Have you felt your creativity drying up? You know, that awful feeling of hitting the wall and getting a writer’s or artist’s block?
Well, dive into the wacky illustrated world of Hugh MacLeod, author of Ignore Everybody – And 39 Other Keys to Creativity. Creator of the hugely popular Gaping Void cartoons and a copywriter in Madison Square Avenue, MacLeod dishes out lots of mantras in the slim volume.
Opinionated and hard hitting, Ignore Everybody isn’t a typical management book. You won’t learn the ABCs of putting together an artistic portfolio or shooting a Hollywood blockbuster. Nor will you be given a checklist of things to do and not to do.
Ignore Everybody isn’t for everybody. Written with much soul, it’s collection of 40 riffs on creativity serves more as a “wake-up” call rather than an instruction manual.
What you will get is a collection of advice for anybody keen to re-ignite their creative mojo.
Let me highlight some of the more interesting insights from the book.
The central premise of the book, MacLeod’s theory is that good ideas alter the power balance in relationships and hence are often resisted. The more original your idea is, the less good advice you can get from others.
MacLeod’s own experience with the doodling of cartoons on the back of business cards provides a good back story to this tenet. What started as a hobby later became the central pillar of his success as a business cartoonist.
This principle of doing it your own way is further developed in other related riffs:
Are you busting your guts in pursuit of your art and creative pursuits? If not, you ought to do so – at least according to MacLeod.
This notion isn’t unique to the book – practically every volume on success has their equivalent “10,000 hours” popularized by Malcolm Gladwell.
“Doing anything worthwhile takes forever. Ninety percent of what separates successful people and failed people is time, effort and stamina.”
This concept of personal endurance and perseverance is further elaborated in various creativity oriented mantras:
Outrageously titled but sensibly defined, MacLeod’s Sex and Cash Theory goes like this:
“The creative person basically has two kinds of jobs: One is the sexy, creative kind. Second is the kind that pays the bills. Sometimes the task at hand covers both bases, but not often. This tense duality will always play centre stage. It will never be transcended.”
I love how the book further debunks the “starving artist” theory by offering pragmatic advice such as the following:
Anybody in a creative field knows how difficult it would be to create a magnum opus. Is there a surefire way to summon one’s muse at the blowing of a whistle?
Unfortunately, the answer is no. At least according to MacLeod.
Rather, you should start by creating and doing the work itself and inspiration will then hit you like a tonne of bricks when it comes.
“If you have something to say, then say it. If not, enjoy the silence while it lasts. The noise will return soon enough. In the meantime, you’re better off going out into the big, wide world, having some adventures and refilling your well.” – Hugh MacLeod
This premise of putting your soul into your own unique work, and doing it till your ship comes in is also elaborated in the following quote-worthy liners:
As you’d imagine, a pragmatist like MacLeod isn’t worried about selling out when pursuing his creative muse. In fact, his view is that worrying about the battle between commerce and art is a complete waste of time.
In his own words:
“…when a young person asks me whether it’s better to sell out or stick to one’s guns, I never know what to answer. Warhol sold out shamelessly after 1968 (the year he was wounded by the gunshot of a would-be assassin) and did OK by it. I know some great artists who stuck to their guns, and all it did was make them seem more and more pathetic.”
This idea is further elaborated in riffs like the following:
Worrying about “Commercial vs. Artistic” is a complete waste of time.
The most memorable chapter in the book was the story of Hugh MacLeod’s creative career.
Narrating his own journey, MacLeod described how he started off as a copywriter in an advertising agency, and how the advent of the Internet allowed his cartoon doodling career to take off.
One of the rare and talented few who could marry drawing with writing, MacLeod played off the “two strings” in his bow – cartoons and Internet.
Maintaining a constant creative tension between the two, he could “keep things interesting” while paying the bills. This creative tension is perhaps best encapsulated by the concluding paragraph from the book:
“It’s good to be young and full of dreams. Dreams of one day doing something “insanely great.” Dreams of love, beauty, achievement, and contribution. But understand they have a life of their own, and they’re not very good at following instructions. Love them, revere them, nurture them, respect them, but don’t ever become a slave to them. Otherwise you’ll kill them off prematurely, before they get the chance to come true.”