How to Be Creative :: Sections 7/8

MacLeod highlights the value of authenticity and hard work, and reveals the challenges and rewards of being creative.

Read the sections from Mr. MacLeod’s manifesto on how to be creative.

Then start your comment off with this sentence:
The idea I’m getting is…

7. Keep your day job.

Iʼm not just saying that for the usual reason i.e., because I think your idea will fail. Iʼm saying it because to suddenly quit oneʼs job in a big olʼ creative drama-queen moment is always, always, always in direct conflict with what I call “The Sex & Cash Theory.”

THE SEX & CASH THEORY: 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 in hand covers both bases, but not often. This tense duality will always play center stage. It will never be transcended.

A good example is Phil, a NY photographer friend of mine. He does really wild stuff for the indie magazines—it pays nothing, but it allows him to build his portfolio. Then heʼll go off and shoot some catalogs for a while. Nothing too exciting, but it pays the bills.

Another example is somebody like Martin Amis. He writes “serious” novels, but he has to supplement his income by writing the occasional newspaper article for the London papers (novel royalties are bloody pathetic—even bestsellers like Amis arenʼt immune).

Or actors. One year Travolta will be in an ultra-hip flick like Pulp Fiction (“Sex”), the next heʼll be in some dumb spy thriller (“Cash”).

Or painters. You spend one month painting blue pictures because thatʼs the color the celebrity collectors are buying this season (“Cash”), you spend the next month painting red pictures because secretly you despise the color blue and love the color red (“Sex”).

Or geeks. You spend you weekdays writing code for a faceless corporation (“Cash”), then you spend your evening and weekends writing anarchic, weird computer games with which to amuse your techie friends (“Sex”).

The creative person basically has two kinds of jobs. One is the sexy, creative kind. Second is the kind that pays the bills.

Itʼs balancing the need to make a good living while still maintaining oneʼs creative sovereignty.

My M.O. is gapingvoid (“Sex”), coupled with my day job (“Cash”).

Iʼm thinking about 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 of 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.

As soon as you accept this, I mean really accept this, for some reason your career starts moving ahead faster. I donʼt know why this happens. Itʼs the people who refuse to cleave their lives this way—who just want to start Day One by quitting their current crappy day job and moving straight on over to best-selling author…well, they never make it.

Anyway, itʼs called “The Sex & Cash Theory.” Keep it under your pillow.

 

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

Nor can you bully a subordinate into becoming a genius.

Since the modern, scientifically-conceived corporation was invented in the early half of the Twentieth Century, creativity has been sacrificed in favor of forwarding the interests of the “Team Player.”

Fair enough. There was more money in doing it that way; thatʼs why they did it.

Thereʼs only one problem. Team Players are not very good at creating value on their own. They are not autonomous; they need a team in order to exist.

So now corporations are awash with non-autonomous thinkers.

“I donʼt know. What do you think?”

“I donʼt know. What do you think?”

“I donʼt know. What do you think?”

“I donʼt know. What do you think?”

“I donʼt know. What do you think?”

“I donʼt know. What do you think?”

And so on.

Creating an economically viable entity where lack of original thought is handsomely rewarded creates a rich, fertile environment for parasites to breed. And thatʼs exactly whatʼs been happening. So now we have millions upon millions of human tapeworms thriving in the Western World, making love to their Powerpoint presentations, feasting on the creativity of others.

We have millions upon millions of human tapeworms thriving in the Western World, making love to their Powerpoint presentations, feasting on the creativity of others.

What happens to an ecology, when the parasite level reaches critical mass?

The ecology dies.

If youʼre creative, if you can think independently, if you can articulate passion, if you can override the fear of being wrong, then your company needs you now more than it ever did. And now your company can no longer afford to pretend that isnʼt the case.

So dust off your horn and start tooting it. Exactly.

However if youʼre not particularly creative, then youʼre in real trouble. And thereʼs no buzzword or “new paradigm” that can help you. They may not have mentioned this in business school, but…people like watching dinosaurs die.

How to Be Creative :: Sections 5/6

MacLeod highlights the value of authenticity and hard work, and reveals the challenges and rewards of being creative.

Read the sections from Mr. MacLeod’s manifesto on how to be creative. Then summarize the main point of the today’s section. 

Summarize the main point of the article.

5. You are responsible for your own experience.

Nobody can tell you if what youʼre doing is good, meaningful or worthwhile. The more compelling the path, the lonelier it is.

Every creative person is looking for “The Big Idea.” You know, the one that is going to catapult them out from the murky depths of obscurity and on to the highest planes of incandescent lucidity.

