t.

This led to the page below, in which I was TRYING TO FIX WORKSPACE.

Scan of two handwritten journal pages. On the left are five things seen, heard, and done, and a drawing of Lindt chocolate rabbit. On the right are several tables breaking down work time and space.

I had worked from home, yes, but actually from two desks, both sofas, both ends of the kitchen table, bed, and (for various purposes) the spare room and store room. I’d also been working from my desk at uni, other people’s offices, several classrooms, two campus cafes, two local cafes, etc, etc, and quite often those each served a different project. (The eagle-eyed will also spot at least 11 categories of project, and conclude that might be TOO MANY, but it took me a bit longer to work that out.)

But I’d also been living alone for a couple years. In January my new housemate moved in, and then of course everything outside shut down and my housemate also suddenly had to work from home (none of this is a complaint — we’ve had a great year). So my working space was compressed to one desk, one sofa, one end of the table, and bed. Which is quite a lot of room, really, if I’d noticed what was happening. But I didn’t, and all the projects began crowding each other, mentally and physically.

Just realising this — sketching it out on one page and going oh — helped a lot. My mind was a bit cacophonous in April 2020.

The best practical/physical changes turned out to be as follows:

  • I took everything that wasn’t a computer off my desk. This created the illusion of elbow room.
  • My housemate and I both bought some rolling caddies (a la the RÅSKOG, and off-brand equivalents).
  • Each trolley was assigned a broad project category (i.e. general art supplies/admin/teaching).
  • The trolleys were herded out of the way at night. By day, the relevant trolley would be dragged alongside the relevant space, creating the illusion of a dedicated workspace.
  • We also bought a TV (my first for about 8 years!) and a rolling stand, so it could be trundled into place for Evening, and back out of the way for work.

Observation Journal: The consequences of current events

Scan of a double page of the observation journal, handwritten. On the left, five things seen, heard and done, and a picture of a tree. On the right, a tree diagram of "5 current things that would have had a big effect on the project".

This observation journal page is an activity I was planning to set my students. The steps were as follows:

  • consider the project they were working on for class (or come up with a ridiculous idea: see Observation Journal — Improbable Inventions);
  • look in the news and find 5 current events;
  • consider the sort of effect those events might have on the project/idea; and
  • come up with at least 3 possible variations to the idea in consequence of that impact.

So, for example, you might be planning a cocktail bar. The big local news, however, is about an unprecedented rise in the crocodile population in the area! So you might make sure your bar is crocodile-proofed, and offer crocodile-trained security escorts to and from the carpark, and/or build a viewing platform and sell crocodile-themed cocktails. And silly as that is, it does prompt lines of thought about safety and aesthetics and marketing.

However this was at the end of March 2020, so current events (postal delays and lockdowns and the economy) seemed more all-encompassing than they had been used to. That made the activity feel very earnest, and therefore (in my opinion) inclined to be a little wearying. (The project I was trying it out on was a deck of creative prompts, and the silliest/best lockdown idea was to use the cards as exercise prompts.) I still think it’s a useful exercise/stress-test. But crocodiles would have been more fun.

A lesson I learned from doing the activity, unrelated to the point of the activity itself, was to not rule out listing duplicate ideas. I’d initially tried to make them all original ideas, but that bogged everything down.

Allowing myself to list duplicate ideas/consequences made it easier to:

  • come up with more original ideas later, by getting the obvious out of the way and out of my head — otherwise those ideas just keep floating around and getting in the way of new ones (this is part of the usefulness of the twenty-things approach to ideas, too);
  • collect groups of ideas that had elements in common;
  • notice patterns in my own thoughts; and
  • find solutions that might solve more than one problem.

After that, I started letting myself repeat ideas and state the obvious, as long as I later pushed on to include three new solutions for each problem, in addition to any duplicates.

Tiny pen drawing of a little stand of trees

The drawing above directly contributed to the June Calendar: Ominous Little Groves.

(And a few pages working through how to work in distracting times are here: Observation Journal — creative superstitions and working in distracting times).

Observation journal: creative superstitions, and working in distracting times

Three observation journal pages together, in this post, because they led into each other (I skipped one about The October Faction, but it will show up later).

