We all want to write, but sometimes it’s hard to find the motivation. In this interview, Mark McGuinness explores what motivates us as creatives and what can keep us going for the long term.
In the intro, I mention my own writing updates and why it’s important to cut through all the noise and focus on what really matters to you.
This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets through the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.
Mark McGuinness is a poet, non-fiction author, creative coach, and professional speaker. His latest book is Motivation for Creative People: How to stay creative while gaining money, fame and reputation.
- On Mark’s definition of motivation, the four kinds of motivation he believes work together and striking a balance between these. He also mentions his cover designer Irene Hoffman.
- How Resistance interferes with motivation.
- Using ego and social motivation to our advantage.
- Self-awareness and using our bodies to provide clues about how we’re treating ourselves as we aspire to more.
- Thinking differently about the areas of writing business that we resist in order to find motivation for doing them.
- Our individual hierarchy of values and how that reveals what is important to us.
- How this awareness of values can support writing fiction when we think about the values that our characters hold, and how our values can decide whether we publish traditionally or independently.
- How Mark chooses the next topic to write about, including asking for feedback from his readers.
- How Shakespeare may have combined literary ambition with entrepreneurship.
- Mark’s ideas about rules vs. principles.
- The most common issue Mark sees when he coaches creatives who want to achieve more.
Transcription of interview with Mark McGuinness
Joanna: Hi, everyone. I am Joanna Penn from thecreativepenn.com and today, I’m here with Mark McGuiness. Hi, Mark.
Mark: Hi, Joanna.
Joanna: Welcome back on the show so just a little introduction Mark is a poet, non-fiction author, creative coach, and professional speaker and his latest book is Motivation for Creative People and we all need a bit of that.
Mark let’s start off with a bit of a definition because everyone thinks they know what motivation is. Well, I think they do, but how are you defining motivation and what are the high level things we need to know?
Mark: The first thing to say is that it isn’t some magical quality that you either have inside you or you don’t. And it isn’t something that you need in order to. You can’t say, “Well, I can’t start writing my novel yet because I’m not quite motivated enough,” because that’s not motivation. That’s resistance. And I know you know about that from talking to Mr. Pressfield.
I deliberately have a very broad definition. In the book and I say motivation is whatever gets you moving. So it’s something that has an effect.
It’s not something that you are waiting for in order to make the effect happen.
I’ve got four basic kinds of motivation that I talk about in the book. One is the intrinsic, what I call the joy of work. This is why we are writers, why we love to do what we do. The other one is extrinsic. There’s a balance in that one, and that is the rewards for work. So that’s the money, the fame, the critical reputation, the exciting opportunities, the going to speak at writers conferences, all the neat stuff that we get as a result of having done our work.
And then I’ve got another axis that I look at, so I’m using…I know not everyone can see this but if you can imagine a pinwheel but if you are on the video you can see the pinwheel on the cover of the book which my brilliant designer, Irene Hoffman, came up with. I said I wanted a way of showing how these four motivations fit together and this is what Irene came up with. And I said, “Okay you nailed it”
Joanna: And the pinwheel I guess is more like a windmill.
Mark: Just like a windmill, yes.
Joanna: With four different things on they have to work together.
Mark: Children’s paper thing and you can blow on it or the breeze catches it and it spins round and they all blow together. It’s like two blades of it on opposing sides. You’ve got intrinsic/extrinsic. You’ve got rewards for work, but the other axis for the two blades are your own personal motivations, your core values and what I call social motivation which is influences from people around you. And obviously there’s a tension between those as well. And I know plenty of your listeners will be familiar with. “Well, I want to do this thing for my career and the world seems to be pushing me into that direction instead.”
What I’m doing in the book is showing we don’t say, “Well, do you write for love or money?” It’s a false dichotomy. You write for both, but you’ve got to think about the writing for love and the writing for money at different times. Do you please yourself or do you please your audience? Well, you’re looking to do both.
