Three Brunel University Creative Writing Students Share How They’re Keeping Their Creativity Flowing in Challenging Times 

By Max Hallam, Eleni Aristeidou and Faizan Ahmed from Brunel University.

Motivational Lists by Max Hallam, Creative Writing MA student 

Coming off the back of my second creative writing degree, you’d think I’d be fueled by pure passion and love of craft, wouldn’t you? But as much as I love telling stories, writing is work, even if I’m not being paid. There are days when I have to drag myself to the keyboard, when the words flow about as smooth as day-old porridge. 

Everyone has a process which gets stuff done. This is mine. 

At the tail end of November last year, I started a document with a list of all the writing I’d done that week, broken down by day. ‘Monday. Wrote essay plan’. ‘Tuesday. Wrote five pages of script’. ‘Wednesday. Wrote nine hundred words of book’. That sort of thing. At first it was just manual labour, something to keep me organised, but the more I kept noting down my progress, the more I found myself relying on it – and the more I wrote. 

There are three days listed as ??? on my document – those are the days I haven’t gotten anything done. It might be ridiculous, because the only person I can disappoint is me, but I’ve found myself incredibly motivated not to end a day marked with those three little characters. Writing down my daily output is just plain satisfying, whether it’s a thousand words or an idea for something new. Celebrating when I finish something, writing in a little commiseration when I get a rejection, that’s what makes me sit down and put the work in. It’s gamifying it, like that little adrenaline rush when you check a notification. I can’t break that streak! 

And in times like these, we all need something to keep us on the path. It’s all too easy to put yourself down. Impostor syndrome affects something like seventy percent of people. Seven in ten of us will feel we’re not worthy of some arbitrary gate through which we’ve got to climb to prove ourselves. This little diary of mine does more than get me writing. Even when the grind feels endless, this is my way out, my way through. It’s indelible proof that I have written, that I am a writer. 

Now, excuse me while I go add writing this to my list. 

Mixed Media Fix by Eleni Aristeidou, Theatre and Creative Writing BA student 

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Art by Eleni Aristeidou 

Hello my fellow creatives. Inspiration is a tangled web – I hope you enjoy this little mix of media recommendations based on what I’ve been doing to stay inspired and productive through this pandemic as well as my reflections on the importance of self-care and being kind to ourselves during this difficult time. 

Drawing has given me a creative outlet and I’ve been enjoying listening to creators, artists & musicians on YouTube while I draw. Watching South-East London based artist Minnie Small & LA-based Spanish painter Jim Reno has really helped me be more productive – they’re just so neat and perfect. The amazing Carmilla web series and novella has inspired me to start my own book. I’d also recommend listening to paperbackdreams and The Magnus Archives horror fiction podcast. 

I’m sure the video essays I’ve watched that dive deep into films and books and talk about different principals in them or those aesthetic art videos open my horizons and hold a lot of knowledge which is good to have. But they, alongside “high quality” media, are sometimes tiring, and when you don’t consume them, there begins this anxiety to read that book, learn that thing, absorb more knowledge by the day, which sometimes takes away from the enjoyment. It can get overwhelming, because you always doubt; am I reading enough books? Am I watching good enough films?

When the anxiety or fear produced by these thoughts get overwhelming, take a big breath, drink some water and relax. Take it slow. I know it’s hard sometimes, especially when you’ve had weeks of laziness at a time and want to make up for lost time like me, or if you feel like you’re missing out, because you never read a graphic novel, or put up your work on a website, or submitted work for writing competitions, or learned guitar, or, or… Just take it slow, take a breather. Make plans, buy a plant. Reward yourself right now, make a good cup of whatever you like. Open a window and go for a walk. 

The Writer’s Gulag by Faizan Ahmed, Creative Writing BA student 

Everybody makes mistakes (uh huh). Everybody has those days (yeah yeah). If you’re like me, you’ve had those weeks. But that’s okay! Everyone is bound to hit the proverbial stump at some point while the world tries to get us all back to normality. The dreaded Writer’s Block took me for 12 rounds, each round making me question what I liked, why I liked it and ‘what made something good.’ And like any pay-per-view event or story, there’s got to be an end. A way out of the writer’s gulag. Here’s what got me out and back on the productive wave:  

  • Feel out the process! It’s okay to feel the way you’re feeling. Understanding that you have hit a roadblock is halfway out the tunnel and back to the ideas that get you excited.  
  • See the fun! Go to what you love, be they books, movies, games, etc. Find what you like about your treats and what makes them great for you. Rediscovering a forgotten treasure will be as magical as when you first found it.  
  • Don’t think about it too much. Corny, I know. But overthinking why you can’t be as creative as you want to be will get you too anxious to do anything. Be confident that you are good at what you do. Think about it this way: if your favourite writer, director or personalities were too scared to do what made them a success, you would have never laid eyes on their work. ← Read that again.  
  • Watch a terrible film! Not only will you laugh (or at least cringe), you will be able to identify what made the story inconsistent, or the film itself hilariously bad for you. Then you’ll realise that your ideas aren’t monstrosities and you can tweak your ideas to counter what you have just watched. Recommended: Dragon Ball: Evolution (thank me later).  

These are just a few things you can do to find inspiration reclaim your creative confidence. Return to your roots and identify why you love what you love. Be assured that you can be great with time and patience. I hope this has helped in some way and that you start to remember why being creative is so liberating. Follow your passions. 

Contributor’s Bios: 

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Max Hallam lives in Uxbridge, the last strip of suburb clinging onto the urban sprawl of London proper. In 2019, his short story Hylätä won the Hillingdon Literary Festival. He currently studies MA Screenwriting at Brunel University London, and can be found at @Max_Hallam on Twitter. 

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Eleni Aristeidou is a second year Theatre and Creative writing student who enjoys listening to fiction podcasts and sometimes reading books. Their favourite podcast is The College Tapes, and her favourite genres of books are fantasy and historical fiction. They currently have a podcast in production. 

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Faizan Ahmed Having lived abroad for 8 years, Faizan had the pleasure of experiencing a myriad of cultures. Coupled with lifelong passions for WWE, Dragon Ball Z and Marvel/DC Superheroes, Faizan channels his experiences and inspirations to create gripping and compelling content in a variety of media outlets. Follow his Journey to become a WWE Wrestler: @sher.khan.official and catch the latest in his life: @ahmedfaizan68 

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