time-management-kaia-vieira

GUEST POST: Structure and Flow: The Artist’s Guide to Time Management (Pt. 1)

artist, productivity, self-love

I want to introduce this blog post with a big fat disclaimer: by no means have I mastered the art of meeting deadlines and being a thoroughly accountable, high-performance entrepreneurial expert that will get you managing your time like an Elon Musk spawn. I say this as Erika, whose blog I’m writing this for, drops me a message the night before the deadline, and I panic, having only written the first draft of this article.

I confess my struggle with deadlines because I want to be clear: time management for artists is different from time management for a left-side brainer. Saying that, I’d like to note that I believe (thanks to Julia Cameron’s teachings in ‘The Artist’s Way’ – FULLY recommend) that we all have an inner artist. Here, when I say, ‘left-side brainer’, I’m either talking about someone who genuinely thrives in a more analytical, left-brain field, or those who haven’t yet discovered their inner artist. I’m talking about the individual who doesn’t get quite as tempted to follow a rabbit hole of inspiration at 2 A.M. or has a relentlessly defiant inner rebel that appears every time the alarms of *imminent deadline* creeps up (seemingly out of nowhere). 

As much as us artistic folk want to master our time management, it seems almost paradoxical: the very nature of our work (and the core of our being) relies heavily on the nature of responding to unexpected bouts of inspiration. So how can we be free to flow with such waves when adhering to a rigid, predetermined structure? I’ve struggled with this heavily on my own journey. But, like the balance in all of nature, there is a place for both. If we practice the art of improvisation within our time management just as we would with our instrument or canvas, the balance between both can be a joyful, continuous dance. 

I’ve split this article into a 2-part list: the first collection of bullet points focuses on the management, left-brain side of this dance, and the second on the creative, right-brain side. They’re structure and flow, yin and yang: they need each other. And, since this is time management, we also need bullet points. Not to mention, my OCD nature gets a thrill out of categorising these for you.


Part 1: The building blocks of time management


1. Health first

“To keep the body in good health is a duty…otherwise we shall not be able to keep the mind strong and clear.”

Buddha

I discovered yoga at eighteen, at a time when I needed a self-care practice, badly. I was a spiralling teen, using drink and drugs to a dangerous excess to numb and escape my turbulent childhood. I always had high ambitions for my music career, but my complete lack of self-care wasn’t sustainable and was certainly going to destroy any promise of fulfilling my dreams. I started to awaken to this realisation through yoga and haven’t looked back. 

If you haven’t got into an exercise or meditation routine, or developed healthy eating habits, addressing these things can feel daunting. But every tiniest step in the right direction is as valuable as the next and you can gain momentum by focusing on small, short-term goals. It’s 100% a journey. 

I now have a morning routine of journaling, exercise, meditation, affirmations and visualisation, and I follow a plant-based diet, but I did NOT build this up overnight – this is the result of 6 years of trial and error! And though I recommend any one of these elements, I’m not saying any one of these are exactly what you should do (including the plant-based diet, no vegan pushing here). They’re simply what I’ve found make me feel best, in body and mind.

When I feel clear and energised, I show up for my day in a much better way than when I rush out of bed in a hurry. Making the time to nurture your body and mind before the demands of the world come rushing in isn’t a luxury, it’s essential.


2. Time blocking: the groundwork for all time management


In 1958, Cyril Northcote Parkinson, a British historian, invented the infamous Parkinson’s Law: one of the groundworks for time management. The law states, “work expands so as to fill the time of its completion”. This means, whether we give ourselves two hours, one week or a year, we will subconsciously find a way to fill the time we’ve allotted for it. Saying this, the law should not be used to set unreasonable deadlines (of which time tracking can help with in Step 4).

By time blocking, you set fixed amounts of time to focus on a given activity, and then schedule these blocks into a schedule/calendar. This practice revolutionised my ability to see how I’m balancing my time across the whole week, and in turn, creates urgency to show up each day.


3. Schedule breaks and unscheduled time just as you would any focused activity


It can be hard at first to create estimates for how much you can REALISTICALLY fit into any given week, but trial and error is the greatest teacher. My kryptonite was always being overly ambitious and obsessive at the expense of my well-being, but I hit a turning point during lockdown that I can’t stress enough: SCHEDULE BREAKS. As mad as this may sound to some, I predict that if you’re reading this, you’re an ambitious artistic entrepreneur that struggles with making enough time for yourself. But it’s as essential to block out time for rest as for any focused activity.

Breaks fall under two categories: 

  1. Regular breaks between focused tasks
  2. Daily/weekly blocks of free, unstructured time

Regular breaks between focused tasks:

The ‘Pomodoro Technique’ (another groundwork of time management) is a method that uses a timer to break work down into intervals with focused productive time, followed by a small break. Traditionally, the method advocates 25 minutes of work followed by a 5-minute break, but you can change that as you see fit (50m/10m is my personal favourite). The idea is that when the focus time is longer, so is the break. As artists, this can feel quite rigid when we get into a creative flow, but there’s a hefty amount of research to back up how beneficial this is for your brain.

Another point that needs to be stressed is that a break is NOT the time to check your phone, consume TV, or engage your brain in any other stimulating way. A break is a break from all activity and can include (some of my favourites): making tea, doing a few stretches, meditating, closing your eyes and listening to some music, or people watching from your window. 

