Mark McGuinness brings an insightful conversation for the last episode of season seven. He is an author, poet, and coach for creative entrepreneurs. Mark hosts the 21st Century Creative podcast, as well as A Mouth full of Air, a poetry podcast, both of which I highly recommend.
In this interview, he shares some of the key points to start and evolve a creative business and make a living out of our craft. Among other things, he mentions how to have those difficult conversations that are needed to advance in our careers, the importance of creating assets, how to treat the business as a creative project itself, as well as branding and positioning.
Mark McGuinness brings an insightful conversation for the last episode of season seven. He is an author, poet, and coach for creative entrepreneurs. Mark hosts the 21st Century Creative podcast, as well as A Mouth full of Air, a poetry podcast, both of which I highly recommend.
In this interview he shares some of the key points to start and evolve a creative business, and make a living out of our craft. Among other things, he mentions how to have those difficult conversations that are needed to advance in our careers, the importance of creating assets, how to treat the business as a creative project itself, as well as branding and positioning.
Mark has written four books full of resources on how to thrive as a creative in the 21st century. And contributed chapters to two international best sellers from 99U, Manage Your Day-to-Day and Maximize Your Potential.
He is an award-winning poet and has been a creative coach since 1996. During that time he’s worked with outstanding performers in almost every field of the arts and creative industries, including film, television, radio, theatre, music, design, advertising, and others.
Mark also talks about important aspects of a creative entrepreneur, including motivation, communication and presentation skills or productivity. He also shares part of his own “mental hygiene routine” to switch off the demands of work.
Visit www.lateralaction.com, and sign up to get the 26 lessons of The 21st Century Creative foundation course for free via email. This course is a guide that includes productivity, marketing, networking, going freelance, dealing with rejection and criticism, and much more.
Follow him on Twitter:@markmcguinness
Episode of 21st Century Creative Podcast with Kristin Linklater, the teacher of voice work for actors and speakers: https://open.spotify.com/episode/1hSq5xEBVH84RXM4MmipnO?si=yE_Mc1JfQ66KieNP77InWw
**Visit www.nickymondellini.com/podcast and download the ebook “Learn to handle the NOs of the industry” for free, and subscribe to receive La Pizarra’s monthly newsletter with news about new episodes and various resources for the best development of your artistic career
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** Visit https://www.nickymondellini.com to learn about the work of actress, host and voice over artist Nicky Mondellini.
Nicky Mondellini is an artist of international stature with more than thirty years in the entertainment industry. Her voice is heard in commercials on television, radio and digital platforms worldwide. She is the host and producer of La Pizarra with Nicky Mondellini since 2020.
Her work as an actress includes more than twelve telenovelas, several classical and contemporary Spanish plays, short and feature films, and the hosting of morning shows in Mexico and the United States. She is also a narrator for documentaries, as well as promotional and corporate videos.
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Voiceover: This is La Pizarra, a place where we explore creative minds in the entertainment industry on both sides of the mic and the camera. Here’s your host, Nicky Mondellini.
Nicky Mondellini: Welcome to another episode of La Pizarra. I’m your host Nicky Mondellini. I’m really glad you’re joining me today. This is the last episode of season seven and I’m going to be joined by author, poet and coach for creative entrepreneurs Mark McGuinness. He is the host of the 21st Century Creative podcast as well as A Mouthful of Air a poetry podcast, both of which I highly recommend. Mark will be sharing some of the key points to start and evolve a creative business. Now I want you to listen closely and take notes because Mark is a very, very experienced coach for creative entrepreneurs and you will be very glad you listened to this podcast.
I recommend you follow both of his podcasts and you will also be very happy to share those. His books are full of resources on how to thrive as a creative entrepreneur in the 21st century. Before we go on with the interview, I want to remind you that all episodes of La Pizarra are available on nickymondellini.com/lapizarra where you can also read the transcripts and you can also subscribe to our monthly newsletter. If you enjoy this episode, feel free to share it on social media, tag me and let me know what you liked about it.
Before we go on with the interview, I want to tell you about SquadCast, the platform that I’m using to record most of the interviews for this podcast. SquadCast has excellent sound quality and the best thing is that your guests can join the session from a computer or their mobile device from anywhere in the world. All they need is a stable internet connection. Find the link in the show notes and try SquadCast free for seven days and then you can decide which plan best fits your needs, either audio only or the video option. SquadCast has many advantages, like the possibility of having up to nine people in the session, for example, in a virtual meeting, and you can download your mixed and mastered audio files with Dolby sound quality. Try it out at squadcast.fm/?ref=lapizarra. This link is in the show notes.
Mark McGuinness is an award winning poet and has been a creative coach since 1996. During that time, he’s worked with outstanding performers in almost every field of the arts and creative industries including film, television, radio, theater, music, design, advertising, and many other fields. Mark has written four books for creatives. He also contributed chapters to two international best sellers from 99U, Manage Your Day-to-Day and Maximize Your Potential. He is the host of the 21st Century Creative podcast as I just mentioned, where his guests include Steven Pressfield, Scott Belsky, Tina Roth-Eisenberg and Joanna Penn among many, many others.
He also hosts the poetry podcast A Mouthful Of Air which has been named one of the top 10 poetry podcasts by Podcast Review. Mark helps clients in many areas including their creativity, productivity, communication and presentation skills, writing, branding and marketing, sales, networking, money, strategy, and business models, including also leadership. He spent 19 years as a psychotherapist, including work in the UK National Health Service and as a trainer and clinical supervisor for other therapists. As well as coaching private clients, he has delivered training, coaching and consulting for organizations including 99U, the BBC, British Film Institute, the Royal College of Arts and several others. Mark, thank you so much for joining me today, it’s a pleasure to have you on the show.
