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How do you deal with fear and uncertainty during these difficult times? How can you craft a new creative routine when life is so disrupted? How can you make the most of an online business now and build for the future? I discuss all this and more with Mark McGuinness on today's show.
In the introduction, I talk about how my writing is going after Mark helped me with a breakthrough — it's time to create a new routine now this lockdown life is the new normal. Plus, the growing adoption of ebooks and digital audio in Europe and what that might mean for the future of publishing [The New Publishing Standard].
Today's podcast sponsor is Findaway Voices, which gives you access to the world's largest network of audiobook sellers and everything you need to create and sell professional audiobooks. Take back your freedom. Choose your price, choose how you sell, choose how you distribute audio. Check it out at FindawayVoices.com.
Mark McGuinness is an award-winning poet, a nonfiction author, a creative coach, podcaster, and international professional speaker. His books for authors include Resilience, Motivation for Creative People, and 21 Insights for the 21st-Century Creative. Mark spent many years as a practicing psychotherapist and now coaches creative professionals.
You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.
- How to acknowledge our fears and also deal with them in a healthy way
- The importance of spending time in practices that are restorative
- Dealing with uncertainty
- What to do if you’re struggling to be creative
- Making new creativity rituals to replace those that have been broken
- Thinking about what assets you have in place and what ones you can create
- What the future might look like for creatives
- How this current crisis might actually work to empower authors and other creatives
You can find Mark McGuinness at LateralAction.com and on Twitter @markmcguinness
Transcript of Interview with Mark McGuinness
Joanna Penn: Mark McGuinness is an award-winning poet, a nonfiction author, a creative coach, podcaster, and international professional speaker. His books for authors include Resilience, Motivation for Creative People, and 21 Insights for the 21st-Century Creative. Mark spent many years as a practicing psychotherapist and now coaches creative professionals.
Today, we're talking about how we can deal with the coronavirus pandemic. Welcome back to the show, Mark.
Mark McGuinness: Thank you for inviting me back, Jo. It's always nice to be here.
Joanna Penn: Oh, indeed. And when I was thinking, who can I talk to about this, I thought, ‘I know, I'm going to ask Mark.' So I'm really grateful that you're here.
Just to set the scene, we're recording this on Friday, the 3rd of April, 2020 and we're both in lockdown in the Southwest of England. So I wonder, what does your household look like right now? Because you've got kids and, you know, family?
What does it look like?
Mark McGuinness: Do you know, in a funny way, it's not all that different to usual. It's a bit like the Easter holidays have arrived earlier because my wife and I, we always nearly always work from home. So we're kind of used to doing this and juggling having the children, and somebody's on duty and somebody's off duty with the children when the other one's got a meeting or a deadline.
So I think we're quite lucky in that we're used to working this way. It's kind of weird when I look out the window, normally my car is the only one in the driveway in our little square. But now I look out the window and all my neighbors have had to adopt my lifestyle and they're not happy about it, I think.
But so, in one sense, nothing weirdly has changed for us, but in another sense, of course, the whole context has changed. And I've been spending a lot of time on calls, sessions, and extra calls with clients helping them come to terms with this weird new world that we've got and, of course, trying to get my own head around it.
It's a very strange mixture for me. Externally, I haven't been disrupted all that much but in another way, it's been a really profound sense of disorientation.
Joanna Penn: I know what you mean. When you say the context has changed, you're exactly right and me and Jonathan home as well like we would normally be, but I can't go to the writing cafe and you go outside and there's people wearing face masks and it's separation by 2 meters in the supermarket and you can't go see your friends.
You and I meet in person for coffee and we don't know when we'll be doing that again. So it is a kind of strange situation and that's why I wanted to come to you first because as you said, we're very lucky, but I'm definitely feeling anxiety. My sleep is disrupted.
I know many people are having much more anxiety than me and also there is a rise in depression because a lot of people are not introverts like us. They want to meet people and cuddle people. And there is this fear about our own safety and those we love.
And also this existential fear about the state of the world, which has just taken over the news cycle.
I wondered if you could maybe talk about acknowledging those fears, but also how to deal with them in a healthy way.
Mark McGuinness: I think, first of all, the acknowledging is really important. That it's okay to be afraid, it's okay to be anxious or to be awake at 3:00 in the morning thinking, ‘How's this all going to be playing out?' Let alone being concerned about relatives and loved ones.
I think part of when you acknowledge it, then you start to take back a bit of control from it. And there's different ways of doing this.
One is just simply being present and noticing, ‘This is how I'm feeling right now.' This is why it's really hard for me to get into my writing because I'm feeling X or Y. Sometimes writing about it can help or talking about it or if you have a meditation practice or some kind of focusing practice, that's a really good way of getting connected to your body, which is also connecting up to your emotions.