Brendon Burchard, author of “High Performance Habits” (recommend for you self-development junkies out there), stresses that regular breaks are crucial for sustainable high-performance. He has an interesting “release tension, set intention” meditation technique:

  1. Close your eyes, scan your body, releasing any tension you notice
  2. Set an intention for your next block of work/activity

Daily/weekly blocks of free, unstructured time:

This is VITAL. In my self-research, I discovered I need at least 1 day completely off, and preferably 1.5 (i.e. Saturday off from the afternoon, after a productive morning, and the whole of Sunday off). This was alien to me for the first two years of London life, but I’ve accepted I need it as much as I need focused time. We’re not robots – we need freedom from our schedule, especially when we’re highly ambitious and most of our week is regimentally structured. 

Scheduling it ahead of time allowed me to let go of a HELLA lot of guilt I would put on myself if I had an unplanned day off. It gets you to be more intentional and creative about how you could make the most of this day (go on an adventure in the city or country, organise a meetup with mates) as opposed to numbing yourself with Netflix in an attempt to have a break. As much as Netflix and Prime Video are one of my go-to’s for some time out (I might be obsessed with productivity, but I’m human), research has shown that binging doesn’t give your brain much of a break at all and is actually extremely energy-draining in comparison to energy-generating time with friends or in nature.

One more note: schedule a couple of hours each day to have unstructured time too, preferably 1-2 in the afternoon, and a couple in the evening before bed (minimum). Having everything structured for even one day can result in you rebelling against your own schedule. Daily free time helped me feel more human: having the space to go outside for a walk, connect with my loved ones, or even just regain the freedom to CHOOSE what I want to do in the moment.


4. Use time tracking to find out how long it ACTUALLY takes you to complete tasks


Research about task completion times conducted at the University of Waterloo in Canada found evidence that “task completion plans normally resemble best-case scenarios and yield overly optimistic predictions of completion times”. Yep, we’re crap at accurately predicting how long it’ll take us to do anything, and never seem to want to take into account any unforeseen circumstances, which can be a problem if you want to manage your day. Enter: time tracking. 

For the next week, I suggest you get a super cheap, tiny pocket journal (or do it on your phone, Gen Z-ers) and track every activity you do. This helped me to learn how much time I need to feel truly satisfied with a practice session (anything under 1.5 hours feels rushed) or to be more realistic about how long it actually takes me to get ready in the morning, accepting more and stressing less. This will also hold you accountable for time you wasted scrolling through that influencer’s Insta account. When you see it written down, it makes you think twice the next day.


5. Habits and routines


Habits and routines are GOLDUST for efficiency. My morning routine sets me up, primes my mind, and generates energy for the day. If I ever miss it, I feel like a slug. One book I’d highly recommend getting your hands on if you’re interested in setting up your own morning routine is “The Miracle Morning”. Author Hal Elrod proclaims that “focused, productive, successful mornings generate focused, productive, successful days – which inevitably creates a successful life”.

Once habits are set into our daily routines, they become consistent patterns that we don’t have to think about. When they become instinctive, they eliminate ‘decision fatigue’: a psychological phenomenon coined by social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister. Decision fatigue suggests we each have a finite store of mental energy for decision making, and so self-discipline outside of a routine is much harder than one that’s set up by automatic habit. Once you get through the first month (the time to set a habit is constantly up for debate, but this is a widely accepted rough guideline), you’ve paved your way to save all that energy for the rest of the day. And, positive habits will look after you like a well-trained coach, giving you more energy to focus on your creative work.

Written by Kaia Vieira


Pt. 2 will discuss creativity within time management. Coming this Friday!

nanowrimo-songwriting-november

NOVEMBER SONGWRITING MONTH ANNOUNCEMENT

artist, creativity, music, productivity, songwriting

Hi everyone!

I have always been a massive fan of NaNoWriMo, where writers commit to writing a novel in a month, but it recently occurred to me that there was no such thing for songwriters… This is why I spent the last couple weeks putting together emails with songwriting prompts, writing inspiration, and interesting links. The idea is that if you sign up for the November Songwriting Month mailing list, you’ll receive a dose of daily inspiration to help you achieve your songwriting goals for the month. And if you’re in dire need of a songwriting community now that this pandemic has scattered us all over the world, there is also a Facebook group where you can share your stuff and give others feedback.

Happy writing!

Erika x

inspiration-journal-songwriting

Why I Have an Inspiration Journal

artist, creativity, music, productivity, songwriting

In Belgium, I had a mystery drawer with Post-its with ideas and words that I like. On my bookshelves, I had dozens of dog-eared books with index cards between the pages, writings in the margins, and underlined sentences. I had cutouts of articles I’ve read, poems on my walls, photos of places and friends, and postcards with my favourite paintings. My childhood bedroom was a shrine to creativity. Maybe also a hoarder’s paradise.

When I started moving around, it became hard to acquire stuff – index cards got lost, books were too heavy to cart around, and I didn’t have walls to decorate with paraphernalia anymore. My bedroom was never as over-the-top as Florence Welch’s house, but looking around always filled me with inspiration. If I was feeling stuck, or couldn’t get past the terror of the blank page in my songbook, I could always start from a picture on the wall or a word in someone else’s poem.

