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Everything can look like a nail – coaching in practise

A couple of paragraphs from the book I am working on about coaching:

There are two big issues in many descriptions of coaching which are worth emphasising. Much of the literature about coaching emphasises that the coach doesn’t need to be highly skilled in the work of the client. Coaching practise in leadership and the workplace builds on the early practise in sports coaching. Many people stress that the top class athlete is not trained and coached by someone who is better than them at their sport. Rather, the focus is on finding someone to coach who can bring objectivity and a questioning challenge to how we work. That is the gold dust of coaching. So, we don’t necessarily need direct experience to be able to coach someone in their context. My first coach had little understanding of my own specialism at the time – research management. But he did understand career transitions, how to apply skills to a job change, and how to navigate difficult organisational change. That was the space where he was particularly helpful. So, the coach doesn’t necessarily bring subject specific expertise – in fact sometimes that expertise can get in the way of the coach being objective and challenging the things we take for granted. I have often found myself needing to sit back and avoid leaping in with a solution for a client because I think I understand their situation. I don’t! Only they have the detailed knowledge and understanding that will help them to find their own solution.

The second issue, which I often need to stress when I meet a new client, is the need for an eclectic approach. Many coaches identify a specific coaching perspective or training approach and define that as their own particular brand or technique. Thus, if you search for coaches you will find NLP coaches, Behaviourist coaches, Gestalt coaches, Strengths Based coaches. And so on. There are many different approaches. A skilled coach will realise that they need to acquire a diverse mix of approaches and be prepared to draw on them according to the challenges that the client brings to the coaching session. The danger of only having one approach is that the coaching session becomes like the man prowling the house with a hammer – everything begins to look like a nail in need of a hammering into the wall. If you try to hammer a screw into the wall, it won’t work! We need a toolbox rather than a single tool.

#workingoutloud

#coaching

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Chasing Three Rabbits – author update

I’m a clear example of the evidence to show why we need to focus. In recent months I have mentioned several books that I am working on. The three that edge to the top of the list (there are 20 ideas in total!) are:

  • alice reimagined – a book of poems, prose pieces, biographical sketches and photos.
  • The Journey to Wonder – the influences that have affected how I think and what I do
  • Coaching themes – a book with 20 titles, yet to choose the right one. And yes, it’s about my coaching practise and some of the key themes.

These are all really pulling at me to get on and finish them. But like a dog chasing three rabbits across the field, I’m never going to catch any of them if I keep shifting my focus from one to the next. It’s great to have a choice – but at the end of the day I need to absorb my thinking into one thing at a time and just press on with it.

There is also nothing like a deadline to create momentum.

I have made good progress on all three books. The book about “alice” has a structure worked out, and is probably one fifth written – I keep having new ideas for this book and it is an evolving structure. “The Journey to Wonder” is nearly 18,000 words and approximately half written. Bite size chunks are waiting to be completed. The coaching book is 2,600 words with an overall structure sorted and an illustrator has agreed to work on it with me (thank you Kate!)

But! You can’t write three books at once – it’s a multi-tasking impossibility that demonstrates why I need to take each and progress it.

Why have I got myself into this situation? Probably a mixture of avoiding boredom and distraction techniques. It works sometimes to have different things to work on depending on my mood. I just need to balance that with a specific need to be really clear which book I am working on when I sit down to write and not create ambiguity which might lead me not to write at all.

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A Coaching book looking for a title

I have a few different manuscripts on the go at the same time. I’ve written here about the book “The Journey to Wonder” which is half finished. This book is all about the people who have inspired my thinking and how they came to influence me. It’s a fun book to write as I write about musicians, artists, writers and many other people who have had an impact on me. It is also a great way to say thank you and acknowledge people.

That book is in the background at the moment as I press on with my other non-fiction venture, a book about coaching. I have been coaching for 12 years now, and wanted to write about the recurrent themes in my coaching practise and some of the key leadership issues that I often work with clients to resolve. I have many times opened a coaching session with a new client by telling them that every session is different, that there are no set formulae, and that the agenda is theirs and not mine.

There are plenty of tools that I use, both ones that I have learnt or read about, as well as ones that have been developed in real time in coaching sessions in response to a particular challenge. Each session has its unique characteristic.

And yet, after over 750 hours of coaching practise there are some clear themes that keep emerging. It is these themes that I will be writing about. In its first stages this book has had the utterly uninspiring working title of “Coaching Topics”. Earlier this afternoon I pulled together a list of 20 new ideas for a title. None of them leapt out at me, so the search for a great title continues.

The structure is sorted and the writing is about a tenth of the way there.

