Answering your questions on how I make things work as an independent musician, music producer and YouTuber in 2022, how I write lyrics, who I’d like to cover my songs and who my dream collab would be (spoiler: Massive Attack / The Prodigy / UNKLE!).
Thanks for such great questions! Head to Barnsdale Wood, Rutland Water to see these gorgeous bluebells for yourself.
Solitude is good for you – some would say it’s essential. I’ve been craving time alone lately, but got into the habit of spending all my days in the house over the pandemic. Join me on my first ever solo hike – around beautiful Cheddar Gorge – as I face two fears: filming in public and flying my DJI Mini 2 drone!
I’ve been performing in rooms full of other humans since I was 7 years old, and touring since the age of 19. In this video I talk about how learning to be fully yourself (through years of practice) leads to the most rewarding human connections. In these dark times, I am so grateful for my freedom to express myself through music and videos, and so thankful to you for encouraging me to continue.
Showing up – again, and again and again – is the simple but surprisingly effective reason I am currently finishing off my sixth album, working from my home studio The Launchpad and somehow surviving as an independent artist in a pandemic. HUGE thanks to you for being part of this!
This week I read “Atomic Habits” by James Clear, and in this video I share the three biggest concepts I’ll be taking away from the book: attaching habits to identity, the two-minute rule and habit stacking.
I’m doing my best – but I’m failing in several areas of my life at the moment! I made this video to talk about why that’s okay, and why I’ll always be honest with you in a world of shiny fake perfection.
Don’t read the comments…I’ve heard this so many times! So is it good advice or just a pile of rubbish? Let’s discuss…
I think people who say “don’t read the comments” are missing the point of the internet.
Would you turn up to a party, give a big speech telling everyone what you think, and then ignore every person in the room?
It’s human nature to want to feel like our time is well spent, that we’ve been seen, we’ve been acknowledged, our message has been heard. You’d probably like it if your boss said you did a good job today. It’s human nature to make things and to want to feel like there was a point to making those things.
So if people posting work on digital platforms don’t read the comments, how are they going to feel seen and heard?
I want to feel like my time has been well spent, and audience feedback is a big part of that. As a musician playing live in-person shows for about 25 years, I got used to pretty immediate, pretty honest feedback.
Did you applaud or not? Did you come and say hello and buy a CD after the show or not? Did you shout in my face, talk all over my performance and spill beer over my merch table on purpose or not?
You know who you are!
Likes and comments are digital applause. Especially on this platform, they’re a helpful barometer for whether my videos are useful or entertaining for other humans.
Why am I even bringing this up? I was listening to Cal Newport’s very excellent podcast Deep Questions the other day, and he was talking to his producer about their forthcoming move into publishing YouTube videos. Cal Newport is the author of books including “Deep Work”, “Digital Minimalism” and “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” – books that had a big impact on my life, helping push me to create my podcast and to start making videos for this channel.
Cal is well known for not using any social media, and he uses himself as a case study to show others that you can have a really successful career without spending a lot of time posting about yourself on the internet. What a dream!
I was pleased to hear that Cal doesn’t lump YouTube in with the other social media platforms, because neither do I, and he did highlight its major role in the democratisation of video, and talked about how podcasting is the democratisation of audio.
So far so great, and I am looking forward to watching his videos but what he said next really puzzled me.
When talking about their strategy for YouTube, “Don’t read the comments”, he and his producer agreed.
Don’t read the comments.
Now, if you already have a solid career as an author, a computer scientist, a professor and a well-known podcaster, maybe you’re getting all the validation that you need from that success. But if you’re not – like most people – then how would you ever have an idea of the impact you’re having without engaging with the people who are reading, watching or listening to your work?
I just think starting your YouTube journey with the mantra “don’t read the comments” is disrespecting the YouTube community. It’s saying that these peoples’ comments aren’t worth reading, that they don’t deserve to be seen and heard. I’m not into that.
Of course, I know where he’s coming from. The problem isn’t with the comments function, it’s with the balance of positive or constructive comments from polite, nice people versus vicious, nasty, driveby comments from people who just enjoy being hateful on the internet.
You know who you are!
I spent four years working as a comment moderator for The Guardian website. I have read so many thousands of horrible comments that I classed myself as fairly unshockable, but then…Facebook ad comments. They’re the worst! People who don’t know you or your work, feeling annoyed that they’re seeing you in their feed and either forgetting – or not caring – that there’s a human being at the other end of their comment.
You know who you are!
I’m not helping things though, because when I absolutely love a product or service, I’m rarely moved to track down the company on the internet and tell them so. I do it sometimes, but rarely. I suppose the assumption is that a product or service should be great, because that’s what we paid for, but this approach is what makes the nasty comments seem a lot louder.
There’s a pretty simple solution to this. Comment when you like things. Click like, when you like things. If you don’t like something, of course you can still comment if you want – but why not be polite? There is a real person at the other end of that comment, whether they’re well known or not, whether they seem bulletproof or not.