The one thatʼs all love-at-first-sight with the Zeitgeist.

The one thatʼs going to get them invited to all the right parties, metaphorical or otherwise.

So naturally you ask yourself, if and when you finally come up with The Big Idea, after years of toil, struggle and doubt, how do you know whether or not it is “The One?”

Answer: You donʼt.

Thereʼs no glorious swelling of existential triumph. Thatʼs not what happens.

All you get is this rather kvetchy voice inside you that seems to say, “This is totally stupid. This is utterly moronic. This is a complete waste of time. Iʼm going to do it anyway.”

And you go do it anyway.

Second-rate ideas like glorious swellings far more. Keeps them alive longer.

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

Then when you hit puberty they take the crayons away and replace them with books on algebra etc. Being suddenly hit years later with the creative bug is just a wee voice telling you, “Iʼd like my crayons back, please.”

So youʼve got the itch to do something. Write a screenplay, start a painting, write a book, turn your recipe for fudge brownies into a proper business, whatever. You donʼt know where the itch came from; itʼs almost like it just arrived on your doorstep, uninvited. Until now you were quite happy holding down a real job, being a regular person…Until now.

You donʼt know if youʼre any good or not, but youʼd think you could be. And the idea terrifies you. The problem is, even if you are good, you know nothing about this kind of business. You donʼt know any publishers or agents or all these fancy-shmancy kind of folk. You have a friend whoʼs got a cousin in California whoʼs into this kind of stuff, but you havenʼt talked to your friend for over two years…

Besides, if you write a book, what if you canʼt find a publisher? If you write a screenplay, what if you canʼt find a producer? And what if the producer turns out to be a crook? Youʼve always worked hard your whole life; youʼll be damned if youʼll put all that effort into something if there ainʼt no pot of gold at the end of this dumb-ass rainbow…

Heh. Thatʼs not your wee voice asking for the crayons back. Thatʼs your outer voice, your adult voice, your boring and tedious voice trying to find a way to get the wee crayon voice to shut the hell up.

They’re only crayons. You didn’t fear them in kindergarten, why fear them now?

Your wee voice doesnʼt want you to sell something. Your wee voice wants you to make something. Thereʼs a big difference. Your wee voice doesnʼt give a damn about publishers or Hollywood producers.

Go ahead and make something. Make something really special. Make something amazing that will really blow the mind of anybody who sees it.

If you try to make something just to fit your uninformed view of some hypothetical market, you will fail. If you make something special and powerful and honest and true, you will succeed.

The wee voice didnʼt show up because it decided you need more money or you need to hang out with movie stars. Your wee voice came back because your soul somehow depends on it. Thereʼs something you havenʼt said, something you havenʼt done, some light that needs to be switched on, and it needs to be taken care of. Now.

So you have to listen to the wee voice or it will die…taking a big chunk of you along with it.

Theyʼre only crayons. You didnʼt fear them in kindergarten, why fear them now?

How to Be Creative :: Section 3&4

MacLeod highlights the value of authenticity and hard work, and reveals the challenges and rewards of being creative.

You will read a section of the manifest each day and blog about your findings. Blog about what you have learned? Main ideas, keywords, etc.

3. Put the hours in.

Doing anything worthwhile takes forever. 90% of what separates successful people and failed people is time, effort, and stamina. I get asked a lot, “Your business card format is very simple. Arenʼt you worried about somebody ripping it off?” Standard Answer: Only if they can draw more of them than me, better than me.

What gives the work its edge is the simple fact that Iʼve spent years drawing them. Iʼve drawn thousands. Tens of thousands of man-hours.

So if somebody wants to rip my idea off, go ahead. If somebody wants to overtake me in the business card doodle wars, go ahead. Youʼve got many long years in front of you. And unlike me, you wonʼt be doing it for the joy of it. Youʼll be doing it for some self-loathing, ill-informed, lame-ass mercenary reason. So the years will be even longer and far, far more painful. Lucky you.

If somebody in your industry is more successful than you, itʼs probably because he works harder at it than you do. Sure, maybe heʼs more inherently talented, more adept at networking, etc., but I donʼt consider that an excuse. Over time, that advantage counts for less and less. Which is why the world is full of highly talented, network-savvy, failed mediocrities.

So yeah, success means youʼve got a long road ahead of you, regardless. How do you best manage it?

Well, as Iʼve written elsewhere, donʼt quit your day job. I didnʼt. I work every day at the office, same as any other regular schmo. I have a long commute on the train; ergo thatʼs when I do most of my drawing. When I was younger I drew mostly while sitting at a bar, but that got old.

