The Journey to Wonder

During the Writing Marathon back in March I spent most of the time writing new material for the latest book. The title has mutated slightly, so that now it is called “The Journey to Wonder”. 

In the blog posts I wrote a lot about the process of writing, with plenty of statistics about the word count and how much I was (or wasn’t) achieving during the marathon. 

I didn’t post any of the words that I produced. So, I thought today I would share an extract from the introduction:


I stole the idea for this book from a wonderful free book that Seth Godin shared a few years ago. He called the book “Insubordinate” and it contained short descriptions of the people who had been significant in his journey. Some of them were well-known names, others less so. It was a short book, which I really enjoyed reading and one which inspired me to think about doing something similar.

Over the years, I have always been attracted to the thinking of people who are eclectic, diverse in their backgrounds, and have always been interested in people who are prolific too. Sometimes people around me have wanted to know what drives my thinking on particular issues, and I have attempted an explanation. Also, one of the massive influences in my life is music – and a diverse range of musical influences too. When I released my last book, an old friend dropped me a message saying that he hoped I would write about music soon. That was a great excuse to press on with the idea behind this book.

This book isn’t just about music though, it’s also about poets, authors, and people who I have worked with. There is a thread running through them all – each one has inspired wonder in me. Each of them has set me off on a journey of excitement to find out more about what they do.

Of the many books I read across a wide range of topics, I am particularly interested in biographies, the lives of people. Often though, the story is about what goes on outside in the world, who they encounter and how that shapes them. It’s really interesting stuff, but for this book (which isn’t a biography as such) I wanted to capture the ideas and influences that have affected me over the years, and use that as a reason to talk about the specific episodes that led to that interest. My hope is that you will find the stories interesting and that it will prompt you to pursue some of the writers, musicians and thinkers that are featured in this book. They are all precious to me in different ways.

The observant reader will notice that men outnumber women in the sections that follow. I did consider this and give some thought to whether to balance it up, but I decided that this wouldn’t have been true to the influences that I have had. There have been many women – musicians, writers, bosses, colleagues – who have had a huge influence on my life. Many of them are included in this book. But I didn’t want to create a balance that wasn’t realistic. The characters who populate these pages visited my life – in reality or in ideas – as the years passed. They represent the key people who have contributed to making me who I am today. There are many other names I could have chosen. Perhaps that creates an opportunity for a sequel.


… and then the book flows on into chapters about David Bowie, John Peel, Kate Bush, Jan Garbarek, Carl Jung, Seamus Heaney, Dorothy Rowe, Margaret Wheatley, Brené Brown and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. A diverse mix of people who have shaped my thinking. Interested? I’m aiming (perhaps optimistically) to have the writing finished by the end of this year. 


Have you seen my two books released this year?

Values Count is available from Amazon or directly from my website. It’s a book about values based approaches to work. Essential for anyone who wants to work with a strong sense of purpose.

Blue: Experiments in Sound is my latest collection of poetry with illustrations, the latest stories about Blue, the misanthropic 21st century man in search of a meaning. It is available in a limited edition from my website.

 

Experimental I

This is the first of a series of posts on the experimental. This will be a set of blog posts, which feature ideas and experiments. Different approaches.

What is “Experimental”?

There are two distinct definitions for the word. When aimed at science, (of a new invention or product), based on untested ideas or techniques and not yet established or finalised e.g. “an experimental drug”.

When focused on the arts (of art or an artistic technique), involving a radically new and innovative style, e.g. “experimental music”.

Experimental – to take something and test it, try something new, be innovative. Put the two approaches together…

Are these two so different? What is the common ground between them? Why do we always want to separate out arts and science – and then further stratify with humanities and social sciences? Does division diminish?

In the background I can hear “4D Music” by Brian Eno. This is a simple drone, with a pulsing that creates a simple rhythm. A whispered voice repeats and layers the words “Behold the child, in front of me”. The piece – hypnotic and mesmerising, but also unsettling. Shifting slowly, imperceptibly.

Rain persists in the sky. Falling on silent wishes.

Disruption caused by change, new routines, new patterns – all to create different thoughts.

A blog post by Doug Shaw about Patterning – experimenting. Working out Loud – finding a space to share his journey of learning, self teaching…

John Kannenberg, curator of a wonderful web-based record label called Stasisfield which ran from 2002 to 2015. Avant garden, minimalist, micro-tonal. Thought-provoking and stimulating. I loved the music that appeared on this label – all of it free.  A labour of love. Something happened last week, prompted me to go searching – found that Stasisfield has stopped but John continues to experiment with a beautifully crafted site and a blog called Phonomnesis about silent memories of sound, art, time, museums, philosophy, and culture. Experiments.

