C.R.E.A.T.E. with Adam Rubin

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The C.R.E.A.T.E Series is a look behind the curtain at what inspires and motivates children's authors and illustrators. We'll take a peek at their creative spaces, learn about any unique writing or drawing habits, and examine how to carve out time in the day for creativity.

Today we're featuring Adam Rubin, the author of hilarious picture books such as Dragons Love Tacos, Those Darn Squirrels, Secret Pizza Party, and his newest book High Five. Like me, Adam comes from an advertising background. He started out at Leo Burnett writing Happy Meal commercials, which led to a creative director position in NYC. But along the way, he’s become a NY Times best-selling author, published ten books, and managed to keep his sense of humor.

"Give yourself permission to like the things that you like, and take the leap of faith that other people might like them too."


Adam: When I was working at the advertising agencies, I would write at night at my kitchen table.  It was something I wanted to do, so I found the time to do it. If I slept a little bit less that night, I guess that was okay; a little extra coffee in the morning didn’t hurt.

For me there’s a big difference between work for hire and doing your own creative projects. In some ways when you work in advertising or graphic design you’re offering your skills to highest bidder. When you work on a personal project, you just get to do whatever you want. That offers more creative freedom, but it also kind of offers a little more pressure, because you have no one to blame if it doesn’t turn out great.

Adam: I always have a glass of water. I listen to a lot of Bach concertos, but I don’t know if there is any reason behind that except that it’s very pleasant. They’re like four hours long and I don’t like to have a big variance in tone in the music while I’m writing. It all flows together and I can tune it out or tune it in at any moment.

Adam:  For most of my writing career, I didn’t have a dedicated writing space. Except perhaps my desk at work, but I would never admit that to any of my former employers.  

"Now I prefer cramped quarters with very little distraction. . . . It has to be that way for me because I have a special kind of genius for procrastination."


Adam: I really like trees and nature. Now that I’m back in New York City, it’s hard to look anywhere without finding some sort of inspiration. You've got all these human stories unfolding on the sidewalk and you're overhearing all these conversations.  To me it’s getting out of the house.  I really try to get away from the screen if I can and just look around.

I think that my whole approach to writing kids’ books comes from the John Cassidy books from the 90’s.  He founded the Exploratorium, so he really was a champion of science, but at the same time that he was presenting this information, real information—you kind of had this idea that maybe you weren’t supposed to know this stuff, maybe he wasn’t supposed to be telling you. There was this conspiratorial aspect to it that I think I carried through into my adult life and hopefully it comes out in my work.

Adam: I’ll leave the house and go take a walk.  I think it’s important, for me at least, to give myself permission to have a bad day.  And not sit there squeezing a dry stone all day, because then I’ll just beat myself up and feel bad about it.  So if it really is one of those days were it’s just not happening, I’ll just leave. I’ll go for a walk, do something else, enjoy myself, and then that night I’ll read whatever project I’m working on right before I got to bed and usually that helps me wake up and [get] in the mindset to dive back in.

The only real trick that I’ve found [for procrastination] is that I have a list of projects. The more varied they are the better this works. So, let's say I have a little list of five different things that I’m working on.  If I get sort of distracted on one, I’ll start working on the other.  If I have a group of projects I’m working on at the same time, I can procrastinate on one by being productive on the other. That’s been pretty effective, actually.

Adam: The nice thing about writing a book is that you almost have total control. You can create an object that is really a specific expression of your imagination. So when you get notes on a personal project or something that’s really close to your heart, it’s painful. Taking creative feedback is one of the hardest things about working in a creative field.

Right now I’m working on a longer project—it’s like 50,000 words at the moment, and it sometimes feels like I’m trying to climb a mountain made of sand and it’s crumbling between my fingers. When I get really frustrated or overwhelmed I just imagine holding the finished book with a hard cover on it standing in a bookstore.  Working towards that satisfaction and that sense of completion is enormously inspiring because it’s not just a sense of accomplishment—it’s also a sense of relief.

Adam and (Some of) his books

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