How to inspire creativity

It can get a bit boring just sticking to one medium all the time. Even though you may be a strong writer, it’s fun to branch out and expand your horizons. Creativity isn’t something that always happens at a desk, but can permeate many – if not all – areas of your life.

Visual mediums

Try turning your literary creations into something visual. You may naturally tell stories in the written form, but comics are also a great way to express a story. Different ideas suit different mediums, so for example a biting satire about modern life might suit visual form better because it’s quick and easily digestible.

You can also experiment with drawing a character from your story, or actually going to the place that you want to write about. Visit DeviantArt for character inspiration!

On foot

Keep a travel diary, so you can imagine what it’s like to be that particular character, even if it’s just in your own city. See your own life with new eyes, and this childlike wonder at experience will translate into your own writing. I’m based in London, so I’d head over to this incredible blog post for new ideas for inspiring places to visit in the city.

Non-fiction

If you want to explore a complex topic relating to existential philosophy, a long blog post could be the way to go. Non-fiction can definitely be creative, especially if it involves coming up with new ideas, new solutions or a different way of looking at things. WordPress is an amazing platform for blogging where you can easily set up a blog if you haven’t already.

Hands on

With all that writing, it’s sometimes nice to switch off your brain and do something hands-on. I really enjoy crafting, whether that’s cutting up some old patterned material to create a terrible cushion that looks like a child made it, or rearranging a room to make it look like somewhere new. It’s Nice That is a website that shares beautiful content related to crafting.

Eating

Experiment with different foods. It can be really fun implementing a new creative way to eat, whether that’s trying to think of healthier meals or incorporating more vegetarian dishes into your diet. Eating more healthily is great for creativity because when you’re feeling good, all those brain cells will be firing even more quickly and making better connections. I tend browse BBC Good Food for new recipe ideas.

Learn coding

Funnily enough, coding is actually a great way to be creative, and learn to code is not as hard as you think. CodeAcademy and General Assembly are the most amazing online resources for learning to code – and, they’re totally free! Any self-respective creative person nowadays can benefit from learning how the back end of the internet works, and becoming a bit more technical in their online knowledge.

Learning HTML and CSS means you can eventually code the front end of websites and blogs, share your work, and bring your creative vision to life!

imageCatherine Julianne is a writer and digital communications professional obsessed with the field of personality systems theory. She also likes visual art, Eastern practices, adventures and being in nature. 

Image: Unsplash

The secret of productivity

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There is really no secret of productivity except engaging in meaningful work. If you are motivated to complete the work you have set out to do, you will procrastinate less and work faster.

Nevertheless, here are some tips to help you be more productive:

  • Don’t do anything you don’t love (beyond normal life obligations) because then you will feel a sense of “not enough time” as you’re not spending it on the right things for you.
  • Don’t waste time imagining negative futures or living in idealised pasts because all you will ever have is now, and anything else is a waste.
  • Get your priorities straight because then you will easily be able to decide how to spend your time. It’s a fact that you won’t be able to do everything.
  • Establish a stable routine which will keep you balanced and reduce emotional stress, therefore making it easier not to waste time on negativity which is draining. Negativity is anything that doesn’t promote your own joy, growth and expansion.
  • Honestly get up earlier, it’s easier to get things done in the morning. Who feels like doing anything after a long day at work?
  • Don’t make the first thing you do one of obligation, like going to work.
    Have at least an hour per day devoted to your favourite activity, such as writing, watching a film, sketching, reading a book. This will set the tone for the whole day, if you start off with wonderful things you will seek wonderful things.
  • Reorganise your mind’s schedule to two weeks instead of one – seven days is a fairly arbitrary number and not enough to get through a full cycle of everything you want to do.
  • Keep your mind very well organised by prioritising everything you want to do. Make regular life plans, from 6 months to 6 years. You will subconsciously keep adjusting your course with less active effort involved, saving time.
  • Don’t try to multitask because this is literally impossible and you end up splintering your attention, reducing your joy in the task. Why do it if it’s not important enough to focus on? Also, you might make a mistake and have to correct it later, wasting time.
  • If you still feel like you don’t have enough time, cut out some less essential things. If you want to be a great artist, maybe your home can suffer being a little messier.
  • Really take time out. Time has a funny way of stretching when you counterpose periods of activity with periods of repose.
  • Make spreadsheets. If it’s making you feel stressed, it’s probably too complex to hold in your mind, so you need to break it down and structure it.
  • Meditate regularly. This breaks you out of the hamster wheel of endless conscious thought, and helps you enter a more relaxed state of mind which is more conducive to real productivity (rather than busywork).
  • Do a monthly online shop to stop you going to the small supermarkets every day.
  • When making to do lists, make sure you write down the concrete steps needed to complete the task. So, rather than “clean room” which is quite abstract, maybe write: hoover, put clothes away, change bedsheets, so you feel a sense of completion when these have been done.
  • Put everything that you may not naturally remember to do in your digital calendar – eg Google Calendar. This frees up valuable mental space to focus on other things, and reduces the stress caused when forgetting to do important tasks.