Joanna: And I think that’s the magic thing about the book, for me, was that realization that you can have the different things. I guess they have to be at different times don’t they? Sometimes I feel driven by just I love working so much and other times I’m driven by I must write this book because I need some more income for example.
How can we balance the four things so that we get it right?
Mark: You’ve hit on something that’s absolutely true, but it’s also quite a hard sell for the book which is about balance. And I was thinking “How can I write a really great tagline that will get people excited about balance?” Because nobody does. I don’t have balance in my life but in a way you do. So the balance that I struck in the tagline which is really the promise I try to make in the book is how to stay creative while gaining money, fame, and reputation.
And I think that stay is critical because I’m assuming that anyone listening to this is already creative. There’s lots of books saying this is how you can be creative or most of the writers and creators I work with say, “Well, I already do that, but what about the money and the fame? How do I balance it out with that?”
Because the research has shown us money is a creativity killer, pursuing fame is a creativity killer, worrying about what the critics think is a creativity killer. And there’s a lot research, Dan Pink has talked about this among other people, that intrinsic motivation, doing it for love is when we are our most creative. Which is all very well but if this is my business and it is, I can’t just sit and write what I want. I’ve got to find a way of dealing with the money, the fame, the reputation.
Coming back to your question timing is really crucial here. So this morning I was working on a poem and one reason I was working on this particular poem is I do have a deadline tomorrow. See even poets get deadlines. I’m going to my teacher Mimi Khalvati’s workshop, and I particularly want to get her feedback on this piece. So that got it on the schedule but, in the moment, I couldn’t be thinking about what people are going to say tomorrow. I can’t control that. All I could think about was the actual poem. So I had two or three hours this morning of just writing in this hermetically sealed capsule where all I’m thinking about is the poem.
And it’s the same with writing a book like the Motivation one. Yeah, I took a business decision to say “I’m going to write this kind of book because it helps my business in various ways,” but each morning when I sat down or stood up to write, I had to just be thinking of my ideal reader. Has she really understood what I’m saying yet? Have I got this across? Is it lively enough, entertaining enough, meaningful enough? But then at the end of each day, I would look at what I’ve got see how that fits in the big picture. That ability to zoom in and to zoom out, I look at different aspects at different times, I think, it’s really critical if you’re going to be a successful professional. If you want just do it for fun, then do I for fun and don’t think about anything else.
Joanna: I generally think that the people listening to this show go a bit further.
Mark: They do because you push them Jo.
Joanna: I do, and I want to come back to core values in a minute in the personal side. I think the intrinsic/extrinsic is more obvious. I think we understand that dichotomy, the love of it versus the love of money for example, rewards, fame. But the social I was thinking about because you and I are both fans of Seth Godin, and I went to see him this week, and he talked about this phrase “people like us do things like this.” And that phrase just got me and I was like, “Oh my goodness, it’s so true.” That’s like a social thing, I guess.
People who are creative create stuff for example. Or writers, people like us writers write things. So how does that idea fit into the social? I guess it’s the social side, isn’t it really?
Mark: Yes and Steve Pressfield talks about this in terms of creative cultures. He said if you are in a culture it’s like joining the marines or Manchester United or something like that, and there’s certain standards of behavior that are expected. So for instance, the workshop I’m going tomorrow with Mimi Khalvati is a very unique workshop. I’ve been to a lot of writing classes before I meet Mimi about 10, 12 years ago and, generally, I would’ve been at the top of the class and fit in quite nice and the pupils “Oh yeah, that’s good, good lines there.”
And then I went to Mimi’s class and I realized I was way in the bottom half, and she would say things like “Yeah that line is good, but why don’t you make the rest of the poem as good that?” And I be like “What?” I got the sense that people like the people in this group wouldn’t try to make the rest of that poem that good. I worked with Mimi a long time and that’s becoming ingrained that whatever level you’re writing at there’s always an opportunity for laziness. There will be somebody who can set you an example and show you actually there’s a higher standard that you can meet. So yes, I completely agree with what Seth is saying on that.
