The Spark and the Grind

The Spark and the Grind


Erik Wahl

The Spark and the Grind is well-written and engaging. It doesn’t ramble, per se, but it lingers on easy-to-grasp concepts longer than necessary. If you’re looking strictly for information, skip this book and read the SparkNotes. If you want a genuinely motivational (if somewhat longwinded) text filled with a plethora of inspirational quotes, this book is for you. All pertinent information can be found on pages 36, 51, 67, 68, 70, 86, 112, 125-126, 143, 163, 183, 193, and 212.

The Spark and the Grind is about how to imbue both creativity and productivity into your life. Wahl explores creativity as a concept, how to be open to creative opportunities, and what it means to be disciplined in your endeavors without sacrificing your creative energy. The book’s main takeaway is that creativity isn’t something to be toyed with in your free time. It’s a lifestyle. By allowing yourself to be creative in everything you do, no matter the purpose, risk, or reward, you open yourself not only to greater success, but unexpected passion and daily fulfillment, too. 

On page 36, Wahl talks about personality factors highly correlated with creativity. These factors are plasticity (i.e., the deep-seated drive to explore), divergence (i.e., a high degree of non-conformity and impulsivity), and convergence (i.e., an ability to be precise, conscientious, and persistent). Most people tend to lean toward either plasticity or convergence, but Wahl says the key to finding success in creativity is to embrace that which doesn’t come naturally and embody all three factors as best you can. In his words, “Valuing ideas over hard work often leads to a lack of creations. Valuing hard work over ideas often leads to anemic creations” (51). 

Page 67 encourages readers not to define themselves by other people’s expectations, and 68 insists that finding your own passion, “not everyone else’s, not pop culture’s, not the market’s” is the key to creating something truly noteworthy. Page 70 warns us that “…we often maintain an unhealthy desire to be acceptable to others more than we wish to be true to ourselves,” while page 86 reminds us that we’re conditioned to judge value based solely off the end product or material results. To be truly creative, you have to let go of the material rewards and the assumed end-goal to instead focus on the learning process. To fall in love with the craft rather than the bragging rights.

New creators often think of exceptions as standards (e.g., looking to match Lady Gaga’s success when thinking about picking up singing) and feel less-than when reality and fantasy don’t align (112). The truth, however, is that most people need a lot of time and effort to hone their craft, and there’s no telling what your personal brand of success will look like down the road. Dreams get you started, but what keeps you going is structure. 

Wahl states, “…creativity without structure is like a river without banks. You might have a flood of ideas every day, but with no structure to get them moving, your ideas end up bobbing in an ever-expanding puddle” (125-126). He also drives home the idea that there’s no such thing as an end-all be-all routine. If sleeping in works best, sleep in. If waking early, meditating, and swimming before the sun rises work better, do that instead. Embrace “whatever routine sets you up for constant creative progress” (143). It’s the progress that will get you where you want to go, not the notion that a particular trick or setup is universally ‘better.’  

Page 163 goes back to personality factors in creativity. Characteristics that lean into creativity are, “An openness to one’s inner life; a preference for complexity and ambiguity; an unusually high tolerance for disorder and disarray; the ability to extract order from chaos; independence; unconventionality; and a willingness to take risks.” Wahl then points out that creating something – anything – is better than creating nothing (183). Creativity is more about the act of creation than any desire to be ‘good,’ or any acknowledgement of what ‘good’ even is. 

On page 196, Wahl says, “Just create something. And then do it again. If you do it consistently enough, inspiration and discovery are guaranteed to occur.” This brings us to page 212, where he insists that there is no perfect time or space to start creating. Waiting for a perfect start only impedes progress, and the best thing you can do for yourself is to let go of expectations and just begin. 

And now, as far as pertinent and useful information goes, you’ve read The Spark and the Grind. If you liked this and found it useful, please share it on your socials and with your friends. You can sign up for my newsletter here. If you have any books you’d like to see on Too Busy for Books, you can contact me here. I’d love to hear your recommendations!

Thanks for reading,

–Jack

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