The Creative Act: A Way of Being by Rick Rubin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Although Rick Rubin is a famous music producer, called “the most important producer of the last 20 years,” I came to this book knowing little about him. I’m certainly a music fan but I’ve managed to live many decades without paying much attention to the business side of things. I did recently see a few interviews Rubin did with Paul McCartney but haven’t followed his Def Jam and other endeavors.
I mention this because it seems many readers expected this book to be about the music business and some of its major players. The focus is far wider, on the creative process in general. Rubin does mention a few examples (without mentioning any names) about working on records, but they are few and far between.
The Creative Way is written more like a set of Zen koans, a series of short poems by Rumi, or perhaps like the Tao Teh Ching as opposed to a typical nonfiction book with “actionable” advice. In the audio version, there are even chimes or perhaps Tibetan bells ringing in between segments. You may find this relaxing, thought-provoking, or annoying. Still, this is a book I’d highly recommend in the audio version as Rubin narrates it himself. Not all authors are suited to read their own works, but Rubin is clearly the best person to read his own work. To be honest, if you find Rubin’s style (and the bells) off-putting, you probably won’t like the print version any better.
The Creative Act is one of those divisive books that has as many detractors as fans. There are two types of readers who will not like this book. First, those hoping for juicy, gossipy anecdotes from Rubin’s years in the music industry. He shares exactly zero such tales. The book is very abstract and impersonal and he leaves the names out of the few stories he does recount (e.g. “I was working on an album with a popular artist, when…”)
The second type of reader who can save their time is someone looking for simplistic, listicle type tips to jumpstart the creative process. I was a bit perplexed reading some critical reviewers who apparently felt disappointed that Rubin wasn’t telling them specifically what they needed to do. The creative process is, by definition, extremely individualistic. I suppose someone could share tips on the best time of day to work, what kind of tools to use, and maybe the best diet. But Rick Rubin isn’t your guy.
Rubin’s nuggets of wisdom need to be applied to your own creative process, one that you figure out for yourself. I had no problem with this. In fact, to me, giving very specific steps would be antithetical to the spirit of creativity. But if you want a more pragmatic approach, I suggest looking for a book in your specific field (e.g. music, screenwriting, painting, etc.) that provides the kind of instruction you seek. Rubin, on the other hand, is really writing about the philosophy of creativity.
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