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Advice for the creative folk

Posted on November 06, 2009 by D' MacKinnon

Some advice for those of you engaged in creative endeavours. Courtesy of Ignore Everybody by Hugh MacLeod.

1. Ignore everybody.

2. The idea doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be yours. The
sovereignty you have over your work will inspire far more people than
the actual content ever will. Your idea doesn’t have to be big. It just
has to be yours alone. The more the idea is yours alone, the more
freedom you have to do something really amazing.

3. Put the hours in. If somebody in your industry is more successful
than you, it’s probably because he works harder at it than you do.

4. Good ideas have lonely childhoods.

5. If your business plan depends on suddenly being “discovered” by some big shot, your plan will probably fail.

6. You are responsible for your own experience.

7. Everyone is born creative; everyone is given a box of crayons in kindergarten.

8. Keep your day job. 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.
It’s balancing the need to make a good living while still maintaining
one’s creative sovereignty. The young writer who has to wait tables to
pay the bills, in spite of her writing appearing in all the cool and
hip magazines… who dreams of one day not having her life divided so
harshly. Well, over time the “harshly” bit might go away, but not the
“divided.” This tense duality will always play center stage. It will
never be transcended. And nobody is immune. Not the struggling waiter,
nor the movie star. As soon as you accept this, I mean really accept
this, for some reason your career starts moving ahead faster.

9. Companies that squelch creativity can no longer compete with companies that champion creativity.

10. Everybody has their own private Mount Everest they were put on this
earth to climb. You may never reach the summit; for that you will be
forgiven. But if you don’t make at least one serious attempt to get
above the snow line, years later you will find yourself lying on your
deathbed, and all you will feel is emptiness.

11. The more talented somebody is, the less they need the props.
Meeting a person who wrote a masterpiece on the back of a deli menu
would not surprise me. Meeting a person who wrote a masterpiece with a
silver Cartier fountain pen on an antique writing table in an airy SoHo
loft would seriously surprise me. A fancy tool just gives the
second-rater one more pillar to hide behind. Which is why there are so
many second-rate art directors with state-of-the-art Macintosh
computers. Successful people, artists and nonartists alike, are very
good at spotting pillars. They’re very good at doing without them. Even
more important, once they’ve spotted a pillar, they’re very good at
quickly getting rid of it. Good pillar management is one of the most
valuable talents you can have on the planet. Keep asking the question,
“Is this a pillar?” about every aspect of our business, our craft, our
reason for being alive, and go from there. The more we ask, the better
we get at spotting pillars, the more quickly the pillars vanish.

12. Don’t try to stand out from the crowd; avoid crowds altogether.

13. If you accept the pain, it cannot hurt you. You’re better off doing
something on the assumption that you will not be rewarded for it, that
it will not receive the recognition it deserves, that it will not be
worth the time and effort invested in it. The obvious advantage to this
angle is, of course, if anything good comes of it, then it’s an added
bonus. The second, more subtle and profound advantage is that by
scuppering all hope of worldly and social betterment from the creative
act, you are finally left with only one question to answer: Do you make
this damn thing exist or not?

14. Never compare your inside with somebody else’s outside. The more
you practice your craft, the less you confuse worldly rewards with
spiritual rewards, and vice versa. Never sell something you love.
Otherwise, you may as well be selling your children.

15. Dying young is overrated. Every kid underestimates his competition,
and overestimates his chances. Every kid is a sucker for the idea that
there’s a way to make it without having to do the actual hard work. The
bars of West Hollywood, London, and New York are awash with people
throwing their lives away in the desperate hope of finding a shortcut,
any shortcut. Meanwhile the competition is at home, working their asses
off.

16. The most important thing a creative person can learn professionally
is where to draw the red line that separates what you are willing to do
from what you are not. It is this red line that demarcates your
sovereignty; that defines your own private creative domain. What crap
you are willing to take, and what crap you’re not. What you are willing
to relinquish control over, and what you aren’t. What price you are
willing to pay, and what price you aren’t. Art suffers the moment other
people start paying for it. The more you need the money, the more
people will tell you what to do. The less control you will have. The
more bullshit you will have to swallow. The less joy it will bring.
Know this and plan accordingly. When I see somebody “suffering for
their art,” it’s usually a case of their not knowing where that red
line is.

