Are you sabotaging your creative work?

Are you self sabotaging your creative work by unrealistic, subconscious expectations?

We had the committee meeting for my concert band last night, and the discussion turned to next year’s programme. We all talked through our thoughts about it and I said that I was worried because I have really struggled with this terms’ harder pieces.

Each time I sat down with these pieces to practice them at home, I looked at the score, at the vast amounts of black ink on the page and my heart sank. They became totally unmanageable, so I did the best I could, feeling awful each and every time.

At one point my hands seemed to not have any muscle memory of the pieces, so where I might spend ages one a piece one day when I came back to it the next it was like I was seeing it for the first time. They were also extremely painful and it felt like they were not responding as I wanted them to.

As you can imagine this is deeply frustrating, but I think this was a physical manifestation of the distress of each practice period.

I even I took the pieces to my flute teacher for his help, but didn’t actually manage to work on them as I pretty much just cried at him for an hour. Wonderful man that he is, he didn’t charge me.

On the way home from the committee meeting yesterday I had a realisation.

Each practice session I was expecting to be able to improve the whole piece. I am grade 5, working towards my grade 6. These pieces are professional level, grade 8 or higher, for example, Holst Jupiter Suite. There is no way I am going to improve the whole piece each time I sit down with it, not least because it is a really long piece, I think the running time is 8 minutes or so.

What I should have done it break it into bits.

There are always key phrases that repeat in pieces, I should have chosen one of them for each session and work on it a tiny bit at a time. Not just the ones at the start, but phrases from across the whole piece. Yes, I need to run it through so that the phrases always stay in context, but I should be looking to improve one or two phrases each time.

This isn’t a radical breakthrough in music practice technique.

I am certain my teacher has told me this numerous times, our musical director has told us to work on tricky phrases too. And yet… there was a part of my brain that expected me to magically improve the whole piece each time, getting it up to performance standard straight away.

This is a classic case of self sabotage, my brain expecting me to suddenly be playing an incredibly difficult piece in a few practice sessions meant that I physically wasn’t able to play very well at all.

I had to delay my grade six exam as I just wasn’t able to play reliably enough to do the exam, or get the practice time in.

This lesson can be applied to so many different art forms and creative practices. Unrealistic expectations can stop our work all together, or at least seriously hamper it.

Perfectionism kills creativity.

In my case this has a physical manifestation (due to my condition), for most people it will impact their work, either stopping it, or seriously slowing it down.

Have you got any unrealistic expectations of your creative work that you may not even be aware of?

Are these stopping you from enjoying it and making progress?

Creating space to think

At least four or five times a week I get in the car with my dog, Buster and drive to somewhere nice for a long walk.

In January someone drove into my car while it was parked outside my house and then drove off without leaving a note. This sort of thing really upsets me, it would never occur to me to be so selfish (not to mention breaking the law), but they did and there was quite a bit of damage. I had a hire car for just over a fortnight before I got my car back.

My dog is a mud seeking missile and in January there wasn’t a hope of being able to take him anywhere without the hire car getting absolutely filthy, so I just did my long walks from my house. I try to walk him for at least an hour and a half each day, if not more, otherwise he turns into Buster the destroyer.

After a week or so my head was feeling full and cluttered. I read a lot and normally when I walk Buster on my local paths I listen to podcasts or audiobooks, but when I am out in nature I make a habit of not listening to anything. As I was doing all of my walks locally, every time I was walking I was listening to something. I eventually put two and two together and realised that I wasn’t getting my quiet time in.

When I stopped listening to information for at least one of those walks my head started to feel freer again and I could think better. I was less stressed and more able to just gently mull ideas over, allowing them to compost and simmer away. I often solve problems in this way, suddenly the way forward seems clear and straight forward.

It’s so easy to always be on the go and to focus on learning more, getting in all the information, or listening to a book for pleasure, but I really need this empty time. If I miss it for extended periods it starts to affect my sleep, not to mention my creative work.

Do you have times of nothingness in your day?

When things get tough

As I have written before I took up playing the flute again as an adult. I merrily made my way through grade four and five and then came to a stop. My teacher does the ABRSM music grades and to do grade six I had to do music theory.