So I think that's that first step and acknowledging that we're all feeling this way. If you're not feeling a bit anxious or a bit sad or depressed or lonely or whatever, then I would say that would be a problem at this point. It depersonalizes it when you realize that.
That's the first thing, you acknowledge it and really get in touch, ‘What am I feeling right now?' And give yourself permission to feel that. And maybe that means that you're not going to be insanely productive today, or this morning, or whenever it is.
The other thing that I think is really important for all of us to have is some kind of restorative practice every day or practices, maybe more than one. So obvious things are stuff like meditation, or exercise, or prayer, or practicing a musical instrument or doing something creative as long as that feels like what you want to be doing. It could be connecting with a friend.
I know quite a few people who are having a daily Skype chat with a friend in the evening as a way to finish the day. And it could be doing something like studying or practicing a musical instrument, but something that centers you and gives you energy and gives you a bit of calm and perspective in the middle of everything.
And this applies, I was going to say even, I would say applies especially if you have responsibilities and things that you need to get done for work or for other people because it's the oxygen mask thing on. Right now we all need to show up big time in our work and in our personal lives to be the best version of ourselves we can be for our work and for the people who matter to us.
And it's the thing about you need to put your own oxygen mask on first. So if you do something for yourself each day that helps you maintain that, then absolutely make that the bedrock of your day.
Joanna Penn: I think we're very lucky here in the U.K. because we have been told at this point that we can go for one walk a day to do exercise and we walk by the canal and there's lot of birdsong and happy creatures at the moment because it's sunny and it's spring.
There are moments we're walking along and it doesn't feel like anything's changed except that everyone's weaving around each other on the towpath so that we're 2 meters apart. But that birdsong I think, for me, is what makes me happy, like can immediately make me smile. I haven't actually tried it just out on an app, but I think going outside in nature.
Mark McGuinness: No. I definitely do go for the real thing in this case.
Joanna Penn: Go for the real thing, although I realize some people listening might be in countries where you're not allowed to go for a walk and I think that's the other thing, it's different everywhere at the moment. There are even some countries that aren't on lockdown or some states in the U.S. that aren't on lockdown.
And I think that's the other thing, maybe you could address this, I feel like everyone's on a different level of understanding, both scientifically…like my husband did biochemistry, so on a scientific thing, he understands all the stuff that I don't understand as an art student, which makes me feel ignorant. Not stupid, just ignorant about things that are beyond my understanding.
That's one level that we're all different on. And then also just being in different places in a sort of grief cycle, I guess, that anger, and acceptance, denial.
I think everyone's in a different place. Do you feel that?
Mark McGuinness: Yeah. I have a lot of international clients, so it's very interesting to compare the view from the U.S. or South America, or Australia, or different parts of Europe. I'm really getting the barometer of, ‘So are you allowed out of that room?' It's one of the first questions we ask each other.
And also, my wife's family are in Japan and apparently, right now, they've been quite laissez-faire about it, the government, and we're saying to them, ‘Are you still going out and doing stuff? Because I think really…' Saying to family and friends over there, ‘Well, you know, you might want to be a little more cautious about that.'
Definitely, I'm seeing a wide spectrum of experience around this.
Joanna Penn: I think the other thing that I'm struggling with is uncertainty. I'm definitely a type-A personality. I like to have my goals. I have the dates by which I'm doing things. And I was fine with canceling travel plans for April, May, kind of knew that that was happening over six weeks ago.
But I feel now there's uncertainty of, well, we don't know when we're going to be out of this lockdown, we don't know when businesses will start coming back, we don't know whether the cafe that we meet in will ever open again.
This uncertainty, I'm finding really hard because I just feel I'm ruminating on one potential scenario and then I'm ruminating on a different scenario and sometimes it's catastrophic and sometimes it's hopelessly positive.
What can we do about this uncertainty?
Mark McGuinness: Well, first thing to say there is me too. I'm the type-A. I've always got a plan and a project and the stuff that I want to get on with. And one of the disorienting things for me is realizing that when you're mentally making plans in your mind's eye, you picture it.
It's almost like you put it on your mental whiteboard. Well, it's as though the whiteboard isn't there anymore. It's really hard to write on the air because we don't know what things are going to be like even in a couple of months' time. So I certainly feel the pain of that.
The other thing that I've been thinking about specifically in relation to uncertainty is, as writers, as creatives, this is actually something we're really good at because we live with it. Every time we sit down and we look at the blank screen, it's more likely to be a screen than a page these days, and it's our job to fill that with ideas, with stories, with something that, you know, if we knew…and this is the weird thing because if we knew what it was going to be in advance, we wouldn't want to write it because it would be boring.