Mark McGuiness: Thank you, Nicky. It’s really nice to be here.
Nicky: Well, Mark, there’s so many things that I’d like to ask you. I’ve been following your 21st Century Creative podcast for a number of years, and I’m sure my listeners will be very happy to hear a lot of the tips and advice that you can give. Before we go into that, why don’t you take us through a little bit of how you started, well, first as a psychotherapist, and then from there evolving into your creative business. What made you go into the psychology field in the first place?
Mark: My therapist suggested it. I was at the fairly young age of about 23, 24, in a therapy session, agonizing about what I was going to do with my life. Catherine my therapist said, “Well, maybe you could do this.” I was just blown away by that and I think I said rather, maybe undiplomatically, “Don’t you have to be old and wise to do that?” She said, “No, not necessarily.” She said, “I think you’d be good at it.” and I got curious and she invited me to some NLP workshops, neuro-linguistic programming, which is related to the therapy and communication.
Catherine was a hypnotherapist and psychotherapist and I got very curious about what was possible with– The NLP and hypnotherapy people are very big on the idea that you can consciously change your mental your emotional state. You could, for instance, get into a more creative state if you wanted to be writing, or a more confident state for presenting or speaking or whatever. The age of 24 odd when I’d just come through a period of depression and feeling that I was very much out of control of my state of mind, my emotional state, the idea that you could control it, or at least influence it that was very exciting to me.
I got very curious about hypnosis and NLP. I was told, “Well, if you want to learn hypnosis, you can either learn to be a stage magician or hypnotherapist.” I didn’t really want to do either, but I definitely didn’t want to be a stage magician. I thought, “Okay, let’s go and do the therapy course.” Of course, when I did that, and I started working with people, I found, to my surprise, that I loved working with people and helping them one-on-one. Up to this point, I’d always been very much an introverted bookworm. That was quite a revelation that I could do this, and I enjoyed it, and I could help people.
Then I went and persuaded Ray Keady Lilly, who was the head of the National School of Hypnosis and Psychotherapy. This was back in the mid ’90s. I think they had a minimum threshold of 25 to start the training. I said to her, “Well, look, I’ll be 25 by the time I finish,” and he said, “Well,” he says, “I think maybe you’re a bit older than your years, so we might let you in.” That was great. [crosstalk]
Nicky: That’s wonderful.
Mark: That’s how I got started training in therapy. I remember meeting Ray for the interview. He was a very wise old majors-type character and I noticed that as I was talking to him the room was starting to ripple a bit. I thought, “Okay, he’s doing something hypnotic as we’re talking here.” Actually, it felt good and I really felt, “Oh, I can trust this guy. He’s going to teach me what I want to know.” Indeed, he did. That was a really amazing learning journey that I went on, and trained and came out the other side, able to practice and help people.
Nicky: Yes, and you definitely have and you have a very wonderful quality about you, from listening to your podcast. I was hooked from the first episode. The way you guide people into their creative process and because since you are a creative person, you have a very creative mind, you know very well all the things that go through a creative person’s state of mind, especially when they want to make a living out of their craft. What made you finally, start the 21st Century Creative?
Mark: Gosh, it must be 20 years after that initial experience of learning therapy. You mean the podcast, 21st Century Creative?
Nicky: Yes. I did skip ahead 20 years, because I was going to ask you how you started also with your creative journey, but you could probably start with that and then evolve into how the podcasts came about.
Mark: I started practicing therapy and really enjoyed it what with all kinds of interesting people. I discovered that there was a particular category of client that I really, really enjoyed working with, and that was the creatives. It was the actor with stage fright or other stage performers. It was the novelist with writer’s block. It was the film director or producer dealing with all the stresses and strains of the industry and so on. I evolved that into a coaching practice. I thought, “Well, a lot of these people are not necessarily got a mental health problem other than the fact that they are creative.”
That evolved. I coached in different types of context. I tried different types of- I did a bit of corporate work, I did some more what would be maybe mainstream life coaching, a bit of sports coaching, but the thing I kept coming back to was the creative work. That’s been my main coaching work for a long time now is working exclusively with creatives. The podcast The 21st Century Creative came after I’d been blogging for about 10 or 11 years.
Again, that had been something that I had done to put my ideas out there, to make connections, to find clients. I’ve had business partners and all kinds of interesting opportunities. Then I realized at a certain point, oh, I’ve got podcast envy now. I’m listening to a lot of podcasts and thinking that would be really nice to have a show because it’s basically your own radio show, isn’t it?
Except nobody’s telling you what to do. You are not told the news is going to be on in a minute. You need to wrap this up. I listened to a lot of podcasts and I thought that’s something I really want to do. Again, on the one hand I always think if you’re going to do some creative project, it needs to be sustainable emotionally, internally, as well as externally, financially, professionally. On the internal side, I had the feeling that I want to share more, I want to give more. I want to be out there more.
I realized, listening to podcasters, I felt that I knew these people who’d been in my kitchen or my car for a long time. I’d listened to hundreds of hours in some cases of these people talking. I thought it’s a really great medium to get in touch with people and be the voice in their ear, in their me time, in their downtime, in their learning time. I have things to say about creativity and the creative life and I just felt I could do that much more effectively by speaking. I also naively thought it might be less work than sitting down to write an article, but alas, that is not the case. It’s a lot more work.
Nicky: Never the case when you start a podcast.
Mark: What compensated for that was it was a lot more fun because some of the time I’m talking solo on the podcast, other times I get to interview great people like you, Nicky. It’s always [crosstalk] an interesting and inspiring conversation. That was the intrinsic, that was the creative expression side of it. The other side was, my main business is coaching. It’s having in-depth conversations with inspiring, high achieving creative professionals. Why not record some of those conversations as interviews and put them out on the podcast? Because I think that’s a better way for a potential client to get to know me and get to have a sense for what my energy’s like and my conversational style.
