ian & david in paris

Take your ideas for a walk

Finding the perfect way to co-write a book …on the streets of Paris

“You want us to go to Paris? To write a book that could be written just about anywhere?”

My co-writer David had a point. It was the end of 2010 and we’d just been commissioned to write ‘Zoom! The Faster Way To Make Your Business Idea Happen’. This was my third book — my first collaboration with David Sloly — and I was trying to persuade him to jump on a train to Paris. As he rightly said, we could have written the book just about anywhere, so why did we need to bother with the hassle and cost of going to another country?

Why? Because we needed to take our ideas on a journey. To filter the good from the bad, to challenge our assumptions and yes, to lose our baggage. But there’s something else. A journey unleashes my creativity — it’s where I’m in my element. When that train leaves the station or that plane leaves the ground, I break the wrapper on a virgin notepad, open the first page and ideas flow. I know I won’t get that outcome in an office or at a desk, it has to be a journey. Why Paris? Well, it’s only a couple of hours from London but it gave us a temporary home for our ideas away from the distractions of our homes and businesses. And I’d found us a white walled, wood floored apartment which I knew would be conducive to getting stuff done.

Taking a journey was how I’d written my previous books: for my first ‘Leap!’ it was trip to the South of France; for my second ‘Juggle!’ I chose Amsterdam. On those trips the laptop stayed at home as I filled notepads with content until I had blisters, fuelled by espresso and sunshine. Then I came home and typed it all up into a meaningful 40,000 words.

Those experiences shaped the template for my collaboration with David. With our busy work lives and us living in different parts of the UK, we knew we needed to invest in some time together to start the writing process (Skype and Facetime was not going to cut it).

David was on side and in December 2010 we took the early morning Eurostar to Paris. By the time our train pulled into Gare Du Nord we’d decorated our table not only with croissant crumbs and coffee cup stains but also with Post-It notes of the headings that would become the chapters of the book.

Once in Paris we soon found our working groove. We spent our days walking around the city, sometimes in the snow, usually without a map. We’d walk and talk, not worrying about where we were heading, riffing back and forth until our thoughts had real traction. And then we’d stop for coffee, capture those ideas in our notebooks, step out again and repeat, stopping for lunch when the coffee would be replaced by a carafe of red wine (well, we were in Paris). When our feet — and brains — ached, we’d return to the apartment. There we threw up more Post-It notes on the wall, and also on the floor where we plotted out content with Sharpies on a ream of old-style continuous printer paper.

We’d developed this methodology for co-creation on the fly, and it worked. After a couple of days David nailed it nicely, he said of the process:

I expected the ingredients to get thrown into the pot, the water to boil quickly and the soup to be made. Today we can reflect and taste it …and it’s all good.

We returned to London with a map where we’d plotted each chapter, capturing the lede, its promise, the stories we’d tell, the take aways for the reader and a bunch of bullets for everything else. With that framework we knew we could both go away, write the book, confident we’d be on the same page.

Could we have created our book without going on a journey? No, our project needed fresh winter air, strong coffee, red wine and it needed the streets of Paris.

We may not have been creating a work of art, but there was nothing to stop us following in the footsteps of the great artists who got inspiration from travelling around Europe, and where better than Paris to do that.

Don’t kid yourself you can do your best work in your office or in your attic at home. Go on a journey… take your ideas for a walk.