23 Days in July 2019 – Le Tour – Stage 13.

Individual time-trial day. Possibly a key stage to set the tone for the GC contenders before going into the high mountains. Not a long stage or even a long time trial for that matter, but then the Tour has seemed to stay away from 50km plus time-trials since 5 times winner Miguel Indurain took 5+ minutes and more out of most of his rivals on such stages.

The ability to focus, and hurt, on an individual TT is a characteristic of all great Tour riders. Sure team radio and instructions from the team car following you all help keep you on track, but if you can’t find that will power from within, then too much can go wrong. As creatives – if you want your work to be more than a pastime – then you have to find that focus, drive, and ability to push you past the point where you would usually give in.

Focus and Push on through what is in front of you, or lose focus and become distracted, failing to achieve.

Stage Summary:

27.2km – Pau to Pau

De Gent set the early time standard which stood after many of the GC preferred riders had passed through. As expected Geraint Thomas’ times were very good and kept him in the front through the first time check, until Alaphilippe passed the same marker and had his nose in front, Thomas did put time into all of his other rivals but he actually lost time to the Maillot Jaune rider.

Day 435 – The Saturday Answer.

So The Friday Question was What single thing/event would ‘supercharge’ your creative exploits?

In thinking of the question I was influenced by the exploits of current Tour de France leader Julian Alaphilippe. He is a great rider, currently No.1 in the World Rankings, but he is seen as a one-day and short tour specialist. His lead in the greatest cycle race in the world is definitely benefiting from the mysterious powers wearing the leader’s Maillot Jaune – the Yellow Jersey – can bestow upon a rider. Whether is is that extra bit of confidence, or the thought of losing it makes you dig a bit deeper, it does push the rider wearing it to new places.

So, my answer?

Having a separate writing space. A space where I essentially ‘clock’ in and out. A place where the focus is the work of writing and there aren’t other easy distractions. A place where projects are planned and scheduled for completion.

What was yours?

23 Days in July 2019 – Le Tour – Rest Day 1.

The total time for the Maillot Jaune wearer of Julian Alaphilippe to complete ten stages of the Tour and reach the first rest day is 45h 27’ 15’’.

So what do you do when you have a day off and are only halfway through the race?

Get out on your bike of course!

You go for a team ride of around four hours. You are keeping your body going, keeping it under strain but giving it a little bit of recovery. Some commentators will tell you that the winner of the Tour is the person who can suffer the most and recover the most between stages of suffering.

Rest days allow the media outlets to take stock of what has happened so far and make fresh predictions about the teams and the riders they will tip to be taking the stage glory and the jerseys overall.

It is like a collective sigh and deep breath all in one go.

Creative people should perhaps follow this pattern. Intense hard work. Rest day. Intense hard work. Rest day. Intense hard work. The creative equivalent of the the final stage procession into Paris and the laps around the Champs Elysees.

The actual length of the ‘rest day’ might be longer than 24 hours but here it is deliberate. Exhaustion and creative numbness don’t come into it. No need for ‘writer’s block’, as we’ve programmed in for our brains to think about something else.

The rest days could be promises of family time/trips out as a reward for your hard work and their patience and understanding.

Remember thought that you still have to get on the bike and spin the legs, because tomorrow it is another stage and another day of hard graft at the office.

Day 426 – Distracted.

A study, led by Harvard, claims that an average ‘knowledge’ worker works in a state of distraction for 47% of their time.

Flip this around. By being more focused they could accomplish the same amount of work in half the time. Or potentially double their output.

How effectively can you focus?

Any habits or disciplines which impact that 47% will result in a significant improvement.

Log/record what you do in the time you devote to your creative endeavours.

Review it and do what you can to delete the clear distractions.

(The distraction of keeping the log doesn’t count!).

23 Days in July 2019 – Le Tour – Stage 4.

Another long stage over 200km. Most likely to be largely quiet with a few breakaways until after the sprint around 66km to go. In a post-stage interview Geraint Thomas revealed that quiet stages like this, particularly in this first week of the Tour, make for incredibly nervous riding, prone to crashes.

Writer’s are famous for their writer’s block – although there are the block-deniers! – but I think that there is the writing equivalent of early Tour stage crashes.

For a lot of people writing is a nervy affair. There are so many habits, superstitions, omens, about the task of attaching your bottom to a chair and actually writing. Then when you are writing there is a creeping worry that something must be wrong because nothing is actually going wrong or preventing you from writing.

The Tour riders are nervous and twitchy, which is often the reason why crashes happen, so writers do the same.

Okay no other writers physically clip their back wheel or fall down in front of them, but they let ‘something’ put them off their stride. I think this possibly happens to other creatives as well. Watching Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year competition, I have seen the odd contestant get halfway through a painting and then wipe off what they’ve done or cover over part of the picture, with some undefined reason as to why.

The peloton (the name given to the whole group of riders) is competitive. The fight for general classification overall and position in each stage is obvious and physical, against each other and against themselves, but there is also a strong sense of camaraderie and unity. These riders love doing what they are doing. The money isn’t fantastic unless you are lucky enough to be a big tour winner or a noted classics rider. These guys ride bikes. Even if it wasn’t their day job then they would be riding their bikes.