I know it does sometimes feel like people ask for likes and comments on YouTube just to impress the sneaky algorithm as part of their fame-hungry quest for social validation. But most people probably just want to know what you thought of the thing they spent hours making, because they want to feel like they’re being useful in the world. Same as you do. Same as I do.
Maybe you feel shy. Maybe you think your point of view isn’t worth much. I disagree. We all have value, and I would always love to hear from you.
I’m just a woman in a room with a camera, a love of funny B-roll and sound effects, and an urge to share, and it helps me hugely to know I’m not alone. I’m here to connect with people and have conversations, not to broadcast stuff to people I think are beneath me.
No-one is above anyone else. We’re all connected, we all have our personal challenges, but we also have the chance to encourage each other. I know I need your encouragement to keep making things, and the whole point of my videos is to encourage you.
“Don’t read the comments” is not the way forward. Instead, why don’t we all try to make the comments section a better place?
It’s easy. Use the like button as digital applause, comment when you like things more often than when you don’t like them, and be more kind.
“God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.” – Kurt Vonnegut
Likes and comments can be very helpful in knowing whether what you’ve made is worth something to someone else, but I think the best barometer can be found inside.
I’ve been dealing with burnout for a few years on and off, and learning about completing the stress cycle recently has really helped me. In this video I talk about the symptoms of burnout and some things I’ve found helpful for dealing with it, including my new adventures in surfing and open water swimming. It’s all a process, and we’re in this together – so always feel free to say hi in the comments and let me know how you’re doing today xx
Burnout recovery tips – completing the stress cycle TRANSCRIPT
Let’s talk about burnout.
I really annoyed myself in my last video when I talked about how I find it really hard to take time off, and I like to work really hard…and all that stuff is true, but I annoyed myself, because – isn’t life so precious?
I’ve watched Gary Vee’s videos about “crushing it”, and I don’t disagree with a lot of the things he says, but I also know what burnout feels like – and I don’t want you to ever have to feel that way.
So, what is burnout?
According to helpguide.org, burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest and motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.
Burnout reduces productivity and saps your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing more to give.
You may be on the road to burnout if:
Every day is a bad day.
Caring about your work or home life seems like a total waste of energy.
You’re exhausted all the time.
The majority of your day is spent on tasks you find either mind-numbingly dull or overwhelming.
You feel like nothing you do makes a difference or is appreciated.
I’ve put a link to this article in the description box, it’s a really good one, and I wish I’d read it a lot earlier in my life, because looking at that list, I felt all those things, every single one, and alongside those feelings I became unable to control my temper, which made me feel really ashamed.
It wasn’t all the time, but every now and then I would completely unpredictably fly off the handle. It was horrible, and worse when I didn’t know what was going on, didn’t have a word for it, and so wasn’t able to accept that this was a condition with causes, and therefore solutions.
I didn’t know what to call it until about a year ago. Maybe if I lived alone, I would have just lived in denial and not looked it up.
When I realised that it had a name, and started taking it seriously, I realised I had felt that way many, many times before, and just didn’t know what word to call it. And for me, if something doesn’t have a name, then it sort of doesn’t exist and I can just forget about it and just concentrate on other things. So – that was helpful.
I’ve been reading a book recently called “Burnout”. I actually bought it probably about a year ago when I realised that I had this issue that was ongoing. And of course, I didn’t have time to read the book about burnout because I was too busy working! And then it kept happening…
So the time before last, that I felt the symptoms of burnout, I did start to read the book – and I haven’t read the whole book yet but even in just the first part of the book, I’ve learned so much.
It’s been a recurring theme in my diaries for the past bajillion years that whenever I don’t exercise, I feel rubbish. And then when I start exercising again, magically I start to feel better. I’m sure there are many, many medical and scientific reasons for this – we all know that exercise is good for us – but this book “Burnout” explained to me that the reason that it’s so, so powerful when it comes to making my mood lift is because it’s about completing the stress cycle.
Whatever you do in your job, whatever your family situation is, you’re going to experience stress. And if you can’t get that out of your body, then it sits inside – this is the science bit! – it sits inside you, and it festers, and it makes you feel rubbish, and it makes it feel like it’s really hard to do anything.
And I don’t know whether I’ve been confusing the symptoms of burnout for symptoms of depression for years either, because I wouldn’t say that I’m someone who has depression, I’m not someone who has anxiety – I find it very hard to call myself those things without having a diagnosis. If you have them and you don’t have a diagnosis, it doesn’t mean you don’t have them, I’m just saying that I’m unable to label those things in myself without more information.
But it is true, I think, that we all experience different levels of depression and anxiety without necessarily having those things as conditions in our lives. So I’ve experienced those things. They definitely get worse when I don’t exercise, when I don’t eat well, when I don’t rest enough, when I don’t get outside enough and when I don’t do much deep breathing.
So when I do yoga and meditation, when I go running, when I get outside, I “magically” feel better, and what I’ve learned from this book is that it’s directly linked to completing this thing called the stress cycle.