Joanna Penn: Not for people who are plotters, Mark.
Mark McGuinness. Apart from plot. But even then if you plot, there's still the fun of coloring it in and there's unexpected stuff must happen along the way, right? You're grudgingly giving me that.
Joanna Penn: It's true. When you're plotting, you have to make it up. So fair enough.
Mark McGuinness: Right. What I want to say, this is a skill that we have as creatives, as writers, and normally it's something we are going to towards because we want to write that story, make that book. Now we're having a lot more uncertainty thrust upon us.
I would say if you're listening to this and you're feeling scared and overwhelmed by that, then go to this kind of Ninja-ability that you already have and see how much of it you can apply to the current situation, which things like, ‘Okay, I don't know what it will be right now, but I know I will discover it. I know I can improvise. I know I can figure it out as I go along.'
Do you remember that book Jonathan Fields wrote a few years ago called Uncertainty?
Joanna Penn: Yes. He's been on the podcast, actually. I was thinking about it the other day. I can't seem to find it on my bookshelf, but I have to get it on Kindle again.
Mark McGuinness: He went round and he interviewed a load of artists, creatives, entrepreneurs about what was the common thread that they all had in common and he said instead of some amazing creative thinking ability or productivity habit or whatever, the thing that he honed in on was that they were all really good at tolerating uncertainty.
Because if you're painting a picture, or writing a book, or starting a company, there's going to be a lot of time when you don't know if it's going to turn out, you don't know if it's going to satisfy you, let alone anyone else. You don't know if it's going to be a success.
Most people run from that experience, it's why most people are not entrepreneurs, or creatives, or writers because they want that certainty and security that comes from that.
But he said, ‘The more you can stay in that space of not knowing…' And this is where he's on the same page as John Keats who says, you know, ‘Negative capability is the key to creativity.' When you don't know, you don't come to conclusions.
The more chance you have of creating something amazing because the longer you're going to stay with the problem itself. So I would encourage you to just accept, ‘I don't know right now,' and stay in that space and draw on that Ninja power of, ‘Well, the longer I stay in, the more chance I have to stay awake and figure it out.'
Joanna Penn: Everybody listening, get your Ninja powers on. It's just great.
It's funny you say that because on my wall, I have all these sayings, but I have one that says, ‘Trust emergence.' And that's kind of what we have to do. We have to trust that something will emerge. Well, something will emerge from this and we'll come to the future in a minute, but trusting emergences also within ourselves that we will deal with whatever comes up.
I think almost what I'm struggling with is the slowing down of pace in a way because we're used to…well, the only thing that's not slowed down is the pace of the news, obviously, which is just crazy, but everything else, like it's so quiet on a weekday, traffic's slow, people walking more. And that's weird because it's adjusted the energy of what we can achieve.
You mentioned productivity habits, and you've been on the show, we've both got books on productivity and both of us recommend a physical place and a time where you can get into your creative flow if possible. And that's been my issue.
My creative place for fiction is this specific desk in a specific café and now I'm having problems because I don't have that space in that cafe and I can't seem to get down into the deeper part of my brain where I write fiction. So I am creating, I'm doing lots of nonfiction, but I'm in the middle of a novel and I just can't get back to it.
What are your tips for those people who are also struggling with creation at this point?
Mark McGuinness: I think maybe the first question is to ask, do you really need and/or want to create right now? Because, some days, it may be it feels too intense, too overwhelming that you say, ‘You know what? I'm going to give myself a break today. I'm going to read something instead of writing something.'
But if you're saying, ‘Yes, I absolutely do, and it would be good for me to get into the writing zone,' then I would say set aside some time, don't try and do this all day, particularly if you're struggling, and let people around you know what you're doing so you're not going to get interrupted.
And then the thing that can open the portal to creativity again is ritual. Because when you go through the same steps as you do with your creative ritual, like, for instance, going to the cafe, you walk to the cafe, probably you have the warm-up thoughts on the way there, you get there, you chat with the barista, you order your usual, you sit in your favorite seat, all of this is primed in your unconscious mind.
It's saying, ‘Okay, so we're going to be writing fiction in a minute.' Now, one thing you could do, Jo, is just sit there and visualize all of that and just take 5, 10 minutes to really think yourself through it. Brew yourself some coffee, anything that's going to have the same kind of scent or sounds. I don't know if maybe your app has cafe background music.
Joanna Penn: It does. There is a cafe app.
Mark McGuinness: It does? Okay.