17. The world is changing. If you want to be able to afford groceries
in five years, I’d recommend listening closely to the (people who push
change) and avoiding the (people who resist change). In order to
navigate the New Realities you have to be creative – not just within
your particular profession, but in everything. Your way of looking at
the world will need to become ever more fertile and original. The old
ways are dead. And you need people around you who concur. That means
hanging out more with the creative people, the freaks, the real
visionaries. They’re easy enough to find if you make the effort, if
you’ve got something worthwhile to offer in return. Avoid the folk who
play it safe. They can’t help you anymore. Their stability model no
longer offers that much stability. They are extinct; they are
extinction.

18. Merit can be bought. Passion can’t. The only people who can change
the world are people who want to. And not everybody does. Part of
understanding the creative urge is understanding that it’s primal. We
think we’re “Providing a superior integrated logistic system” or
“Helping America to really taste Freshness.” In fact we’re just pissed
off and want to get the hell out of the cave and kill the woolly
mammoth.

19. Avoid the Watercooler Gang.

20. Sing in your own voice. The really good artists, the really
successful entrepreneurs, figure out how to circumvent their
limitations, figure out how to turn their strengths into weaknesses.
Had Bob Dylan been more of a technical virtuoso, he might not have felt
the need to give his song lyrics such power and resonance.

21. The choice of media is irrelevant. My cartooning MO was and still
is to just have a normal life, be a regular schmoe, with a terrific
hobby on the side. It’s not exactly rocket science. This attitude
seemed fairly alien to the Art Majors I met. Their chosen art form
seemed more like a religion to them. It was serious. It was important.
It was a big part of their identity, and it almost seemed to them that
humanity’s very existence totally depended on their being able to
pursue their dream as a handsomely rewarded profession.

22. Selling out is harder than it looks. Diluting your product to make it more “commercial” will just make people like it less.

23. Nobody cares. Do it for yourself.

24. Worrying about “Commercial vs. Artistic” is a complete waste of
time. It’s not about whether Tom Clancy sells truckloads of books or a
Nobel Prize winner sells diddly-squat. Those are just ciphers, external
distractions. To me, it’s about what you are going to do with the short
time you have left on this earth. Different criteria altogether.
Frankly, how a person nurtures and develops his or her own “creative
sovereignty,” with or without the help of the world at large, is in my
opinion a much more interesting subject.

25. Don’t worry about finding inspiration. It comes eventually. Find a
way of working that makes it dead easy to take full advantage of your
inspired moments. They never hit at a convenient time, nor do they last
long. Writer’s block is just a symptom of feeling like you have nothing
to say, combined with the rather weird idea that you should feel the
need to say something. Why? If you have something to say, then say it.
If not, enjoy the silence while it lasts. The noise will return soon
enough.

26. You have to find your own shtick. Jackson Pollock discovering
splatter paint. Or Robert Ryman discovering all-white canvases. Andy
Warhol discovering silk-screen. Hunter S. Thompson discovering gonzo
journalism. Duchamp discovering the found object. Jasper Johns
discovering the American flag. Hemingway discovering brevity. James
Joyce discovering stream-of-consciousness prose. Somehow while playing
around with something new, suddenly they found they were able to put
their entire selves into it.

27. Write from the heart.

28. The best way to get approval is not to need it.

29. Power is never given. Power is taken. The minute you become ready
is the minute you stop dreaming. Suddenly it’s no longer about
“becoming.” Suddenly it’s about “doing.” You didn’t go in there, asking
the editor to give you power. You went in there and politely informed
the editor that you already have the power. That’s what being “ready”
means. That’s what “taking power” means. Not needing anything from
another person in order to be the best in the world.

30. Whatever choice you make, the Devil gets his due eventually.

31. The hardest part of being creative is getting used to it.

32. Remain frugal. Part of being creative is learning how to protect your freedom. That includes freedom from avarice.

33. Allow your work to age with you. You become older faster than you think. Be ready for it when it happens.

34. Being Poor Sucks. The biggest mistake young people make is underestimating how competitive the world is out there.

35. Beware of turning hobbies into jobs. James Gold-Smith once quipped,
“When a man marries his mistress, he immediately creates a vacancy.”
What’s true in philanderers is also true in life. “Before, this man had
a job and a hobby. Now suddenly, he’s just got the job, but no hobby
anymore. But a man needs both, you see. And now what does this man,
who’s always had a hobby, do with his time?” My friend held up his
glass. “Answer: Drink.”

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