Here’s a review of two recent books on creativity that have done rather well for themselves and their authors. The first is ‘The War of Art‘*, by screenwriter and novelist Stephen Pressfield (the title refers, of course, to the 6th century treatise on military strategy attributed to Sun Tzu, the Art of War); the second is the equally wonderfully-titled ‘Ignore Everybody (and 39 other Keys to Creativity)‘* by Hugh MacLeod, a popular cartoonist, blogger and general man-about-the-net.
While this will not be an entirely glowing review, particularly in one case, I want to start by saying that I consider both of these to be essential reading for the creativity space. Despite some misgivings, I think they are extremely valuable and accessible works and I heartily and unreservedly recommend them both.
There are a number of similarities, which is one reason I have chosen to review them together (another is that I happened to buy them together and read them sequentially). Both are edgy, streetwise and a little curmudgeonly, with short punchy chapters and an unapologetic willingness to take potentially controversial positions. Tough love, as it were, from a couple of guys who have done their time in the trenches – which is a nice change from the frequently more academic treatments of the topic.
Both are also written from the perspective of essentially solo artists, and portray the task at hand and the journey we are on as basically an individual endeavor. This might not ring true for everyone; as discussed in my previous post, collaboration is a deep creative well for many artists, and for some it is literally inseparable from the process; neither of these authors really mentions it at all. They may be more attractive to people working in similarly solitary idioms.
Finally, they are both fairly short books; I read each in a sitting-and-a-half, as it were, and will likely dip into them regularly for a bit of inspiration or a kick in the butt from time to time.
There are also some key differences: Ignore Everybody* is more practical, the War of Art* more psychological. MacLeod includes a selection of his own work in cartoon form, where Pressfield only makes reference to his novels and screenplays, in some cases quite self-effacingly. He also uses a lot more sports metaphors; this is the author of ‘The Legend of Bagger Vance’, after all (subsequent events have cast a different light on his numerous references to Tiger Woods, but I’ll try not to hold that against him). More
Well it’s review time again. My aim with these is to work through a list of books and courses that I’ll be posting here very shortly on a handy Creative Resources page… Meanwhile, this one is in the time-is-of-the-essence category, as there’s a very limited window to get in on this one – and I simply can’t speak too highly of it.
I’m talking about the Lateral Action Course for Creative Entrepreneurs*. It’s mostly a joint project between Brian Clark (of Copyblogger fame, among a host of other endeavours) and the wonderfully helpful Mark McGuinness who somehow finds time to maintain his own Wishful Thinking blog as well as producing many of the Lateral Action site materials – which are themselves highly recommended. There are also contributions from frequent Brian Clark collaborators Tony Clark (everyone seems to feel the need to clarify that they are not actually related) and Sonia Simone.
The Lateral Action course was my first substantial information-product purchase, and I doubt I could have made a better choice. It presents a truly vast amount of information, for one thing, and it’s also really superbly structured – walking you through Content Marketing from the broad strategy level to much more specific tactics.
This has proved invaluable to me as an artist trying to come to grips with how to interface with this unfamiliar world, and given me the confidence to start building out my creative vision into a long-term business model. And it really is aimed at helping artists and other creative types come to an understanding of online business – no mean feat, as we are often notoriously bullheaded on the subject – well, speaking for myself anyway.
The sections on psychology are tremendously useful as well, directing us around some of the more dangerous pitfalls and blind alleys of the journey towards Creative Entrepreneurship. Mark McGuinness is a practicing Creative Coach and he clearly has a profound understanding of the psychological aspects of creativity, but for me the real value has been in helping me bridge the gap between creativity and the entrepreneurial mindset. More
(This article contains reworked material from a post on my previous blog, ‘Cliffjump!’)
Steven Pressfield wrote a post yesterday called ‘Do It Anyway‘, which got me thinking. It’s about powering through the “first I have to…” conditions and excuses we create to justify putting off our creative work. I wrote a comment:
By giving any playtime whatsoever to the ‘first I have to’ demons, we are giving ourselves permission to delay, hedge our bets, stew a little while longer, and generally talk ourselves off the ledge of doing something that might put us at risk of being laughed at. This is directly at odds with the permission we actually need to give ourselves, which is to get on with it, to try and (possibly) fail – or, just as possibly, ace it.
… And then I realized I had more to say. I’m not sure it’s quite as easy as Just Doing It. If it were, a lot more work (creative and otherwise) would get done. The fears that hold us back are more complex than that, they are deep and deeply intertwined. And they become even more insidious when we reconstruct them into habits and systems of rationalized Resistance – to use Pressfield’s own term.
I am not convinced that brute force is the best way to break through these barriers. The excuses we make often cover up old, deep, or very raw wounds, and simply tearing off the bandages might not be wise, or even possible, for everyone. It might work sometimes, for some people, but for many I think it may take more than sheer force of will.
Set up the dominoes
I’ll be discussing this more, and offering my own ‘program’ for getting past barriers, in the upcoming Cliffjump! Manifesto. In the meantime, I’d like to offer one remedy that is perhaps a little easier to put into action than simply not making the excuses you’re currently making.