In podcast interview isn’t quite the same as a coaching conversation, but there are some similarities and I certainly have found that that’s worked really well. I’ve found that since I’ve been putting myself out there in audio format, the consistency of the right creative getting in touch with me and also being a good match with expectations because they know what my energy’s like, they know I’m not sergeant major, I’m not barking, or I’m not that motivational coach. I’ve found it’s worked really well in terms of internal and external sustainability, the creativity and the business side.
Nicky: Yes, I think they really go hand in hand because you also have a wonderful free resource that is the 26 lessons of The 21st Century Creative foundation course, which is amazing. Why don’t you talk a little bit about that so that people can go to your website right now and download it?
Mark: Oh, okay. Thank you. Actually I created that a fair bit earlier. Again, if I started blogging about 2006 and yes, it was February, 2006, Valentine’s Day. Funny enough. I think I did something more romantic than publish a blog post that day. Again, I’d been interested when I did my masters at Warwick, which was it was in Creative and Media Enterprises, so it was a bit like an MBA for the creative industries. I discovered in the marketing module for that, I discovered this guy called Seth Godin writing about the idea of blogs. My previous business had been me with the telephone ringing up a lot of big companies and selling our coaching and training services.
I was in a small partnership and that worked. I brought in a lot of business eventually, but I had to go through quite a lot of walls of fear to do that amount of cold calling and I swore I would never do that again. Then I read Seth Godin saying, if you write and you share your ideas and you are generous and you put them out on the internet for free, it leaves a trail of breadcrumbs back to you. Then people will phone you. You don’t need to ring them, they get in touch with you or they will email you. I found that was transformational because, again, it’s the sustainability thing. I really enjoyed that marketing activity a lot more than cold calling. I kept doing it. I kept blogging.
I think I’ve written about 500 odd blog posts in my life. That was great. It brought me a lot of interesting opportunities, clients around the world, readers around the world, business partners on the other side of the world which was all good. Then I realized with a blog, if somebody starts today and I’ve been blogging for 10 years, then all the stuff in the last 10 years, it’s not visible to them. They’re just going to get next week’s post.
I wanted to create something that would be a bit more, if you discover me and you discover my blog and now my podcast, I want to take you on a journey, which is, in this case, it’s a journey of looking at what are the foundational skills that you need, if you are going to succeed as a creative. We start with what do you want to be when you grow up? I think that’s the title of the first lesson. I’ve crossed out when you grow up because of course creatives never entirely grow up. We’ve always got to have that playful element at the heart of what we do. Then I built from there, I thought, well, what’s the next thing you would need to know?
About goal setting and I talk about productivity, how you actually get your work done. I talk about motivation, I talk about networking, marketing, getting to know yourself, your personality type, dealing with rejection and criticism. Whether to go freelance, whether to have your own business, whether to be an employee. What are the foundational skills that we need as a creative beyond writing poetry or making art or whatever it is that is our core passion? If you go to my website lateralaction.com, you can sign up and get the course and it’s all delivered free via email. Technically it’s called an autoresponder.
You sign up, you join the list and then it will send you lesson 1 today, excuse me. Then next week you’ll get lesson 2 and then so on and so on. You go on this journey. Within each lesson there are worksheets. There is the core lesson. There is a worksheet to help you put it into practice. Then there are links to all those blog posts that I’ve been writing for a long time. I said, well, here are the top blog posts about productivity or motivation or whatever. It was mainly a way of surfacing in an orderly way that would be useful to people a lot of the content that I’ve created. Also, I guess challenging me to say, “Okay, well, can you say all this in an orderly fashion?” Because blog posts tend to be topic of the week thing.
Nicky: Yes, exactly. It’s a phenomenal course. Also, from there you have a specific set of questions for people who are interested in being your clients and in having the benefit of your guidance. Just take them through on one-on-one coaching sessions.
Mark: That’s not directly you mean on my coaching page, the questions that I’ve got?
Nicky: Yes. One thing is for them to have the 26 lessons, but you also say, well, there’s a set of questions that you need to answer if you want to have these one-on-one coaching sessions. Can you give us a hint as to what are those specific questions? Because you have, of course, a lot of people that want to get in touch with you, that want to actually have your coaching services. What is it that you identify for you to say, okay, yes, I would be able to work with this person, or no, maybe I’m not the right fit, or maybe this person is not ready for a session. What is your criteria?
Mark: Really good question. One thing I’ve discovered about coaching is it really needs to be the right fit. The right kind of person at the right time, the right level of experience, and ambition, and whatever. I discovered that I do my best work with a more experienced person, someone who’s typically got about 10-years-plus experience in their field. Usually they’re at the point where they’ve got a certain level of achievement and success and so on, but they’re not satisfied. They want to go on and do more. They know that there is more potential that they haven’t realized and they really want to make that happen because life is short and careers are short.
On some level I think they know they need to do some work on themselves. They’re beyond the point of being told, the beginners, this is what you need to do to be a good actor, or graphic designer, or whatever. They’ve had all of that. Then what I’m going to work on with them is the human factors, the personal development, the mindset, the motivation, stuff like productivity as well. A lot of it is around communication skills, about how they show up in the world whether that’s in front of an audience, or it’s one-on-one, or whatever.
The internet is big and there’s only one of me, so if I’m going to meet somebody and start that conversation I want to have some idea of who they are, what they’ve done so far, what their work is like, what their ethos is, and so I have this set of coaching questions on the website that people go through. Some of it is about, can you describe your work? Which is always a tough challenge for creatives because a lot of us are doing stuff that doesn’t fit into the usual boxes. I invite people to give me links, tell me the work that they are most proud of. The main thing I’m looking for in all of this is, do I feel inspired when I see their work and I see how this person is showing up?
