Forget the Career Ladder: Start Creating Assets

Upward pointing bar graph with coloured pencils for bars

When you follow a creative path, you won’t find any of the usual milestones of success.

Unlike your friends who enter traditional jobs, with clear routes to promotion, finely calibrated pay grades and impressive job titles, there is no ‘career ladder’ for people like you and me; no incremental markers to indicate your progress.

So if you compare yourself to them, it can be easy to feel left behind as they climb higher and higher, from promotion to promotion. It’s obvious to all the world that their career is ‘going somewhere’.

Meanwhile, what are you up to?

On bad days, as you wrestle with another project that stubbornly resists your efforts to turn it into a masterpiece, with no fancy job title, and no promotion or pay rise in prospect, it can feel like you’re going nowhere fast.

If it’s a really bad day, you may be on the receiving end of some well-intentioned sympathy from a friend or family member, asking if it isn’t time you got “a real job”.

(Never mind that the corporate career ladder is a lot shakier than it used to be, to the point where some people are starting to proclaim the end of jobs. That’s a story for another day.)

In his old age, W.H. Auden used to joke “If I’d entered the church, I’d be a bishop by now.” But he hadn’t and he wasn’t. He was a poet – revered by some, ignored by most.

And that was the key to his success. Because of the large body of amazing poetry he had written over his lifetime, opportunities and money came to him. If he had never written those poems, he’d have been just an eccentric old guy wandering the streets in his slippers.

On any given day, the world was not beating a path to his door, demanding another poem. He committed to his writing as a solitary pursuit. But as the years went by, he touched more and more people with his writing, and the world became more and more grateful for his contribution. By the time he died, he had achieved exponentially more than if he had pursued an incremental career like the church or the civil service.

So what can we learn from Auden’s example?

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My New Book: Productivity for Creative People

Cover of Productivity for Creative PeopleMy new book, Productivity for Creative People, has just been published.

You can pick up a copy of the ebook edition from Amazon, Apple, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Google Play and Smashwords.

How to get creative work done in an “always on” world

The book starts from the realisation that 21st century life presents a double-edged sword to creatives:

We are living in an age of unprecedented creative stimulation-via the internet, social media, all-pervasive technology, and an “always on” working culture.

Which means we are living in an age of unprecedented distraction from focused creative work—from all the same sources.

The pace of change is exciting, overwhelming, and unstoppable.

And creators are increasingly discovering a downside to the brave new world:

  • countless distractions and interruptions
  • endless email
  • pressure to keep up
  • anxiety about falling behind
  • difficulty concentrating
  • aches and pains from too much time at the keyboard

Dig a little deeper, and the biggest concern for many creatives is a nagging sense that their most important work is being left undone.

The book is designed to help you take advantage of the benefits of our hyper-connected society, while staying true to your creative path.

It’s a distillation of my writings on creativity and productivity over the past decade, here at Lateral Action and elsewhere, plus brand new material and a structure that will help you redesign your working week for maximum creativity and minimum drudgery:

  1. Laying the Foundations – making big-picture decisions about your priorities and working practices
  2. Doing Creative Work – in spite of the demands and distractions of 21st century life
  3. Dealing with the Rest – in a timely and professional manner

All the ideas have been extensively road-tested – in my own life as a writer and coach, and in the lives of the hundreds of creative pros I’ve coached over the past 20 years.

I showed the book to three of my favourite authors in the field of creativity and productivity; here’s what they had to say:

“Of all the writers I know, I have learned the most about how to be a productive creative person from Mark. His tips are always realistic, accessible, and sticky. It’s not just talk, this is productivity advice that will change your life.”

Jocelyn K. Glei, author and Founding Editor, 99U

“Many creative people are busier than ever, but rarely get around to the work that truly matters. Mark McGuinness offers solid and practical advice for busy creative people who want to make their mark on the world.”

Todd Henry, author of The Accidental Creative

“Authors now have amazing online tools to reach readers all over the world, but those same tools can distract us from the focused creativity that we love and that we need to write better books. In Productivity for Creative People, Mark McGuinness outlines a way of working that will help you sort out what’s really important and achieve your creative goals, while still managing your daily tasks. Recommended for any author who is feeling overwhelmed.”

Joanna Penn, bestselling author and award-winning entrepreneur.

Click here to pick up your copy of Productivity for Creative People.

Steven Pressfield’s New Book for Creators

Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*tThe book I recommend most often to my coaching clients is The War of Art by Steven Pressfield – based on his own struggles en route to becoming a best-selling novelist, it’s indispensable reading for anyone who wants to create or achieve something amazing with their life.

