Day 467 – Creative Like Bill Belichick, Pt.2.

So yesterday I suggested that relatives could take inspiration/lessons from sports and hopefully I will convince you today.

Bill Belichick is the most successful NFL coach ever because:

  • He stays focused on the overall goal and works hard to achieve it
  • He never goes through the motions and always trains with purpose
  • He makes sure that he puts the right players on the pitch at the right time
  • He doesn’t panic if things don’t seem to be working early on in the season and understands the importance of late on in the game and the season
  • He doesn’t waste time talking about the game

So how does this translate into being creative?

Be really clear about what you are trying to achieve.

Belichick knows the season is about winning the Super Bowl and so is the pre-season and the post-season. If you want to write a novel then that is the goal, nothing else. Prepare. Execute. Analyse to make next year’s performance better. It is hard work so put in the hours. Be focused and cut out distractions. Commit and achieve.

Practise with purpose and put what you learn into action.

A very underestimated part of what Belichick does is the practice field. The Patriots train with crowd noise. They train with old and scuffed up balls, removing as much of the grip as they can. They try to recreate conditions similar to the ones they will play in. All practice is purposeful.

It can be hard if you are time pressed for your creative pursuit but you need to practice. If you are a writer then try and find an extra couple of hundred words which are based on what you are writing, or will write in the next chapter. It might be character descriptions, or scene setting, or dialogue. If you are an artist you might need to experiment with colour, or sketch certain body parts, or try different techniques for applying the paint.

Use the creativity you need for that particular moment.

Don’t get distracted or show off. Use the skills to produce the elements you need to make that particular chapter, or picture, or composition, exactly as you need it. Be prepared and execute. If the scene is your chapter is heavy on dialogue, then make sure you have been practicing that element. Listen to good movies or tv, listen to or read good scenes from books and plays.

Don’t Panic!

Sometimes, particularly in the early stages, things might not go quite the way you had planned. It happens. Work out why and fix the issue. Sometimes there might not be a specific problem, you just didn’t execute well enough, so make sure you do the next time. Keep pressing on and know everything will come together late on in the season when it really matters. You may have zigged when you wanted to zag but keep the process going and remain focused on the end result.

Don’t waste time and energy.

Monosyllabic answers and repetitive phrases at press conferences are communicating that this isn’t where we win championships and Super Bowls.

As creatives we have platforms which can really boost the audience for our creativity in ways which no other writers/artists have had before, but it can also be a massive distraction. Social Media is the press conference. Learn from Bill. Don’t waste your energy and know it is taking time away from your main job. It is necessary, which why even he does them, but his conduct tells you that he knows what is important. The end result.

So Create Like Bill! And I hope to see you all in the Hall of Fame! (But don’t be surprised if Bill doesn’t speak with us!)

Day 466 – Creative Like Bill Belichick, Pt.1.

I’m not trying to alienate anyone here by mentioning the New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick. I understand that the franchise and the coach are like Marmite – you love them or you hate them.

For full disclosure I am a San Francisco 49ers fan, but as a sports coach you have got to learn from the best and the 6 Super Bowl victories simply make him the best.

I was listening to the Sky Sports NFL podcast, with the excellent Neil Reynolds and Jeff Reinebold, where they were finishing up their pre-season ‘state of the franchise’ thoughts and the final team being mentioned was the Patriots.

It occurred to me that surely the secrets of Belichick’s success could be applied to being creative.

Hear me out.

Players on a team are ultimately a set of skills and experiences. The coach uses those skills and experiences to craft a win. You get enough wins in a season then you get the big prize at the end; but even if you don’t, those wins remain achievements in themselves.

As a creative you gather together as many skills and experiences as you can. You use those to produce a piece of work. You put together a good enough body of work then you are often acknowledged/rewarded/awarded titles and prizes.

Let me be more specific.

You are a writer. You gather your group of players – in this case authors/books/characters/plots from across all your years of reading. You use this knowledge, these skills and experiences, to write a chapter – to win. You win as many regular season games as you can – you write as many chapters as successfully as you can. Losses and ties mean you need to do some revision. The post-season is where you hone it all down to that last championship game – the finished novel.

Perhaps, alternatively, the different games in the normal season are different types of writing. The post-season is your overall body of work.

The head coach is the natural editor in your brain. A little more of this. A little less of that. Those elements for that particular match, or these elements for this piece of writing, in order to be successful.

Hopefully, you can see where I am going with this.

Tomorrow, I will try and convince you of what Bill Belichick can bring to our creative endeavours.