I don’t need to be overawed, but I do need to feel there’s something there that I feel a spark of connection with, and I feel inspired by, and I feel like, yes, that’s something that I would really like to get behind and help that person develop it. I think on the one level you could say that’s a self-indulgent criterion, because I’m a romantic poet and I like to have inspiring conversations with inspiring people. I would say yes, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but also that is the person who calls out the best in me as a coach. If my heart leaps when I look at their work, or I hear it, or I experience it in some way, that means that I can 100% get behind that person and what they’re doing.
Some of it is about the work itself, but I can see others it will be about the energy that I get from them when I meet them and I speak to them. There needs to be something there that I feel called to help. Those questions can help with that in the first instance. It can also give me a sense of what they’re looking for, what their expectations are, where they’re at in their career, whether they’re ready for a big change, because I generally don’t work with people with small goals anymore. I just want somebody who really wants to change their life in some way.
Mark: One thing I will notice, sometimes someone will fill out those questions. Occasionally, someone will send me an email saying, “Why do I have to fill out that form? I don’t see why I should have to do that.” I think, “Well, look, they’re coaching questions. This is the start of the process.” If you don’t like answering those questions, you’re not going to like talking to me because I’m going to ask you more questions like that.
Nicky: It’s going to be a deep dive.
Mark: Then other times I will get somebody who really takes the trouble to fill out the questions with a lot of thought, and care, and evidently self-reflection, and they will say, “Thank you for these questions. They already helped me.” I think, “Maybe this is somebody who’s going to be a good fit.”
Nicky: You also mentioned that you help people who have those difficult conversations that will change their lives. That’s exactly the example of this. Tell me what is another example of how you have helped someone who is probably oblivious to a certain area of their lives that they just have never tapped into, but that once they do, has really transformed their business and their sense of self like into, “Oh, why didn’t I think of that before?” Can you give us an example?
Mark: I’d rather not because-
Mark: -the individual coaching, I treat that as confidential.
Nicky: No, that’s absolutely acceptable.
Mark: Sometimes people will come on the podcast. I can talk a bit about Eileen Barnett who came on my podcast years ago because I’m quite really strict about what I say and what I don’t say. Eileen did give me a wonderful interview about the journey that she had been on, so I can say something about that. She was somebody who really had an amazing set of skills and maybe we could link to this interview from the show notes.
Nicky: Oh, absolutely. Yes.
Mark: I think in some ways she’s quite typical of my client. In other ways she’s completely atypical. She’s amazing, unique talent. She is an artist, an illustrator, a designer, you could say she’s a consultant. I think I might have tried to persuade her that she was a coach as well. She had all these different skills, and think, “Well, okay, I don’t fit into the usual boxes.” I think the message I tried to give was, well, you don’t need to. You can come up with your own box. She came up with the title, ‘the roving creative director’, and she had a very-
Nicky: Oh, that’s amazing.
Mark: -creative set ways of working with clients in different ways as a result of that. I think a lot of the time what I do, I hear a lot from clients, they say, “Well, you get me. You don’t try and persuade me to get the sensible job to give it up and treat this as a hobby,” or, “You don’t try and put me in the usual boxes.” Quite often they will come and they can do this and they can do that, but it’s not quite the usual way of doing it. One of the things I said in my latest book is your struggle is often a clue to your superpower. The thing that you get stuck with-
Mark: -is often maybe a little hint from the universe. Like with me, I got myself depressed and in therapy back in the day because I’d somehow latched onto the idea that if I’m a poet, that means I need to be studying in academia because there’s nothing else I can do. What else can you do with poets? I actually got myself quite stressed out with putting too much pressure on myself to excel at academic criticism of poetry rather than actually writing it. Weirdly enough, that was the thing that bumped me out of the academic path, but then as I said at the beginning of the interview, it set me on the therapeutic path. It was almost as like the universe was tapping me on the shoulder and saying, “No, Mark, you’re not supposed to stay in the library for the rest of your life. You need to be working with people. Let’s get you out in the real world a bit more.”
Nicky: That’s phenomenal. That’s very, very nice because a whole new door opened up for you that you hadn’t expected.
Mark: Yes, but I did spend a lot of time banging my head against it before I decided to open it. Very often it’s maybe the wounded healer idea that I find that I’m helping clients with things that I have struggled with and I’ve found a solution, and that means I can relate to where they’re at.
Nicky: Oh, no, completely. Talking about those things that we struggle with, is just organizing. As creatives we’re like we have this idea and that idea, and then we enjoy our art so much. Like as an actor on stage, or in front of the camera, or a voiceover artist, which is most of the people that listen to this podcast, is what we do, we enjoy it so much, but we struggle a lot with the business side of it, and having to put things into perspective, and organize it, and put that hat on. We have to wear so many hats. What is one of the things that you say? You have a great book that you put out, Productivity for Creatives. What is one of the tips that you can tell us that creative people can start just putting into practice in order to help them a little bit with their productivity?
Mark: In terms of productivity specifically or the business versus creativity question?
Nicky: Let’s talk about the business versus creativity.
Mark: I think they are related. I think you’re right to maybe bring them together. Business versus creativity, as far as possible get them to call a truce, get them, rather than it being business versus creativity. I always like to think of myself as a creative entrepreneur and I encourage my clients to treat the business as a creative project in its own right. A lot of the things that are crucial to a business’s success, like coming up with a business model that works or branding and positioning, communication, even designing processes and systems, they require creativity. It’s not exactly the same obviously as doing your voiceover work in this case, or in my case, writing poetry.