Joanna Penn: Yeah.
Mark McGuinness: Well, of course it does. Maybe just take some time, and it might feel a bit weird but nobody's looking, and visualize all of that. And it can be surprising how powerful that can be.
The other way into it, of course, is to start making up a new ritual. Say, ‘Well, okay, so this part of the living room table, or my desk, or whatever, or this arrangement of stuff on the desk, this is going to be my new signal.'
Music, I find really good for this. Some kind of scent is good, whether it's coffee, or it's incense, or it's a candle so that what you're trying to do is give yourself…I used to be a hypnotherapist and one of the ways I was trained to create a trigger for an emotional state, which this is what it is, is it's got to be something unique that you associate with that state.
For instance, when I write in the mornings, I drink out of my special coffee cup, which is a Japanese teacup that has got all the little ‘Star Wars' characters on the side. It's a traditional cup and it's got all their names in Japanese characters, which is hilarious. I only ever drink coffee from that cup and I only ever drink it in the morning and 9 times out of 10, that means I'm writing.
So that is a part of my trigger for the writing state. So if you have a usual ritual, then keep using it. And if you're prevented from that, then come up with a new one or visualize the old one and just deliberately make it part of, ‘I'm going to journey to get into this state of mind.' And give yourself a bit of time to do that.
The other day I recorded a Thomas Hardy poem to send to my list with some thoughts about that and coronavirus. And I did my voice warm-up, which I got from my teacher, Kristin Linklater, and it's a recording and it's an hour-long recording of voice exercises. And by the time I've done that, I'm in a very different state before I started.
You don't necessarily have to take an hour, it can be as little as 5, 10 minutes, but doing something consciously and deliberately to alter your state beforehand gives you the best chance of getting into that zone.
Joanna Penn: I realized when you were talking what the problem is, which is why you're a psychotherapist and coach and everything. I've realized, you said make a new ritual, and I've written down, ‘I'm in denial.'
I'm in denial that I need a new ritual because I'm still hopeful that I'll be back at the cafe next week. I think that's what it is. As you and I speak, we're in week two of what we were told is a three-week lockdown. And I think my logical brain knows that this is going to go on much longer.
Joanna Penn: It's not going to be three weeks.
Joanna Penn: It's not going to be like, ‘Oh, in a week and two days' time, I'll be back at the cafe.' No. That's not happening.
But I think, as you were talking, I was like, ‘Why am I resisting?' Because I know this, I know you know I knew this, and yet I've been resisting making a new routine and a new ritual, and I think that's why, I think I'm just holding on to the hope that this will pass quickly and I'll be back into it.
So I guess the next question is, do I just have to get over that? Now I realize that, do I get over it or do I say, ‘Okay, well then, all right, creative child, Jo, you can have another week and then at three weeks, then you must start?'
Or do I create something like a deadline, or that's a type-A thing, isn't it?
Mark McGuinness: Maybe we could take some of the ‘must' out of it.
Joanna Penn: But I think I do okay with must. This is my therapy session now. Nobody's listening.
Mark McGuinness: No, that's fine. I'm glad there's no one else listening. Okay, I'm curious, does it have to mean that if you have a new ritual now, does it mean that the old one's never coming back? Could this not be your new portable one that you could take on holiday, for instance?
Joanna Penn. Yeah. I probably wouldn't take it on holiday, but I do need an in-the-house option. I think maybe even just realizing that this is the problem has probably helped.
And maybe people listening, maybe that is true for other people listening because if you're in denial that things have truly changed, then perhaps, that is true of a number of different things.
Another great example being how much junk food we're eating at the moment and quite a lot of my friends have said, ‘We're eating so much junk food and drinking wine every night.' And people doing things that they normally would do on weekends.
Mark McGuinness: All that stuff at the back of the cupboard that's left over from Christmas.
Joanna Penn: We definitely don't have any of that. But it's behavior that you allow yourself because you think, ‘Oh, it'll be over quite quickly.' And this is sort of comfort behavior because we'll be out of it soon but 10 kilos later. I think that's helped me.
People listening, make that new ritual and recognize a question whether or not you're in denial as I have definitely been.
Anything else on that emotional side before we get into the business stuff?
Mark McGuinness: Around writing specifically or…?
Joanna Penn: Anything. Anything else your clients are feeling.
Mark McGuinness: Here's another thing that I'm using a lot with clients and remembering to use myself is Stephen Covey's circles of influence and concern.
I'd like you, listener, to imagine a big circle. And in this circle is everything that affects you and the people that you care about in your life, includes the economy, includes the weather, the environment, it includes what other people are up to. It includes your sports team. And, of course, it includes coronavirus and all the stream of news and information that's coming at us about that.
