The Creative Act

The Creative Act

Author
Rick Rubin.
Year
2023
image

Review

I’ve lost many hours watching Rick Rubin interview artists on the Broken Record podcast. He seems to be able to listen more deeply that the rest of us. He’s the perfect person to write about the illusive science of creativity. The observations in this book are timeless, and although they are about music in the studio, many of the lessons can be applied to product development in the office.

You Might Also Like:

image

Key Takeaways

The 20% that gave me 80% of the value.

  • To create is to bring something into existence that wasn’t there before.
  • Look for what you notice, that nobody else sees.
  • Living life as an artist is a practice. It’s like being a monk. You’re either living life as a monk or you’re not. The real work of an artist is a way of being in the world.
  • Immerse yourself in the great works. The cannon is changing over time. Don’t mimic greatness, but calibrate your meter to it greatness.
  • The sensitivity that allows people to make art, often means they’re vulnerable to being judged. Artists sometimes look to numb the sensitivity with drugs and alcohol.
  • One of the best strategies to overcome self doubt and become unstuck is to lower the stakes.
  • Complete this project so you can move onto the next.
  • Treat work as an experiment, we’ll learn something which can inform the next thing.
  • Don’t play to win, play to play.
  • Your desire to create, must be greater than your fear of creating.
  • Doubt the work not yourself. It’s OK to question if the work is the best it can be. Refrain from saying you’re not capable of creating great work.
  • There’s a great power in not knowing. Remove beliefs, conventions limit what is possible.
  • Experience can make innovation harder to access. Try to experience everything as if it’s for the first time.
  • Inspiration is energising, but it’s not to be relied on. Inspiration is outside of our control, its hard to find, we can only extend an invitation. Showing up on a regular basis is the main requirement.
  • If you’re lucky enough to be struck by inspiration. Ride the wave as long as you can. Remain in the energy as long as you can, stay with it. Stay with it until it runs it course. Set aside your schedule. Inspiration comes first. you come next, the audience comes last. If possible, ride the inspiration to a finished first draft.
  • The only person you’re competing against is yourself.
  • Discipline and freedom aren’t opposites. They are partners. Discipline of managing your schedule and daily habits well creates space and creative energy.
    • Think about creativity supporting habits.
    • Find sustainable rituals that support your work. Create an easily achievable habit to begin with, you’re welcome to extend any session you start.
  • Put the decision making into the work, not when you’re going to work.
  • Collect many seeds and see which ones resonate. Cumulate many weeks and months of ideas to draw from.
  • Don’t dismiss an idea just because it doesn’t work in your head. If you’re looking for the best idea, test everything. Ask what if questions… What if I made all the loud parts quiet.
    • It’s hard to know what somebody else is thinking, sometimes its just easier to try it.
    • Test them all - don’t just talk about them. Persuasion leads to mediocrity. Descriptions don’t do ideas justice. To be evaluated ideas needs to be seen, heard, tasted or touched.
  • Step away and come back with fresh eyes. Moving between multiple projects can be helpful.
  • If you get stuck on a section, work around it. A bridge is easier to build, when it’s what clear what’s on either side of it. It’ll feel more achievable once you’ve done 80% of the work.
  • Culture informs who you are, and what you introduce informs culture.
  • If you hit the wall, break the sameness.
    • Start by writing just a small amount each day.
    • Change your environment.
    • Change the stakes (up or down).
    • Invite an audience (it can change how you act).
    • Change the context.
    • Alter the perspective.
    • Add imagery. Create a scene, and then create your thing to fit the scene.
  • The work is for you. The work is done when you feel it is done.
  • Finishing your work is a good habit.
  • A mindset of abundance. A river of ideas flow through us, if we create and share them they are replenished. Better ideas are always coming.
    • Don’t live in scarcity, your river will slow. Make the thing and let it go.
  • Constraints and limitations are opportunities.
  • Limiting your work to the familiar is a disservice to you and your audience.
  • Make the best thing you can make. Have the objective of doing great work.
  • Success happens in the moment before releasing the work. Success has nothing to do with variables outside yourself, outside of your control. Most variables are outside of your control, so just do your best work and share it.
  • Practice detachment. Consider detaching from the story of your life. Experience events as if you’re observing a movie. There’s always a next scene. Zoom out and observe, don’t Zoom in and obsess.
  • Competition in art is absurd. BUT the energy of rising to meet, is different. This isn’t competition it is collaboration. An upward spiral toward magnificence.
    • Self competition is a quest of evolution. Growth over superiority.
  • Distilling the work to the essence can be informative. Try finding the simplest most elegant way of expressing your idea.
  • Outside forces can undermine focus. Learn to tune out outside forces.
  • When the weight of expectation grows heavy, trust in the process. At least you’re getting closer to mastering your craft
  • Sometimes ideas come from inspiration. Sometimes they come through experimentation, effort and craft. Without diligence, inspiration is useless.
  • Stay in it, 24/7. Creativity is something you are, not something you do.
  • Placing two options side by side, and it becomes clear which way to take the work
  • Do what works for you. There is no right time, right strategy, or right equipment. Your path is unique. Discover what works for you.There’s no wrong way to make art.
  • Complete a project so you can start the next one. Complete this project for the next one. Out of this process becomes regeneration.
  • Work together with a goal of surpassing the current iteration. Choose the best idea, it doesn’t matter who’s idea it was.
  • Offer up your best ideas in the spirit of cooperation. Don’t let your ego perceive assistance as interference.
  • An editor needs cold detachment. Editing is about reduction without losing the essence. It is not easy to leave work behind you’ve put effort into.
  • Why make art? Most who choose the artists path don’t have a choice. The reason we’re alive is to express ourselves in the world.
  • What we tell ourselves doesn’t matter. All that matters is the work.