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alice reimagined

Back in 2004 I wrote a booklet of poems called “the alice conversations“. 13 poems in a short booklet, it was a set of dialogues and conversations with Alice. When I first began working with Carl Jung’s theories of archetypes and active imagination, I developed a set of characters that would reappear frequently in my written work. The character of Alice was my anima, the inner feminine within the man. She appears in a lot of my written work. Other characters include Peter, Lou Meera and Aslan (yes, I know that name has been used before!)

The set of poems that I wrote back in 2004 were fun to write, had plenty of insight into the personality of this character, and were produced at a time when I was looking to make sense of archetypes and find ways to work with them.

A few weeks ago, I was looking through this booklet again. That prompted a new idea – to take each poem of the original 13 and use that as source material for a new section with 5 or so poems. I’m aiming for a complete manuscript of up to 100 poems.

Each poem in the original sequence is the beginning place for the reimagination…

I am aiming to get into the mode and mind of Alice – take a poem, break it up. Print it out and cut it up – look for narratives and threads that are there but not used in the original.

Use the conversation idea in much more depth! Dialogues – exploring the original material and adding in a lot of new material.

alice reimagined 2017

I will write in many different styles – Ferlinghetti, Eliot, Auden, Hughes, Heaney. I am going to draw on other approaches too. This will be an opportunity to stretch and expand my techniques. Sometimes we just become somewhat stuck in a rut of writing. The other collection I am working on at the moment “Hang Fire” has become stuck – diving into “alice reimagined” is my way of unblocking, creating a free space to write and open out the creative approach.

What about visuals? I have been looking for 13 black and white photos from the many pictures I have taken in the last few months, to place these at the beginning of each section. I have 6 already – photos that evoke the mood that I am aiming for in the poems. More posts will appear here as the book develops.

#workingoutloud

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Neil Young – the journey to wonder

For the past few months I have been writing the first draft of my next book. It’s called “The Journey to Wonder”. It’s about the people who have been a huge influence on my life, on how I think, how I work and what I produce. Here is the chapter about Neil Young:

The wild and curmudgeonly man that is Neil Young. This is the man who produces at least one album a year as he heads into his 70s. His music never rests – one minute he is championing high fidelity sound with a new streaming service, the next he is releasing an album recorded in an antique sound booth from the 1950s. Every turn is an exploration, everything he produces is another aspect of the creative flow of this unique talent.

Neil Young – I first heard him in the 1970s when a school friend brought in the double album gatefold sleeve compilation album “Decades”. I took it home and listened. At first I wasn’t sure about the voice, barely reaching the note and so fragile. It took me a while to see the uncompromising nature of his work. Songs of protest and songs of love. But when I did fathom it out, I became a massive fan. Over the years he has travelled the musical sound world. You always know it’s Neil Young because of that voice, but no two albums are the same. He also assembles and dissolves bands as he goes. It’s as though he gets a huge stimulation from working with others, but needs to keep control so he will switch from group to group, looking for something different in each space. Crazy Horse is one of the most famous bands he has put together, and yet still none of these groups transcend what Young brings himself. Going way back, his work with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (CSNY) was a step beyond the band with just the other three members. It was as though Young’s input brought a disruption to the harmony and created a tension that made for remarkable work. Neil Young really does understand, perhaps intuitively, the role of tension or disruption in creating great work. The challenge is always to maintain the tension so that it doesn’t destroy what is being created. That wasn’t always achieved with CSNY.

As well as releasing 37 studio albums at the last count, he has also released vast amounts of archive material and also produced a number of films, using the pseudonym Bernard Shakey. He has an obsessive interest in model trains and in cars. There is a childlike quality to Young that is both endearing and also perhaps the reason he is able to be so creative and restless in all that he does.

I also really love the way that he releases material. There are always really high standards in his work, but this is someone who has figured out how to keep the inner critic at bay. He gets on with it and produces material at a fearsome rate. And he has the ability to still write songs that sound like they should have been written long ago – they are so natural that I can’t believe that they didn’t exist before now. Perfect tunes and wonderful guitar work. It all fits together into someone who isn’t perfect, someone who is still so inspiring and thoroughly entertaining.

That work rate shows someone who does see the whole creative process as a discipline, something that requires us to settle to the work and get on with it. Each day, being productive – and pushing the work forwards. It’s now such an overstated thing, but still worth repeating: the muse doesn’t visit us so that we can sit down and write. It’s the other way round. We sit down to write regularly and the muse finds us because we are ready and in the process.

