Mark McGuiness – creative coach (#132)

Mark McGuinness is an award-winning poet who coaches talented, inspiring and ambitious creative professionals to fulfil their potential. He has written four books for creative professionals and contributed to two international best sellers published by 99U. He is the host of The 21st Century Creative Podcast.




Twitter: @markmcguinness

Describe something that has recently amazed you and how it made you feel.

Discovering Ital Tek’s music. It made me feel joyous.

How would you personally define wonder, awe and curiosity? And how do they relate to each other?

Curiosity is the easy one – it’s the itch to know a little more about something, to follow up a hunch or an enticing fact or snippet of knowledge, and see if there’s something interesting there. It’s an extremely creative state, worth cultivating at every opportunity.

Wonder – to me this suggests amazement and surprise, and in a good way. I think there’s a redeeming quality to wonder – if we can still feel it, then there is still something precious and worthwhile about life, in spite of everything.

Awe is where it starts to get a bit mystical and metaphysical. Traditionally it’s associated with apprehension of the sacred or at least the sublime, and it’s hard for me to feel you can compromise on that and still call it awe. There’s no awe-lite, is there?

What inspires you to be creative?

When it comes to poetry, it’s usually a line that pops into my mind unheralded. Or an image, or a story, or even an anecdote that I find myself repeating to different friends. And whichever it is, I can usually trace it back to some experience I had that I want to relate and preserve, or to an idea I encountered that triggered something in my imagination.

When it comes to my books, articles and podcasts for creatives, it’s nearly always something I find myself repeating over and over to different coaching clients. That tells me it’s useful enough, and widely applicable enough, to be worth writing down.

More generally, I get a lot of inspiration from other artists’ work – especially poetry, music and films. I pick up a lot of energy and enthusiasm from that, and occasionally I’ll look at someone else’s work and ask myself ‘What would my version of that be?’

Do you have any ‘rituals’ or an environment that aids your creativity?

Oh yes, my working life is one long ritual! I have a very solid daily routine (or a very boring one, depending on your point of view): mornings involve meditation, tai chi, coffee and writing; afternoons are dedicated to coaching clients.

The coaching makes a refreshing change after the writing, and vice versa.

What do you love about magic?

I love the fact that it persists, in this so-called rational age, in spite of the Enlightenment, in spite of the industrial revolution, and in spite of all the attempts to stamp it out and explain it away.

What do you think hinders an audience from experiencing wonder when watching a magician?

Distraction and scepticism, I would imagine. But I would also imagine that it’s the magician’s job to know that and incorporate it in their work.

Where do you think our sense of wonder comes from and what can we do to cultivate it?

I think it comes from the fact that life is inherently amazing and awe-inspiring, and sometimes we notice it.

As for cultivating it, making art helps – as Thomas Hardy said, the poet’s job is to ‘notice such things’. And meditation. And falling in love. And nature. And having children. And working with amazing people.

Listening to one of your podcasts I remember you saying that as a poet you agonise over the choice of individual words. Has art become too easy with advances in technology?

No, art is never easy! Creating something that looks/sounds/reads ‘OK’ has become a lot easier, and there are benefits to that. But by definition art is original, memorable, meaningful and powerful – and that will always be hard.

You’ve recently wrote a book of 21 insights you’ve learnt from coaching creatives. What were the biggest surprises for you?

No. 6: ‘Your struggle is a clue to your superpower’. This is about the fact that very often the thing that you struggle with, that you feel makes you ‘less than’ others, or that holds you back, is in fact a clue to your superpower – the thing that makes you unique and powerful, and which can bring you the greatest fulfilment.

In my case the struggle was between my compulsion to write poetry and the need to make my way in the world, to earn a living and so on. Everything changed when my coach Peleg Top pointed out that my poetry was one of the things that made me different as a coach, that my clients valued about me. After that, the conflict between poetry and the rest of my work disappeared.

Across all disciplines, what are the biggest challenges that creatives face? 

Doing great work.

Getting the work in front of the right people.

Creating income via, as well as, or in spite of the above.

And most of all – becoming the person who is bold and brave and persistent enough to do all of the above.

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