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Creative advice from BITE LIVE 2020’s storytelling masterclass with Havas London’s Vicki Maguire and Kate Mosse.
It is not easy to focus the mind at the best of times, let alone in the midst of a global pandemic. Simply getting something done at the moment feels like an enormous achievement in itself and is, as both Vicki Maguire and Kate Mosse emphasised, indeed something to celebrate.
For Mosse, the hardest part of the creative process is starting, coupled with overcoming the desire for ideas to be good straight off the bat. She explains, “until you’ve got a first rough draft you don’t know what you’re working with. Just build your house, then you can paint your walls cool colours. Until you've built the house, you've got no walls to paint.”
Mosse, who is a bestselling author and Founder Director of the Women’s Prize for Fiction, was speaking alongside Maguire, CCO of Havas London as part of a conversation chaired by Nicola Kemp, Creativebrief’s Editorial Director at BITE LIVE 2020.
As Kemp explained, it can be all too easy to focus on what you need to sell and to who. But, for anyone who’s passionate about their craft there’s so much more to communications than that. She reminded the audience that everyone’s creative corner is different; it’s about carving out space for that corner, any which way you can.
Mosse’s advice came via a story that is attributed to Pablo Picasso who, when asked by a young artist why he went to his studio every day, replied, “when inspiration arrives, I want it to find me working.” For both Moss and Maguire, it’s about showing up and seeing something through. “All we can do is keep going,” Mosse adds.
The story for me, whether it’s a three minute ad, 30 second piece of advertising or one of my novels, is the sense that for as long as you’re engaged with it, it’s the whole world.Kate Mosse
Maguire talked openly about how difficult she finds being away from the people she works alongside, away from the cafes in which she usually writes in the early hours of the morning. As the nation went into lockdown, Maguire was only a few months into her new role at Havas and excited, as she says, “to be in the middle of a distraction.” Now, she explains, she’s in a two bed flat in East London, with no outside space. The space she seeks out for time to herself is, she explains, “into my head.”
As a person who feeds off other people’s energy, Maguire has had to find other ways of reaching her creative ideas, of finding space, as she says, “in the batshit crazy that’s going on.” Her advice? “You have to find any corner and seek solace there.”
Mosse explained that as a novelist she spends most of her time on her own so being asked to stay at home shouldn’t have been a problem. But something shifted when the nation went into lockdown. She explains that she could no longer look to the imaginary world for the refuge it usually provided. “I couldn’t concentrate on anything,” she says. She found her way back to her creativity through reading and walking. “I walked myself back into being creative,” Mosse says. “It was a sense of re-calibrating the world and not letting the world of the news define how I felt.”
So just what constitutes the fundamentals of a good story? For Mosse the foundations of storytelling lie in the fact the audience wants to know what happens. This comes through creating characters people can identify with. She explains, “storytelling [is] a mirror in which we seek out our experiences and deep emotions.” It’s this human connection that drives attention. “It’s all the stuff that gets you to the end that makes you want to hear the story,” she adds.
Mosse believes that storytelling’s power comes when you have successfully captured a person’s full attention: “The story for me, whether it’s a three minute ad, 30 second piece of advertising or one of my novels, is the sense that for as long as you’re engaged with it, it’s the whole world. You’re not aware of time passing.” The beauty of a piece of creative art says Mosse is that it ends with a resolution: “human beings need resolution particularly in these difficult times. We need that full stop.”
Maguire believes that although she and Mosse “come from opposite ends of the storytelling spectrum,” but that level of engagement is, “the thread that keeps us together.” Maguire believes that for advertisers, unlike novelists, that attention needs to be earned: “Unlike when you choose a book, or Netflix or play, I haven’t been invited. I have to not only hold your attention, I have to earn my place.” She points to the current situation in which people can opt out of ads, skip them or even be forced to pay their way out of watching them, an occurrence that Maguire believes has made advertising “a tax on the poor.”
Maguire is respectful of the attention she is fighting for in her communications, explaining as such that, “what we do has to really work, it has to be entertaining, to actually deliver something.” “We’ve got to earn our right to be in your home, in the middle of your favourite film, in your feed, that’s a massive responsibility that people don’t realise,” she adds.
“We all carry stories within us, we all carry a narrative of our own lives,” believes Mosse. But, she adds, “we all have different ways of interpreting the stories we need to tell.” While she might be writing a novel and Maguire crafting a piece of communication, others may turn towards dance, song or painting to express their narrative. She wants to encourage people to let their ideas find them: “it’s about being open to the way that ideas approach you, not trying to always be in control.” “Just be brave enough to listen to your instinct,” she adds.
Everyone has shit days. You’ll wake up tomorrow in a different space. This is a job, see it through, don’t walk away from it.Vicki Maguire
As many are finding during this ongoing crisis, the mantra done is better than perfect has never felt more apt. But it’s this mantra that Mosse wants people to focus their attention on. She believes that all too often writers are so keen to ensure that the first chapter, the first draft is good, that they never actually start. Instead of this drive for perfection, her advice focuses instead on throwing ideas out and not being afraid to tweak or change first drafts. She explains: “No piece of art is as good as the one you imagine in your head,” she says. “All any of us can do is do our best and get it down.”
Maguire feels it’s about getting the “shit ideas out,” because “that creates room for the good ideas.” Her belief is that inspiration will always find you because, “nature doesn’t like a vacuum. If you’re freaked out by a blank sheet, scribble on it, doodle on it and just keep going.” Part of getting that down is stepping outside your bubble, getting under the skin of the audience you’re trying to speak to because, she explains, “if you don't know them, you can’t talk to them.”
As Mosse adds, “If you haven’t got anything, you’ve got nothing to work with.” It comes down to trusting your instinct, says Mosse, of respecting all creatives because it’s hard to put yourself out there. For the creatives themselves, Mosse advocates for finding room in your life for silence. Because, she says, “sometimes you can only stress test an idea in the silence.”
The conversation turned to resilience as a question from the audience asked whether it has become an overused term this year. Mosse says that she is glad it’s being talked about again because it encourages people to protect their own space. She believes a lot of resilience is about not giving other people “the chance to do you down and destroy you.” She adds that she thinks people, and particularly women, are encouraged to too easily give away their power. For Mosse, “resilience is a good thing because it’s about us owning our own power.”
Maguire also emphasised the importance of owning your own story. As she explained: “own your own narrative, own your own path and protect your own talent or creativity and space, that’s resilience for me. Not giving it away, not letting it be chipped away, not letting it be bullied away, not letting it be built by someone else.” Part of this resilience can be built through finding like-minded pockets of people within the companies you work at or creative networks you are in. Of finding a shared space in which you can look after one another.
Maguire’s parting advice is a lesson in mental strength of will: “Everyone has shit days. You’ll wake up tomorrow in a different space. This is a job, see it through, don’t walk away from it.” Mosse’s advice is a reminder to us all that we have the ability to recognise the work we are doing. As she says, “what happens to your piece of work once it’s left you is out of your control. What you are in control of is the creation.” As she adds, “be proud of what you’ve achieved.”
Maguire and Mosse offered not only a storytelling masterclass but a lesson in respect, of your own creative process, of the stories you are aiming to tell and the way you are choosing to tell them. Of the time you spend at your desk and the effort that you and those around you are putting in. Because this year as ever, done is better than perfect. Always.
Thank you to Havas London for partnering with us to deliver this session to make it accessible to all as part of BITE LIVE 2020.
Vicki Maguire and Kate Mosse were speaking at BITE LIVE 2020. To watch the full conversation, visit the dedicated event page, A Storytelling Masterclass
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