I came up with a new system when I moved to a hostel in London, though calling it a system is probably overselling it. I started writing down phrases from books I liked, copying poems, and drying flowers in between the pages of a journal. After a while, I started taking leaflets from galleries and cutting out drawings to paste into my notebook. And in between the art I admired, I wrote my own songs, that had started from a line in a poem or an idea I got from a quote. I called it my inspiration journal.

A blank page is always daunting, but having an inspiration journal, or an inspiration nook where you keep some poetry books and lists of interesting rhymes on hand, can give you a starting point to write from. It can also encourage you to read more, go to museums once in a while, and watch more films. It can make you a better listener and reader, as well as a better songwriter. Here are some ideas on how to fill your journal and what you can do with it:


1. Fill it with poetry and interesting sentences.


Read poetry, listen closely to lyrics, study fiction. As songwriters, we are always on the lookout for beautiful turns of phrase, and unique metaphors. I find autobiographical essays a great source of inspiration, too – some of my favourite writers are Joan Didion, Deborah Levy, and Olivia Laing. But don’t just write down stuff that sounds good. Write down the words that spark your imagination. For different songwriters, that will mean different things. I’ve written down quotes about lightbulbs that didn’t work and turmeric in the kitchen because I wanted to use similar details in my own lyrics.


2. Make lists of words.

As a folk songwriter, I like telling stories in my songs. But to make them come to life, I need descriptive, meaningful words. Most of us can make do with the words in our current vocabulary, but as writers, we need to do better than that. We want to be in a place where we can choose from a pool of words that might mean the same thing, but roll of our tongues in different ways, leave a new taste in our mouths. Jimmy Webb even goes as far as to suggest we read a dictionary back-to-back.


Few of us are naturally inclined to sit and read an entire dictionary (like Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate for example, at fourteen hundred pages) but I will advance the argument that a writer who attempts to write prose, poetry, song lyrics or automobile advertising without a vocabulary of suitable depth is entering a tournament of wits unarmed. I will go one step further and say that if there is any intrinsic merit in curiosity then we should read at least one dictionary from aardvark to Zwolle (a city in the Netherlands).

Jimmy Webb, “Tunesmith: Inside the Art of Songwriting”

I have not attempted this yet, although I intend to read a dictionary someday. I do keep lists of interesting words I come across and original rhymes I see or think of in my notebook, though. I use them for writing lyrics, for moving the story plot along, finding unpredictable rhymes, etc.


3. Cut out paintings, paste in photographs, let a friend draw in your journal.


Writing from an image is a valuable exercise for songwriters in a rut. It can provide a change in your current songwriting process, bring imagery into stale lyrics, or evoke emotions that will make you think of a brilliant melody. I don’t often use this method because I’m not much of a visual person, but I have friends who swear by it. I recommend cutting out photos of paintings from museum or gallery leaflets, pasting in photographs, and even letting friends draw in your notebook. I have let friends do that before who weren’t good at drawing at all – it doesn’t always have to be serious, sometimes a good bit of fun is what you need.


4. Keep newspaper articles that hit a nerve.


I struggle with writing songs that are not about me, and for most people, songwriting can be a narcissistic endeavour. To challenge myself, I sometimes write about events on the outside that affect me in some way – climate change, racism, sexism, there’s enough out there to pull from. My songs about big issues often sound like pretentious crap and don’t see the light of day, but it’s the exercise that counts. I’ve found that referring to newspaper articles helps, especially the ones with personal stories that bring humanity into these grand narratives. Not long ago, I started stuffing them in my inspiration journal to use details from them in my songs. I’ll keep you updated on how well it works.


5. Write down your ideas. Obviously.


Inspiration doesn’t always come from outside. Sometimes we get our own great ideas. The thing with our brain is that we forget them. I often write something down believing the idea is so good that I will remember it forever, to read it back a week later and see it for the first time. So, keep your inspiration journal at hand and write down the great lyric or the original song idea when it comes to you. Or keep index cards in your bag that you then paste into your journal. Whatever works.


This works for me, but I know that all creatives have their rituals, so please let me know if you have any other ideas!

why-music-matters-retrain

My Rant About Why Music Matters

artist, creativity, music, self-love

All my important memories are tied to music. My first big love, my first breakup, all the other loves, and all the other breakups. Summer trips, my high school graduation, birthdays, Christmases. I remember being seventeen after my first boyfriend broke up with me, sitting on the couch in our living room, scrolling through Youtube. I remember finding Lesley Gore and hearing ‘You Don’t Own Me‘. How empowering that felt, and how that song catapulted me out of the couch and onto the street for the first time in days.

One of my most cherished memories is mouthing the lyrics to ‘Ignition’ by R. Kelly to my ex-boyfriend from across the room (and yes, I am ashamed of the memory being tied to this specific song). I still can’t listen to it without thinking of him. I have other friends who have had similar experiences – I have a friend who can’t hear ‘Psycho Killer‘ without thinking of his ex-girlfriend, though they’d been broken up for years (it is an unfortunate title for a song that reminds you of your ex).