Joanna: It’s funny you saying there about excuse for laziness because that’s one of the my other questions because I think a lot of people feel that they want to write and actually they do feel like they want to write, and they are motivated and yet it’s still hard to sit down and actually write words.
How does that motivation fit with actual practice of doing the work?
Mark: Well, I think we are talking about resistance, right? Again, actually I invited Steve to have his say in the book because I thought I could write about resistance, but what would I say that Steve wouldn’t say? Very kindly, he contributed a short interview to the book, Steven Pressfield, because I have been writing about intrinsic motivation. I call it the joy of work and how great it is to be creating and have your freedom, and challenge, and inspiration and all of that.
I thought well okay but at a certain point somebody is going to ask, “That’s all very well so why is it so hard for me to sit down and do it?” Steve’s answer is resistance which he defines as this invisible force that rises up inside us as soon as we commit to a big challenge whether those are artistic or entrepreneurial, or fitness, or career wise, it’s trying to persuade us that anything else is more urgent, more important, more worth doing at this moment.
And I think just the fact of recognizing that’s what it is.I had it this morning with the poem. That’s why I went down to get some coffee and my wife said “So how is it going?” And I said “It’s really hard,” and she laughed at me and she said, “Isn’t that why you always tell me that’s what makes it fun because it’s hard?” I said, “Yes, from a distance.” But it just kind of reminded me…I had to go up there and one of my rules is if I’ve decided I’m going commit to writing time, I’m allowed to write and I’m allowed to sit there and stare into space, but I’m not allowed to do anything else. Drinking coffee is allowed.
Joanna: No Internet, no social media.
Mark: So at a certain point you think “Okay I’m here for another hour and a half I might as well do a bit.” It’s a bit like meditation; if you stay with the difficult feeling whether it’s depression, or anxiety, or anger, or fear, or whatever and you don’t try and change it, you’re just patiently holding it in your awareness, it will change. I got to lunch time and I looked and I thought “Actually I do have a draft there.” It’s not perfect but it is a draft, and it certainly wasn’t one. In that regard, I was in danger of doing the walk of shame to the class tomorrow. So just staying with it and just acknowledging “Okay, I’m experiencing resistance.”
Joanna: It’s interesting you said the walk of shame to the class there, which is a social motivation but also a personal motivation because, in a way, there’s competition there, right? You want to be seen as a good poet.
Mark: Of course, and I know I’ve got that much ego invested in it so what I’m trying to do is use my ego in a positive way to put my way into doing it. The example I gave you in the book is the story of Anthony Trollope, the Victorian novelist, who would get up at half past five every morning to write his novels. And he wrote like 27 of these things while he was working full time for the post office, and he didn’t have KDP. He scaled royalties so he probably had to sell a lot more books than we do to quit our jobs, but he did it eventually.
And what I’m thinking about is, did he love writing? Of course, he loved writing. Otherwise, you can’t write 27 novels unless you really like writing novels. Did he want the money? Yes, and we know that from his autobiography because he’d worked out his financial goal for the year, and then how many novels he’d have to write and sell and then how many words per hour he had to write in order to hit his target. So he was really fixated on both of those.
Now, looking at the personal and the social axis, you could say well getting up at 5:30 in the morning, there’s a lot of personal discipline in there, and ambition, and drive for achievement which indeed there was, but the thing that clinched it, which I thought was really nice, is he paid his old manservant an extra five pounds a year, which is quite a lot in those days, to wake him with the coffee at half past five. And he said, “The old man never showed himself any mercy,” he said, “and, therefore, neither did I.”
And he said something like, “I owe that guy more than anyone else for the literary success that I’ve had.” Do you imagine if you are the master of the house in Victorian England and your servant, your old servant who’s older than you, has got up earlier than you to make the coffee and you’re lying there in bed you’re going to go, “Can I have another five minutes?” Or “It’s a bit cold.” He’s going to lose so much face, so I think he deliberately baited the trap with his vanity, but he would lose a lot of face. He would do the walk of shame. Imagine if he woke up, and he’d fought and drifted off and the old guy just left the coffee by the bed. That would’ve just been unspeakable.