I do like the idea that I’m creating something with my business and I always try and look at something like marketing as not something I have to do that’s separate from my main work, but how can I extend my work out into the world? When I first started blogging, for instance, I was trying to be Seth Godin. I wasn’t very good at that because there’s only one Seth Godin trying to be clever and insightful and big-picture stuff but actually, the blog posts and later on the podcast that were most effective were the ones where I was just treating it as a coaching tool and saying this is something I’ve struggled with or that’s something I’ve found a solution to, or a lot of my clients have found this helpful in relation to this challenge that you might have in your creative career.
Just sharing stuff directly. Now I don’t see such a big distinction between the business and the creative. I just think it’s different aspects of the same thing. In how that pans out in terms of productivity, I think it’s really important to identify what are all the really important tasks, the things that you have to do. They may well involve different roles. Then what you want to do is you want to find a place in your life for each of those tasks, each of those roles. Which in terms of time, maybe you look at your day or you might look at your week, some people look at this in terms of their month or their year but in my case, for instance, I try and keep my mornings free.
The only time you’re going to get a coaching session with me in the morning, I live in the UK, is if you live in Australia because that’s the only way the time zones will line up. Most of my clients I will see in the afternoon. The morning is from my writing for my podcasting, recording my own project basically, and then the afternoon is when I’m in the coaching role. I’m sure your listeners will relate to this. When you’re doing your creative work, particularly if you’re performing, you can’t just be answering email and eating a sandwich and then suddenly go into top performance mode. It takes a certain-
Nicky: [unintelligible 00:33:04]
Mark: -absorption and focus to get into that state. Again, going back to the states and hypnotherapy and NLP and all of that. If you are in the zone, then you sound fantastic and you know what to do next and that is really precious time so try and keep that, identify this is the time when I’m actually doing my works. In my case, if it’s doing a piece of writing or recording a poem for my podcast, that’s blocked off. That is precious time. I have rules for this, but rules of the game. The rules of the game in the morning, I’m not allowed to answer email. I’m not allowed to answer the phone. I’m not allowed to be on social media. I’m not allowed to be doing research. I’ve got to be creating.
If I’m not creating, then I’m avoiding creating and it keeps it nice and simple. I have two slots in the afternoon for coaching sessions and I can totally get into my client’s world, partly because I’ve done my own thing in the morning. I’ve filled my own well as the saying goes. In the afternoon, and this is a nice thing for a writer, is that I can call myself a writer all day, but I don’t have to do any more writing. I just totally get into the coaching zone and I spend that time in the afternoon focusing on those two clients that I work with and then I’m done for the day. Everything stays fresh because I really enjoy my morning time, but by the time we get to the afternoon, I’m really ready to talk to somebody.
I’ve really had enough of looking at that screen on my own. Equally, by the time we get to the end of the afternoon, I’m ready to chill out and spend some time with my children and my wife, and part of me is looking forward to my quiet time again in the morning. I would say if you are listening to this, and you have critical roles, maybe one is around voice production performance. Another one is around admin, another one may be around marketing.
Just look at your working day or your week or whatever and say, this is the time when I’m going to be in this role. You can really get into character as I believe the actors might view it for that role. You can get a lot more done. It’s like I batch all my emails, I will answer them in the early evening. I think I give better responses that I’m just in email mode and I’m really focused on answering email than if I were trying to do it in and out, in and out, in and out a bit during the day when I’m not completely focused so.
Nicky: I think that’s a very good piece of advice because so many times, and I can speak from experience, we have auditions coming in and we want to send our marketing emails and also other things come up and then maybe you’re taking a course in the evening and whatever. A lot of the times you want to answer right away because some auditions the sooner you do them the sooner you get in the better. If you wait till maybe three hours or to the next day, probably somebody else already got it. There is that bit of a pressure there.
I think even within that and those pressures if there’s a designated time for all of that, as much as we can do, I think it’s going to help us be more creative and as you say, just be in the zone whenever you’re doing each of those separate things as opposed to looking at your email constantly, like you finish a recording, check the email again, you send it or whatever. Go to lunch, check your email again, whatever.
I think that on occasion has driven me crazy. I think that the times when I have been able to do that and say, “Okay, I’m just going to designate this time to answering emails and that other. I’ll block this time for auditions.” That sort of thing and have a hard stop for, “Okay, this is me time, I’m going to turn everything off and I’m going to just relax.” A lot of the times our minds are still revolutionized like thinking of projects and things and this and that. What do you recommend for that in order to be able to really shut down and relax and renew and be ready for the next day?
Mark: It’s not easy, is it? Because there’s billions of dollars invested in distracting us and getting us-
Nicky: Oh yes.
Mark: -addicted to the devices, to the apps within the devices, to the next action. Attention is worth a lot of money and we can either keep it for ourselves and our own projects and our clients, or we can give it away. It’s not to say you hide away, you never look at the phone or you never go on social media, but just be mindful of how much you are giving away in terms of attention each day. Also, I do think it’s important to have a fast lane and a slow lane or VIP lane, if you like, and an everybody else lane. The example you gave if, for instance, you see that you are a performer and there’s an opportunity for an audition and that comes through and you know that’s time sensitive and you know it can be a big opportunity, then answer that one.
Now there’s not to say you’d be checking them all day, but if you notice that that email has come in when you have checked, then I’m probably going to answer that one if I’m somebody whose career opportunity could depend on that. I guess my version of that is my clients all have VIP access. If I see a client email in my inbox, I will check my email first thing in the morning. The main thing I’m looking for is is there a client who needs something before lunch. I don’t want to be tuning out that person. Again, particularly if they’re in the southern hemisphere and it might make the difference of an extra day before they get a response from me.