I remember the weekend of the Philosophy Olympiad when all the finalists were staying in the same hotel, and someone kept playing ‘Pumped Up Kicks‘ in our room. And when one of my classmates sang ‘7 Years‘ by Lukas Graham at our high school graduation and we all cried (okay, maybe not all of us). I remember dancing in a club to ‘Valerie‘ when I first moved to London. And what would Christmas be without my dad playing free jazz in the background? Or studying for exams without ABBA or the Disney soundtrack? What fun is cleaning the house without singing along to Taylor Swift?

Yes, maybe on a practical level, musicians don’t matter as much as doctors or engineers. But can you imagine a world without music? Without dance? Or art? Would you want to live in it? I wouldn’t. This has been uttered by so many creatives before me, but how would we have survived lockdown if we didn’t have music, films, and books? Yet still, people seem to doubt the importance of the arts.

Most artists were already juggling jobs before the virus and scraping by on dismal paychecks while honing their craft because they believed that their work mattered enough to endure the questions about when they were going to get ‘real jobs’. It was already hard before COVID. But it has become harder – now that the UK government is telling people to rethink, reskill, and reboot. Now that the professions we have been training for our whole lives are being degraded and disregarded.

But imagine… Imagine if we listened. If all the artists that had ever been told to quit and do something else actually stopped and did something else. How many musicians and dancers would be left? How many writers? Or actors and filmmakers? Because no matter how talented they are, every artist has heard those words before. Yes, even Beyoncé. So I ask again… Would you want to live in that world?

I Can Be Happy For My Friends And Also Really Jealous

artist, music, self-love

“I’m so happy for you,” I lied through my teeth. “This is just amazing.”

We were sitting in my kitchen, eating the three-day-old curry I wanted to get rid of. Clara (obviously not her real name) is one of my closest friends but she makes my life insanely hard sometimes by being better at things and having the nerve to talk about it. That day, she had just told me that she was working with a producer who was a household name in the industry, recorded a live session in some expensive studio, and was working on the release of her EP that I knew was going to knock it out of the park.

It’s not that I didn’t have accomplishments of my own – this happened pre-corona, and at the time of the conversation, I was still scheduled to do a work placement at ‘The Guardian’, I had just performed at my first spoken word open mic, and had started playing with a cellist. But all these milestones paled in comparison to Clara’s. She had a manager for fuck’s sake! And it wasn’t one of the music business students from our uni, it was a grey-haired man with glasses, the epitome of professionalism. Eating the soggy curry, I regretted not having made dinner that night. At least I could have shown off my cooking skills.

Clara and I didn’t become fast friends when we met. First, I resented her for several months because she looked more professional, sang with more confidence and better technique, and I didn’t want to admit to myself, let alone to her, that there were musicians out there who were better than me. Never mind that she was a completely different artist and that comparing yourself to anyone will almost always end badly.

Our first foray into friendship came when we both got drunk after the last day of term before Christmas. I become a nice, honest person when I’m tipsy. A couple drinks in, I blurted out: “I am really intimidated by you. I’m sorry if I’ve been a complete bitch, you actually seem quite nice.” We talked about female friendship, and how common it is for women to be competitive and jealous of each other when we should be holding each other up (which should be a blog post in itself, really). We went clubbing together that night, and we laughed so much that Clara said she’d peed her pants a little when we took the tube back to her place, and I crashed in her bed wearing her sweatpants.

We became friends after, and a lot of the bad blood between us (that was mostly in my head, anyway) disappeared. But every time she brought up her successes, it still bothered me, even though I tried to be happy for her. There was a voice in my head asking myself whether she was showing off, or telling me that stuff to make me feel incompetent. Every time I talked about my achievements or my problems, they didn’t seem to matter as much as hers. And then I started asking myself whether I was jealous, or if that feeling of discomfort at her good news came from a deeper place – a crack in our friendship.

I was thinking all that while Clara talked away, ripping off a piece of naan bread and dipping it into the curry. It all happened in my flatshare in Battersea – the perfect flat on the fifteenth floor where you could see the London Eye from the window if you squinted. I still mourn about giving up my room due to COVID. We had tea and exchanged books, and when she left, I breathed a sigh of relief. I felt like a complete loser.

I spent that weekend avoiding her texts and thinking about my life. I called my parents, who wisely said I should talk it out with Clara. Obviously, I ignored that advice. I journalled about how annoyed I was at Clara’s perfect life. I talked to my flatmates and some of my friends about it. Literally anyone but Clara herself. And then I went to one of her gigs to watch her play. And she was perfect.

She was playing with her band and the spotlight was flickering on and off, reflecting on her golden jacket with puffy sleeves. She was singing a disturbing song about death as the audience was jumping around to the beat and ignoring the lyrics. Her face was constantly assuming weird facial expressions that I inadvertently found myself copying while singing. Something about it all made my heart melt. I had seen her play so many times, but I only thought about the first time and how much she’d grown since we first got drunk together and danced to ‘Sk8ter Boi’ by Avril Lavigne. That’s how mothers felt, I thought.

A while later, we were standing by the bar after another gig of another friend, and I said I hadn’t talked to her because she was barely there when I was going through a terrible time with my ex-boyfriend, and she said: “You penis! Why didn’t you just tell me?” And I thought: she’s right, why didn’t I?