They began with the realisation that a number of my vague work-related superstitions and bad habits (not booking flights until a week or two before travel) were really paying off this year. Please note: These pages were from mid-March, when things were still just getting going here and later contexts had not yet developed.

I then (see the pages below the break) spent a surprisingly soothing and informative time working out how I’d got work (particularly freelance creative work) done in other unsettled times, and whether there were some lessons I might already have learned which would prove useful this time around.

hand-written double spread of observation journal. On the left page, five things seen/heard/done and a drawing. On the right, densely handwritten notes.


The first page began as an exercise in which I did the following:

  • I jotted down creative superstitions I personally seem to have.
    • E.g. “Don’t announce a project until the other party does.” “Don’t want money until project completed.” “Don’t like to use something if I only have one of it.”Much time must be available before I even start.”
  • For each, I answered “why?”
    • E.g. legal training, external pressure, worry about growing to rely on something that could be replaced, bad habits crystallising around good ones.
  • I made a couple of notes against each about how to work with/against those tendencies.
    • E.g., communication; something with the psychological impact of escrow; planning and training.
  • Finally, I made a note of general patterns.
    • Excessive caution, an attitude of scarcity, and a feeling that things could be snatched away at any minute. (In retrospect I could blame legal training for a lot more of this.)

I still feel that in another year this would probably have been salutary. In this particular week in 2020, however, I felt I had been proven right.

Tiny pen drawing of a pheasant coucal
Pheasant coucal

But this led me to start to think through how big changes (like 2020) affect how I get my work done.

(Read on if you want to think about unsettled times; skip if you’d rather not.)

Continue reading

Observation Journal — reversing the audience

In this instalment of the observation journal, I was playing with ideas of target audiences, and what would happen if you turned them upside down.

Double page of densely handwritten observation journal. The left page has five things seen/heard/done and a drawing. The left is an exercise flipping an ideal user.

Left page: Encroaching shortages, a Schroederingian pause, and the Star Wars theme being practised on a trumpet.

Right page: For the course I was teaching, I wanted an activity that would make us think a bit more usefully about target markets (it was a business-adjacent course), aka audiences, readers, etc.

When I write, I am usually trying to please (or irritate) one particular person (not always me; not infrequently a housemate). But I tried this approach on both a physical project I was designing and on a story I was working on.

Note, this is one of those activities that really stirs up the sediment of stereotypes. I like that, because it brings them out for observation, and repurposes them, and makes them work for their living. (See also: Observation Journal — The Caudwell Manoeuvre). But it isn’t always flattering on the page, and is something to acknowledge/manage/bear in mind if you’re doing this in e.g. a classroom.

The first, businessy approach: Essentially, you make a four column table:

  • In the first column, make a list of categories of characteristics, e.g. age, gender, education, job, level of career, hobbies, physical activity, background, language, etc. You could add in others specific to the broad type of project. This was just my initial late-at-night list.
  • In the second, quickly identify the assumed characteristics of your “ideal user”/main audience, etc. If you write for yourself this will probably just be a description of you at some point in your life. It could also be a hideous stereotype of someone not you. (I’m aware there’s some very lazy categorisation in this version, but I wanted to see how the framework would work with that.)
  • In the third column, flip each characteristic to something roughly opposite. (A job in education vs a job in the trades vs a long-distance truck driver vs…). You can have a bit of fun here, redress balances, etc.
  • In the fourth, make a note of how that would require a change to the Thing You Are Making. For example, in the first set of examples, would it need to be more durable, or have different accessibility, or a less (or more!) mystical application, etc?
  • Finally, make a note of any that are genuinely useful, or could improve or add to the original idea. This exercise wasn’t about changing an idea, but making it stronger.

Densely hand-written page of observation journal, flipping stereotypes of an ideal audience.

The writing approach: In the second round, lower down the page, I tried it out on a story I was editing.

