Topics: literature

Art Before Breakfast [review]

I just finished up Art Before Breakfast from Danny Gregory. It’s real talk about making time to be creative, no matter how busy you think you are and why it can make a huge difference in your life. The book is focused on building a drawing ritual, sharing strategies on how to get started and what to draw, from your breakfast, to airport travelers and parts of your own body.


Aside from an idea bank that’s sure to hold something you’ll actually try, I enjoyed the sections on art with a capital A versus art with a lowercase a (hint: little a will set you free) and firing your inner critic (because who doesn’t need those reminders from time to time). But I suppose the most important thing is this book actually inspired me to draw.

That’s a big deal because I have always shied away from it. My skills are severely lacking, but after one mediocre session, I came away feeling alive. I’ve made it a point to keep going (just 10 minutes a day) and remind myself that when you suck at something, the learning curve is pretty exciting because you get better really quickly without pouring every ounce of energy into what you’re doing. Although it took a while for this book to win me over and break out the sketchbook, I can recommend this for anyone needing a little nudge, or as a thoughtful gift. The lessons within can be applied to much more than drawing and they should be, whether you want to improve your writing, instrumental prowess or design skills.

The 99U Quarterly

Print magazines are hot. Either that or I’ve just been obsessed with them lately. We’ve given shout outs to Stack Magazines and Offscreen before, but another intriguing one is the 99U Quarterly. I can’t attest to the quality yet, but it promises practical advice on executing ideas, profiles on interesting creatives and the latest research on getting shit done. Sounds like something I’d be into. First issue ships in March.



Make Your Mark [review]

Part of what bothers me about startup culture is the number of products and services created that don’t seem particularly important. As a friend of mine once lamented during a space launch, “We rarely do anything ambitious anymore, we just make websites.” What I enjoy about 99U’s latest release is that it’s helping to spread of the stories of people building businesses that matter. It’s a business book written for makers.


Make Your Mark: The Creative’s Guide To Building A Business With Impact is a solid read for anyone thinking about starting a business or whose existing one needs some work (hint: you can always improve and evolve). Just like the last two 99U volumes, this book is divided into sections of essays. The four main chapters are Defining Your Purpose, Building Your Product, Serving Your Customers and Leading Your Team. Contributors are of diverse backgrounds, from seasoned authors on creativity to a submarine commander.

While I won’t recap every section, I did want to mention some that stuck with me. Warren Berger’s essay on asking the right questions struck me as particularly actionable and useful. In it, he details the types of questions you may want to consider grilling yourself over – things like why your business exists and if you disappeared, who would miss you. A few different contributors touch on finding a purpose greater than profit and how focusing on others is not only just good business, it’s being a better person. The Leading Your Team chapter was also particularly thought-provoking. These essays explain how many creatives have an aversion to lead, but how we can overcome that, and why leadership roles are in desperate need of creatives. It made me reimagine the role as less Wall Street and Silicon Valley, and more makers that are in touch with the people they are serving.

I cannot limit this book as just for people starting businesses because there a number of handy exercises, whether it’s finding your personal purpose in life or a kick in ass the pep talk from Seth Godin to close out the book. At around $10 (paperback or digital) I know I found it to be a better investment than my third Old Fashioned of the evening.

Make Your Mark is available primarily on Amazon. But if you see it lounging around at your local indie bookseller, pick it up right there and then.

Previous 99U reviews from us:

Manage Your Day-To-Day
Maximize Your Potential

The Happiness of Pursuit [review]

I just finished up Chris Guillebeau’s latest book and in two words, do I recommend it? Yes. I only needed one. My reason for that is it had me stopping midway through and taking some action. That doesn’t happen very often.

The Happiness of Pursuit is Guillebeau’s takeaway from studying people who have embarked on some pretty ambitious quests. Oh you know, little things like walking across Turkey, sailing the world solo or completing the MIT computer science curriculum in a single year. No big whoop. Then there’s his own quest of visiting every country on the planet, which he completed by the age of 35. So yeah, the dude has some street cred to write about these things.


Chris interviewed to people around the world about their quests to discover what motivated them, what they had in common and what we could learn from them, no matter what our personal ambitions are. He discusses some areas that any of these adventures have in common: courage, routine, struggle and the importance of community.

While I’m not going to try and cover everything in a short blog post, I will say it was inspiring to hear these stories about people attempting such radical missions. It was comforting to hear that no matter how hard-working or talented these people were, there’s always self-doubt, failure, patience and mundane routine involved. I think it’s important to be reminded of this because all we often hear about is the sexy grand finale achievement.

If you haven’t read any of his work before, it’s a good introduction because it references some of his earlier material like annual reviews (also recommended). Chris doesn’t give you an opportunity to make excuses about not going after what you want in life, but stays humble and open to what your personal quest might be. Really you just get the sense that his end goal isn’t just selling thousands of books, but helping others do some remarkable things. Even if you have no interest in running marathons weekly or setting the world record for the most bird species sighted, there’s a lot you can take from this book and apply to your own career or side projects.

p.s. If you were curious about what the action it inspired me to take, it involved creating a life list (while listening to John Lennon’s Imagine on vinyl, of course).

And p.p.s. We just so happen to have an extra copy of the hardcover. Tell us why you’re jonesing to read this in the comments and we’ll pick a winner on 10/16.

The Good Creative [review]

I have to level with you. I’ve stopped reading as much about creativity as I used to. I had to unsubscribe from 99U and other sites where the advice (although probably well-meaning) was too focused on what I SHOULD be doing if I want to succeed. I’ve moved away from that, realizing the best thing I can do for myself is carving out some distraction-free time and see what becomes of it. Still, I did receive a book called The Good Creative from author and web designer Paul Jarvis recently and was pleasantly surprised by the tone in which it’s written.


Paul’s rat – the avid reader.

It begins with laying down his intentions for what you’re about to read. He’s very honest about who it’s written for and spends time discussing our societal stereotypes on what is considered creative (hint: we define it way too narrowly).

At the core of the book are 18 habits or traits that Paul has noticed in successful creatives (okay, there’s actually 19 since one’s a bonus). These are not shoulds or life hacks, but observations Paul has made through his own experiences. In fact, he goes as far to say that these are not intended to be creative commandments and encourages critical thought. This is refreshing. I’ve always found letting people decide for themselves to be a much more persuasive route than forcing ideas upon them.

I’m not going to spoil the read for you by giving you a full list, but some of my favorite takeaways include how sharing your creative process can engage your followers, that getting bogged down in what tools you use doesn’t improve your work and that constantly looking for ways you can help other people is the way to go. Paul is simply outlining the principles he thinks people may want to consider. The things you could try that if practiced consistently, could help you create more meaningful art.

There is a review from entrepreneur Derek Sivers that touts The Good Creative as a to the point, quick read that will inspire you. While that’s certainly true, I don’t see this as a quick fix. I see value in revisiting this book and applying it  to your work. It’s for that reason this book has earned a place on my bookshelf.

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