It’s Friday now, and I decided to take this whole week off work to rest and recharge and be adventurous and get outside and do the things that complete the stress cycle, but also have some fun. Like I said, I found myself a little bit annoying in the last video when I was talking about how I didn’t have time to do this, and I don’t make time to do this. And I just thought – make time to do those things.
The other book I’m reading at the moment is called “Four Thousand Weeks” by Oliver Burkeman, and that has had a massive impact on me. Just pointing out the fact that it’s such a waste to keep thinking about the next thing I’m going to do instead of enjoying the thing I’m doing now. It just made me wake up and think summer’s over, I blinked and I missed it. I sat in The Launchpad – my studio at home – making things all summer. I don’t regret that – I really like the things that I make – but that’s what I did all summer, I didn’t come outside really.
And it’s been really hard because of this pandemic to feel safe to be outside a lot of the time, but nothing was ever stopping me from cycling out to the Portishead salt flats. I just decided to stay home for a really long time. Maybe too long, maybe not. I don’t know. I’ve managed to avoid getting Coronavirus, that was my goal. I have achieved my goal. I hope to keep achieving my goal – while living my life and being safe – but living my life.
“Four Thousand Weeks” has just really woken me up. The title refers to the amount of weeks that we will live if we’re lucky and we stick around till our 80s. That’s not a very long time. It’s good to get a lot of stuff done, I love my job – but look at this!
I’ve been seeing the phrase “toxic productivity” around the internet recently, and that’s really interesting because I’m someone who’s read a lot of productivity books, I went freelance at the age of 24? 24. 23? 23. I went freelance at the age of 23, and that is incredibly precocious I now realise, and so I’ve been working for myself for 17 years. I love what I do, I love the creative career that I’ve built, but I agree that there’s a toxic side to this productivity idea. And so that’s why on my channel, I mention “mindful productivity”. Cal Newport, whose books and podcast I really love, was recently talking on his show about “slow productivity”, which to me is the same thing.
For me it’s about tweaking your life to make sure that you have time to do the things that you really love, and you really care about – whatever that is – while also taking care of yourself. And that’s a journey I’m on…I’m not doing particularly well at it at the moment.
I know when I’m starting to lose interest and not being able to see the point of the things that I do that it’s time to have a rest, but I’m really bad at doing it. And it really pisses me off that I’m bad at doing it because I think it makes me sound like some kind of productivity martyr. And I’ve got no interest in being that person.
So I started with really good intentions of getting outdoors and doing loads of cool stuff – just stuff I’d never tried before. So I booked myself in for a surf lesson at The Wave, which is this incredible powered lake thing in North West Bristol, it’s 15 minutes drive from my house. I went there on Monday and I had a surf lesson, and I’ve never been interested in surfing, I’ve never thought about surfing – the closest I’ve ever sort of come to watching any kind of surfing was on Baywatch when I was a teenager. And I didn’t even watch that much! So yeah, no interest in surfing before now, but it was a really fun thing to do.
And in “Four Thousand Weeks”, Oliver Burkeman writes about telic and atelic activities, and I’ve been thinking a lot about this. So, a telic activity is something that has a point to it, ao it’s got a goal of some kind. And an atelic activity is one that doesn’t, so it could be hanging out with a friend, it could be…surfing for me would be an atelic activity, because I’m not doing it to become a surfer, and I had no expectation that I would stand up on the board or anything, I just went along to do something, to spend time doing something for the sake of doing it, not for the sake of achieving something. And that is quite out of character for me, and therefore a really good thing to try.
I didn’t completely suck. But even if I had, that really doesn’t matter. That’s not the point of it. The point was to get out of my house and go somewhere and do something different. And I got to be around people – and I haven’t been around many people for quite a long time – and it all felt safe, and I had a few little chats with strangers, and that’s something I’ve missed as well.
Then on Tuesday and Wednesday, I sat on my sofa watching Netflix, feeling sorry for myself and deciding that I would never be able to go outside and do anything interesting, that I had no friends, that there was nothing going on in my life of any interest or import – and all of the stuff, all the voices, the voices, the voices. Luckily, Thursday I had planned to see several friends, and yeah, I thought about cancelling all of those things because I was feeling depressed on Tuesday / Wednesday, but I didn’t. So I feel proud of myself for that.
I don’t want to be the person who cancels on their friends – I haven’t been that person for a long time. When I lived in London, and I was “crushing it”, I cancelled on people all the time, and I really regret that now because I don’t live there any more. And those moments, those opportunities to hang out with those people are now gone forever, and that’s a shame.
Today, day five of my week off, has been much better. I again didn’t cancel on someone – and maybe at one point I would have done, if I’d let that voice that says “You don’t deserve to have a nice time”. Do you have that voice? I have that voice. If I let that voice be too loud, maybe I wouldn’t have gone today. But I’m so pleased that I went. And this is was even better than surfing I think – and surfing was wonderful!
