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 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 – Stage 11.

Like the anticipation of any big event, the few days before are nervous and conservative. In a bike race like the Tour de France all of the GC favourites become chess players, mindful and trying to think ahead as many moves as they are able. The difference being their eventual execution of those moves will rely on their physical capabilities to match their intellectual efforts.

Any creative mind embarked upon a project will exhibit similar tendencies. There is a natural state of anticipation, nerves, euphoria, a sense of what might have been if only we had done this or that. There is a flow and ebb. We need to recognise this and react accordingly.

I’ve written already about preparation and scheduling. We are on a journey, like the Tour. Mountains and flats. Sprints and individual races against the clock.

Caleb Ewan has been there or there abouts on pretty much all the stages where there has been a main group sprint. Up until now he has not had the ‘luck’. Still he has persisted. That persistence paid off today. He is a young rider who had to leave his wife and newborn child, still in the hospital, to go to the Tour. He has a job and that dictates your life at times. I am sure he will dedicate that stage win to his wife and daughter.

Creativity can be a career or a hobby. For one you have to make sacrifices, for the other you can easily place it to one side. If you are pursuing the former it can be difficult to make that transition from the latter. Like Caleb Ewan, this is where persistence brings you the win.

Stage Summary:

167km – Albi to Toulouse.

A 4th Cat and a a 3rd Cat climb, so generally should be a sprinters’ day.

Caleb Ewan took his first major tour stage win with a good sprint from a long way out. He held onto the right wheels and made it across the line to take his first major tour, let alone his first Tour de France stage, win. The French are still cheering on Julian Alaphilippe in the Maillot Jaune. Interestingly, the French seem to be holding out for Thibaut Pinot, but evert Tour commentator which mentions him immediately follows it up with the assertion that he does not have the mental edge to win the Tour. It has been a long time sine Bernard Hinault last won the race in 1985, and maybe the French are used to wanting to win so are banking on Pinot, or probably won’t win, because they don’t know what to do if a Frenchman does actually win it.

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?

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.

23 Days in July 2019 – Le Tour – Stage 3.

This stage of the Tour leaves Belgium and enters France, travelling on one of the longest routes of this edition through the famous Champagne region. Dom Perpignan will watch over the riders as they pass through the vines of Moët and Chandon.

Also in this stage there is the relatively recent invention of time bonuses over some specific climbs, as a way to spice up the race. Interestingly, perhaps one of the reasons why not much happens in some of these early long stages is exactly that – it is an early stage in a three week race and it is ridiculously long.

Over recent years there has been much publicity attached to the design of each year’s Tour and the organiser’s attempts to break the control of the winning teams – well Team Sky really. It also happened before with the various incarnations of the teams of the now disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong.

This always seems to be the reverse of what should happen.

The weight of tradition and teams who carry on doing what they have always done – and not being successful or at least only being partially successful – seem to apply pressure to the race organisers to adapt the course to try and ‘defeat’ the top teams/contenders.

Surely those teams missing out on a final podium place and/or the Yellow Jersey should be adapting the winning habits of those teams winning?

One of the key developments in the Creative world recently is surely the amount of information which can be shared/learned from other creatives?

In the past there have been ‘schools’ of art and music, mostly from the physical proximity of those people involved. Now we can link up with creatives from all over the world at the tap of a screen or press of a keyboard.

What remains, however, is the individual’s uptake of those lessons, which I suspect is read/seen but then not fully adopted. You can see this in sport all the time.

I am not suggesting that we all follow the same blueprint and become clones of each other, but if a sports team/person, or Creative, is producing great results from following specific habits or actions, why wouldn’t we want to add that to our armoury also?

Here is my Tour inspired Creative list of things to do to accomplish your aims:

1. Be clear about the desired end result – e.g. at the end of 90 days you will have a 90,000 word story complete, or you will have a fully completed canvas after 3 days, or 12 song ideas for development after 12 days. The length of time does and doesn’t matter. It is the time frame which you set and will complete the task by.

2. What do you need to do to prepare undertake the task? Think planning, materials, schedules, letting people know you will be engaged upon your creative endeavour for a specific amount of time each day etc. Do you need to plot in detail or just have the basic skeleton of your story? Do you need certain paints or new strings for your guitar. Once you start your creative ‘tour’ if you don’t have it then it is to late.

3. Be clear about the route – each of the Tour riders have a handbook which contains every detail about each stage route they could possibly need. You need to think like this too. Each day you will write 1000 words and spend 20 minutes reviewing the previous day’s efforts. You will spend 3 days sketching and 5 days painting. Each song needs to be between 3-4 minutes and you will lay down the basic guitar chords and a hummed melody for each.

4. What do you need to do each day to optimise your performance? Make sure the cupboard is well stocked with coffee. A short walk before you start writing, or walking and feeding the dog before you paint. 20 minutes of warm-up on the guitar before you start with new ideas. Whatever works best for you.

5. How will you celebrate the wins along the way? Stage winners and Jersey leaders on the Tour get to stand on a podium, shake hands with the local dignitaries, wave at the crowd. What are you going to do? A meal out at the end of each week with your wife if you hit your target. Watching your favourite tv show at the end of your painting session. PlayStation with the kids once you have rough recorded the chords and melody.

Stage Summary:

215km – Binche to Epernay – Essentially flat apart from the one Cat 4 and three Cat 3 climbs right towards the end. The breakaways were kept on a short lead for most of the day but then the peloton were caught napping by J. Alaphilippe. Egan Bernal gained 5 seconds over Geraint Thomas from a small break in the chasing pack and the Tour press seemed keen to try and make something out of this. Potentially Alaphilippe could hold onto the journey for a few stages.

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 416 – Blank.

A blank page isn’t good. Writer’s Block. A failure in creativity.

A blank canvas is good. Prepped for those first sketch lines, that first application of paint. Then you layer until the image takes on form and is revealed.

Writing works in a similar way.

The blank page is waiting for those first words. That first layer onto which you will add or take away to reveal the completed image.

How much you add or take away is probably dependent upon your style.

The first rule of being creative is that you create – you have a blank then you add something to it.

So take that blank page, or screen, and throw some words at it.