It doesn’t seem like it was only September last year, when Words to Remember: A Printed Words Anthology was released. In that time, we’ve raised money for Marie Curie and Cancer Research. All the profits so far have been donated to these to charities. We hope to raise more for other cancer charities.
Now is a great time to buy a copy, if you haven’t already. Amazon seem to love messing around with book prices. At the time of writing this, the eBook is just £1.59 and the paperback is the same price.
While lockdown restrictions are being eased, life is yet to return to normal for many people. So, if you’re looking for activities to inspire creativity in yourself and others, here are some suggestions.
Even if you’ve never written before, or the last time you wrote anything creative was at school, you can still write. A great way to get started is to free write. Just sit down with a pen and notebook and write whatever comes to mind. The purpose isn’t to create a poem or a logical story, but to get the words down, until you have nothing left to say. You can go back at a later date and pick out words, lines or paragraphs you want to keep and expand on.
Go for a Walk
If you’re like most people, you probably know your local area better than you did before. Even the nicest walking areas will have lost some of their inspiration. However, as restrictions are lifted and you’re able to travel a little further, you can start to visit new places, or those you haven’t been to in a while.
Start a Podcast
Everyone has something they can talk about, and podcasts are popular at the moment. You might not attract thousands of listens, but it will help you connect with people, while inspiring others as you discuss subjects you feel passionate about. You can also bring on guests to make your episodes different each time.
Teach a Course
If you have the knowledge and experience in a particular topic, there are websites where you can upload and sell your own courses. You’ll need to be comfortable recording yourself and have an in-depth knowledge, but if you’re excited about what you’re teaching, that can inspire learners. When advertising your course, you can attract attention by using eye-catching images, and using fancy fonts online.
Learn a New Skill
If teaching isn’t for you, you could get inspired by learning a new skill or language. If you look on websites such as Eventbrite, you’ll find free and paid courses, webinars and other events. Before normality finally resumes, make the most of whatever extra time you have at home.
Join a Group
Speaking to other people with a shared interest, and exchanging ideas and experiences, can inspire and be inspiring at the same time. Because many of these groups are online rather than in person, you can (virtually) meet people from all around the world, who you wouldn’t have had the chance to meet before.
Create Your Own Diet Plan
I doubt I’m the only one who has let the diet slide during lockdown. If you’re looking to lose the excess weight too, why not be creative and come up with your own diet plan? Note to self: this should not include crisps for breakfast and cake for lunch.
Liven up Your Home and Reuse Old Household Items
If you’re fed up with looking at the same boring furniture and painted (or wallpapered) walls, then do something about it. Get online and research all the ways you can upcycle your furniture, or change the appearance of your rooms in simple but effective ways.
Knitting is good for improving your mental health, and keeping your feet warm – if you can learn to make woolly socks. If you find yourself inspired, you may also progress to making jumpers, stuffed toys and anything else you can think of. These can make thoughtful presents too.
Start a YouTube Channel
If you find yourself inspired by any of these suggestions and want to inspire others, a YouTube channel is the perfect platform to share your writing, or any of your wonderful creations or knowledge. If you get enough views, you can make money at the same time.
Hopefully, you’ve been inspired by this blog post. I’d love to hear about some of the creative things you’ve tried.
When I saw this was well over 400 hundred pages, I was expecting it to be a tough book to read. I hadn’t seen the film Catch Me if You Can, though I had heard of it. It actually wasn’t difficult to get through the book. It tells the story of Frank W. Abagnale, but having since watched the film, I can confirm it’s a vastly different story from the one he and those involved in making the film would have you believe.
Backed up by links, quotes from those in the know and with the added narrative told by Paula Parks, it’s pretty likely that Frank’s claims are mostly fabricated. If you’re wondering who Paula Parks is, she met Frank when she worked as a flight attendant and to cut a long story (you’ll have to read the book for the full story) he worked his way into her family, played on their trust, then stole from them. They weren’t a corporation; they were just an average family who took him at his word and paid the price.
As Logan uses this book to debunk most of the claims made by Abagnale, it poses the question why nobody ever questioned them. They are ludicrous when you examine them individually, but it seems nobody did, at least not at first.