I got up at six, because I’ve been doing that, and I met up with my neighbour from two doors down, and she drove us out to Clevedon Marine Lake, and we went swimming. And it was freezing! And it was so beautiful, and so quiet and calm and serene. And, oh, it’s gorgeous. It’s an infinity pool next to the sea, and it’s – oh, I don’t know how to explain it to you, but I took my GoPro so I don’t have to!
I spent the rest of the morning looking at wetsuits and swimming socks, and swimming gloves – these are cycling gloves – but swimming globes, and change robes that you can put on…like, there’s a whole load of stuff you can get. With any new pursuit there’s accessories, you know, you can go as far into it as you want. But I’m just really keen to go again, so that’s why I was looking at these accessories, so that I can go as soon as possible, because it’s obviously going to just keep getting colder now. And it’d be nice to be able to take advantage of the warmer weather as we go into winter.
I’ve been to Portishead before, but further over that way, so I’ve never seen this part, the salt marshes, and it’s quiet here. No-one’s here to laugh at me. I do find it really hard to get outside. I don’t know why. It’s not a habit of mine to spend a lot of time outdoors. Could it be? Could I build a new habit to be outdoors more? Could I build a new habit to go swimming in cold water a couple of times a week? I’d really like that – I’d like to be that person.
The only thing that I don’t like is running out of time, and Oliver Burkeman’s book is helping me reframe that in my mind. Because I’m not running out of time – time isn’t something that I definitely have. Time is something that I can use, but it’s not a resource, because yeah, you only know you had three hours when those three hours are up. Really interesting.
One of the things I wanted to do was give myself a little treat. I’m going to eat a chocolate bar out in the beautiful, beautiful environs of Portishead, who are one of my favourite bands as well. It’s funny to have been into them when I was 15/16…Portishead to me is a band, it’s not a place…but then I’ve lived just down the road from here for three years so it’s very much a place. Sorry to the people of Portishead – you had it first.
It’s just really nice out here. And I love a Twirl… I need to remind myself of things. Like how good Twirls are! Such a good Twirl.
I decided to challenge myself to get up at 6am every day for a week – and it changed my life!
Join me for a week in my life as a full-time artist, songwriter and podcast maker as I attempt to carve out my own personal timezone and find more hours in the day for making music, plus care for my elderly Miniature Schnauzer Benji during a tough time.
I found more time for creativity | Getting up at 6am for a week TRANSCRIPT
“I’m flagging…I’m flagging now. I’m not sure this would be possible without coffee.”
I first became a morning person in 2008. I blame this guy [photo of my dog Mister Benji looking v. handsome].
Before he scampered into my life, I’d work late every night and get up around 10 or 11 the next day, unless I had to be somewhere for a filming job or a band rehearsal.
Mister Benji helped me learn to appreciate mornings, and I’m very grateful for that.
Over the past few months, I’ve been feeling more than ever like I’m always running out of time. I know I’m not alone here – tell me in the comments will you, what are the things you’d love to spend time on first but always push to the end of your list?
I’m an ambitious person with an insatiable drive to make all sorts of things from music to podcasts to videos and everything in between, and I know I can’t do everything all at once, but I decided drastic action was required to at least try. I wanted to do the time equivalent of looking for money down the back of the sofa. I wanted more hours in the day. Plus, to be honest, I was keen to try anything different after 18 months of the same routine in the same (beautiful) four walls.
There are loads of ways to get more out of your time: reducing distractions, increasing focus by batch working, checking email at specific times only, time block planning your days, using the Pomodoro technique, bullet journalling, eating the frog – you name it, I’ve probably tried it.
What I hadn’t tried before was getting up at 6am.
Getting up early is meant to have huge benefits for your health, stress levels, productivity and success in life.
Ex-Navy Seal, now-author Jocko Willink suggests 4.30am as the best time to get up – he reckons that showing that much self discipline first thing has a major impact on your day, and I don’t doubt it. I was up for it! But, I don’t live alone, and I try to be a considerate person, so forcing my husband Tim to wake up at 4.30 seemed a bit much.
We agreed on 6am instead, which is already at least an hour and a half earlier than usual, two and a half hours on a particularly snoozy day.
To the experiment! Here are the rules: I’ll get up – actually get out of bed – at 6am every day for a whole week. First, I’ll do some exercise, then I’ll head up to my studio. After a breakfast and dog walking break around 9.15-10am, I’ll work til 6 as usual, with a break for lunch of course, then clock off for the evening.
At the end of this video I’ll share my tips on how you can get up earlier and make the most of your day. DAY ONE
“This is a good idea!
Wow, I’m really hungry. It’s about 7.15am. It’s about 15 minutes before my alarm clock would normally go off, and probably about half an hour to 45 minutes before I’d actually drag myself out of bed. So this is a very good start to the week already. I feel like I’ve given myself the gift of time!
Now it’s time to go upstairs and make some music.”