This was so hard. I don’t think I have ever struggled so much with anything in my life. I just didn’t get it. My poor teacher tried so many different ways, but essentially I resented doing it. I always work hard at studying: put in the time, draw diagrams, charts and putting them up around me etc. When I was doing my teacher training Bloom’s taxonomy and various other diagrams were drawn up in a large scale and posted around me. I adore studying and would quite happily be permanently working towards another Masters!

I applied the same principles here, I put up diagrams and the different types of clefs, large pictures of the circle of fifths and more. But it just wasn’t going in. I have never had to work at something that I fundamentally just don’t understand, it sounds arrogant but I generally understand something quickly and then I just need to apply the time to study it in depth. It’s one of the things which helps me with my client work of consultancy, research and writing.

This was different and I really did not like it at all.

It would have been so easy to have given up and I was sorely tempted to do so, I have so much else to do. Gavin, my wonderful husband, kept encouraging me telling me that this was worth doing, my teacher was oh so patient with my temper tantrums and swearing at my theory books and my band mates kept giving me confidence boosts during rehearsals and on Facebook.

In about October something finally clicked and it all started to fall into place. The theory suddenly started to help the practical side of things and I began to understand the different aspects of theory. I did my exam in November and passed. I detest all forms of exams, get extremely stressed and spend the whole thing in state of high levels of anxiety, which always means I just scrape a pass in exams!

Now I am working towards my grade six and playing my flute continues to give me great pleasure and enjoyment. The fact that it requires dedication and practice seems to make it seem even more worthwhile to me, it isn’t something which comes easily to me. I put the time in practically everyday and it is paying off.

Do you do something which challenges you and requires dedication?

Featured artist – Thurrock Art Trail 2017

I am delighted to have been selected as one of three artists who will be delivering community workshops in the Thurrock area, which will culminate in an exhibition at the Thameside Theatre as part of the Thurrock Art Trail 2017.

I am going to be working with a diverse range of community groups across Thurrock to get various viewpoints on what it means to live and work in Thurrock.

As you know, I am on a continual mission to change how people perceive Thurrock, which is the foundation of my Beautiful Thurrock project, so this project is a further development of that.

As part of the project I am receiving mentoring from local artist Lata Upadhyaya.

I have three sessions with Lata, the first of which was discussing the project and developing and refining my ideas around it. The next will be held after I have delivered the community workshops so that we can discuss how this will affect my practice and what the exhibition is going to include. The final session will be focusing on the future, what plans do I have and how can I investigate funding for these. I have so many ideas, so part of my work will be focusing down.

My teacher training and practice has come in very useful as I start to develop the community workshops and I am greatly looking forward to delivering them over the next few weeks.

This project is funded by Arts Council England. The other artists are Arooj Khan and Brad Humble.


I was recently privileged to be invited out to a local film shoot – Ring Cycle, a salvaged saga of place by local artist Hilary Powell. You can find out more here We were filming around Purfleet, in amongst the reed beds.

I got to meet Loki, a trained raven, I was so delighted to see a corvid up close, they are bigger than I thought they were!

As well as production shots, I also took behind the scenes images as well.

If you are interested in my photography work read more here or drop me an email jen AT jenfarrant DOT com

photo by Jen Farrant. Production still from Hilary Powell’s ‘Ring Cycle’ 2017.’
photo by Jen Farrant. Production still from Hilary Powell’s ‘Ring Cycle’ 2017.’
photo by Jen Farrant. Production still from Hilary Powell’s ‘Ring Cycle’ 2017.’
photo by Jen Farrant. Production still from Hilary Powell’s ‘Ring Cycle’ 2017.’
photo by Jen Farrant. Production still from Hilary Powell’s ‘Ring Cycle’ 2017.’
photo by Jen Farrant. Production still from Hilary Powell’s ‘Ring Cycle’ 2017.’
photo by Jen Farrant. Production still from Hilary Powell’s ‘Ring Cycle’ 2017.’
photo by Jen Farrant. Production still from Hilary Powell’s ‘Ring Cycle’ 2017.’
photo by Jen Farrant. Production still from Hilary Powell’s ‘Ring Cycle’ 2017.’
photo by Jen Farrant. Production still from Hilary Powell’s ‘Ring Cycle’ 2017.’
photo by Jen Farrant. Production still from Hilary Powell’s ‘Ring Cycle’ 2017.’
photo by Jen Farrant. Production still from Hilary Powell’s ‘Ring Cycle’ 2017.’
photo by Jen Farrant. Production still from Hilary Powell’s ‘Ring Cycle’ 2017.’
photo by Jen Farrant. Production still from Hilary Powell's 'Ring Cycle' 2017.’
photo by Jen Farrant. Production still from Hilary Powell’s ‘Ring Cycle’ 2017.’