Plus they all have my phone number and I’ve told them if it’s urgent, don’t email me, text me, or call me and I’ll get straight back to you. I can relax knowing that they’ve got access to me if they need it urgently. Otherwise, I will say to all my clients, you will get a response within one business day. That means I can relax because I know they’ve got what they need. To me, that’s mission-critical, that relationship, that access. I would say one thing, think about who are the VIPs in your life. Give them VIP access and everybody else can just wait a day or two for a response, I think is pretty reasonable. Coming back to your question about, how do we switch off, how do we get off the grid? I would say firstly put some digital barriers up. My phone is on airplane mode, email is not on my phone, or email is disabled on my phone so I actually have to log into the app. I have to go through typing the password and log in. I can’t just be mindlessly checking email and I definitely have no email in the evenings or first thing in the morning that improved the quality of my life. No end.
Remember I’ve said to my clients, if it’s urgent, you can text me on this number. I’ve made it so I don’t have to be in email. I also think it’s important to have some practice that gets you centered in your body that keeps you off the grid. For me, I meditate first thing in the morning for half an hour. That’s the thing I do. That centers me. It focuses me, it gives me perspective for the rest of the day. I also work out at lunchtime. I’ve got kettlebell practice that again is it gets me in the body, it gets me in the moment. It gets me away from staring at a screen, spending time with other people in real time. All of these things.
It sounds a little bit boring but it’s almost like a mental hygiene routine. We know we clean our teeth every day. We need to do something for our mind, for our heart, for our body each day so that we are not just living through the screens. Everyone’s going to be different for that. It could be go for a walk. Lots of people I know, I’m not a dog person but a lot of clients I know, they’ve got a dog. You’ve got to take the dog for a walk and you go out and you and the dog both get a break and you benefit from that and from being in contact with somebody who doesn’t care about what’s happening on Facebook or in the news or whatever. You’ve got to be present for an animal.
Nicky: Yes. Oh, absolutely. I think those are all wonderful pieces of advice because it’s so important to know when you can shut off and to be able to do it and not feel guilty that you’re not on all the time because it’s just not sustainable for our brains to be on and be producing or deciding or looking at more information or as you say, just giving the internet all that attention. Another thing that I wanted to talk about and this is switching gears towards your podcast, the other podcast, A Mouthful of Air, which is also amazing, the way you walk people through what a poem is and the different types of poems, how did you get that podcast started?
You’ve talked about this on your 21st Century Creative Podcast, but I think it’s a wonderful thing that you do also have that and it’s done so well. Tell us a little bit about A Mouthful of Air.
Mark: Thank you, Nicky. Obviously, this show is very close to my heart. Basically what I do on the show is every episode is around one poem. You listen and the first thing you will hear with no introduction is just the poem. If it’s a classic poem, which is half the episodes, I will read it. If it’s a contemporary poet then I get them to come on the podcast and they read their own poem. Then you get a bit of context. If it’s a classic poem then I will infuse about what I like about the poem. If it’s the contemporary poet, the guest poet, then I will interview them about the inspiration behind it in the writing process. What I really want to do is just share my love of poetry.
If you are watching the video version of this, you can see on the bookshelf behind me, this is my poetry library, this is my joy. I do know that I’m a bit of an odd one out in this respect because most people will read anything but poetry, they’ll read novels, they’ll read non-fiction, biography, smart fiction, history, politics, whatever but I’ve always got a book of poetry on the go. To me, it’s the most enjoyable reading there is. I get more out of these books than any other books. Really all I want to do on the show is just show. Just say, “Look, this is what you’re missing. This is what you could be enjoying.”
I think a lot of people get put off poetry. Maybe they have a bad experience at school, or maybe it’s presented to them as if it’s this thing up on a pedestal that you have to be an awe of and it’s hard to relate to. No, it’s not, it’s not an academic subject. It’s not something that is above us. It’s a part of life. It used to be a much more a part of life. Everyone would be singing ballads and tunes and songs of their entertainment before we have all these awful screens everywhere. It’s in our blood and I want to share that.
Yes, I had the idea to do both shows at the same time. The 21st Century Creative and the poetry one and I was going to launch the poetry one very shortly after the other one but then, of course, I discovered how much work a podcast is. It took a few years longer to do it but that was something I’d wanted to do from the beginning.
Nicky: I think that the way you’re introducing poetry is it’s digesting it for people who are not normally poetry readers or have written poetry themselves but you also learned how to use your voice in order to be able to interpret those poems and say them in a very beautiful way. I know you did a course with Kristin, the late Kristin Linklater which is an amazing vocal coach. Tell us a little bit about how you discovered your performance voice and the way you talk also on The 21st Century Creative. It’s that aspect of your voice that really draws people in. How are you able to discover that?
Mark: It wasn’t easy. I’m the introverted poet. I’m also British which is another big handicap in that department. Like I said, where I began was sitting in the library reading books, and like I said the universe had other plans for me. I got really curious about the fact that poetry didn’t start out as a written art. It’s older than writing and it still is in a lot of places. It’s an oral tradition. You get ballad singers, or back in the day, bards, reciting these big long epic poems which were the database of the tribe. They were the history, they were the culture. They were the cosmology, very often the science, and the medicine as well.
That experience of listening to a poem and listening to somebody recite the poem, I’ve always felt very drawn to as a poem. It’s not just something that you read. Even when you’re reading it, then you are vocalizing or I am anyway, in my mind what it sounds like. Then I heard about this amazing teacher, Kristin Linklater, who was up in the Orkney Islands, I think I heard about it first from some poet friends who’d been on one of her workshops and said it was life-changing and then I googled it and I looked at it and this was back in 2017, I think, or 2016. Anyway, it was before I launched the podcast.
