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Motivation for Creative People – now a full length book (just $2.99 this week)

Cover of Motivation for Creative PeopleBack in 2008 I wrote a series here on the Wishful Thinking blog called How to Motivate Creative People, which became a short ebook by the same name.

The series was written to help managers and leaders get the best out of their creative teams, by explaining the mindset and motivations of creative professionals.

One thing I didn’t expect, when I started running training and coaching programmes on the subject, was how much demand there would be for the creative motivation material from the creatives themselves. But talking to them, it made perfect sense:

It’s not easy pursuing a creative path – you often feel yourself the ‘odd one out’ among your friends and family, and there are plenty of obstacles – internal and external – that test your staying power over and over.

There’s also the perennial tension between creativity and money – ‘doing it for love’ versus ‘earning a living’. 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.

If you don’t feel excited by the task in front of you, it’s impossible to do your best work, no matter what rewards it might bring. You may be determined not to sell out, but selling yourself short can be just as damaging. And when it comes to public recognition, comparisonitis and professional jealousy can consume far too much of your creative energy.

Working for love 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 delicate balance at play – get it wrong, and you could seriously damage your creativity and even your career.

All of which led me to develop workshops and coaching for creatives on Motivation for Creative People. Eventually, I realised I couldn’t keep giving people the old ebook and saying “It’s written for managers, but most of it applies to you if you imagine it from your perspective”.

So I’ve spent the past 18 months writing a full-length book called Motivation for Creative People. The subtitle gets to the heart of the challenge we face as creatives trying to build a successful career around our creative passions:

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

The book runs to just under 300 pages, with stories and examples from my own journey, plus famous creators including Stanley Kubrick, Dante, The Smiths, Shakespeare and Japanese kabuki actors. And it’s packed with practical solutions to the challenges of staying motivated and creative while achieving your professional ambitions, drawn from the 20 years I’ve spent coaching creative professionals.

I recently published three chapters from the book over on my Lateral Action blog – click the links below to read them:

Is Inspiration a Thing of the Past?

The Art of Emotional Pricing

Kabuki: Lessons from 400 Years of Creative Tradition

Get Motivation for Creative People for just $2.99

As I first published these ideas here on Wishful Thinking, I’d like to give you the chance to pick up the book for the proverbial ‘price of a coffee’.

So for the rest of this week, you can get the ebook edition of Motivation for Creative People for just $2.99 (or equivalent) at Amazon, Apple, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Google Play and Smashwords.

There’s also a paperback edition, beautifully designed and illustrated by the wonderful Irene Hoffman. If you buy the paperback from Amazon US during the launch week, you’ll get the Kindle edition included for free.

(If, like me, you live outside the US, I’m afraid Amazon doesn’t let me gift you the ebook, but I’m confident you’ll find the paperback good value on its own.)

A special thank you to all the Wishful Thinking readers who left comments and gave me feedback on the original series. And to all of you, if you do read Motivation for Creative People I hope you find it a helpful guide on your creative journey.

Video: Dealing with Rejection and Criticism (My New Book)

Is it possible to succeed as a creative professional without having to deal with rejection and criticism?

Is it normal to be afraid of being judged by others? If you experience this fear, how can you deal with it?

How can you tell whether a given piece of criticism is valid or not?

What’s the best way to handle criticism?

How can you build resilience and bounce back from multiple rejections and biting criticism?

These are some of the questions I answer in this video interview recorded with Joanna Penn.

(If you’re reading via email, you may need to click through to the original post to watch the video.)

We recorded the video to mark the publication of my first full-length book – Resilience: Facing Down Rejection and Criticism on the Road to Success.

I wrote the book to help creative people deal with two of the biggest obstacles they face:

  • Rejection – by editors, agents, producers, interviewers and other gatekeepers of opportunity
  • Criticism – by gatekeepers, critics, audiences and anyone else who feels entitled to express an opinion

Jo is a successful novelist and independent publishing expert, so in this video I focus particularly on the challenges faced by writers in relation to rejection and criticism – but most of these are relevant whatever creative field you work in.

(If you are a writer you should definitely check out Jo’s blog, it’s one of my favourites.)

You can read the first five chapters of Resilience in the preview window below. (Again, you may need to click through to the original post.)

And if you want to read the whole book, it’s available on Amazon UK, Amazon US and elsewhere.

Finally, a personal note: my journey as a professional writer started nearly seven years ago on this blog.

Publishing a book feels like a significant milestone, so I’d like to say a big thank you to everyone who has read my writings in various places since then – your feedback and encouragement been incredibly helpful in getting to this point, and have definitely made Resilience a better book.

Is Burnout Inevitable in the Creative Industries?

Candle that has just been snuffed out.

Photo by J R Guillaumin

How would you like to work 15-20 hours unpaid overtime a week?

What about doing it for weeks on end because of unrealistic schedules?

How about a 65% chance of damaging your health from the stress of overtime?