It felt so freeing to start the day with the thing I love doing the most, the thing my entire creative career is centred around – making music. It’s so easy to get caught up in more straightforward left brain activities like checking email or working through an admin task or, ugh, writing posts for social media to tell people about the music you’re making. I want to make the best use of my time, always, and so it’s always a great day when making music comes first.
Starting first thing is a good way of pushing through the self doubt that’s part and parcel of the creative process, too. I didn’t get a chance to talk myself out of it, basically!
“It’s 2.30, day 1. I feel pretty, pretty tired but coffee number 3 is on the go. It’s been a wildly productive day – I finished a song! But yeah, I am feeling a little bit sleepy now but then I have been up for eight and a half hours. So yeah, that’s to be expected. I think this is a really good development…it’s obviously only day one. We’ll see how it goes…”
“This must be the earliest I’ve ever thought about going running. That’s not true – I definitely used to go running in the dark in Victoria Park in Bristol before going to work. That was a few years ago. So this is the earliest I’ve thought about going running in eight years.
I feel fine though. I went to bed at 10 or something, so that’s perfectly reasonable. It’s always a bit of a shock to get up anyway.”
If I run, I never regret it. If I don’t, I always do! I started building my running habit from scratch in January 2020 and have pretty much run two or three times a week ever since. Lately I’ve been finding it harder to keep doing it, even though I know it always makes me feel brilliant. But I keep doing it.
Big shoutout to the Running Punks online community, a really welcoming group of people.
It was good to get started earlier than usual because I couldn’t make the excuse that I didn’t have enough time before work.
“It’s just after 8am, and I’m about to start working on music again for the second day in a row. I’ve had my shower, I feel fresh and energised. I don’t feel tired, I don’t feel at all sleepy. I don’t feel distracted, because there hasn’t been any time for anything to get in my head yet. So this is really nice.”
Energised by my run, I spent the whole day working on a song. What a joy.
Whenever I write music, I keep a captain’s log. I clock in and out by writing down the start and finish time of my writing session, I note down what I did and make a list of what needs to be done next at the end. I find it an excellent way of proving to myself that I’ve achieved something, even if nothing’s finished yet, and it leaves me with no doubt about how to get started again the next time. I highly recommend it.
“I mean, I do feel tired… But it’s 11.25, and I’ve spent hours and hours working on a song. I’ve had two coffees today, feeling pretty good. There will be more. But I’m feeling pretty good. I’m going to press on now…”
It seems obvious to me now that I should always, always start my day with something creative. Whether you have 15 minutes spare or 2 hours or anything in between, that’s enough to get going on something you care about, and if you keep coming back and chipping away at it, you’ll be surprised at what you can get done. I give that advice to absolutely anyone else who wants to make stuff – but sometimes I forget to be as nice to myself as I would be to a stranger. That’s something I’m working on…
“It’s about half eight at night, and I am tired. I’m a little bit annoyed because I arranged to do a podcast conversation recording this evening for my show, and I arranged to do at eight o’clock because that is 3pm EST in America, and I knew I was going to have a long day but I thought no, it’s okay because it’ll be good. I really wanted to talk to this person. And I logged on…and they didn’t log on.
And things come up and things change, but it’s a bit rubbish sitting there waiting for half an hour thinking, “Oh, it’s not happening”. And I spent ages prepping – I spend ages prepping for all of my podcast episodes. But prepping involved listening to this person’s really, really brilliant new album and just reading about their interesting life, so that’s okay. So yeah, that’s a shame, but my super productive day was super productive, and that’s what’s important. And now I get to go downstairs and eat chocolate and have a cup of tea and relax before going to bed quite soon.
And we’ll do it all again tomorrow. And Benji is going to be getting his stitches out as well. So that is brilliant.”
“I’ve been awake for ages!
Wednesday. And Pilates is the thing I’m most likely to skip out on doing in the week of exercise, even though – and maybe because, hmmm – because it’s the thing that I am almost certain is the thing that does the most for me. Can’t speak, it’s early and I’m tired.
Shout out to Cassey Ho on YouTube for being my Pilates guru. It’s tough, but she’s brilliant.
Just a quick pause to appreciate this attitude [Benji is curled up, asleep].
I’m so happy. It’s only 7.14 am and I’ve just done 36 minutes of Pilates. I feel fresh and wide awake and energised. And now I’ve got two full hours until Tim and I have agreed to meet for breakfast. So I just feel like I can get so much done. So, what’s next?
I’m recording a podcast conversation this afternoon with Rou Reynolds from Enter Shikari. So I’m just going to put the finishing touches to my prep now and there should be enough time before breakfast to make a bit of music.
My neighbours are going to work, and so am I.”
This is where it all started to go a bit wrong. I love past Laura for her optimism, but there wasn’t enough time to make music before breakfast as well as getting ready for my podcast recording, obviously. Instead of choosing to make music in my extra time before the work day started I just…started work early. I wish I hadn’t. I’m still wondering what song I might have written on day 3, if I’d just given myself the chance.