Put the hours in; do it for long enough and magicallife-transforming things happen eventually.

The point is, an hour or two on the train is very manageable for me. The fact I have a job means I donʼt feel pressured to do something market-friendly. Instead, I get to do whatever the hell I want. I get to do it for my own satisfaction. And I think that makes the work more powerful in the long run. It also makes it easier to carry on with it in a calm fashion, day-in-day-out, and not go crazy in insane, creative bursts brought on by money worries.

The day job, which I really like, gives me something productive and interesting to do among fellow adults. It gets me out of the house in the daytime. If I were a professional cartoonist, Iʼd just be chained to a drawing table at home all day, scribbling out a living in silence, interrupted only by frequent trips to the coffee shop. No, thank you.

Simply put, my method allows me to pace myself over the long haul, which is important.

Stamina is utterly important. And stamina is only possible if itʼs managed well. People think all they need to do is endure one crazy, intense, job-free creative burst and their dreams will come true. They are wrong, they are stupidly wrong.

Being good at anything is like figure skating—the definition of being good at it is being able to make it look easy. But it never is easy. Ever. Thatʼs what the stupidly wrong people conveniently forget.

If I was just starting out writing, say, a novel or a screenplay, or maybe starting up a new software company, I wouldnʼt try to quit my job in order to make this big, dramatic, heroic-quest thing about it.

I would do something far simpler: I would find that extra hour or two in the day that belongs to nobody else but me, and I would make it productive. Put the hours in; do it for long enough and magical, life-transforming things happen eventually. Sure, that means less time watching TV, Internet-surfing, going out, or whatever.

But who cares?

4. If your biz plan depends on you suddenly being “discovered” by some big shot, your plan will probably fail.

Nobody suddenly discovers anything. Things are made slowly and in pain.

I was offered a quite substantial publishing deal a year or two ago. Turned it down. The company sent me a contract. I looked it over.

Hmmmm…

Called the company back. Asked for some clarifications on some points in the contract. Never heard back from them. The deal died.

This was a very respected company. You may have even heard of it.

They just assumed I must be just like all the other people they represent—hungry and desperate and willing to sign anything.

They wanted to own me, regardless of how good a job they did.

Thatʼs the thing about some big publishers. They want 110% from you, but they donʼt offer to do likewise in return. To them, the artist is just one more noodle in a big bowl of pasta.

Their business model is to basically throw the pasta against the wall, and see which one sticks. The ones that fall to the floor are just forgotten.

Publishers are just middlemen. Thatʼs all. If artists could remember that more often, theyʼd save themselves a lot of aggravation.

Anyway, yeah, I can see gapingvoid being a ʻproductʼ one day. Books, T-shirts and whatnot. I think it could make a lot of money, if handled correctly. But Iʼm not afraid to walk away if I think the person offering it is full of hot air. Iʼve already got my groove, etc. Not to mention another career thatʼs doing quite well, thank you.

I think the gaping void-as-product-line idea is pretty inevitable, down the road. Watch this space.

How to Be Creative :: Section 1&2

MacLeod highlights the value of authenticity and hard work, and reveals the challenges and rewards of being creative.

You will read a section of the manifest each day and blog about your findings. Blog about > What this means to me is… use main ideas, keywords, etc. (Forming Interpretations)


So you want to be more creative in art, in business, whatever. Here are some tips that have worked for me over the years.

1. Ignore everybody.

The more original your idea is, the less good advice other people will be able to give you. When I first started with the cartoon-onback-of-bizcard format, people thought I was nuts. Why wasnʼt I trying to do something more easy for markets to digest, i.e., cutie-pie greeting cards or whatever?

You donʼt know if your idea is any good the moment itʼs created. Neither does anyone else. The most you can hope for is a strong gut feeling that it is. And trusting your feelings is not as easy as the optimists say it is. Thereʼs a reason why feelings scare us.

And asking close friends never works quite as well as you hope, either. Itʼs not that they deliberately want to be unhelpful. Itʼs just they donʼt know your world one millionth as well as you know your world, no matter how hard they try, no matter how hard you try to explain.

Plus, a big idea will change you. Your friends may love you, but they donʼt want you to change. If you change, then their dynamic with you also changes. They like things the way they are, thatʼs how they love you—the way you are, not the way you may become.

Ergo, they have no incentive to see you change. And they will be resistant to anything that catalyzes it. Thatʼs human nature. And you would do the same, if the shoe were on the other foot.

