A short review of Ignore Everybody and 39 other keys to creativity by Hugh MacLeod
In my ongoing quest to read books on creativity in an attempt to spark my own, I recently read Ignore Everybody and 39 other keys to creativity by Hugh MacLeod. I chose it for the title (let’s face it, don’t we all judge books by their covers?) but I read it because it has a lot going for it: it’s short, it’s illustrated with cartoons, and it has a few good things to say about creativity.
MacLeod started down his road to creativity by doodling cartoons on the backs of business cards. While working in advertising he continued to create business card cartoons and then he started a blog: Gaping Void. His blog posts eventually lead to the book Ignore Everybody.
MacLeod presents 40 keys to creativity, but 5 in particular stand out. Given my recent reading in this genre, the five main points are starting to sound familiar. This is not a bad thing. As any parent knows, good advice is worth repeating in the hope that it might stick one of these days. However, just a head’s up, that if you’ve read Austin Kleon’s books Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work! and Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, you’ll start to recognize a theme.
Here are the five key keys to creativity from Ignore Everybody:
- “Not seeing yourself as creative is a self-imposed limitation.” It’s like the word “can’t.” If you don’t say can’t you’ll find that you can.
- Just try it: “Even if you don’t end up pulling it off, you’ll learn many incredible, magical, valuable things.” MacLeod’s belief is that not doing it (whatever creative venture your “it” is) hurts more than any failure you might experience. In other words, regret sucks more than failure. You can learn from failure; the only thing you learn from regret is how to be regretful.
- Find your voice: In the chapter called “You have to find your own shtick,” MacLeod relates how he developed his characteristic drawing style by repeatedly drawing his cartoons on the backs of business cards. The underlying message is to just keep at it, keep trying different things and keep working through ideas and throwing yourself into whatever comes to you, and eventually your voice will come through.
- “Nobody cares.” This theme keeps popping up everywhere in relation to creativity, most recently in Big Magic. In fact, the point comes up so insistently and repeatedly that one might be tempted to take the fatalistic view that if nobody cares now, then nobody is ever going to care, and what the hell I am I even doing this for… However, I prefer to take it the way I did when I read Gilbert’s book, and that is, as a freeing mantra. Rather than giving in to paralyzing thoughts of what other people might think, remember that really, nobody cares, so just get on with it.
- The fifth and final key, which actually appears early in the book is: “dust off your horn and start tooting it.” This is a familiar concept to anyone who has read Kleon’s Show Your Work! Tooting your own horn by getting your work out into the world, whether in a blog or a Tumblr feed or an Instagram account or a series of Tweets, is a key to creativity, because it forces you to continue creating. Your loyal fans are on the edge of their seats just waiting to see what you’re going to produce next! (That’s the idea anyway, and you have to use that idea to keep creating, because in reality, nobody cares, remember?)