Rick Rubin: 3 creativity lessons

Continue until it’s possible

Rick Rubin: “That’s the way I like to work. I go in with kind of a blind belief that something good will happen. Until it’s proven impossible I will continue banging my head against the wall.”

Rubin is optimistic that good things will happen if he keeps working on a project. His book, for example, wasn’t easy but it was an unraveling of his process over 6-7 years.

He started to take notes after sessions with artists. When he got home he would:

  • Describe the problem the band ran into
  • Describe the solution they came up with

Over many different sessions, he was able to codify the process.

In a year, he can work with a handful of artists. A book provides leverage—people around the world will be able to apply some of his methods to their own projects.

You might not get a grammy in the end, but it might help you stop banging your head against the wall.


Rick Rubin: “I would never assume … because you put more time in something it’s getting better.”

It’s accepted that revisions improve work.

Tim Ferriss popularized the idea of “two crappy pages” as a daily writing goal. You can’t revise something that doesn’t exist yet.

But there’s diminishing returns on revision.

And sometimes the first go is actually the best.

Still, it’s essential to go through multiple iterations if you want to end up with the best product. Even if it’s just to validate that the first attempt was best—you need multiple iterations to compare the first iteration to.

This reminds me a little bit of the Crazy 8s sketching exercise. Yes, the 6th, 7th, and 8th sketch are harder to get to and that’s when you’re really stretching and getting creative.

But sometimes they’re not as good as the first thing you jot down.

From “Sprint” by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky

Sometimes Crazy 8s leads to a revelation. You might come away with several new ways of looking at your ideas. Other times, it feels less productive. Sometimes that first idea really is the best idea.

Sometimes obvious is best.

Everyone is a creator

In the book, Rick Rubin says creativity isn’t limited to a select few. From “The Creative Act: A Way of Being”

“Creativity is not a rare ability. It is not difficult to access. Creativity is a fundamental aspect of being human. It’s our birthright. And it’s for all of us.

Creativity doesn’t exclusively relate to making art. We all engage in this act on a daily basis.

To create is to bring something into existence that wasn’t there before. It could be a conversation, the solution to a problem, a note to a friend, the rearrangement of furniture in a room, a new route home to avoid a traffic jam.”

We get real creative real fast when we think of reasons to skip a workout or to hit snooze on the alarm instead of getting up to do the work.

The Source vs. The Resistance

Steven Pressfield has The Resistance. Rick Rubin has The Source.

The Source is out there. A wisdom surrounding us, an inexhaustible offering that is always available.

We either sense it, remember it, or tune in to it. Not only through our experiences. It may also be dreams, intuitions, subliminal fragments, or other ways still unknown by which the outside finds its way inside.

The Source itself isn’t enough to fight the resistance. He compares the Source to clouds. It’s a shapeshifter.

You can absorb The Source and then it’s up to you to harness it and make your art.