For those of you who haven’t come across it yet, Spreadsheets & Moxie is one of my current projects: a year of R&D (funded by Arts Council England- thanks guys!) working alongside the inspirational and talented writer Sarah Salway to take a rounded approach to professionalism for women in the creative arts. More details here. Skip to the end of this post for an exercise to try at home.
Over the coming months I’ll be blogging some of the exercises and approaches we’re taking, and soliciting views and experiences from the wider creative communities (FYI men: your thoughts are very welcome) via an online survey. Today I wanted to introduce a layer of the structure we’re working within. As you’ll already have gathered, the project is led, jointly, by Sarah and myself and feeds off the coaching sessions we’ve been swapping with each other since we met four years ago on an Accredited Coaching Skills for Writers course run by the National Association of Writers in Education and Arvon. The next layer we’re working within is an invited network of five women creative arts professionals based in the North East of England and five based in the South East of England: our Associate Artists.
The Associate Artists are a sounding board for Sarah and I to challenge our ideas, get directed feedback on our work in progress, build a wider picture and think things through differently. We’ve hand-picked women who approach the world in interesting ways, are generous to others and who produce high quality artistic work. They are (in alphabetical order): Clare Best, Vanessa Gebbie, Kris Johnson, Helen Limon, Lisa Matthews, Juliana Mensah, Ellen Montelius, Susannah Pickering-Ronnie, Catherine Smith and Kay Syrad.
While Sarah and I were at the Arvon Clockhouse last week setting out the backbones of Spreadsheets & Moxie (it’s lovely there BTW, I highly recommend it as a writing retreat option), our Associate Artists each gave us a short activity, prompt or discussion point to consider over the six days. These ranged from keeping appropriate boundaries in collaborations to taking decisions on when to stop working on a piece and start a new one, from standing up for ourselves in public situations to considering alternatives to commercialisation. What I want to share with you today is the blanket approach Sarah and I developed as a way of making sense of the different questions in the context of the project.
With so much to cover in the six days we had working together, rather than trying to set ourselves up as Agony Aunts or the definitive last word on what’s ‘best’ and ‘right’, we did a 6 minute freewriting exercise to get down on paper different ways in which we might approach answering the question. After the 6 minutes were up, Sarah and I would explain to the other what we’d thought up and discuss ways of expanding or refining them. It was fascinating how many varied pathways this offered us, and even more surprising how little overlap there was in the techniques suggested. It made a great starting point for thematic discussions. It also helped us keep our responses to the questions/prompts/discussion points linked firmly back to the project. I found that my responses normally started by unpacking the language of the question or re-phrasing, for which I blame my background in research academia, but which became my route into understanding the question better before trying to work out how it might be answered.
DO TRY THIS AT HOME:
Take a blank sheet of paper & write your question/prompt/discussion point at the top. This might be set by someone else, it might be something you’ve been stuck on with your writing, it might be an area you want to know more about.
Set a timer for 6 minutes.
Freewrite as many possibilities as come to mind how you MIGHT approach answering it.
When the timer goes off, if working as a pair/group then share your approaches. If working solo, set the timer for 3 mins and freewrite on ‘when I read this back I notice…’
* If you work professionally as (or with) a writer or creative arts practitioner & want to help us out by filling in an online survey about your experiences later this year, sign up to the Spreadsheets & Moxie mailing list*