The Creative Act: A Way of Being (book) and Tetragrammaton (podcast) by Rick Rubin
If you open this book looking for rock stories from the legendary career of mega producer Rick Rubin, you would be wrong, mostly at least. The stories he tells are all about the creative process behind the artist, and how to push through as a creator. His book should appeal to artists of all varieties, not just musicians. Music stories do fill the book as they apply to the creative process, but the artists themselves are anonymous. 'The Creative Act' is an actual blueprint for the creating arts, step by step. All creatives may want to consider reading or listening to it. At least those who are feeling stuck in the muddy work of art.
Be warned, it's one of those books that is probably not as effective when read cover to cover. It fits more in the genre of Oprah and Chopra where the lessons are so simple yet difficult to master that they are best consumed in smaller pieces, in order to make them easier to digest. Rubin's own Instagram page famously has only a single post at a time, each a lesson from the book.
I sat with the book for a few months after reading it. It stayed on the bedside table with the last 10 pages unread. I didn't want to close it, and completely put it away.
Anyone who creates art faces a series of obstacles - either internal or external. Rubin's greatest gift is allowing the artists he works with the freedom to fail, and to believe that's an ok part of the process - and THAT is when the final version of the art will reveal itself.
"Sometimes the mistakes
are what makes a work great.
Humanity breathes in mistakes."
There is a terrific podcast that Rubin hosts, called Tetragrammaton, that is absolutely fascinating. His guests are celebrities, musicians, technologists, designers, and thinkers all sorts. In describing his book to Judd Apatow, Rubin describes the idea of the book as "an invitation to tap into what's already there". As he does with his work in the music industry, Rubin gives each guest the space they need to feel comfortable. These episodes are long - sometimes over two hours.
Above all, Rubin is a good listener. After a long technical discussion about brain waves and trauma by Dr. Joe Dispenza, Rubin asks a follow up question "are the memories left in the body?" It's clear even Dispenza is impressed with the question. As a basketball fan, I found the episode with "Zen Master" Phil Jackson amusing. Rubin clearly doesn't know anything about hoops, but he listens patiently while Phil talks about the history of the three point shot in the NBA. They relate to each other as coaches. Both are men who excel at getting the best out of their teams.
Rubin's teachings are frequently recalled like they are consumed - in small nuggets. Hopefully they surface for the reader or listener at the moments of maximum self doubt, the points where creativity falters. The lessons are simple - embrace the process, be true to yourself, let the work go when it's done. Maybe you picture him stroking the beard while he says it. You should listen to him. He's right.