Rick Rubin Creative Act book

Advice on ‘the creative act’ from Rick Rubin

One of the most celebrated music producers alive can’t play an instrument.

Instead he follows and teachers creators to create. Rick Rubin published back in January a charming book called The Creative Act: A Way of Being. It reads like a book that any creator could pick up and source inspiration. I strongly recommend it.

My notes for future reference are below.

My notes:

  • Robert Henri: “The object isn’t to make art, it’s to be in that wonderful state, which makes art inevitable.“
  • “We are all participating in a larger, creative act. We are not conducting. We are being conducted. The artist is on a cosmic timetable, just like all of nature. if you have an idea you’re excited about and you don’t bring it to life, it’s not uncommon for the idea to find its voice through another maker. This isn’t because the other artist stole your idea, but because the ideas time has come.” (7)
  • “The ability to look deeply is the root of creativity. To see past the ordinary and mundane, and get to what might otherwise be invisible.“
  • “Look for what you notice but no one else sees”
  • Being an artist isn’t something to be good at but a practice or way to see the world
  • Get to the subconscious: dream journal or hear music and just sing words or just write and limit any editing
  • Everyday your awareness is there for the Source; it may be more overcast but the sun is there and each day you don’t use it can’t be gotten back because we are never the same person
  • Creating in a desolate cabin, or in a busy coffee shop; consuming lots of culture and not are all plausible ways to get at a different kind of source: speak to universe or find filtered part
  • “Flaws are human, and the attraction of art is the humanity held in it”
  • Pain can create and obstruct (reminds me of the Ira Glass line that we are fans first and that stops us from creating)
  • If you feel stuck, lower the stakes
  • “We’re not playing to win, we’re playing to play”
  • “Your desire to create must be greater than your fear of it”
  • Artists with Buddhist “papancha” preponderance of thoughts
  • Distinguish between doubting the work and doubting your ability to create work
  • Kintsugi Japanese pottery highlights crack
  • (He reminds me of the idea that beauty fills a gap in us, so that’s what we reach for)
  • Marcel Duchamp readymade a
  • Start your art with the opposite rule you normally follow just to experiment
  • AlphaGo’s famous move 37
  • Did the AI know more (strategy) or know less (convention)
  • The Ramona’s thought they were making pop following bay city rollers but their “innovation through ignorance” created punk rock cause their lyrics were so differ t
  • Break habits, look for differences, notice connections
  • John Lennon: If you start a song, finish it in that setting, even if it’s no good. Get a draft done to edit later (130)
  • John Wooden taught his players how to put on their socks and tie their sneakers
  • Sunlight before screen light

Rick Rubin’s thoughts and habits not conducive to the 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.
  • Distractibility and procrastination.
  • Impatience.
  • Thinking anything that’s out of your control is in your way.


  • “Create an environment where you’re free to express what you’re afraid to express”
  • “Failure is the information you need to get where you’re going”
  • Ask “what if” questions of your work
  • Collecting seeds, experimentation, crafting (not always linear, will move back and forth) and then move to momentum with fixed deadlines and the completion
  • “The goal of art isn’t to attain perfection. the goal is to share who we are and how we see the world.”
  • Wayne Dyer: squeeze an orange and it’s not orange juice but what’s inside of you
  • Exercises to unstuck: Small steps, change your environment, invite audience, change context, alter perspective, write for someone else, add imagery, limit information
  • “Art doesn’t get made on the clock. But it can get finished on the clock.”
  • Artists ought not hold back ideas, more will come
  • Experimenter and the finisher can learn from each other
  • Lars von Trier rules for filmmaking
  • “Success occurs in the privacy of the soul”
  • Brian Wilson wrote God Only Knows to match Rubber Soul; Beatles Peppers album was to equal Pet Sounds
  • Antoine de Saint Exupery: “Perfection is finally obtained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there’s no longer anything to take away”
  • “Living in discovery is at all times preferable to living through assumptions”
  • No difference between spontaneous or labored creation
  • A/B test and if you can’t decide, coin toss and your feelings will reveal themselves
  • Idk what this means: “When the work has five mistakes, it’s not yet completed. When it has eight mistakes, it might be.”
  • “The world is only as free as it allows Its artists to be.”
  • Financial gain is too much to expect of art; we do it in service of the art
  • If you like plan A and I like plan B then let’s create plan c
  • “Anything that allows the audience to access how you see the world is accurate, even if the information is wrong”
  • Editors gather and sift, often subtractive
  • “The editor is the professional in the poet”
  • Do a ruthless edit first
  • “The universe never explains why”
  • W. H. Auden, famously, said, “poetry makes nothing happen.” And yet he wrote those words in a poem, one that honors fellow poet W. B. Yeats. He goes on to say of poetry: “it survives, / A way of happening, a mouth.”

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