Now, when we call (because the pandemic has scattered me and my closest friends all around the world and talking by the bar at a gig of a friend is not an option anymore), she tells me her good news, and I tell her mine, and sometimes, I feel jealous. For example, now, she has a lovely boyfriend, and I have a cold sore on my lip. But I’d never want a friendship where my friend can’t tell me something that made her happy. Sometimes, it’s terrible timing. Sometimes, it makes me feel like I’m not good enough. But I’d feel even worse if she didn’t have all that good stuff to tell me. Of course, I feel jealous! But maybe that’s okay. I can be jealous and insanely proud and happy, all at the same time. It’s hard to be a woman as is, so I want to be her safe space. And I want to know everything.

deal-with-morning-pages

The Deal with Morning Pages

artist, creativity, music, songwriting

I remember the first week of my Songwriting Degree and my tutor saying: “Develop these two habits now: morning pages and artist dates.” At the time, I had never heard of Julia Cameron and ‘The Artist’s Way’ and didn’t have the slightest idea of what my teacher was talking about.

Artist dates seemed pretty straightforward. They were dates you went on with yourself, the artist. Like a trip to the cinema, or a stroll through the park. But morning pages had a much vaguer explanation. They were pages you wrote in the morning, but were they a diary? Were they lyrics? Prose? And what exactly were they supposed to help with? What was the best way of doing them?

I’ve been writing morning pages on and off for over two years, and have explored different ways of doing them. I want to share some of my experience to help you understand what they are and why they work.


What are morning pages?

Morning pages can be whatever you want them to be. It’s three pages that can be a diary, a poem, anything. But they must be written while your mind is still wandering through that morning fog that keeps your inner critic from judging your writing. It’s stream-of-consciousness writing that no one will ever see. It’s a place where your secrets will be safe, and so will your terrible writing. You can use it to reflect on your goals or to try something daring that you won’t have the courage for anywhere else.

Get a morning pages journal that’s dedicated entirely to morning pages. Don’t use your computer to type them out – write them out by hand because it’s only then that you feel that connection with the words you’re writing. It’s so easy to type away mindlessly. I know very few people who write by hand mindlessly. Oh, and don’t show your morning pages to anyone. Ever.


“Pages clarify our yearnings. They keep an eye on our goals. They may provoke us, coax us, comfort us, even cajole us, as well as prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. If we are drifting, the pages will point that out. They will point the way True North. Each morning, as we face the page, we meet ourselves. The pages give us a place to vent and a place to dream. They are intended for no eyes but our own.”

Julia Cameron, ‘The Miracle of Morning Pages: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the Most Important Artist’s Way Tool: A Special from Tarcher/Penguin’

Julia Cameron is not the only one who advocates this practice. Natalie Goldberg talks about a ‘writing practice’ in ‘Writing Down the Bones’, and although she talks about writing in general, at any time of day, there are clear similarities with Cameron’s morning pages. She also advocates writing them out by hand and says that you shouldn’t think too much about what you’re writing while you’re writing because you might censor your most energetic, most alive writing.


Don’t try to control it. Stay present with whatever comes up, and keep your hand moving.

Natalie Goldberg, ‘Writing Down the Bones’

Why write morning pages?

I have asked myself that question many, many, many, many, many times. Especially when my alarm would go off at half six in the morning so that I’d have time for my morning pages before dashing off to work or uni. Unfortunately, there are many good reasons why, so I always ended up dragging myself out of bed anyway.


1. They get you thinking creatively at the start of the day.

You start your morning by filling a blank page. That sets the tone for the rest of the day – your mind enters the creative mode early on, making it easier to create throughout the day. It’s hard to even contemplate writer’s block when you’re writing three pages of something every day. Pat Pattison, the writer of ‘Writing Better Lyrics’ supports the idea of writing in the morning. He writes:


Always wake up your writer early, so you can spend the day together. It’s amazing the fun the two of you can have watching the world go by. Your writer will be active beside you, sniffing and tasting, snooping for metaphors. It’s like writing all day without moving your fingers.

Pat Pattison, ‘Writing Better Lyrics’

2. They hold you accountable.

When I first started doing morning pages, they frightened me. I genuinely dreaded writing them. Not because I couldn’t come up with anything to write about, but because of what I was writing. The longer you keep up the practice, the more honest with yourself you become on the page. And when I started being honest with myself, I started realising things about my life I would have preferred to stay in the dark about. My relationship, my career, my studies, my friendships – morning pages scrutinised everything. But two years later, I can say that I should’ve trusted the words I was writing down. Without a filter, our mind tells us what we want more clearly. Morning pages help us figure out what we want to do and who we want to be.


3. They help you take control of your day.

Morning pages are not just about reflection, which is why you can’t write them at the end of the day. They’re also about setting goals and understanding how you want to live your life. By writing them in the morning, you start your day knowing what matters to you. And even if you don’t use morning pages as a diary but as a writing practice, you are setting out your priorities by making writing the first thing you do. You are claiming your day.


4. They offer you a safe space for your ideas.

No one else will read your morning pages. You can do whatever you want on the page. Write about your wildest dreams, your deepest secrets, or try writing a weird, experimental poem that will suck. Let your writing guide you. Natalie Goldberg thinks of it as a place where we let our wildest selves be free.