image

Deep Summary

Longer form notes, typically condensed, reworded and de-duplicated.

  • To create is to bring something into existence that wasn’t there before.
  • We’re creating our own reality all of the time. Being an artist is about perceiving and paying attention.
  • The artist’s job is to translate the messages the universe is transmitting, the best artists have the best antenna.Artists feel everything more deeply.There’s a time for certain ideas to arrive and they express themselves through us.
  • Awareness happens before analysis. Love the experience then try to understand it.
  • The ability to look deeply is the root of creativity. Get past the ordinary to see what otherwise might be invisible.
  • Faith enables you to trust a direction without understanding it.
  • Look for clues, remain open. Notice connections and where they lead.
  • Look for what you notice, that nobody else sees.
  • Practice. Build a habit. Ride the creative wave. Small rituals can make a big difference.
  • Meditation is about seeing the world differently.
  • Living life as an artist is a practice. It’s like being a monk. You’re either living life as a monk or you’re not.
  • The real work of an artist is a way of being in the world.
  • Broadening your practice of awareness is a choice.
  • Immerse yourself in the great works. The cannon is changing over time.
  • Don’t mimic greatness, but calibrate your meter for greatness.
  • Nature is a great place practice awareness. The world is constantly changing. It’s up to you to notice it.
  • There are always more options available to us than we might realise.
  • Find the best environment.
  • You are the only one with your voice.
  • The sensitivity that allows people to make art, often means they’re vulnerable to being judged. Artists sometimes look to numb the sensitivity with drugs and alcohol.
  • We’re blessed we get to create.
  • One of the best strategies to overcome self doubt and become unstuck is to lower the stakes.
  • Complete the project so you can move onto the next.
  • Treat work as an experiment, we’ll learn something which can inform the next thing.
  • There’s no good or bad, right or wrong.
  • Don’t play to win, play to play.
  • Set the bar low, play, explore and test.
  • Your desire to create, must be greater than your fear of creating.
  • Doubt the work not yourself. It’s OK to question if the work is the best it can be. Refrain from saying you’re not capable of creating great work.
  • Doubting your work can help you iterate to excellence. Doubting yourself is more destructive.
  • When experimenting, consider the opposite. E.g. make the quiet parts loud.
  • Patience, there’s no shortcut.
  • Reading or listening can be done with intention or on autopilot. Imagine giving them the attention you’d give to landing an airplane.
  • Patience is developed, we have no control over time. When you remove time, from the creation of work, you’re left with patience.
  • Alpha Go had a beginner’s mind. It learnt from scratch. Which is what made it possible to beat the grand master.
  • There’s a great power in not knowing. Remove beliefs, conventions limit what is possible.
  • Experience can make innovation harder to access.
  • A successful singer songwriter, would stand up and leave meal, or family engagement, to tend to a creative idea if it arises.
  • Try to experience everything as if it’s for the first time.
  • Inspiration appears in a moment. Inspiration is rocket fuel. A breath of creative force.
  • Create space for inspiration, through meditation.
  • Inspiration is energising, but it’s not to be relied on. Inspiration is outside of our control, its hard to find, we can only extend an invitation. Showing up on a regular basis is the main requirement.
  • Train yourself to see the awe behind the obvious.
  • If you’re lucky enough to be struck by inspiration. Ride the wave as long as you can.
    • Remain in the energy as long as you can, stay with it.
    • Stay with it until it runs it course.
    • Set aside your schedule.
  • Inspiration comes first. you come next, the audience comes last.
  • If possible, ride the inspiration to a finished first draft.
  • Creating effective habits is the key to performing at the highest level.
  • The only person you’re competing against is yourself.
  • The details matter, treat each action you take with skilful care. Live life in the service of your art.
  • Discipline and freedom aren’t opposites. They are partners. Discipline of managing your schedule and daily habits well creates space and creative energy.
    • Think about creativity supporting habits.
    • Find sustainable rituals that support your work. Set a routine that’s too aggressive and you’ll find reasons not to show up. Create an easily achievable habit to begin with, you’re welcome to extend any session you start.
  • Put the decision making into the work, not when you’re going to work. Free up bandwidth for your work.