Now, we need to be aware of this because, by definition, it's a circle of concern. It affects us. But now I want you to imagine inside of that there's a smaller circle, so it looks like a fried egg.
And Covey points out, this is in his book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he says, ‘The circle of influence will always be the smallest circle.' In other words, there's always more stuff happening in your life that affects you than vice versa.
But here's how we use it because the more time and attention you give to that big circle, the more anxious and disempowered and frustrated and overwhelmed you will feel. And also, the smaller the inner circle gets because you're not taking action on it.
Now, we need to be aware of it. For instance, if you're not looking at the news once a day, then you're probably not fulfilling your civic duty right now, let alone keeping yourself safe, working out, have the alien overlord's landed yet?
But I would say definitely ration that and ration social media because there's so much anxiety coming at you from that. And beyond a certain point, you've got the information and you're just mainlining anxiety.
Covey encourages us to focus on the small circle, the circle of influence, and ask, ‘Okay, what is in my small circle right now? What can I actually do that's going to make a positive difference?' So stuff to take care of yourself I talked about the restorative practice, stuff to take care of your family, people you care about, stuff that will take care of your work and your business.
The idea is that the more time you spend in this circle of influence, the more empowered you feel and, in fact, the more empowered you are because you're doing stuff that makes a difference. So that small circle can get quite a bit bigger. You can have a fried egg with a really big yolk in it relative to the other ones.
So I would say definitely keep that image in mind, sketch it on a Post-It and stick it up above your desk and keep asking yourself, particularly when you feel overwhelmed, say, ‘What is in my small circle here?' If there's nothing, it's just a news item you're worrying about, then distract yourself from it. Go and do something else.
But ideally, you want to find something, ‘Okay, I can go and do that right now. And then I will feel that I'm making the difference that I can.'
Joanna Penn: Yes. Controlling those small things. Cleaning helps.
Mark McGuinness: Cleaning is great. My lawn is absolutely looking terrific. The car is cleaner than it's ever been. And the other thing is the kids aren't getting in it and filling it with mud. So with pride, I can know that it will be like that for at least a few more days.
Joanna Penn: That's great. Okay, so let's talk about business because you and I meet up now and then and we talk about creative business and we both are very keen on the business side as well as the creative side and practicing our craft, but also, we like making money.
What's really interesting is that a lot of people right now are triaging their business and realizing that perhaps they didn't have everything in place for this fully online world. So with your perspective of your clients and what you have talked about on your podcast, '21st-Century Creative':
What are the most important business assets to have in place in this type of world and what are the most resilient creative businesses doing right now?
Mark McGuinness: Like you, I'm very much on board with the idea of creating assets. One of my mottos is forget the career ladder. There's no career ladder for people like us. Start creating assets and by assets, there's the whole category of financial assets, which we're familiar with and I'm not in a position to advise on.
But if you are creative, then your biggest asset is you. So right now, any work that you have done on personal development, on self-awareness, on motivation, resilience, creativity, anything that makes you more skilled, more experienced, this is payback time because the degree to which you can operate within that circle of influence and how big it can get really depends on how much you've invested in yourself emotionally and otherwise in order to be a resilient, independent, creative, which I know your listeners are.
Other categories of assets are things like your catalog of books and the intellectual property in those. And, again, I know, Jo, you're really hot on this, that you have one book, but it can be several products. It can be licensed and repurposed and available in different additions and different languages and so on.
You also have what I'd call social assets, so your network, your audience, your readership, the community that you're a part of, and then more kind of nuts and bolts, so you could classify as digital assets, things like your website, your mailing list, your social media.
Encompassing all of that really is your author brand, your reputation, the fact that if you've been working for X amount of time and you've got a certain number of books out of a certain standard, then people know your name and they know your work.
These are the creatives who are going to be the most resilient in a crisis because they've already got multiple streams of income, as you talk about, and they're attracting new readers, new opportunities, new sources of income to them.
So I would say maybe one of the first things to do right now is do an audit of the different types of asset you have. Start with yourself then think about the social assets, think about your work and the various products and intellectual property in that, and then look at say, digital presence beyond that.
Ask yourself, ‘Where is the value here that I could unlock right now? What are some things I could do that would bring me a bit more security and stability right as I am?'
Following on from that, ‘Where am I weak? Where could I have stronger assets or more assets? And what would it be really good for me to start prioritizing creating for the future?'
Joanna Penn: Obviously, I know how you see it and I think it's so valuable to think about assets in all these different ways and perhaps sometimes I'm too reductive on what I consider an asset. But when this happened, when this really hit me a couple of weeks ago, I did this audit on my business and I already have a pretty resilient business.
