For the last couple of days I’ve been pinging back and forth with my book editor over at Penguin, Jeffrey Krames. We’re about to work through the final draft.
From what I’ve been told, the hardback version of “How To Be Creative” is coming out around Valentine’s day, 2009, give or take a few weeks.
This harks me back to a blog entry I did in October, 2004, entitled “Why I’m Writing A Book”.
“So you want to be more creative, in art, in business, whatever. Here are some tips that have worked for me over the years.”
I didn’t really have a reason for writing it at the time. It was simply one of those lists of everything you wish you had known 10 years previously but didn’t, but had you done so it would have saved you a bunch of time and trouble. Education is expensive.
It started off short and simple, but then I started adding little paragraphs to it, explaining it all the better. Then I started adding wee cartoons to it. The whole thing started to grow. And grow.
In the end the list was seen (and is still seen) by a lot of people. Folk started telling other folk about it. It went viral. After a few weeks of crazy traffic the book idea started coming to me.
I had always drawn cartoons, but never really wanted to do it professionally. Cartooning as a day job meant chaining yourself to your table, scratching out a living in silence, interrupted only by frequent trips to the coffee shop. I wanted to see more of the world than that. I wanted to get out, have adventures, travel, make money, live in the adult world. I wanted to be part of the noisy, hustle n’ bustle, big city life. I wanted to look out my bedroom window in the morning and see skyscrapers. Cartooning was too ‘college town’ for me.
So I got a job in a big Chicago advertising agency. It was a good choice. It pretty much used the same part of my brain as cartooning, the pay was good, the work doable enough and you got to interact with adults most of the time. Plus it also indulged one’s fascination with mass media that all young adults seem to have. I was dead pleased to be in the business.
Still, my first few years in advertising were not easy. Writing ads is a tough profession. There are far too many people doing it, it’s very competitive, it’s hard as hell to stand out and get ahead, the stress is awful, the future is always uncertain, the hours are long, the working weekends are many and the politics involved are completely insane.
By the late 1990’s I was starting to burn out a bit. The job was taking its toll. In spite of this I found myself being offered a great new job in New York City, which I jumped at.
My first year in New York was a transient time for me. Uncertainty about my career and other personal issues meant instead of settling down like a normal person, I was going out a lot. I was drinking way too much. About this time I started doodling on the back of business cards, just to give me something to do while sitting at the bar.
Business cards are the perfect medium for a New York barfly. They’re easy to carry around, they don’t attract a lot of attention, they don’t take up a lot of space at the bar, they’re cheap and disposable enough so it doesn’t matter if you spill your drink on them. They’re a completely unfamiliar, baggage-free, expectation-free medium, so it doesn’t matter if you never get a foothold in the gallery or publishing scene. They can simply exist without a lot of fuss.
People walking past the bar on the way to the bathroom would see this jittery, unkempt guy in a tweed jacket on a barstool, doodling furiously and wonder what was up. Sometimes they’d look at my work. Sometimes it would be met with enthusiasm, sometimes not. Often I was asked if I publish. I’d say no, I don’t.
Saying no would invariably get me a funny look. Why was I bothering doing something this involved if I wasn’t planning on publishing it? This is New York, dammit; you’re supposed to have a master plan for world domination etc.
But I had the advertising job. I didn’t need the money, not really. The advertising paid well enough; even if it was wearing me out a bit. I knew how much most cartoonists make (peanuts) and how hard they work (very). It wasn’t a route I wanted to go down.
Besides, I had been working my ass off for over a decade. Maybe I liked just doing something for no reason, for a change. Maybe I liked the fact that these wee drawings would never be seen by a wide audience. Maybe I liked not having the pressure to succeed at all costs in the forefront of my psyche. Maybe it made me feel less of an animal to be motivated by something other than raw ambition.
Maybe I just saw myself swimming in this crazy, desperate, horny, existential, urban, greedhead-frenzy sea of random bodies, and maybe the act of sitting at the bar and doodling for no reason was my little antidote for it. My little piece of driftwood to cling on to.
It is a very agreeable feeling, when you know you have something special and wonderful happening, but you don’t feel any particular need to let everybody know about it. I knew the cartoons were good, I knew I could do something with them. But I also knew the publishing market. I knew those media folk weren’t ever going to make my life easier. Instead of waiting to be discovered, I was doing the opposite. I was deliberately keeping them from the commerce-minded people, who I just knew would spoil everything the moment I let them anywhere near.
Then the internet came along and changed everything.
I’m not sure how I got into the internet so heavily. It just snuck up on me. One day I just built a website and started posting my drawings on it. A few months later 9-11 happened and all hell broke loose. People were being laid off all over. People were at home, surfing the internet. I guess that’s when my work started getting noticed. People started blogging. I started blogging, too.
The world has changed since 9-11, anybody who thinks differently is a fool. And for some reason I find myself far better suited to the post-9-11 world than the fun, prosperous, party-central one that came before.
The future we see before us is a chaotic one. Somehow sitting there at a Manhattan bar in the late 1990s, endlessly doodling away for no reason, I got a glimpse of the impending chaos a few years sooner than my more stable, prosperous, well-adjusted friends.
And now it’s informing my advertising career.
Chaos can be a positive thing. Chaos is inherently part of the creative act. To embrace creativity means you must also embrace chaos. Things don’t happen when everything is neat and “just so”. Creativity is all about disruption. The people who tell you that creativity is pain-free are liars. The people who tell you they’ve got a plan are liars. There is no plan. There’s just you, God and the need to invent. And this uncertain world is what most of us now find ourselves entering, willingly or otherwise.
Creativity equals chaos. Chaos equals creativity. Embrace it or die. I’ve already done so. I know all about it. It almost cost me my liver but like I said, education is expensive.
The Creative Age is upon us. The Chaotic Age is upon us. We are scared. Damn right, we should be scared. But out of the terror comes the amazing opportunities for us to expand both on the material and spiritual level. The fewer safety nets there are to save us, the less choice we have to be anything other than ourselves, the less choice we have besides doing what is meaningful to us. And finding ourselves, doing what matters, becoming the person we were born to be, this is what God put on this earth to do.
We live in amazing and interesting times. I intend the book to do a damn good job proving it.
I’m looking at this piece and saying to myself, “Damn, I wish I could still write like that…” But I can’t. When I wrote that, I was a lot more poor, unemployed and desperate than I am now. “Hunger is the best spice”. No money or success can replace the artistic edge that prolonged poverty & under-achievement gives you. Sad but true.
Would I want to go back there, for the sake of “Art”? No. I was there once already. And it sucked.
Yes, it was an adventure. But only in retrospect. At the time, the reality was far more mundane and unedifying. Besides, new adventures interest me now, a lot more than the old ones do. Happy but true.