The Meaning in the Making: An interview with photographer and author Sean Tucker

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If you have followed the work of Sean Tucker, you probably know that he has published a book. It’s titled The Meaning in the Making and it speaks about much more than the mere technicalities of photography. It’s about our human need to create, about its beauty, complexity, and challenges, and about how we can make the absolute best out of it.

I was happy to get my hands onto a copy of the book, and then honored to speak with the author himself about it. In an interview with DIYP, Sean shared some details about writing the book, the challenges he faced, and some interesting details and anecdotes.

I have followed Sean’s YouTube channel for years now and I really enjoy his videos. So, naturally, I enjoyed the book as well, but I’ll tell you more about it in an upcoming review. As Sean’s follower, but also a fellow writer, I was curious to know how long had The Meaning in the Making been in his mind. And once he started writing, how long did it take him to finish it?

Sean told me that he had been playing with an idea for a book for around two years. There were some topics that he wanted to cover that weren’t suitable for videos, so he just sketched the ideas for chapters in a notebook and they stayed there.

“We’ve all got notebooks with like a thousand pages with ideas in them. And one of those pages was the one with that chapter outline.”

It was shortly before the pandemic when the publisher Rocky Nook approached Sean and asked if he wanted to write a book. They had in mind something more like “teaching photography kind of book,” but Sean remembered his rough sketch from a while back. He pitched that idea, and the publisher decided to go with it after all.

From the moment he started writing, which was around May 2020, it took him around seven months to finish. The UK was in a lockdown at the time, and Sean certainly used the time well. After proofreading and all the other technicalities, the book was finally published in August 2021.

If you’ve ordered the book, you’ve noticed that there are little QR codes at the end of some chapters. They lead you to photos and sometimes also videos that accompany the chapters. I found it pretty unconventional, so I asked Sean why he chose this approach instead of printing the images inside the book itself?

Sean told me that there are two reasons for this. First, he likes the form factor of the book and how clean and simple its design is.

“I thought, to put images in the middle as people do, then you put in this very stark, white, glossy paper so you can print color and other things. It kind of breaks the book out, which I didn’t want.”

Another reason is that the QR codes don’t only lead to images. They will sometimes lead you to videos on Sean’s YouTube channel, and you’ll agree – it’s pretty hard to add that to a printed book. 🙂

Just like his videos, Sean’s book is deeply honest and personal too, if not even more. Sean mentions many of his challenges, doubts, struggles, and insecurities, which is unordinary for men in our society. Therefore, I wanted to know whether it was difficult for him to be so deeply honest and open in the book. Or if it was perhaps easier to do it in writing than it is in front of the camera.

“I don’t find it that hard, to be honest. I always feel like, if you’re going to tell your story, what’s the point if not telling it honestly? If you’re not going to be honest about it, both the good and the bad, don’t bother.”

Sean has the same approach in his videos, and he told me that it’s, basically, just the way he is.

“I would rather sit over a coffee table with somebody and have a long deep conversation where we both bare our souls. That’s the conversations I like, so if I’m going to talk to people, I’m going to offer my half of that, whether it’s a video, a book, or whatever.”

It could be especially tricky being open in the UK, as Sean tells me. “My mom is horrified about all the stuff that I share with the world,” he added through a smile. “But I feel that I’m helping people most when I’m offering the most of myself as vulnerably as possible.”

What I hadn’t known before and what I learned in the book is that Sean has a degree in psychology. So I asked him how much his background in psychology had contributed to this book, but also to his openness.

“It has definitely shaped the book,” Sean told me.

“There are many parts of the book where I am talking about different psychological theories and how to people who make things. If we pay attention to them, it can make us more mentally healthy and avoid some of those pitfalls that I think creative people often hit.”

Still, most of the things in the book didn’t come out from the psychology degree. Sean told me that picked up the basic theories in college, but went on exploring on his own, especially those theories that relate to him and to the stuff that he creates.

“In terms of being open, I think probably my time working for the church was more to do with what helped me be somebody who is open about things. Because when I worked in the church, I worked mostly with young people. I found that, if I wasn’t to be honest with them about my struggles and my doubts, I couldn’t talk to them. There was no way they’d believe me and there was nothing to relate to.”

Sean points out that the church doesn’t normally accept this kind of conversation. However, he felt that it was the right thing to do. He found “the mix of vulnerability and honesty” that especially young people found authentic and trustworthy. And this kind of tone is what mirrors in Sean’s videos, and now in his book.

 

Those who follow Sean’s videos know that he used to be a pastor; he’s a psychologist, a photographer, a video creator, a writer… These things don’t seem necessarily connected, but in the book, you can see that they actually are. So I was wondering if all of these experiences have contributed to Sean finding his Truth as a person and a creator.

