Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Ignore Everybody (And 39 Other Keys to Creativity) Book Review

Image courtesy of Barnes and Noble

Ignore Everybody (And 39 Other Keys to Creativity) Fails to Make a Lasting Impression

By: Pat LaFleur

If creativity can be summed in a greeting card, Hugh MacLeod’s Ignore Everybody (Portfolio, Penguin Group) has probably come closest to doing so. And I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

Ignore Everybody (And 39 Other Keys to Creativity) consists of short chapters, sprinkled with dozens of sometimes-relevant business-card cartoons (MacLeod’s creative bread & butter). This style, eventually, makes perfect sense. As the author reminds us again and again, he is a skilled copywriter, and the titles of each brief chapter read like ad copy. On the whole, the book drips with the clever language and direct delivery of an ad agency, dissecting the creative process into 40 bite-sized chunks.

MacLeod’s strength lies in the refreshing clarity of his “keys.” He is a skilled wordsmith, distilling some of the creative-type’s biggest anxieties into some helpful “a’ha” moments. “Inspiration precedes the desire to create, not the other way around.” “It’s hard to sell out if nobody has bought in.” “The hardest part of being creative is getting used to it.” There are more of these gems buried all over MacLeod’s book, making it a decent source for words of creative encouragement and inspiration.

Despite the sharp edges of these aphorisms, though, Ignore Everybody fails to be more than a creative-devotional, and one that’s missing the practical, go-do-this-now part at that. Over and over, MacLeod has me wringing my fists: okay, I get it, but how do I put this into action? The closest MacLeod comes to such a thing is when he advises you to, whatever your work, “put your whole self into it.” Really? This cliché is surprising coming from an accomplished copywriter. The rest offer brief, loosely related anecdotes, mostly from the author’s personal life.

The root problem with MacLeod’s book lies in how vague a model of creativity these aphorisms provide. MacLeod’s image of the artist is familiar: a solitary figure - in this case, a dude at a a bar scribbling over the back of a business card, while waiting for his date to arrive. And while this image strikes as poetic, and maybe even romantic (seize inspiration when it’s there; don’t be bound by traditional forms; art must be for the artist as much as the audience), we’re still left staring at this silhouette from all the way across the room. In other words, this book leaves me with about as much as his cartoons: a brief, abstract image, easily lost in my pants pocket, among all the rest.

Ultimately, Ignore Everybody could have moved beyond the business-card-copy format, and taken the time to develop concrete descriptions of the author’s process. This would have added some much needed - and much wanted - substance to MacLeod’s unique style. But that would have required more than what a greeting card - or a business card - could hold. I’d say this one’s worth flipping through, but doesn’t need space on your bookshelf.

* What’s more worth checking out: his website at http://gapingvoid.com. He’s got a pretty fresh approach to ad copy and illustration.

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