And what if someone told you these were just occupational hazards, to be expected if you choose a career in the creative industries? [Read more…]

Free E-book – ‘Defiant! Practical Tips to Thrive in Tough Times’

Cover of Defiant e-book

If you’re feeling daunted by the challenges of the recession – or if you could simply do with some inspirational and practical advice, then I suggest you download Defiant: Practical Tips to Thrive in Tough Times.

It’s a new e-book from Rajesh Setty, successful entrepreneur, respected author, columnist for Lateral Action – and a thoroughly nice guy who I’m pleased to call my friend.

A few months ago Raj asked me to contribute a practical tip or two for people under pressure due to the recession. I was happy to do so, and am delighted to find myself a co-contributor alongside stellar talents such as Seth Godin, Liz Strauss and Phil Gerbyshak.

As well as the ‘guest tips’ Raj has packed the e-book full of advice based on his experience of surviving and thriving through several recessions.

The e-book is completely FREE – you don’t even need to give your e-mail address. So once you’ve grabbed your copy and please help to help others by forwarding it to your friends and contacts.

Thanks Raj!

How I Kept My New Year’s Resolution

Underside of a green leaf

Photo by Criss!

At the beginning of 2008, I posted my New Year’s resolution on this blog:

I will sit still for five minutes every day.

The aim of the resolution was to establish a regular habit of sitting meditation first thing in the morning.

The result? During 2008 I practised meditation every day … except two.

Oh well, nobody’s perfect.

If you’re going to be strict, I guess you could say that counts as a technical failure. But as a recovering perfectionist, I’m happy to take a 99.45% hit rate as a success. Especially as it meant I achieved my goal of establishing the habit — which I’ve continued to this day. [Read more…]

How Interruptions Can Make You More Creative

Woman stretching

Photo by Lex in the City

Interruptions are one of the pet hates of creative people. There are few things more frustrating than having your attention scrambled by an intrusion just as you are becoming pleasantly absorbed in creative flow. Whether the interruption comes in the form of a phone call, e-mail, or someone hovering over your desk and saying ‘Can I have a quick word?’ the result is annoyingly similar – your concentration is broken, your time is taken up by someone else’s needs, and it’s hard to pick up the thread of your work afterwards.

I’ve previously written about the creative problems caused by interruptions in Why you need to be organised to be creative (the first chapter of my e-book on Time Management for Creative People) and offered some tips on minimising their impact in Ring-fence your most creative time.

I was also interested to come across scientific evidence (via 43 Folders and the New York Times) that ‘Disruptions and interruptions are a bad deal from the standpoint of our ability to process information’. For example:

in a recent study, a group of Microsoft workers took, on average, 15 minutes to return to serious mental tasks, like writing reports or computer code, after responding to incoming e-mail or instant messages. They strayed off to reply to other messages or browse news, sports or entertainment Web sites. (NYT)

So there it is. Focused creative work and interruptions just don’t mix. QED.

Or so I thought until I stumbled upon a new kind of interruption, while trying to solve a different problem…

How interruptions cured my backache

I’ve written before about the difficulty I’ve had with back pain caused by too many hours hunched over the laptop. Now, as a trained Reverse Therapist I’m fully aware that the back pain is a not-so-subtle message from my body, prompting me not to spend so many hours hunched over the computer. But I’ve never been one for taking this kind of hint gracefully: ‘It’s all very well for my back to wimp out, but how else am I going to get my work done?’

[Read more…]

The Business Impact of Coaching

Table, chairs, blue sky

The Business Coaching series is now available to download as a free ebook Creative Management for Creative Teams.

Having spent most of this series outlining the What and How of business coaching, it’s time to consider the Why – the key benefits to a business where coaching is an integral part of managing performance and developing people’s talents.

I’ve left this till late in this guide because until we’re clear about what business coaching is and how it works, it’s hard to consider its impact on an organisation.

With all complex ‘people skills’, it is hard to draw a straight line between particular skills and practices and business results. This is particularly true of coaching, as it is essentially a facilitative approach. Whether managers or consultants, coaches act as catalysts for various processes within an organisation, so it’s often hard to separate the different elements that contribute to success.

However we can identify factors that business coaching seeks to influence, and consider how it does this. In each case, note how the personal benefits (to both coaches and coachees) are intimately linked to the business benefits. Ideally a company should be looking for a dynamic balance between the two, especially in the context of a creative business.


It’s impossible to create commitment – but you can encourage it by giving people an opportunity to (a) work towards goals they find personally meaningful as well as delivering business results, and (b) use their creativity and initiative to do the job in their own way.

Business coaching offers a wealth of options for doing both of these. In fact, the coaching approach is founded on the assumption that the business coach’s role is to act as a facilitator, while the coachee has the biggest emotional investment in the goal and the responsibility for committing to action.