But the one thing I realized in that moment…it was so funny because I know this, we all know this. So we get paid 30 to 60 days after the sale, right, with the stores like Amazon and all of that. And many authors don't get paid for months or even years for their work through traditional publishing, but we as indies, we get paid 30 to 60 days after, and I suddenly realized that that cash flow is out of my control.
So even if I release a book today, if I write something really fast and release a book today, it's going to be a month or so before I get any money. And that moment made me double-down on direct sales. We've talked about this before, but what I did is I put out everything that I had not put up for direct sale on payhip.com. and then I sent an email out to my list and with a coupon and sold a really decent amount of books and that money went into my bank account that day.
That process was exactly what you're talking about. It was going, ‘What are my assets? I have these books, I have an email list, and I have some online tools. How can I make money right now?'
So it was so funny because I thought I could control everything, really, in my digital space. And then I realized this cashflow thing, but there was a fix.
We can all improve something, can't we?
Mark McGuinness: That's a great example. And I'm the world's worst at this by nature of just going, ‘Well, what would be really quick and easy way for me to create some money right now that doesn't have to be really hard work and take months or even years of effort before it bears fruit?'
Maybe that's a really good question to ask, ‘What would be an easy way or a quick way for me to generate some more money or opportunity this week?'
Joanna Penn: In fact, the service model; you're a creative coach and you've got a lot of established clients, but the service model is often a very good way to make money quickly. What can I offer and be paid by the hour to do?
I've even thought about doing consulting at this point or other things where I could offer my knowledge in exchange for an hourly rate. So for people listening that's one possibility, but then as you say, I realized I had all these assets and in terms of books that I could sell direct and what's so brilliant about selling direct is I get the money back in my pocket.
And then the second thing is what can we build for next time so that we don't have to scramble because we have a plan? And the decision I've now made out of that experience of getting money within minutes from book sales, which I'm just not used to doing is from now on, I'm going to launch with the direct sale first because I don't really care about hitting lists anymore.
I want people to be able to buy my books anywhere, but I also want that money in my pocket. So that's actually a business change I'm going to make based on this a new process.
I guess in saying that, people listening and all of us can be thinking, ‘What can we do?' Because you mentioned that you are the asset, you are the best asset. So even if you haven't got things in place right now, so for example, I also want to build up my email list more because the email list, to me, is one of the best assets you can have and then if you have products, whatever you have, you can sell them through your email list. So the email list is a big asset.
What can we build for next time? Because there will always be a next time. I started my business in the global financial crisis and I built it this way because I wanted it to be resilient in a financial crisis and things are okay financially, but what could I do even better? So I think that's the next question, isn't it?
If we haven't got those things in place, what can we do to build them?
Mark McGuinness: Maybe a good question to start here is, what do I really wish I had right now that I haven't? Or, what do I wish I'd started two years ago? When it's two years into the future, you'll be glad you started it now.
Joanna Penn: Yeah, indeed.
Have you thought about anything that you would like to have in place for next time?
Mark McGuinness: I know you keep telling me to record my books as audiobooks to get all the editions out. So I did. I've still got one book I haven't even done the print edition of yet, which is ridiculous. So yeah, there's stuff like that, that again, it falls into the category that feels a bit easy. That's not creating something new from scratch.
But actually, this is one thing, if I get the print edition done, I get the audiobooks done, just get all of that laid out in a row because then whatever promotion you do, you're promoting it all at once, so to speak. Each time you promote just one format of a book, you leave out the people that go, ‘Oh, I wish you'd done the audiobook.'
Joanna Penn: Exactly. And it's so interesting because, of course, right now as we speak, again, the news is that in the U.K., a lot of the Gardners and Bertrams and the print bookstores, a lot of them are closed. Who would have known that in this situation we just wouldn't have access to a lot of print books?
Amazon are shipping books slowly. They shut down briefly doing book delivery, but that's apparently back now. But having the digital ebook and the digital audiobook in a time where physical shipping is under challenge, that has got to be a reason to kick you a bit so that you get that book done.
Mark McGuinness: Yes. Once again, thank you, Jo.
Joanna Penn: Lecture almost over. Let's think about the future because one thing is for certain, and it's amazing what's happening in terms of the incredible scientists from every single country in the world are working on how to get us out of this, both health-wise and economically.
We know that this too shall pass. What we don't know is when, but let's say within six months to a year, we'll be in a different world, whatever that may look like, but for sure, things are going to change.
Have you thought of what you think might change as a result of this, particularly for creatives and authors?
