book review: Ignore Everybody by Hugh MacLeod


Ignore Everybody: and 39 Other Keys to Creativity
by Hugh MacLeod
I’m trying to think of a way to review this book and all I can think of is this, which is sort of a mediumish review: Although creativity must come from inside, sometimes creative people need a kick in the ass. This book can be that kick in the ass. This book also has the advantage of being a kick-in-the-ass wrapped in a funny boot.
I do recognize that for most people, be they readers or editors or what-have-yous, that is far to short. For those readers, editors and what-have-yous looking for something longer, here goes:
Hugh MacLeod manages in 176 pages to say more about creativity than most aspiring teachers, writers, or creatives themselves could say in ten times that length. Perhaps that is because drawing cartoons on the back of business cards honed his voice and message to a laser’s width precision. The book, which includes samples of these cartoons–far too few, though too many more and it might have distracted from the point of the book–claims to aim at the modest goal of helping people be creative. What it really is about is putting away excuses and bullshit and lollygagging. It’s about not listening to the lifetime of voices that give you very valid and humane and reasonable reasons for not creating something (a painting, a restaurant, a new style of shoe) and instead listen to the oldest voice we carry with us, that of the child who likes to draw with her crayons.
Mr. MacLeod’s cartoons are as direct as his writing, and are a relief. Motivational books seldom seem fun. They aspire to get people up-and-at-’em but don’t seem interested in any joy or even share a worldview that exposes the world as a part of the goal. MacLeod’s illustrations fit that need. They pare down and convey his vision of the world in squiggled lines; crude figures and crude language dominate. His view of creativity stems from an “us versus them” terrain, one where the mechanisms of society ignore or actively work against our dreams/needs/desires. Where base instinct is met not with disdain as much as ambivalence. You want sex. They want to talk about themselves. You talk to them until they give you sex. Afterword you talk about them again. Repeat.
In the midst of these cycles people sometimes step to the side and decide to make something. It’s to these people that Mr. MacLeod is speaking, and he doesn’t pull punches. He isn’t here to hold hands. He has no bag of warm fuzzies. If you need someone to tell you they love you in a book before you are willing to create something then, again, you’re not really creative are you? But, there I go, being one of the negative voices telling you no, no, no, you can’t do it that way; I’ve become one of the voices you should ignore. Love comes at the end, from yourself, for what you achieved; maybe there’s a little love from others, or maybe not at all. Mr. MacLeod doesn’t care about that. His is the voice that says “So go do it, already.” But Mr. MacLeod’s motivation to do that thing you feel driven to do is in some ways secondary to his reminder that there is a world to be lived in. He stands not just for the urge to create, to do something great and freeing and unheard of, he draws a picture of the creative soul in a material world that must remember there are bills to pay, food to eat, and animal needs to be met. And creatives must, for their own sake, get over it.
Mr. MacLeod isn’t about setting up programs or practice or methodology. It’s easy to confuse doing something with how it was done. Get the right pen, the right desk, the right paper and you can write a novel. Get up at five in the morning, write a thousand words, do push-ups and eat oatmeal. This paint. That clay. Don’t buy real estate on a Monday. Smile when you talk on the phone, people can hear it. Yes, they can hear it. And they know it’s bullshit. Mr. MacLeod doesn’t care if you fail. That’s not the same thing as hoping you fail. In fact he hopes you succeed. But failure is part of life and part of success. Failure teaches what success can’t. Successful failures are the ones who got back up. Successes who never failed got lucky.
Ultimately, the question is this: does a book like this help someone become creative? Is it a process that is replicable? Yes, because there is no process here, and “creative” must not be confused with “inspiration.” To create, in the terms of this book, is about productivity, of doing. Originality and inspiration are a part of that, but to a large degree, according to Mr. MacLeod, they follow long after the habit is built. Do the work, do the work, do the work, and suddenly a light comes on. Mr. MacLeod successfully promotes creation for its own sake. What follows is the salvation of your soul, and by extension society, though he could give a rats ass if society fell off the coast and drowned. He understands why people are selfish and driven to take from others, to protect what’s theirs, to resist change. Its genetic. It made us survive as a species. He understands it, doesn’t care for it, and turns against it by telling people to simply say “I’m going to make something now, so stop talking.” He says it so simply, so boldly, that you can’t help but want to start doing just that.
In short: this book is brilliant.

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