He managed to air his claims about working as an airline pilot, a doctor and so much more, on a chat show, seemingly without a research team carrying out any fact checking. This opened the floodgates and with each public stage given to him, his audience took it as gospel that he must have done all these things, perhaps because everyone just assumed that someone, somewhere must have verified what he was saying.
The Greatest Hoax on Earth delves into some of the doubters who did try to expose Abagnale, and despite several published articles showing him to be a fraud, enough people continued to believe him, for Abagnale to continue earning money from public appearances. I’m sure there’s a lot of psychology involved here. By the time anyone spoke out publicly, the story was already rooted in the minds of the public and there was little that could have changed their mind en masse.
It’s worth a read, and serves as a warning not to believe everything you see, hear or read (without concrete evidence and expertise) which is particularly important today, with all the misinformation on the internet.
Last year I brought out a novel. I put six months of planning and more money than I could afford into marketing it. The pre-orders were promising, then froze as the pandemic took hold. Despite the book been shortlisted for an award and getting good reviews from the few people who did read it, reaching people and convincing them to read it was almost impossible. This year, I’m focussing more on paid work such as copywriting, but I still have lots of projects I want to release, even though I don’t expect any of them to make many sales.
I’ve set myself a challenge. Between February 2021 and January 2022, I’m going to publish something every month. With all the ideas I have for short collections of poetry and prose, and a few novella length books, I want to get these started/completed, so I can move onto longer projects in 2022.
The first release will be the audiobook version of my YA novel, First Charge. While the eBook and paperback are already out, I have had to spend time listening to and approving each chapter of the audiobook. I feel I can count this as a new release.
My March release will most likely be a chapbook, with future projects including a sci-fi novella and a re-edited version of something I published when I was just starting out.
I’ll post links to each new release on this blog post.
Project 6 – Second Chances (sequel to Ghost of Me). This one is a little different. It’s not available as an eBook. Instead, it’s available to read on Medium (see chapter links below) or to buy as a paperback from Amazon in all countries including UK and US.
This year has been difficult for a lot of people, which is why I’ve decided to share my failures and successes of 2020. Hopefully, they will inspire others. If I’ve learnt anything, it’s to take opportunities when you find them, because you never know which ones will lead to something.
Firstly, I was slowly building up my freelance writing, and the pre-orders from my novel “Ghost of Me” looked promising. Then in March/April my work dried up and the book sales plummeted not long after the release date. I could be writing this and focussing on this year being a complete failure, but I’m not. I’ll admit it’s been a series of struggles and I still haven’t rebuilt up my work to achieve a full-time living. What I have done is to look at other ways to promote myself and find work.
My charity book (Words to Remember)
This one isn’t just my success. It was only possible because of all the poems and stories other writers sent in, and those writers who helped promote it afterwards. Even so, I felt proud of myself and them when I made the £130 donation to Marie Curie with the first batch of profits. There’s more pending for other cancer charities at a later date. I know other people have raised more money for charity with less work involved, but I’m still pleased with this. At one point, I was trying to work out how much we might have raised by looking at the book rankings and thought we’d be lucky to raise £20. Finding out the first royalty payment was £130 was a nice surprise.
I started guesting on a lot of podcasts. After co-hosting my book review podcast since January 2018 and guesting on a few others, I stepped things up and began actively looking for podcasts I could appear on. Out of those, I had a couple of good experiences and some not so good. The worst was a guy who talked to me for fifteen minutes, clearly found me boring and wrapped up the podcast. It was never aired.
Some of the best experiences included having a poem broadcast on BBC Radio Manchester (followed by a short interview) and being a guest on Midnight FM where I talked to Tim Weisberg about my interest in the paranormal and how it inspires my writing. The poem broadcast on the BBC was the third I’d sent them, proving to myself that sometimes you have to keep trying. The Midnight FM interview came about after I guested on a paranormal podcast. I didn’t think it went that well, but the producer of Midnight FM got in touch with me and said one of their listeners had suggested me as a guest. I assume it was someone who heard that podcast.
Awards and sending out work
I came across the Author Elite Awards. It was free, so I entered Ghost of Me into it, but didn’t want to bother anyone by asking for votes to get it into the final. A few months later, I received an email saying it was a top ten finalist in the thriller category. I was surprised because I hadn’t asked anyone to vote for it, but obviously someone did. It didn’t win, but I get to add top ten finalist to my blurb.
