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Thursday, 16 December 2010

Do What You Love interview: Mark McGuinness

Rain falls with twilight –
the city’s fingers drumming
on our umbrella

Rain haiku by poet and creative coach Mark McGuinness
(Image courtesy of Mark McGuinness)

This Do What You Love interview features Mark McGuinness, a poet, creative coach and trainer and creative entrepreneur. He has been coaching artists and creatives since 1996, when he noticed a high proportion of them turning up in his psychotherapy consulting room. He has also consulted for organisations including the BBC, Channel 4, Arts and Business, the Institute for Practitioners in Advertising (UK) and many creative agencies and studios. Since 2006 he has been blogging about creativity and business at Wishful Thinking. In 2008 he launched Lateral Action  with Brian Clark and Tony Clark, developing the site as a resource for creative entrepreneurs - first a blog and later the Lateral Action Entrepreneur Roadmap.  . Mark's latest course is the Creative Pathfinder, a free 25-week guide to success as a creative professional.  I caught up with Mark to find out what gems he could share from his many years of working with creatives (and find out a bit about poetry too).

- Can you remember the first time you referred to yourself as a poet?  What made you do that for the first time?
I can't remember, to be honest. Robert Graves said 'poet' is a courtesy title - there are very few real poets, the ones with the genuine magic in their words. On the other hand, the original meaning of the word 'poet' is simply 'maker', so maybe it's just the equivalent of the modern 'creative'.

- Do you see life differently as a poet?
Wow that's a big question. I think that what we call poetry is something inherent in life, which we can all see, if we look carefully, or sometimes it catches us off-guard and we can't help seeing it. Poets make a habit of looking out for it, and trying to capture it in words, but every true artist is after the same thing. And having spent a little time with Buddhist monks, I think they are on the lookout for the same thing, they're just not so worried about capturing it!

- You are also a coach for people in the creative industries. Why is coaching important for artists?
Coaching allows me to work one-to-one with creatives, so I can take account of their individual - often idiosyncratic - talent. There's no one-size-fits-all when it comes to creativity - what works for one person won't work for another, and sometimes the hardest part is recognising where your own inspiration is leading you. I often hear from clients that one of the biggest benefits they get from coaching is simply validation of who they are and how they do things, as they sometimes go through life feeling like a square peg in a round hole.

- How did Lateral Action come about and what kind of impact has it had?
It came about through discussions between Brian Clark, Tony Clark and me. Towards the end of 2007 I released an ebook titled Time Management for Creative People - little did I know Brian and Tony were thinking about launching a site about creativity and productivity, so when I sent it to them, they said it was 'bang on target' and the conversation went from there.
In terms of the impact... well I'm maybe not the one to judge, but we've had a terrific response, both to the blog, the Entrepreneur Roadmap, and now the Creative Pathfinder. Every week I hear from people who tell me it has helped them in their creative work, their career, or their business, so it feels like I'm making some difference, but there's always plenty more to do...

- What question are you asked most often by your consulting clients, and how do you respond?
I can't really narrow it down to one question. Maybe four:
1. How can I find a way to do my real creative work, in the midst of interruptions (from the outside) and distractions (from the inside)?
2. How can I get others to notice my work (and buy it)?
3. How can I deal with person X, who's in my working life and not at all easy to work with?
4. How can I motivate myself to keep going, in spite of rejections, criticisms, disappointments and the rest of it?

I generally respond by doing a lot of listening and asking questions - first to clarify the situation, and then to unlock their own ideas about how they could approach the situation differently. Sometimes I'll also 'put in' some ideas and advice around specialist topics, e.g. productivity systems, stress management techniques, internet marketing strategies. Either way, the idea is to get clients to be able to learn new approaches for themselves, that they can put into practice in future.

- What is the best thing about working with creatives?Partly it's inspiring to be around interesting, creative people doing amazing work. And partly because I'm a creative myself, so I feel an affinity with them. It's a tribal thing. :-)

- When you get stuck in your own creative endeavours nowadays, do you deal with yourself as you would a client, or do you turn to others for support?
Sometimes I can get myself unstuck, having seen most of the usual pitfalls in myself and others over the years. I don't necessarily deal with myself as I would a client, but hopefully there's an occasional flicker of self-awareness that comes into play! And sometimes I work with a coach, or a teacher who knows a lot more than me about what I'm trying to do. Mimi Khalvati at the Poetry School is a particular source of inspiration.

- What is the next big dream for your business?
I'm really excited about several new products I have in the pipeline that will be released over the next year or so. Plus I'd like to travel more, so I'm working to move as much of my business online as possible. E.g. I'm doing more and more e-learning and coaching via Skype, as well as live workshops and face-to-face sessions.


You can find Mark on his Wishful Thinking blog, on his poetry blog, or for bite-sized inspiration you can follow him on Twitter


See here for more interviews with inspiring people doing what they love


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  1. Thanks for sharing this interview. I found Mark a while ago and for some reason, misplaced him! So it was soooo lovely to read this and revisit his fabulous site. So many great resources. Love the blog title "wishful thinking" too. :-)


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