Mark McGuiness: It would be nice to think that we are already ahead of the curve on this. The weird thing is as soon as I read about social distancing and self-isolation, I thought, ‘That's my life. I'm already doing it.' I already worked from home. I don't commute.
I am already using virtual meetings because it means I can work with clients all over the world. And it also means instead of commuting, I'm spending the time writing or with my family. It's tremendous disruption for a lot of people, but it would be nice to think that there would be a more broader re-evaluation of working habits where the ability to work independently and creatively and virtually…
It's not nice if it's the only option you've got and you don't like it, but I think hopefully it would give people more freedom and make them more alive to opportunities that could come in the digital space as well. I think as creatives most of your listeners, I would imagine, they spend a lot of time on their own working away. They're self-motivated. They're entrepreneurial.
We're moving into a world where that is accepted more and there's more opportunity there, then it would be nice to think we're well-positioned for that.
Joanna Penn: It's funny you say that. I hadn't really thought about it that way. I guess I agree, and we're already doing all of this, those of us who've had online businesses for like a decade, like us, we have been doing this for that long.
What I was thinking is that it will bring a new wave of technology. I know there are other options, but you and I are speaking on Skype as we have done for a decade. And Skype is fantastic. But what I think might happen, especially with potential summits and conferences is that a lot of those are going online with things like Zoom.
What if we get the virtual reality stuff accelerating because of this?
Mark McGuinness: Oh, that would be great. And actually as a coach, this is something I would really value because when I'm in a room with a client, I do like to use the room. We know we can get up, we can move about, we can do all kinds of imaginative exercises, we use the space and make things.
It's hard to do that, obviously, with a two-dimensional screen, so any kind of VR that would allow me to interact with other people in a virtual space, purely as a coach, I would absolutely welcome that. And I can absolutely see the benefit for something like a virtual conference or meet-up or, I don't know, mastermind group or whatever.
Joanna Penn: And even things like this, you and I could have a conversation in a VR space that other people can join and be part of live. For example, instead of doing a webinar on GoToWebinar, you do it in a VR space.
Mark McGuinness: That would be so good because I really find webinars, in particular, challenging because to me that they've got most of the downside of a live event, i.e., the stress and something could go wrong without the upside because it's very hard to get that immediate connection with the audience, which to me is the joy of speaking to an audience is being in the same room and having that almost like a visceral connection between you. So anything like that would be absolutely wonderful.
Joanna Penn: Yeah. And, of course, you and I both speak professionally and we have traveled a lot speaking and there's often things I will turn down because I'm like, ‘Yeah, there's no way I'm flying that far for that amount of money.' It won't be that high, for example, but I'd love to speak to that group. I'm just not going to get on a plane to do it.
I'm really hoping that this will accelerate the technologies. Because the market's been so small for that type of thing, it's been a small number of niches, I guess. But if this becomes a massive niche, it's going to be…there'll be more money in it and we'll just see an avalanche of tools, right?
Mark McGuinness: Well, if Prince Charles can open the new hospital in London today via Zoom, then hopefully the rest of us will be able to command similar attention when we show up virtually.
Joanna Penn: That's brilliant. I had no idea he was doing that.
Mark McGuinness: I don't know if he got a pair of scissors and cut a tape.
Joanna Penn: Virtual scissors. But there is something else, and it was funny, we were standing in the supermarket queue, the very long supermarket queue with all the spacing, and we were talking about the future and then we said something to Siri and we realized that voice technology, which I've obviously been talking about for a while, voice technology is going to also grow because everyone's been going with touch screens, but touch screens are suddenly going to be a no-no.
It's going to be voice. So instead of touching screens, it's going to be voice-enabled. I actually think the voice technology stuff, which is already moving fast, may accelerate past touchscreens.
Mark McGuinness: Even before the lockdown came along, I was so grateful for contactless payments and every so often…
Joanna Penn: Oh, yes. Using the Apple Watch to pay, brilliant.
Mark McGuinness: Or even just a card for contactless. And every time they had an old machine and you had to type in your pin, I was like, ‘Oh, my God. I need to disinfect my finger after that.'
Joanna Penn: I think that's something that's possibly going to be interesting as well. And then, of course, I hope that a lot of traditionally published authors and people who are locked into places where they have less control of their money and their creativity, that perhaps they will start creating in other ways.
I know a lot of authors whose contracts are being canceled or their books won't be published or they have to launch and they've got no choice and there's no bookstore for them to launch into and maybe they haven't got an audiobook like you said.
So the disempowerment that many authors might feel over this period, I hope will change into that ownership of what is possible.
Mark McGuinness: That would be great, wouldn't it?