It’s our wild forest where we gather energy before going to prune our garden, write our fine books and novels.

Natalie Goldberg, ‘Writing Down the Bones’

What’s the best way to write morning pages?

If you’ve read all this, you probably realise that there is no best way to do it. Your way is the best. The only rules are: write three pages longhand and don’t think too much about what you’re writing. Everything else is up to you. I recommend you try out different things – a diary, a writing practice, a mix of the two – for at least a couple weeks to see what works best. As Julia Cameron wrote: “Do not overthink Morning Pages: just put
three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow.”

does-music-education-matter

Does Music Education Matter?

artist, music, songwriting

I remember how I decided to study Songwriting almost three years ago. It didn’t involve as much decision-making as thinking “oh why the hell not”. The reason I’m publishing this post now, and not when most teenagers decide on a university, is because I enrolled in my course in September, during freshers’ week. It’s to say it’s not too late for those who are still trying to figure out what they’re going to do. And why you should take the leap. Or shouldn’t.

I had just started my Law Degree when my mother stormed into my dorm room and cried out: “If you don’t want to do this, you don’t have to!” She has a flair for the dramatic that I have inherited because I immediately proclaimed that studying law seemed akin to torture (even though I had been very enthusiastic about it up until my first lecture) and wanted to live my life and seize the day. An hour later, I was on the phone to BIMM London to check if they still had any spaces left. I moved to London at the end of the week.

For me, studying Songwriting was not a conscious decision. It was an escape from a career path that would have led to a 9 to 5 job, and to the nineteen-year-old me, being a musician sounded thrilling and adventurous. Those aren’t great reasons for starting a degree, though, which is why at the end of my first year, I was already thinking of dropping out.

I didn’t think I belonged, I didn’t know what I was there for, and it was costing me a lot of money. To top it off, as a music student, your music will be criticised constantly, your artistic persona questioned, and your integrity compromised. When you don’t have a clear idea of what you’re doing there in the first place, those things can be hard to deal with.

After a lot of journalling, talking with my ever so patient ex-boyfriend, and arguing with my parents, I decided to stick with it and go in for a second year. But this time, go all in. I worked hard on my assignments, was more involved in social life, started recording my own music and playing with other musicians. I started to have faith in the process. And at the end of my second year, I started understanding why music education could be beneficial, and it became clearer to me what I’d learnt. For those of you interested in pursuing music education, here is what it did for me:


1. It made me more professional.

In a lot of different ways. Before starting the course, I didn’t know how to communicate with other musicians – I didn’t know the difference between melody and harmony, I had never heard of Ableton, I had never tried writing with other songwriters. During my studies, I learnt to hear the difference between a good recording and a sloppy one, I started setting higher standards for myself, I started carrying myself with more confidence at gigs. These are all things that musicians can learn on their own if they take themselves seriously enough, though. Which leads me to another point:


2. It gave me the license to take my music seriously.

No one is ever going to question that medicine is important for mankind. Or that we need teachers, scientists, and engineers. But somehow, even though everyone spent lockdown watching films, listening to music, and reading, the importance of culture gets questioned every day. So, growing up in that environment, I always considered music to be a hobby and could never see it as something I could pursue full time. But doing a degree in Songwriting left me no other option but to work on my songs in earnest. And when people asked what I did, I didn’t feel as stupid saying I was a singer-songwriter anymore.


3. It forced me out of my comfort zone.

Until my first year at BIMM, I was confident I knew what ‘my sound’ was. I don’t know why I was so certain about it, since I had never changed my sound and was reluctant about trying something new. But our assignments included writing for other musicians, and I had to let go of my ego and start writing in new and different ways. I was forced to experiment for the first time, and to my surprise, I enjoyed it. I found out I liked music production, and that my music sounds better with a bigger arrangement. I tried different kinds of singing. Again, this kind of experimentation comes naturally to some people, but I’m not one of them.


4. I’ve met like-minded people that will support me on my journey.

This one is a double-edged sword. In my first year, I hated being surrounded by so many good musicians because it made me question my worth. I started comparing myself to everyone and tried to keep up, even though every artist has their own trajectory and each of us moves at a different pace. Once I came to terms with that knowledge, it became easier to make friends, and I noticed that most of us had the same doubts. I discovered the joy of having friends who understand why you’re passionate about music, who don’t judge you for not having a ‘proper career’, and who take your music seriously. Most people talk about networking in uni, but to me, it was about finding a group of people that make me feel like I belong.


5. I learnt about the music business and branding.

Like any other musician, I’d rather pretend the business side of music doesn’t exist. However, in university, a big part of my curriculum is based around the music business, branding, my image as an artist, etc. It made me consider things I’d never considered important before. At one of the tutorials about my release strategy, my tutor told me my covers were my problem because they didn’t look folky enough, so I couldn’t attract the following that would be interested in my songs. It was not something I had previously considered – I was only thinking about my cover being pretty, not about all the connotations that go along with it.

I didn’t know what a music publisher was, and all I knew about labels was that they signed people. It seems like some basic research could fix most of these issues, but there’s a lot to being a musician – the legal framework, the marketing side of it, the practical stuff like music distribution, and tour planning that musicians can’t be bothered with until they’re forced to.