Day 443 – Embracing the Void.

I’ve just read a great article by Gwenna Laithland advising writers to use ‘white noise’.

Basically, white noise is the void – the bits you leave out which the reader then projects their own thoughts and imagination onto.

Laithland uses the example of a Harry Potter stage show casting Hermione Grainger with a black actress. J.K. Rowling admits that she never specified her heroine’s skin colour.

I often get caught up in feeling the need to give more detail in description and narration – partly because I write dialogue much more easily and my pages can quickly resemble a play script.

I like writers at both ends of the spectrum. The very precise and detailed, and the void.

So which is best?

I suppose the answer is write with detail when you need to manouveur the reader into a specific place and embrace the void where it really doesn’t matter.

I am still working on this.

Day 439 – Aloud.

When you write, read it back.

Not in your head. In your head it sounds different.

Read it aloud. Preferably to someone.

Most of the mistakes and awkward sentences will become apparent to you straight away. Some the person listening to you will point out.

It can be challenging. Not everyone reads aloud well. Not everything you will write will sound good. You have broad shoulders and a tough chin, you can live with it.

Happy reading!

Day 437 – What You Know.

There is an old writing adage which exhorts you to write what you know.

Sound advice.

If you have never been a police officer, or investigated a murder, then you might want to avoid crime novels.

Yet plenty of writers ‘do’ crime.

Why? Possibly because they want to murder someone and they’ve really thought hard about it?

Fake it until you make it?

You get out of your writer’s room and ride along with the police and detectives so you do know what you are talking about?

But what do you know that can be used in a different way?

George Lucas knew Westerns and Japanese Samurai movies but he had a fascination for space.

Think about your setting and drop in different characters or point of view.

Think about your characters and drop them into a different setting.

See what happens.

23 Days in July 2019 – Le Tour – Stage 15.

Predications all turned upside down, commentators and pundits changing their minds quicker than the pedals are turning on those race bikes and the Tour enters its last stage before the final rest day and the last five combative stages before the final processional stage into Paris.

Life changes as quickly as events in a Grand Tour. We try to plan our progress through a varied and challenging course the best we can, but sometimes we just have to react to what happens around us. The same is true in our creative endeavours. Sometimes we have to go off script. We haven’t done anything wrong, it is just the road and conditions in front of us. Often these unexpected problems are a turning point towards something new and better.

I read that Van Gogh’s ‘yellow’ period may have been down to a medical condition or the effects of the ‘home brew’ alcohol he was consuming – either way, the results in his work came to be a defining period in his work. I’m not suggesting that you set out to create the defining moments of your art through adversity, but sometimes change just happens and you should work with it.

Commentators are rightly extolling the achievements of Simon Yates. He won’t win the Tour, this year at least, but he has achieved an incredible feat in his two stage victories, so far. Being successful isn’t always what you think it is.

Stage Summary:

185km – Limoux to Foix Prat d’Albis

A fantastic ride by Simon Yates and a second stage victory for him in this year’s Tour. Thibout Pinot finished strongly also, just behind Yates, and Egan Bernal moved himself up the classification also. Geraint Thomas seems to have recovered a little and grabbed some time back against Alaphilippe, but crucially Pinot and Bernal gained time on him. This year’s Tour seems still wide open for top six riders on GC. Exciting for the Tour undoubtedly, but it also shows you how strong Chris Froome has been over these last few years that the whole race could be controlled by him and his team.

23 Days in July 2019 – Le Tour – Stage 14.

The Tour has its own heritage and legends not only in the riders of the peloton but also in the stages themselves. The HC – haut category – climbs are essentially marked as ‘beyond classification’ and are largely where the Tour de France is won or lost. The Col du Tourmalet is one of these famous HC climbs, at 19km long with an average of 7.4% – the last 3kms having gradients of 10.9%, 7.2%, and 9.8%.

As creatives we have these legends of HC’s in our field of creativity. There is the history and the stories which we learn, and fear or embrace, and against which we inevitably must test ourselves.

On The Cycling Podcast, Francois Thomazeau made the point that team Ineos appeared to be losing their control over the race and they were now not the emphatic force that they have been in the past. He further surmised that other key Tour teams have suffered a similar fate around seven years into their dominance, e.g. Banesto with Pedro Delgado and Miguel Indurain, United Postal with Lance Armstrong, and now Team Ineos with Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas.