  • The story was written very much at a friend, but also for me — and we are quite similar. Going through the process highlighted a lot of things I take for granted, and ought to be aware of (at least for editing).
  • For example, it brought out the lack of physicality in the manuscript, and the degree to which I assumed anyone reading it would also be familiar with a very specific set of obscure books.
  • While I like the somewhat cerebral context of the story, and thoroughly enjoy allusions, these could easily turn into weaknesses. So when editing the story I want to go back in and look for places where I can anchor the story with a little physical action/description. I also plan to buttress or reinforce the more esoteric allusions with enough information that someone who hasn’t had a particular shared experience can still follow the story. In other places, it was a reminder not to be subtle or aim for plausible deniability, but to be honest about what I was doing and double-down on it.
  • This wasn’t about changing the ultimate “ideal reader”, but about clarifying and streamlining my approach, and creating an immediately useful checklist for when I sat down to edit.
Drawing of a bottle of hand soap.
(soap, not sanitiser)

Writing/art exercise:

Try this on a story you’re editing, or a picture that’s at a fairly advanced sketch stage.

  • Make a list of categories of characteristics.
  • Quickly and lazily note down your assumed ideal audience.
  • Flip those characteristics.
  • Consider how the project might change if it were to be adapted to that person.
  • Find things to clarify/tighten/commit to/adjust, etc, and try them out on the project.

Observation Journal: adapting business

On this page of the observation journal: repurposing ideas from other fields, coping with language, and a very strong pink.

Left page: The character failings of possums, a great (and successful!) dice hunt, and a sense of the world getting gradually muted.

Right page: Adapting business tools to creative purposes.

Double-page spread of observation journal, densely hand-written. On the left, five things seen/heard/done and a picture. On the left, notes on the Value Proposition Canvas.

I tend to resist business language, which is neither fair (I often have no problem with the underlying concepts) nor useful (particularly when teaching a business-adjacent course). One of the exercises I had my students do was list the language in their field that’s most irritating to them and then find other words to use, at least in their own mind and first drafts, freeing them up to use the underlying ideas, while being able to convert back to business terms in formal contexts.

This can be a useful exercise even with non-irritating technical language — making sure it means something to me a bit more viscerally. A lot of the observation journal is me relearning things that I “knew” in a way that is useful to me.

Densely hand-written notes on the Value Proposition Canvas.

The resources and assessment around which I was developing the tutorials included using the Value Proposition Canvas (VPC), “a tool for marketing experts, product owners, and value creators”. The phrasing is so very businessy, and I wanted to come to terms with it — and its possibilities — before introducing it in class.

Approach to a business tool:

  • In class, we ended up inventing ridiculous ideas (see: Observation Journal — improbable inventions) and then trying them out on the VPC. Using those ideas removed a lot of pressure to use the VPC. Instead, it became a framework for the students to clamber around and learn its possibilities for their approach.
  • For example, I realised filling out the table involves a lot of back-and-forth, details and ideas evolving from answers to other questions, and so I needed to approach it as an exploration rather than a checklist.
  • This also revealed that the VPC was quite a fun way to elaborate on an early idea, like the brief allusion here to an alarm that would wake you by gently questioning you and recording the details of your dream before you fully woke and lost the details.

Adapting it to my purposes:

  • However, for my personal use, the VPC turned out to be an interesting way to look at a project after it was done (in this case, an enamel pin design) as part of a creative post-mortem.
  • It was particularly useful as a way to look for things to strengthen and avenues to develop next time. This isn’t so much a critique/debrief as the obvious next step when my approach to learning things is mostly just to do them. It’s not a “what went wrong” so much as a “let’s do that again!”.
  • Reviewing it now, I want to add some of these points back into the master list of post-mortem questions I eventually developed (more of that as we go, but you can see a recent example in this State Library of Queensland post about illustrating the winners of the Queensland Literary Awards).


  • Make a column and list common/sigh-inducing/annoying jargon/technical terminology/business language in either your area of work (narrative structure? design principles?) or something adjacent you keep wandering into (applications, banks, time management…). This is also useful when developing secret bingo sheets for professional conferences.
  • If you need to work off some irritation, make a second column where you flippantly or cynically translate all the words.
  • But then make a third column where you try to translate the word to a term or phrase that captures the actual underlying meaning or importance of the idea to you. Maybe there’s a genre you like reading but don’t like the label for, or a time-management technique, or… Can you find another word or title that works better for you. For private use, perhaps, or coping in business purposes (not unlike developing strategies for listening to or looking at unfamiliar art), or translating from one field to another.
  • I’ve found this a useful way to capture ideas to chase further — little points where I think, “oh, I didn’t know that that’s what I like about [e.g. country house murders, or time-management]. Even if something I write gets labelled as that for sale, calling it [e.g. tragedy of manners/death-by-architecture, or temporal escape clauses] explains what I want to actually do and learn about.