Joanna: I think that ego thing is really interesting, and I think many of us struggle with this. And I’m a very positive person, but we all still get, we can call it professional jealousy or we can call it comparisonitis and yet, what I often try and do is email people and say “Well done. You’ve done amazing things,” or get them on the podcast and go “You’ve done amazing things” and try and make their success more…what’s the word?
Something that I can aspire to as opposed to feel negative about. How does that fit into motivation?
Mark: That’s a really good question because, on the one hand, I think it’s really important to compare yourself to the best in your field and to aim as high as you can. Because if you’re aiming here, you’re going to get higher than if you’re aiming here. Considering we always fall short of where we aim.
At the minute I’m doing a translation project translating Geoffrey Chaucer’s masterpiece which is, of course, Troilus and Criseyde. He actually finished it for starters and it is one of my favorite poems, so I’m translating it into contemporary verse, but keeping with the original meter and rhyme scheme and whatever, which is quite hard. Obviously, if I’m trying to be Chaucer, then I’m going to fail. I ain’t gonna be as good as him, but it really stretches me to aim that high. And I know even if this translation is a failure, then it will have a positive effect on everything else I do.
I’ve got to aspire but be okay with falling short and not get too judgmental about it. Because the other way round I could do it is hiding from measuring myself against the best, combined with getting really agitated and jealous about such and such of my contemporaries who’s been published or been given this award or that thing that I feel I deserve, and that doesn’t do anybody any good.
Self-awareness comes into this a lot and if you’re in any doubt, your body will tell you because if you’re…say you’re…I don’t know who the top person in your field who be who would be.
Joanna: Stephen King.
Mark: Stephen King, right. Fine so if you were to say, “Okay I’m going to really take Stephen King as an exemplar and learn what I can, and aim that high.” And if you’re doing that in an aspirational way, chances are you checking to your body, you feel fired up, you feel excited.
If you’re beating yourself up for not being as good as Stephen King, then the shoulders are gonna go down. You’re going to get that tight constricted feeling or whatever. I always say to clients, your body is your best coach because it’s giving you feedback in the moment about what you’re doing. And I think a lot of these motivational things you can say yes, on the one hand, it’s good but, on the other hand, this is the pitfall. And it’s how we handle that and use that, that really makes the difference. Self-awareness has to come into it somewhere.
Joanna: And now I hear people going, “That’s all well, Mark, but when I try and do my writing and I feel great but when I have to do all the marketing that you have to do as an author these days, my body feels really down and I don’t enjoy that part.” That’s the most common thing people say. If we only had to do the joy of creation, things would be great, although probably that’s not true as well. But how do we balance? You’re a creative entrepreneur. You don’t just sit around all day translating Chaucer or writing poems. You’re a business man.
How do we create these positive motivations around the entrepreneurial side, the marketing side as well as the creation?
Mark: I got a nice piece of wisdom from another couple of coaches I know, Steve Chandler and Rich Litvin, and they have decided that whatever you do there is the work…there are two boxes. One box is the work so, in this case, is writing and the other box is the business of the work. And nearly all of us, whatever creative field we’re in, we love doing the work and we hate doing the business. And Rich and Steve point out if you make the same box or as close to being the same box as you can, that reduces a lot in the resistance.
As long as I see marketing as completely different and antithetical to creativity, I’m not going to do it. So this is one of the wonderful things about content marketing because it all depends on creating media content, whether that’s blog post, or a newsletter, or a podcast, or a video, or whatever.
And as I like to point out to creative professionals, well, who’s the expert of creating creative content? That would be us, right? I only really got interested in marketing when I discovered I could do it by blogging. I thought, “Great so instead of picking up the phone or going out to these networking events or whatever, I can just be writing stuff and putting it out there and leaving a trail of bread crumbs back to what I do? Yeah, let me at it.” And it’s the same with you and the podcast. Listening to you week after week, it sounds as though you’re having a good time.