Love Grays

I was commissioned to cover the Love Grays event, organised by Metal and the Grays Town Partnership initative this weekend.

There was so much to see and do and I loved seeing the joy around the High Street.

Rapping the praises of Grays!
Rapping the praises of Grays!
Bollywood dancing - such high energy!
Bollywood dancing – such high energy!
Local police office, Natalie, looks on at the very concentrated drawing!
Local police office, Natalie, looks on at the very concentrated drawing!
I love the energy of Lisa’s zumba class and the delight of this little girl!

There are more of my photos over on the Love Grays Facebook Album

I am happy to discuss any photography commissions, portraits, event coverage, or creating a story about your business. Get in touch jen AT JenFarrant DOT com.

Making Music accessible

I’ve been published in High Notes, the Making Music publication. It focuses on making music groups accessible to people physical difficulties.

I have written extensively how playing in a band has made me a much better musician, but also how it has helped me to win back my sense of self, and something to focus on other than just being ill. It has helped me to make new friends and I adore going to band each week.

IMG_8215This Wedesday was a very bad day for me (it’s the cold and damp), I struggled to get out of bed and I had to have a bath to make the pain bearable. I was drunk walking everywhere which is where I stagger about even with my walking stick. None the less I went to band in the evening, even though I felt dreadful.

We working on brand new pieces and they are all geeky, which is fantastic as it means I actually know the music. There is nothing like playing music in a group, it creates a resonance in me which is difficult to describe. I can tell you that I was grinning about ten minutes in.

Being self employed means that for the most part I work at home, on my own. This really suits my temperament, but being in the band means that I get to see people regularly. I have also made some really good friends too.

It is imperative that everyone who wants to be able to take part in playing or singing in a community group is able to. The article covered practical steps which everyone can do – like making sure rehearsal venues are accessible, that there are chairs available, but attitudes are just as important. Such as being open to people with disabilities joining and asking how you can help, rather than making assumptions, or decisions on behalf of people.

You can access the article here

I provide consultancy for organisations, as well as writing on a variety of topics. Get in touch if you would like to work with me Jen AT JenFarrant DOT com.


As part of my three week down time in December I spent a lot of time reflecting on the past year and where I wanted this year to go. I identified my key word: luminous; and core feelings: creative, well, devoted to the divine and peaceful.

I figured out my intentions for the year, some of which are:

  • Grade 6 flute
  • Grade 1 piano
  • Another music exam, possibly a second in either instrument or grade 6 theory
  • see 12 live performances
  • read 50 new books (last year I read 113 books, but I didn’t track which were new, I suspect that only about 40 were new)
  • To have my photography in a bigger exhibition that is bigger than the tiny one I did this year.
  • To get the kitchen done

But at about 3am on 1 January I realised that I was selling myself short, I wasn’t really stretching myself to what I really wanted to achieve this year. I didn’t have that Big Hairy Audacious Goal – a BHAG, taken from Jim Collin’s Good to Great which I studied on my MA. Hurrah for insomnia and a dreadful cough!

So, my seriously big BHAG is to earn £X through my own creative work, regularly by the end of the year. And yes, I have got the SMART version of that written down so I can clearly tell when/if I achieve that.

I havne’t defined exactly what that will look like at this stage, because I have realised that staying open to opportunities is the best way to achieve intentions. Also life tends to chuck things at us that we can’t possibly expect.

