The Shape of Ideas by Grant Snider

A large floating balloon in the shape of a lit light bulb is carrying away a cartoon man clinging to the string hanging off of it

The Shape of Ideas: An Illustrated Exploration is a graphic novel despite the fact that its subject matter is factual. Can’t we come up with a better name for a non-fiction book published in the style of a graphic novel? Anyway, Grant Snider uses artistic panels drawn like a comic book to explore the concept of creativity.

The book is divided up into ten sections:

  • Inspiration
  • Perspiration
  • Improvisation
  • Aspiration
  • Contemplation
  • Exploration
  • Daily Frustration
  • Imitation
  • Desperation
  • Pure Elation

I had seen lots of praise for this book, so my expectations were high going in. I have to admit I was let down, mostly because it didn’t deliver on what I thought it would. And that’s on me. For what it is, it is wonderful. Rather than showing you what creativity is or how it works, it delivers more of what it feels like to create. The up and downs, the highs and lows, the exhilaration, the frustration. The art is very creative and evocative and, as a result, very effective.

However, I am still not a big fan of this book. I just don’t see a higher purpose in this book. Sure, it tells me what it feels like to be creative. But what if I want more? What if I want to know how to create? For that, I would recommend The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield. But if you are looking for a quick, evocative read about creativity, this book might be for you.

My rating: 3/5

The Creative Act: A Way of Being by Rick Rubin

Centered on the cover is a large black-lined circle with a black dot in the center. The title is in small letters in the upper right while the author's name is in small letters in the lower right.

I first heard about this book during an interview with the author on the podcast People I (Mostly) Admire. I knew that Rick Rubin was a famous music producer. Not being a musician myself, I wasn’t all that interested in his book. I figured that it was just another celebrity memoir about all the famous people he worked with. Interesting, but not really my thing. I learned from this interview that I was wrong and decided to read it.

In fact, this book is not a memoir at all, at least not in the traditional sense. It is more a series of short essays on the creative process. In its tone and approach, it reminded my of The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. That book focuses on the challenges of Resistance and how to overcome it. This book is broader in scope and shares ideas on how to nurture creativity and get your art into the world.

My favorite aspect of the book is that right up front he acknowledges that some of the suggestions contradict each other. He doesn’t see that as a problem (nor do I), and simply suggests that you take what works for you and leave the rest. The book is suggestive rather than didactic. If you are looking for a step-by-step guide to creativity, this is not it. But if you are looking for tips on how to nurture the messy journey that is the creative life, this book is for you.

My rating: 5/5