Revisiting "How to be Creative" by Hugh MacLeod

It's been a couple of years since I first read Hugh MacLeod's How to be Creative, from his blog gapingvoid. That was long before Twitter. Today he's mentioned his forthcoming book on Twitter. Due out June 2009, the book version will be called Ignore Everybody. Which is the first item on his 37 item list. I needed to find this post again today.

Even reading something entitled "How to be Creative" seems contradictory to commonly-held viewpoints. I mean, we've met 'em - people who don't seem to have a creative bone in their bodies. How is a list going to change that? But the 6th item on his list negates the suggestion entirely. McLeod tells us, "Everyone is born creative; everyone is given a box of crayons in kindergarten." Sis called while I was contemplating this, and when I told her about his assertion, she said, "I believe that to a degree. Maybe we all have some creative tendencies, but just like there are some people who are more naturally inclined toward being good at math, there are also people who are just naturally more creative than others." Maybe she's also bought into a norm. But I tend to agree with her. Which is, perhaps, why I'm looking forward to reading the whole post again. I want to see what he says that could help me change my mind about this. It falls in the basket, I think, with other never-to-be-100%-answered debates as Nature vs. Nurture.

Take a look at a few items on the list:

  1. Ignore everybody.
  2. The idea doesn't have to be big. It just has to be yours.
  3. Put the hours in.
  4. If your biz plan depends on you suddenly being "discovered" by some big shot, your plan will probably fail.
  5. You are responsible for your own experience.

There is no way I can disagree with a single one of these assertions.

What occured to me today as I read over MacLeod's list again is that while this might be a useful list for those who don't think of themselves as creative, it's a Must Read for those of us who do. Because even for "creative types," life gets in the way. (Yes, sometimes creative people use clichés.) We may look at the world through a creative set of lenses, (there I go again,) every day of our lives, but the non-creative obligations, over time, hammer so much out of us. For most people I know, responsibilities increase rather than decrease, as we keep hoping they will. So we hear people spout that overused phrase, "think outside the box," and even when our lives are spent largely consumed by All Things Creative, we, too, forget to do just that. We need reminders. We need lists. I need this list.

Skimming the page again just now, I came across #19. Good examples, these:

Sing in your own voice.
Piccasso was a terrible colorist. Turner couldn't paint human beings worth a damn. Saul Steinberg's formal drafting skills were appalling. TS Eliot had a full-time day job. Henry Miller was a wildly uneven writer. Bob Dylan can't sing or play guitar.
But that didn't stop them, right?
So I guess the next question is, "Why not?"
I have no idea. Why should it?

The last week of another year always brings me the gift of contemplation. You too, no doubt. Oh the questions: How did I end up doing _________? Why did I forget about my desire to _________? Isn't it great I figured out _________ wasn't good for me and stopped doing it? Because yes, if you search long and hard enough, you'll find items for both your lists, both the, "It's possible I'm a loser and haven't yet faced the facts yet," and also the "Oh yea, I totally rock!" Whatever our own personal names for these lists, they're the ones that help us move forward and achieve more of the things we desire. Goals are reached by contemplating what works as well as what doesn't.

Maybe that last paragraph seems out of place in a bit about Hugh MacLeod's take on creativity, but in my mind it's dead on. I was labeled "creative" long before I wrapped myself in an identity that embraced such a possibility. Just being creative isn't the end, though. It's not enough. For me, I want to call the list, "How to Live Creatively." Because creative people know it doesn't matter that he found his own title. We can call it what we like, if it suits our needs to do so. (Turns out the author did, too, eh?) At any rate, the idea of what it means to live creatively is often at the forefront of my mind. No more so, though, than the last week of the year. So as I enter a new one, I've found the perfect piece to read. To contemplate. No doubt I'll disagree with some of the things on his list. But if my recollections are even mildly accurate, most of it's dead on.

Maybe you'll enjoy it too! Read the entire post here.