Later in the year, I wrote a short story for a submission call in Divination Hollow’s Horror in Hollywood contest. Even as I sent the story, I didn’t think it had a chance, but again I was surprised to receive an email saying it was one of ten they had shortlisted. I don’t think I was one of the final three winners, as I would have heard by now, but it’s something to add to my writing CV and it encourages me to keep going. If I had listened to my own doubts about the story, I wouldn’t have sent it and it couldn’t have been shortlisted.
Finding other ways to make money from writing
I recently got paid for having some book reviews published. While it wasn’t much, I enjoyed reading and I love writing, so to get paid for combining the two is great. If things had been normal, I probably wouldn’t have gone down the path of writing book reviews. But while searching for opportunities, I came across Joyzine. Although they are predominantly a music zine, they were happy for me to volunteer to write book reviews. This gave me the experience and confidence to look for paid opportunities elsewhere. And again, it looks good on my CV.
And the failures…
Other than those I’ve already mentioned, I’ve had plenty of failures. I’ve run book giveaways where nobody has entered or the winners have never responded to claim their prizes, as if they’ve realised what the competition was for and they don’t want the prize. I’ve also tried to make use of my creative writing experience by co-running some paid workshops, but despite only charging £1.67 they sold very few tickets. Worse still, I offered tickets to a live reading on my Santa Claus book (with a free digital copy of the book) again for just £1.67 and had to cancel because it only sold one ticket. These are definitely my most embarrassing failures of the year, because I was sharing them so publicly. I thought they would fail, but I tried anyway. The point I’m trying to make is, sometimes you have to try something and take opportunities. You might fail, but you might not.
And to top the year off, I managed to sit through the first six seasons of American Horror Story, so it wasn’t a complete failure!
My plans for 2021
It will be a while before open mic poetry and spoken word nights return, but in January, I plan to take advantage of Zoom by reading at a few nights I’ve never read at before, ones that would normally be too far to travel to. I’m also going to look for more podcasts to guest on, more submissions calls and for any other opportunities. I’ll still write books, but this will be more of a hobby because I know they won’t help pay the bills. I’ll be focussing more on getting book reviews published, copywriting and pitching articles.
Now the UK is in another lockdown, many people will struggle with their mental health. I wanted to write about some of the things I’ve done to cope during Lockdown, as I’ve barely been anywhere or seen many people since March.
First my freelance work dried up around March/April and hasn’t picked back up properly ever since, then if you follow me on Facebook, you will have seen my posts about just a handful of the jobs I’ve applied to, which have either turned out to be scams and/or tried to get free work out of me. Then the novel I had set for release in March and had spent a lot of time and money promoting, flopped. The pre-orders started off well and looked promising, but then they just stopped. On top of that, I’ve only seen some members of my family once since Christmas, and haven’t seen others at all in that time. I’m not writing this for sympathy, just to show that we all have our struggles.
I don’t claim to be any kind of expert on how to cope during lockdown, but I can tell you I practiced mindfulness during the first lockdown, did some yoga and signed up for some of the free exercise classes that were all over the internet. None of that stuck and I took to watching American Horror Story, finding it oddly therapeutic. At least I could tell myself, whatever was happening in real life wasn’t as bad as what was happening on the screen.
Out of the small amount of freelance work I managed to get, a lot of it was about health, exercise and weight loss. I now know everything about exercise, how to stay healthy and lose weight. I’m just lacking the motivation to do anything about it.
This time around, I’ll be trying to draw. I bought a workbook and have already started some poor attempts at the drawing exercises in there. I might even do a separate blog post in a week or two with some of my attempts. If nothing else, it might give you something to laugh at. I’ll also be carrying on with podcasting, and volunteering writing book reviews for an online zine, and reading submissions for an online publication, as well as trying new ideas to make any kind of income.
Anyway, I’m not a great role model to tell people how to get through another lockdown, so I decided to ask other people what they’re doing to cope.
Being creative seems to be the one thing that most people I asked all mentioned. However, there are so many ways to be use creativity as a tool, to cope with the stress of lockdown and worry related to any number of things, whether related to the pandemic or not.