After breakfast we took Benji to the vet’s to get his stitches out. He had a splenectomy eight days before this – they removed his entire spleen because it had a tumour growing inside. It was really scary, especially because he’s 13 and a half, but he bounced right back from the operation, started putting weight back on and generally being his former bouncy self, so we were really happy.
He was very brave when they took the stitches out, and only yelped once. Good boy!
“It’s nearly the end of the day on Wednesday, and I’m not gonna lie, I’m flagging. I’m flagging now. At lunchtime, I was thinking about how nice it would be to just stop. Of course I feel tired, I’ve been up since six. It’s time to finish work soon and relax and have an early night and start again tomorrow.”
“I feel okay. This is a good idea!
Day four. Thursday 6.24am. I just wanted to say something: I understand that many people every day get up at 6am. So it’s not that I think this is a really extreme challenge. For me, this is just about having extra time at the beginning of a work day.
Anyway, I’m slightly stalling, which is what I often do when I’m supposed to be going for a run. So I’m gonna go do that now…
I’m really kicking myself looking back on this, because this was the second day in a row that I just started my usual work early. I hadn’t realised yet that there was a better way. But hey, that’s what an experiment is for! And because being creative always gives me a buzz, I might not have been feeling like this:
“Seriously flagging now. It feels like I’m in a different time zone because it’s sunny when it should be getting dark or something, even though it’s summer and it doesn’t get dark till like half eight. Just feels weird. I felt really weird yesterday as well. I think I’m focused on work, I think I’m getting things done. I’m gonna keep trying to get things done. The things that I do don’t happen super quickly anyway, they’re not finished quickly. So the day is still happening. I’ve got a couple more hours before I stop and…feeling a bit funny.
But we talked this morning at breakfast about whether this is going to be an ongoing thing because it seems like maybe shunting the day forward as we’ve done for the past few days, just doing it for a week might be more confusing than doing it for a few weeks. I wonder if it’s gonna take a little while for this to feel normal. Because ongoing, this could be normal. There’s no reason why we couldn’t get up at six and have our nice quiet mornings, and then finish on time and then go to bed at a reasonable time so that it doesn’t feel like this.” DAY FIVE
By the end of the week it had dawned on me that I wasn’t making the best use of my extra hours, so I went out first thing. Tim had surprised me by joining in on the challenge every day, and so together we took our younger dog Alby to the park before 7am. She was a bit surprised, but I think she liked it. It was magical up there at that time of the morning, and although we only saw a few other humans in the woods we weren’t completely alone… [there was a cat in the bushes!]
Getting up at 6am every day was a simple challenge, but there was something strangely thrilling about it. It felt so good to try something new.
I used to think of myself as a roving musical adventurer – up until the end of 2019 I was away for a decent chunk of every year playing shows and doing all sorts of freelance work. I always had a bag half packed. And then…none of that.
I’ve done my best over the past eighteen months, I think we all have, but time just hasn’t held the same sort of possibilities as it used to, so this challenge was a revelation. Opening up the possibility of making something brand new every morning in my studio, or simply getting out into nature and soaking in all this beauty – what a gift. I felt like I’d shaken myself out of a very long, deep, sleep.
Unfortunately, we don’t all get extra time. On Friday lunchtime we got the worst news – while Benji’s operation had been a great success, and he had recovered brilliantly, the story didn’t end there. Our vet called to let me know that Benji has hemangiosarcoma, a mysterious, aggressive and incurable form of cancer. I had been so excited to have my best friend back home and looking healthy again that I’d decided not to worry about the test results that we knew were on the way, and I don’t regret that – worrying is not preparation, after all – but this news was a shock, and I just got through the afternoon as best I could.
Day Six was a Saturday, and I decided 7am was a nice lie in treat for a weekend, giving me a little bit more sleep but not putting me back to square one. I try not to work every single day, but writing music doesn’t feel like work, and sometimes it’s good to keep pushing ahead with a creative idea while it feels fresh, so I put a few studio hours in and managed to make really good progress on another song before switching everything off for family time in the afternoon.
Rest is so important, and I am NOT great at it. I work really hard, but I do try to balance mindful goal setting and being productive with taking time off to recharge and spend time with the ones I love the most. It’s a work in progress but I am trying – especially now. DAY SEVEN
“It’s Sunday 6:41am and I’ve just done a pre-running Yoga with Adriene sequence. And I have eaten my protein balls and I am just about to get ready to go running. I snuck out of bed this morning without the alarm going off. I keep waking up maybe an hour before, but dozing again. Then because I have an alarm clock with a light, I was able to just turn it off before the birdsong started this morning so as not to disturb Tim, and I snuck downstairs to do my yoga.
Getting up at 6am isn’t just to do work. I’m not a joyless person who is going to work all weekend. But even in the short time I’ve been experimenting with it, I’ve really enjoyed the quiet extra time in the mornings and being able to start work on music really, really early. And that feels like a real achievement.
Look at this guy, though [Benji is snoozing!]