So, just to put it out there I write in various forms – blog posts, marketing materials, ghost writer, articles, and anything else! I can use a variety of tones and voices as appropriate.I am especially interested in writing articles and guest blog posts about anything I write about in here.

I’m not sure at the moment how the photography is going to be a saleable offer, I’m certainly not going to be doing wedding coverage. The same with music, I am not going to be out gigging, it is far too exhausting for me! That’s what I mean by being open to what happens, rather than getting the whole year planned out.

Having the minutia planned out would mean that I would likely to be missing out on various opportunities, not to mention having to stick to the plan as written, which would be terribly stressful! Having a BHAG is a kind way of working, as it Big, Hairy and Audacious, so if it doesn’t happen, well it was ridiculous in the first place! But, I have set my intention, and that is where I am heading.

I wrote this first thing, and then during my morning walk (still on the 1st Jan) I realised that there is another BHAG that is so super audacious that it needs a new hyperbole world for it! It’s so audacious that I’m not sharing it, just writing it down in my bullet journal. Interestingly BHAG#1 contributes towards BHAG#2.

Like my word of the year I know what I need to do daily to be working towards it. Coincidentally working towards my BHAGs will help towards my small intentions, as well as my word. I can forget about it day to day, because I will be writing, playing music and doing photography every day, which will help towards the BHAGs and Luminous. At the end of each day I assess how I’m doing with Luminous on a scale of 1-10 and each month I will figure out what I need to do to work towards my smaller goals and BHAGs.

Have you stretched yourself this year, while still being kind to yourself?

#oneword365 2017 Luminous

Happy new year!

Last year I chose the word ‘contentment’ as my focus for the year, and although I think it was a good word for me I didn’t do any analysis on it beyond thinking of it at the start of the year. So, the process was rather a redundant one.

This year it is different. I have core feelings I want to achieve and I know how Luminous will be a way of assessing if I am working towards that. I have key things I want to reach and a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal, taken from Jim Collin’s Good to Great that I studied on my MA), tomorrow I will explain BHAG.

What does luminous mean for me?


It is a soft gentle, constant light emanating from within; not a blazing light which dazzles and is unsustainable.

I want to feel creative, well, devoted to the divine and peaceful.

When I take actions towards those feelings I live a luminous life. The word itself is also quite soft and forgiving, which is something I need. I will not get fully healthy again (back to the levels of running marathons etc), so measuring myself against feeling ‘healthy’ is a bad idea, but I can be having a really bad pain and fatigue day and still be luminous. How? By accepting how I am that day; doing things which make me feel better and not fighting it so much which takes a lot of energy.

Trying to live up to luminous will affect all aspects of my life, but to avoid overly complicating things I am going to rate myself against luminous each day on a scale of 0-10.

I know what I need to do to be luminous – some of the actions are:

  • food – eating gluten and dairy free, avoiding large amounts of sugar, green smoothie, regular meals at sensible times, avoiding junk food
  • exercise – yoga or swimming & walking every day, otherwise I very quickly lose my muscle tone and have to use my wheelchair a lot more, not to mention suffer more with pain and fatigue
  • walking in nature
  • creating – writing, photography, playing music, drawing/painting
  • listening to music
  • reading
  • being off of my computer
  • not working too much
  • stress free
  • solitude
  • seeing friends
  • quality time with my husband


But measuring all that on a daily basis would be painful, so I will measure how luminous I feel each day.

I will reflect monthly too as a way of staying on track.

Have you tried having a word of the year before? What about this year?

These photos were taken this morning at Coalhouse Fort, Tilbury in Thurrock. I was awake before dawn and so the light was amazing, but there wasn’t a sunrise which would have been rather symbolic!

October mushroom trip

Some photos from a short trip in October. We were on a mushroom hunting walk, with character of a mycologist (mushroom expert). He rather looked like he was going to turn into a mushroom himself.

The pace of the event wasn’t right for me, far too much standing about which I just can’t do, so my friends and I bimbled off and explored the woods.


And some gratuitous photos of my friend’s lovely little dog, Honey. I had to resist taking her home in my handbag!