Nicola McConnell said she’s taken up knitting. She told me about the sense of achievement she feels when finishing a project. Katie Haigh is another person using her creativity as a way to cope and pass the time. She plans to keep busy with drawing, making things out of clay – such as pots – and painting them.
Some people are still braving the outdoors despite the cold. Adele Sullivan said she’ll be doing an hour of exercise each day, even though she finds it boring. Nadeem Zafar told me he’ll be running three times a week. He also mentioned home meditation sessions, light beer and spending more time writing. When I asked whether the pandemic finds its way into his writing, he admitted it did, but only occasionally. Most of the time, writing is an escape for him.
Speaking of alcohol, Jenny Berry mentions Gin as well as exercise and Netflix. Although I’m not suggesting anyone reading this should turn to drink, I’m guessing she means in moderation, and isn’t actually pouring it on her cereals at 7am.
Another suggestion is reading, especially if you have a particularly long to be read list. It’s also what Carolyn Batchelor says she’ll be doing, in addition to reviewing them, (by the way, this is a fantastic thing to do and really helps authors) keeping in touch with people on social media and doing crosswords.
I think keeping your mind active is probably an important thing to do, especially now with everything that has happened/is still happening this year. If you dwell on the bad stuff too much, it will only make things worse.
Ruth O’Reilly lists walking, being mindful of nature, journaling, reading, watching movies and putting her radio shows together – as things that will get her through this second lockdown. Ruth, who co-hosts the Sunday Teatime show on AllFm has managed to keep the show going from home, mainly by interviewing local people involved in creative projects around the Manchester area.
Writing pops up as a suggestion again, this time by Carolyn Crossley; she is currently doing NaNoWritMo. For those who don’t know, this is a challenge held in November, where participants aim to have the first draft of a novel complete in one month. Carolyn also lists walking every other day, writing haikus and keeping up with her daily affirmations on her blog. You can find the blog here.
Another person trying to make a positive contribution is Anthony Briscoe. He says he’ll be trying to keep spirits up, and finding humour where he can. He mentions the challenges of missing his family and facing a birthday in lockdown, which by now, many people can relate to. You can watch Anthony perform his show, Sold Out.
Other suggestions came in from Keri Moriarty, Grant Curnow and Nadia king. Keri says she is painting and even has two exhibitions in Bury. Nadia has reinstated meditation into her daily routine, is trying out new recipes, podcasting and walking, even if just a short distance. I think this is a great suggestion, as any exercise is better than nothing. I should also mention that Nadia’s podcast, the word bin is well worth a listen. You can find out more here.
Grant Curnow simply said, “Baby Yoda” and I can’t disagree. It’s almost impossible to look at Baby Yoda, and not smile.
I hope you’ve found something useful to help you through lockdown and beyond. I had more responses than I expected and couldn’t include them all in this already lengthy blog post. However, please feel free to leave a comment with your own suggestion.
Imagine you’re a plumber and you go to fix a customer’s toilet, then you ask for payment. The customer looks at you, shocked, then complains that you’re only in it for the money. Or you apply for a plumbing job in a company and despite all your previous experience and training, they say you have to do a sample job for free. The job brings in a few hundred £’s for them, but nothing for you. They have a recruitment campaign every three months and each time, they get 100 qualified applicants who all do a free job for them. That’s wrong, isn’t it?
However, this is how writers and other people in the creative arts are treated. If you try to make money from being creative, even if this is the thing that you spend all day doing, many people seem to think you’re only in it for the money, or you should just do it for the enjoyment. Although, this is what I have chosen to do, but like everyone else, I still have to eat and pay bills. There is nothing at all wrong with that.
In the past, I have been asked to do samples, and told my portfolio of previously written work wasn’t enough. The excuses have included; it’s not possible to know how much the client has edited the work, and they need to know I can follow specific instructions. Going back to the plumber again (sorry to pick on plumbers specifically) imagine being told your experience and training doesn’t prove anything, because maybe your customers might have fixed their own toilets after you left. Or the specific instructions on fixing a leaking pipe, which you now know by heart, aren’t enough and they have a new way of doing this which you need to prove you know by working for free. It sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?