The dogs are not joining in with this experiment, they’re not willing to start the day early. And that’s fine!“
[goes running, returns]
[laughs] “My friends have come to say hello. Hey Alby!
It’s 9.15 now and no, I haven’t been out for that long. I have a problem, which is a problem you might have as well. This stupid thing. [holds up mobile phone]
“I got stuck to it, and I feel really annoyed because the point of getting up at 6am is not to give myself more time to scroll on my effing phone. So I’ve actually finally again put Freedom on my phone. And this is software that will block me from going on distracting websites, apps, whatever I choose not to go on. So I’ve chosen not to go on anything for the next 23 hours.
And of course after scrolling on this for about an hour this morning, I didn’t really want to go for a run so it was really hard to get out, whereas if I had just kept my forward motion going, then I would have been fine. But as it was I went anyway, and I did four miles which means I think I’ve done about nine in total this week, so I’m really happy with that actually.” CHALLENGE COMPLETE!
Getting up at 6am for a week changed my life.
It’s 11 days now since I completed my challenge, and I’ve got up at 6am every day since, apart from one day when I got up at 7. I don’t see any reason why I would stop now. I love the early morning quiet, I love not having any excuses not to exercise and I love having creative playtime available first thing in the day.
I do need to work on getting to bed a bit earlier, not using feeling sleepy as an excuse to eat biscuits all the time and clocking off at 6pm sharp, but I’m only human, you know?
If you’re interested in getting up earlier too, I have some tips for you:
1. Don’t snooze
I’ve done this a couple of times, and felt really annoyed with myself. If I’m going to get up at 6, I should set the alarm for 6. If I’m going to get up at 6.30, I should set the alarm for 6.30. When the alarm goes off, turn on a light, sit up and drink some water. It makes it a lot easier to do the next bit – getting out of bed! After that, you’re rolling.
2. Don’t touch your phone til later in the day No-one needs extra scrolling time, and you probably got up early to do more useful things than that, so just get on with those first.
3. Go to bed earlier
I didn’t do that, and that was really silly. I turned my light out at 11pm most nights, which was just about ok, but I think if I’d gone to sleep at 10 or even 10.30 I would have felt a drastic difference. Hmm, I really should start doing that now!
4. Plan your meals
I didn’t even consider this. I didn’t think I’d be so hungry earlier in the day, but of course the enzymes in our stomachs start doing their thing whatever time we get up, so a healthy pre-breakfast snack at least would have been very helpful. We weren’t strict about lunchtimes or dinnertimes either, so days when we didn’t get round to eating til late were unpleasant.
So yeah, think about when you’re going to eat, and what you’re going to eat, so you can keep your energy up throughout the day.
5. Do it gradually
If getting up at 6am, or 5am, or 4.30am seems a bit drastic right now, you can get there incrementally – just set your alarm for 15 minutes earlier, or 30 minutes earlier, try that for a few days, and then keep going bit by bit until you reach your desired getting up time.
Please make sure you’re taking care of yourself though, and getting enough sleep for your body and your brain.
Tell me, what time do you get up at the moment, and does it give you enough time to do everything you want? Are you thinking about getting up earlier after watching this video? Let me know in the comments, I’d really love to hear from you.
Thanks for watching! I’ve put links in the description box for my excellent alarm clock, the yoga, meditation and Pilates channels I swear by, the filming gear I use and some special offers, so do check those out.
Make sure you subscribe for future videos on creativity, mindful productivity and digital minimalism, have a poke about on my channel for more videos and visit my website to get two free songs and thoughtful letters about art and music.
Join me as I clear my overgrown back garden so my elderly dog Mister Benji can use it, PLUS enjoy oddly satisfying timelapses! Accidental passionfruit! Gnomes lost in the undergrowth! Potential medical drama!
This video was made by mixing Go-Pro Hero 9 footage with footage from the Canon R6 with the RF 35mm 1.8 lens.
It can be really hard to make stuff – but once you’ve got started, how can you assess your own creative work? Is it any good?
We all want to make meaningful art, so in this video I explain how I work out which songs to share, and when it’s time to go back to the drawing board…via a storytime segment about my solo career so far. I bet you don’t know the full story contained within!!!
BUT is it any good? | How to assess your own creative work TRANSCRIPT
It can be really hard to make the thing you want to make – whether that’s a song, a painting, a film, a handmade mandolin, a carved sculpture of a bear or your very own clothing line.
But once you *have* made some stuff, how do you know if it’s any good?
I’m Penfriend, but my pen friends call me Laura. This video was inspired by a question I received last week from Stephen, who asked me: “How can we properly assess our own work?”
This is such a great question, and it really got me thinking back to my earliest days of gathering together my own songs and starting to share them on the internet.
South London, 2009. I’m renting a draughty maisonette in Herne Hill, a short walk from Brockwell Park. I’ve lived here for a year now with my Miniature Schnauzer puppy Mister Benji, and every morning we look for sticks in the grass. The house is ok…the windows don’t close and I can hear mice scurrying about under the floorboards, but the big draw is the cheap rent and the extra space – I’ve got a dedicated studio room for the first time ever. It’s cramped, it’s messy, but it’s mine, and the walls are painted turquoise – my favourite colour.