Interestingly, these observations come after the general pundit predictions of Thomas winning the time trial stage and Alaphilippe most likely to drop off the pace on the Tourmalet. Okay, Thomas came second in the time trial and faded in the last kilometre on the Tourmalet, but also add into this that Chris Froome isn’t there – if he was here and in form then it would be difficult not to see him comfortably be in Yellow and with a decent lead. Suddenly Team Ineos wouldn’t seem so passé.

Stage Summary:

117.5km – Tarbes to Tourmalet Bareges.

Julian Alaphilippe has now got riders and pundits changing their opinions of him after today’s stage. Thibaut Pinot suddenly shot out of obscurity in this year’s Tour to justify his pre-race status as a possible podium placing. The maillot jaune came in 2nd and took further time out of Geraint Thomas. A shorter stage for this Tour but plenty of fireworks from the peloton, perhaps countering the organiser’s thinking that the longer stages were needed to make the racing more interesting. Short and punchy, making everyone go earlier, seems to have created much more of a spectacle. Chapeau to Alaphilippe for the defence of his leader’s jersey.

Day 436 – Sunday Reflection.

Style.

I re-watched the movie The Thomas Crown Affair the other night and Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway clearly had style, in both their personalities and their fashion.

Creatively, I think we spend a long time trying to find our ‘style’. Early works are often composites of our favourite writers/artists/musicians, as we learn new techniques and experiment out of confidence in our ability to produce something maybe worthwhile.

Structure and technique can both define and dictate what we produce, but most of the successful creatives you could name eventually do something a little different and that is what gets them noticed.

What’s your sense of ‘different’ from your heroes or fellow creatives?

Chase Jarvis put out a great podcast/video on style with fellow photographer Alex Strohl – it is worth a look.

Day 430 – 24 Hours.

One day.

One day I will . . .

. . . Learn to play the bagpipes, write a novel, learn how to sing better . . .

The list that can easily be added to at least once a day.

What if you took 24 hours and focused on just one thing?

Maybe not 24 hours in one sitting, but if you devoted 24 complete, undistracted, hours to one single thing.

What would you spend your 24 hours doing?

23 Days in July 2019 – Le Tour – Stage 9.

France’s national day – known generally to us as Bastille Day – known to the French as 14th Jolliet, as the Bastille was a prison in Paris and not specifically relevant to the rest of France, despite the history books linking it with the revolution.

14th Jolliet is day of family and celebrations and, if you are in the right area, sitting by the roadside waiting for the Tour to pass by.

This year the French will be that little bit happier maybe, as the Maillot Jaune is currently on the back of a Frenchman in Julian Alaphilippe, and most likely he will pull that jersey on again on the podium at the end of the stage.

This has already been mentioned but there is some consternation in the nation about the lack of home rider finishing atop the podium at the end of the greatest bike race in the world.

Understandable.

However, one of the ways in which this problem is attempting to be resolved is through the organisers trying to engineer the stages of the Tour to suit French riders. This seems like backwards logic as the race is then being designed to suit the riders’ performance at the previous edition.

It would make more sense to help French cycling, in general, to develop the talent in riders and sports directors, much as with the developments in GB cycling.

I have little knowledge of the great French cultural icons for their National Day – I wonder if it is the same as our impression? Cyclists like Bernard Hinault and Laurent Fignon. Impressionist painters, like Monet, Gaughan, and Degas. Classical composers like Bizet and Ravel, and modern musicians like Jean-Michel Jarre. Writer, Marc Levy. A number of actors, like Marion Cotillard, Sophie Marceau, Audrey Tatou, and Jean Reno. Buildings like Norte Dame, the Eiffel Tower, and Versailles. Fashion icons like Coco Chanel, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Yves Saint Laurent.

Stage Summary:

170.5km – Saint-Etienne to Brioude.

14 man breakaway with only 2 Frenchmen in it, but having Alaphilippe in Yellow probably placed less expectation on the other riders to get out and be in the public eye. There seems to be less dominant teams this year with only 3 or 4 riders from the same team getting on the front and controlling/lifting the pace. It is difficult to know if this is because the teams are weak from the make up of the riders, or if there is a specific change in tactics. Pete Kennagh seems to think that a couple of the Ineos riders are struggling for form and it does seem strange not to see the familiar train of Team Sky/Ineos on the front controlling matters. Maybe this is the problem, the other Director-Sporteiffs came to the race thinking changing in team name but it will be the same playbook. The possibility of course is to keep riders hidden away until the big mountain stages, which might possibly be borne out by how quickly Ineos riders brought Geraint Thomas back to the main bunch on yesterday’s stage. They took a big turn and then dropped back saving energy. The other key GC teams might be doing likewise or possibly have been caught out with the change in tactics.