Now imagine studying for eight years to gain two degrees, while working in different jobs from the one you hope to do someday, then taking two more short courses to build on your skills and knowledge, working for a year at what works out as £5 an hour (if you’re lucky) and taking on several unpaid projects to make your CV more appealing to employers. Then, in addition to all the employers who ask for you to do unpaid tests and samples, you’re told you should retrain, because your “hobby” is worthless. You might be a little upset and confused; about how what you’re going to retrain for, if that industry will have enough jobs by the time you have retrained and how you’re going to survive while you retrain when they aren’t enough jobs right now. Not to mention all the students loans you have from the first career you trained/studied for (funny how it’s not worthless when you’re paying for education) and the credit card debt you’ve racked up while working for next to nothing.
Ultimately, if you have put in the time and money to study towards any profession (including the arts) then you more than entitled to ask for a fair payment for the services you offer as a result of gaining your qualifications and experience. We (people working in the arts) are not worthless and are not the problem. The problem lies with the government who don’t support the arts and all the unscrupulous companies who try to get free work out of us. If they would just pay us some of the money our hard work earns them, then we might just be able to survive while doing the jobs we have trained for.
Money is not a dirty word. We all need it to live and whether people realise it or not, they need creativity in their lives. Without it, what will they watch when they get home from work? What will they listen to when they want to relax? What will they read when they fancy a few hours of escape? Or where will they go when they want to see a live performance?
I’m not saying people should run out and buy my books (even though that would be nice) but if you can support people working in the arts, please do. It doesn’t always have to involve buying anything. If you read a good book (especially if it’s by an indie author) tell people about it. Recommend shows and music to people if you think they’ll like them, and you know the people involved are struggling financially. If you know people who need a job in the arts and you see one that might suit them, let them know. And obviously, if you can spend money to support the arts, then please do. There might not be much support at the moment, but we can all support each other.
Disclaimer: No plumbers were harmed in the writing of this blog post
Amanda Steel is the author of Ghost of Me (a top ten Thriller finalist in the Author Elite Awards) and has had her work broadcast on BBC Radio Manchester and The NoSleep Podcast. She co-hosts Reading in Bed – a book review podcast. She also reads extracts of other authors’ books (with their permission) on Reading in Bed Extracts.
When I started my Creative Writing MA in 2017, I never considered teaching the subject to anyone, but now I’ve set up an online workshop. Like most people in lockdown, especially those involved in the arts, my work dried up this year, along with my book sales. If I had a regular job to fall back on, it wouldn’t have been an issue, but I had just taken the plunge from making a part-time income — to being a full-time writer, and everything else which goes with that. Only a small part of it actually involves writing.
Anyway, while trying to get copywriting jobs and similar work to replace the freelance jobs I lost, I tried all kinds of things. I’m probably busier now than if I just had a full-time job. I read submissions for an online press, write book reviews for a blog and have just spent six months putting together a charity anthology with poetry, fiction and non-fiction from 43 different writers. All of that is unpaid though and doesn’t help to put the beans on toast on the table. So, I tried to come up with ways to earn money. In line with how I like to help and encourage other writers, (I often promote indie writers on my book review podcast) I set up the paid writing workshop. I had been attending a free writing workshop, which my partner runs on Zoom. This is just a small group of writers who are all very supportive and encouraging.
I decided to do something on a larger scale. I talked to my partner Andy and he agreed. We set up the ticket sales on Eventbrite and are charging just £1.67 per person, with up to 100 places available. If you’re wondering, the 67p is the Eventbrite fee. After receiving so many emails offering online workshops that sounded great, it’s been disappointing to click the link and find out they are charging anything from £30 to £300. With the combined experience Andy and I have, £1.67 a session is a bargain. We can help other writers with this workshop, and still make a little money ourselves, to recover some of our lost household income during lockdown. Obviously, I’ve never attended any of the expensive courses I just mentioned. Our paid workshop will be less intimate than the free one, because there will be more people and the sole focus will be on writing, without our usual chatter and joking in-between. Maybe the pricier workshops have fewer participants who are given more individual attention. Whether that is worth the price they are asking, I can’t say.
If you would like to try our very low priced workshop, you can judge for yourself. We are open to all levels of writers from anywhere in the world. However, please note the next one is at 3pm (GMT) on 14th November. If you’re attending from outside the UK, this will be different and it’s up to you to work out the time difference.