With business colleagues, itʼs even worse. Theyʼre used to dealing with you in a certain way. Theyʼre used to having a certain level of control over the relationship. And they want whatever makes them more prosperous. Sure, they might prefer it if you prosper as well, but thatʼs not their top priority.

Good ideas alter the power balance in relationships, that is why good ideas are always initially resisted.

If your idea is so good that it changes your dynamic enough to where you need them less or, God forbid, THE MARKET needs them less, then theyʼre going to resist your idea every chance they can.

Again, thatʼs human nature.

Good ideas alter the power balance in relationships, that is why good ideas are always initially resisted.

Good ideas come with a heavy burden. Which is why so few people have them. So few people can handle it.

2. The idea doesn’t have to be big. It just has to change the world.

The two are not the same thing.

We all spend a lot of time being impressed by folks weʼve never met. Somebody featured in the media whoʼs got a big company, a big product, a big movie, a big bestseller. Whatever.

And we spend even more time trying unsuccessfully to keep up with them. Trying to start up our own companies, our own products, our own film projects, books and whatnot.

Iʼm as guilty as anyone. I tried lots of different things over the years, trying desperately to pry my career out of the jaws of mediocrity. Some to do with business, some to do with art, etc.

One evening, after one false start too many, I just gave up. Sitting at a bar, feeling a bit burned out by work and life in general, I just started drawing on the back of business cards for no reason. I didnʼt really need a reason. I just did it because it was there, because it amused me in a kind of random, arbitrary way.

Of course it was stupid. Of course it wasnʼt commercial. Of course it wasnʼt going to go anywhere. Of course it was a complete and utter waste of time. But in retrospect, it was this built-in futility that gave it its edge. Because it was the exact opposite of all the “Big Plans” my peers and I were used to making. It was so liberating not to have to be thinking about all that, for a change.

It was so liberating to be doing something that didnʼt have to impress anybody, for a change.

It was so liberating to have something that belonged just to me and no one else, for a change.

It was so liberating to feel complete sovereignty, for a change. To feel complete freedom, for a change.

And of course, it was then, and only then, that the outside world started paying attention.

The sovereignty you have over your work will inspire far more people than the actual content ever will.

The sovereignty you have over your work will inspire far more people than the actual content ever will. How your own sovereignty inspires other people to find their own sovereignty, their own sense of freedom and possibility, will change the world far more than the the workʼs objective merits ever will.

Your idea doesnʼt 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.

The more amazing, the more people will click with your idea. The more people click with your idea, the more it will change the world.

Thatʼs what doodling on business cards taught me.

How to Be Creative :: Sections 17/18

MacLeod highlights the value of authenticity and hard work, and reveals the challenges and rewards of being creative.

Read the sections from Mr. MacLeod’s manifesto on how to be creative. Then meditate on what you read and post your own, well crafted reply:


Today’s sentence starter: A conclusion that I’m drawing is …

17. Merit can be bought. Passion can’t.

The only people who can change the world are people who want to. And not everybody does.

Human beings have this thing I call the “Pissed Off Gene.” Itʼs that bit of our psyche that makes us utterly dissatisfied with our lot, no matter how kindly fortune smiles upon us.

Itʼs there for a reason. Back in our early caveman days being pissed off made us more likely to get off our butt, get out of the cave and into the tundra hunting woolly mammoth, so weʼd have something to eat for supper. Itʼs a survival mechanism. Damn useful then, damn useful now.

Itʼs this same Pissed Off Gene that makes us want to create anything in the first place—drawings, violin sonatas, meat packing companies, websites. This same gene drove us to discover how to make a fire, the wheel, the bow and arrow, indoor plumbing, the personal computer, the list is endless.

Part of understanding the creative urge is understanding that itʼs primal. Wanting to change the world is not a noble calling; itʼs a primal calling.

We think weʼre “providing a superior integrated logistic system” or “helping America to really taste freshness.” In fact weʼre just pissed off and want to get the hell out of the cave and kill the woolly mammoth.

Your business either lets you go hunt the woolly mammoth or it doesnʼt. Of course, like so many white-collar jobs these days, you might very well be offered a ton of money to sit in the corner-office cave and pretend that youʼre hunting. That is sad. Whatʼs even sadder is if you agree to take the money.

18. Avoid the Watercooler Gang.

Theyʼre a well-meaning bunch, but they get in the way eventually.