Joanna: I am.
Mark: And your listeners are having a good time and your interviewees are having a good time, and we are aware that this is your business. You tell us when you have a new book out or whatever, but you’re not running it down our throats. We’re grownups. So what’s not to like?
Joanna: I think that’s right. It’s interesting, just coming back to Trollope, you’re saying that people think it’s a modern thing that we would divide the numbers of dollars you want to make by the number of books, by the number of hours. Dean Wesley Smith is the big proponent of doing the math and working it out, and it’s so interesting you said that about Trollope that that was still happening then.
Actually the rules haven’t changed have they in terms of you still need a certain number of books to make a living or a certain number of let’s not say poems. How many poems do you need to make a living Mark?
Mark: You need a really good business model around it. That’s me, Jo, doesn’t necessarily rely on selling poems.
Joanna: You mentioned that, but I wanted to come back to the personal side and the core values because that’s a really interesting part of the book, quite a substantial part of the book where you’re looking at what are your core values and how does that affect things.
Can you talk a bit about what are core values and how can people use those to make decisions about motivation?
Mark: Values have been an interest of mine for a long time since when I was doing psychotherapy because they are really good shorthand for what is most important to you. A value is really an abstract statement or the kind of thing that you value. So freedom is, I know, one that’s close to your heart. For me, empowerment is another one that I use a lot in my work. In the book, I talk about seven….they’re are not the most important, but they cover quite a lot of the bases. So I think I’ve got adventure, I’ve got beauty, I’ve got compassion, justice, power, pleasure and there’s another one…
And really it helps to think of them relatively because I think everybody listening to this will go, “Well those things are all important.” We all need compassion and, justice, and pleasure, and freedom, and empowerment, but what’s interesting is what is the relative importance?
If you’re listening to this and I were to say to you, “What’s more important adventure or compassion? Or what’s more important beauty or pleasure or power?” Now depending which one you pick relative to the others, that gives an indication of your values hierarchy, and what that translates into is what we know as the personality. Personality is the side effect of your values and the way you express them. So if you value power, you’re going to come across as a powerful person, and you are going to gravitate towards positions of power, and you’re going to challenge people who occupy those.
If you value knowledge, then you’re going to be spending a lot more time on the Internet or in the library, be out there in the world seeking it. So one exercise that I’d invite you to do is get a list of values and maybe we could link in the show notes to Steve Pavlina’s on his blogs he’s got this massive long list of values. I’ve got seven in the book which I say to people start as a starting point. And then just asking yourself which is the most important and which is the least important? And then try and work them out between that. And then if you’re really struggling like say pleasure versus security, you would say well you’ve got a windfall. You’ve got an extra £3000 pounds. Are you going to save it or are you going to smash it on a holiday?
Why would you do this? Well, firstly, because when you go through this process, generally by itself it produces a lot of insight. People go, “All right, okay, so not everyone prioritizes this over that,” particularly if you do it in a group.
Sometimes I’ll do it with a group and I’ll list 9 or 10 values and we’ll have an argument about which is the most important. And that’s very revealing because very often when we make decisions that aren’t good for us is because we’ve lost sight of our values because we’re spending too much time listening to other people’s ideas or trying to do the sensible thing, or being influenced by people around us who may have the best of intentions, but they don’t know us as well as we know ourselves.
So for me, empowerment; if a new opportunity comes along or a new idea for a project or the topic of an article to write, one of the questions I’ll ask is well, do I feel empowered when I think about doing this? And will it be empowering for the clients, for the readers that I’m going to share it with? And if the answer is no then I’m not doing it. Even though, logically, I can persuade myself that would be a good idea because I know from experience that’s when I screw things up when I listen to the logic rather than the value.
Joanna: What was so interesting as well with that value chapter is really it struck me as well with people writing fiction that’s one of the really good ways to write a character that’s quite different is actually by taking a value and making that the core value instead of the one that you have. I know that my main protagonist strong female characters have the same freedom value as I do.