There really is honestly no secret to productivity apart from having what you want to achieve most at the top of your priority list. If you’re willing to devote the time to writing that book, making that video game or drawing that graphic novel, you will. If you always forsake dedication to art and spend your time on other tasks, you will never achieve your goals.

imageCatherine Julianne is a writer and digital communications professional obsessed with the field of personality systems theory. She also likes visual art, Eastern practices, adventures and being in nature. 

Image: Unsplash

How to write compelling content

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Everyone’s idea of what makes good writing differs to some extent, but there are a few basic rules that you should follow when writing for the web, since this is where most ‘content’ will be found. The word content has only become common parlance in recent years, and rather than meaning a feeling of peacefulness, in this context Wikipedia defines it as:

the information and experience(s) directed towards an end-user or audience.[1] Content is “something that is to be expressed through some medium, as speech, writing or any of various arts”.

This term is inherently ambiguous, but it is appropriate for online writing in any case, in the sense that people now see articles, videos, audio, images and other types of digital media as ‘content’ for consumption. This means it needs to be snappy, interesting and attention-keeping.

Here are 10 tips to help you improve your web writing:

  1. Write clearly and concisely. If a word doesn’t add to the meaning and clarity of the piece, take it out.
  2. Edit and proof read. Much writing would be so much better if someone had taken it through an editing process.
  3. Imagine you are someone else reading it and you have no idea what you’re talking about. This is the level of articulation you need to achieve.
  4. Read a lot. If you’re going to write in a compelling way, you need to be familiar with good writing.
  5. Use the top-down news triangle – don’t leave your reader guessing until the end. The most interesting and important information should be at the beginning to encourage your reader to continue.
  6. Be aware of web reading habits – people tend to scan, they can easily navigate away from the page, it’s harder to read on a screen – all these things mean you need to keep the reader interested in every sentence.
  7. Use more interesting verbs and adjectives than the ones that habitually spring to mind: an online thesaurus can help.
  8. Use subheadings above each section of the piece to keep it easy to read and facilitate scanning.
  9. Keep one idea per paragraph to help the reader digest the information. It’s okay to have a paragraph that consists of only one sentence.
  10. Use contractions to improve the readability of the piece – it’s no time to be formal and stuffy when writing web content, save this for print media. This means ‘I’m’ instead of ‘I am’, and so on.

Did you like this? Read more tips on how to write a good article for the web.

Catherine

 

Catherine Julianne is a writer and digital communications professional obsessed with the field of personality systems theory. She also likes visual art, Eastern practices, adventures and being in nature. 

Image: Unsplash

What to look for in a relationship

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To start with, I don’t think you should look for a relationship.

Also, I slightly disagree with the concept of ‘a relationship’, in the sense of it being a socially-recognised pair bond that begins with dating, mating, committing, and ending with home buying, marriage, kids and an old-age pension plan.

If that’s the kind of relationship you’re thinking of, then I don’t have any clue what you should look for. Someone with money and the potential to make even more, probably.

If you’re thinking of an authentic connection with another human being that is rewarding, enriching and helps you grow, is more happy than sad, brings interesting experiences and makes lasting memories, then I have a few ideas.