Graham Shaw showing us all, that contrary to the Art Teacher at secondary school who told us otherwise, we can actually draw.

… and the journey of a year’s worth of Skype calls in 2013 with Andrew Dubber where his role was to persuade me that I could shift from someone who wrote a bit, to a published author. Technical ability making up 20% and confidence and battling the inner critic making the remaining 80%. He did more than I suspect he realised to push me forwards.

Poetry – the experimental. Taking an image and crashing it into something else. Loving the work of Frank O’Hara (writing about him in the new book, “The Journey to Wonder”) and obsessing over the writings of Lawrence Ferlinghetti. How to write with elegance and effortlessness.

Reading the latest issue of “The Wire” experimental music magazine – adventures in sound. Marvelling at the number of experimental magazines that exist at the margins these days. Sampling, trying – pushing the imagination to explore.

Street Wisdom – wandering streets with a loosely structured process to interrogate the surroundings, see it anew and find solutions to linear questions with non-linear approaches. Months later and still absorbing the learning.

And returning to Brian Eno: his oblique strategies cards were created with artist Peter Schmidt as a way to disrupt thinking. Two random examples:

“Be extravagant”

“You can only make one dot at a time”

… the journey to wonder continues.

 

——

Have you seen my two books released this year?

Values Count is available from Amazon or directly from my website. It’s a book about values based approaches to work. Essential for anyone who wants to work with a strong sense of purpose.

Blue: Experiments in Sound is my latest collection of poetry with illustrations, the latest stories about Blue, the misanthropic 21st century man in search of a meaning. It is available in a limited edition from my website.

——

Saying Thank You

When did you last say thank you and really mean it? When did you last send a note or an email to someone just to say thank you?

It’s interesting how we can so often feel unappreciated in life, and yet we take so little time to show our appreciation of others.

Perhaps we could make sure that the next person who serves us our coffee or our lunch, gets a real thank you with eye contact that has meaning to it.

Perhaps we could say a real thank you with eye contact to the person who puts our food through the checkout at the supermarket.

Perhaps we could say thank you at the end of the working day to those with whom we have spent the day, and really mean that we are grateful for the time they have spent with us.

Perhaps we could send a note to someone to thank them for something they have done for us that has had an impact on our life – it could be a small thing, something that just helped to move us forwards, or it could be something that seemed small at the time, but had an enormous impact on the direction our life took as a result.

Gratitude helps us to find happiness. It is at the heart of one of the many contradictions of life. We find happiness through our contribution to and appreciation of others.

Sparks of Metal Hammer

A couple of weeks ago I published my second book of the year. It is called “Blue: Experiments in Sound”.

The first book, “Values Count“, is a non-fiction book about values based working. It is available on this website as well as through Amazon. Sales in the first few months have been steady – it has been fun to learn how to market a book and attract sales. I’ve also had some really positive feedback and reviews, including this:

“This is a very readable and practical book, which has been crafted in the workplace and not from a vantage point far removed. Use of words like inclusivity and humility would never feature on the Apprentice, and that in itself is a good enough reason to read this book…if you think the world needs fewer people chasing pounds and treading on heads to do it, and more people applying values in the work they do, then this book is for you.”

A lovely review from Tom Bell (thanks Tom!)

This new book, a collection of poetry, has been illustrated by Phillip Kingsbury. Thanks to Phillip’s work, the book looks and feels absolutely beautiful. I thought you might like to read a poem from the collection:

Sparks of Metal Hammer

“Diving for pearls”, he said,
“will be the death of me!”
and he chuckled into his beard, old coyote
the bane of the village, bitterly sweet

When there used to be a blacksmith here
you could see the sparks from the metal hammer
iron hot and pliable, steam heating the winter air
open overcoat just keeping the wind out

He didn’t mean literal pearls, of course –
since the curse from that crossroads deal
he had looked for every treasure he could find
mostly in the souls of the travellers

He would take them with him,
ride on horse back until the sky was filled with stars
then let them on their way
he had caught all he needed, their stories of pain.

If you are interested in buying a copy of this book you can order it here.

I’m working through a brilliant online webinar series at the moment. I came across this quote in it:

“All growth exists on the other side of fear”

The process of learning how to publish, sell and market a book is a big learning curve. I’m learning all about it and will post in the next few weeks about my reflections on the journey. It’s been a huge learning – loads to understand and plenty of mistakes to make along the way(!)