And when I was reading, I thought, “It would be really interesting to take something that’s not completely opposite, because opposite seems easy, whereas it’s something that’s almost tangential that might be more difficult.” Would that be right?
Mark: That’s a really fun way to do it. I’ve sometimes done this with novelist. The analogy I sometimes use is like a mixing desk. If you’re in a recording studio and you got the base, and you got the drums, and you got the guitar or whatever, and you can slide this and make one more prominent and the other one less prominent.
You might take two of them in your hierarchy and just swap them around, then immediately you would have to come up with a decision that the character has to make where they take one choice that you wouldn’t take, and that starts to lead you in a slightly different direction. Or there might well be a dilemma that is set-up or a character who challenges that value.
Joanna: Yeah and it explains a lot about that the self-publishing movement, I guess, and people who really, really do not want it at all. Is that stability versus freedom, for example?
Mark: I think so. And there’s also something about creative control versus the willingness to do it yourself. I don’t know if you get this, but halfway through the production of the book – it took me 18 months. Halfway through the production, this was the first time I’ve done the paperback and the eBook together, and I was going “Okay now I see why people have publishers. This is quite hard work isn’t it?” And I’m really tired because I finished writing the book and I could do with a break so it would be lovely to have someone to hand it over to them, but then I think about all the, set aside the money, just think about all the control I would have to give up. If it’s my book and I’m publishing, it I have the last word on everything from editorial decisions, to what goes on the cover, to the title, to the price, whatever. And, to me, that control is really important, which I guess the slightly more attractive word is freedom.
Joanna: And empowerment as well…
Mark: Right. Yeah, it would really conflict with my value of empowerment if I had a publisher telling me, say they said, “You got to cut this whole section on values out,” and I be like “But I need that.” But depending on the relationship, you don’t necessarily have that choice if you’ve got a publisher. But having said all of that, someone with a different hierarchy of values is going to be much more comfortable working with a traditional publisher.
Joanna: Agreed. And here’s an interesting random question for you. You’ve been a coach for years. You’ve been a psychotherapist. You’re a poet. And you’ve worked as a creative coach for years and years. There’s a lot that you could write about. Why choose the order of the books that you are writing as a non-fiction author?
You started with Resilience and then you’ve done Motivation. Why are those the things that you are writing about, and how are you choosing which books to write next out of your vast experience?
Mark: I wish I could say there’s a grand strategic plan. Resilience really came…because I did that three years ago and that came out of talking to you and also to CJ Lyons and seeing the amazing things you were doing with books because, up to that point, I’d spoken to a few publishers and had offers but didn’t want to give up the control, so I thought “I’ll just keep blogging and doing my other things.” But then when I saw what you were doing with the self-publishing space, I thought, “Okay, maybe I can do that.”
But I just thought I would try it as an experiment and the thing that I noticed with Resilience was I’ve got this free 26 week course that people sign up for in my mailing list. It’s a career guide for creative professionals, and we start off with goal setting and your vision. We look at productivity. We look at resistance, all the basic skills you need for a career, and there was a question I put at the end of the course I said, “Which has been the most valuable lesson and why?” And of course, the one that stood out was the one that I just put in as an afterthought. I thought “I better say something about rejection and criticism.” And I was getting emails from people saying, “I need more about this. This is a big issue for me.” And I thought “Well, okay let’s try that.” That came from my audience. I can help people with this.
And I discovered that having coached and done therapy with people for about 15, 16 years at that time, I had quite a lot to say about it. So I wrote that up and it went down well. People liked it. They said was helpful. And then when it came to motivation, actually I talked to you about this last year, didn’t I? Because I never intended this to be a full-length book.
It had been an eBook I’d written years ago for managers about how to motivate creative people, and discovered that actually the creative people were more interested in learning that than the managers were, just kind of obvious in retrospect. And I thought, “Well, I’ll turn that 15,000 word eBook into a free or a low priced book on Amazon called Motivation for Creative People.” Twelve months later, I was still writing it and it just kept getting longer and longer and longer. I talked to you and it was about 45, 50,000 words and you said, “You’re not going to give this away are you?” And I was like, “I guess I’m not.”