I don’t think that music education is a necessity for people who have the self-discipline to work on their craft every day with no outside incentive. But, let’s face it, that’s not how most of us function. Most of us just want to plop down on the couch in the evening and watch some Netflix. Music education provides me with the necessary motivation I need and provides me with the feedback I need. If you think you can do it alone, go for it. But if you don’t… it’s fun to do it together.

best-books-for-songwriters

My Favourite Books for Songwriters

artist, creativity, music, productivity, songwriting

For those of you who don’t know me – I LOVE reading. Not just love. LOVE. For someone who hasn’t lived in the same place for longer than four months in the last three years, I have a lot of books. And since I’m a songwriter, a lot of them are inevitably about writing and music. So, I thought I’d share my thoughts on my favourite ones with you.


On inspiration and creativity

‘Big Magic’ by Elizabeth Gilbert

big-magic-elizabeth-gilbert

Elizabeth Gilbert is the woman that brought us ‘Eat, Pray, Love’, inspiring people all over the world. ‘Big Magic’ has a different purpose. It doesn’t talk about how to become a bestselling author or how to embrace your wild, creative dreams. Instead, it focuses on small victories, on how to live a creative life without harbouring unrealistic expectations. Gilbert writes about her own life, her process, and how creating in itself should be the goal. It’s the book to read when you’re feeling stuck, or when you don’t know why you’re doing it anymore.

‘Writing Down the Bones’ by Natalie Goldberg

This is the best book on writing and inspiration I have ever read. Natalie Goldberg gets down to the joy of writing, incorporating Zen practice and meditation into her teaching. The love she has for writing and creativity is so contagious it will make you want to throw aside the book and start writing. Which is exactly what books like these are supposed to do anyway.




On lyrics

‘Tunesmith: Inside the Art of Songwriting’ by Jimmy Webb

tunesmith-jimmy-webb

This is probably the most thorough book on songwriting I’ve ever read. It’s written by one of the greatest songwriters of our time (think ‘Wichita Lineman‘ and ‘By the Time I Get to Phoenix‘) and gives amazing insights into how professional songwriters work. Webb dedicates a whole chapter to his writing process, describing in detail how he starts and finishes a song. It’s a book for more advanced songwriters, as it deals with some theoretical concepts and frameworks beginners might not be familiar with, although Webb briefly explains all the terms he uses. He also delves deep into melody and harmony, which a lot of books on songwriting fail to do.

‘The Songwriter’s Idea Book’ by Sheila Davis

songwriters-idea-book-sheila-davis

Sheila Davis has several books to her name that have become required reading in music courses. In this book, she talks about how personality types influence the way we write and think about our work, and offers 40 strategies for writing a song. She talks about everything from rhetoric devices and figurative language to plot strategies and the importance of a good title, but the main emphasis of the book is on ‘whole-brain writing’ and how our personality influences our productivity.


On music business

‘How to Make It in the New Music Business’ by Ari Herstand

This book is the Bible of the music business for independent musicians. Ari Herstand – a DIY artist himself – talks about everything you might want to know. Although parts of the book focus specifically on the US, most of it is geared towards musicians everywhere. He gives practical tips and provides strategies, timelines for releases, and templates for emails. It’s the most hands-on book on music business I’ve read so far.

‘The Art of Asking’ by Amanda Palmer

Although technically it’s not about the music business, it taught me more about how to handle my career than most other books that are. Amanda Palmer – a DIY legend – writes about how she started out, the innovative (read: crazy) strategies she used to build a fanbase, the work that went into her Kickstarter campaign, and the mental toll of it. It’s not a step-by-step guide by any means, but the creativity with which Amanda Palmer built her music career from the ground up is so inspiring, it will spark interesting marketing ideas in any songwriter who reads it.


On recording

‘The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook’ by Bobby Owsinski

If you’re like me and don’t have the money to record in a studio and pay a mixing engineer, this book is a great guide to start your research with. There are a lot of good Youtube videos out there to help you with whatever DAW you’re using, recording techniques, etc., but it can be hard to find good videos on mixing. This book, however, has everything. Owsinski talks about dynamics, effects, dimension, frequency. The book also includes interviews with producers/mixing engineers like Bob Brockman, Dave Pensado (who also has a great podcast on music production called ‘Pensado’s Place‘), and Ed Stasium.


If you have any other recommendations I haven’t mentioned, let me know in the comments!

starting-over-new-start

The Beauty of Starting Over (and the Horror of It)

artist, creativity, self-love

I could never commit to one thing for a long time. I get bored easily – with hobbies, people, places. Music has always been the one constant in my life – even though I might go a month without looking at my guitar, I know I will always come back to it. Everything else has always been in motion – I have never had the same friends for longer than a few years, I grow restless if I stay in one place for too long.

I started growing restless again a year ago. Having lived in London for two years, I wasn’t sure if I could deal with the constant grind and the busyness culture for much longer. I wanted to go out and not worry about spending all my savings on three pints of beer. I wanted to live in a city where people don’t jog to work but have enough time to go for an afternoon run. I wasn’t getting bored. I was growing tired.