I guess the other thing that I’m mindful of is when I decide I want to do something, I look for the best teacher or the best coach I can find and find a way to work with them. In poetry, I’m very lucky to find Mimi Khalvati 20 years ago, and she’s been a transformative teacher and mentor for my writing. I discovered Kristin roundabout the time that I was thinking about that I wanted to use my voice and I wanted to be the best I could be at that.
I remember somebody saying to me, “Well, why are you going all the way up to Orkney, if you want to do the podcast, your voice is all right.” I said, “I don’t want to be all right. I want to be as good as I can be and I was just really fascinated by Kristin’s central idea.” She said, I is freeing the natural voice. I thought we were going to be going up there and learning all kinds of really strong abdominal exercises so we could have this incredible Pavarotti-style blast of air and fill the room. That wasn’t Kristin’s way at all.
She would talk to us about the importance of sighing. She said, “If you just sigh, that’s all the power that you need and then you relax and your voice actually resonates in the way that nature intended it to.” She also had this idea that she said, “Well, my work is really about connecting your speech, which is the mechanics of the wind instrument that you use to produce sound. I want to connect your speech with your voice. Your voice is your imagination. Your voice is yourself, and your speech is constrained by your physical frame and dimensions and so on, but your voice is infinite, which was a really exciting idea.”
She said she wanted to rewire us so that we were able to do that and indeed she did. At least that’s the way it feels to me. That was quite a challenging experience because most of the people on– I went up two separate times and spent two weeks in total. Most of the other people on the course or a lot of them anyway were professional actors. There were a few people– I’ve done a fair amount of public speaking, which was fine, but this was a whole other level. That was a real adventure. It was certainly transformational for me.
Nicky: Yes, I remember listening to that episode where you’re describing all of that. How you finally went up to the top of a hill-
Mark: Oh yes.
Nicky: -and she had you say a poem or several phrases from there and she said, “Now we all need to hear you way down over here.”
Mark: That’s right. Sadly, Kristin is no longer with us. She died a couple of years ago. I was very lucky that I got to work with her while she was still around. The center is still carrying on Linklater Voice up in Orkney. If you Google that, it’s an amazing experience.
Nicky: Yes, I see it’s still going on.
Mark: Well, there still is this voice studio, which is a bit like an empty church. I suppose is the best way of describing it. At one end there is a piano, and at the other end was a skeleton and a bookshelf full of Shakespeare, because she was specialized in Shakespeare in verse that really got me excited and she’d worked with a lot of top actors on that. We had to recite a soliloquy and also a Shakespearean sonnet. I was doing my sonnet one day and she said, “Mark, we are over here, you need to project.” I thought I was, and at a certain point she said, “Okay, this isn’t working. We need to go outside.”
She opened it all the studio, and this is in a remote part of the Orkney Islands off the north coast of Scotland. She said, “Mark, you are going to the top of the hill and we are going down to the bottom of the hill, and you will recite your sonnet in such a way that we hear it and we connect with it.” I was like, “Are you kidding?” [laughs] Of course, Kristin, she had this authority, and if she told you you were going to do something that meant you were going to do it. I went up to the top of the hill and-
Nicky: You’re definitely going to do it.
Mark: -staggered about in fear until at a certain point I thought, “Okay, well, I have to do this because there’s no other option.” There was a part of me just let go, and I found myself booming out this sonnet, not just down to the bottom of the hill, but all the way across the sea to Rousay the next Island. It was such a release. It was a real ecstatic joy to do that. I remember going down to the bottom of the hill and there were one or two people with tears in their eyes. I somehow managed to connect with them.
Then, of course, I went into the studio and she said, “Right now.” The studio seemed tiny and so I filled it easily. Something about that experience is that my voice has not been the same since. I’m very grateful to Kristin for forcing me to march up the top of that very difficult hill.
Nicky: Yes. That is a lifelong skill that you got there. It’s a very wonderful opportunity that you had to work with her. Also, that you did interview her on your podcast.
Nicky: Yes. I’m going to link to that in the show notes because I think that’s a really wonderful episode.
Mark: Yes, that would be good because the great thing is you can hear Kristin’s voice, and you can hear the resonance and the expressiveness, and the emotion. It’s quite poignant for me because that turned out to be the last conversation I ever had with her. I feel very lucky that– Again, I was brave enough to ask her, I said, “This is a thing called a podcast and I’m about to launch one, would you consider?” She thought about it, and she said, “Yes, okay, I’ll do that.” She gave me a wonderful interview.
Nicky: Yes, it was. I’m definitely going to share that. Mark, so how can people find you? You mentioned of course your lateralaction.com website, is that correct?
Mark: Yes. For the coaching and all the creativity books and 21st Century Creative podcast, that is all at lateralaction.com, or just put 21st Century Creative into Apple Podcasts or Spotify or the usual places. Then if you are interested to hear some poetry or you are maybe curious about what poetry could add to your life, then either put A Mouthful of Air into Apple or Spotify or wherever, or go to amouthfulofair.fm. If you go to the website, there’s an email subscription option where as well as the audio, you get a full transcript of every episode, including the poem text.
Particularly with some of the more avant-garde modern ones, it can be quite good to actually compare the written and the spoken version and to see how different they can be or how they– It can be a very different experience. Poetry is great, you can either read it or hear it, and they’re both good. That’s why I do that. I always do the transcript with the text of the poem.
Nicky: Yes, I think that’s a wonderful idea. Do you still also do live readings?
Mark: Do you know what, I am doing some live readings and maybe I’ll give you an exclusive. I’m now talking to a couple of venues about doing a live show based on the podcast where we will have some live poetry reading and discussion. I’m still figuring out the format of it, but I think I’ve got some ideas that this is another way to share poems. I think it’ll be a really nice thing to do based on maybe with some of the poets from the podcast to take it on the road.
Nicky: That would be fabulous. Taking it on the road would mean only in the UK or would be over a world tour.