Stages of Work

  1. The seed phase. Something you notice. Collect more seeds with active awareness and curiosity.
    • Collect, plant and water without judgement. Collect many seeds and see which ones resonate. Cumulate many weeks and months of ideas to draw from.
    • The work reveals itself as you go. The more you’ve accumulated, the easier it is to judge.
  2. The experimentation phase. After discovering a starting point, experiment to see in which direction the seed wants to develop.
    • This is a search for life. Cultivate each one. Look for the iteration that has the most promise. Allow the seed to follow its own path.
    • If the energy is dropping, consider storing that seed, and move onto a different one.
    • Failure is the inspiration you need to get where you’re going.
  • Try everything.
    • Don’t dismiss an idea just because it doesn’t work in your head. If you’re looking for the best idea, test everything. Ask what if questions… What if I made all the loud parts quiet.
    • It’s hard to know what somebody else is thinking, sometimes its just easier to try it.
    • Test them all - don’t just talk about them. Persuasion leads to mediocrity. Descriptions don’t do ideas justice. To be evaluated ideas needs to be seen, heard, tasted or touched.
  1. Crafting
    • We have a clear sense of direction. We have to complete the work.
    • Step away and come back with fresh eyes. Moving between multiple projects can be helpful.
    • Bring yourself to the work, think about what you can add, take away, remove or combine.
    • Some artists outsource after this point in the process.
  • Set deadlines for your own motivation while crafting. Remaining in the crafting phase too long can create disconnection with the work or worse attachment.
  • Keep iterating on it.
  • Remember you can make something great very quickly.
  • If you get stuck on a section, work around it. A bridge is easier to build, when it’s what clear what’s on either side of it. It’ll feel more achievable once you’ve done 80% of the work.
  • The personal is what matters, our point of view. We create to express who we are. Share your perspective.
  • Culture informs who you are, and what you introduce informs culture.
  • If you hit the wall, break the sameness.
    • Start by writing just a small amount each day.
    • Change your environment.
    • Change the stakes (up or down).
    • Invite an audience (it can change how you act).
    • Change the context.
    • Alter the perspective.
    • Add imagery. Create a scene, and then create your thing to fit the scene.
  • Completion:
    • The work is for you. The work is done when you feel it is done.
    • Let go of thinking about how your work will be received. The audience comes last, don’t think about how it will be perceived.
    • This piece of work doesn’t define you. The work is a reflection of you in a moment, don’t hang onto it.
    • One of the greatest parts of creating art is being able to share it.
    • Each new project is a new opportunity.
    • Finishing your work is a good habit.
  • A mindset of abundance. A river of ideas flow through us, if we create and share them they are replenished. Better ideas are always coming.
    • Don’t live in scarcity, your river will slow. Make the thing and let it go.
  • Constraints and limitations are opportunities. Novel problems lead to original solutions. Rules can fit the situation and serve the art. Break your rhythm with a new rule or framework.
  • Limiting your work to the familiar is a disservice to you and your audience.
  • Create your art so you can inhabit yourself.
  • Make the best thing you can make. Have the objective of doing great work.
  • Success happens in the moment before releasing the work. Success has nothing to do with variables outside yourself, outside of your control.
    • Most variables are outside of your control, so just do your best work and share it
  • Success won’t cure your pain.
  • Make and share things without being attached to the outcome.
  • Practice detachment. Consider detaching from the story of your life. Experience events as if you’re observing a movie. There’s always a next scene. Zoom out and observe, don’t Zoom in and obsess.
  • The ecstatic → a small moment when the work goes from unremarkable to extraordinary.
  • Mine for those events. It doesn’t have to make sense.