Joanna Penn: It would be. Do you think that's going to happen?
Mark McGuinness: I think it's there for the taking if you really want to, if you set your mind to it and you say, ‘Okay, I want to take control of my career, my earning power, my reputation, my means of production and distribution,' then there's more and more tools and opportunities available.
I've always been an advocate for that and I know you are too, Jo. At a certain point, you become the one who's holding yourself back unless you're locked into a really draconian contract. That would be the only alternative.
Joanna Penn: I think that is a good message to end on. You are holding yourself back, people.
Mark McGuiness: But no judgment.
Joanna Penn: No judgment. No, I've been holding myself back and now I'm just going to go out and do everything or maybe just have a rest.
This has been great, Mark. Tell people where they can find you and your podcast, and your books, and everything you do online.
Mark McGuinness: Okay. So the podcast is, obviously, on iTunes. It's called, ‘The 21st-Century Creative.' It's where I interview inspiring and enterprising creators in all kinds of different fields. There's some writers, but also artists, designers, performers, singers, musicians, and so on, including some great interviews with Jo about the successful creative mindset and how to be a healthy creative. So that's ‘The 21st-Century Creative' podcast.
And then my website is lateralaction.com. And you can find my books there, my blog, the podcast archive, and also my coaching services based there as well.
Joanna Penn: Brilliant. Well, thanks so much for your time, Mark. That was great.
Mark McGuinness: It's always a pleasure. Thank you, Jo.
Virginia Wygal says
I absolutely love listening to you, and especially listening to both you and Mark together!! I always end up taking many, many notes for future reference when the two of you talk. I am an avid listener of Mark’s podcast, and now yours! I am a visual artist, but find much of the information is transferable. Thank you for all the helpful information!
Joanna Penn says
Thanks, Virginia, and so glad you enjoyed the show!
Mark McGuinness says
Thank you Virginia, it’s great to know the conversations are helpful. Yes, I often recommend Joanna’s books to creatives of all kinds and they invariably find them applicable.
Hope you and yours are safe.
Dear Joanna and Mark
loved the podcast! So empowering the idea with the “fried egg”, already put it up over my desk (and I love little post-its that mean something to me but not to the rest of the family). I think one of the problems of us creatives is also the fact the we have a great imagination (we couldn’t do our job without), so whenever we hear or see something, our inner eye starts to create all those possible scenarios and as we are “realists” naturally a lot of them will be negative ones (as going for the “all will be great and flowery” feels wrong) and we don’t only hear about people suffering in hospitals, we see it in full detail in front of our inner eye as if it were a scene in a book or film and we feel it, so what is a skill in normal times now becomes a bit of a burden on our mental health.
A friend of mine once sent me a little picture (and as it has an otter on it, it has to be true and important!) and the text says: “Worry is a misuse of the imagination.” This has helped me a lot, because it is true in a way – when we worry, we are imagining things that are not happening right now, this minute. So why not use this skill and imaginary power to imagine something creative, positive, silly, funny?
(I am trying, but still, I am also finding it hard to get myself to write fiction, procrastinating with developping different projects instead of sticking to one, so thanks for the “okay” on doing that right now, on not feeling the pressure to do business as usual and also loved the ritual thing, will definetly create a new one for “daughter at home” times! Thanks!! Marion
Mark McGuinness says
Thank you Marion.
This is great: “Worry is a misuse of the imagination.” And we creatives have powerful imaginations! So we need to be extra-careful about how we use them at a time like this.
What a fantastic show–thank you both! I got so much out of this! I struggled terribly the first two weeks of the lockdown (and thanks to the show, I now understand why), and I still struggle with wide variances from day to day (some days, it’s even hour to hour!) of productivity and enthusiasm. The suggestions really helped and got me thinking outside the box. (Now to try get on a better sleep schedule!) One thing I did when I just felt this block/resistance in revising my novel (and I mention this, hoping it may help others) was to turn to creating a completely different project. I decided to do a fun, no pressure project that I could just relax and enjoy so I could get back in the habit of writing (I could neither read nor write when this all started, and my heart was broken, as I lost the very two things that always provided great consolation for me). I decided to participate in the “Camp NaNoWriMo” challenge for April and I’m happy to admit I was able to write an (albeit lousy, LOL!) brand new rough draft of a 50,000 word story that *I think* may have helped get my mojo back, but it’s possible just as I figured out a way to get me back in the groove, things will change again anyway! But the suggestions you both provided will help me navigate through whatever lies ahead. Thank you both again!
Joanna Penn says
Glad you found the show so useful 🙂
Mark McGuinness says
Thank you Yvonne, it’s great to hear you found the conversation so helpful.