I started writing my own songs aged 15, as part of my GCSE music course. They were well-meant, but categorically terrible. It’s fine, we all have to start somewhere.
At the time, I’m just excited to have written something…anything! I love Sheryl Crow, Belly, Blur, Radiohead, Alanis Morrisette and Garbage. Soon I’ll get into Lush, Elastica, The Wonder Stuff, Sleeper, Longpigs and Echobelly. I soak in all the music, savouring it, excited to strike out on my own one day soon and live an exciting, glamorous life like the people in those songs.
I form a band at school, and I join another when that one ends, but it takes me a few more years to start trying to write my own material again. I decide I don’t want to live out that Elastica lyric : “I’ve got a lot of songs, but they’re all in my head”. I’m bored of talking about doing stuff – I want to actually do stuff!
It’s a slow process, but I start capturing my ideas. I fill notebooks with words that mostly make me cringe, and highlight any words or passages that don’t. I fill Minidiscs and teeny Dictaphone cassette tapes with roughly played guitar ideas, most of which I never listen to again.
In 2005, I hear Cat Power’s album “What Would The Community Think” and Carina Round’s album “The Disconnection” on the same day and my mind is blown. I start writing songs in earnest, and learning to demo them in my shared flat above a cafe. During the day, music blasts up through my bedroom floor, making the wood laminate vibrate. In the evenings, I can work as late as I want.
I’m writing things, and sometimes I like what I write, but something’s missing. I don’t know exactly where I’m trying to go, but I know I’m not there yet.
Later that year, heartbroken, I write and record two songs back to back – “ghostsandshadows” and “I Am”. They’re the first songs I’ve written about real events, and there’s something different about them: a resonance, a feeling, a punch in the gut. I don’t play them to anybody else, but I can feel it. I realise what’s been missing.
Back in 2009, I’ve been invited to take part in a community art project called The Apollo Project. Some local artists take over an old video rental shop and turn it into a welcoming space, putting on a programme of events from storytelling performances to writing workshops to gigs to crazy golf.
I’m the “Musician In Shop”, and it’s the push I need to create my first ever musical release. I pick three songs from my burgeoning ideas library, and I finish them. I record them in my messy turquoise room, burn CD-Rs sitting crosslegged on the floor of the shop and package them in DVD cases to fit the video rental theme.
Apart from sticking a couple of old demos on MySpace, this is the first time I’ve shared my recorded music with the world. My first, incredibly DIY, official release.
I’m so proud to have something to hold in my hands, to send in the post to the strangers who buy it from my brand new Bandcamp page. I name it “Three…Two…One…”, but I can’t possibly know where this lift-off is going to take me.
Today, I’m sitting in a much tidier turquoise room, whose name should now make more sense to you: The Launchpad. The place where ideas are encouraged, incubated and nurtured towards lift-off.
So, how do you know if your work is good?
Two words leap out at me from my own story: comparison and resonance.
Now, when I say comparison, I don’t mean with other people, but with yourself. I didn’t know whether my songs were good until I’d written a lot of bits of songs, and some complete songs, and could compare them to each other. When I wrote that first song for GCSE music, I don’t remember thinking that it sucked, I was just really delighted to have written anything. But only by writing more songs could I start to journey towards where I really wanted to be.
Ira Glass from the podcast This American Life famously talked about the gap between our taste, and the work we’re able to make depending on our current capabilities: we want to make things because we have good taste, but our work disappoints us to start with, because we haven’t developed our skills yet.
He says to “Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions…It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through”.
Resonance is something I think about all the time when I’m making new work. To be something I want to share one day, a song has to make me feel something very deeply either when I’m writing it or when I’m listening back. Those two songs I wrote in the dark days after my breakup in 2005 really showed me the way forward and started me on the path towards making my first full length album “Disarm” at the end of 2009.
Again, I hadn’t shared my work online before making my first EP, and I hadn’t played very many gigs either, so I had no real audience feedback to consider, and I had to go with my gut instincts. I’m really glad of that, actually, because not caring about what someone else *might* think meant that I was free to make exactly the music I wanted, and starting my solo career that way was the best thing I could have done. If I couldn’t fully stand behind my work, I wouldn’t have been able to start trying to grow an audience for my music, and I don’t think I’d be telling you my story today.
Only you can really know whether what you’ve made is good, because the act of making stuff is an attempt to turn ideas into reality. They’re your ideas, so it’s up to you to decide whether this particular song, painting, photograph or sculpture conveys your idea in the way you want it to. If not, make another one, and then another one. For me, the joy of creation is in the time I spend making the thing, because as soon as it’s finished…I’m excited about the next one.
Speaking of which, I’m uploading new videos about the creative process, mindful productivity and digital minimalism every Saturday – so please click subscribe to join me again in future and check out the links in the description box for some free music and special offers.