“When you’re living your story, there are so many dead ends that you’ll meet, that will feel like failures. […] I’ve had a lot of those: when you walk down a road for a long period of time and it ends, and then I have to begin again from scratch”

His interest in wildlife led Sean to studying wildlife sciences. However, he found math and chemistry too difficult, so he eventually switched to psychology, and it formed him in part. His time of working for the church shaped another, spiritual part of him. You all know him as a photographer, a video maker, and a writer, and each of these things made him who he is today. “I think all of these things layer into you,” Sean told me.

“Even though each one feels like a failure when you walk down those roads and you hit those dead ends, you still learn a lot walking down that road. It becomes a layer of things that you know, the things you’re interested in, and things you have to offer the world. You just need to make sure that you learn from the failures and the things that don’t work out.”

Following Sean on Instagram, I saw some Stories with feedback from readers. I also noticed that his book scored really high on Goodreads. So I asked Sean how satisfied he was with the feedback about the book so far, and if there are any comments that made a particular impression on him.

“When it went out and I started to get feedback from people, it was just really gratifying how many people were really connecting with it and saying how meaningful it is for them. It was amazing. … The feedback people have given me is exactly what I was hoping for.”

The best thing Sean hears from people is how I would describe the book too: “This is all stuff I felt was true but I didn’t have the words for.”

The Meaning in the Making was originally written in English, and it recently got translated to German. So I was wondering if there were plans to have the book translated into other languages, too.

“I don’t really get to decide that,” Sean told me. “It’s the publishers who do.” There were enough people in Germany asking for a translated book, so the publisher invested in it. “If people want it in their own countries and their own languages, they just have to start lobbying either Rocky Nook or the local publishers,” Sean added. So, if you’re from a non-English speaking country, you know what to do!

I finished The Meaning in the Making, so I was wondering if there were any plans for another book and the second edition of The Meaning in the Making.

Sean told me that he might publish a different format. “I wouldn’t add to the writing that much, but I might do a hardcover version.”

“In terms of another book, I would wait a little while before writing something. I’m not an author first, I’m a photographer and a filmmaker first. So, I feel like I have to live for a little while to learn some new things to have new things to say.”

Something I learned during this interview was that The Meaning in the Making is Sean’s second book. He wrote and self-published the first back when he was still living in Africa, after leaving the church, and it was a decade ago.

“It might also be ten years between this one and the next one. It might be five, who knows. But I think you just have to live a bit, otherwise, you end up doing sort of a version of what you’ve already done.”

The book is divided into chapters, each speaking about the single aspect of creation, but also of human nature: Truth, Voice, Feel, Envy, Shadows… The ones about the “feel” and the “shadows” struck me the most, and I was wondering if there was a chapter that Sean found more important than the others. Or perhaps all of them are equally important for creators to find their Truth and shape their Voice?

“What I really liked about some of the feedback was how different people were picking out different chapters as their favorite,” Sean told me. “I think different chapters relate to people at different parts of their journey.”

Even Sean himself was struck with one chapter more than the rest, and it’s the story that has been stuck in my head ever since we had this conversation. It’s the one about shadows (both literal and figurative) and how we should embrace them and deal with them.

Sean finished writing the book in early January, and this also ended up being a period when his life turned upside down, sending him to a very dark place. Then the book came back to him in March after the copy editing was done, so he had to re-read it.

“I remember getting to the Shadows chapter, having not read it for a few months because I’d written it months before, I had to re-read it. And suddenly, reading it felt like it was not my words, but someone else had written it to me from the past. I remember how important that chapter was to me then, in that dark place. And that was the sign for me that whatever you’re writing is important. That one is what stands out for me personally, but I love that so many people are picking out so many different chapters.”

For those of you who prefer audiobooks – yup, there’s The Meaning in the Making audiobook narrated by Sean himself. I was eager to hear more about it as it seemed to me that recording an audiobook must be very challenging for someone who hadn’t done it before. Turns out my assumptions were correct.

After Sean posted a trailer to his book, he shared a video of himself reading the first chapter. Underneath both videos, you’ll see many comments from people asking for an audio version. So, he decided to go for it.

“Around the beginning of October, I decided to make it happen. I bought some audio equipment and just sat down and started reading. It’s quite a challenge! I think people who do voiceovers are really talented. They know how to do what they do. When I started reading [the book], I realized that I was reading way too fast. When I listened to it I thought to myself ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t talk like I talk in a video, it’s too much to take in.’ So I had to slow it down and I had to find a pace. And if I’m being honest, I think I did okay, I’m really happy with it. But there’s still a lot to learn if I wanted to do it more in the future.”

I hope that you’ve enjoyed reading this interview as much as I enjoyed recording and writing it. The paperback version of The Meaning in the Making is available on Sean’s website and Amazon for $20. There’s also an eBook available for $16, or you can get a bundle for $30. As for the audiobook, you can get it through Sean’s website. And stay tuned, as DIYP’s book review is coming very soon!

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