Steve just told me he has a new book out – Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t – and right now you can pick up the ebook edition for free.

EDIT: The launch offer has ended, so the book is no longer free, but having read it and highlighted LOTS of Steve’s advice, I would say this is essential reading if you are serious about making your writing count.

Here’s how he describes it:

The title comes from the first and most important lesson I ever learned as a writer, on the very first day of my very first job, as a junior copywriter for Benton & Bowles Advertising in New York. What the phrase means is that because readers are inevitably busy, impatient, easily-distracted, i.e. they don’t want to read your sh*t, it’s incumbent on you and me as writers to make our stuff so interesting, so sexy, so unusual, so compelling that a reader would have to be crazy NOT to read it.

As usual with Steve’s non-fiction writing, it’s based on his experience as a writer, but the lessons apply to just about any creative endeavour: whether you’re trying to make it as an artist, creative, performer or entrepreneur, you learn pretty fast how tough it is to get people to pay attention to your work.

The book spans his several careers, from Madison Avenue copywriter to Hollywood screenwriter and best-selling author, and it’s full of entertaining stories and his usual pithy advice – in this case, on how to deal with the world’s indifference and get your readers (or audience, or customers) to sit up and take notice.

Click here to pick up your copy.

My new book: Motivation for Creative People

Cover of Motivation for Creative PeopleAfter 18 months, four drafts and countless cups of coffee, my new book Motivation for Creative People is finally complete.

You can pick up the ebook edition from Amazon, Apple, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Google Play and Smashwords.

There’s also a paperback edition, beautifully designed and illustrated by the wonderful Irene Hoffman.

So what’s the book about?

How to stay creative while gaining money, fame, and reputation

Psychological research confirms what we know in our hearts: we are at our most creative when we are driven by intrinsic motivation – working for the sheer joy of it, regardless of rewards. Focusing on extrinsic motivation – such as money, fame, or other rewards – can kill your creativity.

Which is all well and good, but if you’re a creative professional you can’t ignore the rewards:

You need money to enjoy your life and to fund your projects. You may not need to be famous, but you do need a good reputation within your professional network. And if you’re in a fame-driven industry you need a powerful public profile, whether or not you enjoy the limelight.

There’s a precious balance at play – get it wrong, and you could seriously damage your creativity and even your career.

I’ve written Motivation for Creative People to help you strike the right balance, so that you stay creative even as you pursue your professional ambitions.

Did I succeed?

The answer from my beta readers has been overwhelmingly “Yes!”.

I also showed the book to Steven Pressfield, author of the creativity classic The War of Art and a string of successful novels. As a bestselling author and Hollywood veteran, Steve knows a thing or two about balancing creativity and success. Here’s what he had to say after reading the book:

Mark McGuinness is a rare cat – part poet, part coach for creative professionals, part old-time, overeducated Brit who thinks deeply about stuff you and I have never heard of.

His extraordinary new book Motivation for Creative People is a deep, unsentimental dive into the quotidian realities of the artist’s life – how to stay sane, pay the rent, refrain from murdering your spouse, all while pursuing your calling with purity of heart and nobility of intention.

This is a How To manual at the highest level from a man who has lived the life and has watched and worked intimately with hundreds of others who’ve done the same. Indispensable reading for anyone in a creative field who is seeking to achieve not just a flash of brilliance but a lifelong career.

Steven Pressfield, bestselling author of The War of Art

click here to learn more about Motivation for Creative People.

Kabuki: Lessons from 400 Years of Creative Tradition

Kabuki star Ebizo Ichikawa XI in action, from Ebizo’s YouTube channel

Last Christmas I visited the Kabuki-za theater in Tokyo to experience kabuki—one of Japan’s traditional forms of drama, dating back to 1603. As the curtain slid aside, it revealed a world of breathtaking beauty: a stage like a painted scroll, where actors in bright costumes and makeup acted, sang, danced, and fought. In one play, a riotous samurai battle climaxed with spectacular acrobatics. In the next, a lover driven mad by separation danced with a hallucinated vision of his former sweetheart. It was as though a book of prints by Hokusai or Hiroshige had come to life in front of me.

The actor playing the crazed lover is called Ichikawa Ebizo XI. This is his actor’s title, not his birth name. Why “the eleventh”? Because he is the eleventh member of the Ichikawa family to bear this title, most of whom have been blood relatives, with others inheriting the name via adoption. Ebizo’s father was Ichikawa Ebizo X, and his grandfather Ichikawa Ebizo IX. The lineage stretches back to Ichikawa Ebizo I, who trod the boards in Tokyo, then called Edo, in the 17th century.

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