Live Writing Marathon 6 – It’s the finishing line

Train Journey #6

Yesterday morning when I blogged I was bewildered by mixed metaphors to some extent. The idea that this extended writing is like a marathon has its uses, but sometimes the metaphor stretches too far … and breaks.

So, here we are at the end of the official marathon period. I set myself 4 clear goals. I think they could be called stretch goals because they were very ambitious indeed. How have I done?

  1. A Journey of Wonder – this manuscript was renamed from its working title of “People who inspire me”. In the middle of the marathon I spent quite a lot of time figuring out how to structure it, what to focus on and what the overall shape of the book will be. That was a valuable process that resulted in no words to count, but still a key part of the writing process. I was aiming for 10,000 words written – (drum roll, dramatic pause) – and I actually wrote 9,704. I’m really pleased with that.
  2. Coaching ideas book – I had the outline ready for this and was aiming to write 5,000 words. The valuable learning with this is that I can’t focus on two manuscripts at once. These two goals should have been an ‘either / or’ rather than a ‘both / and’. That would have made more sense. I didn’t look at this book idea at all. That’s fine – it can wait until the next writing period.
  3. Hang Fire – my latest book of poetry. I wrote two new poems for this. I was aiming for eight – two is good!
  4. Live Blogging – I set myself a target of eight posts, one at the beginning and end of each day. This will be the sixth post. I’m pleased with that. There was always the danger that I would overwhelm the reader with too many blog posts. In the end the number of posts I produced has been perfect and it has been a good opportunity to learn from the process. Total word count for blog posts: 2583.

It has been a productive few days. Nearly 10,000 words on the latest book, and clear direction of travel to continue to work on, a couple of poems and a batch of blog posts that represent the learning from the process. Oh, and I even managed to sort my CD collection into alphabetical order on Sunday night whilst thinking about the book’s structure. Even displacement activity can be useful sometimes!

I have learnt that the targets I set need to be more modest – give myself something to beat, rather than something to beat myself up with! If I am looking at two book ideas, see these as an ‘either / or’. The process of structure and what to include is as important as the actual job of writing. It’s important to value that part of the process too.

Thanks for your interest in this exercise. This has been the second time I have tried it. It works for me. I will use the process again – and will also try reduced versions of it comprising a day or half day. You could call them a Writing 10k and a Writing 5k. Coming soon.

Live Writing Marathon 5 – Redefining Success

Train Journey #5

The problem with working out loud, is that when it doesn’t go according to plan there is a massive temptation to either go quiet, or to avoid being honest about what is happening. That’s the truth!

I wanted to write 15,000 words, 8 poems and a handful of blog posts by the end of this writing marathon. If we stick with the metaphor of a marathon run, it’s now day four and I am the equivalent of a quarter of the way round, wondering whether to give up or keep going.

I already described how unsuccessful Saturday was. Yesterday, I managed 600 words and one poem. That’s slow progress. I also mentioned in yesterday’s blog post that some of the energy needed for writing was going into resolving the structure and format of the book, and whether I was trying to pull together two different book ideas into one. I’ve resolved that problem now – and this afternoon I am going to get my head down and churn out what I can.

Again, using the metaphor, it’s like getting started again – everyone else has finished the race and gone home. But then I realise that I am competing with myself – and need to keep running to get as far as I can.

So far:

  • 5,600 words written
  • 2 poems written
  • 5 blog posts capturing the journey (2,390 words)

That feels like a 10k race where I was hoping for a marathon. Let’s see how much further I can get, and report back later in the day.

Learning:

  • Every little step is progress
  • Avoid letting the inner critic take hold by celebrating each little step forwards
  • Displacement activity (like organising my CD collection into alphabetical order) can take the form of things I have been meaning to do for ages. Look positively at these achievements too.

Appreciate what is achieved, rather than looking at the gap. Or, to use a well-worn phrase: by reaching for the stars we make it to the moon!

Live Writing Marathon 4 – Under the Surface

Train Journey #4

Sometimes it’s easy to take a superficial view and get fed up! No words being written becomes seen as a lack of activity. Not true!

No words have been added to “A Journey of Wonder” since Friday. And that feels uncomfortable. Overnight I’ve been wondering what’s going on. Then this morning – in the shower (of course) – I realised that I had been working on this book overnight even if no words are making it onto the page. Things are going on under the surface.