I realized I’d written a full-length book almost by accident. And then I really sat down I thought “Okay this is a bigger more ambitious book,” so I went back and I rewrote about half of it based on that realization the scope of what doing and the intrinsic motivation took over. I just kept finding I had more and more to say about it and it got more and more interesting, and it was more and more I thought I needed to cover that too. So maybe the next book I will be a bit more strategically considered. I’ve got a few options that I’m thinking about at the moment and, I guess, maybe I’ll use the pinwheel to help me work it out.
Joanna: Asking your audience, which you did with that first one, you basically almost did a survey and you had a question that people could respond to. So that’s what that was.
The other thing I just want to come back to is in the book you use Shakespeare as another example. Obviously, you are a very literary man and the book is full of really interesting little nuggets, and I love that you use Shakespeare. He was lauded as the height of literature as somebody who wrote for money churned…you used the phrase churned out which I loved because that was…
Mark: He did. It was exactly what he did.
Joanna: That’s what people say about romance writers. “Oh, they just churn it out”. Shakespeare reused things. He copied things. And he was an entrepreneur.
Talk a bit more about what you think about Shakespeare and how people can use his example to help them.
Mark: I just find this endlessly fascinating because these days we think of poetry as being the most airy-fairy, uncommercial, head in the clouds type of activity. That is such a polar opposite to anything resembling business or even commercial creativity. And yet, the guy who wrote what’s generally considered to be the greatest poetry in English who’s doing it to get bums on seats and to fill the courtyard of the Globe Theater. And it was his business and he made a lot of money from it.
So there must be a way to kind of squaring the circle. He managed to do it. And interestingly, when he was using a different business model, which was patronage, he was writing these long things like Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece that nobody ever reads, not to mention the sonnets and all these are…well, some of them are explicitly dedicated to the Earl of South Hampton, and we don’t quite know who Mr. WH in the sonnets is, so let’s set that one aside. But really it’s not his best work the stuff when he was being paid to do literary stuff for the high-minded people.
But when he went into the theaters, popular entertainment, there was something about that that sparked the poetry which is the heart of the plays. And I find, again, we don’t know that much about his life, but we do know that he was part of a very innovative business structure that he and the other King’s Men paid about £1000 each to be part sharers in this.
So he went from being a hack who was being paid by companies to churn out or more likely rewrite and rehash old plays, and we know from the surviving records that playwrights didn’t get a lot for that, so they had to write them fast and quick.
Well, then suddenly he’s gone from that to being part of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men and later the King’s Men, and he gets a share of the gate at every performance. And he writes exclusively for his own companies. What he’s doing is building intellectual property assets for himself and his business partners, and they are exploiting that.
Now there is a recent theory that he was doing some wool trading on behalf of the family. This just literally the last couple of months has come out. So he may have been more of a wheeler-dealer than we are aware of and also he may have gotten more of his money from wool versus playwriting, but certainly he was doing commercial entertainment. And so, for me, that is really inspiring that you can be a poet and you can be an entrepreneur. And he managed to stay creative while gaining money, fame, and reputation.
Joanna: Yes and now maybe that’s what writing for TV is right now. That would probably be the equivalent wouldn’t it of bums on seats?
Mark: I think he would have got into self-publishing, too. I think he would have seen an opportunity there and thought…he would have finagled his way into it. There’s a load of stuff going on for writers now, and I think he would have been at the forefront of that in some way.
Joanna: And, of course, there were fewer rules as well, I suppose.
I think what people get trapped by so much is by the rules of what they’ve been told they have to do, but realistically what you’re saying and I believe the only “rule,” in inverted commas, now is that you have to write if you want to be a writer, and you have to put publish really.
