Guest Blog Wednesdays with… Naomi Bulger

This week on Guest Blog Wednesdays at The Australian Bookshelf we are joined by Australian writer, Naomi Bulger. Welcome Naomi!

How to stay creative when your art is your business

A guest post by Naomi Bulger, author of Airmail

It’s a common enough problem. For years, you dream of making a living as a writer, an artist, a musician… whatever creative passion floats your boat. But when your hobby finally becomes your career, the endless deadlines, clients and financial constraints sap your creative inspiration and motivation until you wonder why you entered this industry in the first place.

As a writer that’s certainly happened to me. More than once.

Some years ago, while editing a business magazine, I interviewed Irene Grishin Selzer, a sculptor and the artistic director of jewellery outfit Iggy and Lou Lou. Irene had an amazing capacity to separate out the business and artistic aspects of her career, while maintaining both. Today, I’ve dug through my old notes on Irene and compiled what I think are the top five tips writers can learn about staying creative when your art is your business.

1. Seek new inspiration in old works

What the artist says

“I recently spent some time in museums and palaces in Rome and Paris and London. I’m playing with the idea of making work that has that magical contrast of appearing both ancient and futuristic at the same time.”

Irene said she fell in love with the small sculptures and amulets on display in the European museums she visited, and these in turn gave her own work a strong sculptural feel.

What the writer can learn

As writers, we have it so much easier than sculptors. We don’t have to leave town to see the great works of those who came before us. Get ye to the local library and start re-reading the classics. What can you learn from their style, language, themes and characters that could inform your own work?

2. Get out of the house

What the artist says

“These things put me in the mood to create: good music, travelling around, seeing new cities, natural wonders. Little things like the way fungi grow. I do need to travel to see things in a fresh light.”

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Machu Picchu

What the writer can learn

Get out of the house! We can’t all afford grand tours of Europe but we can explore our own back yards in new ways. A little while back I took my dog for a walk and photographed some of the street art in my neighbourhood. When I got back, I was in an amazing, observant state of mind, a kind of ‘higher clarity’, and had one of my most productive writing afternoons in months.

3. Catalogue your creative life

What the artist says

“I have a little book that I separate into jewellery ideas, art ideas, things that I want to read or go see, and music. They’re all categorized in my daily life and I slot them into their appropriate sections. It tends to emerge that I have certain interests in certain things, and they start grouping.”

What the writer can learn

Buy a notebook. Carry it and a pen with you everywhere. Is there a song you like? Write it down. A movie you want to see? Write that down. A flower with perfume that makes you swoon? Describe it. Make notes on everything in life that inspires you, makes you think, or that you want to do, see, hear, eat, be.

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My ‘Inspiration Book’

I keep a lovely notebook for this purpose. In it I paste pictures cut out of magazines, I draw in it, I copy out poetry or sections of novels that inspire me. As I look through it now, sure enough, themes are emerging. For me, they’re the conflicting desires of nesting and flying, creating a home and exploring the world. What are yours?

4. Surround yourself with your favourite things

What the artist says

“I put up a huge pin-board of all my favourite things in my workspace, to help me get lost in another world. That wall just keeps changing. I don’t actually take the pictures off, I just pin things on top of them. It’s quite nice to look underneath and think ‘Oh yeah, I used to really love that.’”

What the writer can learn

This is really a less portable extension of the notebook idea above. Anything that inspires you: poems, pictures, herbs from your garden, ticket stubs, photographs… create a space where you work to have those things around you, so that you can constantly look to them for inspiration when you’re stuck.

5. Revel in the history of your craft

What the artist says

“My favourite thing is the romance of ceramics. I love the history of ceramics. The Chinese started the whole thing, and they had massively guarded secrets about it. It had the same status as gold and silver.”

In the workshop, Irene adopts the care and deliberation of an old-world craftsman, firing each piece up to four times to get a patina like buried treasure.

What the writer can learn

The history of storytelling is as old as language itself and, as writers today, we are the guardians of a legacy that is beyond price. Let’s take a moment to enjoy our privileged place in history. We all face deadlines, word limits and external pressures. But by taking pride in the history of our craft – and doing everything we can to do it justice – we may just rediscover some of the joy that inspired us to write in the first place.

AirmailAirmail, a new magic realism novella by Naomi Bulger, was published in April 2011, and is available online at Barnes & Noble and numerous other good bookstores, including Fishpond, from which delivery in Australia is free. Naomi maintains a blog about writing, creativity and the absurdities of life at, and she promises to write a personal letter of thanks to everyone who buys a copy of Airmail.

Thank you for your post Naomi.

I will soon receive a review copy of Naomi Bulger’s novel, Airmail and I hope to get a review up in the next few weeks. Please leave your comments for Naomi below.

If you would like to feature on Guest Blog Wednesdays at The Australian Bookshelf- whether you are an author, reader, writer, blogger- drop me a line at jayne.fordham(AT)live(DOT) and tell me a bit about yourself. Regards, Jayne.


  • I like what you write naomi, about realism and a writer’s place in history and particularly getting out of the house and seeing what is around is in ‘street art’. There is so much out there. I write many things I see, experience, feel, smell in my journal and refer to that at times. Photos are also included. My journal is my notebook, though I have one of those as well that sometimes looks like the chickens have scratched around in it, but it is a treasure of half-written poems, lines of thought for a sentence and so on.

  • Thank you Colleen. I love those kinds of notebooks too! I have some old notebooks going back more than 10 years, swollen with pictures and feathers and half-written poems, ticket stubs, hand-drawn maps and goodness knows what else. I still find bits and pieces in them that I can use, sometimes direct pieces of writing and in other cases, thematic inspiration. In my latest notebook, I’ve also been copying out passages from other books that I love. Not only are these passages inspiring to come back and read later, copying them out also helps me get a better feel for how the author constructs such wonder.

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