The basic problem I have been working on is the way that the writing was somewhat hijacked on Friday by an outpouring of appreciation, passion and of course, Wonder, for the musical influences that have shaped me. As I said yesterday, that left me wondering what I should do about the other influences – writers, poets, thinkers etc. It’s not solved yet – but the revelation this morning was to realise that maybe there are two book ideas here creating tension within the one manuscript. As soon as I had the thought, I felt a releasing of tension. Now, a few hours later – I am not sure what to do next. So, here I am blogging to resolve it. I could:

  • carry on regardless – keep writing each of the sections that I intend to and work out later what to do about the fact that there are two books.
  • start to pull apart the two books – and decide which one to work on.

I do need to figure out whether and how these two book ideas differ. ‘A Journey of Wonder’ was intended to be a book about people who inspire me and many of those are musicians. The writing I did on Friday (which covered John Peel, Kate Bush, Robert Fripp and Neil Young) has left me wondering whether those sections still fit into a book about other influences like Carl Jung, Seamus Heaney, Margaret Wheatley and James Hillman. As I am writing these sentences – working out loud – it feels like I should carry on with option one. Churn out the sections and worry about the overall structure and whether there are two competing ideas, later at the editing stage.

Blogging – a solution generating process. This is how working out loud works!

Live Writing Marathon 3 – Blocked

Train Journey #3

Here we are – Saturday afternoon and I have not written a word yet today. I am stuck. Now, before I tempt you to think that this is writer’s block: that’s a concept I don’t believe in, so it can’t be that.

I had some non-writing jobs to do this morning, so I didn’t find the space to get to the laptop until early afternoon, but I have been avoiding the writing for nearly 2 hours. It’s time to check in and see what is going on, and to draw down some of the learning points from the first Writing Marathon I completed back in 2015.

First, let’s check what is happening. I did a short meditation earlier and the following issues surfaced:

  • At the beginning of this process I had two possible manuscripts to work on. Yesterday I spent most of the day focused on “A Journey of Wonder”. Overnight I have had doubts – did I go for the wrong one? I need to dismiss these thoughts. There is no wrong choice here – I just need to get on with it. If it means so much, I could spend some time on the other manuscript later today or early tomorrow.
  • The sections I have sketched out for “A Journey of Wonder” have become a bit skewed. I was intending this book to be a collection of the people who have been big influences on my thinking and my ways of working. The sections I wrote yesterday, and the names I added to the list to write about, were predominantly musicians. That feels helpful, but I have been worrying that I have missed out a whole lot influences. I am settling this issue at the moment by noting that music and musicians are a huge influence on everything I do, so just run with it.

I thought it would also be useful to remind myself of the key learnings from 2015:

  • starting each day with a short meditation really helps me to get started.
  • having a structure ready in advance so that I am sitting down with a job to do, rather than a blank page is a big help.
  • the process has shown me that I have the ability to focus far more than I thought I did.
  • doing this over three (four in this case) days builds mettle, as each day goes I gain in confidence.
  • the power of the visual post-it note technique for helping me to build a structure for the book was remarkable. It really helped me to see what the chapters could be and how they fit together.
  • it is also remarkable how much the ideas come together in the actual writing process itself. Whilst writing, new examples occur and connections between sections become more obvious.

Those notes are really helpful to get me focused and sharpened. I will pull together a timetable now, and report back later in the day. All for the sake of #writingoutloud.

Live Writing Marathon – 2

Train Journey #2

It’s early evening of the first day of the writing marathon. So far so good! I’ve been working, head down and writing for much of the day.

To be fair, it took me a while of circling the material before I finally started. After some time, but not too long, going through email and finding other things that needed doing, I managed to get on with the writing task.

Interestingly, the distraction approach of the early part of the day did mean that I got some things done that really needed doing.

My first target for the marathon was to write 10,000 words for the manuscript called “People who inspire me” over the four days. I have really good news about this. So far I have produced 5,000 new words. I already had 5,600 words produced on this, so it has grown to 10,600 words which is an excellent start. I had 20 people who I wanted to write about – that has grown to 45. This is because the process of writing about people who have inspired me has thrown up other names as the day has progressed. It’s been really fun writing this. I’ve managed to keep the Critic / Editor at bay, so I have no idea how good the words are. That’s not the point at this stage.

The other good thing to report about this manuscript is the title. I did a quick exercise mid afternoon. I’ve blogged about it before – imaginary letters. I wrote an imaginary letter to Seth Godin, and then wrote a reply. In that exchange a new title emerged. It’s still a working title but I like it at the moment. Please comment if you have a view. The title is “A Journey of Wonder”. Of course, I may have accidentally ‘borrowed’ it so need to check it’s not already in use.

I have also written a first draft of a new poem for the “Hang Fire” collection.

So, good progress so far…

Time for food methinks!

"Empowering Life Changes through Coaching and Creativity"