  • Part of the beauty of creation is that we can surprise ourselves.
  • Tune into these feelings in your work.
  • New work can feel unfamiliar, new ideas can feel foreign and awkward. If there’s no point of reference.
  • Competition in art is absurd.
  • BUT the energy of rising to meet, is different. This isn’t competition it is collaboration.
  • An upward spiral toward magnificence.
  • Self competition is a quest of evolution. Growth over superiority.
  • Go further, don’t stop at greatness.
  • Distilling the work to the essence can be informative. Try finding the simplest most elegant way of expressing your idea.
  • Outside forces can undermine focus. Learn to tune out outside forces.
  • Keep them outside of your consciousness, focus solely on creativity.
  • All that matters is making your best work - lose yourself in the work.
  • Work as if the project you’re engaged in is bigger than you.
  • Artists block. Avoid all or nothing thinking. View what’s there, it might be just 20% needs to change.
  • Release all expectations about what the work will be.
  • When the weight of expectation grows heavy, trust in the process.
    • Move forward. Take steps backward to go forward if needed.
    • Experiments are valuable in their own way. You move closer to mastery by practicing your craft.
  • Be curious, try and see things from the perspective of others.
  • Sometimes ideas come from inspiration. Sometimes they come through experimentation, effort and craft. Without diligence, inspiration is useless.
  • Stay in it, 24/7. Creativity is something you are, not something you do. Remain aware and present at all times, watching and waiting.
  • Whether it takes months or minutes, it doesn't matter.
  • Spontaneity gets better with practice.
  • Placing two options side by side, and it becomes clear which way to take the work. A/B test blind if you can.
  • Once complete, we can’t know that we’ve got the optimal version
  • In crafting, the time and effort we put in don’t reflect the results we get.
  • A great work is the sum of tiny details
  • Art is more powerful than your plans for it. The artist only has a responsibility to the work, you’re free to create what you like. You don’t have stand for your work.
  • Defend your creative autonomy. We have no responsibility to anything other than the art itself.
  • Art requires an obsessive capacity to create great things.
  • Do what works for you. There is no right time, right strategy, or right equipment. Your path is unique. Discover what works for you.There’s no wrong way to make art.
  • It takes time for practice to be absorbed. Recovery will cause leaps in improvement.
  • Hone your craft through practice, study and research. Have a growth mindset. You can train for anything. Your craft wants to grow.
  • Artists get too close to things they make. Take a step back. Avoid looking at the work too often. The passing of time can help.
  • The context in which you consume the art can change it. Place it next to other works. A new context can show you something new
  • Energy in the work is a great sign, but it may not be easily accessible to you. Work brings excitement, excitement creates energy.
  • Complete a project so you can start the next one. Complete this project for the next one. Out of this process becomes regeneration.
  • Making art is pure play. Take art seriously, but feel free to experiment. Show up, build things, experiment. Find clues and follow leads.
  • The art habit. Find something to pay the bills, position yourself near what you love. Keep art as your hobby. Become part of an artistic community.
  • Cooperation:
    • Work together to surpass the current iteration. Choose the best idea, it doesn’t matter who’s idea it was.
    • Friction allows the fire to come.
    • Offer up your best ideas in the spirit of cooperation. Don’t let your ego perceive assistance as interference.
    • When receiving feedback, repeat back what you heard
  • Everyone has an editor or gatekeeper inside them. Editing is about taste. An editor needs cold detachment. Editing is about reduction without losing the essence. It is not easy to leave work behind you’ve put effort into.
  • Why make art? Most who choose the artists path don’t have a choice. The reason we’re alive is to express ourselves in the world.
  • What we tell ourselves doesn’t matter. All that matters is the work.