Mark: I don’t think it’s helpful to think about rules because that suggests it’s imposed from somebody else, but I think there are principals. And I know you’ve studied say the principles of storytelling in a lot of depth, far more than I have, but even you can take something like a sonnet and say, “There’s no rule that it needs to be 14 lines long and rhyme in this particular combination,” but there’s principle that actually a poem about length allows that certain amount of form.
And as Don Paterson said, “If all the sonnets that ever existed in the world disappeared over night, then the sonnet form would probably reappear by tomorrow at tea time.” Because it’s just the right kind of size and shape for a certain kind of thing just the way the, I don’t know, a 70,000-word novel gives you enough space to explore an idea or a character or a situation in a certain way. And as people like Shawn Coyne will show us, there are certain recurrent patterns that have been shown to be effective. So I like playing with the patterns. I don’t think about rules so much.
Joanna: I agree there are patterns and constructs. I’m just about to write a short story for by a competition that’s being judged by Stephen King. I’m just super excited. And there were specific rules about it. He’s given a prompt and it’s max 4000 words and so I’ve just been mainlining short stories by Stephen King and other writers, and you can see that there were books on the form, but I’m preferring to read them over and over again to embed the form without copying really. And that’s what you are saying.
There is a form, and there’s a form to motivation, too. Like you said, you have to have these structures that help you, otherwise you can do anything. And doing anything is not enough to help you be motivated really is it?
Mark: I think it’s interesting you’re saying there’s a prompt. And Stephen King is giving you the prompt so immediately that makes the box smaller than it would be if it just said write whatever you want. Actually, it makes it more fun. It’s just like “Okay so, within this space, what can I do?” Maybe it helps to concentrate the creative energy.
Joanna: And I’m excited about that. Of course, I won’t win but…
Mark: But just the thought that he’s gonna read what you write. Again, that’s a nice social motivation.
Joanna: Exactly, so just one more question before we finish. As I said, you’ve been a coach for creatives for ages, years and years, and you talk to a lot of people and help them get to a new level with their creativity. And you’ve certainly helped me over the years.
What is the most common issue that you see with creative’s and the listeners might also be feeling and how can they get over that, apart from motivation, obviously?
Mark: I would say it’s ourselves. This is the biggest thing I work on with clients. Because it’s not about how-to. They’ll go to other people for how-to advice or they’ll Google it. You can Google how to write a novel or become a millionaire or whatever it is, but the thing that’s going to make the biggest difference about whether you actually do finish the novel or become a millionaire or whatever it may be, is you.
What I work on is people’s self-awareness helping them to realize that reality that they are creating inside here doesn’t necessarily match up with the one out there, and if we can widen this and open this up, that makes it so much easier. And this translates into creative goals, into professional goals, sometimes commercial goals as well. We address all that, but it’s got come from the inside out. So I would say if you’re looking for one thing that’s going to make the biggest difference in your career, a bit of self-knowledge.
Joanna: Know thyself.
Mark: Know thyself indeed.
Joanna: There we go. So where can people find you and your books and everything you do online?
mark: Okay so lateralaction.com is my main website and if you go to the /books, you’ll find my books. And that’s where I have a blog about creativity and matters pertaining to that for creative professionals of all kinds. I’ve also got my free 26-week creative career course, The Creative Pathfinder so you can go and sign up for that. That’s the site where I talk about my coaching service. My poetry site is markmcguinness.com, and I’ve got few poems on there and I also blog about poetry. And I don’t really make any concessions there. It’s like that’s what I enthuse about the kind of poetry I like and the kind of ideas I have. So it’s more of a practitioner site but even non-poets tell me they get quite a lot out of reading it. They say it’s quite interesting perspective on things.
Joanna: Fantastic. And as ever, you’re a great example of someone who combines creative and entrepreneurship and always love talking to you, Mark. So thanks so much for coming on the show.
Mark: Thank you, Jo. It’s lovely to be back because it’s a great thing you’re doing for writers here, and I tune in every week so I feel like I’m inside the radio this week.
Joanna: Okay. Thanks, Mark.