  1. Stop looking outside yourself for this person and start building an authentic relationship with yourself. Translated, this means thinking really hard about your values and priorities and combining this with doing what is fun and spiritually rewarding. Being conscious of the way you live your life, the person who *you* are in the outside world will come to reflect your inner world, and you will start to attract the right people as a result.
  2. Get rid of everything in your life that drains your energy and makes you unhappy. If you can’t get rid of something, then at least try to find ways to deal with it positively so it has the least impact on your life.
  3. Make sure you think about your past relationships. Reflect on where they went wrong and why, because otherwise you will keep making the same mistakes again, attracting the same sorts of people until you learn your lesson.
  4. Take steps to deal with all of your emotional issues to make sure they don’t keep coming up in your relationships. Remember, every relationship is a chance to grow and develop in a deeper way than perhaps you might be able to on your own, so try to see problems as potential learning points. If your partner doesn’t want to learn as well, it might be time to get rid of them.
  5. Make an amazing, beautiful and inspiring life plan so have a clear idea of what your goals and ambitions are. This way, you can see if current or prospective partners fit in with your goals, and perhaps could even help expand them in a way you wouldn’t have thought of by yourself.
  6. Be the type of person who you want to hang out with, and also be as happy as you think you’ll be once you find someone. That means you don’t need to wait to have fun and have the best experiences, because going on holiday with friends is amazing, and volunteering at exciting events is a great way to meet people. There is something invigorating  about having all your spare time to yourself, since you can get a lot done and won’t have time to think about relationships.
  7. Make sure there is space in your life for a person to come into it or it will never happen. Make sure your social calendar is not so full you don’t have time to meet anyone new. Make sure you’re not hanging on to photos of your ex that will make someone run a mile when they see them. Check if your social media profile is up to date.
  8. Forget everything you ever learned about not being good enough – you don’t need to be prettier, smarter, more intelligent or richer, you just need to have fun being yourself and then your spirit will be infectious. You don’t need to surround yourself with anyone who makes you feel like you have to make a transaction for them to spend time with you. No one else is perfect and neither should you be.
  9. Stop seeing people you want to be romantic with as fundamentally different from you. You want to look for someone who appeals to you as a human being, and who is drawn to you as another fellow human being, rather than feeling like you have to impress them with your feminine or masculine charms. You’re awesome and the right person will see that.
  10. Remember that ‘being in a relationship’ – whatever that means – is not the default setting. Everyone is born with the potential to be a complete human being by themselves, while you have to actively *choose* to form a bond with someone, so anyone who remains ‘single’ is in a perfectly good default setting.
  11. Remember that people don’t exist for you to make use of them in a dating game. Everyone is a unique human being with flaws and feelings just like you, so just have fun getting to know different people rather than searching for the ‘end goal’ of a relationship. People aren’t goals.

CatherineCatherine Julianne is a writer and digital communications professional obsessed with the field of personality systems theory. She also likes visual art, Eastern practices, adventures and being in nature. 

Mindfulness

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From intellectual purism to populist fashion following, there is an underlying assumption that if something is fashionable it is somehow less special. Take mindfulness, now all the rage in women’s magazines, we’ve got mindfulness colouring books in Foyles and Waterstones, it’s both lauded and derided in the national news.

My first instinct is to wrinkle my nose, that something as fundamentally basic as mindfulness can be packaged up and sold for profit, especially as I’ve been using it since 2012 to deal with emotional struggles.

And yet, if the population at large is interested in being more mindful – that is, paying more attention to what is actually happening rather than incessantly exerting the will of the rational mind, isn’t that a good thing?

Popularity suggests the thing is somehow polluted, diverging from its natural state. But no one should want to live in their ivory tower of intellectual purity, where the only good ideas are the ones hardly anyone knows about. Maybe we need to make our deal with the devil to ensure as many people as possible know about important life enhancing ideas like mindfulness, and hope that the central message doesn’t get too lost along the way.

However, the problem comes when we begin to translate the abstract into the physical, as happens when something becomes ‘fashion’.

Perhaps because for something to become popular it has necessarily been distributed by mass media and marketing, which is motivated by profit rather than the elevation of the soul and senses. Profit is usually driven by greed, and marketing achieves its goals by appealing to baser human motives like lust for sex, eternal youth, power.

But does mindfulness escape this charge? Perhaps it is no bad thing to wish for improved well-being by doing something that actually costs nothing: stopping for a moment, paying attention, perhaps meditating for some length of time. Indeed, the wellbeing industry is worth billions of pounds with books, spas, courses – you name it. We can indeed pay for happiness.

Perhaps, ultimately, it all depends on motive. If we, as individuals, seek wellbeing and we pay for it because we are striving to become better people, live more fulfilling lives and help others, then that is probably one of the best ways to spend our money. If we just want to consume wellbeing products as fuel to increase our productivity for its own sake, to buy more things and obtain that illusory security, then it’s all a huge scam.

When does something stop being intellectually pure and pass into consumerism? If I buy a book by Rousseau because I want to read about his ideas, carry it around and show it off on the tube, do I become a consumer of ideas and lose my integrity? Or is my motive still pure?

If I want to grow my beard because I enjoy facial hair, have the necessary masculine hormones to do so and I think it will be comely on me, does that make me a populist trend follower because beards are now in fashion? You can buy beard cards, beard manuals and beard baubles.

It’s hard to know where the person ends and capitalism begins, but we can go back to where we started and employ a bit of mindfulness.

Take a moment to disengage from the endless thoughts and impressions, reflexes to think about what is happening and the urge to do, think more, act, move. It’s like unhooking a heavy mental weight and suddenly you are aware but not thinking. All of your autonomy lies in this moment when you are no longer being washed along by ideas or urges. You can simply be, and realise it doesn’t matter.

Read this incredible article on Creative Review by Silas Amos about the impossibility of authenticity in branding. Or my article about how we need a new language for self-development

CatherineCatherine Julianne is a writer and digital communications professional obsessed with the field of personality systems theory. She also likes drawing, yoga, meditation and being in nature. 