Back when I worked for a large advertising agency as a young rookie, it used to just bother me how much the “Watercooler Gang” just kvetched all the time. The “Watercooler Gang” was my term for what was still allowed to exist in the industry back then. Packs of second-rate creatives, many years passed their sell-by date, being squeezed by the Creative Directors for every last ounce of juice they had, till it came time to firing them on the cheap. Taking too many trips to the watercooler and coming back drunk from lunch far too often. Working late nights and weekends on all the boring-but-profitable accounts. Squeeze, squeeze, squeeze…

Your office could be awash with Clios and One Show awards, yet your career could still be down the sinkhole.

I remember some weeks where one could easily spend half an hour a day, listening to Ted complain.

Ted used to have a window office but now had a cube ever since that one disastrous meeting with Client X. He would come visit me in my cube at least once a day and start his thing. Complain, complain, complain…about whatever… how Josh-The-Golden-Boy was a [horrible] writer and a complete phony…or how they bought Little-Miss-Hot-Pantsʼs ad instead of his, “even though mine was the best in the room and every bastard there knew it.”

Like I said, whatever.

It was endless…Yak Yak Yak… Oi vey! Ted, I love ya, youʼre a great guy, but shut the hell up….

In retrospect, it was Tedʼs example that taught me a very poignant lesson—back then I was still too young and naïve to have learned it by that point—that your office could be awash with Clios and One Show awards, yet your career could still be down the sinkhole.

Donʼt get me wrong—my career there was a complete disaster. This is not a case of one of the Alphas mocking the Betas. This is a Gamma mocking the Betas.

Iʼm having lunch with my associate, John, whoʼs about the same age as me. Cheap and cheerful Thai food, just down the road from the agency.

“The only reason they like having me around is because I’m still young and cheap. The minute I am no longer either, I’m dead meat.”

“I gotta get out of this company,” I say.

“I thought you liked your job,” says John.

“I do,” I say. “But the only reason they like having me around is because Iʼm still young and cheap. The minute I am no longer either, Iʼm dead meat.”

“Like Ted,” says John.

“Yeah…him and the rest of The Watercooler Gang.”

“The Watercoolies,” laughs John.

So we had a good chuckle about our poor, hapless elders. We werenʼt that sympathetic, frankly. Their lives might have been hell then, but they had already had their glory moments. They had won their awards, flown off to The Bahamas to shoot toilet paper ads with famous movie stars and all that. Unlike us youngʼuns. John and I had only been out of college a couple of years and had still yet to make our mark on the industry we had entered with about as much passion and hope as anybody alive.

We had sold a few newspaper ads now and then, some magazine spreads, but the TV stuff was still well beyond reach. So far, the agency we had worked for had yet to allow us to shine. Was this our fault or theirs? Maybe a little bit of both, but back then it was all “their fault, dang-it!” Of course, everything is “their fault, dang-it!” when youʼre 24.

Back then it was all “their fault, dang-it!” Of course, everything is “their fault, dang-it!”
when you’re 24.

I quit my job about a year later. John stayed on with the agency, for whatever reason, then about 5 years ago got married, with his first kid following soon after. Suddenly with a family to support he couldnʼt afford to get fired. The Creative Director knew this and started to squeeze.

“You donʼt mind working this weekend, John, do you? Good. I knew you wouldnʼt. We all know how much the team relies on you to deliver at crunch time—thatʼs why we value you so highly, John, wouldnʼt you say?”

Last time I saw John he was working at this horrible little agency for a fraction of his former salary. Turns out the big agency had tossed him out about a week after his kidʼs second birthday.

Weʼre sitting there at the Thai restaurant again, having lunch for old timeʼs sake. Weʼre having a good time, talking about the usual artsy-fartsy stuff we always do. Itʼs a great conversation, marred only by the fact that I canʼt get the word “watercooler” out of my head…

Why We Fight!

We don’t just fight for survival, we fight for meaning and self-worth. We want to know why we’re here, and we want to know that we matter. Life is a quest for truth. We’re all waiting for life (or death) to reveal something to us. We’re waiting for the truth to reveal itself.

Even if you believe that Jesus is the truth or that a particular religion represents the truth, your knowledge of truth is still incomplete. Questions remain. The ultimate truth is a mystery. Life teaches us more about it, if we remain open, but it’s still just a shadow. Like Plato’s cave or Paul’s “dim mirror“.

Our disagreements are a way of trying to call forth the truth, and a way of expressing our frustrations about it. Sometimes we express it in constructive ways and sometimes in destructive ways. The destructive way, is a result of lying to ourselves about the best way to express it.

Author(s). “Why do we fight.” LivingWithConidence.net. Sent by Medium, 799 Market Street, 5th floor, San Francisco, CA 94103.