The Creative Act by Rick Rubin

The Creative Act

The Creative Act by Rick Rubin is a fascinating book by someone who has not only had a very creative career, but has seen & coached creativity up close among some of the most brilliant artists in history.

I picked up the book because it’s one of those rare books written by someone who has actually done The Thing they are writing about. And I think the timing of the book could not have been more relevant – right when AI companies are making every creator wonder what creativity even means when AI can create everything from written word to visual to video – even judging gymnastics.

The book is structured in sort of a narrative arc, but is a sequence of chapters that can each stand alone as an essay. It’s different. It’s a bit “woo woo” and cliche in parts…but every part that feels like it’s cliche…also reads like it’s actually the answer to the obstacle for, reason for, issue with – being creative.

I think the reason the book works is that Rubin does have his finger on the deeper reasons we aren’t all creative all the time. Those reasons vary person to person, but I sort of understand his subtitle of “A Way of Being” – creativity has to be a cultivated habit that is part of life, not something you do at a certain time.

The book reminded me of the Derek Sivers’ quote that “if knowledge was the issue, we’d all be millionaires with six pack abs”…which gets to the same point Rick Rubin covers in this book.


Thoughts and habits not conducive to the [creative] work…

  • Believing you’re not good enough.
  • Feeling you don’t have the energy it takes.
  • Mistaking adopted rules for absolute truths.
  • Not wanting to do the work (laziness).
  • Not taking the work to its highest expression (settling).
  • Having goals so ambitious that you can’t begin
  • Thinking you can only do your best work in certain conditions.
  • Requiring specific tools or equipment to do the work.
  • Abandoning a project as soon as it gets difficult.
  • Feeling like you need permission to start or move forward.
  • Letting a perceived need for funding, equipment, or support get in the way.
  • Having too many ideas and not knowing where to start.
  • Never finishing projects.
  • Blaming circumstances or other people for interfering with your process.
  • Romanticizing negative behaviors or addictions.
  • Believing a certain mood or state is necessary to do your best work.
  • Prioritizing other activities and responsibilities over your commitment to making art.
  • Distractability and procrastination.
  • Impatience.
  • Thinking anything that’s out of your control is in your way.
Rick Rubin in Creative Act

What I Liked

I ended up liking everything about the book. It took until about page 100 for the book to “click” but once it did, I really paid attention and took notes. I love that he gave lists and tactics that made the book tactical and useful…but was always sure to keep the real solution open-ended and personal.

I could tell that the book was not theoretical. Most of the chapters sounded like transcripts of coaching sessions he had with someone like Johnny Cash or the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I love that he wrote the book – just to let everyday people who want to be more creative understand that there is a high-level process, but that it’s accessible to anyone. There’s no real secret sauce or shortcut.

What I Didn’t Like

Not a whole lot. The book does start a bit “woo woo” – I mean, the story about how he decided to keep his appendix after being diagnosed with appendicitis was kind of weird. I wish there were a few more details about his clients. A few of the chapters at the end could have been cut. But all in all, it’s a brilliant book that lives up to the hype.

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