The passion in Neil Young comes from truly believing in the things he writes about. Whether it’s a love song, or a song of loss for the band member who died of heroin, there is a part of him in each song. When he chooses politics he may not sit on the correct side of the political fence all of the time as far as the fans are concerned, but he cares deeply about what he writes songs on. From an early song like “Ohio” about the Kent State Massacre, through to the deeply political later albums like “Living with War” and “The Monsanto Years” – Young makes it patently clear what he thinks. This passion shines through in his work.

On top of all this, the man has struggled throughout his life with epilepsy – and has three children, two sons with cerebral palsy and a daughter with epilepsy herself. He helped to found the Bridge School project for children with severe physical and verbal difficulties and supports an annual concert to raise funds for it.

It’s not difficult to see why Neil Young would be a source of inspiration. He has strongly held beliefs, works from a place of passion to create an ever evolving and expanding body of work.

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Experimental III – adventures in publishing

I want to write about experiments in poetry and poetic form. This isn’t going to be a comprehensive history of experimentation in poetic form. That would be a very long blog post, maybe a book – and not one that I want to write (just yet anyway!)

Instead, this is a personal story about being inspired by the experimental in poetry. I have written before about City Lights Books – and my experience of reading Frank O’Hara’s “Lunch Poems” (yes he did write them on his lunch breaks from working at the Museum of Modern Art in New York) whilst studying my degree. I found his style of writing hugely inspiring. Each poem looked effortless, conversational – and yet, clearly there was more art and craft behind his work than at first appeared. My favourite poem from this collection is called “The Day Lady Died” and is about the death of Billie Holiday. The poem begins with this:

It is 12:20 in New York a Friday
three days after Bastille day, yes
it is 1959 and I go get a shoeshine.

And ends breathtakingly with this:

she whispered a song along the keyboard
…and everyone and I stopped breathing.

Other work by more experimental poets that I found inspiring would include ee cummings, a poet whose work was a huge influence on my early writings. His voice probably echoes in mine as I played with his particular approach to word play and experimentation with type-written words. I also loved the work of John Cage, known more as a composer for works like those I mentioned in the earlier blog post in this series. His writings are fascinating too.

My own experiments in publishing poetry began in the mid 1980s when I was working as a Community Artist. At the time, I was working with groups of adults. This was pre-computer days. Having spent about 10 years trying to find my own voice through experimenting with the styles of poets who I admired, I wrote the first sequence that felt like my own voice was coming through. It was a turning point – 1984 and “sharp blue / breath” appeared. Over the years that followed, I threw away most of the poetry I had written up to that point. It felt immature, practise for what was to come. Once this collection was written I set about turning it into a booklet. The cover was a lino-print with letraset words (remember those sticky letters!)  and the inside was hand written. It was bound with cotton. There was only one copy made – you can see from the photo that I still have it.

Much later, in the late 90s I started buying poetry books and booklets from Peter Riley who was selling new and secondhand books from Cambridge via a mailing list. I came across some wonderful books which were published by Randolph Healey from Wicklow in Ireland. Wild Honey Press is on hold at the moment. The website is still there – Randolph has produced a beautiful collection of booklets. I bought a handful which contained some terrific experimental verse presented in hand-printed booklets which were bound with wool. Wonderful things to own!

My own experiments continued in 2003 when I launched the first iteration of BlueWater Books with two collections of poetry called “zen words” and “Umbrian Images”. These collections were hand-printed booklets produced on an old Canon printer with plain paper inserts and textured paper covers. I spent many happy hours trawling through paper and stationery supply shops looking for papers to use for these booklets. And that was followed by many frustrating hours battling with the printer to get the layout right, avoid paper being chewed up and find seemingly endless supplies of patience to produce 50 copies of each booklet. Was it successful? Depends what you call success – I still have copies left (looking for a good home, if you are interested!) Those that did find readers were well received.

Fast forward more than a decade to 2016 and I decided to re-activate BlueWater Books, this time with the help of the Editor whose name was given to the press, Alice Bluewater. The first book to launch was “It Begins Like This” and the second one came out last month – “Blue: experiments in sound”.

In some ways it is so much easier to publish books these days. Thanks to print on demand and online design anything is possible at minimal cost. The days of authors looking at the ceiling nervously, aware that there are a thousand copies of their book in boxes in the attic – are long gone! But there are still challenges – finding readers, working out how to format and set a book so that the published copy looks the way you want it to. All of this is do-able! A set of new skills to learn or tasks to find someone else to do. The end result is an experiment that has been well worth the patience. Enjoyable? Definitely!

 

——

Whilst you are here: 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.

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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(!)

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2017 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.

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2017 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!

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2017 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!