Most likely it is their capacity to suffer and push themselves well past any normal limits is the reason why they are professionals.

How do you match up in your respective area of creativity?

Are you professionals in your attitude and habits?

Do you make the sacrifices?

Do you suffer and push yourselves to the limit?

Stage Summary:

213.5km – Reims to Nancy – Sprinters teams to the fore and a win for Elia Vivianni – a rider who has now won sprint stages in all 3 Grand Tours.

One of the moments which sticks out for me on this stage is an interview with Mike Tienussen. He wore the maillot jaune for the first 3 stages and when asked for his thoughts and feelings about not wearing it for this stage, his response was completely upbeat. He talked about the experience being one of happiness and something that he would look back as such long after he had finished being a professional cyclist. He wasn’t down about not being the leader any more. He counted himself to be lucky enough to be one of only a small number of people who would ever wear the Tour leader’s jersey.

Day 419 – Why Are You Doing This?

Why?

I am a writer, therefore I write.

You maybe a painter, therefore you paint.

Simple.

A writer might see stories where ever they look.

A painter might see the colours and textures around them.

A musician hears the melodies in conversations and noises of life.

The ‘this’ is whatever it is you are doing creatively – imagine it is a blank line and you need to insert your creative project or endeavour.

Why you write, or draw, or play an instrument, might just be because it gives you joy.

Or it might be because it is your career, or you want it to be your career.

Both reasons are fine.

But both have different expectations of you.

Realising this might help you save time in the long run.

Know why you are doing your creative thing and act accordingly.

One is a job and needs to be treated as such. The other has wriggle room and can be the subject of whim.

Day 413 – The Friday Question.

It’s Friday and there’s a question.

Simple enough concept.

However, I set the question and I’ve spent the last half hour trying to answer it!

The Friday Question is:

What is the one immediate thing you need to do for your creative endeavour to improve?

I’ve decided that I will give my answer on Saturday in a post probably handily entitled The Saturday Answer.

See you tomorrow!

Day 410 – Schedule.

There is a difference between an amateur and a professional in any endeavour.

Money isn’t the differentiating factor anymore. Both get paid; although you would expect the latter to receive more.

The professional is clear in what their job is. They have to meet specific expectations and everything else in their life works around those expectations and commitments.

The amateur has to fit those expectations and commitments around their actual day job. These are their add-ons.

With creatives, those add-ons can end up sacrificed to the circumstances of life and work.

So how do you solve this tension between probably being an amateur but wishing you were a professional.

The secret sauce is scheduling.

Any successful leader or entrepreneur will tell you that they live by what’s on their calendar. If it isn’t on the calendar then it doesn’t exist. Meetings, golf, family time, it is all in the diary.

If you are serious about your art and you want to make it into the professional leagues, then act like a professional.

You might only be brave enough to write up on the family planner for a twenty minute slot – but that’s fine.

7pm-7:20pm – In the Writing Cave – I can write with this pencil or use it as a prod/Painter armed and ready to paint the canvas or you!/Musician with Noise Cancelling Headphones – I can’t hear you even if you scream.

Scheduling also tells everyone else you are being serious about your art.

It also holds you accountable.

You’ve got twenty minutes – GO! – you don’t have time to waste.

You are a professional now, so act like it.

Day 408 – Migrate Like Elk.

You mention Elk and you get comments.

Elk are one of the largest species within the deer family apparently, and a they seem, to an untrained eye, to share in a lot of deer-like behaviour.

One of the origins of the name Elk is from the Old Norse Elgr. I mention that because my wife has Norwegian Viking in her ancestry.

Elk tend to migrate towards the higher altitudes in the spring time and go in the opposite direction during autumn. During the winter they prefer wooded areas for shelter and protection.

So like writers then.

Spring. The weather starts warming up and the snows start to retreat. New ideas spring up like the new growth of plants and bushes. Wandering writers gather attracted by the newness of everything around them.

Summer. Having found an area particularly fertile and suited to their needs, they stay, they enjoy the abundance of words which come easily.

Autumn. The cool winds start up and the ideas become scarcer and words are easier to find. They get spooked and start the journey back to the safety of the woodland.

Winter. They gain protection amongst the trees – I’m taking this as a metaphor for books other people have written – and wait it out until the spring returns.

When you write there is a flow. Different seasons. It is easy to get frustrated and be hard on yourself.

An Elk knows that there is movement and seasons in its life.

You should accept that to and accept that whatever the season there is always something going on which sustains your creative life.

Input.

I have a confession.

I didn’t write today.

Before you turn your backs on me at the coffee shop, or whisper to your writing group, or report me to the authorities, sometimes it is okay to simply not write.

Don’t make it a habit though!

Some days you just need to input.

Read. Chat. Muse. Listen to something new. Go for a walk and take your camera. Maybe even take a nap.

Sometimes you need to let the creative juices work like a slow cooker. Don’t force it. Let it simmer.

I didn’t write today, but it is okay.

I wrote this blog post after all. I also thought out a key scene in the revision of a novel I had written. I thought about the writing process and what I need to do to improve. I read a little. I had a meal with good friends and we laughed a lot.

So what did you do today?