Following on from Commitment, because the coach is a facilitator, asking questions, listening and giving feedback in order to stimulate the coachee’s thinking, it is a highly creative process. Not in an abstract, fuzzy way, but in challenging people to come up with ideas that are new, useful and practical – and then to put them into action and see them through.

For more on business coaching and creativity see How coaching creates creative flow and the next article in this series, on Why business coaching is vital to creative companies.

[Read more…]

What Writer’s Block and Stage Fright Have In Common

Crumpled paper Stage light
Photo by pascalgenest

Photo by givepeasachance

From the outside, the writer pottering around the house while the laptop gathers dust, and the performer shaking with fear backstage might look very different. But having personally experienced both writer’s block and stage nerves, as well as coaching many writers and performers through them, I’ve come to the conclusion that they are basically the same thing.

To see what I mean, let’s take the idea of a block literally, and look at the phenomenon of board breaking by martial artists.

To see someone break a board, brick or concrete block with bare hands or feet looks amazing, but the evidence suggests that it’s a question of technique rather than magical powers. Given the proper training, anyone can learn to do it. In the Kung Fu Science project, kung fu expert Chris Crudelli teamed up with physicist Michelle Cain to investigate the physical forces at work.

On the Kung Fu Science website, Crudelli explains the key points of the technique of breaking boards, one of which is particularly relevant to creative blocks:

Speed and Point of Focus

‘The most important thing is to make sure the hand is moving fast enough when it hits the wood. Advice often given is to imagine that what you’re hitting is actually well behind the board. This ensures the hand doesn’t slow down before the point of impact. Confidence is also important here; you have to believe that your hand is going straight through the board, or you will naturally slow down to avoid hurting yourself.’ [Read more…]

6 Tips for Keeping Your New Year’s Resolution


Photo by Solange Gaymard

My last post looked at 3 Reasons Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail. Now I’ll look at how you can keep yours. I’ll start by reviewing my progress on the three New Year’s Resolutions I posted on this blog last year.

1. Make my blogging more like my coaching

I had noticed that my blog was proving increasingly useful as a coaching tool, and wanted to develop my blogging style so that it was closer to my style of coaching. Part of this involved blogging more of the stories, ideas and examples I share with clients in sessions, and part of it involved developing the conversational aspect of the blog and making more use of questions.

I definitely think I’ve succeeded in the first respect, in posts such as 7 Ways to Stop Worrying When You’re Under Pressure, What Amadeus Shows Us About Creativity, my mini-series on Giving Feedback on Creative Work, and especially in my e-book about Time Management for Creative People. The fact that the e-book has been downloaded 25,000 times in a month tells me that I’m providing something valuable for my audience.

I also think I’ve made progress in developing the blog as a conversation and using questions to stimulate readers’ creativity – although I think I can do a lot more in this respect. I’ve certainly had some great conversations on this blog and elsewhere, and I’ve started to make more use of questions in posts such as What’s the Difference Between Incubation and Procrastination? and Should Artists Give the Audience What They Want?. So I’ve made a good start but think I can take this further – look out for more question-based posts this year! [Read more…]

3 Reasons Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail

The Temptation of St Anthony

Photo: The Temptation of St Anthony by RyanDianna

This time last year I posted my new year’s resolutions on this blog. I also promised to write about ‘Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail’. I’m pleased to say I kept all my resolutions – my next post will tell you how I did it, and how you can keep yours. I’m afraid I didn’t get round to the post about why resolutions fail – so here it is.

The following three pitfalls have been highlighted for me over and over again while coaching clients to keep their resolutions – and I can assure you I’ve made the same mistakes myself many times.

1. You focus on what you ‘should’ do, not on what you want

This is an easy trap to fall into. After all, there are plenty of things we probably ‘should’ do that don’t seem a lot of fun, especially at this time of year. For example:

‘I should really lose some weight’
‘I need to get fit this year’
‘I ought to give up smoking’
‘I have to do my tax return’

Have a read of that list again – how does it make you feel? Personally it gives me a feeling of mild disgust and aversion. The words ‘losing’, ‘giving up’, ‘weight’, ‘bad habits’, and ‘tax returns’ conjure up a succession of mental images that make me feel slightly depressed if I focus on them.

This is the problem with the ‘should’ mindset. Logically, those are all sensible things to do – but instead of motivating you to get going, they have the opposite effect. This is partly because they are all ‘problem focused’ statements. It’s a classic case of ‘don’t think of a pink elephant’ – your brain can’t process these statements without making you think about what you don’t want. And nobody likes thinking about what they don’t want – our natural tendency is to put it to the back of our mind and forget all about it.

Another problem with these statements is the use of the words ‘should’, ‘need’, ‘ought’, and ‘have to’. This kind of language dissociates you from your real reasons for wanting to do these things. It’s as if there were some kind of objective standard that you really ‘should’ measure up to, or – even worse – as if someone else were telling you what to do. I don’t know about you, but I can’t stand being told what to do – if someone offers me well-meaning advice my knee-jerk reaction is to want to do the opposite. [Read more…]