Mark: At the moment, but you know world’s domination is always in the creative sense, is always on the agenda. Yes, it would be lovely to– we’ll road test it in the UK, and then maybe we can go further afield. I should say actually because currently, I’m generously funded and supported by Arts Council England, want to give them a shout-out for supporting A Mouthful of Air. Currently, our remit is to record and feature poets based in England. At some point that may change. We may go international. There may be a private jet, we’ll just have to wait and see. Yes.
Mark: Yes, at the moment I’m thinking of England.
Nicky: Wonderful and the way to find out about all of that is to also follow you on social media. You are on Twitter mostly, Mark, rather than Instagram?
Mark: Yes, I am on Instagram, but I don’t really use it very actively, I’m afraid. I’m Mark McGuinness on Twitter. LinkedIn is turning out to be surprisingly interesting as well as a venue for discussion for creative professionals. I do get some nice responses to the poems that I post out via LinkedIn as well. Yes, so probably Twitter or LinkedIn.
Nicky: It’s one of those things, right? Where you wish you didn’t have to, but it’s the way we show up in the world, which wasn’t something that creatives had to do back in the day but now, you have to. I also remember that you commented in one of your podcasts, “It’s no good creating this wonderful art if nobody’s going to see it.”
Mark: Right. We’ve always had to show up in a sense. Shakespeare had to show up. He had to go to London. He had to get his hands dirty in the theater. The legend is that he had to hold people’s horses, that was his first job in the theater. While the gentleman were in the Orkney show, he would be holding the horses. I don’t know if it’s true or not, it’s a good story. He had to be part of that scene, he had to be visible.
Nicky: Yes, we have to. As you say, if we make friends with that part of our business and see it as an extension of our business, it’s going to make it a lot easier.
Mark: Also, I think as well, people say, I don’t like self-promotion and I say, “Well, okay, just leave the self out of it. Just promote the work.” I would-
Nicky: Yes, It’s a good way to put it.
Mark: -run through brick walls for my poetry show to get the poems out there. If I focus on the poems and why the poems matter, then I’m going to do the things that need to be done for people to hear the poems.
Nicky: Exactly. Yes, totally makes sense. Well, Mark, this has been wonderful, thank you so much for joining me today and sharing your wisdom and your golden nuggets of tips and advice. It was wonderful and I really encourage people to listen to The 21st Century Creative and get all of that wonderful knowledge and also to just have a breath of fresh air with a mouthful of air listening to your beautiful poetry podcast.
Mark: Thank you, Nicky. I’ve really enjoyed the conversation so I hope that bodes well for anybody who’s listening, and you are so good at this. You always ask such great questions and you are doing a really original thing with your show, particularly the way you managed to balance the two languages. One of which I can’t speak. It’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you very much.
Nicky: Well, thank you, and if there’s one last bit of advice, I know you not to give the creative challenge in your podcast and I’m not going to ask you to do the same here, but if there’s one thing that that you can give besides all of what you’ve already shared for creative entrepreneurs in the entertainment business specifically, what could that be?
Mark: What’s coming up for me now and based on all the things that we’ve talked about in relation to productivity, and promotion, and motivation, and so on, is really ask yourself whatever your creative feel, just ask yourself, why does this matter? What is the most important thing about my work? Is it to do with my pleasure in making or expressing myself? Is it to do with the connection with people? Is it to do with serving and helping? There will be something and it’s easy for that something to get lost in the admin, and the setbacks, and the disappointments, and not to mention all the distractions, but find a way of naming that something.
Then once you’ve done that, make that your priority, put that first every day. If you can in terms of time that you invest into it, but even when it comes to promoting just think you’re going to promote that thing that is most important. It doesn’t have to be about you, and your ego, or yourself or whatever, that thing matters. Then you go and you do what you need to do to make that thing happen and to put that thing out into the world. The thing is that will give you energy, that will give you courage and it will make it easier to find the time.
Nicky: I can totally think about that, and relate to that, and making it our first engine, what really moves us forward and everything else falls into place.
Mark: Can you say what that would be for you, Nicky?
Nicky: At the moment I’m developing it more and more but to me, it’s always to communicate from the heart. I do that with other people’s scripts and sometimes through my own podcast. It’s that it’s communicate from the heart to help people find things in themselves.
Mark: That’s a beautiful way of putting it. I don’t know about you but when I hear you say that, I just feel, “Oh, that’s actually–” It doesn’t take effort. It doesn’t take struggle. It doesn’t take maybe it can take courage sometimes but there’s a kind of, “Oh, well, I can come from there, and I can be natural, and I can be compassionate, loving, passionate,” whatever the word is but it’s coming from here and it’s not– I would find that. That’s a lovely I think I might take that into my week too. Thank you.
Nicky: Wonderful. Well, I do think you do that, it’s with your poetry and with your advice that you share, I think you already do that. Thank you for that. Thank you for creating and going on with those podcasts and putting yourself through all of that hard work that we know a podcast is to sustain it, to produce it, to write it, to find the guests, and to schedule them, and to all the things that we know go into a podcast. Thank you for going through all of that and [crosstalk] those.
Mark: Thank you and thank you for doing it as well because I know you’re doing all of that for this episode in this season as well so thank you, Nicky.
Nicky: Yes. Thank you so much and the best of luck with both podcast and your coaching business and also with your future live tours-
Mark: Thank you. Yes
Nicky: -for poetry.
Mark: Watch this space for those.
Announcer: Thanks for joining us on La Pizarra. Want to listen to more episodes? Visit lapizarrapodcast.com or nickymondellini.com/lapizarra where you can sign up for our newsletter and get exclusive previews of future episodes as well as resources for your creative business. Tune in next week for another interesting interview.
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