Observation Journal — a tremor in the web

[NB: On Friday night (US)/Saturday morning (AUS) I’m talking about Flyaway and art and writing games for the Storied Imaginarium!]

On this page of the observation journal, I was again looking at questions from the recorded interviews set for the class I was teaching.

Double-spread from the observation journal. Two densely hand-written pages. On the left, a page with five things each that I had seen, heard and done, with a picture. On the right, answers to some questions about creative process.

By this point I’d worked out (through the journal: e.g. 1, 2, 3…) that I, personally, should avoid super-introspective questions. Your mileage may vary! As always, a large part of the usefulness of the observation journal is not so much the answers on the page as what I notice about the process of putting the answers on the page.

At any rate, I can eventually learn things, so in this case I deliberately chose questions from the interviews that felt like they inclined towards actions/useful information.

[Note: The first three questions are adapted from those developed by Associate Professor Kim Wilkins and Dr Skye Doherty for interviews with people in various creative industries, for the University of Queensland course HUMN3700: Creativity — myths, methods and impact.]

  • How important are noticing and observation to [my] creative practice?
    • (The observation journal itself is obviously a key part of this.)
    • The process of sitting up and taking notice mid-way through a project is very useful. If I’m stuck on something, I’ll sometimes look around the room and try to add in a reference to (or a texture from…) something I can see. If nothing else, it will shake things up.
    • But it’s particularly important as an incidental/ambient part of what I do. As a library and a toolbox and a habit. As practice in the sense of doing scales on the piano. This is why, in addition to observation activities (observation exercises, ROYGBIV, etc) I also like games and exercises that let me pull out and rearrange and play with things I’ve already noticed and know. For example: Observation Journal — tables and other locations; The Key to All Mythologies.
  • When do you get a sense that you can create something?
    • There are always ways to make something — knowing that aspect of the craft and/or the material helps a lot (and a lot of the journal involves that). But there’s also a distinct feeling when a thing seems to come with its own momentum, as if it wants to be made.
    • At this point, it felt like that feeling was usually attributable to three things:
      • Inspiration, in the form of a lot of creative input (exposure to other people’s work, to sources of ideas, or just to other people busily making things).
      • Desperation (I think now this is also a type of momentum — it usually happens when I’m being productive on other things. It’s just that I notice it more when the limits of time and space then stop me adding on new activities).
      • Boredom (the kind you have when there are no sources of distraction).
  • How do you tell which of your observations are worth developing?
  • The new question: Basically, I decided to try stopping (after coming up with ideas) and asking myself which ideas I liked and which I didn’t and then (and this is the important part) WHY.
    • I quickly ran a few recent ideas through that format, which revealed:
      • Ideas that felt as if they might have life had a feeling of narrative impetus, aesthetic charm, a through-line and an innate arc (those two might be the same thing)
      • Ideas that didn’t quite resonate had in common a structure without inhabitants (no people or viewpoint to hang it on), an aesthetic that didn’t charm me, and elements without an arc.
    • This meant I could make a note to further work on understanding the things that worked (e.g. what aesthetics charm me and why) and some tools to deal with ideas that haven’t quite come to life yet (e.g. narrative exoskeletons).

Densely hand-written answers to questions about creative process.

Writing/art/journal exercises:

  • If you listen to an interesting interview with someone in your field (or any field, really), instead of (or in addition to) taking notes of the answers, take note of the questions, and try answering them yourself.
  • Next time you make a list of ideas (new or existing), take time to go through and work out which ones do (and don’t) feel like something worth pursuing. Then make a few notes on why that is (in both directions. See if there are any patterns. Can you draw some lessons from that for ways to strengthen future ideas?
Tiny pen sketch of people with wine watching Miss Fisher in a cinema
Watching Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears — the last visit to the cinema Before Everything. No regrets.