A month ago, I went to Berlin. I drank beer by the river in Kreuzberg, walked around flea markets, laughed and cried a lot. Life almost felt normal again, after six months of strange nothingness. Berlin was pulling me in the way it always does – with cheap food and good people. I wanted to stay.

Moving is always a big decision, and no matter what you do, it almost always means starting from scratch. For me, it meant that no one in Berlin would know that I have already done years of open mics, or that I started gigging when I was thirteen. I wouldn’t be able to draw a crowd to a concert. It meant I didn’t know anyone who could play the guitar or the cello with me. I didn’t know any promoters. There were so many things I would have to do again, even though I’ve gone through this twice already.

As I packed my suitcase, I changed my mind about leaving for Berlin twice. I made pro and con lists (absolutely useless). I talked to my friends and family about it. Usually, leaving comes easily to me, but this time, I felt like I had built something in London and I didn’t want to leave it behind. I asked myself at what stage I had to put my music first.

But music has always been an inseparable part of me. No matter where I go, I’m taking all the songs I’ve learnt and written with me. I’m bringing my guitar. And I might not know any musicians in Berlin, and my music career might hit a temporary standstill, but think of all the adventures and all the new songs that I’ll write. Sometimes, the choices we make as musicians are not the best for our careers. But they don’t always have to be.

Other things make musicians tick apart from promoters and rehearsals. Stories are just as important. Living life is just as important. And there’s beauty in starting over again. I can sing at an open mic with a bad hangover for the first time, and no one will know it’s out of character.

On my first night in Berlin, I arrived with a guitar and a suitcase full of recording equipment and books on songwriting. A friend had to pick me up from the station because I could barely lift the thing, and one of the wheels broke on the way to the U-Bahn. My backpack got stolen from under my seat in a bar that same night, with my passport and laptop in it (partly my fault for bringing it with me in the first place). And then I realised that I had just moved to a city where I only know one person, and I cursed myself for coming.

But now, I’ve written a song about how my backpack got stolen, and it sounds like regret but also like hope, and a little bit like Berlin.

Guest Post: On the Impermanence of Artistic Personas and Authentic Imperfection

artist, creativity, music, self-love

I changed my persona from Kantisunflower to K_anti because I didn’t want to go by someone I was not anymore. Producers would approach me with a very particular style of music but I’m a versatile person, I want to explore everything. Before music, I wanted to be a director, before that an astronaut, before that a cheerleader. But we’re taught we can only pursue one dream. Fuck that! I want to pursue and do anything; the space in-between is the space for me to do and be anything I want. Music should be as fluid as any other type of artistic expression, and this is what I intend to explore as K_anti.

My newest EP “Go outside and meet your love” has cyber-space vibes. During quarantine, I was inside all day on my phone, iPad, laptop, wired in. It was a sudden change from exploring the world, touring Asia, to this brutal reality. But it helped me self-reflect and evolve more than I’d ever done before. “Logging off”, the last track, is my favourite because it sounds like freedom to me. Like I was breaking free from this digital world. I think social media is unhealthy. I hate the instant gratification it gives us, that everyone is so wired. We don’t talk and look into each other’s eyes. I missed human connection and intimacy. 

The funny thing is, I was always a bit of a shut-in. I loved my space and could spend days doing nothing. But as soon as we were forced to stay inside, it became a prison. There’s so much life out there, so much beauty to be seen and felt. Now I make an effort to go do something every day, even if I’m alone. I was always hurt by people, so I closed myself off to everyone, only to learn that there is so much beauty out there that the pain is worth it. 

I’ve always been open to sharing my vulnerabilities online, but I struggled more with being open in real life to my friends. When you share something online, you don’t see a reaction, so it can feel quite freeing. I think people have gone through so much, if we were more open about it, we’d be able to connect with everyone. The reason we’re afraid of vulnerability is because of judgement. To release the fear, you should withhold from judgement yourself. If more people acted on empathy, vulnerability wouldn’t seem so frightening. 

I’ve always fought with perfectionism. People think I don’t care, but I put a lot of effort into the things I make. I just do everything by feeling. I don’t know technicalities, so my work won’t be perfect to professionals, but I think that’s beauty in itself. That’s when you start creating things no one else could remake. I’ve seen perfectionism impair people. We need to let go of this box and rules we’re taught. We need less perfect and more authentic. I think this is why I battle with education so much because it’s an establishment that teaches you to follow all these rules. I never resonated with that.

I’ve been diving into Hinduism lately and reading books about Hare Krishna. In one book, Guru Prabhupada wrote about how we once had a child’s body, and though that body isn’t around anymore, our inner child still exists. Every day we’re changing, we should let go of the expectations people hold of us. Our physical body is a man, woman, mother, daughter, teacher, friend, lover, artist, musician, but these are labels created by others. In reality, we’re nothing. If we accept that, we’re free to be and do anything we want to. When you realise this, you can start living the way you want.

We can’t change anyone’s perception of us, only how we view ourselves. This was my biggest lesson in self-love. I try to give myself as much love as I give others, and living this way has made me very happy. To idolise a person is unhealthy, and I think that’s why praise has always made me uncomfortable. I don’t connect to that aspect of “fame”. We’re all the same, a pure spirit. Remember that. I’m no better than anyone, no less than anyone, I’m just me.

Written by k_anti