Images: Unsplash

Gender and mental health talk

Being Human festival

This is a slightly different blog post about a talk I went to called ‘Gender and mental health: what can history teach us?’ that was part of the brilliant (and free!) Being Human festival of the humanities, now in its second year.

Consisting of a panel of highly intelligent and compassionate academic speakers, the talk’s topics ranged from the gendered environments of the mental asylums of the Victorian period and early twentieth century, to modern constructions of masculinity, mental health and “madness”.

This talk was hosted by publisher Palgrave Macmillan, who are the biggest publishers of humanities books, and the central purpose was to bring the relevance and importance of the humanities (such as history) to wider public awareness.

It focused on the perspectives that history can bring to modern discourse on mental health issues, how related social constructs such as masculinity change over time, and how our current models of mental health and illness are almost certainly inadequate.

I have to say, I haven’t heard anything as mind-blowingly true since university, when I found out I had been a victim of sexism all my life (who knew?!).

The speakers perfectly fused the near-crystal clarity of a historical perspective with far muddier modern discourse on mental health issues. It seems that with regard to Victorian “sanatoriums”, these institutions were presented as almost holiday resorts for the slightly deviant, before eventually morphing into the far darker “aslyums” that were prevalent until the 1980s. You can find out more in a book by Jane Hamlett called At Home in the Institution

It was fascinating to learn from another speaker, Louise Hide, that sanatoriums attracted former members of the armed forces to work there, due to their regimented structure, and emphasis on the physical burliness needed to restrain patients not under the control of modern psychotropic drugs.

Tim Lomas spoke about the relationship between masculinity, meditation and mental health, which is basically that increased emotional intelligence in men as a result of their practicing meditation techniques, though helpful, can often lead to unexpected social consequences such as peer pressure to return to their old, unhealthy ways of dealing with their emotions. I am sure this research study must be groundbreaking.

The panel, though dazzlingly interesting, was satisfyingly short to keep one wanting more, with most of the evening taken up by an audience Q&A. Psychologist Peter Kinderman was a fantastic chair and speaker, keeping up an exciting flow of conversation that gave lots of people a chance to speak.

All questions were interesting and relevant, testament to the intelligence and compassion bristling in the room. It was particularly delightful to hear from a recently-qualified mental health nurse, who successfully brought the less “academic” world into the discussion by revealing how mental health professionals in the NHS are bound to make diagnoses for people they treat, in order to receive payment for their time.

And of course the entire talk was about why psychiatric labels like “social anxiety disorder” and “depression” are unhelpful at best and potentially dangerous at worst, naturally presenting a huge challenge to any kind of call for change.

But we mustn’t forget the real people who are at the centre of the whole discussion who have actually suffered from a mental health problem, and that’s pretty much everyone. Many people know what it’s like to struggle with their own mental health issues or to support a loved one, and how it can be so hard to fight a system that frequently operates by reducing the variety of human experience to black and white categories.

And of course, it’s so important that new ideas like “the mental health system needs to change” are given a public platform, because inadequacies in our current system harm people every day.

In my opinion, the mental health system is one of the biggest problems in our society today, and Peter Kinderman presented an elegantly simple solution: fight inequality and poverty, and you also combat the causes of mental health problems, in line with all the evidence from research studies. So obvious, and yet so often ignored.

And that’s why it’s brilliant that Palgrave Macmillan were behind this particular talk (in partnership with the Being Human festival). It never occurred to me that such a big publishing house could be an agent of social change – and yet with only subtle branding hints present at the event – but my view has been forever changed.

This talk was a perfect example of a profit-motivated organisation like Palgrave Macmillan wielding its economic power to do some good in the world. They achieved this by teaming up with compassionate and insightful academics, and supporting an exciting, inspiring and forward-thinking cultural festival like Being Human that is promoting some real change in the conversations and thoughts of the public.

Not once did the atmosphere become angry or tense or judgmental, as it was totally inspiring and uplifting. It gave voice to an idea that begins as a quiet suspicion in one’s mind, which then grows to an obvious truth that no one else seems to be speaking – until now. And whether it’s a case of being preached to as the choir, or the joy of being in a room full of people who share your rather unusual (!) opinion, doesn’t really matter.

Another great thing about Being Human festival is that the events programme spans over 250 across the UK, with many taking place in universities, and thus deftly avoiding the tempting trap of focusing only on London.

It must be emphasised that this was a free event, and yet so well-organised with lovely staff too. I am very much looking forward to reading my signed copy of Peter Kinderman’s book A Prescription for Psychiatry and absorbing the amazing common-sense insights it certainly contains, though it must be said I would have bought all the books on sale last night if I could have afforded it.

This talk was free and held at The Stables in King’s Cross on 18th November 2015. Find more free events to go to for the Being Human festival or support its partner Palgrave Macmillan by buying one of their super interesting humanities books.