Ignore Everybody And 39 Other Keys to Creativity by Hugh MacLeod (Portfolio, Penguin Group USA, 2009)

Whether you’re writing, building a reputation in a new area, thinking of starting a creative business or organizing a platform for your thoughts, you’ll need friends by your side. Not acquaintances, not family who love you and your ideas no matter what — real friends who will tell it to you straight.

Hugh MacLeod’s Ignore Everybody And 39 Other Keys to Creativity is one of those friends. Mr Sexy, my strategically-thinking patron, gave me this book last year for a birthday present. No doubt after I’d been whinging about all the work I’d done writing essays and posting interesting pieces on my blog (for free! and I’m a professional writer!) and yet all I had were rejections and an audience I could fit into a school bus.

Hugh MacLeod changed my outlook on creativity. He gave me power, control and ownership over what I was doing. I devoured Ignore Everybody in one sitting, lying on the sofa after being out too late the night before celebrating what was left of my 40s. Then I read it again after another rejection letter. And again last night when I was feeling a bit sorry for myself after minor surgery. Sometimes I’ll just pick it up, open it to a page and use that message as my writing mantra for the day.

This is a book you need on your desk, on your electronic reader, on your phone. If you want to figure out how to follow your creative dreams in a cynical world, this is the book for you.

Computer with open books

Ignore Everybody might suggest this book isn’t about belonging. It is.

One crucial part of belonging is being true to self. It isn’t about cutting and trimming away bits and pieces of our experiences and our personalities to fit in. It’s not about shaping our future towards the fastest way to cash in. This is exactly what MacLeod is telling us through lean prose and the rough-witted elegance of his cartoons. In fact this book is a welcome change, with its sparse phrases and clear messages, to the loose and sloppy run-on writing of the internet.

MacLeod, who started doodling on the back of business cards when he was working as an advertising copywriter in New York, outlines some basic principles that should be taught in MFA programs. He talks about his theory on cash & sex, how frugality will protect your creative freedom, putting in the hours, following your creative heart, the importance of blogging, avoiding the crowd, and your metaphorical Mount Everest.

The three, five, seven points that made me get off that whinging sofa and back to my writing were simple but profound:

  1. ”Savour obscurity while it lasts”: This is the only time you have to develop what you’re writing in the way that you want to without any external pressure from anyone. It is also the time when you decide how to draw the ”red line” (see below).
  2. ”The most important thing a creative person can learn professionally is where to draw the red line that separates what you are willing to do from what you are not.”
  3. ”Put your whole self into it and you will find your true voice. Hold back and you won’t.”
  4. ”Nobody cares. Do it for yourself.” Only your own passions and meaningful endeavors will sustain you.
  5. ”Your idea doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be yours alone.”
  6. ”Good ideas have lonely childhoods.”
  7. ”The more original your idea is the less good advice other people will be able to give you.”

I’ll leave you with this final thought from Ignore Everybody that changed the way I perceive my writing world:

”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 give the work far more power than the work’s objective merits ever will.”

Ignore Everybody is my Top Pick for creatives. And it’s about belonging too.

Buy Ignore Everybody And 39 Other Keys to Creativity by Hugh MacLeod

Learn more about Hugh Macleod and GapingVoid.